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A&E >  Food

INCA After Dark chef’s sessions more like a party

This taqueria-style carne asada taco with roasted tomato salsa and salsa verde is the highlight of Chef Laurie Faloon’s popular Margaritaville Grill: Tacos and Margs class at Spokane Community College’s INCA After Dark. (Adriana Janovich)
This taqueria-style carne asada taco with roasted tomato salsa and salsa verde is the highlight of Chef Laurie Faloon’s popular Margaritaville Grill: Tacos and Margs class at Spokane Community College’s INCA After Dark. (Adriana Janovich)

Chef Laurie Faloon doesn’t stay behind the counter.

During her evening cooking classes at Spokane Community College, she plays music, serves adult beverages and bops around the kitchen floor, personalizing instruction.

The atmosphere is festive, more like a party than a class. And that might be what makes her sessions so sought-after.

“She has a crowd. She has a following,” said chef Bob Lombardi, a veteran instructor at SCC’s Inland Northwest Culinary Academy. “Her classes are extremely high energy. She interacts table to table.”

Plus, he said, “Her food is spectacular.”

One of Faloon’s most popular classes is Margaritaville Grill: Tacos and Margs, which she’s taught 10 times for INCA After Dark.

Launched in 2012, the program gives home cooks access to the school’s commercial-grade kitchens as well as its chef instructors, like Faloon. Her most recent session of Margaritaville Grill took place last Friday. Another was held in July.

There’s room for 24. Class usually fills up fast. And Faloon goes out of her way to make cooks feel comfortable, especially first-timers.

“She’s a bundle of energy,” said Steve Maloney, 68, who attended the July session with his daughter and her husband. He signed up after seeing Faloon appear as a guest on a local TV news program. “She had so much energy and everything sounded so good I chased down the info on how to find this place.”

Maloney was one of 23 participants in his class: four men and 19 women.

Friends or family members often register together and cook in teams. But Faloon also mixes things up, asking strangers to cook together for part of the class, too.

And while participants toast chili pods for salsa or whisk marinade for taqueria-style carne asada tacos, they can help themselves to libations. Margaritaville Grill includes a margarita-making station as well as beer on ice.

“I want this to be homey,” said Faloon, who usually cooks with wine at her own house.

She shares her popular taco, salsa and margarita recipes below. For the music, party-like atmosphere and personalized instruction, however, you’ll have to take her class.

Taqueria-style Carne Asada Tacos with Roasted Tomato Salsa

From Laurie Faloon

1 1/2 pounds flank steak

For the marinade

2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons white vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lime, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

For the relish

1/2 white onion, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 lime, juiced

For the salsa

1 dried New Mexico chili pod

1 large tomato, chopped

1/2 white onion, quartered

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 pinch salt and pepper to taste

For serving

1/2 (32-ounce) package corn tortillas

1 cup grated cotija cheese (optional)

1 lime, cut into wedges

Make the marinade: Lay steak in a large glass baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, lime juice and olive oil. Add seasonings, then whisk until well blended and pour over steak. Turn over once to coat both sides. Cover with plastic wrap, and marinate for 1 to 8 hours.

Make the relish: In a small bowl, stir together onion, cilantro and lime juice. Set aside.

Make the salsa: Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Toast chili pod for a few minutes, then remove and place in bowl of water; soak for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place tomato, onion, jalapeno and garlic onto a baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes, until toasted but not burnt. Place the roasted vegetables and soaked chili pod into a blender or food processor, along with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.

Make the tacos: Cut steak into cubes or strips. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the meat is cooked through and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Warm tortillas in a skillet for about a minute on each side to make them pliable. (Tortillas can also be warmed in a microwave oven.) Arrange two or three tortillas on a plate, and lay a generous amount of beef over them. Top with a sprinkle of onion relish and a large spoonful of the pureed salsa. Add as much cheese as you like. Garnish with lime wedges, and serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Salsa Crudo

From Laurie Faloon

4 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

1/2 large white onion, finely chopped

2 serrano or jalapeno chilies, minced

3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup water

2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more to taste

Stir together tomatoes, onion, chilies, cilantro, water and salt.

Note: Adjust the amount and type of chilies to make this salsa mild, medium or hot, as you like. Salsa can be refrigerated for up to three days.

Yield: 4 cups

Salsa Verde

14 tomatillos (about 14 ounces), husked and rinsed

1/2 large white onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)

3 garlic cloves

3 chilies de arbol or other dried red chilies, plus more if desired

2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more to taste

Place tomatillos in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to simmer until tomatillos have softened but not burst, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Strain tomatillos through a fine sieve.

Puree tomatillos, onion, garlic, chilies, salt and 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid in a blender or food processor until smooth. For a thinner consistency, add remaining cooking liquid. Season with salt to taste.

Note: Tomatillos are related to tomatoes, but are juicier and more acidic. Look for bright-green fruit tightly encased in papery tan husks at Latin grocers and major supermarkets. Peel off the husks and rinse the fruit well just before using. Fresh tomatillos can be refrigerated in the produce drawer for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 4 cups

The Best Homemade Margaritas

From Laurie Faloon

1/2 ounce Cointreau or orange liqueur

1/2 ounce Grand Marnier

2 1/2 ounces sweet-and-sour mix

1 ounce fresh lime juice

1 1/2 ounces tequila, 100 percent agave silver

1 cup coarsely cracked ice

Kosher salt for rim (optional)

Lime wedges, for garnish

Combine all liquids in shaker with large chunks of ice. Shake for 10 seconds or until properly chilled. Using a lime, wet the rim of desired glass, then swirl in salt. Fill glass with crushed ice, pour to rim, garnish with lime wedges and serve immediately.

Yield: 1 margarita

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