Class Acts

Colorado’s cooking schools offer a tempting menu of classes for fledgling foodies or experienced connoisseurs

There’s just no excuse for being a lousy cook these days. In the past few years, we have become gluttons for eating as entertainment, stuffed on an abundant diet of TV food shows and celebrity chefs, tempted by specialty grocers, artisanal food and drink, and awakened to a feast of local ingredients. And still, some of us either never learned to cook properly or yearn to know more.

Well, help is at hand. A huge and delicious variety of classes for the home cook are available throughout Colorado, and here’s a sample of what you will find at a few of the state’s tastiest cooking schools.

Cook Street School of Culinary Arts Denver,

Downtown Denver's Cook Street School of Culinary Arts opened in 1999, when its owner, Morey Hecox, a self-described “recovering lawyer,” decided that instead of going to an existing cooking school he would just start one of his own, “to do it better.” From the beginning, Cook Street has focused on fundamental techniques, that, Hecox says, “you can use over and over again every day. Our goal is that you will leave here a better cook.”

Accordingly, Cook Street has something for everyone. Classic French and Italian techniques provide the basis of Cook Street’s approach to culinary training, with multi-day classes devoted to building a strong foundation. Single-session courses span a huge culinary range, from NYC Baking to Charcuterie and Pickles, Preserves and Conserves. Wine education includes classes on wine regions and varieties and an in-depth discussion of pairings (wine and sometimes beer) at the end of each lesson. Other crowd favorites: Wine and Chocolate Pairing, Steak and Whiskey, Steak and Spirits, Everybody Loves Bacon, Fresh Sausage Making, and Burgers and Beer.

Yield: 8 servings

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 shallots, finely diced to the size of the rice
1 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
2 cups dry white wine
4-6 cups chicken stock
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Parmeggiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

Heat 4 tablespoon of the butter, without browning, in a large pot. When it is hot, add the shallots. Add a pinch of salt and sauté 1-2 minutes until the shallots soften.

Add the rice and toss to coat. Being careful not to brown the rice, cook it in the butter until the grains, which are somewhat translucent when uncooked, become opaque and smell slightly nutty. Turn the heat to high, add the wine, and cook out the alcohol.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add hot chicken stock by the ladleful to cover the risotto. Stirring continuously, allow the broth to evaporate by half, replenish the liquid, and give a sprinkle of salt. Cook the risotto slowly, replenishing liquid as needed to the level of the rice, until the rice is al dente. This means that when you test the doneness of a single grain of rice, you can feel that the outside of the rice is cooked, but that at the very center there is some light resistance.

The finished dish should have distinct grains of rice surrounded by a creamy sauce. Check the salt and adjust with both sea salt and cheese. Present on plates, garnish generously with cheese, give a grinding of fresh pepper and serve hot.

Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute Breckenridge,

At 9,600 feet above sea level in Breckenridge, Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute serves up an extravagant feast of “hands-on, just-for-fun cooking classes” in addition to its degree and apprenticeship programs. Program director Doug Schwartz says the school “teaches people to have fun with food—to touch it and not be intimidated.”

True to its academic roots, the Institute offers 60-70 courses per semester, from educational fare like Flavor Dynamics (emphasizing cooking without recipes) and Food Science, to High Altitude Baking, Winter One-Pot Meals, Fast & Fresh, Soups (five different levels), Pressure Cooking and Savory Pot Pies, along with vegetarian classes, and wine varietal and pairing and craft brewing courses. International offerings span the globe from Mumbai to Cuba to Korea to Paris and the Yucatan—and often sell out. The state-of-the-art teaching kitchens, including a 36-foot-long commercial line, are designed for one-on-one attention, with a limit of 12 students. Each session ends in a buffet-style meal and a takeaway of new friendships.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Cilantro Yogurt

1 Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed
2 carrots, rough chopped
1 celery stalk,rough chopped
1 onion rough chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoon oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Preheat a large stock pot over medium heat. Add oil and coat the bottom of the pot then add carrots, onion and celery and sweat vegetables until onions are translucent then add garlic, ginger, squash and spices and continue to cook 2-3 minutes or until spices become fragrant.

Add vegetable stock; bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until squash is soft.

Allow to cool before pureeing in blender or use hand-held immersion blender. 

Once pureed, return to medium heat and add coconut milk; bring to a simmer and cook 2 more minutes, stirring regularly. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice.

In a blender, process cilantro and yogurt until smooth,  season with salt and garnish bisque.

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts Boulder,
Beneath the towering flatirons, Boulder’s Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts (named after the esteemed French “patriarch of modern cooking”) began in 1991 as the Cooking School of the Rockies. Today it offers recreational cooking classes in addition to its widely respected professional program. With a dedication to “green” practices like recycling, composting and energy conservation, it’s no surprise that a passion for farm-to-table cuisine lies at the core of the school’s approach.

Home cooking students can take one-day workshops (on topics ranging from Party Hors D’oeuvres to Whole Hog Butchery) held on weeknights or weekends, or five-session techniques classes on themes like Basic Pastry. Courses correspond to the season, and there are also plenty of specialty offerings, including Paleo, gluten-free and vegetarian, along with world food classes such as Totally Tapas, Sushi Madness and The Joy of Gnocchi. Instruction is hands-on, with a maximum group size of 12 in one of the four professional-grade kitchens on the South Boulder campus. Ellie Scott, program director, describes many of the Escoffier students as repeat visitors, who often start with the basics and advance to the more complicated challenges. Scott calls the class atmosphere casual and comfortable, emphasizing the relaxed gathering time that ends each session with a meal and a lively discussion.

Fresh Ricotta
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

1 gallon whole milk
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart Greek whole yogurt
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and whisk until smooth. 

Scald the mixture over a medium-high heat while occasionally running a rubber spatula along the bottom of the pan to ensure even cooking and avoid browning. Don’t let it come to a boil! Once your mixture is heated, lower the heat to medium-low.

Continue to run a spatula along the bottom of the pan, moving slowly so you don’t disrupt the curdling. When the curd has created a raft on the top of the mixture, the ricotta is ready. Remove from heat.

Using a fine mesh strainer with a handle, carefully lift the curd from the pot and place it into a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer positioned over a large container or bowl. Allow the ricotta drain and cool at room temperature.

Once the ricotta has cooled, transfer it to the refrigerator and continue to let hang until the ricotta has reached a desired texture. For firmer ricotta, allow time to hang over night.

Use immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Herbed Fresh Ricotta: Mix in 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh basil, oregano and thyme for every 1 cup of ricotta. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

2 cups peanut butter
2/3 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until well combined. Scoop onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Roll in additional sugar, if desired. Press flat with a fork or the bottom of a drinking glass. Bake at 350°F for about 8-10 minutes, or until set. Store any leftovers in an airtight container.

Categories: Entertaining, Recipes