August marks an important month for me. Exactly a year ago I began looking online for classes for home cooks. My plan was to give myself a budget and sign up for classes to take when the kids were settled at their new school. Mostly, I was looking for the fundamentals on soups, sauces, etc. to further develop my culinary skills. I was already fairly skilled at finding and following a recipe, but I wanted to be a better home cook beyond using recipes. I had no idea that research would lead to applying for professional culinary school…
My research of local cooking classes turned up some pretty good options, including some programs at local community colleges, high end grocery stores, culinary institutes, and small boutique cooking programs in the greater Bay Area. In the meantime, Eric and I were signed up for a fun date night cooking class at Draeger’s Cooking School in San Mateo. I’ve always enjoyed their classes (they serve wine and cheese during the class!) and always love coming home with a fun new menu to make and share with others. I’ve also been very impressed with their instructors. Specifically, The French Macaron Workshop with Lindsay Kinder (great energy), The Croissant Workshop with Michael Kalanty (hysterically funny), and End-of-Summer Harvest Celebration and Summertime Surf & Turf with Linda Carucci (so kind and such a professional). It was the last class that kicked off this huge change in my life.
Linda Carucci is an award-winning chef, culinary instructor and author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Chefs. She was teaching the class that Eric and I attended, and I am forever grateful that she was. I knew in the first few minutes that I was going to walk away with more than a handful of fabulous tips in the kitchen. But, what I actually walked away with was a mentor to help me on this new journey and a new dear friend (not to mention how to get hummus or homemade mayo off your Cuisinart blade quickly so there’s no waste!). Her mentorship has helped me figure out what to do with this passion and the potential opportunities that lie ahead. If you get a chance, please check out her local cooking class offerings here.
At the end of this month, I will begin the adventure of professional culinary school at the San Francisco Cooking School. It’s a hands-on, small class, full time program in the kitchen (no classroom!) for the next 3.5 months- I couldn’t be more excited! And nervous. After that, a much needed winter break before beginning another 2 months in an externship position. At the end of the program, I will graduate with a Professional Culinary Certificate, as a professionally trained cook. Who knows what comes after that, but I sure hope it starts with cooking for and with everyone that supported me throughout this journey!
For the next many months, I will be sure to share tasty recipes, tips and adventures from culinary school… stay tuned! ** If you’re on Instagram, feel free to follow my public account: @cookingwithchristinashoup.
In honor of my friend Linda, I’d like to share one of my favorite recipes from a class I took from her. I have made this cake with and without the icing- you cannot go wrong! I had it for a mid-morning snack today with a cup of tea- delicious.
Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Icing
This delicious snack cake was adapted, with permission, from my friend and mentor Linda Carucci. Using a large sheet pan, it can feed a crowd. Consider taking this to a potluck or your local school's staff room- those teachers deserve a treat! It keeps well for several days, so don't hesitate to make it and enjoy with your own family all week.
- 1 1/2 cups raisins
- 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
- About 2 cups apricot brandy, dark rum, orange-flavored liqueur, or hot water
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup mild-tasting extra virgin olive oil, such as Bariani
- 3 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini, about 1 3/4 pounds
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
- 2 medium lemons
- 1 tablespoon mild-tasting extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups powdered sugar
Soak the raisins:
Measure raisins into a 4-cup liquid measure. Add enough hot water, brandy, or other liqueur to cover raisins. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 Convection). For a thin snack cake (to eat out of hand), butter an 11×16″ rimmed baking sheet. If you prefer a denser cake (more suitable if you plan to serve the cake on a plate), butter a 9×13″ baking pan; set aside.
Prepare the cake:
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add sugar and stir to combine. Whisk in olive oil, zucchini, and vanilla extract. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Strain raisins, reserving soaking liquor for another use. Add raisins and nuts to batter, and stir just to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, cake springs back when touched in the center, and cake begins to pull away from the side of the pan, 20 to 25 minutes for the 11×16″ pan. If using a 9×13″ pan, bake 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer cake (in the pan) to a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature.
Preparing the icing:
With a zester or the small holes of a box grater, remove the zest from the lemons and finely chop 2 teaspoons of zest. Squeeze the lemons and measure out 1/4 cup of juice. Reserve any remaining zest and juice for another use.
In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, olive oil, and lemon zest.
Sift powdered sugar into bowl and stir to combine. Cover icing with a piece of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface (to prevent a crust from forming), and set aside until cake is cool.
Ice the cake:
Leave cake in the pan and spread the top with icing. To prevent the icing from “cracking” when you cut the cake, score the cake into bars or squares before icing hardens. After serving, cover any remaining cake with plastic wrap and store at cool room temperature for up to 3 days, refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month.