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Overcoming Shyness in the Kitchen

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Will this be the year you stop eating cold spaghetti over the sink? Does it frighten you that you have memorized the fastest route to the Chinese takeout place on the corner, but you need a map to find your own kitchen?

How about learning to cook this year? What nouvelle cuisine was to the 1980s, potlucks and home-cooked meals are to the 1990s. And that doesn’t mean reheated tuna casserole.

With the soaring cost of dining out and the need to keep a vigilant eye on the purse strings in a brutal economy, there is a fiscal attractiveness to cooking at home. According to a food price forecast compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1992, grocery store food prices will rise between 1% and 3% versus a 3% to 5% increase in dining out.

An added benefit is ensuring the quality of the food you and your family eat. Behind the knobs of your own stove, it is easy to control the fat, salt and sugar contents of meals served at the dinner table.

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Set aside myths that sauteing is a science and preparing anything from scratch means taking time away from the family and your Esperanto lessons. According to cooking instructors, preparing an edible meal does not have to be daunting or time consuming.

From scrambling eggs to whipping up frothy peaks of meringue, there are classes in North County for inexperienced and experienced cooks alike.

Here is a sampling of schools and classes that offer cooking instruction year round. The emphasis is on quick and easy, gourmet and healthy meals.

Garlic & Sapphires

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P.O. Box 2974

Del Mar CA 92014

Phone: 755-7773

There is no mayonnaise or ketchup or red meat or white sugar to be found anywhere in Lesa Heebner’s Solana Beach kitchen. Nevertheless, she can still whip up a burger with all the condiments and serve dessert afterward.

Practical nutrition that tastes good is the foundation of Heebner’s cooking classes. Imparting that knowledge to others in a relaxed, congenial fashion is the cornerstone.

“Most people seem to know the basics,” Heebner said. “I tell my students how to put that advice we all know--lower your fat, lower your sodium, lower your cholesterol--how to do that on an everyday basis so there is a difference in your dinner plate, there is a difference in your kid’s lunch boxes.”

Four years ago, Heebner quit her job as a stockbroker and began Garlic & Sapphires (the garlic symbolizing health, the sapphires representing a nice dining experience). Culling 22 years of self-taught cooking experience, Heebner has created or adapted more than 300 recipes to fit her health-conscious standards and she shares them four times a week in her cooking classes.

“It’s about having an enjoyable night out, where you can learn and enjoy good food and understand that,” Heebner said. “My specialty is helping people understand that healthy food is an experience that is as fine as many other dining experiences. It’s not eating macrame.”

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It was at the age of 14 that Heebner, a self-described junk food addict, stopped eating 15 candy bars a day and began a quest for better eating habits.

“It was pretty hard,” Heebner said. “I had to start dragging out cook books and experiment in the kitchen. My mom is a wonderful mom, however, she was not the greatest of cooks. I didn’t have that as a role model.”

Heebner cooks with fish, chicken and turkey, but no red meat. Maple syrup, malted grains and date sugar replace the sweetness of white sugar. Her organic produce is grown at Culver Corner in Fairbanks Ranch.

In one class, she may extol the virtues of tempeh. In another class, students will learn how to cook tofu in such a way that even their father-in-laws will eat it and ask for more.

In the three-hour class time, Heebner can create a complete menu and serve it up. To give an honest representation of how much time it takes to prepare a meal, Heebner does very little, if any, advance food preparation. A recent menu included chicken provencal with 40 cloves of sweet garlic, black bean and sherry soup, Morrocan tempeh and vegetable saute, and quick pumpkin tartlets for dessert.

Heebner’s students usually do one hands-on application, such as pressing gingersnap crumbs into a tart pan, but most of the class time is set in a demonstration format. Sitting around her granite kitchen counter on high stools, students have a bird’s eye view of Heebner’s stove and chopping block.

In between bites of turkey burgers and lemon semolina pound cake with berries, students are encouraged to ask questions and take notes on their menu handouts. Classes are informal and congenial, Heebner said, adding that she can count on one hand the number of “quiet” classes she’s had.

Homemakers, newlyweds, business people and retirees make up Heebner’s classes. About 20% of her students are men. Heebner does not teach children’s classes.

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“The common thread is they are interested in caring for themselves and other people,” Heebner said of her students. “They are interested in learning more and going forward.”

Through word of mouth, Heebner’s classes are often booked within hours of open registration and about 90 people are on her waiting list. Because of the popularity of her classes, she may teach a specific menu as often as 16 times before moving on to another meal plan.

On her recipe handouts, Heebner breaks down the ingredients and lists where they can be purchased, whether from a regular supermarket, a health food store or a gourmet shop.

Garlic & Sapphires classes are held Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Cost is $45 per class and includes the meal, wine, and leftovers to take home.

Kitchen Witch Gourmet Shop

127 N. El Camino Real

Encinitas

Phone: 942-3228

In the front of the shop is enough culinary paraphernalia to keep Wolfgang Puck skimming, basting and dredging for years. In the back is a fully equipped kitchen that represents the nucleus of the shop.

