Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Recipe: TKS Blondies!

For the past week, I've been on a quest to create the perfect blondie recipe. I've decided to make the kids their lunch every school day (something they've done on their own since late elementary school) as a challenge for myself for the next several weeks. As I'm a cook by trade, I thought that maybe I should actually cook something.

You know blondies...right? They're not chocolate like brownies, but are more like a bar form of chocolate chip cookies. With searching and testing and tweaking, I think I've worked out a terrific recipe that is the perfect mix of ooey and gooey. You can even whip them up today without a trip to the store - they're that easy.

TKS Blondies
Makes 9 big blondies or 16 small
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, but they're delicious!)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Spray an 8" x 8" pan with non-stick cooking spray. Tear a piece of foil approximately 18" long, then fold to fit bottom of pan, leaving excess hang over opposite sides to form a sling. Spray foil lightly with non-stick spray (like that --->).

Place melted butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl and stir to combine. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl, and stir well to combine (it will seem a bit dry, but just keep stirring until it is all just combined). Add chocolate chips and walnuts, then stir to combine again. Spread batter in pan and bake for 23-25 minutes, until center no longer jiggles when shaken, and edges are puffed and beginning to brown.

Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Use sling to remove blondies from pan and place on rack to cool completely before cutting...if you can resist. ;)

Chef Chris

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Recipe: Italian Potato Wedges

So, it's a weeknight and I'm in a pinch for dinner. I'm tired of cooking the same old stuff, but not feeling super inspired. You've been there...right? Sometimes I feel like I live there if you know what I mean. I want the family to be happy, but they're so not into all of the fab Asian-inspired dishes that I'm into right now, so I'm looking for stuff that doesn't bore me to tears but will keep them happy too.

Enter Italian Potato Wedges.

I had potatoes. I had my own homemade version of Italian dressing mix in the cupboard. I had olive oil and an oven. BOOM. Quick side dish, tasty, no familial issues. Try 'em; you'll like 'em.

Italian Potato Wedges

  • 4 baking potatoes, scrubbed, not peeled 
  • 1 T. homemade Italian Dressing Mix (recipe below)
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 Good pinch of salt (optional, depending on how salty your dressing mix is)

Preheat oven to 400-degrees with a rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Cut each potato in half lengthwise, then each of those in half, then in half one more time, resulting in 8 long wedges per potato. Place in a large bowl. Add dry Italian dressing mix, olive oil, and pinch of salt (optional) to bowl with potatoes and mix well with your hands (the kids love this part!) taking care to evenly coat the potatoes. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray or coat with a bit more olive oil. Place seasoned potato wedges on baking sheet, one of the cut sides down.

Place in oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until side touching the pan is brown. Turn all wedges over to place remaining cut side down. Bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are browned and tender.

Homemade Italian Dressing Mix (And yes, you should totally make your own. It's crazy easy and way tastier than the stuff you get at the market):
  • 1 T. garlic powder
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 2 T. dried oregano
  • 1 t. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 t. dried thyme
  • 1 t. dried basil
  • 1 T. dried parsley
  • 1/4 t. celery seeds
  • 2 t. salt
Place all ingredients into a resealable container. Mix well to combine. Store in a cool dry place.

To make dressing instead of using the dry mix, whisk together 2 T. dressing mix with 1/4 c. red wine vinegar and 2/3 cup vegetable oil. Store in fridge.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Want Mussels!

If you just started singing, you're showing your age. If not, hey, how you doin'?

January's fish-a-geddon is in full swing, though I'm finding that I have replaced meat with cheese. Huh. I didn't expect that...did I? Aside from one brief bacon cheeseburger incident (Hey-a pipe burst and soaked, oh I don't know...EVERYTHING, so yeah, I had a little breakdown and it was kinda like if you're going to do this, then do this, and get bacon on the cheeseburger because pig on top of cow is like, amazing, amiright?).

Anyway, tonight, I had a 2 pound bag of mussels and was ready to throw down when I realized that I have never shared this recipe with you. Say what? If you are a fish-hater, no worries. Just start thinking about cheeseburgers and come back in a few days.

If, on the other hand, you are a serious fish lover like me, you can't get faster, cheaper, or tastier than a big 'ole bag o' mussels. My 2 pound bag, easily enough for 2 adults, maybe more if you have something else to serve with them, cost just $5. Add a few shallots, a little leftover white wine (yes, I actually do have leftover white wine, mostly because I'm a total lightweight), some fresh parsley, salt, and pepper and you've got a delicious, super Frenchy meal. Just look at those suckers...

