Last night I missed American Idol and the first half of the Biggest Loser (don’t judge me) because I was attending “Italian Night” at Whole Foods! I’ve mentioned before that our local Whole Foods has free cooking demonstrations, so if you have one nearby check out their calendar!! This was just the 2nd event I attended, and I was IMPRESSED!

I realize this isn’t a cooking blog, BUT, eating is a huge part of most people’s budget. Cooking isn’t always the most attractive idea when you’re hungry and cranky at night after work, but after tonight’s demo….well, he made it look so easy that I may just try this thing called “cooking” sometime in the future!

I was pleasantly surprised when shortly after we sat down the chef started telling us what he was going to make. It wasn’t actually announced as “Italian Night”, but that’s what it turned out to be. He was going to make THREE different pasta dishes!! Good thing I was hungry….YUM!

He cooked all of it in front of us, and while the demo was over an hour long, the time flew by. I even learned a few things about cooking! I don’t mean to keep you all in suspense, but I’ll leave the pasta dishes for a later post, and for now I’ll go over the bits of information I learned! 

Don’t laugh if this is all ridiculously obvious to you, it was new to me!

  • Sea salt is better than table salt. Why? Table salt has additives. Plus, chefs and cooks prefer course sea salt because they can measure it by hand more easily since they can feel the grains! Brilliant!
  • Salt opens up your palate and makes flavors pop! I’d heard this in reference to baking, so it makes sense. I just thought I’d mention it since salt gets such a bad rep (you know, high sodium issues and all…)
  • Do you know the difference between Parmesan and Romano cheese? I didn’t. Parmesan uses cow’s milk, and Romano uses sheep’s milk! (Not that useful, but a nice fact to know.)
  • Did you know that chefs check to see if meat is cooked well enough by poking it?!! I didn’t! That’s why you always see chefs on TV poking their meat. Its not just because they like to play with their food.
  • When slicing sausages to mix in with food, cut them on a bias (diagonal), to maximize their surface area!
  • Don’t put your pasta into the pot until the water’s boiling. Otherwise it’ll get gummy. (I actually knew this. I learned the hard way.)
  • Don’t add oil to the pasta while its still in the water. If you do this the oil will coat the pasta, and not let it absorb and blend with sauces you might add. Do this after its been mixed with any sauce.
  • Don’t overcook your pasta. Enough said.
  • There’s no need to throw spaghetti on the wall to see if its well cooked. For the most part follow the guidelines given, and you’ll pretty much know by tasting it when its done. (My conclusion after last night was that I’m totally overcooking my pasta! I’m always worried about it being too undercooked, but it’d totally taste better if I cook it a little less.)
  • You need to “shock” your pasta after cooking. I’d always heard this, but I’ve never seemed to have a problem without “shocking” it. I’ll be trying this in the future though.
  • If your pasta gets too cold between the “shocking” and letting it sit, and whatnot, you can always take it and dip it back into the hot pasta water. Of course, this is only possible if you save your pasta water to begin with, which brings me to….
  • Save your pasta water whenever possible!!
  • Pasta water is amazing! It contains any salt that wasn’t absorbed into the pasta (salt=flavor), it has starch and therefore is a great thickening agent. Add some pasta water to your dish and it’ll thicken it up a bit while adding some more flavor.
  • Got spices that have been sitting in your cupboard for a long time? Take the amount you’re going to use, put it in a microwaveable bowl for 40 seconds, and that heats up all the natural oils, bringing out their flavor again!
  • Parsley is great for freshening your breath. I’d heard my sister say she gave parsley to her dog for those reasons, but I never put the two together, lol. (I’m now thinking of keeping a parsley plant in the office….you know, to subtly cure my garlic breath since I refuse to give up garlic.)
  • Homemade roasted garlic looks so easy to make!! Put some WHOLE garlic bunches (yeah, don’t know the technical term. Just don’t break apart all the different cloves) a head of garlic (thanks Leslie!) into a pan with olive oil in the oven at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. That’s it! You’re done! Then just squeeze it all out onto whatever it is you’re pairing it with. (I’m thinking plain crackers? I’m not kidding, I love garlic. If I could, I’d marry it.)
  • DON’T, I repeat DO NOT use margerine in an Alfredo sauce. What a waste! (You may however use half-and-half if you want to save on calories. Its ok to splurge now and then, you shouldn’t be eating Alfredo every day anyway.)
  • This guy doesn’t waste ANYTHING! One of the dishes involved Italian sausages, and so when it was time to cook the pasta he used that same dirty pan….”dirty” pan=flavor! If there’s stuff stuck to a pan use a little pasta water (told you it’s useful!) to soften it and help peel the stuff off. You’ll be cleaning the dishes AND adding extra flavor to your food.
  • It’s always good to experiment with things you have on hand. One of the dishes he prepared for us was the product of a little experimentation he did as a broke student….and it was GOOD!

If I’ve missed any I’ll let you know next time, when I tell you about the three incredibly easy*, and most definitely delicious recipes he made for us!

*Well, the recipes seemed easy enough, but chefs do that….they make things look a heck of a lot easier than they are, so I can’t guarantee that it will actually  be easy for us normal folk to make.