We Made a Blog writes a lot about food (and drink) we’ve consumed that’s been prepared by others. But we do actually cook – pretty well and with feeling. So we whiled away a few winter (ah, winter) and spring evenings this year in the kitchen – Brooklyn Kitchen Labs, that is – taking classes to expand our home-based culinary ventures.
The Brooklyn Kitchen cohabitates with carnivore paradise The Meat Hook. The shop flaunts vintage finds (if I ever need to recreate my grandmother’s kitchen – from harvest gold Tupperware to blue wheat-stamped CorningWare – I know where to go) and the latest in kitchen gadgets. On the day of class, you get a 10% discount on any of their wares (excluding meat and dairy) and the staff is friendly and helpful (we sought their advice more than once in a goat cheese project we undertook). The labs consist of one warmly lit spacious brick-walled kitchen on the lower level and one smaller bright one lofted above it. On our first visit we wandered into the wrong kitchen and were sent, prosecco-filled, to the proper one. It was an auspicious start.
We embarked on Oysters 101, given by the incredibly knowledgeable Nellie Wu and Michael Kidera of W&T Seafood. They take oysters very seriously and that passion translated into an enjoyable and information-packed two hours. We spent the first hour learning the biology and culture of the oyster and then got around to sort of destroying both by learning how to shuck. The second part of the class was devoted to cooking; mignonette sauce, oysters Rockefeller and oyster chowder were more than enough to count as that evening’s meal.
We had high hopes for our next class, Japanese Takeout, with Cathy Erway of the blog Not Eating Out in New York. We have an obvious bias toward bloggers and we wouldn’t want to dissuade anyone from taking a cooking class given by someone with only that credit in the experience column but this is the only class we can’t wholeheartedly endorse. The description foretold of an evening filled with miso soup, ginger dressing, katsu and sushi. We did gain some expertise in the miso/ginger arena but sushi skills were what we were really there for. We assumed we would be learning about how to select and slice fish but fish was nowhere to be seen. It was explained away quickly with something about mercury and something about overfishing and we spent a good amount of time making hand rolls that were free of the sea. Katsu was also not in attendance.
Now any time I think about baking bread, I picture Nicolas Cage in one of my favorite movies of all time, “Moonstruck.” Glinting with sweat and anger in the fiery subterranean of the bakery he owns, he reflects on his profession. “They say bread is life,” he starts out but it’s soon clear that he holds the opposite view. Matt Tilden of SCRATCHbread, our instructor for our foray into focaccia, seems like he would be more than happy to take up the issue with him. As enthusiastic as his blissed-out state would allow, Matt delved into the chemistry behind perfect loaves and the more alchemical ingredient of love. He did some light iPod DJing, kept up the patter, served some Brooklyn Lager and generally made the class forget that we weren’t tasting our delicious endeavors until about four hours had passed. When we did, it was well worth it. We’d created simultaneously fluffy and dense squares embedded with our selections from the available fennel seeds, gray salt, sweet red onions, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, cracked pepper, lemon zest, parmagiano reggiano, coarsely ground mustard, thick-cut bacon and speck. As a bonus, we took home some dough that made every effort to burst out of its wrappings, fresh yeast and gray salt so that we could wake up to fresh focaccia in the morning.
There is no way to describe just how profound Knife Skills was. Taught by Chef Brendan McDermott, it goes way beyond merely conquering the performance anxiety induced by having someone watch you cook. Brendan handled the class as well as he handled the knife. Funny and charming, he managed to even deal with a small crisis of a fainting student (a bit of kitchen heat, not any knife-related injury, was the culprit) in a way that comforted the student and didn’t disrupt the lesson. The slicing (chopping is only for herbs, as we learned) technique was brilliantly simple to master and the tips given for specific vegetables were nothing short of a revelation. If you take the class you will have to often repress your urge to show off your one-stroke cauliflower decapitation trick. With the exception of a chicken deboning demonstration, the class was hands-on. It’s bring your own knife, so be prepared to wander the streets of Brooklyn as we did, knife handle sticking out of a purse for me, poorly disguised knife wrapped in newspaper for Hillel.
The last class we tried is one of the quickest to fill up – Pickling. McClure’s Pickles is well-known for its pickling pickings, and Bob McClure, one half of the sibling duo behind the brand, set up a bubbling, boiling pickling central in one of the labs. Most of the class was observation of the procedures behind preserving (in this case, of asparagus) with the opportunity to pack a small Mason jar with as much or as little spice as you can handle and a fresh handful of spears. You then wait it out a week (or more; pickling preserves fairly indefinitely) to try your treat and can reuse the brine once to do a simple refrigerator pickle.
We Made a Blog now makes a lot of new dishes. But if you see any class at Brooklyn Kitchen called We Made a Blog Makes Goat Cheese, I advise you to steer clear because all you will learn is how to make hot goat’s milk spiked with rennet that 24 hours later will be room temperature goat’s milk spiked with rennet. Trust me on this one.