If you're new to musseldom, here are a few tips to help you along and possibly even save your belly:

  • Mussels are alive when you buy them, and it's your job to keep them that way until it's time to throw them on the stove. Avoid the plastic bag at the grocery store, or if you must use it, be sure not to tie it closed, because your seafoody little friends will suffocate and die. And nothing stinks up the joint like a dead mussel.
  • Keep mussels in the coldest part of your fridge, usually the bottom shelf in the back. If you can keep them on ice, all the better
  • Don't buy mussels until you're ready to cook them. This isn't a "do the shopping on Sunday, have them on Wednesday" scenario. Buy fish, eat fish. Don't plan on storing it for more than a day. Your fridge and your belly will thank me.
  • If the mussel shells are open, give them a little tap on the counter, then set them aside for a minute. You'll want to be sure they're still alive before you cook them, and this is a good test. If you have a few with broken shells or that won't close, just toss them in the trash.
It sounds like a bigger deal than it is, I promise. Once you're hooked on these little morsels of briny goodness, you'll be whipping them up all the time. For real.

Mussels in White Wine

  • 2 pounds fresh mussels
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • kosher or sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
Place the mussels in a large bowl of cold water. Allow to rest in the fridge for 15 minutes in order to have the mussels purge any sand or grit. (This is the longest part of the whole recipe, and really, what are you doing? Sitting there, drinking wine while your mussels soak and purge. No biggie.)

Drain the mussels and repeat the process with a second bowl of very cold water.

Drain the mussels again.

In a large saute pan with a tight fitting lid, melt butter and cook shallots over medium-high heat until soft and translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the drained mussels to the pan, along with the wine and a generous dose of salt and pepper (don't go too crazy, you can always add more later).

Cover the pan and cook, covered, for 4-5 minutes, or just until the mussels have opened. Add parsley to the pan and stir well to distribute. Taste and re-season if necessary. Discard any unopened mussels. Serve with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up the juices and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January Objective: Here Fishy Fishy!

Every January 1, I make a list of resolutions of that I somehow seem to break by January 2. You know the type -- I want to cook at home more, eat less, workout more and so on.


This year, instead, I've decided to make a monthly resolution objective. It seems more realistic to create a challenge that lasts a max of just 31 days, than try to commit myself to something for an entire year and fail. I mean heck... I LOVE a challenge. I trained myself and completed a marathon for heavens sake, and I don't even like to run! And 30 days? I can do just about ANYTHING for 30 days. Amiright?

For January, I've decided to give up meat and go pescetarian. That is, veggies and fish, but no beef, pork, chicken, duck, or any other creature along those lines. It's not so much the not eating anything with a face issue, but more so that with not feeling super healthy lately, I'd like to jump start my diet a bit and give some new things a try. I get into a rut just like anyone else, and I'm ready to challenge myself to eat...better. My super fab sister-in-law Mo went vegetarian last spring (the lowest maintenance vegetarian I've ever met btw), and I've found it inspiring.

Now don't misunderstand because hey, French fries are vegetarian, so yup, there are certainly loopholes (or escape hatches) in any veggie/fish-centric diet. In fact, tonight's super fab breakfast-for-dinner meal of eggs Benedict with homemade hollandaise sauce (sans Canadian bacon for me) hit the heart-stopping bill perfectly. Not to worry, my avocado sandwich for lunch had a healthier vibe to it.

So day one...success! Care to join me?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas to You!

I wanted to take a moment to wish you the very merriest of holidays this year and to thank you for coming to visit, even though there hasn't been a whole heck of a lot to read. I've been pretty darn sick for the past month, with two blood clots in my lung and two in my leg. To say that this has put a bit of a damper on my holiday season would be an absolute understatement. But I'm trying... (maybe I'll learn how to take a more flattering selfie in 2014!)

