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

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: 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


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:

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?