Something's Cooking

By Cheryl Walker

November 7, 2008 7 min read

SOMETHING'S COOKING

Find the way to their heart through their stomach

Cheryl Walker

Creators News Service

Valentine's Day brings to mind images of a romantic dinner for two. But instead of making reservations at an extravagant restaurant, go with a new trend -- cooking a special dinner together.

From local schools to special classes, couples have been finding out that they not only enjoy eating, but working in the kitchen as well.

Jennie Crowley created a Couples Romantic Cooking class. Her husband, Eric Crowley, who owns Chef Eric's Culinary Classroom in Los Angeles, teaches the course.

"The classes are so popular we usually offer three a month," Jennie Crowley said.

What appeals to couples is the class is new and different. Instead of going out, they get hands on with their meals.

"This is an alternative to date night and it's something they can do together," Jennie Crowley said. "It seems to fit new couples and couples who have been married a long time. We find couples who have been married a long time are very social and many times they like coming with another couple."

Hipcooks, also located in Los Angeles, offers a variety of hands-on cooking classes and has also found success with romantic dinner classes.

"A lot of times this is the only time they can spend together, and it's just a natural activity for couples," said Bonny Giardina, owner of Hipcooks. "You're with your favorite person in the world and it's a great addition to a relationship."

Unlike most classes, these places don't have the usual desks and chairs. Instead, there are cooking stations and, in the case of Eric Crowley's kitchen, beautifully decorated tables with pretty tablecloths, napkins and candles.

"Part of the romance is Eric has them sit across the table from each other," Jennie Crowley said. "This way they can feed each other during the meal and make goo-goo eyes."

Their class is done in a party atmosphere with a brief lecture and more instruction as three to four couples prepare their menu.

"Every couple cooks for the whole group and when everything is done we have a buffet so they can try everything," Jennie Crowley said.

A menu for one of their three-hour classes includes baked salmon and vegetable packages in sake sauce with creamy gnocchi di demolina gratinati; crunch citrus beef over rice pilaf and leeks with stir-fried broccoli in ginger and garlic; and sweet and sour fish with red bell peppers, mixed greens and steamed rice. The romantic dessert to top of the evening is chocolate creme brulee.

What Eric Crowley enjoys about teaching the romantic dinner course is working with couples.

"It's a group of students I normally wouldn't have access to," he said. "I like the comradery of the couples and the romance -- I'm a diehard romantic."

Cooking together can be a relaxing experience, which is another plus for a romantic evening.

"Couples may wind up coming in at the end of the week for the class and invariably at least one half of the couple is still under a lot of stress," he said. "Over the period of the class they start to loosen up, relax and communicate and rediscover their other half all over again."

Learning to prepare a meal that isn't usually made at home is something that couples look forward to. It spices up the home menu as well as the relationship.

"I find men to be even more excited about the class because it's so different for them," said Giardina. "It's a nice treat. Many times they'll bring their wife or date as a surprise. It's like, 'Let's do something sweet and fun together.' They're all ready to have fun and whenever you throw a little love in there, it's always fun."

Here are two of the favorite recipes couples choose at Eric Crowley's Culinary Classroom:

CHICKEN WITH LEMON CAPER SAUCE

2 tablespoons butter

4 chicken breasts, boneless

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons capers, drained

2 tablespoons water or stock

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

1/2 cup sour cream or cr?me fraiche

Yields 4 chicken breasts

Melt butter in saute pan over medium heat. When butter is hot, season chicken well with salt and pepper and place it skin side down. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Turn breasts over. Cook until juices run clear, about 8 to 10 minutes.

When the chicken is done, remove it from heat and keep in a warm place. Pour off the fat from the pan and deglaze it over high heat by adding the lemon juice, capers and stock. Add parsley and let liquids cook for about a minute.

Take pan off heat. Stir in sour cream or cr?me fraiche. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. If sauce is too thick, thin with water or stock. Pour over chicken and serve.

CHICKEN BREASTS STUFFED WITH PROSCIUTTO, SPINACH AND BOURSIN CHEESE

5 ounces baby spinach

4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped

3 to 4 ounces prosciutto

5 ounces Boursin cheese, cut into 5 pieces, divided use

1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock or broth

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

Yields 4 cutlets

Preheat oven to 425 F. Heat large skillet. Add spinach and cook over high heat until wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer the spinach to paper towel-lined tray. Let cool slightly. Press out as much liquid as possible.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with dill. Place 2 slices of prosciutto on each breast. Top with the spinach and 1 piece of cheese. Roll cutlets up lengthwise and secure with 3 toothpicks. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in four and shake off the excess.

Add olive oil to skillet and heat until oil simmers. Add chicken. Cook over high heat until golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn over and cook for 2 minutes. Add wine and stock. Cover and place in the oven.

Bake cutlets for about 12 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to platter and remove toothpicks.

Mix cornstarch with water until thoroughly combined. Add to pan. Whip over high heat until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Add remaining cheese, whip until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

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