March 9, 2012

Portland's Culinary Workshop

Last night Mike and I took a class from Portland's Culinary Workshop. I came across this place when they ran a Groupon in the fall (which I failed to purchase) and I've been periodically checking their class calender waiting for the right opportunity.  It came in the form of "Culinary Travels through Latin America".

The location of the workshop is very convenient (just a few miles from work and next to a brewery - which was extra convenient as we arrived early and needed a place to cool our heels before the class started). The space was light-filled, with tall ceilings and plenty of workspace. Susana, our instructor, was a great teacher with an equally great sense of humor.

Our menu for the night was:

       Mojito-garlic Dipping Sauce

       Tostones (fried plantain chips)

       Palmito (hearts of palm) & Jicama Salad

       Moqueca De Peixe (Coconut fish stew) served over Yucca

       Dulce de leche with Poached Papayas

It was a very hands-on class, which I appreciated since I am a learning-through-doing kind of person. We spent a fair amount of time prepping ingredients and learning a few tricks (like the best way to peel garlic cloves, make a garlic paste and cut onions). The actual "cooking" portion of the meal did not take long, and we only did a little of it personally. We prepped the Yucca but it was boiled by the sous chef (this was fine, as I can only assume that most of us already knew how to boil water). The sous chef also poached the Papayas, but we were all able to observe how the poaching liquid was put together (note: always poach in flavorful liquid) and it was just another example of heating water. The other part we didn't do was prepare the Dulce de Leche. This process takes two hours so it was done before we arrived. However, making dulce de leche goes like this:

• buy can of condensed milk
• peel paper label from can
• put can in pot of water
• simmer for two hours
• chill can in fridge
• open can

We all felt okay not doing this portion personally, and man did it taste delicious.

The verdict:

I would definitely make the mojito-garlic dipping sauce again, as I think it would be a good accompaniment to empanadas.

Tostones are a little too "fried" for my taste, but they were delicious and I'd make them again for a dinner party.

The Palmito & Jicama salad was very refreshing, and definitely a good vegetable side dish for any of my Mexican dishes.

The coconut fish stew was good, but a little lacking in flavor. I think that the instructor didn't want to add too much spice since it was a mixed crowd. She did add a few thai chilis, which didn't seem to permeate the stew too much, but did do a hell of a number on my mouth when I inadvertently bit into one (yeoww). The other down-side to this recipe is that it calls for Dende Oil (palm oil) which seems like it could be rather pricey and hard to find. 

The Yucca is a starch much like a potato, but a little firmer and with a little more flavor. I thought it tasted great, but I do have a "thing" against Yucca so I'm not sure if I could bring myself to buy some in the future. 

The dulce de leche was fabulous and I would make this again to drizzle over ice cream or brownies. I wouldn't make the poached papaya again because I think it's a rather bland fruit, but I might substitute mango, pears or apple however.

All in all, I had a great time, learned something, and I would love to take another class. I have my eye on making cheese, decorating cakes, canning veggies and preserves, and learning the 5 key sauces!

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