More MFK Fisher loveliness

The first time, on our way to Germany, we had sat downstairs while our meal was being made. There were big soft leather chairs, and on the dark table was a bowl of the first potato chips I ever saw in Europe, not the uniformly thin uniformly golden ones that come out of waxed bags here at home, but light and dark, thick and paper-thin, fried in real butter and then salted casually with the gros sal served in the country with the pot-au-feu.

They were so good that I ate them with the kind of slow sensuous concentration that pregnant women are supposed to feel for chocolate-cake-at-three-in-the-morning. I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that I drank two or three glasses of red port in the same strange private orgy of enjoyment. It seems impossible, but the fact remains that it was one of the keenest gastronomic moments of my life.
I am so in love with this book. It is transporting me to another time and place, and it’s inspiring me more than anything ever has to seek out new flavors, textures, and experiences.

Eat, drink, and read The Gastronomical Me

Dream Come True!

Guess where I'm going to lunch on Tuesday, July 8th. Just...guess.

Thanks, Amy and Lisa, for getting the rezzie!!!!

California: Reality Check

I’m ecstatic to go back to California*. Really, I can’t express it in words. It’s not that sort of excitement: “Yay! Vacay!” No, it’s more soulful, more guttural. I can live in NYC the rest of my life, but I will always be a “West Coaster”. I will always have that friendly, relaxed, tell-you-everything-about-my-life sort of manner that West Coasters have. This trip to ALA and then to see friends and family will be a cleansing deep breath for my soul.

HOWEVER, I really have a love-hate relationship with California right now. Namely, the car culture there. Keep in mind that one of the Top 3 reasons I moved to NYC was because I didn’t want to drive again…ever (for more on this, check out Justine Larbalestier’s post on Non-Drivers). So I’m not renting a car at ALA. I refuse…because I’m stubborn…and scared. But remember I posted about all the fabu restaurants I was going to try while I was in Anaheim? Well, Google maps tells me that these are the actual distances from my hotel to each restaurant:

Café Casse-Croute: 4.3 miles
Café Contigo: 2.7 miles
Sarkis Pastry : 4.5 miles

Now, I’m certainly not opposed to walking 2.7 miles and back for good food – in fact, I’d welcome the opportunity. However, anyone who has attended any sort of major conference knows that there just isn’t time to do all that. I’ve got meetings and sessions and the exhibit floor and…

Additionally, I’m meeting with my Emerging Leaders group on Thursday night to prepare for our poster session, eat dinner, and drink wine. I volunteered to bring wine. I started searching for wine shops in the area and found some really fantastic possibilities. And then I looked up the distances:

Twisted Vine: 8 miles
Wine Exchange: 6 miles
Italia Wine Imports: 3.8 miles

I’m tempted to just pack a bottle in my suitcase but that could be bad… On principle, it seems ridiculous to pack a bottle from NYC when I should be exploring Anaheim’s local culture. Yeah, it’s CAR culture! So I’m not bringing a bottle with me. Instead, I’ll ask at the front desk of the hotel if there’s a wine/liquor store I can walk to. See what happens. I might be pleasantly surprised. I’m just lucky I discovered all this before I actually started walking to the specific stores and restaurants. That would have been bad and I most likely would have cried. And I would have received multiple blisters on my feet as a reward for my efforts.

Eat, drink, and create your own adventures

* For the record, I grew up in the foothills of Northern California where you really don't see palm trees. Evergreens were the norm and no celebrities were sighted there. I'm fiercely loyal to NoCal.


Giada's Melon and Prosciutto Panini

This is one of my favorite springtime meals: Giada De Laurentiis' Melon and Prosciutto Panino. It has the ideal combination of flavors and textures: crunchy bread, smooth melty cheese, sweet melon, salty meat. And the colors: peach, brick red, green, white, brown!

