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Cooking lessons

When I was growing up, I learned much of my basic cooking skills from my mom and brother. I also learned a lot on my own when I was diagnosed with high cholesterol at the age of 20, and began diving into healthy eating books and cookbooks–hence I had to learn how to make myself healthy lunches and such. I continued learning by reading and then by watching Food Network as that evolved. But I never took a formal cooking class until this past summer, when I enrolled in a 3-session course at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) on Thai cooking. I love Thai food, but it’s not easy to learn how to make real curry without having an instructor show you how it’s made from scratch, rather than by opening a jar of curry paste. I also learned how to make a real spring roll, and also pad thai, among other things.

I liked the course and instructor so much, that I took another course recently through MATC–same instructor, different location, and this time it was a 2-session course on making soup from scratch. I already knew how to do this, but the course taught me things I did not know, and it also was great to see how you make amazing chicken stock from scratch to start out. From there you can make, as we did, chicken noodle soup and wonton soup. The second session, we made chili and cream of mushroom soup. The latter is something I’ve never made, but it was phenomenal and I can’t wait to make it at home.

Then last week I received a James Beard cookbook and will be covering that in the Bullz-Eye.com Holiday Gift Guide. But this past weekend, I had to sample some of the recipes, which meant actually following the recipes of a master, and I learned so much in making just a couple of recipes from that book–gruyere soup; and beef Bourguignon saute. The latter involved making a sauce from scratch and making that the base–and learning how to do that was worth the price of the book, even though I didn’t technically pay for the book. That sauce was amazing and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. And it was SO easy. Of course, these recipes use crazy amounts of butter, but that’s why they taste so good, and because they are so rich, you can’t overeat. I also learned that by mixing flour and butter together, you can use that to thicken a sauce (cornstarch what?).

What’s my point? You can always learn more, especially with cooking, in which there are so many cuisines, methods and different foods out there in 2012. And I can’t wait to dive into that James Beard book some more.

  

Foods I miss from…..Cleveland

After living in New York from when I was born until I was around 27 or 28, I moved to Cleveland and kick-started my life and career in various ways that, while involving many twists and turns, were somewhat defining. I also went through various phases of food experimentation–and back in the late ’80’s, and ’90’s there was a lot of low-fat this and that, and less meat. Thankfully the pendulum for that stuff swung back toward high protein, low-carb, which is still not ideal (I want to eat everything, yo), but, well, I love bacon. Let’s leave it at that.

Anyway, as was the case when I moved away from New York, moving from Cleveland to Nashville left a void in some areas food-wise. And so here are a few items I miss and still do from the Buckeye state…..

Aladdin’s–okay so this isn’t a food item as much as it’s a restaurant, but it’s something I have to have when going back there. Aladdin’s is a local chain that serves delicious and inexpensive Middle Eastern food. They have great stuff like hummus, stuffed grape leaves and falafel. But it’s more than that–they have some delicious signature items like pita pizzas and one I miss in particular is the one with spicy chicken, peas, fried onions and a spicy tomato mixture. Also, they have these smoothies that you can get with combinations of fruits and vegetables. Seriously, they make veggies more palatable than you can imagine using a blender.

Pad thai–I’ve never had pad thai like the pad thai at Phnom Penh in Cleveland. It’s….wait for it…..Phnomenal. Sadly, I haven’t been back there since moving in 2003, but maybe next time. I mean, we have great Thai and Vietnemese and Laoatian food here in Madison, but….

Pizza–There really is great pizza in Cleveland. There is Mama Santa’s, Tasty, Geraci’s on the east side. There is Antonio’s and Santos on the west side. This is all coming from a New Yorker too.

West Side Market–There is nothing like the West Side Market in Cleveland. It’s an institution, and you can get all kinds of fresh produce, but also the indoor portion has vendors selling meat, bakery products, cheese, nuts, candies, and more. It was always fun to go there hungry, and we try to get to the market whenever we are in town. My mouth is watering thinking of the spicy jerky at this one place, and I think Michael Symon profiled it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network once.

Krispy Kreme Donuts–I don’t think there is a single donut shop in Madison. In fact, you have to go to grocery stores and gas stations to find donuts at all. Yikes. But the ones in Krispy Kreme are freaking heavenly. The glazed ones in particular are their signature item, and it’s quite easy to down five or six at a sitting (no, I really haven’t ever actually tried that. No, really!).

Homemade granola/fruit bars–The Arabica coffee shop at University Circle has these pastries they sell at the counter, and they are like granola bars with a layer of cherry or berry preserves. And I go way out of my way to get some no matter how long we are in town for. In fact, last time I think I brought home a dozen.

Tommy’s fries–Tommy’s in Cleveland Heights has amazing french fries, but also makes some mean sandwiches and veggie creations. Oh, and milk shakes!

I know there is more. But we’ll have to just re-visit this column from time to time!

  

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