Nearly a dozen men and women gathered in the basement of Foster's Homeware store in Old City on a recent Thursday night - unwitting representatives of a significant segment of society.
They are normal working people who love to eat and enjoy cooking. They just don't like doing dishes.
You know them - heck, you're probably one of them. They devise their dinner menus based on the number of pots and pans each dish will leave behind.
But these individuals were poised to receive advice from a pro, chef Corbin Evans, and they walked away from his One-Pot Meals class that night with tantalizing recipes for cold-weather meals: Amish chicken pot pie, jambalaya, even chocolate cake.
Evans, 46, is a Kansas native who worked in restaurants in Paris, New York, and Philadelphia (the Commissary, Apropos, Jack's Firehouse, Cobblefish), and spent a decade in pre-Katrina New Orleans, where he had his own successful place, LuLu's in the French Quarter. Now he's back in the city of cheesesteaks (his personal favorite), teaching and sometimes helping out old friends who are restaurateurs, such as David Katz at Meme.
But Evans says he isn't interested in another restaurant job.
"I'm tired of doing the dishes," he says.
His one-pot class drew Hilary Brewer, who, at 25, wants to widen her repertoire without adding too much to her workload. A middle-school teacher in North Philadelphia, Brewer has enough on her plate, so to speak.
Still, she wants the benefits she sees in home cooking: saving money, eating healthier, and maybe even winning a man's heart the old-fashioned way - through his stomach.
"Is that way-to-a-man's-heart saying really true?" Brewer wondered aloud. "One can only hope."
Jim Orr, a set dresser and buyer for filmmakers, said he and his wife, a photostylist, take turns cooking dinner in their Bella Vista home.
"We're both freelancers," Orr said, explaining that the "free" in that term often means a loss of free time. He was looking for ideas to use at home.
So as Evans chatted and chopped, Orr took notes.
One-pot meals need heavy-bottomed pots that can hold a quart or two, Evans says. But aside from using fewer mixing bowls and saucepans, what makes these dishes stand out is that they are based on building flavors and letting the aroma of the ingredients call the family to the table.
The scent of a good meal can linger in the memory for decades.
Make the most of your prep time, Evans advises, by chopping more than you need of basics (such as onions) and bagging the rest in the fridge for later.
His recipes use dried herbs, which are more concentrated. If you are substituting fresh herbs, use three times as much. Store fresh herbs such as parsley and cilantro by wrapping the stems in a wet paper towel.
Evans got his pot-pie recipe from an Amish merchant he met at a farm market in Ephrata. Eschewing the classic pie shell, the Lancaster County version is a thick stew with flat, square "bot boi" egg noodles as well as potatoes - and margarine.
"Yeah, lots of carbs," he quipped. "But boy, is it good. I just don't get their preference for margarine instead of butter."
Every cook in New Orleans has his or her own favorite way of making jambalaya, Evans said. His contains shrimp and ham; others add sausage or chicken. If you're allergic to shellfish, substitute a firm fish such as cod or monkfish.
Pondering fresh vs. frozen? Since most fish is flash-frozen as soon as it is caught, today's frozen shrimp are just as good if not better than the fresh variety, he says. And much less expensive.
Evans made his own shrimp stock, using what he had at hand: The shells of the peeled shrimp, tossed in a pot with onion skins and celery tops.
His recipe uses bacon drippings, and he always has a can on his stove to store them. If there's not one on your stovetop, he says, use canola oil or a blend of 2/3 part canola oil to 1/3 part olive oil.
For dessert, Evans' three-hole cake is an old-fashioned treat from his father's side of the family. It's a simple recipe for a quick but satisfying dessert that's stirred, baked, and served in a single pan.
When he lifts the cake from the oven, the warm chocolate aroma fills the air and we all responsively murmur, "Mmmm."
It was a perfectly satisfying evening. We learned, we ate, and then we left - without doing the dishes.
Three Hole Cake
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons good-quality unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
Dusting of confectioners' sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8- or 9-inch square pan.
2. Combine the flour, baking soda, sugar, cocoa, and salt in the pan. Stir gently or shake to level.
3. With your fingers or the back of a large spoon, make three big holes in the mixture. Pour vinegar in one hole, vanilla in another, and oil in the third. Pour water over all.
4. Using a table fork, stir to mix, about 11/2 minutes, until all the batter is wet, but some small lumps remain.
5. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until done. Let cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve right from the pan.
Per serving (based on 10): 215 calories, 2 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams sugar, 7 grams fat, trace cholesterol, 187 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Amish Chicken Pot Pie
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 pounds chicken parts
Pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 sliced carrots
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
8 ounces potpie square noodles (other wide egg noodles may be substituted)
2 cups sliced potatoes
Parsley for garnish
1. Place the chicken in a large pot. Cover with water. Add saffron and salt. Cook until tender, about 50 minutes, skimming as necessary.
2. Remove chicken, cool, remove meat from the bones and dice. Meanwhile, saute celery and carrots in butter.
3. Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the noodles very slowly, stirring as needed. Add potatoes. Cook about 30 minutes until tender.
4. Add the celery mixture and the diced chicken.
5. Thicken the broth just a little: In a small saucepan, make a blond roux using equal parts (1/4 cup) of flour and either oil or butter. Heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until thick and smooth. Add a cup of the hot broth and continue stirring until smooth. Pour that mixture back into the large pot, slowly, stirring.
6. Serve in warm bowls, garnished with parsley.
Per serving (based on 6): 484 calories, 32 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 26 grams fat, 136 milligrams cholesterol, 502 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3/4 cup finely diced celery
1 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion (reserve skins)
1 cup chopped bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
4 tablespoons bacon drippings (canola oil may be substituted)
3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley (reserve stems)
6 ounces smoked ham, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Dash cayenne pepper
13/4 cups stock (chicken stock or cold water may be used, or make a simple shrimp stock by boiling the shells and onion skins for about 10 minutes. See below.)
Splash of olive oil
1 (15-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 3/4 cups uncooked converted rice
1 pound medium-size raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (reserve shells for making stock)
Kosher salt to taste
1. Set a large heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Saute the celery, onion, green pepper, and garlic in the bacon drippings for 8 to 10 minutes until softened and golden.
2. Add parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and cayenne. Saute, stirring often, for 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make simple shrimp stock (if using): Bring a pot of water to a boil. Saute the shrimp shells, onion skins, and parsley stems in olive oil, add to the boiling water, and cook 10 minutes. Strain. Discard shells and vegetables.
4. Pour the stock into the kettle, along with all tomato product. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes, breaking up any large clumps of tomatoes.
5. Stir in the rice, cover the kettle, and cook for 20 minutes.
6. Add the shrimp, tossing the mixture lightly to distribute them evenly. Cover the kettle and simmer 5 to 10 more minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through, the rice is done, and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.
7. Taste, adding cayenne and salt if needed. Serve with cornbread.
Per serving (based on 8): 339 calories, 20 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, 99 milligrams cholesterol, 653 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Information on cooking classes at Foster's is at www.shopfosters.com.