When we heard that Alison Cayne of Haven’s Kitchen was going to be in town promoting her new book, we couldn’t wait to meet her in person. So when she reached out to see if we might be interested in getting together for a quick cooking class, the answer was an obvious yes. We wanted to host the event in a large space and our dear friend Lauren Smith Ford (of Texas Monthly) graciously offered her gorgeous all marble kitchen for the occasion. We gathered a few good friends (and a few bottles of wine) and headed over to Lauren’s to meet Alison for the first time and discover three incredible recipes from her new book.
photographed by buff strickland
I arrived at Lauren’s house with fresh stems (and Camille’s find from our field trip with Texas Monthly to Round Top – a gorgeous antique wine bottle.)
After weeks of gushing over her new cookbook, The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School, we couldn’t wait to meet author Alison Cayne in person.
The full title of Alison’s book is The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School: Recipes and Inspiration to Build a Lifetime of Confidence in the Kitchen, and her mission is really all about helping people build confidence with cooking.
“The cookbook is an extension of the classes we teach in our carriage house,” explained Alison. “I wanted to help people new to cooking, or those in a cooking rut get back into the swing of being in the kitchen because they enjoy it, not because they feel obligated. We asked thousands of students why they liked or didn’t like cooking and it was super clear that the ones who felt confident in the kitchen enjoyed the process much more. So how can you teach someone confidence? You give them skills that carry through – not just recipes to follow mindlessly. Staying organized, good knife skills, understanding balance, and flavor, and composition – all of those concepts make you a stronger cook. But you need to teach those concepts through recipes or they’re just abstractions. So every recipe in the book is meant to teach something – one of those skills or techniques that will make all of your cooking better and give you confidence. Without confidence, there really can’t be joy. And nobody’s going to choose to cook if its not at least a little joyful.”
As we gathered around the kitchen island in Lauren’s home, Alison (a mother of five) told us about why she started Haven’s Kitchen. “I opened it in 2012 when the word was starting to get out about the benefits of buying local and non-processed food, along with new-found love with all things FOOD,” she said. “The problem was that even though there was a will, there was very little way: many people wanted to cook at home and host their friends, they wanted to make healthful, delicious meals, and they wanted to support local growers and make sound environmental choices. They just didn’t know where to begin. I wanted to teach as many people as possible how to cook because it brings families and communities together, keeps us healthier, and supports our farmers and local economies. My mentor, Joan Gussow, said in a speech once, ‘the world needs more cooking teachers.’ So I became one. Since then, Haven’s has grown into a multi-hyphenate business. We host 50 weddings a year, private and corporate events and product launches, and tons of team building culinary experiences. We have a café that serves coffee, breakfast, lunch and happy hour. We also do a lot of work helping companies find their ‘food identity’ helping them find culinary ways to express their brands and build communities around their food values. Now we’re launching a line of refrigerated sauces for home cooks to make dinner more creative and more fun.”
Alison began our class by demonstrating the Ajo Blanco Soup recipe from her book. “Every soup in the book is a lesson in building flavor – too many soups are disappointing because they taste a bit like salty, flavored water.” she explained. “The cookbook breaks down the idea of infusing flavor throughout your soup through a number of techniques — from mire poix (sautéed aromatics as a base) to stocks, to roasting the veggies before you add them, through a finishing garnish or pistou.”
After mixing the ingredients in a blender, Alison chilled the soup in an ice bath instead of just popping it in the fridge.
“First off, it’s much safer from a bacterial perspective to bring down the temperature of a soup quickly, and a fridge or ice cube just wouldn’t do the trick,” she explained. “Then there’s also the added benefits of keeping the flavor (ice would melt and water down the soup) and keeping the bright colors of whatever you’ve made — by the time the fridge cools something down, we often lose the vibrancy of the colors.”
We anxiously watched Alison put the finishing garnishes on the chilled soup.
Like every recipe in her book, the chilled Ajo Blanco Soup teachers readers lessons they can use again and again.
“This soup teaches flavor infusion by using garlic confit and the oil that the garlic is simmered in. It also uses Sherry vinegar which adds a whole other dimension of flavor,” said Alison. “Our Culinary Director at Haven’s made this for us a few years ago and I thought it was a perfect example of a beautifully ‘built’ soup. Plus, it’s cold and refreshing and it’s 100 degrees outside,” said Alison.
We couldn’t agree more. The soup was the perfect lunch for a hot day in Austin! There wasn’t a drop left in anyone’s bowl. Get Alison’s full recipe for Ajo Blanco Soup here.
We paired lunch with one of our favorite wines, a 2015 Monterey Chardonnay from La Crema.
Camille and Alison have been online friends for years, but met in real life for the first time during our cooking class!
Next, we watched as Alison prepared a colorful chickpea salad.
“One of my friends calls me ‘Elaine’ because there’s a Seinfeld about her just wanting ‘a big salad’ for lunch,” Alison said with a laugh. “That’s what I want 90% of the time. A big, crunchy salad with hints of crunch and chew, herbs and sweetness, all wrapped up with a tangy but not overly acidic dressing. I get rather sad at wilted greens and overdressed hodgepodges.”
“With this salad, I wanted to teach the group about composition – knowing when enough peppers are enough – knowing to dress a bit, taste, and then dress more,” said Alison. “Knowing to sprinkle on sunflowers right before you serve, so they don’t get soggy. We talked about cutting things in appealing ways to entice the eater, and that you can mix raw ingredients with some cooked ones (in this case we blanched and shocked the asparagus so it was cold but not raw). I love this salad because it taught a zillion lessons that will linger.”
Last, Alison showed us a dessert recipe from her book that demonstrates another great technique that can be used again and again — poaching. “Poaching is almost impossible to mess up (just don’t overcook the fruit). It’s super easy and you can poach your fruit while you’re eating the main course so the aroma of vanilla or ginger or peach permeates the house!” she said.
Lauren Smith Ford and friend Margaret Williams (of Edit Spaces) thumbed through The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School while Alison demonstrated her poaching technique.
“I am NOT a baker and I used to feel ‘meh’ about making desserts because it just wasn’t my strong suit,” confessed Alison. “Then I realized a homemade finish to a meal goes a long way and leaves your guests feeling especially cared for.”
We watched as Alison whipped up a bowl of coconut cream to dress the peaches with. “I live in NYC, so there are a lot of dairy freedom folks around here who still like a creamy consistency,” she said. “The coconut cream is a perfect match for a poached peach and keeps my vegan friends very happy.”
The finished dessert was as delicious as it was beautiful. Get Alison’s full recipe for Rosé Poached Peaches with Coconut Cream here.
Lauren, Caroline, and I couldn’t set our bowls down!
We thanked Alison (and her assistant Shell Hatke) for an incredible meal that left us feeling inspired to try new things and build our confidence in the kitchen.
You can pick up your own copy of The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School on Amazon, and sign up for a real life cooking class at Haven’s Kitchen here!