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Western Reserve School of Cooking: Sushi Workshop

I love sushi.  I am not a big fan of sashimi.  There is a difference between the two!  Big old chunks of raw fish just don’t get me juiced up.  Smaller chunks of raw fish with rice I can handle.  Cooked fish with rice and other goodies: bring it on.  What I don’t love about sushi is the price.  In the Beachwood, Ohio area, unless you get it from the grocery or Sumo (and I do not recommend eating at Sumo) you are going to pay through the nose to get some good sushi.  Most days I don’t mind paying because it is an art form which takes years to master.  That, and I love Pacific East in Eton and in Solon.  The Manhattan and Westfield rolls I could eat three days a week.  The Red Dragon and Super Crunch rolls at Wasabi are noteworthy as well.  And if you ever get to Amelia Island in Florida, make sure you stop at Fancy Sushi.  They have some really fancy sushi… go figure.

About two years ago I thought it would be fun to make my own sushi.  I went to Sur la Table and picked up a sushi rolling mat, some chopsticks and other fun stuff.  At Whole Foods I picked up some organic nori, long grain rice and all the goodies to stuff my roll with.  In my mind, I figured that it couldn’t be all that hard.  You take the sheet of seaweed, slap some rice on it, lay down some filling and roll.  I was so confident that I took all my new gear, untested, to our friend’s house to make it there for dinner.  It was marketed as the best tasting, least expensive sushi ever.  What it should have been called is a huge, tasteless disaster. It was clear that I had no idea what I was doing.  That has never stopped me before since I am really well suited to wing just about anything. My rice was hot and not sticking (even though I used less water making it, which made sense to me then for some reason) and I couldn’t even get one roll to hold its shape.  It is a good thing they are good friends, otherwise I would have been ticked off at all the laughter at my expense.  

The sushi workshop at the Western Reserve School of Cooking was the perfect venue for me to learn how to remedy my mistakes.  I learned in the first hour that just about everything I did that night was incorrect.  By the end of the third hour at the workshop, the sushi rolls flying off my table were good enough to eat and one of them was good enough to look at.  With practice I’ll be able to turn out some pretty good rolls at some point. This workshop was really informative and a lot of fun.

Making some great tempura shrimp. Photo by Scott Groth

The most important thing about sushi is getting the rice right. During my debacle I was using Carolina long grain rice. That won’t work and neither will Uncle Ben’s even though that rice is typically mushy and sticky. You need to use short grain sticky rice that has to be rinsed three or four times, then dried and then cooked. That’s right, sushi takes some advanced prep work. It also needs a rice cooker because of the high gluten content of the sushi rice. It’s messy to work with and will make a mess of whatever it is cooked in as well. There is a technique for cooling and seasoning the rice as well. All of this information would have been really helpful a couple years ago. Now I know better.

Making sushi is all about technique. This became very clear to me toward the end of the workshop. Once you figure out the rice, getting the rice to stick to the nori and how to roll it, you can really fill it with just about anything. Really once you know how to make it, the possibilities for different rolls increases exponentially. Since the class I have been thinking about a pan seared scallop with asparagus “inside out” roll. Slice the pan seared scallop thinly across the grain, layering it across the unrolled nori. Lay the blanched asparagus across the whole thing and roll it up. I bet the crunch of the asparagus with the scallop would be delicious. Or maybe some cold poached shrimp with a julienned Anaheim chili, Arugula micro greens, green tabasco sauce and panko. For some reason, I would call that roll the Slow Poke.

I’m on the prowl now for a rice cooking machine. Not quite sure where it will fit with all the other gadgets that hide in the shadows in cabinets around our house, all hoping to be used at some point soon. It’s going to be a little while until the purchase happens though, simply because I am working on so many other things now that sidelining to sushi just isn’t in the cards for the time being. The techniques learned in the workshop will still be in my head when the time comes, most likely in the Spring of 2011. I’ll accelerate the sushi practice if The Western Reserve School of Cooking makes a Level 2 Sushi workshop to learn some more advanced techniques. That would be pretty cool.

Next time I decide to make a sushi meal for my friends, I will be much more prepared. I’ll make a trip to the Asian markets and pick up some cool stuff to cook with. We’ll have an entire smörgåsbord of potential fillings and toppings. I can’t promise that they will be restaurant quality, but they’ll be pretty good and we will have fun making them too. By the end of 2011, hopefully my sushi platter will look as good as the one Catherine made in class. If you get the opportunity and are interested in making your own sushi, check out this workshop.

Sushi rolls from WRSOC Sushi Workshop. Photo by Scott Groth

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Western Reserve School of Cooking: Phyllo Workshop

Phyllo is something that has always intrigued me. Having worked with it a couple times in the past, but never with very good results meant it was time to take a workshop.  If you’re like me, then you basically dunk the phyllo dough in butter and go from there. What do you get? Typically a heavy, greasy mess.  Sounds delicious though, right?  Well, not really.  So, it was off to this workshop on in a downpour like only Ohio can deliver.  As a side note, I love to battle rush hour traffic in torrential rain going through Solon, Ohio.  It’s just rain people, get a grip.

