Lessons learned over one hot stove and several cooking classes

lessons learned over one hot stove - www.alliepottswrites.com #valentines #datenight #cookingclassFood.

Food is a magical thing.

Though everyone who sits at a table will have a unique experience, we still refer to a meal as being shared. You can disagree about a particular taste and the other people at the table with an opposing view will actually support your preference so that nothing goes to waste. Love pickles? Here, have my share. Hate chocolate? Please, by all means, pass that my way.

Food brings us together in a way that nothing else can.

My husband and I decided several years ago that we would rather exchange memories than things and so unless there is a specific pressing need, our gifts to each other are typically printed out confirmations of bookings or tickets to an upcoming event. This year was no exception. I’d booked us a couple’s night out at a local cooking class.

Now, not all cooking classes are created the same and so it is always important to read a class description as well as reviews before signing up.

Words to look for:

Home Chef – unless you are trying to learn to be a professional in the kitchen, classes that cater (pun intended) to the home chef typically feature more commonly found ingredients and utilize the types of equipment and/or appliances found in the average kitchen. Meaning there is a remote chance you might be able to recreate a recipe at home on your own. The downside though is you will learn a recipe you can recreate at home – meaning don’t expect a once in a lifetime experience.

Hands-on – If you are looking for dinner and a show, a class that is not advertised as “hands-on,” is the one for you. A hands-off class is like being part of the live studio audience on a cooking show. You get to sit at a bar drinking wine while the chef talks you through what he or she is doing and then you eat the results. At a hands-on class, you should expect to work for your meal. Hmm, now that I’ve put it like that, I am beginning to question my preference.

Class size – The best classes are smaller classes with a high teacher to student ratio – ideally you don’t want to share your instruction with more than nine other students.

Instructor – It should go almost without saying that you want to be lead in your cooking class by someone who actually has formal training in the subject matter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach. This is one of those times you may want to pay attention to a person’s resume.

Location, Location, Location

This wasn’t our first cooking class together. We’d gone to one offered by chefs at one of the high-end restaurants in town. We’d learned about wine pairings, how to properly trim (and store) a steak. Though the class hadn’t been quite as hands-on as we would have liked, we still left with more food than we could eat.

We also left with significantly less money in our wallets. That class hadn’t been cheap, nor had the schedule been flexible as this class sells out months in advance with no refunds offered.

The second class we took together was easier on the budget (as well as the calendar) but was located within a cooking supply store rather than a restaurant. As a result, in addition to our meal, we also had to listen to product pitches for the latest and greatest kitchen do-dads. Still, the food we made all by ourselves (four words – black truffle mashed potatoes) was worth the occasional commercial interruption.

This year I tried to find a happy median between the two. I found a small, hands-on class offered by a chef whose primary business model was the cooking school. The advertised meal (Chicken Saltimbocca) looked delicious, the price was right and the schedule, convenient. But the class itself was not entirely what I expected.

Instead of each couple preparing our own meal from end to end, we each were given a specific course along with a recipe card while the chef instructor hovered between stations. If I ruined the chicken, I’d ruin it for everyone. Right – no pressure at all! I decided it was in the best interest of the group to pass that duty over to my hubby while I peeled potatoes instead.

I will admit that I was disappointed not to be at the dessert station as baking is where my talents lie, but that would have meant spending the evening apart from my other half, who is never so happy as when he is cooking, hence the reason for the night out in the first place.

Then it was time to eat.

The eight of us took our plates to an adjacent room and sat down and this is where the real magic happened. I might not have learned how to make a raspberry almond torte, but instead, I learned of one couple’s adult twin daughters now making their parents so proud. I learned of a documentary on wine tasting, I need to check out, and of one woman’s semester abroad.

Food has a way feeding conversation as well as people.

But I also learned that my hubby still makes me proud (and continues to make me laugh) as he entertained the group with our stories both at the table and over the stove preparing a meal we enjoyed together. And that’s a lesson always worth learning more than once.


A Taste of Raleigh

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food” – George Bernard Shaw

“Why did you decide to stay in Raleigh?” It is a question my dad periodically asks, hoping that I might one day see the error of my ways and move closer to him. I like to counter, you can always move here. “I just don’t get what you see in it.” As a recently elected official in a town more than a hundred miles away, I understand his local pride is running particularly high at the moment, but when this conversation comes up, I always want to respond, I don’t get what you don’t.

Raleigh has grit (and not the dirty kind)

(Image: Joule Cafe‘s stone ground grits paired with a White Russian)

stone ground grits

Downtown Raleigh has experienced a recent boom in its downtown thanks in part to a number of determined individuals who decided to follow their dreams by launching restaurants or other businesses here.

One such is Ashley Christensen, a nationally recognized chef (and 2014 James Beard award-winning Best Chef: Southeast) who purchased a one time Piggly Wiggly and repurposed into not one but three outstanding restaurants.

It knows how to innovate and making best use of local resources

(Image: Joule Cafe‘s apple-filled, griddle-less hot cakes – proving even pancakes can be made better with a little imagination)

griddle-less apple filled hot cakes

Raleigh is home to more than ten colleges and universities without including the various institutes of higher learning less than twenty-five miles away in Durham or Chapel Hill and many are known as much for their academic programs as their national championships.

Additionally, Raleigh has been recognized by the President as an innovation hub and a key to driving the rest of the state’s Economic future.

