The Des Plaines Park District hosted the second of three Winter Cooking Classes with Chef Ron Wells on Thursday, Feb. 20. Chef's program focused on Joyful Chinese Cooking to welcome in the Year of the Horse.
"In Chinese astrology, the Horse year is considered a fortunate year that brings luck and good things. It is about freedom, returning to nature, and enjoying life and life's adventures, and there is no better place to be adventurous than in the kitchen," said Wells.
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Chef began by making healthy almond cookies with a combination of brown and white sugar and both vanilla and almond extract. Once all of the ingredients are mixed, the dough is rolled into a ball.
"I like to insert a whole almond into the ball of dough. Almonds are a healthy nut, and at only 50 calories per cookie, these are a perfect after dinner sweet treat," said Wells. Besides being delicious, in the Chinese culture, almond cookies symbolize wealth and prosperity.
For the main course Chef prepared a shrimp stir fry with fresh vegetables.
"On New Year's Day, people in many cultures prepare special foods for good luck and happiness in the coming year. With the concept that you are what you eat, shrimp is considered a lucky food because the word for it in Cantonese, ha, sounds like laughter. It is said to bring happiness and joy," Wells said.
Chef used a colorful array of fresh vegetables including carrots, broccoli, red and green peppers, mushrooms, pea pods, onions, and bean sprouts to give the dish a variety of textures, and added fresh ginger and garlic for authentic flavors.
"Food should look good, smell good, and taste good," he said. "The typical home stir-fry is healthier than the ones you get in restaurants. You can control the amount of oil and the quality of ingredients. The magic is the quick tumbling and tossing in a hot wok."
Chef Ron's recipes are posted on the Des Plaines Park District website, www.dpparks.org.the week before the class. Here are Chef's eight quick tips for a successful stir-fry.
• Use canola oil, not olive oil for a Chinese stir-fry.
• Cut all your vegetables into the same size pieces for even cooking
• Blanch (dip into boiling water for a few minutes) your dense vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower, to insure even cooking.
• Use fresh ginger and garlic to spice up your stir-fry. These fresh ingredients are also good for your health.
• Wash and chop all of your vegetables before beginning to cook.
• Experiment with a variety of vegetables including bok choy (Chinese cabbage) and Chinese mushrooms.
• To thicken your sauce, use a slurry of cornstarch and cool water or broth.
• Have fun, be adventurous, experiment
Cooking classes take place from 7-9 p.m. on Thursdays in the kitchen at Prairie Lakes Community Center, 515 E. Thacker St., and are open to novice cooks and more experienced chefs alike. The next class is Fish and Seafood: A Mediterranean twist on simple seafood dishes, designed to spice up the Lenten season, on March 20. Registration is required.
For information call (847) 391-5700 and visit www.TasteofRons.com.