Cooking Up a Storm at Queen Anne Farmers Market

Earlier this spring, I received an e-mail. "Need chefs for cooking demos, who do you know?" As a devotee of cooking classes and a former guest chef booker, I've got the lowdown on the city's best instructors.

Scrolling through my list of contacts, I fondly recalled each instructor's technique. The majority of my cooking skills? I owe to a long roster of Seattle's finest. (Live demos--unscripted and uncensored, teamed with in-the-flesh Q&A beats Food Network any day.)

As I compiled my list, I was struck by a curious urge. "I'm an accomplished cook and enjoy speaking in public. Why don't I teach cooking classes?"

After a long hesitation, I mustered the courage and added a tiny sentence at the very bottom of the e-mail, "If you'd ever consider me, I'd be happy to teach a class." I held my breath and hit 'send'.

The response? My first class was scheduled on August 20th!

Overwhelmed and filled with trepidation...I consoled myself with the fact that August was peak harvest season....and combed through hundreds of cookbooks for the perfect recipe.

To ease my anxiety, eventually I settled on tried and true recipes...modified versions from two of my favorite chefs, Jerry Traunfeld and Gina DePalma. My demo? A refreshing minted fruit salad with a side of ricotta poundcake (recipes below).

The day of my demo arrived and I walked the market stalls, searching for my fruit du jour.

Gorgeous nectarines, peaches and last-of-the-season Rainier cherries

"Doughnut" peaches and local blueberries

Voluptuous blackberries (Got a bumper crop of blackberries? Try my favorite vodka infusion.)

Stroller pile up on Crockett Street! Queen Anne Farmers Market is very kid-friendly.

Kid watching is particularly fun. (I want a pair of those crocks!)

Following my demo, Cookbook Chronicles blogger Lorna Yee prepared dark chocolate cupcakes with a luscious cream cheese frosting. Watch for Lorna's book, The Newlywed Kitchen: Delicious Meals for Couples Cooking Together, due out Spring 2010. (via Sasquatch Books)

Lorna's cupcakes were a hit!

Friends came out in droves to throw support. (See the woman in the black shirt? That's Robin Leventhal, Bravo's Top Chef Season 6 contender. Leap of faith, a bucket full of charisma and voila! Last night we attended her preview party. Good times people, good times.....)

And now, without further ado...the recipes:

Minted Fruit Salad

Adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook (Scribner, 2000)
by Jerry Traunfeld

This fruit salad is my 'go to' recipe for nearly every occasion. Went overboard at the farmer's market? Fruit salad. Brunch with the ladies? Fruit salad. Picnic fare? Yogurt or ice cream embellishment? You get the idea.... Best part? It's delicious and refreshing. No matter what combination of fruit you use: mellon, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, rasbperries or nectarines, this recipe is a crowd pleaser.

Serves 8

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (gently packed) fresh mint leaves, thick center vein removed*
2 tablespoons fresh squeed lime juice
8 cups mixed sliced ripe fruit and berries, such as melon, peaches, nectariens, apricots, plums, pitted sweet cheeries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries

*Lemon verbena or basil make lovely alternatives

Process the sugar and mint in a food processor to a very smooth green paste, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the lime juice and process briefly. Shortly before serving, toss this dressing with the fruit in a large mixing bowl.

Ricotta Pound Cake
Adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007)
By Gina DePalma

The seal of approval in my house is a moment after the first bite. In my solitude, I have been known to shriek, "Damn! I made that?! " And so it goes with this poundcake. Light and full of flavor, I love it simple and unadorned; topped with a bit of lemon curd and berries; toasted with jam; or, in this case, with a side of minted fruit salad.

Makes one 9-inch cake.
Approximately 10 servings

1 ½ cups cake flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks/6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups fresh whole-milk ricotta*
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Zest from 2 lemons or limes

*Note: Please use a dry ricotta. Locally, I use Precious brand ricotta with excellent results. If your ricotta is not dry, strain it through a cheese cloth for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the center.

Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter, dust it with flour, and tap to knock out the excess.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed until smooth and light, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the extracts & zest.

On low speed, beat in the dry ingredients to combine them, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat the batter for 30 seconds on medium speed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to smooth the top. Give the pan a few gentle whacks on the counter to remove any air pockets. Bake the cake for 30 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees to ensure even browning. Continue baking until the cake springs back lightly when touched, the sides have begun to pull away from the pan, and a cake inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30-45 minutes more, depending on your oven & ricotta moisture.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully invert on the rack to cool completely. The flavor is best on the next day. Any leftover cake may be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.