I've learned a few things over the past month, and thought I'd share:
  1. Thanksgiving dinner at the hospital, regardless of how fantastic the hospital staff is, will always be awful, and may even make you cry...just a little.
  2. My husband has excellent turkey cooking abilities that I never knew existed.
  3. I will never cook a turkey again.
  4. Having meals brought to your home, when you have no energy to cook, is the most wonderful thing imaginable.
  5. Spending time with family and friends is truly fantastic, especially when they have a place for you to sit and don't mind if you go lay down for a bit in the middle of a conversation.
  6. If I never see another episode of Law & Order, or SVU, it will be too soon.
  7. Going vegetarian for a few days a week really isn't that bad, despite being an unrepentant carnivore.
  8. Technically, French fries are vegetarian.
  9. I am really, really, really ready to feel like myself again and get back out there and into the kitchen. 
  10. I have, without question, the best staff in all of Frederick. Thank you to Caroline, Kerry, Wendy, Sharon, Dotty, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Sarah. You. Are. AWESOME!
So let's raise a glass (sparkling cider for me-don't want to mess with those blood thinners) and toast the end of 2013, and get ready to seize the heck out of 2014. Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Recipe: Easy Pumpkin Bread, x 3!

I almost feel that title is misleading. I mean, isn't all pumpkin bread easy to make? Of course it is!

In my quest to cook more at home, and to feed my ever-growing teenage athletes, I've been baking pumpkin bread like mad this fall. It's super easy, takes mostly basic ingredients, and comes together in just a few minutes. My only problem is that my kids can devour a loaf in an afternoon (did I mention the growing part?), leaving nothing behind for breakfast or even snacks.

All of those recipes that bake one loaf? Ridiculous! Clearly, you need at least three to get through the week. If the novelty wears off after the kids hork down the first loaf, I've still got one for breakfast for a couple of days and one to freeze or even share. I mean really...look at those beauties!

This recipe makes three loaves. Don't cut it down to make one -- there are a million (really!) recipes out there that will make a single loaf for you. One of my favorites is from Simply Recipes. In fact, my recipe is riff on that one, making a few changes along the way to better suit my tastes and needs.

Pumpkin Bread
Makes 3 loaves
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (can also substitute 3 1/2 c. ap and 1 c. whole wheat)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 29-ounce can 100% pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees, with a rack positioned in the center of the oven.

Add the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a large bowl. Whisk well to combine.

In a separate bowl, add the vegetable oil, eggs, and water. Whisk until well combined and eggs are thoroughly beaten. Add pumpkin and stir well until mixture is completely combined. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined, but taking care not to over-mix.

Spray three 8-1/2" x 4-1/2" x 2-1/2" loaf pans with cooking spray to coat. Note: You can also use 9" x 5"loaf pans, though they will take slightly less time to bake. I use what I have (they're all different!) and watch at the end of baking to see if they need to come out at different times).

Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 10 minutes, then remove from loaf pans. Allow to cool completely (good luck!), then wrap well in plastic wrap. If freezing, wrap well in plastic wrap, then place in a freezer bag.

Make it, eat it, love it, then hit the gym. :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thanksgiving with Birds & Bulgogi-My Latest for The Gorilla

I have a fun column in the current issue of The Gorilla on not-so-typical Thanksgiving traditions. I interviewed two Facebook friends, Andy Nichols & Meredith Lawler because each has some unusual T-Day traditions, from Andy's Korean Thanksgiving and bulgogi laden table to Meredith's foray into  turkey farming (hint: it doesn't end well...for the turkeys).

But before I detailed their bits and bobs, I had a few wee recollections of my own highly unusual holiday. Here's an excerpt:

"If you only watch celebrity chefs and Lifetime Channel movies, you might think everything about Thanksgiving dinner is more or less the same — turkey and fixings, lovely table settings, football, family and pie. Think again.

I considered the unusual but still deeply traditional Thanksgivings I experienced when growing up. Built by my great-grandfather, a rickety four-room cabin, perched on a hilltop deep in the woods in Pennsylvania, would fill beyond capacity with aunts and uncles, grannies and pappies, and more kids than you could count. Plus, it was serviced by one small, overused outhouse. At “The Cottage,” we were too far away from civilization to be connected by television, phone or even radio. We spent our Thanksgivings cut off from the world. When I asked my brother, Brett Querry of New Market, (a rabid Eagles fan), when he first realized football was a big Thanksgiving Day tradition, he responded, “1996! I was 21!”

