Miss Dish hates baking. It may be because she sucks at it. She's always viewed cooking--making sauces, poaching fish, crisping potatoes--as a sweet science with fundamentals, as well as plenty of room for creative left hooks. Baking--making dough, playing with yeast, wielding a rolling pin--feels like a military maneuver that requires the precision of a special-forces takedown. Not her scene.
Still, as a fan of eating baked goods, she felt it was her duty to attempt to conquer this bogeyman. So she signed up for some instruction, a class on making harvest pies, taught by Portland chef Jenn Louis. For $60, doughphobics are schooled at the catering company and instructional kitchen in Southeast Louis heads called Culinary Artistry.
Pie dough seemed like a good place to start; none of that scary yeast action. The class was small: Seven people, including Miss D.--ladies, all--gathered around the butcher-block table. Early in Louis' apple-pie demo, Miss D. noted aloud that teacher was throwing ingredients into the bowl all willy-nilly. Louis shrugged and passed on what she called a really bad piece of advice from one of her culinary instructors--stick with what you know. "Experiment," Louis said. "Make terrible food."
The two hour class took us through pot pies, tarts, maple pumpkin pie and a gooey upside-down nut pie. We took turns rolling, crimping and mixing dough, and picked up neat tricks such as turning the ramekin over and using that to cut the perfectly sized rounds to cover the tops, caramelizing onions by sweating them a bit with a lid, and counterbalancing each roll of the pin with the same roll in the opposite direction.
Miss D. mixed dough with her hands, trying to break the butter down into pieces the size of pebbles. "Don't work the dough too much," Louis warned. Miss D. looked up. Everyone else had pebbles and she had rocks. Plus, sticky pieces of dough clogging the crevices between her fingers. She began to panic and Louis looked over and smiled. Reassuring. Gentle. Empowering. Miss Dish could do it. She plucked the dough from her fingers and concentrated on making pebbles. It wasn't pretty, but she got it. She thinks. The dough is in her freezer waiting to be sampled.
The best part was the scarf session at the end. Another student, Dawn Banker, is a cooking-class veteran, and she gushed over the classes at Culinary Artistry. "At PCC, they make you clean up," she said. "And you have to pay for parking!" Oh, the outrage. Banker noted what Miss D. already discovered: "These classes are practical and give you the freedom to be non-perfect." Indeed.
Culinary Artistry: 232-4675, www.culinaryartistry.net.