Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Pie Class at Frasier's Gourmet Foods

On Monday evening, I met up with a friend for a pie-baking class at Frasier's Gourmet Foods, and what a delicious evening we had. Chef Justin Miller, a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of Indianapolis, made an apple pie and a fruit tart, and he shared lots of great tips along the way.

Miller started the class with his recipe for vodka pie dough. (As the vodka evaporates during baking, it helps create those scrumptious flaky layers.) He wowed the crowd with a great shortcut: a pie top that looks like a tedious lattice but requires just a few quick knife slices. He also demonstrated a sweet tart dough, a more mealy and cookie-like dough for wetter fillings.

Into the tart crust Miller put a rich pastry cream topped with fresh fruit, which we were in charge of peeling and coring. Into the pie crust went a cinnamony apple mixture, which tasted fantastic with a small dash of orange juice.

My friend and I juiced a seemingly endless pile of lemons, but Miller ran out of time before demonstrating the promised lemon curd. He also had to skip the chocolate cream pie. Fortunately, we quickly got over our disappointment -- as soon as we bit into that heavenly apple pie.

These classes always have a friendly, chatty atmosphere, but one student was a complete mess. Her boyfriend's parents had given her the class as a gift, but she had to "repay" them by baking them a pie. She was frantic about doing a good job, and I could have done without her constant murmurs of alarm. It stressed me out, too! At the end of the class, we all promised to send happy baking thoughts her way: Stressed-out baking girl, wherever you are, I hope your pie was fabulous.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art Center Releases Fall Calendar

The Indianapolis Art Center has released its fall calendar, this time in a fancy digital version. I'm not sold on the format; the class descriptions are accessible only via separate links, which makes the catalog very difficult to scan.

Another flaw: The weekend workshops are listed only within their categories, not in a separate section organized by date -- which used to be a great way to identify a class to take on a weekend you had free. That listing would only require one additional page, so I don't see why it would be omitted.

In terms of class offerings, you'll find all of the usual topics, with classes for beginning, intermediate and advanced students in everything from printmaking to steel sculpture. The depth of the schedule is impressive, even if most of the topics are ones we've seen before. Hey, these are tough times, and we can't fault the Art Center for sticking to tried-and-true classes that sell well.

On a personal note, I'm glad to see precious metal clay back on the schedule, for both a long-term class and a weekend workshop. Sign me up!

The catalog also includes listings for community events, such as the "Clay and Cocktails" events on several Friday evenings and "Community Nights at the Arts Center," the second Wednesday evening of each month. Topics include sugar skulls, animal clay sculptures, a powwow demonstration and sand painting, and fused glass.

I do think the Art Center is the best place in town to get good, solid artistic instruction, and I think it's doing the best it can in tough economic times. For the future, however, I hope for tweaks in the catalog design -- and a few new, unexpected class topics, too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

IUPUI Releases Fall Calendar

The Indianapolis Art Center is usually the first to announce its schedule each season, but this time the IUPUI Community Learning Network is one step ahead. Its fall catalog is available online now and will appear in the Indianapolis Star Aug. 1.

Professional development classes abound, such as the free "Blueprint for Action" class for job seekers and a variety of classes in computers, health care and business.

What's new for personal development? Among others, there are classes on line editing for writers and editors, the uses of wild plants, tango and belly dancing, and finger-picking a folk guitar. Oldies but goodies include flower arranging, photography, and Allen Stratyner's blues harmonica class -- which I am finally, finally going to be able to take.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: Sailing Lesson

Behold, the power of the Groupon. The Indianapolis Sailing Club recently offered a 61 percent off coupon for a three-hour introductory sailing lesson ($39 instead of $100), expecting about 50 participants. Instead it got 500 -- my husband and me included.

We registered for our session online, a fairly simple process, and soon afterward received an e-mail listing the items we should bring to our session (e.g., sunglasses, towels, changes of clothes). The part about bringing dry clothes sounded ominous, as did the waiver we had to sign when we arrived, promising not to "intentionally" bash the boat into something.

Once the paperwork was completed, we got a quick, fairly incomprehensible sailing overview, then hopped into the boat with our instructor, Zach. Once we got in the boat, the complicated sailing terms (e.g., tack, jib) became a bit more concrete. Zach started us off easy, giving us the job of managing the jib sail. (That's the little one in front.) Once we had mastered that, we took turns with just the tiller, and finally we were able to handle both the tiller and main sail at once.

The most difficult part of the lesson was tacking -- turning around. This requires some complicated maneuvering of the tiller and the rope controlling the main sail, and the boat tends to lean into the turn. If you drop the tiller (as I did once), you might panic and accidentally clothesline yourself with the line to the main sail. But, good news: These boats are remarkably hard to tip over.

Even if we had fallen into the water, the nearby safety boat would have rescued us. The Indianapolis Sailing Club conducts summer camps for kids and regularly offers lessons, so it takes all the right precautions.

Of course, the Sailing Club is hoping that we'll fall madly in love with sailing and purchase a club membership, about $140 per quarter, which includes rental of the smaller boats. They're also hoping we'll enroll in the 22-hour certification class. I don't think that's in our future, but it was an interesting way to spend an afternoon (and a better workout than we anticipated). It could be fun, once every few months, to take another short lesson and get out on the water ... always making sure the safety boat is nearby.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July Cooking Classes

July is a time of farmers' market bounty, so you'll find many classes this month on using, grilling and preserving farm-to-table foods. And, for some reason, there are lots of dessert classes this month, too!

At Frasier's Gourmet Foods, you'll find two intriguing classes. On July 26, chef Justin Miller offers "Pies and Tarts." Recipes on the agenda include apple pie, chocolate cream pie, key lime tart, and fresh fruit tart. Miller will also share his secrets for vodka pie dough and sweet tart dough. Needless to say, I'm already signed up.

Next, on July 27, R Bistro sous chef Erin Kem will offer "Quebec Classics," such as meat pies and pudding chomeur. Kem often does classes inspired by her travels, and this is a type of ethnic food we don't usually consider.

Cooking Greek seems to have scaled back its schedule for the summer, but on most Sundays you'll still find classes on traditional Greek foods. (If you bought the Groupon a few weeks back, you must apply it to a special Groupon-only class on Wednesday or Thursday evenings.)

Chef JJ's in Broad Ripple, which has a well-designed new website, is offering two classes on backyard entertaining and one class on grilling "for ladies." (I bet $5 that the class focuses on chicken and low-calorie marinades.) This month's pizza class and a ribs class in August have already sold out, so make your reservations for other classes well in advance.

The class schedule is full at Kiss Z Cook, which continues its Friday date-night series and "girls' night out" classes and adds a "guys' night out" series. Some interesting one-shot classes on the schedule include "French Cuisine," "Grilling Ribs and Chops," "Breakfast for Dinner" and "Cooking with Chocolate."

You can also stop by Williams-Sonoma for free demonstration classes. Topics include "Farm to Table," about using fresh fruits, veggies and herbs (July 11); "Summer Sauces" (July 18); and "Saving Summer," about basic food preservation techniques (July 25). The classes are free, but reservations are required: (317) 816-4422.