I don’t always cook, but when I do, I trash the kitchen like a drunken rock star. "Which is why I generally prefer to leave food preparation to the professionals. Still, it’s nice to have a few culinary tricks up your sleeve when attempting to reel in a mate, woo your in-laws or upstage a frenemy. Unfortunately, when your skills are limited, they tend to go into heavy rotation and soon an embarrassing conclusion is drawn by all: you’re just a one-trick pony.
Sure, you could drag out your dusty cookbooks, drop a Benjamin or two at the grocery store and start test-driving recipes …but I know of a more fun way to expand your repertoire (and here’s the best part — there’s NO cleanup!).
Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium offers an astonishing curriculum of mini cooking classes, ranging from cake decorating, fresh pasta making and a French macaron workshop (all hands-on) to cooking demonstrations that walk you through the preparation of a multi-course dinner menu, with themes such as “Steakhouse Cuisine,” “Sensational Duck” and “A Taste of Fat Tuesday.”
Added plus: Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are offered while you observe, and all participants are served the beautifully plated finished products to enjoy in the bistro-like setting. It’s like sitting at an open kitchen bar in a fine restaurant watching your meal being prepared. I wish college had been this fun (who knows what level of greatness I could have achieved had there only been a bottle of wine on my desk to keep me focused).
My most recent "lesson" was the complete demonstration of a "Steakhouse Cuisine"themed dinner revolving around generous portions of heartland food with a focus on meat and potatoes. Yes, please! First up, a crispy iceberg lettuce wedge drizzled in tangy, freshly made roasted tomato dressing and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. Yes, cheese crumbles are always appreciated, but I enjoyed this variation on a steak house classic and the seeds provided welcome, nutty textural contrast.
Next, our guest chef demonstrated how to make restaurant-quality twice-baked potatoes using a ricer; create a perfect, evenly-cooked tenderloin of beef in the oven (Tip: tie the smaller ends underneath the roast and bake at a low temp); and oven-roast asparagus with lemon zest, which provides a hint of hollandaise flavor without the calories. The finished products were all sheer perfection, especially the pink and juicy, evenly cooked slices of boeuf with their crème fraîche based dollop of zesty horseradish sauce. Portions were massive to begin with, but second helpings of both tenderloin and potatoes were offered to anyone with the stomach space to shoehorn them down.
Dessert proved to be the surprise star of the evening for both UD and myself. Underdog has a deep and abiding loathing for all things "coffee", while I don't care much for chocolate...and especially don't care for those ubiquitous "chocolate lava" cakes one sees on chain resto menus all over town. The molten espresso and sea-salt chocolate cakes we observed being prepared were astonishingly subtle in flavor (including being light on espresso) and grown-up in taste (this is not Chili's Chocolate Lava Cake). Made with a combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolates, the finished products were crowned with silky chocolate ganache, toasted pecan pieces and flakes of sea salt. The exterior had the texture of chewy brownie edges while the interior was extremely moist and truffle-like, but not oozing. Our dining party of four unanimously agreed that it was the finest chocolate dessert any of us has enjoyed in, like...forever.
The Rolling Pin experience provides a great time for foodnatics and cooking junkies of all ages and it's all very interactive. A dining steal, you get a full meal including unlimited beer and wine, an informative "Food Network" style presentation and 10% off any store purchases during your 2.5 hour class for around $45-$60 per person at dinner (some day classes and "hands-on" courses cost less).
Don’t be daunted by the Rolling Pin’s east Hillsborough County location. The upper tier of the Selmon Expressway practically deposits you into the parking lot, making it a veritable magic carpet ride from most areas in south and central Tampa.
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.