Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Camps: A Recap

I just finished two two-day mini camps for the holidays: 8 to 11 year olds and 12-17 year-olds. I have to say that sometimes I hem & haw over the camps a little, mostly because the lure of fuzzy slippers and jammies will almost always win out over getting my tush moving in the morning. But, let me just say that the kids I had the past few days were...awesome (as usual!)!

Not only did the kids in both groups kick it a bit with the food (making marshmallows from scratch, cream puffs and pastry cream, Caesar salad etc. etc.), but they were just so much darn fun. Here are snippets of two of the conversations I had with the younger crew:

Chef Chris: "Blah blah blah, this is how you do this, blah blah blah..."
Sean (age 9): "Chef Chris...You're MARRIED!?"
CC: "Why yes Sean, I am married."
Sean, exasperated: "But Chef Chris, I didn't KNOW that you're married!"
CC: "Sorry Sean; I'm off the market."
Cue giggles from the class.

Later, the same day:
Madison (age 8): "Chef Chris, I'm sooo tired. I really need to sit down."
CC: "Nope. there's no sitting and cooking. You have to be at least 40 to sit" CC sits.
John, shocked and surprised (age 9): "Chef Chris....YOU'RE 40???"
CC: "Actually, I'm 41."
Entire Class with horror: "WOW!"
Conversation ensues about all of the old people the kids know.

How can you not have fun with a group like that?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Food Porn in Frederick?

Ok -- so I'm at this great restaurant downtown on Saturday night for a few cocktails (delicious, btw) and a little hangtime with a few of the girls. There's a large flat panel tv in the bar (isn't there one EVERYWHERE now?) but it's off, which it totally cool with me because I find them to be very distracting, when all of the sudden the bartender flips it on. No big deal I guess and I'm waiting for football or basketball or whatever sport they're playing now so that I can try to ignore it when the picture comes up on screen.

So I'm waiting and I realize that it's not broadcast tv, it's (wait for it, wait for it), a LIVE FEED FROM THE KITCHEN. Seriously. Cameras are focused on the plating area in the kitchen, just a few feet away. You can make out the plates being assembled (with great care), the chef pointing and checking plates, sauces being laid out, everything being put together at once to go out with a flourish etc. etc. etc.

I was totally surprised and honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about it. One part of me was totally turned-on (in a foodie way thankyouverymuch) and feeling a little voyeuristic, while another part was again, distracted. I work in food (it seems really sexy to some, but in truth is usually sweaty with aching knees and feet and no evidence of "the pretty" and dagnabit at my age I seriously need "the pretty" every once and a while...) and because of that I sometimes want to be removed from kitchen activity and just have things magically appear in front of me without a thought as to the hard work involved in putting out even the most simple of plates.

BUT, this is a gorgeous kitchen and seems to run like a very well-tuned machine, despite not being open terribly long, so in some pretty cool ways, it was a treat. There was no sound, thankfully, so you could tune in and out in your brain as you wanted. Me? I became a little obsessed and was no good to talk to while the kitchen feed was live (until Twilight came up, but that's a story for a different time...).

What do you think about this? Is it a new trend? It is for the truly food-obsessed? Good? Bad? Just bring me my drink darn it? Hmmmmmm...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Tip # 9: Turkey Soup & Potato Cakes

Day after Christmas and what have you got? Leftovers baby, leftovers. And what to do with said leftovers? Soup!

Now I'm not talkin' tenderloin here (sandwiches to made there), but leftover turkey and sides.

Here's what you do:

  • Take the turkey carcass (please tell me that you saved it), put it in a big pot and cover it with water -- go 2"-3" over and put it on the stove on high heat.
  • Add a little bit of onion (quartered with the skin on is fine) and some carrots






  • Bring to a boil, then reduce immediately to a simmer. Let simmer for as long as you can (3 hours is awesome, more is better, 1/2 an hour if you're in a pinch.) The longer it cooks, the better the broth.

  • Remove the carcass and start adding your leftovers. In our case, it was Kluski noodles (a PA fave, they're skinny but a little thicker than an egg noodle), peas and artichokes, corn, and maybe a couple of other errant veggies. Add a little salt, pepper, and herbs (I like thyme) and cook for a bit longer to just make all of the flavors dance together a little bit. Done. Turkey Soup using nothing but leftovers and a little water. (BTW - The neighbor said that it was "superb" thank you very much.)

  • Don't use gravy, stuffing, or anything too non-veg carby here. It will just cloud it and not make it as yummy.

Now, for your leftover taters: Potato Cakes

I loooooove me some potato cakes, mostly because it's fried mashed potatoes with butter, and really, what could be wrong with that??

Here's what you do:
  • Take the mashed potatoes and throw in an egg and some flour. Think of it along the lines of 1 egg and half a cup of flour per 2 cups of mashed potatoes, but mostly I do it by feel. It shouldn't be too wet.
  • Mix the ingredients together so that you can form it into cakes about 1" high by 3" or 4" in circumference.

  • Using a non-stick pan heated over medium-high heat with a pat or two of butter and a splash of veg oil, pan-fry your potato cakes until a golden crust is formed, then flip it and make both sides yummy-looking. I hold them in a warm oven until they're all done.

            Serve with a big 'ole pat of butter beside your soup and holiday heaven has been achieved.







          Ahhhhhh....I love the holidays.

          Wednesday, December 24, 2008

          Holiday Tip #8: Just Relax

          It's really not so much a cooking tip as a wish for you this Christmas Eve. Tomorrow, when you're just a little panicked about the timing, or the turkey, or the tenderloin, or y'know, whatever, just take a moment to yourself and realize one basic fact: It's only food.

          If you're a cook or you simply pride yourself on your mad cooking skills, it's easy to try to push it over the holidays. It's easy to try to put out a fabulous spread for your family, and to really make "The Dinner" the event. But inevitably, something goes wrong. Your timing may be off, the turkey may be dry, cousin Ralph is acting like a jerk, the tenderloin, well, don't mess that one up, who knows. But really, it's only food. Do it as well as you can, make a great dinner, but as I always say, if you screw it up, you get to eat again in a few hours, so how much does it really matter anyway? That's the beauty of food.

          Thanks for reading my blog, thanks for checking out The Kitchen Studio, and just, well, thanks. Merry, merry Christmas to all of you.

          cvb

          Monday, December 22, 2008

          Tip #7: Cooking Gifts, Courtesy of the Recession

          It's no surprise to ANYONE that we're sitting smack dab in the middle of a recession, but when it comes to doling out the holiday gifts, budget is definitely an issue.

          I've been channeling my inner-Oprah and I have to say, I feel really, really good about it. I didn't want to spend oodles of money this year (nor could I, thank you very much) on gifts for my staff or my cooking-loving friends, but I didn't want to go with the typical baked goods as a gift. I figure that if I'm watching my waistline, others may be as well. And I love a good cookie, but please, how many cookies can you eat right now (and no, 12,000 is NOT the answer).

          So, the dilemma: How to give my staff et al a gift that they would appreciate and (hopefully) treasure without spending tons of cash. The solution? Cookbooks.

          No silly, not just any cookbooks, but cookbooks from my private collection (doesn't that sound fancy??). Cookbooks that I LOVE (yes; it's possible to love a cookbook, especially if it has Tyler Florence on the cover :). Cookbooks that I use, and enjoy, and think are 'da bomb. Cookbooks that, believe it or not, I'll miss.

          I went through the book shelves and I chose a cookbook or two specific to each person I work with. I thought long and hard about the woman, about her likes (and dislikes in Kerry's case, lol), her specialties, her lifestyle, and maybe where she wants to go as a cook. I struggled (really!), but came up with what I THINK was the perfect match for each. Here's how I went:
          • Caroline: Mad Martha Cookies & Cake Love (plus the promise of a field trip to DC to visit the Love cafe). She's my baker and I know that she'll use these and bake many, many wonderful things.
          • Alex: My dot the i's and cross the t's gal. I'm more confident in her abilities than she is, so it was Cooking School Secrets to give her some confidence and one of my favorite (and autographed) Barefoot Contessa books. Good food done simply and well.
          • Courtney: Tough, yet completely generous and giving; truly your go-to gal in tough times, and always the one to offer to bring a little something to your get-together, so two books by Nicole Aloni (love her!) with great stories and recipes I know that Courtney will use. With a little luck, I'll be the recipient of some of her yummy dishes yet to come...
          • Wendy: This girl just...loves...food! She's also a super-busy mom managing kids, work, husband, and me! She loves to cook and eat, so Tyler Florence seemed like a good match to me. Great pics, a few new ingredients, but accessible and really tasty
          • Sharon: One of the smartest, coolest, and most well-traveled folks I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, let alone working with. It was Anne Willan's gorgeous almost coffee-table book on the country cooking of France; no question about it.
          • Kerry: Girlfriend can cook, and she is always looking to learn more. She asks questions, she tries new things, and she truly cooks for her family every night. Seriously, who does that? She is an absolute pleasure to work with and I learn a ton from her as well. For Kerry, it was books by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page . I gave her Becoming a Chef, which came out when I was in culinary school and swept us all away, plus their book Culinary Artistry, because she is an artist with food and will someday, I think, become a master.

