In a previous post I discussed my friend Danika’s new endeavor into the world of culinary classes including a traveling cooking class to Paris. Since the last post Danika has officially entitled her cooking classes “The Gypsy Kitchen.”
Recently, I took part in Danika’s inaugural Austin class entitled “Summers In Capri,” a class based on my favorite cuisine – Mediterranean. I must admit at the time of this class I was on one of my cleanses. For those of you who do not know me well, from time to time I cut back on my gluttony and attempt to be healthy – no alcohol, bread, pasta, etc. Instead I eat a lot of brown rice, salmon and vegetables. So going to a cooking class with wine, limoncella, bruschetta, pasta and more was a lot like putting a sugar-starved ADD child in a candy store. But I think I did ok. I only took bites of the food ( I have to write about the flavors, don’t I??). And I did take a sip of the limoncella. That was probably unnecessary, but ever since that whole Danny DeVito incident I am so intrigued.
Ok, enough about me and onto the food experience. We started off with Danika showing us how to cook grilled octopus. I found this super interesting. While I love food and cooking, I have to be honest, I am not the most exotic eater. And I have never eaten octopus. It was utterly fascinating to watch her prep the baby octopus and then just throw those suckers on the grill. Danika also did a great job of explaining what she was doing while smoke from the grill was blowing in her face. So kudos for incorporating some different foods and keeping calm under pressure. And by the way, they were fantastic with the lemon basil aioli she whipped up.
The second course was a lovely marinated tomato bruschetta. Something Danika discussed during the preparation of this course resonated with me. She spoke about how summer was a great time to eat light and that this dish was a perfect example. And essentially, minus the bread I could eat this (as well as the octopus) and not even break my cleanse. It was a lovely melange of tomatoes, tons of olive oil, basil, salt, pepper all mixed and then placed atop ciabbata bread. Danika said that ciabatta bread or foccacia are perfect for this recipe, as they easily soak up the juices from the tomatoes, olive oil, etc. I loved this dish, but then again I do not believe you can go wrong with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil. It’s just a general rule I have.
The last savory course consisted of Spaghetti alla Vongole – basically spaghetti with clams. This was another spectacularly simple dish. Simplicity was another topic Danika hammered home during the class. So for any of you who are interested in learning to cook, but who think cooking is too complicated this would be a perfect class. Danika spends a lot of time discussing substitutions, simplifying recipes and much more that can make a novice cook feel at ease.
Since I was on the cleanse I only got to take a small bite. But the pasta was indeed very simple and tasty.
Lastly, we sampled a delightful creation by Ms. Sandi Reinlie, pastry chef extraordinaire. The little tarts consisted of a short dough crust filled with mascarpone and topped with strawberries and balsamic vinegar. She whipped this baby up in 20 minutes. And it was heavenly.
What was interesting about Sandi’s portion was the clarity that baking and cooking are very different. I have some friends who bake and others who cook. And they rarely cross the line into the other territory. Which has always been weird to me as I do love both. But I know I am not afraid to follow a recipe. Some cooks really pride themselves on not following recipes and I think when you venture into baking you have to. I will give you a very embarrassing example. Once, I got into a cake-off with my mom. She insists that there is no need to bake cakes. According to her you just need to get a mix and doctor it up. I DISAGREE strongly (as you can tell by my all caps.) I firmly believe in fresh ingredients and not using off the shelf processed box cake mixes. So we proceeded to bake. I had a sure fire winner, some type of spice cake made from scratch. Well, I unfortunately relied on my father to serve as my sous-chef. Big mistake. He knows where his bread is buttered. Instead of handing me baking powder he handed me baking soda. So basically my cake fell flat – literally. My mom won – by default. I still need to re-challenge her and defend homemade cake bakers all over the globe.
All in all, I found this experience to be fun and yummy, despite my inability to actually eat a lot of food. You can experience this as well. Danika has a number of classes coming up in Austin as well as her Paris classes. Please check out Danika’s class schedule on her website http://www.danikaboyle.com or simply email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has a number of intersting classes coming up including a Spanish cooking class, a class focused on cocktails and appetizers and much more.
Here are a couple of the recipes from the class.
Grilled Baby Octopus w Lemon and Basil Aioli
1 pound of fresh baby octopus, heads removed
6 tbsp of evoo
2 tsp of salt and a pinch of pepper
1 tsp of chopped garlic
2 egg yolks
5 basil leaves, rolled together and chopped
Begin by preheating your grill on high for 5 minutes, top down. Take your thawed octopus, 3 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp of salt, pepper and 1/2 the garlic and toss together in a large metal bowl or ziploc. Set aside. Can be left in marinade overnight or for a few hours, although it is also unnecessary if time doesn’t allow.
Once your grill is smoking hot, take tongs and gently lift the octopus out one by one and lay them flattened on the grill. ( If you dump them out all together, the oil will catch fire and they will not cook evenly )
Leave to grill for 4 minutes on high, top open, then turn and repeat on the other side. After 8 mintues, remove from heat to a platter.
For the Aioli, take your egg yolks, remaining salt and garlic and whisk gently in a large metal bowl. Slowly stir in remaining olive oil, whisking well to incorporate. The mixture should have the consistency of mayonnaise. Throw in the basil, stir and serve immediately . If you don’t have eggs or want to make a different version, 1 c of store bought mayo with the juice of half a lemon and the basil makes an easy and elegant sub.
* when consuming raw eggs, the remaining mixture should be kept cold. Throw out any aioli that was served, but not eaten.
Spaghetti alle Vongole
2 pounds of clams, mixed or all one type – I find the smaller ones easier to manage.
1-2 pounds of spaghetti, linguine or angel hair
2 c of white wine ( that you would actually drink )
2 tsp of minced garlic
Juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp of EVOO
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp of cold butter, diced
Start by bringing a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. ( should taste like the sea ) Throw in your pasta with a touch of olive oil.
In a large sided pan, add olive oil and garlic and cook until slightly opaque.
Toss in your rinsed clams and saute for a minute or less.
Throw in the white wine, carefully lifting the pot off the fire if you are worried it might be too hot. ( if the garlic begins to burn, add more olive oil or wine to drop the temperature in the pan )
Once the mussels begin to open, drain your cooked -al dente -pasta, which should be soft but snap a touch when pulling apart, reserving a few tbsp of pasta water. Remove your clams and begin to reduce your sauce by a third by adding in the reserved pasta water and lemon juice. Once the sauce thickens a bit, remove from heat and stir in cold butter. Toss in your pasta and clams and stir to coat. Remove to a large serving bowl and serve with herb croutons slightly crushed on the top~