On a recent Wednesday night I sit down to enjoy mousseline of broccoli with mushroom sauce, salmon baked in heart-shaped parchment paper, and a lemon tart with fresh raspberries, all of which I’ve prepared myself — well, sort of.
As one of a group of 10 attending a cooking class at the home of caterer Carol Jean Fraase, I get to spend four hours learning a lot, talking with new friends, eating, and, yes, doing a little cooking.
Fraase and her niece Sara Workman are the owners of Another Cooking School. For most of the year, they focus on their catering business, providing food for private parties and receptions of 20 to 200 people. In the winter and spring months, when the catering business is slower, they offer their expertise and gourmet recipes during two months of cooking classes held at Fraase’s home, a cozy red ranch-style house located in a serene country setting near New Berlin.
“It’s like a little tiny vacation,” says Phyllis Brissenden, who has taken several classes. “There are a lot of people I don’t know and some people I do know.” She’s brought a friend, Marcia Salner, who is making her first visit.
The class is an interesting mix of social gathering, culinary instruction, and hands-on experience, followed by a several-course gourmet dinner. The classes begin at 6:30 p.m. sharp. After everyone has donned an apron and introductions are out of the way, Fraase gives a quick overview of the evening’s menu, the ingredients, and the duties involved. Members of the class are invited to participate as much as they like. Some of us dice shallots and mushrooms and others roll out pastry dough and stir cream sauce as Fraase and Workman quietly monitor the action, offering friendly advice and keeping a keen eye on everyone to make sure things are done properly. Professional yet relaxed and welcoming, the pair make you feel as if you’re in a favorite relative’s kitchen, helping prepare a holiday feast. As we stand around a large butcher-block table in the center of the room, we dice and slice, talk, and sip wine.
I’ve taken other cooking classes before and thoroughly enjoyed them, but this one is a new experience. What surprises me most is how much fun it is. The class comprises an interesting mix of people, including a former caterer, an investment banker, a bed & breakfast owner, a couple who enjoy gourmet cooking and entertaining as a hobby. Our shared love of food becomes even more obvious once we began preparing the meal as we discuss everything from how to grow watercress to the proper way to pronounce papillote.
For our first course, we steam broccoli and purée it with eggs and cream, then pour the mixture into buttered molds and cook them in a water bath. The mousseline is served with a rich cream-based morel-mushroom sauce. We also prepare a cauliflower gratin with grated Gruyere cheese. Our main course is salmon papillotes, consisting of a salmon fillet topped with kalamata olives, potatoes, fennel-bulb slices, lemon, fresh thyme, garlic, white wine, and seasonings, then folded up in parchment paper and baked. Dessert is a lemon tart comprising a sweet pastry filled with eggs, sugar, lemon, butter, and blanched almonds.
After preparing the meal, we convene at a large round table in the dining room. Although most of us have met for the first time just a few hours earlier, we engage in a lively, wide-ranging conversation that includes topics people are generally advised not to discuss over dinner (and certainly not with strangers), including politics and sex. The food is superb, the hostesses are gracious, and the wine and conversation flow freely.
Classes are held several times a week through March 31, with menus featuring such dishes as shrimp-and-asparagus cakes, eggs poached in red wine, roasted-asparagus lasagna, spicy garlic-lemon shrimp, chicken breast Benedict, fillet of beef Oscar, medallions of pork with prunes, and zabaglione-cream trifle.
Brissenden, who has already signed up for several more classes this spring, is right — this class is like a four-hour vacation. And I’m ready to go back.
For more information on Another Cooking School, call 217-546-3091.
Mousseline of Broccoli with Mushroom Sauce
1 1/2 pounds broccoli florets with some stems
1 cup heavy cream
4 shallots, minced
1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms
1 cup vermouth
4 cups cream
1/2 cup butter
Steam broccoli. In a skillet, combine broccoli and cream and cook, stirring until cream is absorbed. Purée mixture in food processor, adding eggs one at a time, and season to taste. Fill 10 to 12 buttered molds; place molds in water bath and cover with buttered waxed paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.
For sauce, heat 4 tablespoons butter, add shallots and mushrooms, and cook until liquid evaporates. Add vermouth and reduce by half. Add cream and cook until sauce is thickened. Season to taste. Just before serving, whisk in remaining butter.
— Recipe courtesy of Another Cooking School
Taste of old New Salem
Historic clothing maker and author Nancy Torgerson presents “19th-Century Foodways” from 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, March 19, at the visitors-center conference room of Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, near Petersburg.
The classes are free and open to the public, but class size is limited to 30. Torgerson — the author of Food Preservation before the Mason Jar and a custom tailor of reproduction period clothing — has been conducting educational presentations and training for 15 years. Call 217-632-4000 for more information.