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Time to teach

A brand-new cooking school, Cosmic Muffin School of Cookery, launches Friday in Ashland
Deborah Costella is starting a new cooking school in downtown Ashland, the Cosmic Muffin School of Cookery. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Holding the first local cooking classes without coronavirus restrictions, Deborah Costella finds herself in a unique orbit.

Costella’s new Cosmic Muffin School of Cookery has been nearly a year in the making. The chef, formerly of Las Vegas, says Southern Oregon, particularly within the past year, offered a wide-open market for her seasonal, medicinal and even historical approach to food preparation.

“Nobody’s been doing anything,” says Costella. “People are ready.”

And after nine months of preparations at her downtown Ashland location, Costella is ready to launch Cosmic Muffin’s in-person classes Friday with the theme “Spring is in Air.” She’ll follow it Saturday with “Going Green,” a spotlight on green vegetables. “Knife Skills 101” and “Wasabi Wednesday” preview an April 29 celebration of Shakespeare with a Tudor-inspired meal of stuffed fish, potato-parsnip mash and fruit trifle.

“It’s a lot of excited anticipation,” says Costella of feedback from Ashland residents and passersby who have been poking their heads into 296 E. Main St. to ask what’s in store.

Community cooking classes at Ashland Food Co-op likely won’t resume until the fall, says Mahlea Ramsey, education coordinator. Master Food Preserver volunteers are on a similar timeline for posting a calendar of events at Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center in Central Point, says Cheryl Kirk, who heads Family & Community Health programs for Oregon State University Extension in Jackson and Josephine counties. CraterWorks in Central Point hasn’t offered cooking classes since last fall.

Catering to everyone from soccer moms to newly single men, Costella’s classes run the gamut from “girls’ night out” and “date night” to “secrets of the kitchen” and basics beyond knife skills. The chef of Italian and Puerto Rican descent also leans toward Mediterranean and Caribbean themes, as well as classical French techniques and specialties of Indian cuisine.

Her debut Ashland class will highlight recipes for whitefish with mustard sauce, herbaceous fingerling potatoes and seasonal fruit with honey-vanilla fromage blanc.

Certified in culinary arts, Costella worked for more than a decade as a cooking instructor and personal chef in Las Vegas. A former preschool and kindergarten teacher with certification in early childhood education, Costella also has conducted numerous kids’ cooking classes over the past few decades. “Perfect for all types of learners” — including her grandson who experiences autism — cooking is a hands-on way to teach math, art and science, she says.

Diet’s role in chronic health conditions is another focus for Costella, who upholds herbs and spices as vital to the natural pharmacopoeia. Her recipes and classes demonstrate how to prepare foods, from soups and sandwiches to her namesake muffins, with plant essences for healing and wellness.

“You have a plethora of medicine in your pantry — in your spice cupboard,” says Costella.

The right seasonings, says Costella, can optimize brain function, promote a restful night’s sleep, reduce anxiety and inflammation, remove heavy metals from the body and lend all manner of energetic properties. She extends that status to cannabis, the key ingredient in her private, in-home classes. Costella developed her culinary cannabis repertoire more than a decade ago after caring and cooking for her brother as he battled — and ultimately succumbed to — cancer.

Health precautions still impact Cosmic Muffin’s class sizes: eight participants for hands-on sessions, 12 for demonstrations, during which participants sample recipes. When working hands-on, students pair up to produce Costella’s featured dishes, consumed at the class’s conclusion.

“What you and your partner prepare is what you and your partner eat,” says Costella.

Depending on the class type and cost of ingredients, prices range from $50 to $100 but usually provide enough food to constitute a full meal, plus recipe packets, says Costella. The upcoming knife skills class costs less than other themes because, after practicing various cuts, participants will snack on fresh produce with homemade vinaigrette. The Shakespeare class, at $95, is the most expensive on Cosmic Muffin’s current schedule.

Holding virtual classes for the past few months, Costella says she will continue to provide that service monthly at a much lower price, given that participants furnish their own ingredients. Several free instructional videos also are available on the Cosmic Muffin website, along with some of Costella’s popular recipes.

Find more recipes in the cookbook “One 4-Ounce Serving,” a collection of anecdotes from Costella’s former supper club, available for purchase on the cooking school website. Costella says she’s also working on a cookbook aimed at medicinal cannabis, among other topics. With recreational cannabis legal in nearly 20 U.S. states, the chef says she doesn’t fear negative perceptions of her business.

Sign up for classes at cosmicmuffinschoolofcookery.com or call 541-482-2485.

Triple B Soup

1 small to medium butternut squash

2 pounds boneless beef chuck, with some marbling (marbling adds flavor, but too much makes for a fatty soup), trimmed of excess fat and uniformly cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt and pepper, to taste

9 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 large leeks, rinsed of sand/dirt (white and light green parts only), halved lengthwise and sliced

3 carrots, medium diced

3 celery stalks, medium diced

1-1/2 cups white wine

6 cups low-sodium beef broth

1 cup pearl barley

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

1 baguette, sliced, brushed with olive oil and toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Drizzle squash with a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and set, cut side up, on a sheet pan lined with foil. Roast in preheated oven until tender, but still somewhat firm, for about 35 minutes. Once roasted, remove skin and cut into 1-inch cubes. Set aside until ready to use.

Place the cubed beef in a large mixing bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven, add 3 tablespoons of the oil. When oil is shimmering, add half of cubed beef and cook until brown. Remove browned beef and set aside on a plate. Add 3 more tablespoons oil and brown remaining beef cubes. Remove from pot and set aside.

Add the butter and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil to Dutch oven, whisk in the flour and cook (making a roux) for about 5 minutes. Stir in the sliced leeks, diced carrots and celery, stirring with a wooden spoon until vegetables have softened.

Stir in the wine, using a spoon to scrape up bits of browned meat from bottom of pot. Cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in 4 cups of the broth and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the barley, bay leaves, nutmeg and cooked beef cubes. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Allow to cook low and slow until beef is tender, for about 1 hour.

Stir in another cup of broth along with cubes of roasted squash; cook for 20 more minutes. Add remaining cup of broth if soup is too thick for your liking.

Remove bay leaves, then stir in the sage, parsley and heavy cream. Taste for additional seasoning if needed.

To serve, spread some of the gorgonzola onto the toasted baguette slices and serve as a side to individual bowls of soup. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

— Recipe from cosmicmuffinschoolofcookery.com

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.