A cooking class at The Wooden Spoon
Recipes for this Story
Grilled Beet & Endive Salad 
Potato-Tomato Gratin 
Herb-Marinated Flank Steak 
Grilled Peaches 
It's a pleasure to go home to Chicago in summer, especially when the visit includes everything I love about that season: biking along the beach, a great hot dog, grilling parties in postage-stamp backyards attached to renovated six-flats, and a cooking class at The Wooden Spoon, a kitchen shop in one of my favorite neighborhoods, Andersonville. Home--in the summer--in the city. I hear a song.
The Wooden Spoon is gloriously crowded with tools and treats for home cooks. In the back of the shop is a cooking school, with almost daily classes designed for eight to 12 students. Chef instructors, most of whom live in the neighborhood, bring their collective experience to a roster that ranges from fish to fowl to fettuccine. I'm spending a bright afternoon at a Summer & Sizzle grilling class.
Todd Moore, a chef with a fine list of Chicago restaurants on his résumé, is leading the class with recipes by Becca Wheeler, a 10-year Andersonville resident and culinarian who leads ethnic market tours. Her diverse training includes stints in China and at an organic farm in Umbria.
"Becca's recipes are the ones I use most often for myself; she was one of our first teachers," comments Wooden Spoon owner Trina Sheridan, who opened her business in 2003 and lives, in time-honored tradition, above the shop with her husband, Sean, and their children, Molly, 7, and Ian, 5.
Class begins around the large prep counter that Sean designed in warm red-stained concrete. We divide into groups to prepare the food, most of which we'll grill outside. Todd leads us through some basic knife techniques. He's an affable teacher with a ready wit and a wink that puts cooking novices at ease.
The first dish is Potato-Tomato Gratin, which bakes while we attend to our grilling duties. "The moisture in this light gratin comes from olive oil," Becca comments in her recipe notes. "The flavor comes from caramelized onions, the concentrated sugars in the tomatoes, and fresh garden herbs."
The grill is set up and ready to go in the landscaped backyard that sits between the shop and a former garage that has been renovated into wine storage and party facilities, guest quarters, and a rooftop garden.
Todd explains direct and indirect grilling, an important distinction for ensuring grilled foods have that perfect balance of sear and tenderness. "With two areas of heat in the grill," he says, "you can cook directly over hot coals or burners, resulting in a sear that seals in juices. The other is off to the side, where you can cook with accumulated heat without burning the food."
The grill accommodates almost everything needed for the meal we'll enjoy later on--smoky Grilled Beet & Endive Salad, a tender grilled Herb-Marinated Flank Steak (atop that scrumptiously layered gratin), and Grilled Peaches with honey-whipped cream and almond-and-spice topping.
"This is such an awesome setting for a class," says student Liz Sheridan. "You're in a lovely, cozy backyard--like an extension of someone's home."
As we tuck into salads and steaks in the sun-dappled yard, it's difficult to remember we're in the heart of a bustling urban neighborhood--and for me, a bit nostalgic for home, difficult to forget.
Photography: Michael Venera
Chef Todd Moore guides the class through the food prep.
Recipes begin here. 
Allie Henderson (left) and Aurelia Lawrence whisk together sherry vinegar-mustard dressing for the salad.
Recipes begin here. 
Chef Moore advises Liz Sheridan (left) and Andrea Lockard on the nuances of grilling fruit, a method that concentrates its flavors.
Recipes begin here. 
The Wooden Spoon, 5047 North Clark Street, Chicago, offers evening and weekend classes from $65 per person. For a class schedule or to reserve, call 773/293-3190, or visit woodenspoonchicago.com .
Andersonville, the neighborhood that's home to the Wooden Spoon, has a retail district restricted to small, entrepreneurial businesses. Along Clark Street, the heartbeat of the neighborhood, bakeries and restaurants dating back to the area's Scandinavian roots mix amiably with contemproary shops and boutiques specializing in everything from Sicilian pastries to Scotch plaid custom upholstery. Here are some favorites:
Scout, 5221 N. Clark, features a well-edited mix of metal and wood furniture with utilitarian origins updated for a timeless, contemporary feel (773/275-5700; scoutchicago.com ).
George Lowell, 5123 N. Clark, presents a sophisticated collection of furniture and accessories plus design services aimed at urban living (773/754-8106; georgelowell.com ).
City Olive, 5408 N. Clark, delights with more than 70 varieties of olive oils as well as vinegars, carefully selected gourmet foods, and skin care products (773/878-5408; cityolive.com ).
Brimfield, 5219 N. Clark, gives "camp" new meaning with its selection of cabin-motif furnishings and comfy furniture custom-upholstered in classic Scotch plaids. 312/593-6414.
Pasticceria Natalina, 5406 N. Clark, bakes up a tempting selection of Sicilian pastries and desserts in this tiny, seductive storefront (773/989-0662).
Recipes begin here. 
Grilled Beet & Endive Salad
- 6 medium beets
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup walnut halves
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 heads Belgian endive
- 1 pear
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- 1 head Bibb lettuce, leaves separated
- 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Scrub beets; trim off stem and root ends. Peel and quarter beets. Fold 36x18-inch piece of heavy foil in half to make 18-inch square. Place beets in center of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring up 2 opposite edges of foil square and seal with double fold. Fold remaining edges to completely enclose beets, leaving space for steam to build.
