Being a student again can be a humbling and invigorating experience. It's a fact that there will always be more to learn. This is true for all subjects and especially for anything food and cooking related....or at least its true for me. There are always new ingredients, techniques, tools and not to mention endless and conflicting information about food politics. Now that I have completely overcomplicated the subject of cooking, let's break it back down.
There really are some very simple ways to eat a variety of healthy and well-balanced foods, even if you do not fancy yourself a cook in any sense of the word. Steam vegetables (just eat more vegetables!), make whole grains, stick with lean proteins and so on. But this can really start to sound boring unless you find motivation. It's really about finding what works for you, your schedule and your body. Not what Suzy down the street eats to be healthy (unless Suzy makes a mean flour-less chocolate torte..kidding, kind of). Sometimes the "usual" starts to become stale and it's time to expand your knowledge and skill set before you eat one more piece of completely plain steamed broccoli. The next step is finding a mentor, a friend, a co-worker or to follow a chef on the cooking channel that strikes a cord with your taste buds and is in-line with your foodie goals. If your neighbor Suzy is now a good fit for your own goals, insert her with this list. Another great way to expand (or begin) your journey into new cuisine is by taking a class. Just recently, I completed a three-night Healthy Cooking course with Brenda Langton. It was just fabulous.
After completing day-two of the cooking course, I arrived home with a pleasantly full belly and a content smile on my face. The remnant thoughts of the past few hours lingered in my head with a warm glow. One can learn so much from a seasoned chef like Brenda. The golden tidbits from a class, for me, often come from small tangents, crowd questions or a matter-of-fact process that slips into the curriculum. Like letting your knife do the work when halving a squash. By simply sliding the knife in, picking it up (squash and all) and then plopping it blade-side down on the cutting board to let gravity do the dirty work. "I like to be harmonious with my veggies, not fight with them," Brenda told us as she illustrated the technique. Her love for the beauty of plants and food truly come through in her words and teaching. Food treated well is truly inspirational.
It's rare to be in a class where a variety of expertise and experience levels can all fit together, but it was done very well with the competent Spoonriver owner at the helm. There really was something for everyone to take home with them. This was depicted by the varying focal points on the material and presentations. Some were curious about the newly discovered different types of cooking oils and some by the stories behind the inner-workings of the restaurants - Cafe Brenda and Spoonriver. It was the first time some had seen romanesco (pictured above as part of the vegetables with salmon) while others already had the inside scoop on the water to rice ratio for large batch cooking. Just like a large mixed veggie saute, the group just came together.
After each class we, the students, were assigned a piece of homework: Everyone must try a new recipe from the handouts! Of course, it was hard to match the beautiful plate display done in class but the recipes, some from her restaurants even, were much easier than one might think. Brenda has a great way of making good food accessible. In fact, she was even open to letting me share one of her amazing recipes with you - Coconut Rice Pudding with Cardamom, Almonds and Golden Raisins (below). Yum.
This will definitely not be my last class with Brenda and I encourage you to seek out an experience like this of your very own. Even with the Holidays quickly approaching, you can treat yourself too, ask for a class as a gift, or give one to a friend. There are so many classes available across the city - community centers, co-ops, Cooks of Crocus Hill and so on. Simple Good & Tasty even has a fantastic events listing to help you pick one. Thank you for letting me share my story with you, I hope to see you in class next time.
Coconut Rice pudding with Cardamom, Almonds and Golden Raisins
by Brenda Langton
2 cups Sushi Rice, short grain
3 3/4 cups water - boiling
1/2 t salt
Rinse rice well and add to the boiling, salted water. Bring to a boil, turn down to low, cover and simmer for about 12 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed.
1 can coconut milk
2 cups soy or rice milk
3/4 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
3/4 almonds - raw or toasted
1/2 T orange blossom water*
3/4 t cardamom
Stir and cook together over very low heat for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Rachel Huntzicker is a writer, practitioner of yoga and clean foodie with an evolving desire to learn more about sustainable whole living and the food-to-mood connection. From her evolving and ever present desire to learn, she came to conclusion that growing her own quarter acre organic garden was a must. Follow her journey on her blog, the Woodland Garden. Her last article for SGT was: Pick a Side! Potluck Season Prep.