Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fun Times at the Wickedfood Cooking School

Before I moved here I remember talking to several people about what my life in Joburg would be like and discussing ideas of types of activities I could enjoy with my new found free time. During these various conversations with different people more than one person said, "oh you can take a cooking class."

Either these people think I am a horrible cook and were trying to politely tell me to get it together, or, they themselves think it would be fun to take cooking classes and that is something they would do if they had the time. I would like to think the reason is option two, but can't be sure. 

Months ago I signed up for a one night Portuguese cooking class at the Wickedfood Cooking School in Sunninghill. I chose Portuguese because I have no experience cooking any dishes from Portugal and also because there is a huge Portuguese influence on the food here in South Africa. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled as not enough people signed up. Instead of getting a refund I chose another class. The new class was Jamie Oliver's Italian Cooking. No, Jamie would not be teaching the class personally.

I was less excited about the Jamie Oliver class than the original Portuguese class although I am not really sure why. I like Jamie and I love Italian food. Maybe it was because the class was from 6:00 - 9:30 and I like to go to bed at 9:30? Anyway, I spent a large part of the day leading up to the class wishing that I hadn't signed up. 

I did go to the class though and it was a ton of fun. At first I was a little nervous because the instruction started off very basic as in this is a teaspoon and this is a tablespoon. But things quickly improved and I did learn some new recipes and some interesting tips.

The class was taught by two very hip young dudes named Geoff and Andre. When I say hip I mean they had a lot of tattoos and seemed like former or current skateboarders. We began by sitting classroom style and Geoff talked to the class about Italian cooking, Jamie Oliver's cooking and the menu we would be making that night. As a team we were going to prepare eight dishes. Each person was assigned a dish and s/he would need to do all of the prep - cutting, chopping, measuring for that dish. Some dishes were easier than others so those were assigned to only one person. Other recipes were more complicated and two people were assigned. I was assigned with another woman to the dessert, not only the most complicated dish on the menu that night, but possibly the most complicated dish in the entire world. It was a fruit and almond tart with a frangipane filling and yes, we had to make the crust from scratch.

I felt badly for the woman I was paired with. I was kind of feeling like Jonah Hill's character Seth in the Home Ec scene of the movie Superbad. Not because I was making inappropriate sexual gestures with the cooking utensils but because I had no idea what I was doing. When I cook I don't use a scale and of course I don't know how much a gram is.

We all did our prep and then there was a demonstration to show how to assemble and cook each dish. I know a lot of readers back in the Northeastern part of the USA have a lot of zucchini (called courgettes) in season now and there are some good recipes at the end of the post that you might want to try. The dishes also included a lot of fresh herbs.

We tasted all of the food and my favorites were, the risotto (although I likely won't make that at home because it's kind of a pain) the baked spaghetti (very yummy but creamy and unhealthy) the fish, the brushette, the courgettes and the mushrooms. The caprese salad was o.k. but I I thought it needed salt which is easily remedied. The dessert came out as it was supposed to, which is a relief since it was the last thing we all ate and my partner and I were spared public embarrassment. I don't know if I would make the dessert again though as it's hard and also I didn't love it that much. It might be better with a different fruit. We used pears and I think peaches might taste better.

prep area
Risotto. It was good but I likely won't make it. 
baked spaghetti super yummy and very rich
Andre helping student cook the fish. He has a NY Yankees logo tattoo under his ear. 
courgettes aka zucchini
fish with the sauce was one of my favorites
The dessert! Not bad right?
Things I learned about cooking that I didn't know before the class:
  • Grape seed oil is a good oil to use at high heat. Olive Oil has a low smoke point (I did know that part) and also a strong flavor. Grape seed has no flavor and a high smoke point.
  • Italians do not brown their garlic when they cook but other styles of cooking like Thai and Indian may call for browned garlic in recipes. In Italian cooking it is better to err on the side of having your garlic raw rather than browned.
  • A true "pinch" of salt involves a pinch using three fingers - the thumb, index and middle.
  • The reason you cook pasta al dente is because when you mix it with hot sauce and let it sit on plate for a minute it continues to cook a bit.
  • If you keep mozzarella in the freezer it is easier to slice
  • Parmesan Cheese comes from a region in Italy and cheese that isn't made there is not supposed to be called Parmesan. In South Africa the type of cheese often used as a substitute for real Parmesan is called Grana Padano
  • To remove the seeds from a hot chili without having to touch them, cut off the top, invert the chili so the open top is facing down toward your counter top, massage and squeeze the chili so the seeds fall out
Things to know about the Wickedfood Cooking School:
If you are visiting or live in the Joburg area and want to check out the school, you can sign up for a class as a group with friends or do a work team building event there. Or, you can sign up as an individual. I really enjoyed the class and recommend it highly.

