For a good percentage of my average day, I live in the digital world. I’m either working on some kind of design project, editing photos, working on web sites, or doing some plain old digital housekeeping. I love all these things. I really do. But it is nice to get out from behind the screen once in a while. Shooting photos is always a great way to do that (though that would probably still be considered a digital activity), but sometimes there’s just nothing to shoot, or I just want to do something different.

During my first few weeks of the new year, I’ve been stretching my legs in the culinary world. I kind of feel like cooking is a great way for me to be creative in the analog sense. Replace the Wacom pen with a spatula and pixels with spices. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, have accumulated a lot of cookbooks over the years, and have gotten to the point where I would consider myself decent. But here’s the thing… I want to be really good.

Great News Cooking School in Pacific Beach, San Diego. They offer daily classes on all kinds of things, and bring in a wide variety of chefs/teachers. I’ve been frequenting this place a lot lately.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I went to a cooking class on Thai Curries. I had tried to make curries in the past but there was always something lacking. It never came out the way it would had I ordered it in a restaurant. I wanted to figure out why. Well, after that three hour class, I not only knew what I was doing wrong, and how to make a perfect curry, but my interest was sparked on cooking in general. I was so excited by how much I learned in less than three hours, and I wanted to learn more. So I signed up for more classes.

In this class, authentic Asian home cook Mary Pu teaches us how to make Asian Party Appetizers.

Above is a completed appetizer of Mini Chinese Steam Bun Stuffed with Pork Belly, Green Onions and Hoisin Sauce.

My second class was on Asian party appetizers. Though I try to eat very healthy, I do like the idea of entertaining and hosting parties, so the app recipes usually catch my attention. In this class, I learned how to make Mini Chicken Kabobs with Teriyaki Sauce, Mini Beef Lumpia with Spicy Dipping Sauce, Mini Chinese Steam Bun stuffed with Pork Belly, green onions and Hoisin Sauce, and Asian Mojitos. There are two things that are odd about me going to this class. First off, I’m a vegetarian. Most of this stuff I can’t even eat (though I’ll cook it with no problem) and second, some of it is fried. That is like the F-word to me. Despite these things, I totally loved the class, because not only will I make all of this stuff on special occasions and for parties/gatherings, but I’ll be able to put the general cooking knowledge to use in everything I make. And I can proudly say that I can now roll the perfect egg roll and fold a pretty decent wonton. Go me!

In another class at Great News, I learned how to make this Wild Mushroom Risotto. It’s topped with a Parmesan cheese crisp, which in my opinion, just made it look more fancy. The risotto was great all by itself.

The next class I went to was on risotto and polenta. Risotto is another one of those things that I wouldn’t want to make all the time, but would love to have it in my skill set. Plus, even though Ben eats a low-carb diet, he has a secret love for risotto. (ok, well I guess that’s not so secret anymore, huh?) The risotto recipes were AMAZING. The teacher that night was the owner and executive chef at a local restaurant called La Taverna. She was VERY Italian. She taught us Lemon Artichoke Risotto with Grilled Asparagus, Wild Mushroom Risotto with Portabella, Shiitake and Herb Garnish and Sweet Pea and Prosciutto Risotto. But like in the previous classes, I learned a lot of things about cooking in general. For example, she taught us how to improve any kind of dish at all by seasoning every layer of food that goes into the pan, and how frozen food is ok to use, but should always be thawed in steps in order to maintain its integrity.

This class also covered some polenta dishes, but I think that I’ll get fat if I even type about them. Ok, just kidding (well, not really). The polenta stuff she taught us was very rich and very full of cream, cheese and butter. Though they tasted great, I just cant see myself ever cooking these. It’s against my dietary religion. But just so you know, the dishes were Polenta with Warm Cream and Gorgonzola, and Polenta with Meat Ragu and Crispy Pancetta. I’m sure some folks wouldn’t balk at these at all, but I, personally, like to maintain my girlish figure and clean arteries. I didn’t mind the Asian Apps so much because they’re made in tiny pieces and meant to be consumed on special occasions and in small amounts.


Private Chef Megan Barnett teaches a class on “What to do with Tofu.” Apparently, there’s a LOT to do with tofu, which makes people like me very happy.

Ok, moving on. My most recent class was VERY Karen-friendly, meaning healthy and vegetarian. It was called “What to do with Tofu.” This might sound really unappealing to some folks because tofu doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world. That’s actually one of the reasons I went to the class … to learn how to make it more exciting. And that I did! Our teacher was a private chef and did a great job of coming up with a good variety of tofu recipes that were loaded with flavor. She made Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with Tofu, Aromatic Vegetables and Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, Grilled Spice Crusted Tofu Steaks with Chimmichurri Sauce and Roasted Butternut Squash, Teriyaki Tofu Salad with Swiss Chard, Cashews, Pineapple and Sesame Vinaigrette, and Savory Tofu Cakes with Herb Aioli and Arugula. It was hard to pick a favorite, but I think it would be the stuffed portobello. When they were finished, it was hard to believe they were made with tofu. I also made this one at home the same day, and was so proud of myself because it came out perfect! I even shot a nice photo of it because it was just so darn pretty.  I’ve always liked tofu, but I’m excited to try to make some of this stuff and have Ben try it to see if he thinks its as flavorful as I do.

Above are the Teriyaki Tofu Salad, the Grilled Spiced Tofu Steaks with Chimichurri and the Soy Ma Po Tofu with spicy bean sauce.

So as you can see, I’ve really been delving into this cooking thing. I’d like to get to the point to where I don’t always have to rely on recipes and can just whip something amazing up on a whim. I’m having a lot of fun with it and will probably take at least one more class before we leave the general area.

This is the stuffed portobello that I made the night after the class. I was anxious to put my knew knowledge to use, and I think it came out amazing!

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