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Tuesday September 20, 2016

I love dining out to enjoy international flavors. Doesn’t everyone? I also enjoy cooking at home, but sometimes those dishes seem a little intimidating to tackle on my own. In 2015, when Patrick Henry Community College began hosting the series “Global Cuisine with Chef Colleen,” I knew that I had to be there!

Five culinary classes were offered in that series, and there are three in this series that you can attend. Or just the ones that you are interested in. Last year I signed up immediately for the first class, which focused on French Crepes, and I asked a friend to join me for a fun girl’s night out. 

The course instructor, Chef Colleen Butker, greeted each student with a smile and warm welcome as we all filed into the kitchen. Her enthusiasm for cooking was contagious. Chef Colleen is a self-taught chef; her Italian and Irish ancestors have passed two generations of recipes and instruction down to her. She also brings flavors of Polish and Hungarian food to the table that she learned from members of her extended family. In addition to teaching culinary classes for Patrick Henry Community College, Chef Colleen bakes and decorates cakes and cupcakes in her very own bakery called Uptown Sweets.

She opened the class by talking about French crepes as a dish and how versatile they are. The basic crepe recipe uses only three main ingredients: egg, milk and flour, but can be dressed up with flavorings and filled with a wide assortment of items both sweet and savory.

In the class we began by mixing the simple batter and learning the proper technique to pour the batter and cook the crepes. Learning when to flip the crepes and getting the flip of the wrist just right took a little practice but was soon mastered by all. 

For our savory crepe recipe, we made Chicken Normandy Crepes. The dish consisted of rolled crepes filled with diced chicken and apples that had been cooked in a rich cream sauce and garnished with parsley. For dessert, we used the same basic crepe but added an orange flavoring to the batter. We then filled the crepes with whipped cream and strawberries, folded them into quarters and topped the crepe with a dollop of crème, mint leaves and a drizzle of chocolate.

Both recipes were incredibly simple to make but looked very impressive. The dishes tasted great also. We made enough of each dish during the class that everyone was able to take a to-go plate home to share with friends and family. My family loved having a tasting session when I returned home, and within the following week, I made crepes as a dessert for my family. It was fun to be able to impress them with a new skill and dish.

Later, I attended the second course offered, on Italian cuisine. We learned to make authentic pasta, Alfredo sauce, gnocchi, and cannolis. I loved hearing Chef Colleen tell us about her grandmother’s style of old-world Italian cooking. While we mixed our pasta dough in bowls, she demonstrated how her grandmother would pour a mound of flour right onto the counter, crack eggs into an indention on top of the mound and then mix the dough by hand. Kneading, rolling and then running the dough through a pasta roller and cutter was a time-consuming process, but the end result was so worth it. Pasta made from scratch tastes so much better than the store-bought varieties.

The most interesting part of the class to me was making gnocchi. I do not recall ever eating gnocchi before but am very familiar with the name as my young son loves to watch Curious George. Gnocchi is a potato dumpling, and making the dough for it was very easy. Once the dough was prepared, we rolled it into a long breadstick and cut it into many small nuggets. We learned from Chef Colleen that the secret to a great gnocchi is the texture on its surface. Gnocchi made without ridges or bumps will not hold any sauce. We used forks to make ridges around the surface, and Chef Colleen demonstrated the authentic way her mother and grandmother made a textured surface by rolling the gnocchi on a kitchen towel.

Cooking was so simple! Once the water is boiling, toss the gnocchi in and they sink. When the gnocchi floats to the surface, wait one more minute and they are done! We scooped them out with a strainer and coated them with the creamy Alfredo sauce.

For dessert we made cannoli. Due to the length of the class we did not have time to make shells from scratch but Chef Colleen gave us each a recipe and discussed the methods that work best for making a batch of these. We took store-bought cannoli shells and filled them with a rich and creamy cannoli filling that we made from scratch. My classmates and I all devoured our meals!

When I returned home with the to-go plate for my family to try they were all impressed. I have been asked by my family to make gnocchi for dinner at our house very soon. The best part of all…thanks to Chef Colleen, now I have the skills and confidence to say, “Yes!”

Global Cuisine with Chef Colleen continues at its new location on Thursday, September 22, 2016. That evening she will make authentic Italian specialties including pasta from scratch, sauce, and cannoli (a crème-filled Italian pastry). On Thursday, September 29, your taste buds will travel to Poland as you make savory pierogi (stuffed Polish dumplings) and a traditional pastry for dessert. Finally, on Thursday, October 6th, the class will focus on Greece as you learn to make authentic Greek specialties, including dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava (a rich, layered pastry with honey and nuts).

All classes are $25 each and space is limited. Classes will be held at Uptown Sweets. 

Looks like we’re in for a tasty fall! You can discover more about these and other classes offered by Patrick Henry Community College at wecd@patrickhenry.edu or by calling 276.656.0260.


Tags: Dining, Insider's Tips, Patrick Henry Community College