One of the high points of my visit to my friend in Houston, was going to a cooking class in the Central Market HEB. I had never been to one of the Central Markets before, and was quite impressed. To be honest I didn’t want to go to the cooking class. Her husband was supposed to go with her, but something came up. I have to admit that I really had a great time and I am very glad that I went.
The school was in a room, with two glass walls, up above the market. On one side the walls looked out to a balcony and the other wall looked out to a dining area, where people who had bought freshly cooked food from the market could watch as the cooking class was taking place inside.
Almost all the food prep was done for us. The ingredients were portioned out in containers, which the staff brought to us before each course. The a few ingredients were left for us to prepare. We learned to properly slice an onion and how to prepare herbs.
The first dish we prepared was Saganaki, which is just about my favorite dish in the world. Had my friend told me that the cooking class involved fried cheese, I would have been all over it. The course was served with a glass of white wine. It would have been so much better if we had, had Retsina with it, but since the wine had to go with the second course as well, I can understand why Retsina wasn’t served.
Before each course, the Chef gave a demonstration of what we were going to do. There were cameras over his workstation so that we could see what he was doing on large flat screen TVs over the kitchen opening. Before we got started cooking we all lined up like grammar school students to wash our hands. It was a good opportunity to chat with women from other tables.
Each table in the classroom had four students taking turns at doing the flambeing. The Chef and his staff circulated among the tables helping and instructing. The only rule was that we had to have one of the staff with us when we actually flambeed something. The chef made several informative jokes about previous mishaps. When each course was finished we sat down to eat it before going on to cooking the next course.
The second course was Lobster Lisa. Of course the woman named Lisa was pushed forward as the one to flambe this one. It turned out very good. It reminded me of something I was familiar with, but it was days later before I put my finger on it: Japanese Mentaiko Spaghetti. I love Mentaiko sauce so much I have even bought the instant powder mix from the market.
We learned how big a pinch of salt was using the wooden salt container next to the large bowl shown above. It is really big; you use all four fingers and the thumb to make the pinch. We were provided with a container of disposable tasting spoons. As we cooked each course we tossed the prep containers and tasting spoons into the bowl. Between each course, the staff came by and emptied the bowl.
The next course was the steak, and it was my turn to cook. That is why there are no photos of this course being prepared. As a matter of fact, I forgot all about taking photos until my plate was nearly licked clean (below). You will have to take my word for it that it was a beautiful presentation. The staff had the potatoes cooked for us already, so all I had to do was cook the steak, and while it was resting, make the sauce.
During this course, we learned how to judge how when a steak was done. Click here for a wiki on how this is done. When the steaks began to look right we were all poking our hands and poking our steaks. I thought they came out well, as evidenced below.
With the final course, it was my friend’s turn to cook. The crepes were already prepared. We learned that the market has them frozen if anyone wanted to try the recipe at home. I think the ones we were provided in class were cooked in the classroom kitchen before we arrived. They were filled with butter and orange.
My friend had an appointment on the same side of town as the cooking class. It didn’t make sense to drive all the way back home to drop me off and then go all the way back to her appointment. Houston is a huge sprawling city with horrible traffic. Lucky for us, St. Arnold’s brewery was nearby to the Central Market and to where the appointment was at.
We waited in the beer garden, with Houston in the background until our tour of the brewery started. Since you don’t have to take the tour to drink, we were the only ones on the tour. We were encouraged to carry our beers with us as we followed our guide around.
All in all, it was a great visit. I would highly recommend that folks visit this brewery if they are in Houston. It has the added attraction of being dog friendly. You and your dog are welcome to visit the beer garden at any time. You don’t have to take the tour.