This is the first time this spring that I've made this (I only make it in spring) and, unfortunately, I got a little cocky this time and managed to mess it up. It really is an easy recipe:

1. bread - Giada calls for focaccia, but I usually use whatever rustic bread I have on hand
2. Brie - but any variation on the soft-rind, soft texture cheese will do (I've used the Chimay stuff before to great effect)
3. cantaloupe - one half is enough to feed me, Adam, and the kiddo
4. prosciutto - I've always used prosciutto, but I suppose you could play around with other meats. This is probably blasphemous to say since melon and prosciutto is the traditional preparation... But then, I've always been a blasphemer myself...
5. arugula - you really only need a small amount for this recipe

Seriously, that's it, people. And then you grill it. I use my stovetop cast iron grill and cast iron panini press, but you could use just a regular pan or even the outdoor grill (though I've never tried it this way).

As far as the asparagus is concerned, I used the simplest (and best) preparation: grilled it, drizzled it with rad extra-virgin olive oil (off the grill), salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Shazam! And it was certainly more successful than this attempt...

So how did I manage to fubar this easy recipe? Totally forgot the arugula. Wanna hear something even more assenine? We mmm'ed and hmmm'ed over the meal...and I never noticed anything missing. Until 3 days later when I was rummaging through the fridge and discovered the arugula, thinking, "What the hell is this for? I don't remember..." And then I remembered. I'm such a fool in the kitchen...I suppose it's all the wine I drink while I'm cooking...

Eat, drink, and don't forget the arugula!


Gearing up for ALA...Anaheim-style

You may not see much of me in the next 2-3 weeks: in addition to having friends staying with us this weekend, I’m gearing up for ALA*’s Annual Conference in Anaheim next weekend. After that, it’s a week with my family in Northern Cal. Then two days in the Berkeley/Oakland area with more friends. By my account, I should be back blogging regularly about mid-July. In the meantime, here is a schizo post on a sunny Friday afternoon:

- I’ve never been to New Orleans and, until today, I’ve never really had a desire. I’ve only considered myself a true foodie in the past year and, up until 3 years ago, the ongoing joke among family and friends was that I ate only white food. So New Orleans didn’t sound like my kind of place with all that flashing-strangers-at-Mardi-Gras and okra and spicy stuff. Well, in the past three years, a new world has opened up to me….and today, Omnivore Herbivore Carnivore has expanded that world even further. Check out Kyla's culinary adventures in the city and you too will want to head on down there ASAP…or at least wait until autumn…

- I am the happiest clam! Look at the two ARCs I received this week!

- Most of my meals at ALA Annual are being very generously provided by publishers (thanks, guys!)…however, I do want to try and strike out on my own and see what Anaheim has to offer. I have very little free time so I’m going to have to schedule any foodie adventures down to the minute. Nevertheless, I have to at least try. In the latest SLJ there are some intriguing restaurant suggestions. I get into Anaheim around lunchtime on Thursday so I’m thinking of hiking to Café Contigo for Cuban sandwiches that “will change the way you look at sandwiches…promise”. I’ve got the most time on Saturday so I’m hoping to get to Sarkis Pastry for breakfast**, which is rather ambitious since it’s, you know, the morning. I also have lunch free on Saturday (how decadent!) so I’m planning on Café Casse Croute (French-Canadian cuisine, Vietnamese-owned). Anyone reading this who wants to check out any of these restaurants with me, let me know – I’m always open to hanging out with a fellow food explorer! Likewise, if you know of any great food places close to the convention center, let me know…I don’t suppose I’m going to find a farmers’ market that close, am I?

- A night of Stephenie Meyer and Blue October? Oh, how I desperately want to go! Desperately. But quite frankly, I really don’t want to compete with thronging groups of tween girls to get a ticket and to go to the event. Especially since I don’t know another librarian in her (or his) right mind who would go with me. So I’ll stay home, turn on Blue October, and imagine Justin Furstenfeld singing only to me. Just like a tween girl would do. Oh, the irony.

