A Hip Date Night : Learn to Cook a Romantic Dinner
It is the dog days of summer. It is brutally, hair-meltingly hot outside. The kids fight over the XBOX unceasingly; I don’t have the heart to send them outside. I am crabby and on edge; PVT is working late hours and we snap at each other the rare times we see each other, both feeling underappreciated and taken for granted in our daily, solitary toils. Clearly a bit of minor marital angst requires a bit of attention (and the dating pool for singles with seven kids is pretty limited), so it’s time for a date night! Woo hoo!
It occurs to me, though, that we’re in a bit of a going-out rut: we go to the same two or three restaurants, talk about the kids and work, and then come home exhausted, early enough to put the kids to bed. Seems like we need to shake things up a bit — and to remember we are still people, individuals that had lives and histories and quirks before the whole love, marriage, baby carriage fairytale. Probably a tall order for a single date night, but what the hey!
It’s around this time that I happen upon “The Girl Can Cook,” Candace Conley’s cooking school and catering service located in the heart of the Rose District in Broken Arrow. Candace, a mother of two young girls, had a varied career before she tried teaching a cooking class at The Viking Gallery (affiliated with Metro Appliances). And, voila! Candace was able to blend her love of food, teaching and performing into one business.
Her classes are small and hands-on, so people cook a lot! And last year Candace had the opportunity to take a month-long professional trip to Italy, where she was an apprentice chef (essentially an unpaid intern) at a restaurant called Al Podere. Here, she learned many new Italian techniques while working long hours in the kitchen — and no one spoke English! Her adventures have been incorporated into her studio classes such as “Risotto 101,” “The Art of the Italian Cocktail,” and “Back from Italy.” And the date night classes are once per week, with themes ranging from Spanish Tapas to Roman Holiday to Greek Islands.
So, I book a class that sounds great for PVT and me: Italian Grilling for couples! It’s $130 for a couple’s full meal — and that includes wine, so about what we’d spend anyway on a nice dinner out. Yet in a cruel twist of fate, PVT has to work late on a last-minute deal he’s closing on our date night — boo! Fortunately, I have a bevy of girlfriends who love to cook (and love to drink wine), so I grab my friend, Tara, a similarly frazzled mother of five, and off we head to Broken Arrow.
Because my sense of both timing and directions are horrible, we arrive late, but fortunately just in time to start chopping. We start immediately hacking away at herbs (at first I let Tara do all the work — I’m suddenly tired and remembering why we usually just go to sit for a meal without having to work for it!). But the camaraderie of the class is infectious: there are 10 couples, happily chatting, chopping and drinking (Candace’s assistant is very attentive about keeping the wine glasses full).
I learn several things as we go: for example, Candace doesn’t rinse prepackaged fresh herbs since the risk of anything funky is minimal, and wet herbs are very hard to cook with. We make a spice rub for steak, and then concoct an oil-based vinaigrette with oregano and rosemary to pour over potatoes and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, and start boiling potatoes (did you know that since potatoes are so dense, you are supposed to start out with cold water so they cook evenly? I didn’t either!) We then take our potatoes and asparagus to the grill — I had never thought of grilling potatoes, but it gives them a really nice charcoal taste — much richer than just boiled potatoes. The marinade we pour over is fabulous.
And I figure out why men like to grill so much: there is a real element of danger. That grill is HOT! We then watch Candace grill our meat (probably too many of us to safely grill all that meat). Candace explains that meat is mainly muscle, so it tenses with changes in temperature. When you take the meat off the heat and cut it immediately, the juices are pooled in the center of the meat and will pour out, leaving your meat dry, flavorless and tough. If you “rest” meat so that juices will redistribute throughout the meat, you will lose very little juice when you cut into it. Aha! But by the time our meat is rested, everything is a little cold. This is my only little gripe: maybe I am not a sophisticated enough steak connoisseur, but I would sacrifice a little juice to have a warmer dinner. But everyone gathers among the communal table to eat the delicious meal we’ve made — and the wine keeps coming!
What’s different about her business? Candace explains: “You can go access any food, anywhere, anytime these days. That’s great. But I want people to come to my studio and experience a hands-on, recreational, fun time in the kitchen. At this point in time, no one else in the city does what we do,” she says. “I leave the technical, ‘chef-fy’ stuff to the culinary arts schools. We are here for the people who want to learn more about cooking, make it easier and more sensible for them to cook at home and have a great time. I sincerely want them to be able to cook at home – and enjoy it. That’s what makes us different. We’re no-nonsense, but we know how to have fun, too.”
And my “date” Tara and I have a great time. The other couples might head out into the Rose District to the Rooftop or Hops and Hangers for drinks, or chocolate debauchery at the Nouveau Chocolatier — there are lots of merchants open at 8:30, so there are lots of choices to stay out later than boring 8 p.m. Alas, Tara and I have to go home to relieve our sitters!
It’s worth noting that Williams Sonoma offers cooking classes, too. They have a “Cookbook Club” for $75 — a recent class featured dear Gwyneth’s “It’s All Easy,” and included the cookbook and courses from several recipes. Other events bring in guest chefs from local restaurants (Tavolo’s sent a recent emissary). Another recent class was Summer Cooking with Cast Iron, which, for $30, also included your own cast iron frying pan. And PVT would love the Technique Class: Flavors of Mexico – Building Your Own Taco.
OK, OK, there are kids classes at Williams Sonoma too: a recent “American Girl” class had all the girls baking pies with their American Girl dolls. And a macaroni and cheese class with three different cheeses! Seriously! How great is that? And, if you want your kids to learn some healthy cooking, the HealthZone at Saint Francis has classes once a month on Tues. for kids from 4-8, and on Thurs. for those aged 9 and older. Teach the whole family to cook.
Back to my significant other? Perhaps these little gems will get you out of your date night rut…and hopefully PVT and I will go on a date night. Someday! Someday soon!