It is a city constantly on the move

(Image: Calavera’s beef empanada with strawberry margarita)

empanada with strawberry margarita

One of my favorite things about Raleigh (though the food is a close second) is the series of trails that make up the area’s greenway system.

You can spend hours either on foot or by bike surrounded by nature and protected from the summer sun under a canopy of trees. Raleigh is nicknamed the City of Oaks for a reason. There are also gardens, public parks, and a network of creeks that constantly inspire exploration.

But at the same time values its history

(Image: Green Light Bar cocktail)


If nature isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other interesting places to visit around town including museums, civic landmarks, exhibitions as well as sporting events and performances. There are also dozens of tours (such as the food tour I where I took these photos), free concerts, and festivals.

Fun Fact: One of the earliest laws on North Carolina’s books was that the capital building must be placed within ten miles of the lawmaker’s favorite tavern. Because, Priorities.

It is a melting pot of culture as well as technology

(Image: Garland‘s Asian-inspired chicken in a turmeric-yogurt sauce with chili cucumber salad and beer from one of the 10+ local breweries)


Today Raleigh has a population just under a half million people. If you include the sprawling areas that make up Raleigh’s suburbs that number is closer to one million.

However if you ask people where they are from, it is uncommon to meet someone who was born here. Instead, a large portion of the population is like me. People who came to the area and simply fell in love with it for any number of reasons.

Where celebration comes easy

(Image: Bittersweet’s chocolate mousse and rosette)


At the end of my food tour, our group was fortunate enough to meet the owner, Kim Hammer, of Bittersweet, a dessert and drink bar. As she told us about her store, its regular clients, and the services she offers, it was obvious that the restaurant was more than a job. It was her passion.

In addition to providing sweets, she also regularly offers champagne classes encouraging everyone not to horde the bottle, waiting for an event to celebrate which may never come, but to instead occasionally drink a glass just because it is Thursday.

It is people like this who make Raleigh, my kind of town. I hope that if your travels ever take you this way, you stop by and sample it yourself.


Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet

When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. That is unless you are a multimillion dollar food conglomerate, in which case why are people throwing lemons your way? Can’t you pay for high-quality reusable shipping cartons to minimize the risk of bruising? But I digress.

Happy Lemon

This weekend ended much like any other weekend. The kids were tucked into bed dreaming dreams of firetrucks and / or monkeys while the hubby (who has now requested I refer to him as Lamont – my apologies to Lamonts) and I enjoyed a few hours of child-free television. Lamont was kind enough to pour me a lemonade. It wasn’t the fresh squeezed, homemade variety, but it would do. Ahh, I thought as I took a sip. Spring had finally arrived. I’d better enjoy the weather now as all too soon neon yellow pollen would fill the air and coat every surface in sight. I took another sip, savoring the sweet and sour taste.

I shifted from my spot on the couch. I couldn’t get comfortable. A weight seemed to press up against my lungs no matter which way I sat. It was almost like being pregnant without the hormones. I took another sip while I sought a position that would relieve the pressure.

No amount of movement seemed to work. My breath became more shallow, my skin more hot to the touch. I turned to Lamont and calmly said, “I can’t seem to breathe.”

“What do you mean you can’t breathe?!” (I have a long history of understating things with regards to my health.)

“Is my face red? My skin is on fire.”

I looked in the mirror. Sure enough, both cheeks were brilliant lobster red. Another red stain spread down the center of my chest.

“I think I might be allergic to something in the lemonade.” (I am also a master at stating the obvious. It really should be on my business cards.)

Up until this point, if you had asked me if I had any allergies I would have said yes, to bee stings (something else I learned from an unfortunate experience), but now I know my body is still able to learn new tricks. Yay!

Confused LemonWe read the juice label as I took a Benedryl. Ingredients listed were water, sugar, and lemon juice. All words I could pronounce. All ingredients I enjoy in other forms on a fairly regular basis. Definitely nothing I expected to trigger an allergic response. The product advertised that it was all natural. Was it possible that some bees were accidentally ground up (naturally of course) in the manufacturing process along with the lemons?

The next morning (thank you Benedryl) I fired up the computer to see if anyone else might have written about a similar complaint. I learned my reaction is considered rare (lucky me!), but I also learned a few things about the juice manufacturing process that aren’t exactly advertised. Being the great moderately acceptable parent that I am, I feel it is important to practice sharing (even if it is a little off my usual topics).

For example, I learned that as part of the preserving process all chemical that give a naturally squeezed juice its flavor are removed leaving behind a tasteless liquid that no one would buy. The manufacturers then put in flavor and scent packets to give the juice back its, umm… err… juiciness depending on the tastes of a specific market. They don’t have to declare the specific make-up of these packets on the labels because they are supposed to be based on derivatives of the base ingredients (It’s a Fruit Loop-hole). A little citrus by-product here, a pitch of black magic rind there. Voila! Bon Appetit!

lemonscaryThese flavor packets can change depending on where the fruit is harvested and when and can be created by third party designers. Therefore not only do I still not know exactly what it was that caused the reaction, I also have no idea whether this was a one-off reaction or if more products could affect me in a similar fashion. Breakfast could become my own version of Russian Roulette! (Don’t ever leave me, coffee…)

You aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover (except for mine because my cover is awesome), but I didn’t realize you weren’t to judge a product by its label too (up until now I thought that was the point of the thing). Maybe one of these days I’ll learn a lesson the easy way. Here’s to truth in advertising!