- Courtesy of my daily Shelf Awareness email, I leave you with this fantabulous quote from Huck Finn (as quoted by Jennie Shortridge): “I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself, ‘All right, then, I'll GO to hell.’” That totally made my Friday.

Eat, drink, and ride the wave

* When, oh when, will I realize my dream of being on the Newbery committee?!
** Because baklava is one of my all-time favorite desserts...in those rare moments when I eat sweets.


Alison at PW totally cheered me up

Why I Don't Want to Write about Kids' Books Today:

Reason #1

Reason #2 (and, gosh darn it, I love pretty* in the city!)

Why I Still Love Kids' Books and Kidlitbloggers:

Reason #1

Reason #2 (I commented that I'd make out with MT Anderson, Donna Jo Napoli, Shannon Hale, and Kadir Nelson...but other commenters reminded me that I'd also make out with Christopher Paul Curtis, Sarah Miller, Louise Rennison, and Gary Schmidt. 'Cause I'm kind of a whore that way...)

Lots of Food, Part III

I’m reading MFK Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me right now and it is rocking my world. I thought Ruth Reichl was brilliant while reading Garlic and Sapphires (and she still is); however, Fisher is leaving Reichl in the dust in the Great Food Writing Write-Off. I never thought food writing could be like this, where food and life and everything in between are so intricately woven together as to be indistinguishable from one another. Which is exactly how life is and Fisher has somehow captured that. There is nothing episodic about her writing, and she writes so beautifully about the people she encounters that, after they've left the narrative, you want to follow each of them to find out more about their story.

Because the prose is so tightly woven together, so fluid and connected, it's difficult to find a passage brief enough to include here. But I must give you some little delight from the book so here is a brief description of a meal that Fisher ate as a child with her sister and her father:

…it was one of the best meals we ever ate.

Perhaps that is because it was the first conscious one, for me at least; but the fact that we remember it with such queer clarity must mean that it had other reasons for being important. I suppose that happens at least once to every human. I hope so.

Now the hills are cut through with superhighways, and I can’t say whether we sat that night in Mint Canyon or Bouquet, and the three of us are in some ways even more than twenty-five years older than we were then. And still the warm round peach pie and the cool yellow cream we ate together that August night live in our hearts’ palates, succulent, secret, delicious.

For heaven’s sake, if you love food writing, read this book. Read it now.
Eat, drink, and read food porn.


Lots of Food, Part II

I went to a panel discussion at the New School last week on Julia Child, and it was fascinating, inspiring stuff. Check out the line-up: Joan Reardon, Judith Jones, Laura Shapiro, and Molly O’Neill. And if you don’t know who these people are, I urge you to do some Googling. Each speaker was engaging and interesting, full to the brim with funny stories and anecdotes about Julia Child.

One of the many things I appreciated was that Molly O’Neill shared that Julia’s public persona was not an act – Julia was funny and brassy and a complete “goofball”. Molly also mentioned how lucky Julia was to have an editor that encouraged her to be “real”; to which Judith Jones replied that Julia was incredibly humble and Judith absolutely had to encourage Julia to let her personality show.

Additionally, I believe it was Laura who talked about Julia’s “conversion experience” in France. Likewise, Alice Waters and MFK Fisher had experiences of their own in France. Laura described it as that moment when a person is turned on to and discovers a whole new way of eating, cooking, and enjoying food. To the point when your whole life changes in reaction to your experience. This experience gives you a new gold standard by which all other food is measured. Hearing this was like a bell going off in my head. I had a “conversion experience.” My best friend had a “conversion experience.” I daresay that all the people I know who are deeply passionate and excited about food had such an experience. I want to sit in a room with 20 people and share our conversion experiences because each one would be so different, informed by such diverse backgrounds. But I love the idea of something clicking in one’s head as they take that first delectable bite…and you’ll never be the same again.