          So there it is. As I told them, you can think of these as used cookbooks or you can know that I truly chose each book for each person and how wonderful I think you are. Christmas on a budget? Yup. Christmas with a little more thought, and a little more soul? Absolutely. And I'll take that anytime. Now it's your turn to gift to the cook in YOUR life.

          Sunday, December 21, 2008

          Tip #6: Soften that Icing!

          Are you assembling gingerbread houses this weekend? It's one of my favorite things to do over the holidays, made especially easy by all of the great kits available in stores right now (I snagged ours at Costco for a little less than 10 bucks each AND it's got a tree AND green icing AND yellow icing (yellow writing in the snow? Please say it isn't so) and a million or two pieces of candy).

          When you open your kit and lay everything in front of you, you'll have a bag or two of already prepared royal icing. Now, royal icing is nasty stuff -- sugar and egg whites and a little water -- incredibly sweet (tooth-achingly in fact, so kids LOVE it) and made to get rock-hard. Royal icing is the stuff on those gorgeous sugar cookies you see that never really taste too great. In our case, it's glue to hold the gingerbread house together.

          Read the package and it will tell you to knead it for 30 or 60 seconds to soften it. Fugetaboutit - by the time you knead that sucker until it's soft enough, your arms hurt and the kids are cranky. Instead, soak the un-opened package in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes, then knead for 2-3 seconds. Soft, awesome, gluey-icing. Perfect to use immediately, so there's no time to get cranky.

          One other quick tip on the g-bread houses -- assemble the house before you get the kids involved. They hate to wait and can't understand why they need to (so the house can set and not cave in when they overload it with candy). We host a gingerbread house class at The Kitchen Studio and I regularly assemble 15-20 house assembly line-style in about an hour. Once you get your groove on, it's hard to stop. Now if I could just figure out how to attach those darn gables that came in the kit this year...


          Tomorrow: My Oprah-esque gift idea for the cook in your life.

          Saturday, December 20, 2008

          Tip #5: Tenderloin-a-Palooza

          "Palooza" is totally overused and even a bit pop-archaic at this point, but what can I say? It's the perfect word for all of the beef tenderloin sales going on right now.

          I always go a little overboard for Christmas dinner. My husband kind-of expects it (and he's a great guy, so I hate to disappoint), and I feel like I can show off a little, especially since I have so little involvement in Thanksgiving dinner (see this post here: http://www.frederickfoodie.com/2008/11/thanksgiving.html). Don't get me wrong -- I'm not pulling recipes from Food & Wine or the Alinea cookbook here -- my family likes the basics, just gussied up a bit. So I always make a beef tenderloin.

          My husband's family always had beef tenderloin at his Aunt Rosie's house every Christmas, a tradition I was more than happy to get on board with once I started making the holiday feast each year. But we all know that times are tight and absolutely everyone is tightening purse strings (and if you're not, hello! Come on, it's time to watch the bucks a bit), so I decided to forgo this deliciousness this year. Last Christmas, beef tenderloin was running $13 a pound, which meant a little under a hundred bucks for the average size of un-trimmed meaty goodness at Costco. Yummy? yes. Budget-saavy? No way.

          Folks tend to freak out a little when confronted with a big, nasty, un-trimmed tenderloin, especially when it's so expensive, but it's really a super-snap to trim. If you need a little help, let me know and I'll steer you to some resources or even talk you through that baby myself. Anyway...

          Last week, as I was powering through Costco, we were at $9.99 a pound, up a buck from a few weeks prior, but still a relative bargain from last year. They even have a trimmed option for all of you fraidy-cats for $16.99 a pound (soooooo not worth it IMHO).

          Then, a few days ago, I'm hitting Sam's Club (I actually like it quite a bit and the prices are a little lower than Costco's, plus they have early morning business hours AND it's not quite as crowded) and they've got tenderloin for $8.88/pound. Back through Costco tonight, and it's dropped to $9.09/pound.

          The bottom-line is this: If you're looking for a mild splurge and really just want to have a good chunk of beef that you can't rationalize spending that kind of money on any other time of year, spend the $50 or so it will cost for the tenderloin and have a wonderful meal this Christmas.

          Tip # 4: Easy Homemade Gift

          Ok folks; I've fallen a little behind, but fear not (I know you were just dying to hear from em again)! I'm back on track.

          Here's a tip if you're looking for something super simple to give friends, neighbors, countrymen and want to involve the kiddies: whip up some chocolate covered pretzel rods! Earth-shattering? Probably not. Super duper easy and a snap for the kids to make? Ab-so-toot-ly!

          Here's what you'll need:
          • Bag of pretzel rods, the big ones
          • good quality chocolate (don't go with the Nestle chips here -- use the best quality chocolate you can use, even if it's only the dark chocolate chips from Giardelli you get at Sam's Club. I also really love Callebaut from http://www.gourmail.com, but it's a bit late to order from them now. Tuck that away for future reference)
          • Sprinkles, toffee bits, mini M&Ms etc.
          • parchment or wax paper
          • a baking sheet

          Place the chocolate (you'll need a bunch -- think 2 or 3 cups) in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on 50% power for 1 minute, stir, and repeat at 30-second increments until the chocolate is totally melted. Kids love to stir, so this is a great way to get them started at the beginning.

          Line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Your pretzel rods won't stick to this and won't make a big mess to clean-up when you're done.

          Dip half of each pretzel rod into the chocolate and allow the excess to drip off. If there's too much chocolate, it just pools underneath and makes the pretzel rods look messy. Holding the pretzel rod above the cookie sheet, sprinkle with toffee bits, sprinkles etc. while turning the pretzel so that you coat all of the sides. Set on the parchment-lined baking sheet and allow to harden (20 minutes to half an hour). Wrap in clear cellophane bags (found at Michael's, JoAnn's, AC Moore etc.) and tie with a pretty ribbon. Attach a Barnes and Noble gift card and you've got the perfect holiday teacher gift. Woo hoo!

          Coming Next: Tenderloin-a-Palooza!

          Wednesday, December 17, 2008

          Tip of the Day #3: Valium

          Seriously, when did Valium fall out of favor and why can't we just buy it at Walmart over-the-counter? To quote Joan Cusack's character in one of my favorite movies of all time, "It just chills you out ever so slightly." Wise woman that Joan.

          Since I know you're looking for a REAL tip of the day, here's a slight more general but super awesome kitchen tip that may help when you're wrapping all of your goodies in plastic wrap and foil.

          Check the ends of your boxes of foil and plastic wrap. There should be perforations so that you can just push them in. Go ahead and do that. The roll will be held securely in the box so that you won't be tempted to throw it across the room at your husband (not that I've ever done that) and you can wrap and roll like a pro.



          Tomorrow: We'll REALLY do a quick and easy gift from the kitchen; I promise.

          Tuesday, December 16, 2008

          Keep Those Taters Warm!

          Every year I run around like a CRAZY WOMAN on Christmas day trying to please everyone and make a fab dinner in the process. As a professional cook, all of the timing etc. isn't a problem, but all of the additional "help" in the kitchen almost always throws a monkey wrench into my plans. Groove be gone? Say it isn't so.

          You see, I want the beef tenderloin to rest just the right amount of time so that I slice it to reveal perfect medium-rare juicy goodness, have the green bean casserole steaming (you can take the girl out of the country, but despite years of culinary school, professional cooking, AND owning my own instructional food joint, I still love me some of that nasty green bean casserole with the fired onion rings and the mushroom soup -- please don't think less of me :), the gravy, perrrrrfect Millhouse, and the potatoes creamy, soft, and hot, hot hot.