Fourteen tall chairs line a long counter facing a stove, two pasta machines and a food processor. It is here that for the past nine years shop owner Marie Benson has offered gourmet cooking classes twice a day.

Amid the din of a whirring coffee grinder and shop customers milling about, her students are learning the difference between “good” and “bad” ingredients and how to select culinary correct bake ware.

Ethnic classes such as Mexican, Hungarian and French are the most popular offerings, Benson said. In a recent three-hour class, students learned how to prepare an entire Italian New Year’s Eve dinner, including crostini , bread stuffed with chicken, potatoes and cheese, cipolle ripiene , onions stuffed with mushrooms, and zuppa inglese , a trifle-like dessert.

The emphasis of most Kitchen Witch classes is on gourmet entertaining, not meals that would be prepared every night. In most classes, much of the food preparing has already been done to save time; a student should not go home and expect to create the meal in the same amount of time, Benson said.

Benson said having people in to dinner is fun and can be inexpensive if the cook knows what to do. Cooking gourmet gives dinner guests something different, something they wouldn’t normally get at home, she said.

“I think people are entertaining in their homes more rather than going out to dinner,” Benson said.

Other popular themes include the basic tenets of microwave cookery, bread baking and candy making. Benson prides herself that in nine years she has never offered the same menu twice.

“We may use the same title, like we’ve used ‘Quick and Easy Pasta Sauces’ for seven years, but it’s always different sauces,” Benson said. “I don’t think it’s fair to repeat because I have some regular people who come here twice a week and I would like to give them a lot to choose from.”

Benson employs 13 people to teach her classes, including a cookbook author, a nutritionist and a chemist. Shop clerks assist the instructors in food preparation and serving the meal to the students.

“The teaching styles are so different. Some teachers are very, very relaxed and some are just here to teach, that’s it,” Benson said. “I have a really good Italian teacher who does everything from scratch, she would never open a can. Other teachers take her class, they come to learn from her.”

Although Benson does not lead any of the classes herself, she grew up in a cooking family, one where “my mother was in the kitchen all the time.” She acknowledges her clientele, mostly married, is getting younger and younger, products of a generation where home cooking was rare. About 10% of her classes are made up of men.

The average class lasts about 2 1/2 to 3 hours and ranges from $25 to $30. A Friday luncheon class lasts a little over an hour and costs $12.95.

In all classes, students get to eat the meal demonstrated before them. There is no hands on application, but students are encouraged to ask questions and take notes on their menu handouts.

Kitchen Witch also offer children’s classes, for ages 8 to 10 on Friday afternoons, and for ages 5 to 7 on Saturdays. Cost is $16 and the classes run about an hour and a half.

Unlike the adult sessions, the children’s classes are all hands on. Kids learn to make their own pasta on the pasta machines and they learn to make tortillas.

From Mother’s Day brunches in the spring to gingerbread houses in the fall, the children’s classes are well attended and very productive, Benson said.

“I like people to enjoy themselves and I know they will walk out of a class learning how to cook that meal and get enough ideas so they can pick up any recipe and say, ‘Well, I can adapt that technique to this,’ and ‘I can make this.’ I don’t think anyone walks out of here saying, ‘This is so hard, I’ll never try that,’ ” Benson said.

The new Kitchen Witch schedule, containing more than 120 classes for the spring/summer semester, will be available in February. New classes start in March. For the open registration date, call the shop.

Victoria’s Gourmet

1291 Simpson Way, Suite H

Escondido

Phone: 739-8504

If venturing forth to a class site makes you squeamish and you are equally uneasy about letting strangers in on the fact you don’t know your crepe suzettes from flaming pancakes, there is an alterative. You can host a cooking class for you and your friends in your own kitchen.

Victoria Frerichs specializes in teaching quick and easy gourmet meals and she does most of her work in private homes. If you don’t have a pot to boil water in, you can get a group of friends together and hold a class in the commercial kitchen Frerichs uses for her catering business.

Frerichs emphasizes in all her classes that students can prepare a gourmet meal with regular, easily purchasable ingredients and the end result will look beautiful and taste good. In the hour and a half class time, Frerichs creates a complete meal, from appetizer to dessert, and insists her students can do the same.

“We don’t do things that we feel people won’t use,” Frerichs said. “People don’t have a lot of time. They don’t want things difficult.”

“I used to teach puff pastry. Nobody wants to know how to make that anymore,” Frerichs said. “They want to know fun and exciting things to do with frozen puff pastry. We also used to teach how to make homemade pasta. Now with all the fresh and good dried pasta in the store, they want fresh new ideas in sauces.” Classes are limited to 8 people and are suited for all skill levels. Cost is about $35 and students get to eat everything that is prepared.

Most of Frerichs’ students are women who have cooked for their families for years and now find themselves wanting to do more than spaghetti and meat loaf. Their social position may have grown to the point where they don’t want to have people over for pizza or hamburgers anymore, or the thought of making another peanut butter and jelly sandwich is enough to make them scream, Frerichs said.

