Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rome Cooking Class - Fun but not as expected

A friend of mine had been to Rome and raved about a cooking class she and her friends attended. It sounded like so much fun that I contacted Chef Andrea and made reservations for 30 November 2012 with friends of mine.

Apparently the classes were originally in the kitchen of a restaurant but he and his wife Erica now have their own cooking class place, located in Trastevere. I loved the dining room, which included some Christmas decorations. There were lots of things on display and on the walls, as well as items for purchase. The room was warm, cozy, and inviting. In the center was a long table for 14 people, which was set for the day along with some sweets to snack on while Erica explained how the class would take place.

Our 5-hour class began with Andrea asking for all of our names and where we were from so that he could put names to faces. He quickly learned all 12 names. Andrea was passionate about cooking and gave a lot of information on the ingredients and history of the dishes.

We were led into the kitchen. Under the center aisle, the women placed their purses inside. While the front door was locked and the place was ours for the day, Erica stated it was still better to keep purses in the kitchen. On top were the ingredients such as whole artichokes, ripe tomatoes, potatoes, fresh herbs, flour, eggs, and a chicken (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Our menu: Fried artichokes with a southern style pesto; fettuccini with a ragu Bolognese sauce; chicken cacciatora; roasted potatoes; and a ricotta and chocolate torta for dessert. On one wall a black chalkboard listed the menu.

I was surprised how tiny the kitchen was, especially for a group of 12 ‘chefs’ plus Andrea (and sometimes Erica came in to assist). It would have been a lot more comfortable with a group of eight. There were times one would have to move out of the way for another to get by. Also it was difficult to see what was going on with the other dishes or ingredients if you were not right in front. Everyone would stop for a minute to listen to Andrea talk and to see what others were doing. I missed seeing how the tomato pesto was made. You definitely need to stay on top of everything so as not to miss out on things.

The meat entrĂ©e: The chicken was on the counter, which had already been split open, the breast meat removed. Next to was a about a dozen additional chicken pieces, which looked to be chopped up wings. The chicken was cut into small 1-2” pieces by a few in the group with a large cleaver, with the skin and bones. They had fun whacking at the bird. The chicken pieces were dished out on several plates and set out for every two people (same went for the other items we cooked). After trying to get to the meat with a fork and knife, I ended up (as well as some others) picking through the bones and skin with my fingers and teeth for what little meat I could get. I found this to be totally unacceptable to be served as a main dish. While I appreciated Andre’s desire to have us prepare and taste an authentic Roman recipe (which was a vinegar-based sauce with olives, rather than a tomato-based sauce that most people are familiar with), I probably got only an ounce or so of meat. Maybe the portioning out of the chicken on the plates was uneven and we got the boney pieces, rather than meaty pieces. And if this was the case and there was enough chicken to go around, he should have divided the chicken out evenly onto the platters; and he should serve pieces of fried bones. Andrea could easily include the breast meat, keep the thighs and legs whole and provide the appropriate amount of chicken for everyone. Had I realized how little chicken we were getting, I would have eaten the last few bites of my delicious pasta. And where did the breast meat go? Did our fee for the cooking class go to Andrea and Erica’s dinner that night?

There were two very young gals in the class and Andrea was noticeably drawn to them. One was trying to speak Italian to him and they were engaged in conversation for what seemed to be several minutes, while the rest of the group stood there waiting. This was very annoying and even one of my friends felt the same. He didn’t give his full attention to everyone equally.
There were also a couple of negative comments the “way” Americans do things as if it were wrong. These comments rubbed me the wrong way.

At one point, I was tasked to crack open an egg – only the yolk was needed. The way I’ve always removed the whites was to crack the egg in half, move the egg yolk from one half to the other to drain the whites and then let the rest of egg whites drip out between my fingers before placing into the bowl. Andrea saw me do this and told me that this method could pass salmonella into the dish since I had touched the outside of the egg with my hands and then the yolk. I certainly understood his comments (and will never do this method again) but it his tone was almost as if he was reprimanding me. He didn’t get another egg for me to start over, so that told me that safety of the egg was not important to him. Andrea made me feel uncomfortable and after that he was not as friendly to me as in the beginning of the day. Even at the end of the day, I went to say “Thank you” for a second time, he ignored me. I was angry because I paid for the class and he should have thanked me when I left.

I did not partake of the 20 euro wine package. This was four small glasses of wine, one for each course. While there was a price list on the table for wine by the glass, It would have been nice if they had included one glass for those that didn’t purchase the package, especially considering the cost of the ingredients was very inexpensive for the recipes/meal (and the fact that he removed the chicken breasts – for his own dinner maybe?). A glass would have enhanced the flavors of the meal.

It was fun cooking with others and I enjoyed meeting people from around the world. I had fun in the kitchen prepping, watching others, listening to Andrea, and taking pictures. I definitely plan to pull out my pasta machine and go back to making fresh pasta. There’s nothing better than fresh pasta and it takes just a few minutes to cook. The pasta Bolognese was my favorite dish of the day. I did learn a couple of things in the kitchen. It was interesting to learn how to cut up an artichoke. The southern style pesto sauce, which you use for the battered fried artichokes, was excellent. It can also be used as a sauce for a pasta dish.

Overall, it was a good cooking class but not excellent as I expected it to be. (I give this a 3.5* rating out of 5*).  I didn’t like feeling uncomfortable after the ‘egg’ situation and the other issues I mentioned. Price-wise, it’s the most inexpensive cooking class to be found in Rome (65 euros). Other cooking classes are much higher (closer to 100-120 euros). However, maybe the old saying is true, “You get what you pay for.” 
If you choose this particular cooking class, look at it as a fun afternoon with new friends and one less meal to pay for while in Rome.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mendez Family Art Exhibit

11/10/12: This afternoon Tony and I went to see the art works of our friend Toby Mendez (sculpture), his father Tony Mendez (retired CIA  officer - go see Argo!), and his mother Jonna Mendez (photographer). See this web site for their studios called Pleasant Valley Studios.
We toured the various workshops, met Tony, who signed a few books for us, along with hundreds of other books, and spent time with others who were enjoying all of the art work.

All three are very talented.

Check out the web site to see more of their work.






Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The day after Hurricane Sandy (30 Oct 12)

Here are a bunch of photos I took today, just one day after hurrican3 Sandy hit the area. We lost power from 5:30pm yesterday till about 12:30pm today. We lost a bradford pear tree, which almost hit our mail box (first 2 photos).

We had damage to our chimney, as I spent most of yesterday and evening emptying a bucket that filled quickly. Will need to hire a professional to fix the chimney/roof area. At least I'm not having to clean up any more.

We headed down town to Baker park with Lucy. It's a very cold, bitter day. Lots of trees down, including some power lines. A few roads were blocked off. 

Downtown frederick was pretty empty of traffic. On a day like this, it's best to stay home, but we were curious as to the damage.  

Lost tree

Near our house