With 45 to 60 people being the norm in attendance, we ate in shifts at picnic and folding tables with mismatched plastic plates and cups, but always with real silverware. The second shift berated and teased the first shift to get moving so they could enjoy the meal, then lolled by the table as the teens washed every dish used that day. Laden with more desserts than people, the front porch was a sight: kids picking off the corners of cakes and snatching cookies at breakfast, hoping no one would notice.
Once married, I made the biannual switch to fancy clothes and sterling silver, but I recall my husband being astounded by the differences in our celebrations. From taking responsibility for raising and processing the major part of the feast (could you follow through and enjoy your dinner?) to embracing family heritage with foods at the table, I asked some Frederick County residents to dish about their Thanksgivings past and present."

Want to read more? Awesome!! Just click here to check out the entire piece on The Gorilla web site. Feel free to leave a comment on the site and let them know if you enjoyed the article. :) I won't hate'cha!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Do You "Like" The Kitchen Studio Cooking School on Facebook?

Did you know that The Kitchen Studio has a Facebook page? I mean seriously...who doesn't? 

On our page, we like to post links to fun food news, pics from classes, information on upcoming classes and events, and of course sometimes, CLASS DISCOUNTS.

It's super easy to like us. Just visit our page here, and click..."Like". We'd love to have you on board!

Friday, October 11, 2013

On Bennigan's, Soup, and Dating Above Your Pay Grade

Ran through the pouring rain into Starbucks this morning to improve my caffeination situation, and started a discussion with Jeremy, one of my favorite baristas, about the weather and an extreme need for soup on a torrential day like today.

Jen, the manager, quickly piped up on her feelings for French onion soup. Perfect in weather perfect for ducks. Jeremy mentioned his past job at a Bennigan's (remember them?) and his belief that they had the best French onion soup...ever.

My experience with Bennigan's is extremely limited. Because as a rule, I hate chain restaurants from the 80's. My Ground Round waitressing days in college have ruined me I suppose. But I couldn't stop thinking about hitting Bennigan's...in New Jersey...fairly soon after I had moved to Manhattan.

To say I was naive would be a gross understatement. I was young, and not very bright, and stunned to be living in the greatest city in the world. I was still dating-ish Frank the Weasel (a story for another time), though he had made abundantly clear that we were cool to date others, despite my offers to stay in PA just for him. Little did we know that a phone strike by NYNEX at the time would make severing ties easy, at least on my end. In those pre-cellular days, no phone = no contact = young girl in the big city with no ties (it didn't quite shake out the way Frank the Weasel thought it would).

In my job in the sub-basement of a major skyscraper (we'd look at the bike messengers coming into our office to see what the weather was outside), I often run errands to a local dub house, that is, a business whose job was to make videotaped copies of commercials so that we could mail them to tv stations across the county. Talk about obsolete! But it was the job that helped me move to the city and I enjoyed getting out of the office, even if it was just to walk around midtown.

I still remember the company name, PDR, and that it was staffed by many young men. When I'd make a trip, fresh-scrubbed and wide-eyed (my friend Glenn called me Milk, because I was the whitest person he ever met), there would be a bit of fawning, which I of course completely enjoyed.

One boy (and I'll call him that because he was close to my age, early 20's) was quite a dish -- way above my pay grade dating-wise. Tall, built but not too much, blond, and with a killer smile. Definitely way, way out of my league, so I made no efforts on that end.

Imagine my glee when this boy called to ask me on a date. Woo hoo! First date in the big city and with an uber-hottie! I couldn't believe my luck. He lived on Staten Island, which I had heard of but really had no clue where it was distance-wise, being not-so-bright in a metropolitan kind of way.

He came into town on a Sunday afternoon, in his baby blue Z-something. He suggested getting out of the city for dinner; surprising to me as Manhattan has more than a few great offerings, even then in my East Village neighborhood. He popped the locks and low and behold, Playboy Bunny lock covers. Interesting.

We hit the streets, then the tunnel, and before I knew it, we were seated at a Bennigan's somewhere in New Jersey. Huh.

He discussed the distance to get to my apartment, and in my naivete, and being a recent college grad where offering a sofa for the night was no big deal, I offered mine to him.

After sitting with him at a crappy NJ chain restaurant, eating crappy chain restaurant soup (I believe I had the baked potato soup, and can't even believe that I remember that!), I realized that looks-wise, he was so, so far above my grade, and I had acted that way the entire night, grateful that a handsome boy would show interest in frizzy-haired, ever-so-slightly buck-toothed me, well, anywhere.

