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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Final Class On Sweeteners Is Bittersweet

It is Week #8 and most of us arrived at New Leaf Community Market a little sad because our two month culinary journey into the amazing world of natural foods is concluding.

About the only problem with this course was the subject matter was so extensive and encompassing that we only had time to scratch surfaces. Under the direction of our leader, Chef Jennifer Brewer we not only learned basic chef's skills but also how to make the absolute healthiest foods for our bodies taste great. Every subject we covered could be an entire course in itself.

Our final homework assignment was to bring in a recipe that we created or amended enough to put our own stamp on it. My propensity for show and tell dictated once again that I actually bring the dish for everyone to taste instead of just hand out the recipe. One of my favorite appetizers is a fusion of sorts where burritos meet aram sandwiches. This first picture shows my Mexican Roll Ups which MUST be served with guacamole and salsa. As comfortable as I am with my guac recipe I am the first to admit I don't do salsa. So I put the word out to my classmates and was rescued by Julie and Helda. At the bottom of this shot is Julie's tropical mix with mango and pineapple. Helda delivered four varieties (three green and one red) on which we all voted for our favorite. Jenny agreed that since it was the last day of school a party was certainly appropriate.

So after all of the fiesta frolicking I had started we finally got down to business and Jenny talked about the many choices of unrefined sugars out there. Jenny's main point was that not all sweeteners are created equal and she drove the point home beautifully by feeding us cookies. She baked four batches of her Gluten-Free Jam Dots but used a different sweetener for each one. The results were dramatic with no two versions being even close to alike. The moral of the lesson was to make sure you experiment with your sweeteners especially when the recipe calls for a granulated sugar.

And then came our final exam! We paired off in teams of two and were handed bags of secret ingredients prepared by Jenny and Lydia. The rules were as follows:

1. You must use everything in the bag
2. Your recipe should serve 6 to 8
3. Pantry and Fridge items are available but no shopping in the store
4. Make one dish or as many as you like
5. One Hour Time Limit

Along with the pantry and fridge Jenny had grabbed her usual stash of fresh organics which were also available to us and considered legal for our contest.

On one level this exercise is fun, creates team building and competitive spirit but it also defines cooking and exemplifies chefs. Anyone can simply follow the steps of a recipe but great chefs take it to the next level by interpreting them to maximize tastes, flavors and textures. I believe that you move from cook to chef when you are handed any ingredient and can turn it into something tasty.

Jenny was surprised but delighted by the our efforts. She said for the most part we created dishes that were unexpected for the ingredients but they were all in keeping with her methods and cooking philosophies.

So what's next? We were just half way though this great adventure and I was already having withdrawal symptoms. What will I look forward to now on Thursday nights? My suggestion is a dinner club for all of us who cherish this wonderful food. We will be cooking again and I will be back to tell you all about our new Natural Foods Dinner Club.

So here is one last parting shot of the entire graduating Class of 2009. Our sincere thanks to Jenny for sharing so much of her knowledge and serving such a truly great experience. Bon Appetite & A Santé!

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