For charcoal grill, arrange medium-hot coals around edge of grill; cover. Test for medium-hot heat above center of grill (not over coals). Place foil packet on grill rack over center of grill (not over coals). Cover; grill 35 to 45 minutes or until beets are just tender when pierced with knife. (For gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium-high. Adjust for indirect cooking. Place packet on grill rack over burner that is turned off. Grill as above.)
Remove packet from grill, and open carefully. Allow beets to cool.
Meantime, place walnut halves on baking sheet; bake in 350°F oven 8 to 10 minutes or until fragrant and lightly toasted. Remove walnuts from oven; cool completely.
Place vinegar in a small non-reactive bowl. Whisk in mustard. Slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil, whisking constantly until blended. Whisk in walnut oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Slice each endive in half lengthwise. Remove bottom core. Cut endive halves crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Cut pear lengthwise into quarters, remove core. Cut pear lengthwise into thin slices.
In very large bowl combine walnuts, endive, pear, and parsley. Gently toss to mix. Add vinaigrette; toss lightly to coat. Place Bibb lettuce leaves on six salad plates. Divide endive mixture evenly among plates. Top with beets and crumbled goat cheese. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
Scrub beets; trim off stem and root ends. Peel and quarter. Place beets in shallow roasting pan; drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, uncovered, in 450°F oven 25 to 40 minutes until beets are just tender when pierced with knife and edges are browned; toss once to coat in oil. Remove from oven and let beets cool.
The layered gratin is pictured here underneath the flank steak. That is how it is served at The Wooden Spoon. You could, of course, choose to serve it as a side dish instead of under the steak.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 large onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
- 1-1/4 pounds tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (1-1/2 cups)
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup soft bread crumbs
In large skillet, melt butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, cayenne pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, covered, 13 to 15 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Uncover; cook and stir over medium-high heat 3 to 5 minutes more or until onion is golden.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Use mandoline or slicing blade of food processor to slice potatoes 1/8 inch thick. Line baking sheet with paper towels. Slice tomatoes 1/4 inch thick; place on paper towels to drain excess juices.
Lightly oil 2-quart au gratin or baking dish. Place half the caramelized onions in bottom of dish. Arrange half the potatoes over onions, overlapping slightly. Season with some of remaining salt and black pepper, drizzle with some of remaining oil (reserving 2 to 3 teaspoons for topping), and sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese and a third of the thyme. Arrange half the tomatoes over potatoes. Season with some of salt and pepper, drizzle with additional oil, and sprinkle with half of remaining cheese and half of remaining thyme. Add remaining onions. Repeat with remaining potatoes, tomatoes, salt, pepper, oil, and thyme; sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes.
In small bowl combine reserved oil and bread crumbs; toss to coat. Uncover baking dish; sprinkle crumbs over top. Bake, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes more or until the topping is golden brown and vegetables are tender. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Herb-Marinated Flank Steak
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme, torn
- 4 large sprigs fresh rosemary, torn
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 (1-1/2 to 2 pound) beef flank steak
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Place thyme, rosemary, basil, olive oil, vinegar, black pepper, and garlic in large self-sealing plastic bag. Seal bag tightly by squeezing out extra air. Using your hands, massage bag to combine herbs and oil mixture, allowing herbs to release their essential oils.
Trim fat from steak. Score steak on both sides by making shallow cuts at 1-inch intervals in diamond pattern. Place steak in bag with herb mixture; seal bag. Turn bag to coat. Set bag in shallow dish.
Marinate in refrigerator 4 to 24 hours, turning bag occasionally. Remove steak from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling; brush off herb sprigs and garlic. Season steak with kosher salt.
For charcoal grill, grill steak on rack of uncovered grill directly over medium coals to desired doneness, turning halfway through grilling. (Allow 10 to 12 minutes for medium rare (145°F) and 17 to 21 minutes for medium (160°F).) Remove steak from grill; let rest 10 minutes. To serve, thinly slice steak diagonally across the grain. Makes 6 servings.
- Crisp Topping (see recipe)
- 6 small-to-medium firm, ripe peaches, halved and pitted
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3/4 cup whipping cream
- 1/4 cup honey
Prepare Crisp Topping; set aside. Sprinkle cut sides of peaches with sugar; set aside. In chilled medium mixing bowl beat whipping cream until peaks just begin to form. Beat in honey. Continue beating until soft peaks form. Set aside.
For charcoal grill, place peach halves on rack of uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 8 minutes or until tender and slightly charred, turning once. (For gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place peach halves on grill rack over heat. Cover; grill as above.)
To serve: Place peaches in bottom of trifle bowl. Top with whipped cream; sprinkle with Crisp Topping. Or, place 2 peach halves on each dessert plate; top with dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with desired amount of crisp topping. Makes 6 servings.
Prepare honey butter: In a medium mixing bowl beat 2/3 cup softened butter and 3 tablespoons honey until combined. Cover; chill at least 30 minutes or until firm. OR, substitute 3/4 cup purchased honey butter.
Preheat oven to 350°F. In medium mixing bowl combine 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger. Cut in honey butter until clumps are pea-sized. Spread in 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. Cool 30 minutes before using.
Store leftover crisp topping in airtight container up to 5 days. Use to top ice cream, yogurt, or fruit.