Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Who's afraid of cooking fish?

As I was scrambling to find pots, pans, and cooking spoons during my first class at the Newton Continuing Education, I wondered what I got myself into. After 4 years, I got used to the little quirks of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education – no sharp knives (so I bring my own), be prepared to rewash all equipment before using it, and don’t expect all the burners on the stovetop to work. But this was my first time teaching at Newton, and I didn’t know what to expect.

Newton cooking classes are done in a high school kitchen, which comes with its own set of quirks. If I wanted get through my first class, I had to learn fast. All the cabinets and drawers were locked, so if you wanted a cooking spoon, you’d better find the right key first (at least there were only 2 keys). There was no dish rack, and we weren’t allowed to use a dishwasher – this meant drying every piece of equipment we used during class. And it was 80 degrees in that kitchen! Apparently the thermostat controled a whole wing of the school and couldn’t be adjusted. Note to self: wear short sleeves under work clothes and change before class.

Luckily, NCE’s staff was absolutely wonderful and determined to get me over whatever bumps I encountered. Kate was so worried that my olive oil went bad after someone put it in the fridge that she ran out to Whole Foods and got me another bottle (actually, it was fine, just solidified, but another bottle of EVOO never hurts). Carmella was able to replace whatever mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen: sponges, paper towels, and even dish towels. And Pattie was always ready to get me the wine I was hiding in the office fridge – you can’t trust those high school kids with anything, particularly wine :)

Best of all were the students: Anne, Tama, Lisa, Judy, and Tom. They chopped veggies, sectioned oranges, seared, poached, steamed, roasted, and broiled fish, and shared wonderful stories of their cooking adventures at home. Tom quickly learned that white pepper is not to be trifled with, and although his fish came out a tad on the spicy side, it was a good learning experience. He just needs to do a little PR work to convince his wife of that. Judy’s 5-year-old daughter ate haddock for the first time. Tama’s husband liked salmon teriyaki. And Anne was determined to master tuna steaks. Although Lisa was too busy to cook at home, she jumped at every opportunity to help in class and made our cleaning much easier by bringing extra towels to class. We shared our cooking successes, learned from our failures, and had our share of laughs.

Since yesterday was the last class of this 4 week series, we made a feast of whole fish: bass steamed with ginger and scallions and bream broiled with fennel and oranges. And for a sweet ending, Judy made us the most decadent molten chocolate cake with raspberry center. She promised me a recipe, so stay tuned.

1 comment:

Ivonne said...

Oh Helen, it sounds like so much fun! And the food sounds excellent also. All the best! I hope you keep up the posts about the class.