Lastly, one thing that Molly said struck me (because Molly was a hilarious and interesting speaker): Julia, for better or for worse, made cooking a white-collar experience, whereas it was once a blue-collar industry. I don't enough about the history of cooking and restaurants to comment on Molly's statement; nevertheless, I do find that an interesting point and it has inspired me to do more research to find out when that change took place. Because Molly is right: certainly in America, cooking is, to some degree, a white-collar activity. I guess that this is in large part, particularly in recent months, because of the price of "good" food. But how does Julia Child fit into this? I don't know yet...but I'm reading more to find out...

Lots of Food, Part 1

I have had a tremendous amount of food “things” happening lately, but I haven’t been able to write about any of them, unfortunately. I won’t bore you with why I haven’t had much time to blog…truly, I have nothing more exciting going on than Life. You know. Since there’s so much to share, I’ll have to break it up into a couple of blog posts:

- Finished my last Cooking 101 class at ICE last Saturday. Unfortunately, Chef Melanie Underwood was not able to teach the last class. Fortunately, Chef James Briscione stepped in. Besides being devastatingly adorable with a drawling deep voice, he was actually very approachable and did a great job with us newbies. Again, I didn’t learn much in this class that I didn’t already know – I asked Chef James what kind of salt I should use in my pasta water (he answered “kosher”)…but anyone who reads my blog knows that I know darn well what kind of salt to use. Truth be known, I wanted to ask a question to encourage Chef James to speak…and I hoped to show him that I knew what I was doing...because he's really cute. Yep, I’m admitting my crush right here. But back to the food...What I did learn was that “primavera” is Italian for “spring-style” and that you shouldn’t make glazed walnuts on the stovetop because the sugar will burn before the walnuts are toasted (do them in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes). At the end of class, Chef Jane came in and a few of us chatted for awhile. She has a blog as well, over at Wine and Food Philosophy. I hope to take a class from her someday – she strikes me as funny, bright, and down-to-earth.

More food coming up...


Brief Review: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've been hesitant to ever name my "favorite" authors...but I think it's safe to say that Shannon Hale is one of my favorites. She writes so lyrically, so gracefully with fully developed characters and compelling storylines. This was a fascinating read - it had everything: scary moments, romance, bravery, adventure, sadness, friendship, war. Dare I say that it was epic? Yep, I just said it.

View all my reviews.


ICE: Sharpen Your Senses...to Amy's summer music

So I meant to come to the computer to blog. I nearly always blog to music so I went to iTunes to put on a playlist. Which reminded me that I hate all the music I have right now and need new summertime music. Then I remembered: someone recently blogged about rad music for June! But who the hell was it? Pretty* in the City? Justine Larbalestier? Nope. But those are some of the coolest bloggers I know! Who else could it be? Mind you, this search has taken 30 minutes and still no blogging...

Then I felt like an idiot. Of course, it was my friend Amy over at Simple Things Made Great. I’m really a jerk for not remembering because she is most likely The Coolest Person I Know. She knows about fashion (come on, Amy, can’t you do something about this Roman sandal trend?!) and she really knows all about music. Want something fresh to listen to? Go check her list out. The bad news? Not a single album is available on iTunes. Which on one hand is enormously frustrating…and on the other hand, it’s yet another thing that makes Amy so cool.

Okay, so now that the search is over, I can focus on the reason why I wanted to blog. By the way, the Husband calls this tendency of mine the “Look! Something Shiny!” syndrome. Oh, that is the truth!

So over a week ago I went to another class at the Institute of Culinary Education: Sharpen Your Senses. It was taught by the endlessly lovely Margaret Happel Perry who, I swear to you, is Audrey Hepburn’s long-lost twin (accent and all). I could have watched and listened to her all night! I won’t go into too much detail but we talked a bit about non-tasters and super-tasters. We talked about the palate and how current research shows that you have the ability to taste bitter, sweet, sour, etc. on every part of your tongue, but some areas are just more sensitive than others. We did a blind taste test with Kleenex shoved up our nose so we couldn’t smell it. Then we made guesses as to what we were eating (cucumber, melon, and strawberry, all puréed so they were very similar textures).

