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Cooking at Foster’s

When I was in 7th grade, my friend Danielle and I were forced by our mothers to participate in a day camp at Ridley Creek State Park. We milked cows, handled farm chores and made a peach cobbler without an oven or refrigerator. In many ways, I am my mother’s daughter. I like to shop, hate camping, and have little to no athletic ability. Neither of us are “close to nature” so I was particularly unhappy with her decision to send me to such a rustic “camp.”  In the end, I ruined the whipped cream for the peach cobbler because I stirred it too often and didn’t follow the instructions. My first cooking “lesson” was not a success.

Fast forward 25 years. It was time for another class – and this time – a real one.  I’d heard great things about the cooking classes at Foster’s in Old City. They offer a nice variety of cooking classes each month as well as free cooking demonstrations every Saturday at 2 p.m. My aunt and I chose the “Braising, Blanching and Sauteing” class; however due to time constraints they decided to just focus on meat braising and vegetable blanching and skip the fish saute. I would have enjoyed the sauteing part of this because I eat fish and not meat, but I still learned quite a bit.

In Foster’s new kitchen on the lower level of the relocated store, our instructor – Betty Kaplan (former Reading Terminal Cooking Instructor) – led us through two cooking techniques. We created a rich, flavorful chicken curry stew by braising some chicken and blanched some broccoli and snow peas. Betty taught me something that has been painfully lacking in my cooking of late – layering your flavors. Last week, I made a pumpkin chick pea curry and was underwhelmed by the level of flavor in the dish even though I exceeded the amounts of spices in the dish. I added my curry powder to my dish too late – the pumpkin puree had already combined with the chick peas, carrots and sweet potatoes. What I should have done is this: add salt, pepper and curry powder to the onions, carrots, chick peas and sweet potatoes as I sautéed them and then add the rest once the pumpkin puree was added  to the simmering dish. 

In the chicken dish, Betty floured four chicken thighs and then seasoned them with salt, pepper and curry before frying them up a little. Then she sautéed her onions, carrots and celery and seasoned them separately before starting the 30-minute braising process where she added white wine to the vegetable mixture and finally the already-seasoned chicken. And I must note: clearly all curry powder is not the same and I am going to toss the one I bought at the local market last week and head to Chinatown soon for the real thing. It made a huge difference in her dish as did the addition of some orange peel into the curry.

Between now and the end of the year, Foster’s is offering several hands-on knife skills classes and a couple of canning classes taught by Marisa McClellan, local food writer and blogger. Check out her website – www.foodinjars.com – for some great tips on jarring and canning this winter. I’d like to take both classes.

Check out these sites for cooking classes in the Philadelphia area:

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