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.


          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! 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: 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, 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'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:

          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...