Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bake until bubbly

Last week my friend MK and I went to the Central Market Cooking School of Dallas for a little cooking demonstration class. I had gotten it for her birthday, and planned for the two of us to go together. After running late from work and getting kicked out of seats MK had claimed (so much for Southern hospitality), she dragged a little table for two over and we finally got settled as Clifford Wright, foreign policy advisor turned cookbook author, began his introduction.

The class was all about cooking casseroles. Before you start thinking that's lame, let me just say that the Stuffed French Toast Breakfast Casserole was the item that originally caught my eye. Not the antiquated, Velveeta, cream of mushroom soup and macaroni noodle kind of casseroles of yester year, but rich and delicious combinations that I would never have come up with on my own and probably never considered casseroles in the first place.

We were all handed our menus for the evening, the wine started pouring and Cliff began the two and a half hour class. I was quickly struck by his extensive knowledge of his subject, and we both liked his use of unfamiliar culinary vocabulary. As we toasted MK made a joke about our host being another Anthony Bourdain and I could only laugh because how many friends can actually joke about a chef and expect the other to know exactly who you were referencing? We're either cooking snobs or huge nerds, I can't decide which.

One of his suggestions was to wait to use pepper until after cooking to ensure that it was fresh and did not become "acrid." I immediately thought "ooo I like that word" and scribbled it in the margin of my notes, as MK, reading my mind, held up her menu to her cover her mouth and said "do you know what that word means? Write that down, we need to look it up."

I was immediately transported back to a scene from long ago when we were teenagers, and had ambitiously decided to make homemade lasagna on a Saturday night. That's what all the great 16-year-olds were doing at the turn of the century, learning labor-intensive recipes on their weekend nights from Betty Crocker. Not that we really knew much about cooking at that stage in life- it took us several hours to make because we felt the need to Google words like al dente and bechamel and our collective knowledge of high school Spanish and German helped negligibly with all of the Italian and French words used in cooking. We slaved over boiling pots of tomatoes and cheese graters; spices and cooking noodles and pored over every inch of the recipe.

You know what though? We both still love cooking to this day... and that was one great lasagna.

Acrid /ˈækrɪd/ Spelled Pronunciation[ak-rid]
1. sharp or biting to the taste or smell; bitterly pungent; irritating to the eyes, nose, etc.: acrid smoke from burning rubber.
2. extremely or sharply stinging or bitter; exceedingly caustic: acrid remarks.

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