Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Girls' Night Out at La Cucina in Reading Terminal Market

Girls' Night Out Cajun Cooking Class
“I love my job,” says Anna Florio, owner of La Cucina at the Market, the cooking school in the heart of Philly's own Reading Terminal Market.  “People are always so happy when they come here to cook..” Looking round the room at the sea of bright, smiling faces, you couldn’t disagree with her.

Sixteen ladies were joining Anna and her chef du jour, Bill Beck of the Market’s own Beck’s Cajun Cafe, to crack the secrets of Cajun cookery.

The Bourbon Street Small Plates menu looked daunting...

The Girls started out by sampling a Sazerac Spritzer comprising whiskey, Absinthe, Lemon and Bitters. 

For Chef Beck's recipe, which leaves you wanting another (and another, and another.....) click here.   For a potted history of this cocktail, see cocktails.

While sipping cocktails the Girls and their guests munched away on crab claws served up with Beck's own famous Creole Mayo.  The tart spiciness of the Mayo worked perfectly with the fleshy crab claws... (Feel free to steal this idea for your own appetisers.)

Bill and Anna then called on the Girls to pitch in.  All present took it in turns being sous-chefs, manning their respective food stations in La Cucina and helping out with the food prep. 

Creole Crostini came first.  Goat cheese was whipped with heavy cream, piled onto thinly sliced and toasted baguette and this melange was then topped with a rather exciting spicy tomato jam (for recipe see http://www.beck'scajuncafe/.)

This appetiser was then followed by Bill's Garden District Salad. 

This is an easy to make, brightly colored, all year round salad consisting of salad greens (Bill used a spring mix); artichokes in oil; hearts of palm and central to the salad, freshly roasted red peppers.

Two volunteer sous-chefs gamely roasted the peppers on an open flame.

After the ingredients had been chopped into evenly sized pieces, Bill whisked up a classic Dijon vinaigrette to drizzle over the salad.  (He ameliorated this recipe by the addition of fresh snipped chives and a crushed garlic clove.)

The pinnacle of the evening was learning how to cook that New Orleans special occasion dish - a Crawfish Boil, which includes crawfish, kielbasa (a Polish spicy sausage) fresh corn on the cob, red potatoes and of course lager.  (Bill favours Yuengling for his boil.)

Beck's Devil Dust, Cayenne Pepper and Hot Sauce give this dish its bite

For many, the highlight of the menu was Bill's Mini Bread Puddings.  This dish is one of the best sellers in Beck's Cajun Cafe and for good reason.  Beck's bread pudding is more than just an eggy pudding.  The crunchy bread topping is doused in a light vanilla-infused custard which sits on a compote of sweet pears.

The attendees learned the secret of how to make this memorable New Orleans version of a traditional bread pudding.  Want to find out for yourself?  Full details to follow in a later post.

Bill shows the gals how to hold a cook's knife correctly and slice through corn cleanly.  This was just one of the inside tricks of the trade he shared with the attendees at La Cucina's Girls' Night Out

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