Out of necessity, our cooking and baking skills were sharpened during the early pandemic. (Remember the sourdough era? And the short-lived dalgona coffee craze?) But we’re finding out that cooking for ourselves wasn’t just a passing phase. The Madison area has a medley of classes, kits and tools that have allowed us to continue improving our new moves in the kitchen. Many virtual classes are evolving, with some returning to in-person formats. And gathering with family and friends is mostly back in full force, so it’s time to wrangle your friends for a cooking class (or plan a fun night in with a meal kit) and get hands-on.
Level 1: FOR THE BEGINNER
Meal Kits Make It Easy
Pasture and Plenty, a local farm-to-table deli, offers a meal kit subscription that includes three meals — a cook kit, a farm-to-freezer meal and a heat-and-eat meal. For those busy nights filled with sports and dance practices, pop one of the meals in the oven and you’re good to go. When everyone’s home, use the cook kit to make a nice meal together. “The feedback we’ve gotten is that it strikes the right balance of menus that allow people to get their hands in the work,” says Pasture and Plenty owner Christy McKenzie. The service offers a four-week renewable subscription, with some flexibility on the number of meals per week and the ability to pause for vacations. Members can select delivery or pick up kits at the University Avenue storefront or one of the drop sites around the greater Madison area. P&P’s meal kit subscriptions also boost the local food system. McKenzie works with more than 60 farms and producers to purchase items. She also ensures they’re making environmental choices by using sustainable glassware and packaging that is compostable, recyclable or reusable.
Level 2: FOR THE ENERGETIC AMATEUR
Take Your Skills to the Next Level
DelecTable can be a difficult place to describe to someone who doesn’t know about this unique triple-threat business, tucked in the back of a vomFASS oil and vinegar store on University Avenue. It’s part culinary dinner theater and tasting experience, part prep kitchen for special takeout meals and also a demo kitchen that hosts many different cooking classes and special events. During cooking classes — which have themes like “Curry in a Hurry,” “Tacos and Tequila” and more — attendees work in small groups to prepare different parts of a meal that eventually all come together. Owner Justin Gibson says the communal atmosphere leaves people feeling connected. Public classes (which are refreshed often so folks can repeat them) are offered one or two times a week, and there are private sessions as well.
If a cooking class held somewhere other than your own kitchen isn’t your thing, Sujhey Beisser offers in-home Latin cooking classes through her business, Five Senses Palate. She says many of her clients are interested in learning the art of preparing arepas, empanadas and paella. Beisser adapts the class if clients have specific requests, like a vegan menu. For Beisser, it’s not just about making a recipe — she wants to teach people about Latin American cuisine. “It’s a rich and fascinating culture, and there’s no better way to explore it than with food,” she says.
Level 3: FOR THE ADVANCED BAKER
Get Scientific With It
When aspiring bakers take a workshop with Shawn Bolduc of The Baked Lab, there’s not only a tasty treat waiting for them at the end of the session but also a lesson on the science of baking that they learn along the way. Bolduc explains how different ingredients work — like why butter makes a pie crust flaky. He’s taught bakers how to make savory biscuits, toaster tarts and macarons. Attendees work alongside one another at a long table, but each person gets their own set of ingredients to work with. “Once you get in and start working, it doesn’t matter what your final product is,” Bolduc says. “It matters what the experience is and [that] you get what you want out of it.” Be prepared for snacks and laughing while baking with your friends, family and maybe someone you don’t know at these workshops.
Meal Kits, Cooking Classes and Kitchenware Shops
Convivio for unique home decor items, as well as wine and spirits. 122 N. Lexington St., Spring Green
Fit Fresh Cuisine for prepared, nutritionally balanced meals and several meal plan options. 8066 Watts Road, fitfreshcuisine.com
Good Day Shop for locally made items for your home, in addition to clothing, jewelry and a wide selection of gifts. 1925 Monroe St., gooddayshop.net
Isthmus Eats for a local meal kit service with pickup and delivery options. 313 W. Beltline Highway, isthmuseats.com
Kessenich’s for public cooking classes, in-the-kitchen demos or industrial restaurant equipment (if you’re in the market for that). 3226 Progress Road, kessenichs.com
Mad City Chefs for meal kits, spice blends and private event catering. 1200 E. Verona Ave., Verona, madcitychefs.com
Madison College for in-depth cooking and baking classes. 1701 Wright St., madisoncollege.edu
Sur La Table for high-end cooking and dining supplies, as well as cooking classes. 712 N. Midvale Blvd., surlatable.com
How to Host a Dinner Party Like a Pro
Make a Plan for a Successful Soiree
The No. 1 rule: Keep it simple and don’t overthink it. Mandy Cullen, owner of the Madison-based personal chef service Nourishment, says to use a recipe you love for the main course. Before that, make things easy for yourself by preparing a charcuterie board ahead of time as an appetizer. Cullen also suggests making sure you’re ready at least half an hour before your guests arrive. You don’t have to have the fanciest plateware or the most expensive bottle of wine, she says. “Do what you know and what you love with the people you love, and you will have a successful dinner party,” she says.
Keep the Menu Simple
If you’re a dinner party newbie and want to impress your guests while keeping it manageable, Cullen suggests serving the following:
Appetizer: Apple slices and white cheddar with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of fresh cracked black pepper
Soup: Sweet potato chowder with crusty bread
Salad: Kale salad with roasted veggies, pepitas and a red wine vinaigrette
Main: Herb-crusted broiled salmon with twice-baked potatoes
Create Connection at Mealtime
There are some simple things you can do to maintain connection during a meal. “Putting phones away is a foundational piece of creating presence at the dinner table,” Cullen says. “To just be present with one another is probably one of the most precious gifts we can give our loved ones.” She suggests pausing before a meal or inviting dinner guests to create their own pre-meal blessing, which doesn’t have to be religious. She also says leaving space to ask questions during meal-time can lead to meaningful conversations. Cullen’s favorite question to ask is, “What’s bringing you joy?”
Set the Mood
Add candles to your space. Take it from Orange Schroeder, co-owner of Orange Tree Imports — details like this matter at your dinner party. Her Monroe Street home and kitchen boutique has candles in a variety of colors, scents and sizes. Make a statement with a table runner or incorporate seasonal items like fresh greens and flowers. Schroeder also suggests serveware that can be swapped out depending on the time of year.
Hywania Thompson is a contributing writer at Madison Magazine.
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