I believe that ethnicity is part of what defines a person.
I’m of Polish-Italian decent and one of my family’s ways of celebrating our heritage is by passing down authentic recipes – kuchnia Polska like pierogi or kielbasa or golabki and Italian fare such as tortelloni alla zucca or gnocchi di semolino. While I take pride in my family’s customs, I also enjoy being cultured in others, especially their traditional cuisine.
Speaking of which, a few days ago I got to learn about the Irish, in particular, about Irish food.
Several months back The Heartland Chef, Sandra Hillmer, invited me to one of her cooking classes. She had read my December 22 post about a cooking class I took at the Milwaukee Public Market where I mentioned I was disappointed by the lack of hands-on cooking classes in the Milwaukee area and how that particular class was like paying to watch The Food Network. Sandi stated that she has been offering privately held hands-on cooking classes at her home in Oak Creek for about six years, so I decided to take her up on the offer.
Initially I thought it was a little strange that the class was held at her home, but her kitchen was specifically designed to accommodate a large amount of people and heavy duty cooking. Sandi's home was well equipped with several feet of open counter space, two ovens, stainless steel appliances, an abundance of electrical outlets and the best kitchenware any cook could dream of!
As a cooking instructor Sandi is very familiar with the deficient of hands-on classes in our area. She explained that the scarcity is due to the fact that many cooking teachers favor the demonstration style of training. However, she also noticed that most students prefer getting down and dirty in the kitchen over merely watching a chef lecture, which is probably why she began teaching. Needless to say, when I was invited to partake in one of Sandi’s hands-on cooking classes, I was delighted!
Sandi’s classes are usually centered on a theme and planned around recipes for a four to five course meal. Each class always has a very versatile menu, but the Irish Spirits class was the one that immediately caught my eye.
When you think of Irish cuisine, what particular dish comes to mind? Any? I automatically think of corned beef hash with a side of green eggs. Apparently, I'm not very cultured. But, at this cooking class we expanded our palates by creating and tasting a traditional Irish dinner composed of Murphy’s onion soup, Chicken Cashel Blue, chive smashed potatoes and Guinness applesauce cake – it definitely wasn't St. Patrick's Day pub food...Thank goodness!
There were four couples including Eric and I who arrived at Sandi’s home around 6:30 p.m. We conjugated in the kitchen where Sandi promptly began introducing us to the recipes and ingredients. Soon after, she asked us to select the recipe we wanted to try. Once all of us had a dish, stations were setup around the kitchen and we began working in pairs on our specific course.
To some extent it was a shame that we couldn’t prepare the entire meal, but it was understandable – it’d be nearly impossible to finish four courses in only one hour! Of course by splitting up the meal among the students, not only were we being productive, but we had the option of stopping at each station to see the progress.
While other couples worked on the appetizer, side dish and dessert, Eric and I helped prepare the main course. This dish was the most complex, but we were geared up for the challenge and later realized that one recipe was a sufficient amount of work. Seriously.
The Chicken Cashel Blue took about four steps. First, we made the stuffing by mashing together creamy blue cheese, butter, herbs and veggies. After that, we stuffed each chicken breast, and then breaded, pan-fried and baked each. Lastly, we made a silky Irish whiskey sauce and subsequently drizzled it over the chicken.
It’s notable that all of the dishes incorporated Irish spirits ranging from Guinness and Murphy’s Irish Stout to Bushmills Irish Whiskey. I’m partial to using alcohols in recipes because their bold flavors tend to give every dish more depth of flavor and you can’t even taste the alcohol, that is, unless you've polished off the leftover booze while whisking.
To be fair, Eric and I split the preparations in half – he minced the shallots and chopped the garlic while I grated the lemons and ground-up the thyme – it was very effective. We really enjoy cooking and concocting new recipes and sharing them with each other. But as a rule I can’t have another person in the kitchen when I’m making dinner (it drives me insane!), so it was interesting to work in concert with a group of strangers, but we did a terrific job as a whole.
For an hour, pans were sizzling, alcohols were swirling and timers were buzzing. It was a culinary orchestra accompanied by the sounds of getting-to-know-you chitchat. We focused on each series of steps and precise measurements as Sandi moved from station to station and demonstrated useful techniques and offered us helpful hints. I learned a lot and Sandi was a marvelous instructor!
At last, the sound of the final timer declared that it was suppertime. The news couldn’t have come at a better moment – the aromas of onion, garlic, thyme and cinnamon had me starving!
As a team we garnished and plated the finished courses, and then all of us sat down at the dinning room table and shared a family-like dinner. It was an intimate setting that offered a relaxed opportunity to discuss the dishes and a fun time to socialize as well.
Sandi’s cooking classes are a great means of entertainment for couples or ladies nights out, bridal or baby showers, or team building for small or large companies and businesses. The class was a fantastic way to spend a romantic and unconventional night – it was more entertaining and less expensive than dinner and a movie.
Most of all, the food was to die for! It was so divine that I had to restrain myself from licking the plate clean. I left the two-hour class with new culinary skills along with recipes in hand to try on my own and share with my family and friends. After preparing the main course with the help of Sandi, I’m both confident and excited to make the Irish Spirits meal again…and definitely will soon!
For more information on The Heartland Chef’s classes, menus and locations, click here.
The Heartland Chef
In-home Personal Chef & Cooking Class Instruction
Serving southeastern Wisconsin