“This is the group most interested in cooking now, the 45- to 55-year-range of people who are ready for something new,” Frerichs said. “Yet, these people also don’t have time. I’ll see write-ups in cooking magazines that are nice, but most people wouldn’t put that much effort into a meal.”

But a fair share of Frerichs’ clientele are beginning cooks too shy to go to a class. One recent privately held class included three women friends who were getting married soon and, to put it mildly, “didn’t have a clue,” Frerichs said.

“I had a class for them and we started with the most basic things, how to hard boil eggs, how to scramble eggs, how to boil pasta, how to get a chicken ready for the oven, how to roast. It was so comfortable. Being friends they didn’t feel they couldn’t ask any questions they didn’t want to.”

In Frerichs’ children’s classes, she teaches simple things like English muffin pizzas, scrambled egg burritos, chili and casseroles. Frerichs believes cooking bolsters a child’s self esteem, especially latchkey kids, when they are able to nurture themselves after school or have a meal waiting for the family when they get home from work.

Like many cooking instructors, Frerichs is self-taught, having absorbed the contents of more than 300 cookbooks over the past 18 years and attending every available class in town. Before moving to Escondido three years ago, she hosted a radio cooking show in Sterling, Ill.

In Escondido, she opened a catering business and teaches classes. Frerichs also gives cooking demonstrations at various community and church groups in inland North County, but she will go anywhere in San Diego County to teach cooking.

The main thing Frerichs wants to impart to her students is to not be afraid of cooking. Learning to cook is not an exact science and you can take liberties, she said.

“So many people say, ‘I couldn’t do that. I could never learn. Everything I do turns out wrong.’ Well, the comment I’ve heard more than anything from people who have taken my class is, ‘You have taken the fear out of cooking. You gave me the courage to try something.’ ”

Taylor’s Herb Garden

1535 Lone Oak Road

Vista

Phone: 727-3485

With 135 varieties of herbs at their fingertips, Luna Rose and Michelle Andre literally have a field day with their cooking classes. Since October, the two women have used the herb garden as their classroom and will continue into the new year teaching students how to use herbs to lighten up and spice up their cooking.

“Our idea is to get people back into the garden,” Rose said. “We want people to grow their own herbs and start their own gardens at home.”

The three-hour class begins with a culinary tour of the herb garden, and a discussion about what herbs are appropriate for what foods. With baskets in hand, students harvest herbs that will be needed for the day’s menu.

In the hands-on portion of the class, students make such things as herbal vinegars and butters and herbal blends like Southwestern and herbes de provence. After that, lunch is served, usually a main course followed by a salad of herbs and edible flowers from the garden, herbal breads and spreads, and lavender ice cream for dessert.

The classes are currently taught inside the Taylor home on the herb garden property, but bigger facilities for the cooking and crafts classes are being constructed, Rose said. She added that she would like to get a portable stove that can be used outside, so she can actually teach her classes in the gardens by the pond and picnic tables.

Rose is an herbalist by education, with a particular interest in medicinal herbs. In February, she is combining her love of cooking and her knowledge of medicinal herbs to present a class on foods for health and for healing.

Classes are limited to between 15 and 20 students and are usually held from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Cost is $35 and includes lunch, leftovers and recipe handouts. For a current class schedule, call the gardens.

Friedman’s Microwave Ovens

& Service

1816 Oceanside Blvd.

Oceanside

Phone: 439-6440

Contrary to popular practices, there are culinary masterpieces to be made in a microwave besides popcorn and hot water. The trick is learning how to use the microwave.

“We have some people who never used their microwave, some who never had a microwave before and some who have been using them for years and years, but want to try new things,” said Marie de Crom, who owns the franchised store with David Koffman. “It’s not like cooking on a stove, this is more like operating a piece of electronics, more like a toy.”

For that reason, the microwave classes particularly appeal to retired men, widowers or divorcees who don’t have anyone cooking for them anymore, de Crom said. They don’t mind cooking in a microwave because they don’t have the patience to cook otherwise, she said.

Home economists teach the Wednesday morning class which has been going on for the past 12 years, de Crom said. The menu changes every week and every eight weeks, a class is held combining the use of a microwave and a convection oven.

Students learn how to cook seafood, pasta and low fat dishes. In each demonstration class, students cook an entire meal in a microwave and get to sample the results.

This month is devoted to basic microwave cooking, said de Crom. Rather than using actual recipes, the instructor will show how to best microwave potatoes, beef, chicken and bacon. The first week in February will feature a class on light and healthy meals.

Three microwaves are used during the class, but the instructor will explain how to cook the same meal in stages using one microwave. Recipe handouts are given in all the classes.

Hour-long classes are held in the store at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays. There is no limit to class size, but most classes average about 40 students.

Cost for one class is $10, but class packages can be purchased at a discount.

Class schedules are posted at the store three to five months in advance, de Crom said. People interested in taking a class can simply show up and pay on the day of the class.


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