          However, throw in my mom, my MIL (mother-in-law), various sisters-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, kids, and HUSBANDS trying to sneak a bite, try a taste, "help", and things get a little off track. Left to my own devices? No problem. This however, is interference on the play.

          Anyway...a few years ago, my mom, Mrs. Q, gave me a little tip on the mashed potatoes that I have been loving, and it really couldn't be easier. Make the potatoes a few hours ahead (i.e. before everyone arrives) and keep them hot in the slow cooker. That's it! Seriously though, how easy is that? Now, don't go all crazy and make them the day before (though you can peel the potatoes and keep them in the fridge covered with lots of cold, salted water) because they can get gummy and nasty if you do that. Prepare them as you would, season and make them delicious, then right into the slow cooker. Top with a lid and voila!

          One little note, and this applies to slow cookers in general, you don't need to add any extra liquid to accommodate the time spent in the cooker. Slow cookers actually generate a little bit of liquid through condensation when you don't remove the lid. That's a good thing. Side note: when cooking a meal in the slow cooker, you add roughly 30 minutes to the cooking time every time you lift the lid to get a good sniff, so don't do that.

          Your potatoes will be done before company arrives, stay super hot, and be ready for you to put in some super fancy dish if you like. Our family goes rustic and serves those taters right from the Crock Pot,ba-by. Down-home Christmas my friends; there's nothing like it.


          Tomorrow: Make an Easy, yet Delicious, gift to Share!

          Monday, December 15, 2008

          Holiday Tip of the Day #1: The Signature Cocktail

          Ok -- it's 10 days until Christmas and much like you, I am freaking out just a bit. Of course there's always so much to do, places to go, people to see that I always feel a bit overwhelmed. We've been teaching bunches of birthday parties and office holiday parties down at The Kitchen Studio, in addition to cooking for personal chef clients, baking cookies, and getting ready for Make It, Take It, Bake It! BUT - I thought it would be nice to give a Tip-a-Day each day from now until Christmas that is somehow food or drink-related on how to maybe make things a little more simple.

          Today, let's talk about booze.

          I'm not that big of a drinker (though I love a yummy, delicious cocktail of course!), but I do indulge a little over the holidays. Everyone has his or her favorite bevie, and it can be tough (and expensive!) keeping up with all of your friends peccadilloes and liquors of the month.

          So, what to do? Simplify of course! I am a huge fan (you can page back through some previous posts from when I started this blog) of providing the following at parties:
          • Beer (the guys at The Spirit Shoppe on 7th St. can hook you up with whatever you need)
          • Wine (1 red, 1 white - talk to Gary at The Frederick Wine House on 7th St. across from the hospital)
          • a Signature Cocktail

          When you've got a signature cocktail, something appropriate to the event or the season, it adds a little fancy to the soiree. For example, whenever we go to our friends Tamar & David's for their annual Valentine's bash, I know that Pomegranate Martinis will be ready to roll. Me? I always love a good Candy Cane Martini December 1 through New Year's Day. Mmmmmmmm. Delicious and it gives you minty-fresh breath to boot!

          Here's what you'll need:

          • Peppermint Candy Canes (crush 'em up good in a food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin and some elbow grease)
          • Vodka
          • Clear Creme de Mint (NOT the green stuff-your teeth will turn green)
          • Clear Creme de Cacao (NOT the brown stuff because, well, ewww)

          Use the candy canes to coat the rims of your martini glasses. Use equal parts of the 3 liquors (I just use the little removable top from my cocktail shaker to measure), toss them into a shaker full of ice, shake as if your life depended on it, then strain into the glasses. Done.

          Want to cut your prep time? Mix together the alcohol WITHOUT the ice in a larger quantity and stick it in the fridge until you're ready to go. You can shake as necessary.

          Just a little FYI - these will knock you on your ASS, even if you're not Suzy-lightweight like me :). Try them...you'll like them.

          Tomorrow: Mashed Potato Glory.

          Monday, December 1, 2008

          C is for Cookie

          I have been humming that darn Sesame Street song all day long, so it must be time to bake cookies!





          Down at The Kitchen Studio we are ready, willing, and able to whip up cookie delights to satisfy all of your holiday needs. Looking for the perfect hostess gift to take to all of the fab parties you'll be attending over the next few weeks? We've got you covered! Want to WOW your clients with a little something from the best of Frederick? Shazam! Need a delicious assortment for your own soiree? Yippee! We'll take care of everything!


          This season we've got all of your favorites PLUS a special flavor just for the holidays:



          • Chocolate Chip


          • Espresso Chocolate Chip


          • Cherry Chocolate Chip


          • NEW! Cranberry White Chocolate Chip

          Of course, all of these are available with pecans too if you like. We can even put them in our spiffy purple box if you want to really make them look fancy! Just click here and you can go to our ordering page: http://www.kitchenstudiofrederick.com/Commerce/Storefront/Custom/Cookies.aspx

          At least 48 Hours notice is best, especially since we prepare and bake everything fresh, fresh, fresh! No frozen cookie dough here my friends.

          So, support local small business (please :), get some yummy cookies, and give a great gift, all for just 18 bucks a dozen...What a bargain!



          Look how fancy! You KNOW you want some...

          Monday, November 24, 2008

          Looking for Help for a Cool New Video Project

          Ok loyal blog readers -- I'm working on a nifty new video project with a couple of other folks and am looking for some solid graphic design help to lend a hand with setting the tone and feel. I don't want to get too into it on the 'ole blog here, but if you know someone creative, easy to work with, and who won't cost a fortune, have them get in touch. We'll need some web help as well, so if you're multi-talented, all the better. If you've got someone you work with in that area, that's cool too.

          I'll be looking to gather some info then present a couple of options to the folks I'm working with in mid-December, early-January. We are super-pumped about the project and this will help us to take it to the next level.

          Many thanks and have a wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving!

          Thursday, November 20, 2008

          Cakes for Cause -- Last Farmer's Market of 2008 this Saturday!

          My new favorite non-profit, Cakes for Cause, has its last farmer's market over on Baughman's Ln. this Saturday from 10-1. For those of you unfamiliar with this awesome cause, let me give you a little background, lifted right from their own web site :

          Cakes for Cause operates a social enterprise bakery/café (with retail space slated to open in the Spring of 2009) that provides job training and support to vulnerable youth in Frederick, Maryland. Our primary purpose is to give youth options for their future through vocational services.

          Our apprentices go through an intensive 6-month curriculum that teaches basic bakery skills alongside restaurant service skills in an energetic and fast-paced café that serves the community at large. More importantly, the role of Cakes for Cause is to help vulnerable youth internalize change—in their surroundings, through their employment opportunities, and within themselves."

          How cool is that? It's similar in mission to one of my favorite Food Network shows, The Chef Jeff Project, but on a local level.

          Elin Ross is the ethusiastic and dynamic head of the organization and I swear, girlfriend works so hard that she sweats butter and eggs. And boy is she passionate about her mission. One of the cool things that she and her band of bakers have been doing is working at their own booth at the Baughmans Lane farmers market every Saturday. I'm actually a little bummed because this is the last week you can just drop by to pick up some goodies.

          So here's the question: With their uber-cool mission, is the food actually any good? I mean, do you want to go over there to support the cause and put up with ok baked goods, or are the yummies actually, well, yummy. Well my friends, Cakes for Cause will NOT disappoint! I had the most scrumptious box of goodies just last weekend including a Rosemary Cookie that I am now OBSESSED with, a reasonably-sized and slightly gooey cinnamon bun, a crunchy mocha cookie (I do love my coffee), and an absolutely fantastic traditional focaccia (there was something else in the box, but I've forgotten -- sorry!).

          I had to go to a brunch for a friend Sunday morning and had offered to bring something warm. Not wanting to make a trip to the store, I remembered the focaccia bread -- woo hoo! I cubed it, threw in some roasted red pepper, fresh spinach, a little sauteed onion, and cheese (duh), then whipped up some eggs and milk and let it all soak together before topping it with a little more cheese and baking the whole thing, covered, for about an hour. Rock on my friends. That darn bread was so good it made my strata fan-freakin'-tastic.

          So the bummer is that we won't be able to get baked goods every Saturday once the market closes, BUT, I do know that Elin is taking orders (with advanced notice of course) over the course of the winter until their retail space opens in the spring. You can call her at (240)344-0295 or check out their web site at http://cakesforcause.org/contact.html.

