The best way to eat healthy, delicious, inexpensive meals is to cook them yourself. And a good way to get started is to take one of the Quick Lunch or Quick Dinner classes at The French Kitchen Culinary Center, 4771 N. Academy Blvd.
Although owner Blandine Brutel offers more than 50 classes ranging from 30 minutes to five hours - and I've attended many of them - I'm a big fan of these quick classes, which last less than an hour. I've attended most of the lunch classes, with options such as chicken, Creole, Indian, Thai, pork, Chinese and croque madame (French grilled-cheese sandwich). Recently, she added two Quick Dinner classes featuring steak and trout.
Kristi Tutt, the chef instructor, gives tips for everyday home cooks and provides recipe sheets with full instructions. Entrée recipes include veggies or a starch to round out the meal, and students prepare some of the meal together. The portions are large, so leftovers can be taken home. Desserts and freshly baked bread from the bakery are included.
Here's a sample of a recent Quick Lunch class on making Creole Shrimp with Linguine. The beautiful new cooking lab was set up for 12 students who gathered at 11:30 a.m. Tutt demonstrated an easy way to "shave" parsley leaves from stems. She held the knife blade at an angle and ran it down the stems - way faster than picking off each leaf.
"And if you get a little bit of the stem, don't worry," she said. "It tastes just like the parsley leaves."
Then she showed us how to chop the parsley into a very fine dice.
"Your hand is your Superman cape," she said. "When I teach children classes, I show them how to chop using this technique. If kids can do it, you can too. Place the palm of your hand on the top of the knife blade and keep your fingers straight out like Superman's cape. Never curve your fingers down toward the sharp edge of the blade. Then chop the leaves by rocking the knife across them."
We divided up parsley, green bell peppers and garlic for chopping, then gathered around the stove to watch and help prepare the shrimp. A huge pot of boiling water was steaming away with linguine swimming in it.
Tutt is a big fan of Worcestershire sauce.
"My grandma used this as her salt," she said. "She used it as her main seasoning in almost everything she cooked."
The chopped parsley, bell peppers and garlic were seasoned with a mixture of Worcestershire, lemon juice and Creole seasoning and added to a pan with a little vegetable oil. Then the shrimp were added. Next came the tricky part: not overcooking the shrimp.
"That's a no-no," she said. "They should turn just transparent. If you see white coming out, that means they are overcooked. That's protein coming out."
The shrimp were removed from the pan and replaced by butter and heavy cream, which were whisked together over low heat to make a quick sauce. The shrimp were returned to the pan, and the drained pasta was added and tossed with the shrimp and sauce.
Lunch was served.
One final takeaway: Tutt buys frozen pink wild shrimp at Whole Foods Market. She gets the 41-to-50 size, indicating the number of shrimp per pound. The larger the number, the smaller the shrimp.
The Quick Lunch classes are 30 minutes, and students prepare an entrée to have for lunch; cost is $19 per class. Dinner classes are 45 minutes, and an appetizer and entrée are prepared for eating on-site or taking home; cost is $34 per class. For a complete class list, visit tfkcc.com or call 528-6295.