Oh boy – a day off work and nothing but fun ahead! These were my thoughts as my sister, Cheryl, picked me up to head to Tubac and the home of fellow SACS member, Sande Smith. We were about to embark upon a memorable cooking (and eating) experience with five-star chef, Fernando Espinosa.

As we drove up the dirt road to Sande’s ranch home, we were struck by the beauty of the area. “Blue Sky Ranch” overlooks the Tubac Valley with its lush green trees and beautiful mountain views. The home was built in the early 1980s by Arthur Manuel, co-owner of Leow’s Theaters. Sande and her husband bought the home two years ago and have just moved in after completing an extensive remodeling project.

As  Cheryl & I got out of the van, the thought occurred to both of us that we might like to skip the class and stay outdoors to enjoy the scenery, but we finally managed to pull ourselves away from the view and go inside. We were cheerfully greeted by Sande’s daughter, Ashley, and her friend, Kristen, both students at the University of Arizona. After signing in, Ashley & Kristen ushered us into the spacious kitchen and offered us tea, coffee, and lemon & cucumber waters (a previous cooking class gave instructions on how to make these waters). The cucumber water was particularly refreshing.

We soon met our cooking partners for the day  – a delightful mix of men & women from various backgrounds. Canada, Germany, and Oregon were represented, as well as a recent San Francisco retiree. Surprisingly, Sande, Cheryl, & I were the only Celiacs present at this gluten-free cooking class, but the others were as interested in learning how to make a “great grill” as we were, and the word “gluten-free” was obviously not an issue with them.

We enjoyed a friendly period of chat, and soon our chef, Fernando, breezed in the door laden with an array of fresh vegetables, fruits, and other good things we would be using during our experience. My first thought was, “Are we really going to eat all that?” (And yes, we did!). He immediately put on a pot of pinto beans to cook, since they needed to simmer for a couple of hours before they would become tender. Then he handed each of us a menu complete with recipes. Included were flank steak marinated in a dry barbeque rub (absolutely yummy!), dauphinoise potatoes (to die for), frijoles charres with beef chorizo, chipotle cornbread, and fresh peach & yogurt pie with marzipan crust. It all sounded so good I was ready to skip the cooking and go straight to the eating.

Our chef proved to be both personable and patient as he taught us how to chop, mince, and grill amidst an unending string of questions: How long do you bake the cornbread? (Until the sides come away from the pan) Do you follow recipes exactly? (No, they are just a guideline – use your creativity and have fun!) How do you smoke the meat? (You’ll have to attend your own class to learn that, or this article will be too long). Fernando amiably told us stories about his work, his family, and the cut on his finger while trimming the zest of several oranges to miniscule proportions with a butcher knife. He then gave us the opportunity to try our hand at chopping onions and tomatoes, but somehow, ours didn’t look as good as his. I noticed that while I chopped one onion, Fernando managed to chop two onions, several tomatoes, and some chili peppers. He had everything sauteeing neatly in the frying pan when I finally scraped my uneven onion bits in with his.

Other fellow “cooks” peeled fresh peaches, mixed ground almonds and powdered sugar into a paste with their hands, rubbed barbeque seasoning into the meat, and learned how to cut seeds out of tomatoes. Meanwhile, Sande, Ashley, & Kristen worked like troopers to clean dirty mixing bowls, prepare pans, and measure spices.

In due season (or should I say seasonings?) the meat was “marked” on the grill then finished in the oven, the potatoes baked to perfection and the cornbread to a golden brown, and the peach pie looking good enough to dive into. We all sat down and allowed Sande and her faithful crew to serve us generous portions. The friendly chatter stopped as we took our first mouth-watering bites – and then murmers of “mmmm…” broke out across the room. Needless to say, we all ate too much, but how often do we have the privilege of eating a five-star gluten-free meal?

If you are looking for a fun and delicious way to spend a day, I highly recommend signing up for one of Sande’s classes. Thanks Sande, Ashley, Kristen, and Fernando!

Cooking class schedule:
April 5th:
April 19th: Salads Galore
May 3rd: Southwestern Cuisine
Contact Sande Smith at 400-0412 for further information.

Last modified on Saturday, 25-Mar-2006 11:44:36 MST

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