Sunday, September 16, 2012

Saga Hill Cooking Class: Summer Essentials

Last week, I attended a cooking class with my friend Michelle at Saga Hill Cooking School.  I love taking cooking classes, especially in the fall.   Even though I’ve attended culinary school, I always feel that you can learn something new in every class; whether it is a new technique or recipe or whatever.  

This was my first class at Saga Hill and it won’t be my last.  The owner and Chef, Marianne Miller, probably had me with her #1 rule: Have FUN while learning culinary skills. This is non-negotiable!
Chef Marianne

This info, as stated on her website, will give you a feel for the vibe of the classes:  “I teach science-based cooking techniques, not stuff you can find in a celebrity chef's cookbook. ALL my staff have worked or work in professional restaurants, so we sometimes curse, berate Rachel Ray and use carrots as double-entendres!  If you are NOT OKAY with that, DO NOT come to our cooking class!  We are not like any other cooking school in the State and we don't believe that you are always right, should always get your way, or should sit by yourself at your own table. Nope, cooking is too much fun for any of that silliness. What we do care about is that you learn in a relaxed, communal setting that's free from marketing, bad hobby chefs, and overpriced kitchen knick knackery. In a nutshell, we care only about the REAL stuff. The time honored, kitchen tested, honest culinary skills that you need to learn so you can have fun cooking.”

The attentive class
This class is perfect for beginners and experienced cooks.   Chef Marianne really makes cooking approachable, straightforward, and fun.   When trying to think of words to describe Marianne, these are what I came up with: playful, childlike, funny (in a stand-up comedian kind of way), down-to-earth, charismatic, and did I mention funny?   In the first 5 minutes I wrote on my notes, “I love this chick!”   Now that is saying something.   Her approach to food is that it is subjective; we are not looking for perfection as it is different for everyone.   Amen to that.  

We started off with a Hollandaise sauce.  I learned a couple tips that I did not know before.  
1)  Crack eggs on a flat surface, not on a corner.
2)  If your sauce breaks, throw an ice cube in it.  (According to Chef Marianne, it reacts like a man when jumping in a cold pool – it contracts and pulls in).   Great visual on how to save your sauce and bring it back together.  

We added some fresh tarragon, which turned it into a bearnaise sauce.   We drizzled (ok poured) it over scrambled eggs with bacon and it was delicious.  The sauce has a stick of butter in it so of course it was good.     

Next up was Vegetarian (carrot, cucumber, avocado) Sushi Rolls. 
I have to say that as intimidating as making your own sushi sounds, it really isn’t that hard.   That said, while I have everything I need at my house to make it, I find that sushi is just one of those things that I like to go out for.   Plus I like variety and I’m not about to make five different sushi rolls.   The two tips that stuck out for the sushi were:
1)  When rolling the sushi roll, make sure you keep it really tight.   Pull and tuck, pull and tuck; “tuck the baby in tight.”
2)  When cutting the sushi roll, cut the roll in half, then in quarters and go out from there. If you just start cutting it into pieces then stuff inside will ooze out the sides.  After all that work, you don’t want that to happen.  


Cocktail Break – Mojitos
Now, my husband is a self-proclaimed mojito connoisseur.  And I admit, he makes the best mojitos.  So, I was very curious to learn this recipe.

I have to say, I think Chef Marianne is onto something.    Basically, why use water for your simple syrup, which is usually a 50/50 sugar to water ratio, when you can use booze.  (She confessed that swapping water with booze is how she makes all of her friends.)

Here is the recipe. FYI -he can’t serve liquor in class, so this recipe uses a combo of sparkling wine and white wine.  Personally, I think it’d be better with rum - for sure.  

Simple Syrup:
•3 Tbsp. sugar
•2 cups White Wine
•2 cups of Champagne or Sparking
•2 cups of Lemon/Lime Soda (like 7-Up or Sprite)

1 Tbsp. Torn Mint  (or more)
Squeeze of Lime

•Create your simple syrup
•Combine the simple syrup ingredients over heat for 60 seconds until sugar is dissolved, turn off heat
•Add torn mint leaves and lime juice
•Pour over ice

While making the mojitios, Marianne was listing off the different alcohols you could use, such as vodka, rum, or tequila.  Without missing a beat, she mentioned that unfortunately she was allergic to tequila and then went on to say “yeah, when I drink tequila it makes me break out in.... handcuffs.”  Seriously funny.   I'm pretty sure everyone out there has a tequila experience they'd like to forget; me included.      

Now don’t start feeling bad for me for only getting one mojito that didn’t even have the hard stuff in it……   I forgot to mention that for $15 extra (the price of the class was $55) you can get unlimited wine.   I dare you to find another cooking class that offers that.  

Michelle & I enjoying our wine

Next up was Stuffed Peppadews
Peppadews are these bright red, bite-sized peppers that are perfect for stuffing.   I usually stuff them with goat cheese but it was fun to learn a new variation.  The debate is on as to whether they are spicy.  I don’t think they are.  They are sweet with a tiny bit of spice towards the end, but not “heat” – nothing that would make your mouth feel like its on fire.   

We stuffed the peppers with a combination of Chorizo, Sour Cream, Cream Cheese, and Blue Cheese.    

FYI - The Peppadew website has a library of recipes for these little red numbers:

Last up were Lobster Rolls
Who doesn’t love a good lobster roll?   Chef Marianne reminded me how cheap lobsters are right now due to the excess inventory, so I need to plan some lobster meals soon!   Maybe you should too.    I have great pasta recipe with lobster in a brandy cream sauce = YUM!

Mini Lobster Roll

I will say I left class a little hungry.  For some reason I was thinking there was a grilled pizza course too?    Not that I need to be stuffed, but I think another course in there would’ve been good because the 4 items we made weren’t that filling.  

SIDEBAR: We met some fun people and I can’t resist telling you a story that a lady at our table shared.   She works for General Mills and got a complaint from a guy who was making a cake for his wife.  He buttered the bottom of the pan as instructed on the box and when he put it in the oven it started smoking like crazy and the cake was ruined.    Well, he literally buttered the BOTTOM of the pan - on the outside rather than the inside.  DUH!

Chef Marianne is one smart cookie and only changes the menu quarterly.   So you can go four times a year and experience four different menus.  I think that is genius and a great way to get regulars (of which there were many).

I will definitely go back and if you live in Minneapolis, I suggest you do the same.  Check it out:  
If you don’t live in Minneapolis, check out some cooking classes in your area.   A lot of grocery stores have them so that could be a good start.

Whatever you do, keep learning and experimenting. 


PS – Please email me if you would like the recipes.   I'd also love to hear about what good cooking classes you've taken?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kind words Penelope! We enjoyed having you in class as well. Great pics, by the way! We are starting our fall menu in October and hope to see you again soon. Remember, now you are a VIP guest and can reserve a space online through our website without any special voucher. Please let us know when you plan on coming back so that we may offer you wine on the house!

    See you soon,

    Lauren, Marianne, and Millie