Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hands-off Cooking Class

Most of the cooking classes that I take are hands-on, with a group of 8-25 all pitching in to make food and learning how to de-bone fish and fowl, make pasta, or use a gadget like a mandoline. They're recreational classes and we all chat, sip wine and enjoy eating the food we've made. I was tired on this busy Labor Day weekend, so it was actually nice to sit back in a class that was a demo with wine and food tastings.

7 of us gathered at Reid's Fine Foods in Charlotte on Sunday, for a grilling class given by Heidi Billotto.

Heidi's well known about town, giving classes at her home, at Reid's and at local farms. She also makes appearances on local TV as well as giving demos at trade shows like the Southern Ideal Home Show and the upcoming Southern Women's Show.

It was a small group, and since it wasn't hands-on I refrained from taking pix, and going all "food-arazzi." Heidi gave us good tips on grilling, such as not brushing veggies with olive oil prior to grilling (the fat causes flame-ups and makes the veggies soggy) and to pat meat and fish dry, even after marinating, so they don't stick to the grill. Soak a cedar plank overnight so it doesn't burn. Skewer food after grilling, to ensure that it's all cooked evenly. Local pork can be cooked to medium rare (no need to call an ambulance!) but commercial pork can't, due to additives, antibiotics and pesticides. Add oil last to a marinade, to let the acids and other ingredients do their work first. Simple tips for cleaner, better grilling!

 Rather than go through the recipes that we learned, I thought I'd share some of the interesting products that Heidi used. We each used about a dozen tasting spoons for everything from mushroom soy sauce to marshmallow fluff. I've had the latter only one other time in my l-i-f-e, at age 30! Kitschy and fun when used sparingly on a Grilled Banana Split! All products were available for purchase at Reid's after class, and we got a 10% discount. I picked up some things I've never tasted or used before.

 Tondo White Balsamic Cream is a white balsamic reduction---with a thicker consistency, like honey. It's not used in larger amounts, the way you use balsamic vinegar. As a garnish, a dab goes a long way, and the color of food isn't altered.

Heidi used Dark Muscovado sugar in the marinade and the sauce for Pork Sate with Pecan Dipping Sauce. It's a British specialty sugar, darker, coarser, stickier and with more molasses than regular brown sugar. Great flavor. Or should I say, flavour.

Ok, who among us hasn't loved a Biscoff cookie, and maybe asked for two, when flying Delta Airlines?

I did NOT know that Biscoff, which is a Belgian graham cracker-y tasting cookie (the name is a contraction of biscuit and coffee)...comes in a JAR. It's available in retail stores, and you can get it without having to buy an airline ticket.

This deadly-good spread will be stored next to the Nutella...and will be used in decadent desserts. What's the harm in dipping a teaspoon in that jar every now and again?!

Ok, this next one is just kee-razy, and insanely flavorful. Vegetarian friends may want to skip to the next blog posting.

Skillet Bacon Spread

The label answers the question, "What the heck is bacon jam?" Well, "it's a tasty condiment we created in our Airstream trailers here in Seattle. You can eat it with a spoon, but it also goes great on burgers, sandwiches, mashers, and scrambles. The possibilities are endless, so visit us at for more ideas and to share your favorite use."

The nutrition label shows the calorie content as 80 for a 1 oz serving. Kinda low in total fat, carbs and sugar...but there is a load of sodium. Heidi didn't use this in her demo, but after she went off on a tangent about a bacon class she's giving (!), she pulled a jar off the shelf for us to taste. It's really good in a small dose...but then, when does bacon ever taste bad?

For the wine pairings, we tried E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone White with the grilled chicken. Very crisp and fruity. With the Pork Sate, we tasted Bridlewood Estate Pinot Noir, which had the black cherry, purple plum notes and spiciness that I like.  We sipped Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon with the Strip Steak stuffed with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese. We learned that Washington State merlots are a "bigger wine" body and taste-wise than cabernet. That goes against conventional wisdom. This medium-bodied cab was very nice~~raspberry, black pepper, vanilla and cola.

My favorite wine was the last one we enjoyed, with the very decadent Grilled Banana Split. We were going to try Black Chook, a sparkling shiraz from Australia, but there was no stock for us to purchase. Instead, we had Cantina di Casteggio Sangue di Giuda. (Blood of Judah.)

This sparkling red wine is from Pavia, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. Frizzante, or fizzy wine pairs well with rich dishes (like dessert) but would also be very nice with a holiday turkey dinner or a pork dish. It was like a red prosecco.

Heidi's demo was very engaging and my friends and I had a really nice, relaxing afternoon...sipping, supping and shopping. Sounds perfect, doesn't it?

Life is good. Level & Plumb.

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