Karen and I have been good friends for years. By profession, she is a first assist surgical nurse, by lifestyle she is a traveler, an adventurer, a cook and the kind of friend who pulls you off the couch and throws you into life - even when you’d rather be nesting. I don’t think the word “no” is in her vocabulary. Such was the case the other night when I walked over to her house to give her a jar of my new passion, Williams Sonoma‘s hickory-smoked sea salt. (This is a must have if you use a gas grill and crave that wood-burning flavor!)
“Hey, you want to go to a cooking class Friday night?” After a 50 hour work week, Friday night is my worst night for doing anything other than dining out and heading home to curl up, so I hesitated, “Oh, come on, it’s a class on making pizza dough and great pizza”. Now I was intrigued. My husband’s new back yard pizza oven is almost ready to fire up and this class could be perfect timing. “And besides”, she added, “You get to bring your own wine to drink during the class”. I’m in.
The “In The Kitchen Cooking School” is in Haddonfield, NJ and has a great concept. It is like culinary school – ala carte. Foodies, who work other jobs during the day, get to mingle amongst “their” people at night while learning great cooking skills and recipes. Courses range from basic knife skills; such as dicing (and trust me, you have been doing it wrong all these years), slicing, and the proper methods to chiffonade and julienne herbs and vegetables. And for the more advanced, courses, such as, An Evening in Paris featuring; Steak au Poivre, Salade de Poire; Asperges Roties; Mousse au Chocolat are offered to enhance your culinary knowledge.
And unlike sitting in front of your TV watching the Food Network, here you are not just shown how to prepare every menu item – but you actually do all the work under the guidance of skilled, professional chefs. Best part? You then get to eat it all. The school website encourages you to “come hungry” and they weren’t kidding. There is much delicious food to consume along the way.
|Chef Laura roasting red peppers!|
Karen had seen an ad for a Friday Night Pizza Party that read “Pour the wine, crack open a beer and learn the art of stretching dough and make delicious toppings Pancetta and Ricotta Calzone; Roasted Eggplant, Red pepper and Feta cheese pizza; Pizza margarita topped with balsamic greens; White pizza with wild Mushrooms, Roasted garlic and Gorgonzola cheese”…and we were off!
Most class sizes at ITK cooking school max out at 16. We were kind of lucky since one group who signed up for this course had to change nights at the last minute, so we had a small group of just five eager participants under the tutelage of Owner/Chef Kathy S. Gold and Chef Laura Anderson, who was leading us this night. Our group consisted of four women and one man who came straight from the golf course so hungry, he would have eaten raw dough if we had let him – sorry Jason.
Since dough was the first part of the course, I was pleased to see that the almost- industrial size Kitchen Aid mixer that my husband bought me (see $450 Pizza in blog archives), was also the schools tool of choice. I thought I knew how to make basic pizza dough, but in just four easy steps, I learned some hints that make easy dough perfect or perfect dough easy (like adding the salt to the flour mix, not the yeast mixture).
|Karen's mushroom pizza slightly blurred by her wine|
We were all assigned a recipe. I was making Roasted Eggplant, Red Pepper, and Feta Cheese Pizza, and Karen took White Pizza with Wild Mushrooms which was “money” (a term my son, an actual chef, uses when describing something out of this world good) . We all shared in the dicing, slicing and chiffonading of onions, garlic, eggplants, tomatoes and all kind of cheeses; feta, mozzarella, gorgonzola and Parmesan. We then staged them in the middle of the large Italian marble counter, so everyone could use what they needed.
What amazed me about this class is that after only a few minutes the five of us were like old friends, cooking, laughing, and sharing stories (okay, maybe the wine helped a little here). Everyone encouraged the others because after all, we would all be sharing the results of everyone’s efforts. You couldn't help but keep an eye on what others were doing because each recipe was amazing. Simple to do and yet simply wonderful.
One off my favorite recipes turned out to be the Pizza Margherta with Balsamic greens.This was a basic Margherita pizza, but the chef taught us to top it with arugula greens dressed in balsamic vinegar. Salad and pizza in every bite. It was amazingly good!
|Homemade pizza still on the peel!|
The recipe for my roasted eggplant and red pepper pizza looked harder to make then it actually was. I roasted the eggplant in the oven and the red peppers over an open flame. I sautéed garlic and crushed pepper flakes in olive oil and poured it over the cooked vegetables before adding the feta cheese and baking. I will definitely make this at home but thinking of using goat cheese instead of feta, only because it is a favorite of mine.
There are so many different courses and recipes from around the world at the In The Kitchen Cooking School, that we are already planning our next visit. Owner Chef Kathy encourages, groups, families and friends to attend in unison, and will even accommodate request for specific menus. “Date Night Cooking” is very popular and usually sold out. In the end, I was so glad Karen forced me out of my Friday night coma to attend this class. We will return. Only this time we are bringing all of our friends for the perfect girl’s night out!