Local gourmet cooks up storm

April 03, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

It was a dark and stormy night.


But despite the downpour, lightning and thunder, 60 women ventured out in the rain to the Women's Club in Hagerstown last Tuesday evening for a gourmet cooking demonstration.

Shellie Ralston presented an upbeat program on hors d'oeuvres.

"How's everybody this evening?" she practically sang as she greeted her audience.

She told them she planned to use a few basic ingredients to create a lot of different options.

Ralston, along with her husband John Ralston, runs a "little restaurant downtown." The Rhubarb House is at 12 Public Square in Hagerstown. She also does catering from her restaurant kitchen.


The program was spiced with quizzes for the audience. Correct answers were rewarded with prizes - lavender oven mitts, spatulas, measuring spoons - often flung over heads to the winners.

"Where does salmon come from?" Ralston asked as she explained how to poach salmon.

"What are the main ingredients in pesto?" she inquired as she got ready to spread the herby blend on halves of foccacia bread, the beginning of her Chicken Pesto Pizza.

Ralston shared 11 recipes and tips for party treats and leftovers. Her offerings were versatile. The balsamic vinaigrette can be used as a dip as well as a dressing for French Green Beans tossed with crumbled blue cheese.

Sesame Chicken strips can be skewered - if you have time - or not if you don't.

She also answered questions from the audience.

Skin on or off the salmon?

To skin or not to skin is a matter of personal preference, Ralston said. The skin helps to keep the salmon moist, but the skin can be removed prior to cooking if you don't like it.

She recommended using a sharp knife with a long blade and said skinning salmon is easier if you cut the fish in sections first.

Ralston's tiny salmon cakes are manageable as hors d'oeuvres. They freeze well, too, she said. Place them on waxed paper, pop in a zipper bag and in the freezer. When you want to eat them, thaw in the refrigerator, stick in the oven and they're ready.

Ralston shared her secret for party planning: "I do my ugly stuff in the morning," she said. That includes "marking" - partially cooking chicken for some of her recipes before marinating. She grills boneless breasts for three to four minutes per side. "I'm a dump cook," she chirped as she threw ingredients into bowls.

The chicken will finish cooking on the pizza that can be put together - assembly line style - closer to party time.

Ralston says she has learned to cook by "just doing it." She demonstrated how to make a bowl for dip from a cabbage. When a little of her Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing spilled out over the leaves, Ralston laughed and threw some herbs in the puddle, making it look like it happened on purpose.

At the end of the demonstration, the Women's Club audience moved to the dining room to sample Ralston's creations. A buffet table was arranged, as the work table had been, with a little bit of spring. "Use what is in season," Ralston recommended, speaking of ingredients as well as decor.

"This was great," said Grace Dull.

Marie Lehman was happy she had been invited. "I think that it was wonderful, and I intend to come again," she said.

Salmon Cakes

3 to 4 pounds salmon (poached, canned or smoked), coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 heaping tablespoon dill

2 eggs

Whisk together eggs and mayonnaise, blend in red pepper, onion and dill. Gently mix in the salmon. Pat into quarter size cakes. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Serves 20 to 25 people.

Serve with dill caper sauce or roasted red pepper sauce.

Chicken Pesto Pizza

Focaccia bread or pizza shell

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup pesto

1/4 cup diced tomatoes

1 large grilled chicken breast, sliced or diced

1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Rub focaccia or shell with olive oil, then spread with pesto. Top with tomatoes and chicken, sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 15 to 18 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve.


1 bunch of fresh basil

1 clove garlic

1 heaping teaspoon pine nuts

2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Olive oil

Chop/puree all ingredients in a food processor. Work in olive oil to create a paste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

The Women's Club, 31 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown, will host two more gourmet cooking demonstrations:

Tuesday, April 9, 7 p.m. - Kathy Saylor, "Parties for All Ages"

Tuesday, April 16, 7 p.m. - Jeanne Jacobs, "Desserts with Panache"

Cost is $10 per session. Proceeds will help preserve and maintain the Women's Club building. For tickets and information, call 301-739-0870.

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