Cooking Class #3 – Summary (Orange County NY)
As I wrote back in December, there are plenty of things to do during the winter in Orange County NY. In my never-ending quest to learn more, and because I love both food and cooking, I signed up to try three cooking classes. My first attempt focused on German cuisine. Unfortunately I had to miss the second class. The third was last night, and it focused on food from Puerto Rico. Oh my.
Our chef opened the doors to the kitchen just a few minutes before 6pm. We had a class of eight, and once we gathered, he gave us an overview of the kitchen and the cuisine we would be preparing. Since he grew up with Puerto Rican food, he was very excited to share some of his favorite recipes and tips with us. One of the first things he said was that most of the food was about meat and starches, with not much in the way of vegetables. He also said that tasting along the way, and eating often, was part of the experience. He was right!
One of the takeaways from my class last night is that Puerto Rican food is full of flavor. We made our own Adobo mix, which is a combination of salt, garlic powder, cumin, white pepper, oregano and onion powder. So there is no need to buy the can of premade seasoning from the store that has extra ingredients that aren’t necessary. We also made a staple called Sofrito. This is a base used in many recipes. It was very flavorful and the ingredients demonstrate why! It included oil, onion, garlic, cubanelle peppers, cilantro, oregano. We used this in most of the subsequent dishes we made, and we all took some home. We also made Grandpa’s Ketchup – which is a very garlicky ketchup recipe that is cooked and is very delicious. Also, MayoKetchu’ which included mayo, ketchup, garlic and lime.
We split up into groups, and different teams were responsible to make different recipes. I wasn’t on the one that made the empanadas, but was definitely one of the ones that tasted it. First, the filling was made, which included some of the sofrito as well as onion, (more) garlic, ground beef, adobo, potatoes, olives, bay leaves, raisins and tomato paste. The filling didn’t take long to cook, maybe 1/2 hour in total. It was delicious! Then we all grabbed a piece of empanada dough (we used store-bought due to time, but this can certainly be homemade as well). We put several spoonfuls of filling into the dough, closed them up and used a fork to seal the edges. These were then deep fried and eaten either with one of the sauces listed above, or eaten without. Either way, these were delicious!
Bistec Encebollado (beef steak) was a second meat dish. This entree included thin steak that was marinaded in a red wine vinegar/olive oil/salt/oregano/cumin and garlic marinade. It’s really better to marinate for a long time (8+ hours) but the team working only had a short time to do so. Then onions are cooked in a pan, chicken stock added, and this sauce is poured on the steak when done. The steak is simply cooked in olive oil until well done. Apparently, medium or rare beef is not part of this type of cuisine but of course, if you prefer your beef less cooked, then do so! When cooked, the steak was covered with the onion sauce. Yum.
Arroz con Gandules
Puerto Rican meals also require a rice dish. Our chef indicated that the success of any rice is all about the liquid it is cooked in. Excellent flavor of the liquid = excellent rice. In this case, the sauce included salted pork, sofrito, onion, sazon goya, chicken stock, salt, gandules (pigeon peas) and parsley. Once everything was combined, the long-grain parboiled rice took about a half hour to cook. Fluff with a fork, and we were good to go! Another yum.
I had no idea what kind of meal we would be cooking, but knew there had to be beans in the menu. I was not disappointed. As with everything else, there were a lot of flavors in the bean dish. We again used the sofrito which was made above, as well as tomato sauce, pink kidney beans, sazon with coriander and annatto, ham flavoring, adobo, garlic powder, oregano, pepper, olives, potatoes, butternut squash.
Evidently, an order of “beans” is so much more than “just” beans!
The final dish, which the chef prepared, were tostones, or green plantains. He showed us a way to more easily peel the green plantains, which had to do with pouring boiling water over them, and letting them sit for a short period. Then take them out and peel them, cut in 2″ chunks which were then placed in cold water. Then the chunks were deep-fried. When those were done, they were smushed into flat pancakes, and then fried briefly again. They wound up to be thick chips which were sprinkled with salt and then eaten as is, or with the various sauces. Yum.
Overall, everything we made was delicious and full of flavor. Also, as can be seen by reading this post, Puerto Rican cooking includes a lot of garlic and other savory flavors. If you prefer bland food, this probably would not be the right culinary class to take. But I know I would definitely make these recipes again, and I have them in my recipe book ready to go. The chef also made the class a lot of fun and very interesting. He encouraged creativity (“throw in however much tastes good”). I would absolutely recommend taking this class!
By the way, I did not get photos of all the food. Once we started eating, I was too focused on the food to remember to take pictures!
It’s still not too late to sign up for other classes being held this winter. Although I hear the pizza making class is full. But if you’re bored and ready to try something new, this is a great way to spend a winter evening!