When my best friend got back from a weekend in New Orleans and all she talked about was how good the food was, it was time to make good on my promise to bring her along for an ICE recreational cooking class. After a little perusing of the class listing, All American Hot-N-Spicy was the winner. It not only featured gumbo, in homage to her recent trip, but also a wide variety of American classics. Seeing as we both grew up in families that moved around the world constantly it only seemed appropriate to take a class that mimicked the “spice of life” aspect of our lives and friendship.

Led by Chef Melanie Underwood the class completed 10 different recipes with unique flavors and stories of their own…

* Make-Aheads: There were several recipes that Chef Melanie actually encouraged us to make ahead of time for optimal flavor and convenience. For most spicy foods the spice continues to intensify as it sits, so making things like the red-pepper garlic oil and gumbo the day before allows for a complexity and intensity that day-of cooking just can’t match.

* Ideals and Good-Enoughs: When using green chilies there’s a very short season when you’re better off with fresh. If possible, you should use fresh Anaheim chilies from Hatch, New Mexico. Unfortunately they’re only available for less than a month (usually August) so they’re not abounding most of the time. However if you order a lot when they’re available, you can roast them yourself and keep them to use throughout the year. In a pinch, canned grocery store chilies will do the trick.

* Wonders of Wheat: When making pizza dough, flour is key and Chef Melanie, like many chefs, recommends 00 flour. This flour is a product of Italy, and is much smoother than other flours due to the soft wheat used and the fine-grind, allowing for ideal dough for stretching out for pizza.

American cuisine is diverse and vibrant. The spicy layers of our foods make for delicious regional foods. After our class with Chef Melanie, I’m glad to be able to make some of them no matter where I am.

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