Flav’our Cooking School

Ample Bites journeyed to Forest Park, Illinois, a near west suburb of Chicago, to participate in a cooking class at Flav'our Cooking School. Our route from the far west suburbs during rush hour was circuitous but when we arrived in Forest Park we were pleasantly surprised by the updated downtown area on Madison Street where the school is located. There is a nice array of restaurants and boutique stores covering about a 5 block stretch. We arrived early enough to take in a glass of wine and Bruschetta con Prosciutto at Francesca Fiore, which was located a couple doors down from Flav’our Cooking School.

Upon arriving at Flav’our I was immediately impressed by the bright, open design of the store and cooking demonstration area. The high, ornate ceilings and tastefully displayed modern cookware give Flav’our an elegant and clean feel. The Chef/Owner, Denise Norton, and her staff do a very nice job of creating an inviting atmosphere for hobbyist cooks, like Ample Bites, to learn culinary techniques.

Our class consisted of Ample Bites and two friends along with nine other patrons. We were split into two 6-person teams with three on each side of two large butcher-block tables. These tables served as prep surface and dining table. As we cooked, we enjoyed a selection of wines by the glass, craft beers and complimentary water, tea and coffee. Ample Bites thoroughly enjoyed a couple pints of India Pale Ale.

Our teacher, a formally-trained Chef who is now a personal chef and culinary instructor, guided us through a Thanksgiving “Lite” menu that included Harvest Grain Salad with Orange Dressing, Turkey Potato Stew, Cranberry Compote, and Pumpkin Pie Pudding. At the end of the three hour class, we would enjoy the meal that we had prepared.

Our instructor facilitated the cooking process by organizing the needed cookware and ingredients for each of the four dishes. Our task was to read the recipes, follow the instruction and assemble each of the dishes. Along the way we were treated to some tips about preheating Dutch ovens, such as Le Creuset cookware, use of Silpat silicone pads for baking, and a slick – though not terribly safe – trick for mincing garlic.

I will not bore you with the details of each of the tips but I must comment on the value of understanding how and why to brown meat. The caramelization of the meat gives flavor to dishes like stews, chili, and braises. Three important tips to good browning are 1) preheat your cooking pan while it is dry, then add the oil to be used for browning, 2) space the meat with room to allow the juices to release and evaporate, even if you must do your browning in batches, and 3) be patient and allow the meat to brown, checking occasionally, and release from the pan.

Once our food preparation was complete and we began to eat our meal, the students in the class seemed to most enjoy the Harvest Grain Salad with Orange Dressing and the Turkey Potato Stew. You can find Ample Bites adaptations of the recipes for each below.

After years of being self-taught and learning from friends, family and The Food Network I thoroughly enjoyed my first formal cooking school experience and I expect to go back for more “training” after the holidays.

Turkey Potato Stew
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Flav’our Cooking School, 2012)

Serves 4-6

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound ground turkey
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, cut into coins
2 celery stalks, diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp flour
2 cups beef or chicken stock
1 cup crushed tomatoes
4-6 medium red potatoes, cut into wedges
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Heat a large heavy pot with lid on over medium high heat. After about 5 minutes, add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat the cooking surface. Add the turkey and season it with salt and pepper and brown. Flip halfway through and break the meat up with a spoon. Add the sage, fennel and oregano and cook for about 1 minute. Remove the browned meat from the pot and set aside.

Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil and swirl to coat the cooking surface. Add the onions, carrots and celery to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Saute until aromatic and tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine and deglaze the pot, scraping bits from the bottom of the pot. Add flour and stir to incorporate into the vegetables, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes to cook off flour taste. Add the stock slowly, stirring to incorporate into the roux and bring to a simmer to thicken. Add the tomatoes and potatoes to the pot and then add the browned meat. Add the thyme, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir several times during braising.

To serve, ladle into large bowls and garnish with parsley.

Harvest Grain Salad with Orange Dressing
(Adapted from recipe courtesy of Flav’our Cooking School, 2012)

Serves 4-6

1 cup uncooked wild rice
5 cups water
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/4 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp orange zest, finely grated
1/4 cup orange juice freshly squeezed
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dried tart cherries or cranberries
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
4 cups mesclun greens

Put rice and water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until rice puffs and is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and reserve the rice.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Put the pine nuts on the pan, place in the oven and toast until lightly browned, 8-10 minutes.

Heat a grill pan or grill until hot. Brush asparagus spears with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until asparagus is al dente, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces.

Put zest, juice, vinegar, mustard, shallot and garlic in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine the ingredients. Drizzle in oil while whisking constantly. Taste and adjust seasoning and oil to vinegar level.

Put wild rice, pine nuts, asparagus, berries and apples in a medium bowl. Add a portion of dressing to lightly coat the ingredients. Toss to mix and add more dressing, as needed. Put mesclun in bowl and coat with some dressing. To serve create a bed of mesclun on each plate and top with the grain salad. mixture.

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