LaCreta Holland is a wife, mother of four, and grandmother. She also is passionate about cooking and teaching. She has been a substitute teacher for the State College Area School District and has taught cooking classes for a number of years through the SCASD Community Education program.
In January 2015, she started her business, Happy Valley Learn to Cook, which offers a one-on-one, hands-on, two-hour instructional cooking class held at Holland’s home in State College.
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, she was influenced by her southern grandmother’s cooking. Her love for Mexican food started with her mother’s love for hot sauces. After college, Holland lived in Washington, DC, and was fascinated by all the international food offerings available there. After getting married and having four children, her family of six moved to Lerici, Italy. Her fascination for Italian cuisine and cooking seasonally inspired her to really develop her cooking skills.
“When we lived in Italy, my children attended the local Italian school and would come home with these fabulous descriptions of what they had for lunch,” she says. “In Italy, lunch was a three-course meal that typically started with a soup or pasta, a main course of meat or fish, and a dessert that was most often a piece of fruit.”
She took a few cooking classes in Italy, studied some cookbooks, and received some tips from people who were living in Italy.
“A lot of cooking is trial and error. The more you practice, the more you learn and become confident, hence the more success you will have,” she explains.
Cooking classes through Happy Valley Learn to Cook with Holland are $55 per person, and the price includes all the ingredients.
“When you attend my class, you make the dish or the pie from start to finish, and then, you can eat it here or take it home with you,” she says. “It’s very rewarding to say, ‘I made this,’ and when I did a pie-making class, people were just thrilled that they walked out with this pie that they made.”
Some of the popular classes are baking basics, cooking basics, bread baking, cake making, cooking with pasta, how to cook vegetables, pie making 101, soups and stews, Italian cooking, and make your own jam.
Other topics include college staples, a course that teaches college students how to make food that doesn’t come from a box, such as homemade macaroni and cheese and homemade pizza. Grocery store tour is a course on how to save money and cut calories at the grocery store.
“Cooking is fun. It’s healthy, it saves money, and it’s a lifelong skill,” says Holland. “I am a strong believer of sitting down at the table with the family for your evening meal because it’s a very important time to connect with each other.”
This Valentine’s Day, you can take a course with Happy Valley Learn to Cook and make a simple yet elegant dinner for your sweetheart, or book a cooking class for two for a unique date idea.
For more information or to book a class, visit happyvalleylearntocook.com or e-mail [email protected]
Pasta al Forno with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
(adapted from Jamie Oliver)
extra virgin olive oil
1 while onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
6 ounces water
1/4 teaspoon crushed dried chilies (or more to taste)
1 - 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
a large handful of fresh basil, torn into pieces
14 oz dried orecchiette (in State College, I find these at Wegmans--they are part of their "Italian Classics" imported pasta line)
4 big handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced
To make the sauce, place about 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan and turn the heat on medium. Put the onion in the oil and saute 5 minutes for the onions to soften. Add the sliced garlic and stir. Add the can of tomatoes, the water and the red chilies. Let the sauce simmer on low for about 20 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the basil.
While the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Put a large pot of water on to boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
When the pasta is cooked, drain the boiling water and add the orecchiette to half the pasta sauce and one handful of Parmesan Cheese. Stir together.
In a 8 x 11 inch baking dish (or the equivalent) grease the dish with some olive oil. Layer a little pasta in the pan, followed by some tomato sauce, a handful of Parmesan cheese and several slices of Mozzarella cheese. Repeat these layers until you've used up all the ingredients, ending with a good layer of cheese on top and a drizzle of olive oil.
Bake the pasta about 30 minutes, until golden brown on the top and bubbling.
Individual Flourless Chocolate Cakes
(adapted from Martha Stewart)
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (I use one of several chocolate bars from Trader Joe's)
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for greasing the baking dishes
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar, plus more for the baking dishes
2 egg yolks
Place a small amount of water in a saucepan. Place on the stove and turn the heat on to medium-low.
Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl that can sit on top of the saucepan. Put it on top of the simmering water but don't let the bowl touch the water. Stir to help the chocolate and butter melt.
While the chocolate mixture is melting, in medium bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks.
Remove the chocolate mixture from the stove and whisk in the cornstarch mixture, then whisk in the egg mixture until well combined. Place the batter in the refrigerator until chilled, up to 3 days.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Butter six 6-ounce ramekins and coat the insides with sugar, shaking out the excess. Divide chilled batter evenly between ramekins and place ramekins on a baking sheet. Bake the chocolate cakes about 12 to 15 minutes, just until the cakes are "set" (when you shake the baking sheet, the batter does not jiggle, but you can tell it is still soft).
Dust the cakes with confectioners' sugar. Serve immediately!