The phyllo workshop is a participation class at the Western Reserve School of Cooking taught by Catherine St. John.  Participation means that you’re going to get your hands dirty, so be prepared.  In this class, you’re much more likely to get your hands buttery than dirty- nothing wrong with that, right?  The class ran from 6:30 to 9:30 or so and we put out a ton of food during that time.  The workshop has an ambitious array of recipes to work through and they are all fun to make.

I’m going to give a plug (unsolicited and unpaid) in this post to Athens Foods in Cleveland, Ohio.  They provided all the fresh, never frozen phyllo (they call it Fillo… tomato tomahdo I suppose) for the entire class.  They also provided the phyllo cups.  An unexpected surprise came when the class was over and we got to take a package of the cups and a roll of phyllo dough home as well.  I give a big thumbs up to the Athens Foods company- oh, and the phyllo (fillo) is delicious as well.

Back to the workshop.  We start out with our mise en place for several of the recipes and jump right into cooking.  On the menu for the evening (and I made up some of the names of recipes because they weren’t on the schedule) were the following:

Phyllo Wrapped Shrimp with Apricot BBQ Sauce
Spanikopita
Phyllo Pizza
Chicken, Leeks & Artichokes Wrapped in Phyllo Pastry
Chocolate Ganache & Raspberry Phyllo Cups
Honey Walnut Baklava
Baklava Cups

We learned how to work with the phyllo by observing and then doing. A lot of doing, which I think is great. One of the basic techniques is to use the appropriate amount of butter and layers for each dish. From what I gathered, the larger the dish, the more layers you need. Once you get the hang of it, phyllo is really pretty easy. It’s also a versatile pastry that is relatively neutral in flavor so it can work with a ton of ingredients.

Most of the recipes were delicious and you will see them making their debut at some point on the blog with a little Chubby Cook twist here and there. The big winner of the night was the Chocolate Ganache & Raspberry Phyllo Cup. It amazes me how much depth this little dessert packs. The raspberry filling provides a fruity sweetness that is balanced out by the chocolate and the crunch of the phyllo cup brings the whole experience together. In the workshop we added some Crème Anglaise right on top and then the fresh raspberry. Perfect dessert.

A perfect dessert. Photo by Scott Groth

The funny thing is that my least favorite dish was the other dessert in a cup. Maybe baklava and I were never meant to be friends because there isn’t one that has tickled my fancy so far. The baklava cup was a little dry and the crunch of the filling with the crunch of the phyllo cup made for a crunchy experience. On the other hand, the Honey Walnut Baklava was really quite good.  The honey syrup it is dunked in really pulls the dish together.  Maybe a little of the raspberry filling on the baklava cup would have turned the tables for me.  We’ll be making these during the holidays and give it a try.

Honey syrup covers these tasty treats. Photo by Scott Groth

I love shrimp. Speck (smoked prosciutto) and phyllo wrapped shrimp fall into the category of shrimp that I love. The speck offered a smoke and salt combination that punched up the flavor of the shrimp. The crunch of the phyllo made the dish really nice. A possible suggestion to pair up would be a mango or pineapple salsa. Tonight I ate the leftovers with just a touch of Sriracha sauce and it was delicious.

Smoked prosciutto and phyllo wrapped shrimp are awesome. Photo by Scott Groth

Pizza is fun to make. Phyllo pizza is a little bit of work, but still fun. The table I was working at made a phyllo pizza with the following ingredients: tomato oil, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, roasted broccoli, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, sautéed mushrooms and chorizo. We hit this one out of the park. Delicious.

Spanikopita. Spinach and feta pie. What a combination. It is delicious and surprisingly easy to make. They baked to a light and crunchy texture and had just enough feta, spinach and other goodies inside to make you want to have another… and then another. They reminded me of the bacon wrapped dates with chorizo- one is just not enough.

Light, crunchy and full of flavor. Opa! Spanikopita! Photo by Scott Groth

All told, the class was busy and fun which is a hard combination to achieve. We took home more than enough great food to share with the family and definitely learned how to use this ingredient. I’m working on some dishes in my head (what a scary place to be!) that are shrouded in phyllo. I’ve been thinking about a phyllo purse filled with a pan seared diver scallop topped with sautéed shallots, enoki mushrooms and garlic with a little microplaned Gruyere. A play on the classic Coquille St. Jacques. For dessert maybe a fresh lemon curd layered with raspberry coulis and topped with a mini dollop of fresh mint whipped cream all in a phyllo cup. Or maybe a basil whipped cream. It all sounds good to me, who’s coming over to try?

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