These days, weekend getaways — not to mention dream vacations to Paris, Rome or Vienna — are out of reach for many cash-strapped couples, says chef Sandy Dowling.

These days, weekend getaways — not to mention dream vacations to Paris, Rome or Vienna — are out of reach for many cash-strapped couples, says chef Sandy Dowling.

"Who can afford to go to Tuscany or France anymore?" Dowling asks. "But you can get a little taste of it."

For the price of an upscale restaurant meal for two, Dowling is bringing the flavors of Europe, the Pacific Northwest and holiday celebrations to her cooking school at The Willows Bed & Breakfast. Her new series of couples cooking classes kicks off this month with a Tuscan feast.

"This is a mini-trip to Tuscany," Dowling says.

Dowling tested the concept last year in a couples-only cooking class that was so popular she added a second to the schedule. This month's "Fall in Tuscany" will be followed by Parisian bistro fare, a celebration of Pacific Northwest seafood, holiday appetizers, an evening in Vienna and a Roman "holiday."

Each class is $100 per couple, which doesn't mean only husbands and wives or romantic partners. Duos of family members, friends or co-workers, to name a few, could participate, Dowling says.

"We're willing to stretch the definition of couple," Dowling says. "We welcome couples of all shapes and sizes."

No kitchen experience is necessary to lend a hand preparing each class's five courses from start to finish. Students could find themselves chopping vegetables, stirring sauces or making dessert. Dowling pairs each course with wine.

"We'll divide into teams," she says, explaining that each couple will be in charge of a dish.

The first class menu features Tuscan artichoke soup, tuna and cannellini bean salad, pasta in rosemary butter, pork scallopini, roasted vegetables and a plum tart. October's Paris-themed class will comprise dishes gathered from Dowling's favorite bistro menus. Ingredients will be what's freshest and in season, with some — herbs and fruit, in particular — harvested from the 5-acre inn property on Central Point's Old Stage Road.

"We'll be picking things from right here and showing how quickly you can turn them into something even more delicious," Dowling says.

The entire evening lasts three and a half to four and a half hours, depending on how social the group is, Dowling says. Classes, which start at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights, are limited to nine couples. Dowling and husband Joe, both 60, make the 10th.

"We all learn together, and it's a lot of fun," she says. "You meet some people who love food as much as you do."

For those inclined to extend the experience, The Willows' best available room can be had for an additional $100, which includes breakfast the next morning, Dowling says.

"It's a great getaway without spending a lot of money."

For more information, call 665-3020. See the class schedule at www.cookatthewillows.com.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.