Friday, February 21, 2014

Italian Cooking Lesson

Double Trouble in the La Botegga Kitchen

Last night Emily and I went for a cooking lesson at La Botegga in the market. I had given this to Emily as her birthday present back in December. The reason for the wait is that these sessions fill up quickly and you need to reserve in advance. So the day finally came and it was a lot of fun! The food and wine were really good too.

Now, I used the term lesson rather than class because it was just so laid back. Even the Chef said this was more of a dinner party than a class. I have gone to cooking classes before where you definitely need to put in some elbow grease. I have also heard some funny stories of the stress people faced, trying to keep up at intense classes such as le Cordon bleu. At any rate, this was most definitely not the case. The chef- Michael Cummings- was so nice, and pretty much prepared everything. He said we were welcome to help, but could also just watch. Emily and I helped for the dessert-surprise surprise.

The other participants were really nice and a lot of fun! The company definitely makes up a big part of the atmosphere and it was so lovely. We definitely had a lot of laughs. Unfortunately I still have a cold and each time I laughed it would cause me to cough .. which would turn into a bit of a coughing fit. Who knew it was spelled cough and not caugh? Emily informed me yesterday and I guess I've been spelling it wrong for some time now. Shame on me!! Some participants love it so much they go to every lesson- so twice a month! I wouldn't go as often as that, but I would definitely go again.

They distributed recipes of the dishes we made so that we can make it again at home. One great thing is we had access to all these great ingredients, and if there wasn't enough of something the chef could just get more from the store. Emily and I also walked around the store, perusing the food aisles and fridges ..mmm if that were my pantry I'd be in heaven!

First we started with a Sea food stew/soup- Cloppino- which was simple enough to make and tasted quite good. The seafood we had was:
Basa white cat fish, which is all the rage nowadays and apparently makes tilapia seem cheap and second-class in comparison.
- scallops
- shrimp

At this point Chef C asked if there were any lawyers in the room- there was one. He proceeded to tell the following joke:
 Q. What is the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?
A: One's a scum-sucking, bottom-feeding scavenger, and the other's a fish.

Hahaha. Ouch.

So you start by putting in the Basa as it cooks for 4 minutes, then add the scallops (2 min) and finally the shrimp (1 min). Here is a photo of the seafood prior to putting it in the stew:

Most of the fish was already in the stew by the time I took the photo. Don't mind the strawberries those were for later.  Chef C doesn't like garlic presses as he says it squeezes the juice out. Better to just slice it by hand very thinly, and do not forget to cut off the bitter end tip (what bitter end tip?)

And voila the finished product- served with freshly baked crostinis

For some reason my bowl had no shrimp. Say what? Emily kindly gave me a taste of hers.

The second course was a winter Caprese salad, which as you may know is mainly just tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. Now we learned some interesting things. For instance, the difference between Bocconcini and buffalo mozzarella. Bocconcini refers to the form of the cheese ( a soft cheese) and shape (small and size of an egg) and is usually made with cow's milk. Buffalo mozzarella really comes from water buffalo and is a bit larger and softer.

 Also in summer a caprese salad should be made with fresh tomatoes and fresh basil and in winter, roast the tomatoes (use the less watery tomatoes) and make a pesto (in this case basil and arugula pesto). Chef didn't put pine nuts in the pesto but roasted them and put them on top as garnish. Chef Cummings recommended using a toaster oven rather than a real oven to avoid burning the pine nuts- I know someone who does that- my sister! Way to go Claire- who knew it's what the professionals do as well!  It was delicious.

The main course was a grilled flank steak with salsa verde served with polenta. It could have been served over pasta. I've never had polenta before and my feelings towards it are somewhat indifferent- meh? I probably would have preferred pasta. The steak and salsa were delicious- steak seared on the stove at high heat and then baked in the oven at 450F for 10 minutes. It was medium- just how I like it.

When plating, we were told, its best to try and put the food in the center of the plate, garnish on top and then you can grind some pepper around it.

And last but certainly not least- dessert! Strawberries with a mascarpone whipped cream and a sauce (made from just wine, sugar and cloves that boils down to a sweet sauce)

Emily preparing to whip the mascarpone and whipping cream. Just using a whisk- no electric beaters here. The key is to use your wrist and not your arm and to use short folding strokes to get air into it. Apparently this is a 'party trick' to be able to whip the cream-  so what exactly is a party trick? It seems this term gets used rather loosely. The only other party trick I've heard of is clap push-ups. What kind of parties are we talking about here?   Anyway its a lot easier to whip cream that has a container full of mascarpone in it. Much thicker to start with. You also add 1 egg yolk and sugar to taste.


A sweet end to a delicious meal. I will definitely make these recipes again at home.  Hope you enjoy some of these tips and tricks, and I definitely encourage those of you in Ottawa to try it out!

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