          Rock on Elin and crew, rock on.

          Wednesday, November 19, 2008

          Volt White Truffle Dinner This Friday!

          For all of you serious foodies out there, I just found out about Volt's first White Truffle Dinner being held this Friday, November 21. This is a big deal event due to the rarity and expense of the glorious white truffle.

          What the heck is a white truffle and why should you care? Isn't it just an oversized, expensive mushroom? Au contraire! The white truffle is highly prized for its unique taste and aroma, plus it's pretty darn pungent. These are a true delicacy and this dinner is a rare event, mostly because it's truffle season and these babies are pretty darn expensive (Wikipedia lists them as going for $1,300 to $2,700 per POUND, so you'll understand why this dinner has to be a little on the pricey side). They are typically shaved, very, very thinly on top of a dish, but I'm sure Chef Brian knows his way around these lovely little fungi and will wow everyone.

          The dinner will be held in Volt's Chef's dining room (my favorite spot in the house) and will have 2 seatings, 6pm and 8:30 pm. Hold on to your hats, because this one is going to set you back $150 a plate, plus $50 to add on the wine tasting (what's a cup of water when you're drowning -- go for it!). This really is a special event with a really special ingredient and if you've got the budget, you should give it a try.

          Reserve by giving Volt a call or check out their website. Here's a link to it to make things easier for you: http://www.voltrestaurant.com. If you make it to the dinner, please let me know what wonders you enjoyed!

          Sunday, November 16, 2008

          Cranberry-Citrus Compote

          Ok folks, here you go...the recipe for Cranberry-Citrus Compote. I pulled it out of a magazine several years ago and have made some changes here and there to make it even more awesome. You can make this up to 5 days ahead (sound like a job for next Sunday if you ask me!).

          Cranberry-Citrus Compote
          (serves 10, depending on how much you like cranberries -- this should be ample for up to 15 if most folks just take them for the color)
          • 24 ounces fresh cranberries (2 bags)
          • zest of 1 lemon (just the pretty yellow part, not the nasty white part)
          • zest & juice of 1 large, juicy orange (ditto)
          • 3 medium shallots, minced
          • 2 cups sugar
          • 1/2 cup scallion, sliced
          • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root (optional)

          Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Throw all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Pour into a 2 qt. glass or ceramic baking dish (I love the coated ceramic dishes -- they're a snap to clean), being sure to mix in all of the sugar that sticks to the bottom of the mixing bowl. Bake for 45 minutes, or until some of the cranberries have started to burst, stirring once about 20 minutes into cooking.

          Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a baking rack. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

          Don't worry if this seems a little thin at first. Cranberries are loaded with pectin and the compote will firm a bit once they're in the fridge. Make it, eat it, and let me know how yummy you think it is!

          COMING UP NEXT: White Truffle Dinner at Volt!

          Thursday, November 13, 2008

          Thanksgiving

          We all know that Thanksgiving, the Superbowl of Food, is just two short weeks away. To someone in the food business, this is sort of the holy grail of holidays, but I have a dirty little secret: I have NEVER prepared Thanksgiving dinner. Ever. Can you believe it?? Me either.

          Here's the scoop: I grew up in PA and truthfully, my family never really travelled or went anywhere except the very rustic little cabin (no tv, no radio, no telephone, thus, no Internet) that my great-grandfather built many, many years ago outside of a little, teeny, tiny town named Mapleton. A great-uncle, long since gone, bought the place decades ago and it's stayed in the family, with minor improvements like a shower (I used to take a bath in the kitchen sink -- when I was 10, not 2...awkward!), but still no indoor commode. That's right my friends; an outhouse. But I digress...

          You see, I never missed a Thanksgiving there until after I was married. I think I was 26 when I spent the first one away with folks that dressed a little fancier than our normal jeans and sweatshirts, had matching plates and silverware, and didn't have to eat in shifts (each year varies from 35-65 people for dinner, though the numbers have dropped off a little since my generation has grown up). Don't get me wrong -- I always liked going to The Cottage (outhouse excluded) with my family and the dozen or so dogs that roamed freely in and out of the kitchen throughout the day.

          Grandmas would get up at 4am to start cooking turkeys, then everyone else would slowly rise starting around 6 or 7 and start finishing up from all of the prep work done the night before. When I say "everyone else" please understand that I mean the grannies and the aunties, NOT me. My generation (those of us who weren't slackers not because we didn't want to be but because we knew our moms & dads would KILL us if we didn't help) was responsible for setting the table, filling plastic cups with ice water, and then of course, washing the dishes as there was, and still is, no dishwasher. Most of the cousins would high-tail it out of there while it always came down to my side of the family and the sons of one of my dad's cousins washing dishes. A heck of a freakin' lot of dishes.

          My family's menu was always basic and carb-tastic:
          • Turkey
          • Gravy
          • Stuffing that I swear never actually saw the inside of the bird, despite my mother's claims
          • Baked Corn
          • Noodles
          • Mashed potatoes
          • Baked Oysters (layers of cracker crumbs, oysters, and butter -- that's it)
          • Relish tray (carrots and celery)
          • Cranberry sauce right out of the can, cut to accentuate the little ridges

          The menu never changes. You can always count on the same dishes, made the same way. It's comforting and reliable. Plus, everything has some sort of sauce on it, so it's got that going for it too.

          As I started alternating holidays with my husband's family and my own, I started to experience different kinds of food at Thanksgiving. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but cooked in different ways. I think that they even had unadulterated green vegetables AND salad. Salad! And wine. Wine! My family never had wine or any other kind of alcoholic beverage with dinner, so this was almost scandalous to me, yet somehow delicious and much appreciated. Yet there were many times that I longed for the casual comfort of the mountains, complete with cranky uncles, loud aunts, and lots and lots of yelling, I mean, speaking loudly.

          Anyway...I believe that one of my great failings as a cook is that I've never made Thanksgiving dinner. I've taught classes on delectable side dishes, showed folks how to truss and stuff a turkey, whipped out fabulous desserts fit for a holiday buffet, but it's all a lie. I had to make dinner, or at the very least, contribute.

          See, I'm not allowed to actually cook anything at The Cottage. I'm not old enough (41!) or experienced enough (did I mention that I completed culinary school and own a recreational cooking school of my own?). Hello? This is it -- my game. I'm ready. Put me in coach!! Nope -- not gonna happen.

          So I took things into my own hands. A few years ago I decided to make a few things at home and take them to dinner, whether they wanted them or not. I knew that they would be delicious. I knew they would be better than anything we usually had. I can cook! I cleared it with mom, who gave me permission, begrudgingly, to bring a few things.

          I made a cornbread-pecan stuffing complete with bacon (surely the bacon would win them over!) and all the yummies that would normally go in; onions, celery, etc.. It was moist and flavorful. The perfect complement to the turkey. While I was at it, I also whipped up a cranberry-citrus compote. Tart yet sweet and soooooo fantastic with real cranberries -- lumps and everything!

          As I passed my offerings around, I was stunned as a solid half of the family refused to try them. Flat out refused. Said no. Wouldn't even taste a bite. I was defeated. I understand that with age comes a more strict adherence to tradition, but my food kicked butt. I was hurt and down in the dumps that they wouldn't even give it a taste. I do have to say though, my dad is about as stuck to tradition as you can be, and though it was a tough choice for him, he always tries what ever I make (especially sweets for Sugar-Boy!). He almost always likes it (unless there is thyme in it) and he tried what I made that year. It was a hit, at least with Dad!

          Now, I realize that my family in the mountains want things the way they have always been, and there's nothing wrong with that. I can "get fancy" with my husband's side of the family and bring my cranberry compote and an additional side dish or two. They'll go over well and be appreciated. I guess there's a right time and a right place for everything, including everyone's own Thanksgiving traditions. As long as I still have green bean casserole, it will all be alright.

          Tomorrow I'll post the recipe for my Cranberry-Citrus Compote -- you'll love it, even if you think your family isn't ready for it.

          Tuesday, November 11, 2008

          New Top Chef on Wednesday!!!

          Hey all you foodies and wanna-bes -- just a quick reminder that the new season of Top Chef (the most awesome cooking show EV-AH) premieres tomorrow night, Wednesday, at 10p on Bravo (channel 273 on Direct TV, sorry, I can't help you if you have cable). It's set in NYC this time with the tag "Bright Knives, Big City." Love, love, love it!