One of the most illuminating parts for me was the discussion of how alcohol releases flavor. The instructor told us her husband is from the South and likes his chili with some heat; if she hasn’t made the chili spicy enough, she just adds a tablespoon or two of bourbon and they’re ready to go. Additionally, if something you’ve made is too spicy, add milk or yogurt to dilute the flavor. To illustrate the point, we all placed a sliver of ginger on our tongues. First, we sipped green tea, which complimented the ginger but didn’t do much for its flavor. Second, we sipped some Sapporo beer, which gave the ginger a slight kick. Well, if the beer was a little kick under the table, the SCOTCH was a punch to the stomach. I was a little embarrassed – I took the littlest sip because I really can’t stand scotch anyway. But combined with the ginger, it felt like my whole mouth and throat were on fire. I sputtered and cough for the next five minutes. Ugh. Point made.

We also had a nice conversation about “comfort foods”, foods that have so many emotional and mental complications that you can’t really judge it objectively. We had three kinds of pound cake: the first was Sara Lee, the second was a box mix, and the third was homemade with delicate seasonings. There was a very small group that declared they liked the Sara Lee best and ‘fessed up to growing up on Sara Lee with canned pie filling on top. It makes sense that they’d like Sara Lee best – the flavor of that cake is mired in memory and emotions. I’ve never tasted pound cake, or any thing really, like that before: three different types, all varying quality, one after another. And it was ordered as such so that we’d eat the lowest quality first and then work up to the highest quality. Again, though, quality can be subjective. It can be argued that Sara Lee is the higher quality because it’s frozen at the peak of its quality; whereas the box mix, because it has to sit on the shelf, needs more preservatives to keep it fresh-tasting.

Fascinating stuff, no?

Eat, drink, and sharpen your senses


What have you read lately?

I’m constantly plagued and haunted by how few books I actually get to read. I mean, if I were to be honest with myself, I really do read a lot…at least, I read a very realistic amount, given my life circumstances. Nevertheless, I always want to read more. In an attempt to calm myself down* by taking stock of how much I really do read, I’ll do a round-up of my reading lately:

- Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and illustrated awesomely by Nathan Hale

I’ve already heard some criticisms – a colleague thought the speech bubbles didn’t match the actions taking place in the same panel. I don’t know, though, I just didn’t see that. Anyone that has met Shannon Hale can attest to her fantastic wit and cleverness, and I’m so glad that she has created a book that allows her humor to shine. Nathan Hale’s art is stunning – in particular, there is a scene when Rapunzel is shut in her tower, and it shows the various stages of Rapunzel’s grief. It’s incredibly well-done: poignant and moving without being scary. Additionally, there are moments when Nathan perfectly captures Shannon’s wit and really brings it to life. As a librarian, I’m constantly looking for quality graphic novels for the younger set, and this is one of those. It’ll appeal to the adventurous 8-year-old and the more independent 16-year-old.

- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Just what the doctor ordered. It was enormously clever, and the social commentary was spot-on. That Jane Austen was cheeky! Pride and Prejudice gets all the love because of Mr. Darcy; even then, I believe most of that stems from one of the men on my Top 5 List: Colin Firth. But I digress… Life has been insane lately and, since I’ve felt so out of control, Sense and Sensibility was a cozy, timely, lovely reminder that everything always turns out just as it should be.

- I haven’t read these yet but I just have to share that one of my Favorite Publishing People, Ellen Greene at Harcourt, recently sent me a packet of books. There were all kinds of fun F&Gs but, being the darling person she is, she stuck in two paperbacks for me: Organic, Inc.:Natural Foods and How They Grew by Samuel Formatz and A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France by Georgeanne Brennan. Given how much I loved From Here You Can’t See Paris, I think A Pig in Provence will be right up my alley. Thanks to Ellen and here’s to hoping that she gets her cute self out to NYC soon!

