A few hours with Chef Elaine at The Casements, and I was eating grape leaves and toasting to ‘yia mas.’
Walking into The Casements’ kitchen Thursday evening, I was smacked in the face with a smell so warm and inviting that I forgot to knock. My lunch had only consisted of a few handfuls of cheese, so by this point my stomach was basically running the show.
Thankfully, instead of scolding me for my rudeness, Chef Elaine Pitenis welcomed me with open arms, and when seeing my camera, subtly put on some pink lipstick.
This evening for her Big Fat Greek Cooking Class, Elaine was teaching a full-house of 11 students how to make a traditional Pastitso Dinner. The meal included Pastitso, a Greek-style lasagna, spinach and feta triangles, stuffed grape leaves, Greek salad, and something sweet I dare you to try to pronounce: Galaktoboureko.
As we as town have discussed before, my cooking skills are sub-par at their best, and life-threatening at their worst. So I maintained my distance from the fancy kitchen tools per usual, and meandered around snapping pictures of the class and eavesdropping on conversations. Most of which, were about the delicious smells coming from the food, and the incredibly slow pace of the clock.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to eat,” AJ said to me while also staring at the freshly baked dish in front of us. “And I’m not going to be shy about it.”
“How do you keep your pans so nice,” Jennifer Fisette asked the chef. “All my pans look like they went to war.”
“AJ does she feed you well,” Dianne Kulp questioned about the meals during his evening shift.
“We’re about the find out,” he said with a slight sense of urgency.
After getting lost in the conversations around me for an hour or so, Dianne brought me back to life with my favorite kind of question:
“Emily are you going to stay and eat with us?”
You betcha Dianne.
While the main courses were cooking in the oven, Chef Elaine put us to work making spinach and feta triangles, which a few of the women compared the folding to notes in junior high. Feta is like my all-time favorite cheese, and also the only Greek thing I’ve ever ate, so it was a win-win, even if my triangles looked more like squares.
We even experienced some great culinary inventions while waiting for the grape leaves to boil. A light-bulb went off in Jan Bentz’s head when Elaine started using tofu.
“Has anyone ever made Greek sushi?” Her ephipinany was met with “ooos” and “ahhs” from her peers.
It’s official now. If anyone sees Greek sushi in the future, know that Jan came up with the idea first.
Tim Brady was the only man in the class (other than AJ but he was just stalking the food), and said it was a birthday present from his wife. One of the women asked him if his wife expected him to prepare this meal when he got home. When he said yes, she responded with “well played.”
About three hours after the initial cooking began, the food was finally ready to eat. Typically, I’m extremely impatient when it comes to food, especially when my mind shuts down and gives total control to my empty tummy. But I was technically working so professionalism had to be maintained. Though the wait felt like forever, and the smells were constant tease of what I couldn’t have, the final product was well worth the wait.
My Big Fat Greek Cooking Class
Held once a month at The Casements, Chef Elaine’s cooking classes have limited space. Call 677-2733 to reserve your spot for one of her upcoming workshops:
4 to 7:30 p.m., Nov. 19. Greek Holiday Appetizers: Tzaziki, Hummus, Greek Caviar, Kalamari, Crab Meat Wrapped in Phyllo, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Loukaniko and Saganaki. Three seats left.
8:30 a.m. to noon, Dec. 12. Greek Holiday Desserts: Baklava, Kourambiethes, Loukoumades, Galaktoboureko, Koulourakia, Finikia, Baklava Truffles, and Greek Coffee. Three seats left.