Friday, November 19, 2004

Last night I went to see Christopher Kimball (the chief Dorky Yankee at Sur La Table, something I have been looking forward to for ages now. I woke up and stared at my cookbookshelves and asked my husband if I should bring Here in America's Test Kitchen or maybe Inside America's Test Kitchen or my incredibly flagged copy of The Quick Recipe or maybe... and my husband just looked at me like why on earth are you asking ME this? I eventually decided to bring The Cook's Bible since it was the first CK book I ever bought and still one I refer to often for basics. (Y'all want to make rice? Go to the Cook's Bible. Sandwich bread? Cook's bible. Pretty pictures of meat? Cook's Bible.)

That turned out to be a bad choice but that was my only regret about the evening.

See, when I got there to the Sur La Table demonstration kitchen and there in front of my eyes is.. not Christopher Kimball but Julia Collin. I'm not so much disappointed as I am a little nervous- I had planned to demand Christopher Kimball tell me what went wrong with my fries last weekend. The man wears a bowtie- I can ask him anything. Julia, though, actually does half the cooking on the show and is, well, a TV chef. She's the least dorky of all the Dorky Yankees and I'm much less confident about asking her about what went wrong with my fries.

All my fears are put aside, though, as she starts cooking a lemon pound cake. She waves the Microplane Zester around and asks if we all know about it. (This being a group of America's Test Kitchen groupies, OF COURSE we do.) She then tells us it's also good for adding lemon or lime zest to make the best margaritas, and to grate a little shallot or garlic for adding to a stirfry or vinaigrette. (She later explains further, that when garlic or shallot is grated so finely, it releases more of its flavor then, so you can tell immediately how strong your vinaigrette will be.) Although I kind of questioned how much I would actually learn from this class- after all, I read Cook's Illustrated religiously, I watch the show on the weekends, I subscribe to the website- it turned out Julia was full of tidbits of information.

When measuring flour, she discussed the dip and sweep method and then mentioned how she and a colleague in the test kitchen spent a few hours trying to see who could measure the most accurate cup of flour. (One cup of All Purpose flour should weigh 5 ounces. One cup cake flour should weigh 4 ounces. Bread flour? 5.5 ounces.) Turns out Julia is a heavy scooper. (The idea of people trying to scoop the most accurate cup of flour makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.) Also, I know now that I totally NEED this scale. If Julia Collin is a heavy scooper, who knows what I am??

She then made pan-seared shrimp with chipotle-lime sauce. I've made this pan seared shrimp before myself, actually, with a different sauce, so it was reassuring to know that I did it "right." And she convinced me to hold out for this pepper grinder.

She then made a pan roasted chicken with a sweet tart red wine sauce and it was so, so good. She gave a few recommendations for cooking wine- including using boxed wine for cooking. Did y'all know boxed wine keeps on the shelf forever? I usually just drink the extra wine from cooking, but if you're not a wine drinker, that's a good tip. Also, blends are better than single varieties. Who knew? Other tips she gave included the fact that if you brine your chicken or pork, it doesn't matter so much if you overcook it. Another reason to brine. Also, cut a shallot or onion in half before peeling (a tip I definitely needed to know) and add salt when sauteing any vegetables.

I asked her one of my long standing kitchen questions- is it safe to make a pan sauce in a cast iron skillet? Julia's answer was that you CAN- but if there's vinegar in that pan sauce, it can react-- and, the simmering will pull stuff out of the cast iron's pores and flavor your sauce with whatever you made two weeks ago. So, I now need this pan.

She then made a steak au poivre with brandied cream sauce. Y'all, I nearly kept my plate to lick the sauce from it. She convinced me I need a ThermaPen.

I asked her about my incredible shrinking fries and she had no idea what went wrong. However, she did share that she had a new trick to avoiding the double fry- instead of the first fry, coat the fries in some oil. Put in a microwave safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap and then microwave for 10 minutes. This results in super creamy on the inside fries. It almost made me want to try frying french fries again.

Although I couldn't ask her to sign Christopher Kimball's book and left without an autographed book (tempting as the copies of The New Best Recipe and Cover and Bake were. Very, very tempting)-- it was a wonderful experience. I love the Dorky Yankees!