- Because I’m all in love with Shannon Hale now (as if I ever stopped...well, okay, there was that Austenland misstep), I picked up Book of a Thousand Days, which I’ve had sitting on my desk for months. So far, I’m loving it, of course. But I’m also waiting for it to pick up – the premise has been set, now where are we going from here? I’ll keep you posted.

And that’s my book round-up for now. I’m already plotting my next book…I got invited to an event this Thursday night – it’s a panel discussion with Molly O’Neill, Judith Jones, and others discussing Julia Child’s influence on the culinary world. I can hardly wait. So I’ll most likely be picking up My Life in France next…

Eat, drink, and be well-read.

* aided by the glass of Sauvignon Blanc next to me – is there anything else to drink on a 90+ degree day with 60% humidity?


Lethal Weapon 2, SLJ, and food

It’s Saturday night, dinner is finished, and I know where my kid is….in bed! So naturally that means I won’t be with you people long because I have a husband to watch Lethal Weapon 2 with. So here are the bullet points:

- Get a good laugh over at Thursday Night Smackdown and their latest post. Want a preview? Check this out: “Tofu? Tofucked.” I mean, really. How much
better does it get?*

- How many times do I have to tell you people?! FOOD and CHILDREN’S LITERATURE are related! School Library Journal has an article on Alice Waters’ work with schools, children, and nutrition. I don’t know, though. Does this really mean that food and children’s lit are related…or that SLJ is just getting on board the We-Love-Alice-Waters train finally? Yeah, yeah guys, grab a ticket because we all love her.

- Um, New York was overcast and 93 degrees today. Tomorrow…get this…is supposed to be raining and 98 degrees. Seriously. And people gave me so much crap about living in Arizona – NYC is So Much Worse when it gets like this.

- I finished my 2nd How to Cook class at ICE today. Made stuff that I knew how to make. But totally got some one-on-one time with the chef and kinda wish I could hang out with her. She and I would chat and she’d be called away to help another group…then she’d come back of her own accord and pick up our conversation where we left off. Others were probably annoyed at this (I totally would have been); however, as the object of her affection, I had a great time. She’s no-nonsense and tough but she is so clearly passionate about food. I totally have hero worship right now.

Crap. The Husband just came out of the shower: “You finishing a blog post? Ready to watch the movie?” So that’s adieu to all of you so I can watch that friggin brilliant scene in LW2 when Danny Glover and Joe Pesci are in the South African embassy. Oh, you know how funny that scene is! You don’t? Well, then, you and I might not get along.

Eat, drink, and enjoy your Saturday night.

* FYI - I don't say this nonchalantly because I passionately feel that I should be open-minded to any and all foods. However, there is one food I don't think you'll ever see on my blog...and that is tofu. Looking for that special blog about the relationship between tofu and children's literature? This one isn't it. But I'm sure that blog exists out there...somewhere...


Breaking Dawn cover art

Friggin awesome.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for this delicious piece of news!

Blogging on the run: New York Times and ICE

I’ll be blunt: I have no time to blog this week. Hell, forget this week: I have no time to be writing this. Nevertheless, I’m addicted and need a fix. So please forgive this post’s brevity and scattered-ness. Truly, it’s a miracle I’m here at all.

The NY TimesDining section has a fun article today: what is your recipe deal-breaker? Meaning, what is the one (two…or three) thing you read in a recipe and say, “Nope. Not making this.” The article quotes someone as saying that if a recipe calls for removing your watch and all rings, they won’t make the recipe. One of my favorites was “butterfly 12 4-inch fresh anchovies” – yeah, I wouldn’t make that either. Or “Yield: 18 servings.” The article discusses the practical “deal breakers” as well as the much less rational.

So what are your deal breakers? What will it take for you to completely write off a recipe? Here are a couple of mine:

- Anything that requires an oven hotter than 425 degrees. My tiny NYC kitchen has zero air circulation and I turn into a raving bitch around that amount of heat. In the summer, I don’t go over 375 degrees.