          This show is a frequent topic of conversation down at The Kitchen Studio, with a total re-hash every Thursday morning. To say that Kerry (Kitchen Studio Onion-Guru) and I are obsessed would be an understatement.

          You always have a few folks that succumb in the first couple of episodes due to pressure (I refuse to believe that they can't really cook -- it's got to be hard doing some of those insane challenges and putting out really good food consistently). Anyway, check it out and please please please let me know what you think about this season and the new batch of contestants. Here's a link so that you can get yourself up to speed before it starts: http://www.bravotv.com/Top_Chef/season/5/about/index.php

          Monday, November 10, 2008

          Butternut Squash Soup Ba-By!

          Do you love butternut squash but hate trying to peel that sucker? Have I got a product for you!

          Costco has already peeled and cubed butternut squash in their super-sized fridge for a little under 6 bucks. For your hard-earned money you will receive two pounds of squash in 1" to 2" cubes. Me? I'm going to make some soup. Here's an easy recipe for you to try:

          • 2 pounds peeled and cubed Butternut Squash
          • 2 tablespoons Butter, unsalted please
          • 1 large bunch of leeks, white part only, sliced and washed really well
          • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
          • 1 teaspoon dried Thyme
          • 4 to 6 cups Good Quality Chicken Broth (I like the Swanson organic or the organic stuff you get at Costco)
          • salt & pepper
          • heavy cream (optional)

          In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt your butter and saute your leeks until tender, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add your squash and apple and turn the heat up a little bit to medium-high. Saute for another 5 or 6 minutes, just to coax out a little more flavor. Add 4 cups of chicken broth, about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the dried thyme (be sure to crush it in your palm so that you get the most flavor from it). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for half an hour or until your squash is really, really tender.

          Once everything is soft and starting to smell good, pull out your blender. Remove the soup from the heat and ladle some into the blender. Remove the center of the blender lid (see, it comes out for a reason!) and put the lid back on the blender. Cover with a towel and process until smooth. Repeat until you've got all of the soup blended. If the soup looks a little thick, and it may depending on your taste, you can add chicken broth until it's the thickness you like. If you want to enrich your soup and make it feel a little more velvety, go ahead and add up to 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Mmmmmmm. Delicious! Salt and pepper to taste and you are good to go.

          By the way, this soup also freezes great. Just be sure that you don't cover it or put it into the freezer when it's hot. If you do that, two things may happen: you'll force water into your soup from the condensation that forms and/or the center will stay hot and keep your food in the food safety "danger zone". You don't want to get sick, so never put anything hot into your freezer.

          It seems like good soup weather to me, so give it a try and let me know what you think. Feel free to get a little funky with it too (a little curry powder, or maybe a little sage?). What do you think?

          Friday, October 24, 2008

          Snickerdoodles with the Little Guys

          Thought I'd share some pics with you from our Little Guys (2 to 4 year olds) Snickerdoodle class we held this past Tuesday.

          I get a lot of calls from parents who are ready to get their kids cooking while they're still in diapers! Seems a little soon to some, but I love that even kids this young can get in on the action in the kitchen. This is the first one of these that I've held, mostly because everyone's schedule is so crazy, I'm never sure when to put it on our class calendar.

          I thought it would be best to prepare a really simple recipe for our first outing: Snickerdoodles. It doesn't get much easier than that (butter, sugar, flour, eggs) plus the kids get the extra-added bonus of rolling the dough balls in cinnamon-sugar before baking.Remember, with little kids it all has to be about the action. Children this young have a difficult time sitting still and always want to stir, whisk, and roll, so it helps to measure everything out ahead of time. When you're 3, you have no idea what a fraction is, so measuring 1/4 of a cup will bore you to tears. But holding a whisk (even if you don't really need one), now THAT is exciting stuff!




          Here we are getting ready to turn on the mixer (watch those fingers!) and get our dough moving.
          When my own children were younger, we used to give them their own cupboard that they could go in and out of and play with pots, pans, bowls, and large wooden spoons until their heart's content. I think that helped to give them a certain comfort level in the kitchen and it also helped me to learn how to work around them. Not to scare you, but don't forget how dangerous the kitchen can be. As you start including your kids, pick simple recipes that don't use the stove (ovens are ok, as long as you're the one going in and out), have lots of action, and of course, taste yummy!

          A great resource for working with kids is http://www.familyfun.com/. I've mentioned it before, but it really is good for finding age-appropriate activities. I'm actually working on my own book for teens and tweens, but I'll give you more info on that later.
          On a side note, please check out our class calendar down at The Kitchen Studio at http://www.kitchenstudiofrederick.com/. We certainly appreciate your business and would love to plan a class that interests you and your friends. Just let us know what you're looking for class-wise and we'll see what we can come up with. We're even hosting a bachelorette party in a few weeks, so there is a multitude of possibilities!

          Sunday, October 19, 2008

          My New Obsession: The Chef Jeff Project

          This morning I was checking out the tv to see what fabulousness recorded over the past few days. I've recorded a ton of new Food Network shows and was excited to see new Ina Garten (I LOOOOOOVE her!) and some of the other new offerings, including a show I had briefly read about called "The Chef Jeff Project".

          Here's the show synopsis from the Food Network's Chef Jeff page: "Jeff Henderson grew up on the tough streets of South Central L.A. and San Diego. At 19 he was running a $35,000-a-week cocaine operation. At 24, Jeff was arrested and sent to prison, where he spent the next ten years. While incarcerated, Jeff discovered a passion for cooking and the drive to turn his life around. Jeff became Executive Chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vegas, wrote a bestselling book, and now he is focusing on giving back. In The Chef Jeff Project, he takes six at-risk young adults and commits to turning their lives around by putting them to work in his catering company, Posh Urban Cuisine. He arms them with the knowledge, the skills and, ultimately, the opportunity for a new life with a culinary career." So basically, guy is bad, goes to jail, learns a skill, gets out, gets good, wants to help at risk kids to not make the same mistakes. Interesting idea, and almost a little well, deep, for TFN. But let's get something straight -- I really like this show, and I've only seen the first episode!

          There are 6 "kids" who have either been in jail (all the boys), been on drugs or sold them, a 24-year-old woman with 4 (!) children, and another who, at just 18 is living on her own with no support from home. They're tough but vulnerable (Adam scares me a little, but I loved his "South Central Sushi" with Spam. If he can control his temper and emotions, he looks like he could be a great asset in the kitchen).

          For more info on Chef Jeff's catering business, Posh Urban Cuisine, check out this link to his website: http://www.kaleidoscopeconsulting.net/clients/pu/cuisine.php. For info on the show, click here:http://www.foodnetwork.com/the-chef-jeff-project/index.html.

          I don't know what it is that excites me so much about this show, except that Chef Jeff seems like he's really trying to do some good. Nowadays, kids come out of culinary school think that they are all executive chefs. Really, they're just dishwashers with skills, but don't try to tell them that. Respect and skill in the kitchen is learned over long, tedious hours doing absurd grunt work and being smelly, dirty, and generally in need of a good shower. Culinary school, while a great way to get a leg up, no more qualifies you to be exec chef than a bachelor's degree entitles you to be a corporate CEO. Chef Jeff is starting these kids even more basic than c-school. They are production cooks, a sous (though not officially the title on this show), and a dishwasher (Kathy-she is my favorite as the show gets started).

          New episodes of The Chef Jeff Project air Sunday nights at 10p on The Food Network. Check it out and let me know if you think I'm being a little Pollyanna about the show. I'll be that you'll be hooked.

          Friday, October 17, 2008

          Food & Gas

          I just got back from the grocery store (shopping for today's awesome Italian classes for kids and teens!) and had a thought. Everyone is going crazy right now for Costco's $2.69/gl. gas. There are long lines waiting for this "bargain" fuel. Well heck, just take a look at my grocery receipt and you'll see that in the past 12 months, I have saved over $1,100 in gas. That's right -- $1,100+ in FREE gas.

          Giant Eagle, as I'm sure most of you know, has their "fuel perks" program (here's a link to all the rules etc. http://www.gianteagle.com/Article.aspx?cntid=177049). For every $50 you spend at the store, you earn $.20 off per gallon of gas at your next fill-up. I think that it's usually .$10 a gallon, but has been doubled here locally since the program started a while back. So, spend a hundred bucks, get $.40 off per gallon. How cool is that? Of course, my business is food, so I may spend a little more than you, but probably not that much because I use a number of different sources (Costco, Sam's, Asian Supermarket, etc.) for different things.

