Mouthing Off

What's cooking: The best cooking schools don't just teach you how to cook; they teach you what to cook. They expose you to new recipes--recipes you might have missed in a cookbook or passed over because you thought they were too difficult. If you take a workshop on shrimp, for example, you'll come away with four or five ways to cook them--the results of which you've already tasted--as well as ideas on how to make adjustments to those recipes to suit your tastes.

I tested this rich-tasting, low-fat recipe for shrimp over lemon-ginger vapor at Cooking for Life. As originally written, it came out to a modest 1 gram of fat per serving, which includes two shrimp. But I upped the fat content a bit and turned the appetizer into an entree by sauteeing the shrimp with fresh spinach, adding the yogurt at the very end, and pouring it all over orzo that I'd mixed with toasted coconut.

Cooking for Life's Shrimp
Over Lemon-Ginger Vapor
1 bunch fresh spinach
2 Tbsp. curry powder
4 lemons, juiced and zested into large strips
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. salt
1 pound shrimp (about 16), peeled and deveined
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 2-inch piece of ginger
1/2 cup nonfat yogurt

Blanch spinach leaves in boiling water for one minute. Drain and lay flat on tea towels. Toast curry powder in small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about one minute. Mix curry with lemon juice (4 tablespoons), honey, minced ginger, grated zest and salt. Butterfly shrimp and toss with one half of curry mixture, then lay shrimp out flat. Wrap each shrimp in a spinach leaf and place in a single layer in a steamer basket. In the bottom of a steamer, place lemon zest, whole ginger and water and bring to a simmer. Insert steamer basket, cover and steam seven minutes or until shrimp are opaque in the center. Stir remaining curry mix with yogurt and either use as a dipping sauce or drizzle over shrimp on a platter. Serves 8 as an appetizer or two as an entree.

I came away from my classes at the Seasoned Chef with lots of technique tips, as well as several winning recipes. Chef Conni Gallo adapted a Gourmet recipe to create a baked ziti that's not exactly fat-free, but so filling you really can't eat that much of it.

Conni Gallo's Creamy Baked Ziti
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 large yellow bell peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic gloves, minced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 medium red bell peppers, julienned
1 pound ziti
8 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 cups freshly grated parmesan

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a 6- to 7-quart pot 3/4 full of salted water; bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add yellow peppers, onion and garlic and put a lid on the pan; sweat contents over moderately low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream. In batches, pour mixture into blender and puree. Transfer to large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

In the same saucepan, heat remaining oil. Add mushrooms and red bell peppers and saute until mushrooms release and re-absorb their liquid, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir ziti into the large pot of boiling water and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain ziti, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. In a large bowl containing the yellow pepper sauce, stir in reserved cooking water, ziti, mushroom mixture, scallion greens and 1 1/2 cups parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with remaining parmesan.

Bake until hot and pasta begins to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serves 8.

School's in: Another cooking school will open in Denver within the next year, which can only mean that this city is finally ready to learn more about food and stop allowing lousy restaurants to gobble up our dining dollars. Cook Street School of Fine Cooking (123 Cook Street) plans to start its professional program in the spring of 1999; it will also offer classes for the home cook.

Robert Reynolds, who raised the professional cooking program at Boulder's Cooking School of the Rockies to the next level by adding a month of study in Provence to the curriculum, is one of the driving forces behind Cook Street. Reynolds trained with chef Joseph Araldo in the tradition of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in London, then trained with the estimable Madeleine Kamman in France. He was the chef/owner of Le Trou restaurant in San Francisco for fifteen years before moving to Boulder. At Cook Street he's hooked up with two former compadres from the Cooking School of the Rockies: Michael Comstedt, who apprenticed with Walter Roth, executive chef of the Westin Hotel chain and former owner of the Greenbriar in Boulder; and Mary Copeland, a Cordon Bleu grad and former head pastry chef at the Palais du Chocolat and the Occidental Grill in Washington, D.C.

They're joined by Shellie Kark, a native Coloradan who trained at the California Culinary Academy and worked at several top-rated restaurants before returning here to be the sous chef at Aubergine Cafe (she left there this past summer); Morey Hecox, a former lawyer turned chef; and Page Fredennick, another Cordon Bleu grad and former restaurateur with a master's from the University of Denver in business administration.

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