Here are a few of the recipes which can also be found in Jamie's book called Jamie's Italy.

Brushette and Crostini
1 loaf ciabatta bread cut into slices
1 large clove garlic peeled
quality EVOO

2 firm round smallish eggplants
2T salt dissolved in a bowl of water
4 medium zucchini
oil for sauteing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup EVOO
2T flat leaf parsley finely chopped
1 clove garlic minced
salt and pepper
  • Grill the bread until golden on both sides. Rub gently with garlic clove and drizzle with EVOO.
  • Slice the eggplants thinly length wise and place in the bowl of salted water to prevent from browning and also to extract bitter juice. Allow to stand for 20 minutes and then squeeze dry.
  • Slice the zucchini length wise and sprinkle with a little salt. Layer in colander and allow to stand for 20 minutes. Rinse gently and squeeze dry. 
  • Heat oil in pan and cook vegetables in batches until brown on both sides. Put on paper towel following cooking to remove excess oil.
  • Mix all the dressing ingredients together and fold in the cooked vegetables and marinate for at least 2 hours. 
  • Place mounds of the mixture on the cooked bread slices and enjoy!

Baked Spaghetti Pie
4 chicken thighs boned, skinned and cut into bite size pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
a package of fresh white mushrooms cleaned with a paper towel (if needed) and sliced
1/2 cup white wine
250 grams (8.8 oz) dried spaghetti
250 ml (8.4 oz) heavy cream
100 grams (3.5 oz) Parmesan cheese (grated)
a spring of fresh basil leaves (leave leaves whole)
  • Preheat the oven to 200C or about 390F
  • Heat a large frying pan and pour in a splash of oil. 
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in the oil.
  • Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for 1-2 minutes
  • Add the wine and turn the heat down. Simmer until wine reduces and chicken is cooked through.
  • Cook the spaghetti in salted water according to package and drain.
  • Add the cream to the chicken pan and then bring to a boil and then turn the heat off.
  • Add additional salt and pepper to the creamy chicken if needed.
  • Add the spaghetti to the chicken and toss well. 
  • Add 2/3 of the Parmesan (reserve the rest for the top)
  • Add the basil leaves and stir well
  • Transfer to oven safe pan sprinkle rest of the cheese on top.
  • Bake until brown, bubbling and crisp.

Grilled Fish
juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves roughly sliced
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves roughly sliced

4 thin pieces of a white fish. We used Hake which is found in SA but you could use grouper, sole or even swordfish would be good.
lemon juice
3T flat leaf parsley finely chopped
  • To make the sauce squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl and add 3 times the amount of EVOO. Season with salt and pepper and add the garlic, mint and oregano.
  • Season the fish with salt and lemon juice and marinate for ten minutes.
  • Heat a pan with oil until very hot.
  • Cook the fish in the pan until brown on each side.
  • Plate the fish and serve with the sauce spooned over the top.

Fried Courgettes (not fried I noticed people say fry when it's more of a sauté)
8 firm medium courgettes
oil for sauteing
3 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
1/2 a fresh red chili seeds removed and sliced or you can use 1 small dried red chili crumbled
A handful of fresh marjoram or oregano, leaves picked or 1t dried oregano
3 good quality anchovy fillets in oil
1 lemon zest and juice of
a sprig of fresh mint leaves picked and chopped
  • Remove the ends from the courgettes and slice them into 1cm (less than half inch) coin like pieces
  • Put a few glugs of oil into pot on medium heat. 
  • Add the garlic and chili.
  • After 30 seconds add the courgettes, herbs, salt and pepper.
  • Make sure the pot is not too hot and mix everything together.
  • Put lid ajar on pot to let off steam while cooking.
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes stirring regularly.
  • For the last 2 minutes of cooking add the anchovy fillets and lemon zest. 
  • Once anchovies have melted, season to taste and add some lemon juice.
  • Serve straight away with chopped mint on top.

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.