As you know, I love eating out in different restaurants abroad and around town. As you also know, I particularly love Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood for delicious dining. And after a year or two of doing Plated and Blue Apron, I've gone from perceiving myself as a complete disaster in the kitchen minimally capable of microwaving a Lean Cuisine (really, a common refrain at extended family meals is "This is so easy, even Staci could make it") to becoming pretty efficient at following a recipe.
I would not by any means call myself a chef. I'd maaaaybe go so far as to call myself a decent cook. And my boyfriend is a pretty good cook who is definitely interested in becoming better. So in my Hampden travels when I passed by Baltimore Chef Shop, I decided to get us a cooking class as his Christmas gift.
I've never done a cooking class in the traditional setting. For my cousin's wife's bachelorette party, we had a private lesson with a home chef at one of her friend's houses and that was fun, and I didn't ruin anything. Other than that, my only experience with cooking lessons was watching that scene from "Hitch" when Will Smith ends up with a horrible allergic reaction to something he ate (a scene that makes me laugh and laugh and laugh).
Since (unlike Jen and Mike), Scott and I pretty much have stomachs of steel, I signed us up for the Indian cuisine class. Unfortunately, they did not offer the cheese-making class on any of the dates we could go. Otherwise, this would obviously have been our first choice because CHEESE.
Unfortunately, when the day of our class arrived, we were not off to a great start (thanks Mercury?). I had been felled by one of the many disgusting viruses going around, and we were running late. Frazzled, we got into class about five minutes late...embarrassingly, the last ones there.
It wasn't really a big deal. The chef teaching the class was understanding and welcoming. We were split into two groups (or "teams"...), and we divided up the recipes among us. Scott and I randomly got the two most time-consuming and labor-intensive dishes (and my favorites) -- the naan and the chicken tikka masala.
Obnoxiously, there was a couple on our team who we'll call Ned and Linda. Linda immediately asked us if we were cooks. Doped up on cold meds and not expecting to have to explain my skill level to another person taking the class, I stared at her blankly and then croaked out, "Uh, I guess we're moderate?" She looked a little bit annoyed and said that she and Ned cook all the time at home. I smiled politely and feeling under the pressure of time, Scott and I got to work first on the naan, which had to sit in the fridge for a while before we could roll out the dough and bake it.
Although I know from Blue Apron to read the entire recipes before starting everything, I felt stressed about getting it all done on time and doped up on cold meds, I read everything too quickly, promptly misreading how much water in which to dissolve the yeast Naturally, I messed up the dough for the naan, and the chef was like "no biggie, we'll just start over." Feeling like a failure, I watched as Ned and Linda promptly took over naan duties in addition to like, I dunno, three other dishes they were working on. ::rolls eyes::
Since cooking is less precise than baking, we were doing alright with the chicken tikka masala. While Scott seared the chicken chunks, the chef showed me how to use the immersion blender to puree the sauce. After he left me happily blending tomatoes, onions, and spices (a task I could carry out reasonably well without fucking up), GODDAMN NED appeared out of nowhere by my side and started hovering.
"You should pick it up and step on the tomatoes a little more," he said, critiquing my blending performance.
"He said if I pick it up, the sauce will splatter everywhere."
"Well I have one at home, and it's fine."
Ned's hand inched over to take the blender from me.
Ned shifted eagerly from foot to foot, clearly wanting to take over puree duties.
Luckily, just as I was about to completely snap and tell him to go stick some ghee up his ass, the chef called King Ned away to work on his naan.
Later, when my sauce was simmering on the stove and Scott and I were hanging out, fucking Ned sidled up to us.
"So what's next?"
"It's simmering. The recipe said to let it simmer for six minutes."
Then, this guy ACTUALLY wedged himself between me and Scott and started stirring it anyway.
Honestly, if this were a group day trip, I just KNOW Ned would be one of these people -- I'm just not sure which one. Probably the goddamn question-asker.
Anyway, the food turned out great (even the chicken tikka masala). I hate to admit it, but I took seconds of Ned's naan. (But I should note it was probably really good because *despite* Ned's protests, Linda smothered it in leftover butter and salt.) It was a Christmas gift success, a good meal, and a fun night. If I hadn't been ill and cognitively delayed by cold meds, it would have been even more fun. We followed it up with ice cream next door from the Charmery, where I got a scoop of Hanukkah-themed jelly donut!
When you come visit me in Baltimore, I highly recommend BCS. And if you want to do something similar in your travels, check out EatWith, which pairs you with locals who will cook for you! (Considering I'll never be on "Top Chef"...)
Now check out this beautifully blended sauce (and some dry-ass, garbage-worthy naan dough)!