101 in 1001--a double-header! #53, #62

Lately it’s felt like I’ve been powering through my 101 in 1001 list, and I’m completely loving it! Last week, Hannah and I enjoyed a night that quickly became one of the highlights of my summer as we checked off not one, but TWO of the items on my list: learning to grill, and taking a cooking class with a friend!

We signed up for Kitchen Window's “Party BBQ: Summer Cocktail Party” class way back in June, as soon as it became available. It sounded like the perfect class for us…alcohol, lots of munchies, and a foolproof forum to expand our novice cooking skills! Last Monday we showed up starving and ready to go. 

Oh my god, this class could not have surpassed my expectations more extremely. Upon check-in, our first stop was the bar, where we picked up the first round of the evening’s drinks before heading out to the beautiful rooftop deck, where our class would take place. 

Led by Jonathan Gans, one of the head chefs at Kitchen Window, the class was an open-forum style where the chefs and assistants walked us through each of the dishes we’d be making up front before letting us loose to cook and graze at our own pace.

Six stations were set up around the rooftop, and we were split into teams named after celebrity chefs. Hannah and I were "Team Rick Bayless," which just made me crave the tortas from his restaurant at O'Hare (if you EVER fly through there, it's a must-stop). We were thrilled to be assigned to the station we immediately thought sounded yummiest: grilled avocados stuffed with homemade crab salad! 

Look at that concentration! Hannah was the perfect person to take a class like this with--she got just as into it as I did, but we joked around and laughed like lunatics through almost the entire thing. We're also similarly novice cooks, so it was great to be able to get excited about basic things like learning a new knife technique or figuring out how to tell when meat should be flipped. 

Clearly we got pretty excited about our first finished product! I'm fairly sure we were already the joke of the entire class at this point because we got so enthusiastic about everything...especially the breaks between cooking to get to eat our appetizers! 

One of the highlights of the class, for me, was learning about the different types of grills and various techniques associated with each. We tried out three different grills over the course of the class...the famous Green Egg grills, a high-tech gas grill, and a coal-burning grill. We also worked a bit with pizza stones in the grills, which opened up a plethora of other grilling possibilities! I loved the fact that the class took things outside the classic grilling box, really hammering home that grills aren't just for meat. We worked with ramekins of potatoes, the aforementioned avocados, puff pastry, and even grapes directly on the grill: 

While we did get really into it, we had just as much fun talking with the amazing volunteer assistants at each station as we did actually pretending to be good cooks. The volunteers were so patient with the two of us, and I loved chatting with them about how they got involved with Kitchen Window and what other classes they recommend. Turns out that volunteers get a free class for every four classes they assist with, and they always get to eat at every class! Hannah and I were immediately all about signing up. I mean, imagine this face of joy all the time: 

Enough rambling though. Without further ado, here's what we made: 

Our grilled avocados and crab salad...

Grilled tomato-and-herbed goat cheese tart...

Smoked sweet potato and Gruyere stacks...these were SO good and so cute they merited a before and after! We prepared them in layers like classic au gratin potatoes, but they were cooked in mini ramekins that were pre-heated on a pizza stone in the grill. They were to-die-for...so good I'm planning on persuading my parents to let me make them for Thanksgiving! A fun bonus: since the ramekins were hot, the first layer of cream made an awesome sizzling sound that Hannah and I, being a bit buzzed on wine/cider, thought was super hardcore and worthy of filming: 

I fully know we're a bit ridiculous. Especially my wanna-be Emeril Lagasse "BAM" in the background as I, oh-so-anticlimactically, place a potato in the ramekin. That, my friends, is what pro chefs are made of. HA. 

We also made BBQ mango chicken sliders with grilled pineapple, which gave us the opportunity to try out an awesome, super-precise digital meat thermometer. I think that'll be the first thing I invest in if my new obsession with all things culinary continues...I'm always afraid of undercooking meat, so I inevitably overcook it. 

Our second-to-last station was possibly the most unique: grilled grape mascarpone crostini! We tossed the grapes in a little grapeseed oil with sea salt and threw them right on the grill for a few minutes...it blisters the skin and makes them extra-sweet. In the meantime, we grilled crostini and mixed up mascarpone cheese with a little thyme, lemon, and salt and pepper. The cheese on the hot crostini got deliciously melt-y, topped with the hot grapes for an absolutely insane sweet-and-salty combination. I thought it was going to be my favorite of the night until we (rolled over to) hit up the last station: 

GRILLED LIMONCELLO SHRIMP. Excuse me while I go wipe the drool off my chin. I don't even know how to describe how insanely delicious this was...fresh shrimp tossed with cane sugar, butter and lemon juice, grilled, then topped with a sauce made of limoncello, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and fresh herbs. As full as I was, I couldn't stop myself from dragging my fork through every last drip of the sauce. 

The best thing about this class, in my opinion? As gourmet as each appetizer sounded (and tasted), each was easy to prepare and comprised of pretty basic ingredients. Nothing took longer than fifteen minutes start to finish, and everything was laid out, explained, and demonstrated in an incredibly comprehensible manner. It made everything feel really accessible, even for someone who hardly knows how to scramble an egg. 

Thanks to Jonathan and Kitchen Window's amazing team of staff and volunteer assistants...

...and of course to BFW and partner-in-all-adventures, the lovely Hannah, for an amazing evening! Just so you know, we're available for hire to grill for any of your upcoming social functions...it's dinner and entertainment all in one! (I kid, I kid...but seriously, who wants to come over for dinner sometime?!)

For more information on Kitchen Window's classes and offerings, head here. Check out the rest of my 101 in 1001 for good measure to see what other adventures are on the docket!