          Regardless -- if you're not shopping at Giant Eagle -- why not??? Everyone has concerns about the economy, and everyone is trying to pinch pennies. Why, in heaven's name wouldn't you do everything you can to save gas money when it is soooo easy? It just seems like such a no-brainer to me. They have two gas stations in Frederick, Rt. 40 right off of Rt. 15 and 7th St. near the entrance to Ft. Detrick. Trust me on this one -- it's well worth the time and energy to learn a new grocery store to save this kind of money. Plus, as a bonus, you'll really like the food and the staff too, so it seems like a win-win. Don't you think?

          Wednesday, October 15, 2008

          Here's One for Starbuck's Lovers...

          For those of you who can't get enough caffeinated goodness from Starbucks (and yes, I still love locally-owned shops!), there's a bargain going on at Costco right now.

          As Starbucks desperately tries to increase sales and make things start to happen for the upcoming holiday season, they are offered 5-$20 gift cards for the price of 4 (actually $79.99) at Costco. I had read about this a few days ago on YumSugar (http://www.yumsugar.com/2353285) but hadn't seen anything at our local store. Low and behold, when I visited today, there they were. You receive 5 cards with 5 gift envelopes for your 80 bucks. If you're a die hard Starbucks fan or just like to give out the gift cards during the holidays, hit Costco soon. Who knows how long this may last!

          Wednesday, October 8, 2008

          Have You Ever Had a Paw Paw?

          Okaaaaay -- am I the only person who has never heard of this wonder fruit?

          On Sunday, we joined our fab neighbors Harriet & Richard to enjoy a Paw Paw. Now, I had never heard of one of these, and truthfully, I was excited to try something new, especially if a lovely glass of wine was involved.

          After dutifully showing off the aforementioned fruit, Richard let me play touch-feely with it to see what it was like. It was about 5 inches long and was just a bit thicker than a mango (though not thicker on one end; it was more evenly proportioned). From the outside, it had a distinctive citrus smell and was much softer than I imagined. Here's a picture:


          Richard then took the "custard apple" and cut it into quarters while Harriet gathered some spoons. I thought that this would be a little crunchy and apple like, but it was unlike anything I had ever tried before. You really, really had to eat it with a spoon right out of the peel. It was soft and a little squishy, but not in an unpleasant way, plus, it didn't taste citrusy at all. Check out this pic:

          There were a few oval, black seeds each about an inch long, but we cast those to the side (Harriet is going to try to grow a paw paw tree -- how cool is that???).
          So, does anyone know where you can find a paw paw around here? Harriet and Richard snagged theirs at a farmer's market in VA, but I'd love to find another one of these a little closer to home. Have you tried one? What did you think? I looooove finding cool new ingredients and trying to figure out what to do with them, but this one escapes me. If you want more info, check out the entry on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pawpaw I pulled the pics from there, so they'll look familiar.
          Pawpaw lovers...unite!

          Tuesday, September 30, 2008

          Pork with Red Wine & Chocolate

          Last Friday I held a class on Southern Italian cooking down at The Kitchen Studio. Now, I'm about as Italian as Mu Shu Pork, but the food was the Best. Food. Ever.

          The menu was simple: Broccoli Rabe with Pasta, Pork with Red Wine & Chocolate, a Potato-Wild Mushroom Gratin, and an Olive Oil Walnut Cake. We have 5 people in class, plus two kitchen assistants and me. Can I just say that this food was crazy good?

          You see, I picked up a great new cookbook called Cucina del Sole by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.

          I was inspired by the recipes she had written and the ingredients she used (all simple, simple, simple) and changed the recipes around a little to reflect my own taste a bit -- changing a few ingredients, doing things a little bit differently here and there, making them work for the time I had. Bottom line: Really fantastic food that was a snap to make!

          I was most interested in a recipe that featured pork with red wine and unsweetened chocolate; kind of like an Italian mole sauce. We started by caramelizing onions for a solid hour to give a great base to our flavors. The onions were brown and sweet like you wouldn't believe. Holy cow! I would have been satisfied just sucking down caramelized onions all night, but I resisted (thanks in part to following Weight Watchers right now -- don't ask!).

          After we set the onions to the side, we browned some pork chops (bone-in work best, but that's just an opinion), slid in some garlic, Italian herbs, and a ton of red wine, and then a bit of finely grated chocolate. Please understand -- we did NOT use Hershey's milk chocolate here. This was all about the richness from the cocoa butter and the bitterness from the lack of sugar. Don't bother if you're going to use any other chocolate besides unsweetened. It just won't be the same.

          We slapped a lid on the sucker and let it braise for a while. Woo-freakin'-woo! Thank goodness I got a couple of loaves of bread for us to sop up the amazing gravy once the pork was done. It was indescribably good. I swear that I could have tipped up the serving dish and had it all myself, but I might have had to wrestle the rest of the class for it.

          If you're interested in more info, just let me know, or better yet, pick-up the book yourself. Here's a link to my favorite online cookbook site: http://www.ecookbooks.com/p-9435-cucina-del-sole.aspx. Be sure to let me know if you make anything fabulous!

          Thursday, September 25, 2008

          Free Demo At The Common Market This Saturday!

          That's right folks, MORE free demos -- woo hoo! If you've got kiddies, you won't want to miss this one on Saturday, September 27 at 11:30 & 1 at our very own Common Market on Buckeystown Pike.

          I'll be doing two quick demos on how to make your child's lunch box a little sassier. The recipes are quick and basic, but totally yummy, and dare I say, good for you too (it is at The Common Market after all!!). We'll have samples of the three dishes I'm preparing (3 dishes in 30 minutes? Say it isn't so!), plus I'll be around to answer questions and meet and greet between demos.

          While I've got you, don't forget to sign up for awesome classes and Make It, Take It, Bake It! sessions at The Kitchen Studio this fall. Not only will you have a great time and a full tummy, but you'll be supporting a local business, and truthfully, you know you want to come down and hang out. Even though our food costs have risen sharply over the past several months, we haven't changed our portion sizes or raised our prices, because we're crazy like that! We want to continue to give you an excellent product and a good time, even though the economy has us all a little nervous right now.

          That said, come check us out (www.KitchenStudioFrederick.com), take a class, bring a friend, join our email list (we send out special offers all the time that aren't advertised anywhere else!), order some delicious cookies :), well, just come to The Kitchen Studio. We want you to Come Play with Your Food!

          cvb

          Saturday, September 20, 2008

          Open House Today

          If you're up for an adventure, or, let's be real here, and excuse to get out of the house, we're hosting an open house down at The Kitchen Studio today from 10 am until 1:30 pm.

          There's food for sampling (Black Bean Pumpkin Soup and Slow Cooker Cassoulet), Chippa Chippa Bloem Bloems available for tasting and buying, plus discounts on fall classes and MTB sessions. You'll also get to meet me, and more importantly, I'll get to meet you!

          We'll have a few cooking demos for kids, plus show off a few basics for grown-ups like how to properly cut an onion etc., and will do our best to answer any food questions you throw out at us.

          There will also a food trivia game with...PRIZES! Can you say "free t-shirt"??? And lastly, our Annual Used Cookbook sale. Keep in mind, these aren't loser titles like The Florence Henderson Shortcut in the Kitchen Cookbook, but good quality cookbooks and commentary by folks you've heard of (Rachael Ray, Mad Martha, Cooking Light, Gael Greene and dare I say, Jessica Seinfeld -get that one out of my school now please!!!).

          So, bring a friend and come meet us down at The Kitchen Studio!

          Monday, September 15, 2008

          Volt -- Oh Yeah Ba-By!

          That's right; I finally got to visit Volt, and not just once, but twice! Now I know that Volt is in an interesting spot -- it's definitely going for high-end fancy-schmancy gourmet food, and for some folks, well, they're not quite sure if Volt is really living up to (or going to live up to) the hype.

          Me? I've been nervous to give this new downtown Frederick eatery a try. It could be that I had high hopes and have heard mixed reviews. It could also be that I'm not so fancy-schmancy myself (though I adore extraordinary food in just about any environment) and have never quite gotten used to really posh service. Per Se? A fantasy, but I think I would be shaking in my boots before going in. I mean, this seems a bit unreasonable, don't you think? After all, it's just food, right? But is it?

