Date Night: Gourmet Tuscan

Every time I get some good ideas for blog posts rolling around in my head, I end up getting super busy with work and either forget about them or forego any posts for a week... like I just did.

So hello strangers, I'm back! And I missed ya.

(Oh, that's just me, havin' a beer while I'm typing all this. What? You didn't think I was letting all the stress ruin the fun of drinking, did you?)

Living life as a full-time freelance writer has it's share of perks, to be sure, but it also has it's fair share of deadlines. For the past five weeks, I've been on an average of two to three deadlines a day, people. That's insane! It also means I wake up at 7:30am and walk to my computer and begin work (PJs and all) and that I'm still typing away into the night. Around. The. Clock.

In the past year or so, I've also developed a keypad writer's nightmare: carpal tunnel. Ugh, it sucks! I finally caved in and bought a brace yesterday and it seems to help for the most part. But it's a beast to wear and I feel like a schmuck when I have it on.

But aside from working, I was also celebrating my birthday and took time out for a trip to the lake with some girlfriends. Lemme tell ya, I love the sun. Me + Sun = happiness forever.  So on Sunday, when we decided to spend a few more hours cruising the water on the boat, I was a good girl and actually put on sunscreen (normally it's tanning oil). However, I still got burned. I must have had second-degree burns on my stomach, because it was redder than a cherry and hurt like h-e-double hockey sticks. I couldn't move, I felt sick and if I even accidentally walked through a wayward ray of sunshine peeking through my window, it burned, baby, burned!!! 
Even the backs of my hands were sunburned. I have been lathering up in aloe lotion nonstop since Sunday evening, and last night I soaked in an oatmeal-lavendar oil-vitamin E oil bathtub concoction that definitely helped soothe the prickly heat. Needless to say, it made the last couple days pretty brutal... but I think I have survived the worst. 

Anyway, I promise this wasn't a "woe is me" blog post... it's really about one of my favorite things: food! For my birthday, the husband and I went to Sur La Table for a cooking class. It was the first for both of us and I was pu-pu-pu-pumped. Plus, it was Date Night: Gourmet Tuscan. Perfect!

I learned how to properly mince garlic, hold a huge knife (you put your thumb on the blade just above the handle, then wrap the rest of your hand downward around the top of the handle... women have smaller hands, so we can't control a knife as well when we hold it by the handle alone!), make delicious tomato sauce from scratch and how to bake profiteroles, among other things.

Since I've already rambled on ridicously, I won't recount every little bit of the class. But I will share a tip: if you're taking a Sur La Table cooking class anytime soon, it's BYO-WINE! We didn't know this and it doesn't say anything on the website when you register. So when we arrived for a glass of red to go with the steaks we were grilling, we were empty handed to say the least. Fortunately, there was a Tasting Room wine bar across the road so the husband ran out (along with several others) to grab a bottle for the evening. Wine and cooking go hand-in-hand if you ask me. And the more wine you drink, the better it all tastes! ;)

Here are photos of each course and a complete set of recipes you can print out for yourself at the very end. And, because I just love you all so much, I've included a secret sauce recipe from the instructing chef for a simple tomato sauce that's quick to make and tastes amazing.

First, we made crostini with sage and parsley pesto and some herbed goat cheese with a balsamic reduction. It's so much easier than it sounds... you can make the pesto in like five minutes and just pulse it in a blender (a big crowd pleaser/impresser without a big to-do). The herbed goat cheese is pretty much the cheese mixed with some parsley and chives, and the reduction is balsamic vinegar cooked in a pot till, well, reduced and seasoned with a touch of honey.

In between courses, it was wine time!!

Next up was carmelized onion, tomato and cannellini bean soup. Oh my goodness, was it good! Much like a minestrone soup, but this one had kale in it (not something I thought I was down for eating) and a really hearty soul. A great comfort food for sure, and easy to prepare in large amounts.

Any cooking class that features steak as the main dish has my vote. The steak florentine with hearty tomato sauce was delicious and very savory. I thought I was going to be intimated by making the tomato sauce, but it was so much more manageable than I thought. Check out the recipe at the end, the magic is in the can of plum tomatoes - they break apart as they cook and end up making the sauce perfection!

Lastly, we had profiteroles with dark chocolate espresso sauce for our final course. I am actually not a huge profiteroles fan (they don't have a ton of flavor to me when eaten alone, so I don't see the bother of going through all the trouble of making them!), but it was interesting to get a little mini baking lesson in the process. The delicate pastries were pretty tasty when paired with the chocolate sauce and some vanilla ice cream. One of the gals in class had the idea to add paprika to the chocolate sauce while it cooked, which actually did make it taste good. But the espresso flavor was a bit much for me...

At the end of class, we were so happy and full! 

Click on the images below to view all the individual recipes from this class, and even print them to try them at home! 

I leave you with an exclusive scoop on an easy peasy sauce recipe our instructor told us about:

Melt one tbsp olive oil and one tbsp butter over warm heat. Add one sliced shallot and some rosemary and red pepper flakes to the mix. Once it's fragrant, then add 28 oz. of tomatoes (roasted, diced or crushed) and cook until heated through. Top with fresh basil.



  1. I have MISSED your blog posts! But I know you have been super busy! This one was worth waiting for and the sauce recipe is one I will be making as soon as possible! Glad your 'burn' is better.

  2. Love your post! Thanks for the recipes - hope to try one soon. Don't forget vitamin E is great for skin & hair. Miss you!

  3. Hey Amber, I actually read this blog of yours and the recipes looked delicious. Could I make a correction without offending you? You misused the word "it's" in one of the first paragraphs...just thought you might want to fix that. Great blog love it!


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