Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pan Seared Scallops over Sautéed Spinach and Chipotle Cream Sauce Paired with 2010 Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay

Pan Seared Scallops over Sauteed Spinach and Chipotle Cream Sauce

When it comes to the Christmas and New years holidays, our family has a tradition of doing something, uh, non-traditional.  For example past holidays have included; Christmas in Machu Picchu, Christmas in Galipan (a village in the mountains outside Caracas - like taking a step back in time by about 100 years), Christmas in Chef Sue’s restaurant giving away Christmas meals, Christmas and New Year’s in Disney (doesn’t sound unique, but it becomes more so when you are doing it with your adult children and it becomes a culinary/drinkfest!), and so on.

This year, Chef Sue, Soon to be 1stLT Ryan and I went to Atlantic City, NJ to attend a Viking cooking school at Harrah’s Casino.  We then went on to spend New Year’s Eve and the following day with great friends and hosts Don and Beth.  First, let’s get on with the Viking Cooking School.

Pan Seared Scallops over Sauteed Spinach and Chipotle Cream Sauce-1

We have attended cooking classes at CIA Greystone, Sur La Table, Army Navy Country Club,Cook Street, Chef Sue’s 28 year sous-chef indenture program, and now the Viking School at Harrah’s.  Each of these were handled quite differently, and I now feel I have sufficient data to suggest a desirable formula – from the participant perspective.  And just so we are clear, these are not professional chef classes – these are intended for cooking enthusiasts.  I will not critique each of the classes, but I will tell you that Viking did it best albeit not perfectly.  Harvesting the best from each, here is my recipe for an ideal cooking class:

  1. Start with a cocktail or a glass of wine.  Liability? How about responsibility?  Screw it – have a drink and get to know the Chef.
  2. Construct cooking teams of no more than four with prep tables sized for a team of four.
  3. Don’t forget the basics; bar rags, sanitizer, convenient bus cart, and aprons to send home with the students - with your logo.
  4. Each team should prepare all the dishes on the menu – don’t divide the cooking among teams.
  5. Have the prep tables fully stocked and ready to go.  The students may not know the definition of mise en place, but they will appreciate it!
  6. Sharp knives! Always offer a short lesson on knife technique.
  7. Use top-notch gear.  Nobody wants to attend a cooking class and realize their home kitchen is better equipped.
  8. If something needs to go in the oven, have the oven preheated!
  9. Don’t use prepared food.  Going to a cooking class and opening a jar or can of anything is unforgivable.  Only use fresh ingredients.
  10. Make sure your ovens and cook tops are correctly installed (leveling was a problem more than once – uneven heating in the oven another fault).
  11. For the instructors:  When there is a reason for doing something, say so!  Anyone can read a recipe, but not everyone understands the “why?”  Explain the purpose and process of correctly preparing things like a rue - why it works the way it does.  This is important for the novices, and the more experienced participants will understand.
  12. Ensure you have a motivated and friendly kitchen support crew to clean an prep between courses.  In other words, while the team is working the skillet, a kitchen team should be cleaning the prep table and making it ready for the next task.
  13. Include at least one element of technique the average cook could use to improve on their passion(more is better…up to a certain point of saturation that varies depending on the skills of the participants).  EVERYONE needs to go home having learned something…even the better cooks.
  14. Serve the fruits of class labor at a nice dining table.  Standing around a stainless prep table in the kitchen is not classy.
  15. Serve the dinner with wine paired to the dishes – and not the bottom of the shelf.  Need to charge more for that?  Go for it…the result is so much better.  Oh, and read my blog - understand why the wine and food go together, and talk about it.  This should not be a matter of “try it, you’ll like it.”
  16. Offer doggy bags.  Not only will your students appreciate it, they may take the leftovers home, share them with neighbors Barney and Wilma, and you may get a recommendation.

Wow, when I started writing the list, I had now idea it would be so long.  But now that I have the magic formula, maybe I should start my own cooking school!  But before I do that, I know you have taken a cooking class and found things you liked or disliked.  Let me know!  We can grow the list and outline the five star formula for cooking classes.

2010 Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay

Now on to the rest of our New Year’s events.  Our weekend was principally composed of sightseeing around Cape May New Jersey with Don and Beth along with a couple of stops at Cape May wineries.  I was impressed with both wineries, but fell in love with one – Hawk Haven Vineyards and Winery.  Hawk Haven is committed to producing authentic French Style wines and is doing a wonderful job.  Of course we picked up a few bottles, so you will be hearing more about Hawk Haven.

The weekend was capped off by a wonderful dinner of Pan Seared Scallops over Sautéed Spinach and Chipotle Cream Sauce prepared by Beth.  The meal was paired with Don and Beth’s standby favorite Chardonnay - Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay.  The chipotle cream sauce was a wonderful addition to the buttery sweet scallops, and the wine echoed the creamy buttery flavors while offering mouth watering acidity - a perfect complement to the scallops.

2010 Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay-1

Tasting notes from the winemaker:

Golden yellow color with a pale hue. Seductive aromas of peach, melon, and citrus are balanced with honeysuckle and vanilla. On the palate, flavors of pears, peaches and melons are backed with lively acidity. A nice touch of vanilla-scented oak provides an added flavor dimension. The creamy palate has a lingering finish of melon and citrus fruit with a satisfying buttery complexity. Our favorite pairing for this wine includes scallops in a cream sauce, pasta carbonara, chicken risotto and Cornish game hen.

Next year for the holidays, I recommend a cooking class – one that meets my list of requirements for the ideal class.  At minimum, find some time to spend with friends…you can’t go wrong.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.



  1. Hello there. I have followed your photo blog over the past two years. I was introduced to your foodie adventures through Adam Backer. Sitting in the cafe for lunch, I read a couple of your posts. Believe me when I say it, I was transported to those places you visited and I was able to imagine how those flavors tasted like. Looking up from the blog, I was pulled bak into reality. Thank you for this short adventure. Please keep them coming!

    1. Thanks Ruby! I am glad you are enjoying.