Okay, so, last Friday I did something totally different for me and took a cooking class at Kitchen on Fire. KoF is a company that does cooking classes, with chefs as instructors. Their offices are in Berkeley and have two classrooms, on 1509 Shattuck Ave in Berkeley and on 2940 7th Street in Emeryville. My class was in the 7th street place.
I signed up for Tapas and Wine, an evening of making four tapas that were very well paired with four Spanish wines:
- Cava – croqueta de jamon (deep fried ham croquette)
- Galician white wine – piquillo pepper stuffed with white beans and tuna
- Mature red wine – pintxo moruno (grilled lamb skewer)
- Amontillado – aged manchego cheese, toasted almonds & honey
I will say now, that a pepper filled with tuna and beans did not sound real appetizing, but hey, you never know. And lamb skewers are totally relatable. Right?
There were ten of us in the class: four couples, me and a woman from Mexico city named Ann.
The class was taught by Chef Kevin Hogan, a really nice guy so seems to really know his stuff. This the first wine and food pairing class offered by KoF and it worked out pretty well.
Chef wanted to start with croqueta de jamon: bechamel inundated with Serrano ham breaded and deed fried. But the bechamel has to be refrigerated enough so that it can be rolled into balls and ours was not cool enough yet. So, he put the batch into the freezer to to speed up the chilling process, which made the first thing we made the piquillo pepper stuffed with white beans and tuna.
Now, tuna and beans in a pepper really did not sound very appealing, but I can say that it was excellent. So much so that the next day I went out and bought ingredients and ate stuffed peppers for a couple of days.
As he mixed the ingredients and got some student help with cutting and chopping, Kevin explained how popular these things are and he told stories of tapas time in Spain and gave the whole thing a background that not only provided a context for the food, but would made anything seem fun to make and eat. Once all the ingredients were properly prepared, all the students got together and started stuffing. And in the end, you get a plate of this:
There was a little bit of hands-on during the whole affair and I would have preferred more, but I am not sure how that would have happened with these tapas.
The bechamel was still not ready yet, so off we went to pintxo moruno (grilled lamb skewer). The lamb came from a leg of lamb that Kevin had deboned and put into marinade earlier day. There it was, a big bowl of little pieces of lamb marinating in stuff like cumin, paprika, turmeric, saffron, garlic, olive oil . . . it smelled awesome!
Again the chef explained the background and how loved the dish is while students skewered lamb bits onto bamboo skewers. And then I saw them, the cast iron griddles on which we would cook our skewered lambs. They looked just like the griddle I have on my stove, except a lot cleaner. So I had to ask how they got their griddles so clean, and as the chef grilled the skewers, I was told the griddles were kept clean through hard work. I was afraid they would say that. More work. But I digress. I then volunteered to slice up some limes while Kevin finished the skewers and when he was done he piled them onto the plated skewers, like this:
Finally, the croqueta de jamon: ham-embedded bechamel breaded and deep fried. There is nothing about that that does not sound great, because of the fat involved. With all the cream and butter in the becamel and the rich and fatty goodness that is ham, you know it has to be good. So we took turns rolling ham-studded bechamel in bread crumbs that Kevin deep fried:
And when he was done, we had a big plate of blazingly awesome food:
Now it was time to eat these three dishes, paired with three wines: first the peppers with a light white wine, then the crispy balls of awesome goodness paired the Spanish equivalent of a nice, fairly dry champagne, then the lamb paired with an amazing, smooth deep red.
Ann thought I was funny, because every time I ate something I said something akin to MMMM, each time a little more enthusiastic than the last.
Those of you who know me know that I am a cheap date. You know, I get drunk pretty easily. And you know that by now, I have had at least three glasses of wine. I’m feeling pretty good. And Ann brought her own bottle of wine, of which I had a glass. And it was good.
So finally came dessert: toasted almonds and Manchego cheese and sherry. This is my favorite kind of dessert. Not cake or ice cream or anything heavy like that. In fact, if I have something sweet for dessert, it’s usually a couple of small pieces of chocolate and a couple of marshmallows. But I prefer cheese with fruit or bread or crackers or something like that. But cheese and toasted almonds never occurred to me. And paired with Sherry? Hell yes!
Kevin asked me to cut the cheese, well, slice it actually, then he arranged the cheese and almonds on a platter.
To show us how it goes, he laid a couple slices out on a plate with a small pile of toasted almonds, then drizzled some honey over it all.
This was one of the three best desserts I have ever had: simple, healthy, light and very, very tasty. And let us not forget the sherry. Perfect.
We ate our desserts and drank our sherries and before you know it, our night was over. Kevin asked us to fill out critique forms and while we did, a very pretty Brazilian woman (emboldened by the wine and the sherry and all) heavily flirted with me. She was half of a Brazilian couple, so wasn’t going anywhere. Nuts. She was very pretty and very nice.
So that was the night, basically. Was it good? For me, it was just about perfect. You know, I work at home a lot and don’t get out much, so this was great. A little bit pricey, but otherwise awesome. And I really liked having a professional chef answer just about any question I had. I still have a lot, since I have been cooking since I was about eight. Very nice.
So, would I do it again? Let me put it this way: I have already signed up for the paella party on the twentieth. I’ll let you know how that goes.