As he talked about his car and his life, I realized fairly early on that indeed, he may have had the looks, but he was absolutely dumb as a stump. Maybe dumber. I mean, really, really, really vapid. And dumb.

I was in the date, had made the couch offer (which he had readily accepted), and saw no way out.

We went back to my apartment with my haughty roommate, where I informed her that we would have a couch guest that evening. She was less than thrilled, but as I was the connection to the sweet apartment, she had no option but to go along with the plan. You can imagine though his surprise when he realized that I really mean the couch. It wasn't a euphemism for anything even closely resembling my bedroom. And that couch sucked.

The next morning, I quickly ushered him out the door and realized that perhaps looks weren't everything. How lucky for me that I could learn that lesson so early on. Grade wasn't just looks any more. Grade included humor, and looks, and morals, and values, and liking real food, and things I didn't even know existed yet.

Needless to say, in the end, I married well above my pay grade in every sense, and had no more Staten Island frogs in my future, and no more Bennigan's. Ever.

I look at my daughter and son and wonder when they'll learn the lessons I did, and if it will turn out as well for them as it did for me. Hopefully, at the very, very least, they'll avoid Bennigan's, and make their own soup.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Etiquette of Free Food

As the owner of a food business, I am asked to give away my food...a lot. I carefully pick and choose where the best events are for my business, get myself motivated, and start cooking. I hire staff and buy ingredients. In case you didn't know, the vast majority of benefits and expos and demos out there are unpaid events for the folks serving the food. The compensation is a presence at whatever fabulous event is taking place.

Taking part in these events is fun, hard work, and a great chance to mix and mingle with fun folks and potential customers. However, sometimes, these events aren't as great as they could be. I know -- they're work events, so get over your bad self and quit your belly aching. Am I right?

In the spirit of getting you the best food and best service possible, I'd like to give you a few helpful hints for the next time you're at an event featuring free food. Take it as you will, tell me I'm a terrible ingrate, but just take a minute to read:

Helpful Hints for Attending Events with Free Food

  1. Food businesses love to give away food. Sure, it costs us money and time, but who isn't happy to snag a free, freshly-baked cookie when given the opportunity? We want you to love that cookie and really enjoy it. True fact.
  2. It's ok to say please and thank you. In fact, I absolutely adore folks who stop by and say, "May I please have a cookie?" Of course you can! Thanks for making my day brighter!
  3. If you're nice to me, I'll be nice right back 'atcha. Walk up to me while you're on your cell phone, snag a cookie, then mumble as you walk away...the reception probably isn't as warm.
  4. Don't ask us if you can please have 3...or 4...or one for your aunt's grandma's dog. We're given numbers that we need to hit (my last event was for 350-400 people). If we run out of food, people get angry with us. If you're looking for extras, feel free to swing by toward the end of the event. No one wants to pack up food to take home, and we'd be more than happy to share once we know we've got enough for everyone.
  5. We're here to talk about our business as much as we are to give you goodies. We love the opportunity to talk about what we do with you. Don't be afraid to stay for a minute or two to ask questions. We love that!
  6. We are required by the Health Department to obtain (and pay for) an event-specific license and follow their rules. We will pay more attention to their rules than breaking them on your behalf. Sorry, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. 
  7. When you ask if we brought gluten-free, diary-free, Paleo etc., don't be miffed with us when we say no. We're trying to appeal to the masses here (remember the 350-400 people mentioned in #4? Yeah...that.), and your special diet doesn't make the cut unless we're at a health-focused event.
  8. Don't walk away while telling us that C may stand for cookies, but it also stands for calories or whatever fat-issue you may have. If you don't want a cookie, a polite no thank you will do just fine. Don't yuck my yum Debbie Downer.
  9. I understand that you may have no interest in my services -- that's totally cool. Not everyone wants to take cooking classes (or enjoys Mexican Food, or likes pasta). Just use those fabulous manners and we will still give you a cookie or whatever we're handing out that day. And we'll still hope that you enjoy it. Because we didn't get into the food biz for money. Most of us got into it because we like to cook and make people happy. Promise.
Easy, right? Essentially, be nice, use good manners, and understand that I'm paying to be there to give you free food. I want you to think that my business is awesome, and maybe to even come by and take a class sometime. We love you, and we love seeing the look on your face when you enjoy something awesome that we made. So drop by and say hello, and a quick thank you as you leave. You'll feel good, we'll feel good, and we'll definitely want to do it again.