When people learn that I spent my childhood in Maryland they invariably assume that I'm a huge seafood lover, crab especially. The deep, dark truth is that I can easily recount every time that I have consumed seafood since about age four. I never took to the stuff. To me, of all creatures, those from the sea were the least natural to eat. They were scary and mysterious. They often required strange and excessive tabletop hardware and effort. The only real upside I found to seafood was that it was often served with drawn butter and hush puppies.
But during this getaway to Bedford Springs, I'd set a "course for adventure" and was up for anything. When I learned that a slot was available for a Friday afternoon cooking class with the Chef d'Hotel for $20 I jumped at the chance. No curriculum was available, but I told Jac I just hoped it was something new to me.
And oh boy was it. Our small class of three was greeted with champagne in the hotel lobby. (No thanks, I'm drinking for two.) We were escorted through the recesses of the hotel to the main kitchen where we met the venerable Chef Konrad. He announced our course subject was: Seafood. I was trepidatious about the territory, but delighted that I'd learn a thing or two about a subject my husband holds so dear.
First up: crab cakes. Chef Konrad had us each sample the premium lump crab meat and then set about making his light and savory version of the beachy delicacy. We molded a mixture of crab, mayonnaise, dijon mustard, and panko breadcrumbs and cooked it briefly in a pan with olive oil. We made a rich sauce of soy, miso, honey and sesame oil. Then came the ultimate test: my taste. I ate a couple of bites and knew that without my historic aversions to the dish, it was tops in its class.
Next we made a tuna tartar atop a crouton, but what you see here is the cooked tuna presented to me to accommodate my delicate condition. I still only managed a morsel and felt guilty with each taste tossing fresh from the pan samples.
Jac is a big fan of scallops so I knew when this dish was announced that I not only needed to manage a taste, I also needed to pay close attention. The chef unveiled U-10 scallops which I learned were characteristically large. We cooked them with salt, pepper, honey and butter and I managed my taste, though this was the most difficult dish for me encourage my paltry palette to try.
Finally, our third dish was something close to home. I was called to demonstrate our preparation of spaetzle with a mushroom gravy. I have made spaetzle before but today we made it from scratch and used a large commercial sieve to extrude the nubs of pasta into a boiling pot of water. We topped it with a deeply flavorful mushroom sauce and parmesan cheese. Heavenly!
But Chef Konrad had one more surprise waiting for us, dessert. We headed over to the pastry section of the kitchen and found a chef happy to show us how to make chocolate-dipped strawberries with an intricate patten. The magic trick involved patterned pastry transfer paper and the chef showed us a catalog where we could order the supplies. We dipped lush berries into melted dark chocolate, twirled them, and plopped them atop the transfer paper. As we gabbed, the chocolate dried and we were able to pluck the berries from the page, now dressed with a stylish pattern. Even better, we each made a half dozen to take away with us.
It was a great experience and just the sort of diversion I'd sought to start off our weekend.