Early this spring I was on a cooking class blitz, scouting fun and unusual experiences to recommend to San Diegans for a just-published San Diego Magazine piece. Among my most favorite classes was the one I took from Chef Pam Schwartz of Sur La Table. America's Food Truck Cuisine introduced participants to four dishes from trucks around the country. It was a hands-on afternoon that yielded not just delicious tastings but a variety of new skills and ideas to transfer to home kitchens.
Schwartz, a CIA graduate who has worked at Nobu in Las Vegas and the Pamplemousse Grille in San Diego--and cooked at the James Beard House, led a group of about 15 students through Portland (KOi Fusion's Spicy Korean Pork Taco), Seattle (Skillet Street Food's Grass-Fed Beef Burger with Arugula, Cambozola and Bacon Jam), L.A. (the Border Grill Truck's Poblano Quesadillas), and New York (Street Sweets' "Macarella" Nutella Macaroons).
What I enjoyed about the class was not just the theme, although that's what drew me to it initially, but both the classroom set up (counter-high tables are outfitted with ingredients and tools around which four to five students work together) and the thorough and encouraging manner in which Schwartz and her team of helpers talk their students (including many culinary novices) through each recipe. They demonstrated knife skills and walked around coaching individuals attempting to chop onions, mince garlic, seed avocados, and grill pork. And they offered tips for working with unfamiliar ingredients.
The Spicy Pork Taco was a delightful explosion of flavor--no surprise since the marinade itself has some 16 ingredients, including pear and kiwi juice, mirin, sesame oil, honey, Korean red bean paste, and rice wine. We made a tasty cabbage slaw with rice vinegar, lime juice, sesame oil, and sugar, grilled the marinated pork and then put all of it together in a corn tortilla, garnished with pico de gallo, bean sprouts, cucumber, cilantro, and kimchi.
From the taco we moved on to the burger. It's a simple dish, of course, but many in this class had never tried grass-fed beef and the herbaceous beef flavor was a revelation. It was also a great primer on how to effectively grill the lean meat so you keep the moisture intact. The best part, though, especially for one of my table partners, Alicia, was making the bacon jam. The many ingredients include applewood-smoked bacon, garlic, espresso, light brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and cloves. It's pretty simple to make, too. Just cook the bacon and render the fat, remove the bacon pieces, saute onion and garlic, add the other ingredients and the bacon pieces, then cook gently for about 40 minutes until the jam is soft and brown.
While Alicia was busy at the stove, the rest of us were molding the sliders and prepping the rest of the components before they finally all came together between a sliced Hawaiian sweet bun.
Burgers done, we moved on to the quesadillas, which, though simple, had several components needing preparation--the flour tortillas, the chipotle salsa, the roasted poblano chiles, and the Border Guacamole. It was fascinating to watch the flour tortilla demonstration. I've made many a corn tortilla, but flour tortillas require a whole different skill set--more like making pie dough, which makes sense since you're also combining flour with fat and water.
Standing at a high-BTU stove grilling first the chiles and finally the quesadillas was an event for most of the participants. Everyone took a turn but also circled their tables working on slicing avocados, seeding and dicing jalapeños, and chopping cilantro or cooking up and pureeing the Chipotle Salsa (which I learned can be frozen for several months, as can individual chipotles left over from the can).
Finally, dessert. These delightful sandwich cookies are easy to make and if you don't love Nutella, fill them with jam (bacon jam?) or chocolate ganache. Here's the recipe:
Street Sweets' "Macarella" Nutella Macaroons
Yield: approximately 12 sandwich cookies
3 cups dessicated/unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Nutella for filling the cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center. Place coconut, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Stir thoroughly until the mixture reaches a soft and pliable consistency.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 1 to 2 heaping tablespoons of the coconut mixture on cookie sheet and press into 3-inch circles about 1/8-inch thick. Continue making circles with the remaining dough to create an even number of dough rounds.
Place cookies in preheated oven and bake until edges are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool for 10 minutes.
Using a flat-metal spatula, remove cookies from baking pan and coat the bottom of half of the cookies with a generous amount of Nutella. Place another cookie, bottom side down, on the top of the Nutella on the coated cookies to make a sandwich. Continue making sandwiches until all the cookies are used.
Classes are taught at Sur La Tables across the country. In San Diego, Sur La Table is at the Forum at Carlsbad, 1915 Calle Barcelona Space #130. You can get their full schedule of classes on their website.