Learning the Tricks of the Trade

At a time when television delivers a veritable feast of cooking shows, why bother with a live cooking class? For starters, many professional chefs argue, holding a knife or whisk in your own hand – even for only a few minutes – teaches far more than can be learned by passively watching a TV performance. Even seeing a local chef demonstrate your favorite dish in person is not as good a teaching tool as doing the work yourself.

At least sixty percent of us learn kinesthetically, that is, by doing. In addition, performing meaningful tasks, especially unfamiliar ones that a novice cook is likely to encounter in the kitchen, builds confidence. Lack of confidence is a barrier that keeps many people out of the kitchen in the first place.

When choosing a cooking class, pick a class based on the background of the teacher and the dishes being taught. Experienced teachers often share shortcuts, use simple methods and present useful dishes that you are actually likely to make outside of class.

Many local colleges and community centers offer inexpensive, even free classes. The local supermarket calendar is a great resource to look for announcements of upcoming classes as well. I also recommend attending the demonstrations given at some farmers’ markets.

As busy people, farmers focus on efficiency and easy recipes. They are also experts in new, innovative ways to use the goods they produce.

If your busy schedule simply won’t allow for hands-on classes, TV cooking shows featuring great instructors like Jacque Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, Sara Moulton and Alton Brown are the ones I recommend.

In honor of great instructors, this week’s recipe for stuffed Portobello mushrooms is adapted from a dish featured in Linda Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. Carucci, who conducted a cooking school in Berkeley, California, for many years, was once named Teacher of the Year by the International Association for Culinary Professionals.

Chicken and Eggplant-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms - Makes 6 servings.

2 slices whole-wheat bread
6 (4-inch) Portobello mushroom caps
Cooking spray
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 pound Asian eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear bread into 1-inch pieces and whirl in food processor to make fresh bread crumbs. Set aside.

Remove and discard mushroom stems. Wipe mushroom caps with damp paper towel, coat well with cooking spray and arrange in one layer in baking dish also coated with spray.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and pepper, sauté until onions are translucent, 5 minutes. Add eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 8 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a bowl.

Add remaining oil to pan. Add chicken and cook, using wooden spoon to break up chicken. When no pink remains, about 5 minutes, return vegetables to pan. Add garlic and oregano and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with their liquid, and cook until most liquid has evaporated, 10-12 minutes, stirring often.

Off heat, mix in basil and bread crumbs. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. Fill mushroom caps until filling is mounded 2 inches high. Seal baking dish with foil.

Bake stuffed mushrooms for 25 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle 1 tablespoon cheese over each mushroom. Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes, until stuffing is lightly browned. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Or cool, and serve at room temperature.

Per serving: 220 calories, 8 g total fat (2 g saturated fat), 16 g carbohydrate, 21 g protein, 5 g dietary fiber, 290 mg sodium.

The Author:

AICR offers a Nutrition Hotline (1-800-843-8114) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday-Friday. This free service allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR is the only major cancer charity focused exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. It provides a range of education programs that help Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. It has provided more than $65 million for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR’s Web address is www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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