          Let's get one thing out of the way. Volt is good. I mean, really, really good. I mean, great. Seriously. If you're looking for a slam here, you're not going to find it. I like Volt. A lot. I think you should try it, regardless of budget (I have some ideas on that, just keep reading). But as I get started here, let me recap my visits for you.

          Visit #1 - Drinks with a new friend somewhere else downtown (worst Lemon Drop ever BTW), then she drops that she'd like to pop into the bar at Volt. I was not dressed in a way that I considered Volt-appropriate and as mentioned before, I was apprehensive. I've read the blog; I know what some of you think (plus it seems like EVERY person I know has asked me my opinion of the place), I don't have tons of extra cash floating around. Regardless, she wanted to go, so off we went.

          We hit the bar mid-week (I must get myself an orange leather couch!). It wasn't crowded and truthfully, we got some special treatment. The chef recognized my friend from some recent time they had spent together discussing all things foodie and started sending out some bonuses, which is always a plus. A tasting of 4 different items artfully arranging on tasting spoons, then tuna tartare (I am a sucker for raw fish). We each ordered a specialty cocktail and an item off the bar menu, plus they brought around rolls (SWEET CHRISTMAS--GET THE BACON ROSEMARY BRIOCHE!!!). We finished with a hazelnut chocolate dessert that knocked my socks off and a melon soupesque dessert dish. Bottom line -- a ton of food we didn't order, all excellent, plus a few dishes we did order, equally good. But let's be honest here -- you and I aren't going to get hooked up the way that we did that night. Portion size has been a major sticking point with folks and with what we spent (not very much in the grand scheme of things), I was stuffed. I was wondering what it would be like to go on my own without the hook-ups. So I did.

          Fast forward -- Visit #2. Lunch this past Friday to celebrate my birthday (still accepting gifts btw :). That's right -- Volt does lunch. I was lucky enough to go with a couple of the delightful women that I work with and, having just visited Volt and taken the 2-minute tour, I knew that the kitchen was the place to eat. In the kitchen, you are in the heart of the restaurant. The staff is young and professional, and remarkably quiet. It's fun to be in the thick of things. Plus, tasting menus are available during lunch, and during the week too, so we were in luck.

          We made our reservation and settled in at the Chef's table in the kitchen (there are 4 4-tops) with my dining partners enjoying the kitchen view. Now, if I had any clue how to use my fancy new camera phone (I'll trade a dozen cookies to anyone who can help me figure the darn thing out-for real!!), I'd fill this blog with photos of the fabulous meal we enjoyed. Unfortunately, I can cook a lot better than I can operate electronica, so my words will have to suffice.

          My friends each chose the three course menu (3 options available for each course - $28 plus a $15 add-on for wine) and I, piggy that I am, went with the 5 course chef's tasting menu ($45). I asked to sub out the listed dessert for the hazelnut fabulousness, and this was no problem at all (whew!). Here's what I had:
          • Shiitake Mushroom Soup (there's a fancier name, but wasn't listed on my menu)
          • Summer Creek Farm Heirloom Tomatoes (they peeled the tomatoes -- seriously, plus the tomato-basil meringue was, as my friend Sharon said, "Like biting into summer")
          • Yellow Corn Ravioli (Holy S%*@ -- that was the -- best -- dish -- E-V-E-R)
          • Marinated Hanger Steak (who knew you could candy a rutabaga?)
          • the aforementioned Hazelnut-Chocolate yumminess, plus I snagged a little Goat Cheese Cake

          Mistake #1: Getting the accompanying wine tasting (a $20 add-on). Did the wines suck? No way. They were completely delicious and perfectly matched; a little too perfectly matched. I couldn't possibly drink all of the wine that was poured, and man, did I want to. But that whole thing about walking out of the restaurant on my own without stumbling and crashing down the steps kind of helped me keep it in check, for the most part. Besides, I was wearing cute shoes and how often do I get to do that in my line of work? Like, never.

          Mistake #2: Not taking one more person so that I could eat all of the yummies off of her plate too.

          I hate to be a know-it -all, but I was right. Really, really right. Our service was impeccable (though I agree that the uniforms just aren't as fab as they could be -- let's see some of that signature orange somewhere, pretty please?), our food was dreamy, the staff, especially Aaron, the sommelier, was charming. All we needed to do was just give them some time. That's it. Let them figure out how to work well together.

          Here are a few hints to make the experience more accessible:

          #1: Try the bar: The bar menu is lower priced and just as delicious. A cocktail and a dish off of that menu will set you back around $20, plus tax & tip. That's doable, right? Wear some fancy shoes while you're out why don't you.

          #2: Try lunch: Volt isn't hopping yet for lunch, so service is especially good (I still can't speak to the nighttime -- sorry!) and very attentive, but not too much so. Our server was new to the whole fine-dining thing, but she answered our questions without hesitation and you could tell that she really likes it there and respects what they're doing. She's learning on the job, but doing well and gave us the info we wanted.

          #3 If you're really on a budget, skip the wine pairing and go for one glass to accompany your main dish. I wouldn't normally do a wine tasting at lunch, but it was a special occasion and my goodness does the sommelier know his stuff (side note: I think I have a little wine crush on Aaron. He knows A LOT and is charming (did I say that before?) and a pleasure to speak with. He and his family are new to Frederick by the way, so give them a little local shout out so that they can really enjoy this town).

          #4: Budget not an issue? There's only one way to fly my friends. Full-on tasting menu in the kitchen with wine pairings. That's it. Something truly special is there. In a few months, it will be even better, but that could just be because I love fall food and I can't wait to see what they come up with (butternut squash meringue instead of beet meringue?? Please???)

          I have about a million other things that I could say about Volt, but I'll save them and let you take the floor with your comments. Just remember that these are real people who have put (cliche alert) their hearts and souls into this place -- they really care and want you to be happy; thrilled in fact. To say that they want you to swoon may not be an understatement. Chef Bryan Voltaggio is earnest and sincere -- he wants your meal to rock in pretty serious ways. This is a real foodie experience right here in downtown Frederick, so keep that in mind when you're choosing this restaurant. Relax, trust them, save your pennies (and dollars and Benjamins) and go to Volt. Be sure to let me know what you think.

          Monday, September 1, 2008

          Jen! Jen! Jen! Jen! Jen!

          Ok - I know that I have waxed rhapsodic previously about the Lemon Drop martinis at Acacia, so forgive me this one small backtrack. I visited my favorite bar in Frederick (cozy, quiet, great staff) again this weekend and the mistress of the martini whipped up yet another girly concoction, but this time I have her name. Can you guess (look at the title of the post silly!).

          Go visit Jen at Acacia and have her whip up one of these babies for you posthaste! They are a bit labor-intensive, so be sure to tip well. And fellas, don't think that just because she makes a mean Lemon Drop that she can't make anything else. Oh contraire! My husband said he had one of the best gimlets he's ever had, and he's been enjoying them for years.


          SIDE NOTE unrelated to Acacia: Thanks for all of the feedback on Volt! I appreciate your time in checking out this new addition to the Frederick food scene and commenting. Please be sure to be polite to each other in your comments, as I won't publish them if they're unnecessarily mean or use nasty language. However, I will post them if you're giving your opinion and keep it clean. Everyone has different taste, so it may not be the right fit for every person, but to me, the menus sure look darn good, plus I've heard from folks who don't post (a lot!!) that the service is attentive and wonderful and that the food is absolutely divine, if not a little bit small on the portions (repeat after me, "tasting menu".) I'm hoping to finally make my pilgrimage for lunch right around my birthday (I do not yet have the dinner budget -- sorry!) and I'll be sure to let you know how it is. In the meantime -- keep those comments coming!

          Sunday, August 17, 2008

          Charleston: An Unbeliveably Great Restaurant!

          Sometimes, you may feel like heading out of beautiful Frederick with its hopping restaurant scene for something upscale and delicious. My friends, it's time to make a trip to Baltimore.

          Hands down, no contest, no question, my favorite restaurant of all time is Charleston in Baltimore's extended Inner Harbor neighborhood. Not only does Chef Cindy Wolf kick a little boot-ay in the food department (I dig a chick in charge), but the wine is incredible. The service? Impeccable, proud, but completely relaxing.