- Anything that requires cheesecloth. This is a completely irrational one. I never have it on hand and I’m never motivated enough to buy it. There are too many other awesome recipes out there that don’t require cheesecloth. Same goes with recipes that require twine.

- Homemade pizza crust. I’ve tried it before and have failed every time. Life’s too short, especially since I have naan now. I’ve chronicled all this here and here.

- Anything requiring yeast. Too fussy. Too complicated. Too close to baking.

- Any recipe that takes multiple days. Not like, “this can be made 2 days in advance.” No, I’m talking those multiple step, week-long recipes. It’s not that I won’t ever try them…I will. But it’ll be when I retire 20 years from now.

And that just scratches the surface. Feel free to share your own deal breakers and anticipate the moment when I get around to blogging about my new favorite wine, Chinon, and my Sharpen Your Senses class at ICE last night*. ICE is quickly becoming my home-away-from-home and I’m loving it.

Eat, drink, and know what you will or won't do in the kitchen

* Don't know when children's books will make an appearance - I'm immersed in Sense and Sensibility right now.


How to Cook 101 Class

On Saturday morning, I attended my first “How to Cook” class at the Institute of Culinary Education – there will be two more classes the next couple Saturdays.

To sum up, the class helped me realize I already know how to cook.

There are about 12 of us in the class and we began by sitting at a long table. We introduced ourselves and shared why we’re taking the class; out of the whole class, I believe there were only 1 or 2 other people, in addition to myself, who ‘fessed up to already knowing how to cook. Otherwise, most people said some variation of “I’m sick of takeout.” Chef Melanie Underwood talked with us for a bit and then we broke up into three groups and made different dishes. My group made a mixed Mediterranean platter, melon and prosciutto, and “chocolate-dipped morsels.” Group 1 made shrimp cocktail, a smoked salmon platter, and “chocolate-dipped morsels.” Group 2 made tomato and mozzarella, guacamole and chips, and “chocolate-dipped morsels.” After we made all our dishes and presented them, we sat down to the table again (which had been set up with full place settings and wine) and enjoyed each other’s food. Good conversation about food ensued.

So, those of you foodies who read my blog, you can guess how under-challenged I felt. However, part of the reason I took the basic class was because I wanted to really master the basics. I wanted to start at the beginning. In that spirit, here are the things I learned from Chef Melanie in our first class that I did not previously know:

1. If an avocado is underripe, sprinkle lime juice and salt on it to make it edible.

2. As a rule, when you taste for seasoning, eat it how you’ll be eating it later. For example, don’t taste the guacamole on a spoon – use a chip. Totally obvious, right? Well, I’ll confess that this never occurred to me.

3. The folks who made the shrimp cocktail poached the shrimp in a court bouillon, which I had never heard of. Here is the recipe given to us:

2 qt water
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons
1 bay leaf
8 black peppercorns (whole)
2 tbsp salt

We were also told that we could use this recipe to poach mushrooms and veggies.

4. If you’re cooking shrimp that haven’t been shelled and deveined, do so after they’re cooked. Cooking the shrimp in the shell gives them more flavor.

5. Don’t refrigerate corn. But refrigerate mushrooms.

6. Domestic prosciutto tastes different than imported because domestic doesn’t have to be aged as long.

7. Belgian endive is pronounced “en-dive” or “ahn-deev” – both pronunciations are correct.

8. Got some old spices that have lost their oomph? Put them in a small skillet on medium heat for 30 seconds before using. BAM!

9. Bibb lettuce? Boston lettuce? Butter lettuce? Yep, all the same thing.

10. Better quality chocolate is less likely to burn. I’ve always used good quality chocolate…but for flavor. Now there’s an additional reason!

And last but not least, I learned that chocolate-dipped potato chips kick ass. Truly. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

Eat, drink, and learn something(s) new every day