          I've had the pleasure of dining at Charleston, which features gussied up "low-country" cuisine several times. I would eat there all the time if budget allowed, but unfortunately, this is a prime example of getting what you pay for. You pay a fortune (easily $150 per person if you go with the tasting menu & wine pairing -- which you SHOULD!), but you will remember the meal, I promise. Here's a quote from their web site:

          Described by Zagat as “culinary heaven”, Cindy Wolf’s Charleston puts the emphasis on personal choice and personal service. Chef Wolf has evolved her own style of cooking reflecting the influence of her travels and culinary experiences. Most recently Chef has been nominated as the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for 2006.

          Improvisational dining is the concept at the heart of the menu format which balances heavy and light preparations and allows each guest to dine according to their own preferences. Charleston offers a list of more than 600 bottles – which can be enjoyed in accompaniment to dinner or savored in the lounge, where there is a large selection served by the glass. Charleston's décor reflects Cindy’s own taste taking simple natural tones and echoes of the jazz era mixed with Southern grace.

          The first time that I cried over food was at Charleston. I ordered the Sauternes-poached foie gras with vanilla toast and mango jam (sounds snotty of me, doesn't it?) but declined the recommended glass of Sauternes to accompany the dish (I was driving and I'm a safety girl). After a little gentle pressure from the server, and my continued declines, I thought the issue was over. But, when the dish was presented, the server brought both my friend Erica and I each a glass of the wine, on the house. She insisted (gently) that it really would make the dish sing. Hot damn! Girlfriend knew what she was talking about! It was the first time that I had such an unexpected flavor combination, and the wine brought it all together. At that moment I swore my allegiance to this Baltimore gem for as long as it is around. We ate so much that evening that ehre was no room for dessert. Me! No room for dessert? Are you kidding me?

          My lottery fantasy? Every week, I get to go to Charleston with friends and have a car drive us to and from so that we can all have the seven course tasting menu with wine. Holy Toledo -- THAT is a lotto fantasy!

          One last tidbit on the fabulousness: I am addicted to all things hazelnut -- I just love them! After coming to the dessert course on the tasting menu, the featured item didn't really speak to me (it must have been fruit one way or another). I asked if perhaps they had a little something with hazelnut. Our waiter (sooooo fantastic) went to the kitchen, returned just a moment later and apologized profusely that no hazelnut desserts were on the menu that evening but gave me a few other options, all with wines that worked with the new desserts. I was happy! But the kicker? Our waiter said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Chef says that she would be happy to have a hazelnut dessert for you the next time you dine with us. Just let us know that you would like one when you make your reservation." Well, I'm going back soon, and I have hazelnuts on the brain!

          Want a little more info? Here's a link to their site so that you can check it all out for yourself. http://www.charlestonrestaurant.com/ Let me know what you think and if I'm delusional, or if you had one of the best meals of your life, just an hour away.

          Tuesday, August 12, 2008

          Oh Halibut!

          You may not know this, but you can get some of the most awesome fish at...(wait for it)...

          GIANT EAGLE!

          I know, I know! Giant Eagle? You've got to be kidding me, right? It's a big 'ole grocery store right here in town, not some specialty fish market. How in the world can they have top-notch fish?

          I'll sum it up in one word...Carolyn. Carolyn is the seafood department manager at the Giant Eagle on 7th St (NOT Rt. 40, though I'm sure they've probably got good stuff too). She is one tough cookie, and let me tell you, girlfriend knows her fish. Last week, I got some bootleg halibut for a class that was unbelievable. (I think it was meant to go to the other store) I mean, seriously good. In fact, it was probably the best I've ever had. Fresh, fresh, fresh, and perfect.

          Here are a few tips when you're buying fish anywhere:

          1. The fish texture should be firm, not loose and separating (does that make sense to you?).
          2. The fish should NOT smell like fish -- ever. It should just smell clean and maybe a little bit like the water it came from. Plus, it's ok to ask to sniff the fish. Just do it. It might seem silly, but if you're spending 20 bucks or more a pound, you don't want any surprises when you get home.
          3. If it's a whole fish (be not afraid people!), the eyes should be clear, not cloudy, and the gills should be bright red, not ooky.
          4. Know your fishmonger!!! This is probably the best tip, because if you know your fishmonger and he or she knows you, they will never steer you wrong. In fact, he or she will most likely go out of their way for you the way Carolyn always does for me. She knows what I like, what I expect, and that I appreciate her efforts. Really, what more could you want?

          So, make the trip over to the Giant Eagle on 7th St. and tell Carolyn that I sent you. She has a number of my students stop by and she's never steered them wrong yet.

          I think I see a delicious fish dinner in your future!!

          Wednesday, July 30, 2008

          Acacia: Best Lemon Drop Martini -- EVER!

          When the weather gets hot, I am all about a cool cocktail to help keep things chilly. After sampling Lemon Drops throughout downtown for the past couple of months, there's no doubt that the best in town comes from Acacia on Market St.

          Man oh man, do they make a winner or what?! Here's the trick, and this applies to all recipes: The fewer the ingredients, the better each one needs to be. Thus, no Sprite (yuk!) or faux-lemon juice. Your basic Lemon Drop has only three ingredients: Citrus Vodka, Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice, and Simple Syrup. What is simple syrup? It's a mixture of equal parts sugar and water, cooked stove top just until the sugar is melted. It's a fantastic sweetener for cold beverages because you don't end up with a pile of un-dissolved sugar on the bottom of the glass. It's great for iced tea, iced coffee, or cocktails! At The Tasting Room, they even serve it in a little white pitcher when you order iced tea -- see, they know all about it there.

          Back to Acacia though...When I happened by their bar a few weeks ago with some friends, the bartender whipped up the perfect Lemon Drop. She squeezed the lemon juice fresh (actual lemons were involved in the making of this drink!), and shook the vodka and a touch of simple syrup with it until it was really, really cold. Pour it into a sugar-rimmed martini glass and voila! But what really sent this baby over the top was the rock candy swizzle stick. Holy moley, that was good! It was the perfect touch to the perfect summer drink; just like grown-up lemonade. I'm stopping by this weekend to see if they can do it again -- woo hoo!

          Wednesday, July 23, 2008

          Volt! Volt!! Volt!!!

          It's finally here -- Volt is set to open this Friday, July 25. To say that I am excited about this new downtown restaurant would be an understatement. And I'm not the only one!

          Just in case you didn't see it, here's a link to an article in today's Frederick News Post written by one of my favorite local food writers, Rochelle Myers: http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/art_life/display_food.htm?storyID=77843

          Volt is going to join an already great downtown Frederick restaurant scene, and I'm excited to see how this upscale addition pans out. You can check out their offical website here: http://www.voltrestaurant.com/

          The hype, at least locally, has been HUGE, and the pressure is obviously on. As they get ready to open their doors, let's review a few rules to visiting a new restaurant:

          # 1: Give them a little bit of time to find their feet

          What the heck does that mean, you may ask? Well, let them get everything running smoothly before you start to judge them. Regardless of how polished each person's skills are, it may take a little time to have everyone working together like the well-oiled machine they hope to be. Even Thomas Keller (culinary demi-god chef/owner of Per Se in Manhattan & The French Laundry in the Napa Valley) brought many of the folks running his first restaurant to open the second, and still they hit a few (minor) bumps in the road.

          No matter how great you are at your job, you weren't the best you could possibly be your first day, or even your first week.

          # 2: Restaurant reviewers don't typically review restaurants in the first 3 months - neither should you

          This sounds an awful lot like rule #1, but it's an important point. Don't trash the staff if you don't have the perfect first dining experience. Loosen up a little and relax. Don't be uptight, and have a good time. They will impress you if you give them a chance.

          #3: Trust Your Chef

          From all the hype, it looks like Voltaggio is the epitome of what chefs today want to be: He's focusing on local ingredients (in Frederick County, how could you not???), he's renovated an historic building to make the restaurant what he wants it to be, he's build a staff from the ground up. He's a local boy coming home to show us what he's got -- let him show you. Whatever you do, try the tasting menu. This is where you typically get the best your chef has to offer.

          #4: Don't be afraid to try something new.

          If ingredients sound a little freaky or unusual on the menu, or if the plate presentation isn't what you normally see, don't be afraid! Give something new a try. You may like it more than you think


          That all said, I really cannot wait to give Volt a visit. I have high hopes for Voltaggio and his partner Hilda Staples, and think they're going to blow us away. Give them a chance and let me know what you think. Me? I'm making my reservation for early September as soon as I can. Woo hoo!