Thursday, December 23, 2010
I've worked hard to barrel through the past month, and I'm tired. My feet hurt. And my carpel tunnel is really acting up from scooping so, so many cookies. I'm complaining a bit, but trust me, not about being busy. Being busy is actually pretty darn awesome. I'm just getting...older. ;)
But even with being tired, and not quite in the groove of the holiday season, today, I feel the love. Because hands down, I have the best staff in Frederick, possibly Maryland, and there's a good chance it extends beyond even that.
I had the pleasure of taking my girls to a little lunch on Monday to thank them for such a stellar year. For working hard and sticking with me even when times are tough. And for a few, daring to join an easily-distracted owner who sometimes forgets what she's talking about, right in the middle of a sentence.
If you haven't met the girls, well, what are you waiting for?? Here, let me introduce them:
Caroline: The yin to my yang, the Jack Sprat to my Jack Sprat's wife, Caroline and I are complete opposites. We're both women, and we both cook, but the similarity ends there. I'm big and loud, Caroline is tiny and controlled, and one heck of a good baker to boot. She teaches a well-thought out class and always has a sunny disposition and great attitude.
Kerry: My partner-in-kitchen crime, we sometimes pick a foul word of the day, then use it...frequently. But only with each other, and never around Caroline. :) Kerry adores food, and despite having terrible taste in it (we like almost none of the same flavors), is an excellent cook and is loaded with ambition. Her new catering/lunch delivery business will be kicking off soon, so stay-tuned for that. She makes me laugh, and what could be better than that?
Wendy: I've never, ever seen anyone eat indiscriminately and with such reckless abandon as Wendy. This is why she has a job at The Kitchen Studio. Because the bottom line here is that she loves to eat, asks smart questions, and washes a mean dish. She is pretty darn terrific to have around and with her new found love of foie gras, I like being around her just that much more.
Sharon: Quite possibly one of the smartest women I've ever met, you feel your IQ raise a few points just in speaking with her. I never feel dumb at the end of our conversations and can speak honestly and openly with her. I love her passion for food, travel, and her family. Really, I just like her, and the fact that she works her butt off certainly doesn't hurt.
Cathy: Hard-working, diligent, absolutely reliable, and willing to be the bad guy when I tell all of the birthday party kids that she likes to eat batter with uncooked eggs (which I'm not sure if she really does or not). A talented graphic designer with a real job in DC, Cathy makes birthday parties even more fun, as if that's possible!
Dotty: A newcomer to the TKS staff, Dotty is learning to keep me in line. Not only is she chipper and cute as a button, but she's organizing my mess and helping to pull together programs that will make The Kitchen Studio run better and help us to offer more to our students (brand new Kitchen Assistant program coming in January, along with our Shared-Use kitchen!). Plus, she's super creative and makes a mean pin cushion! Don't believe me? Check out her Etsy shop here.
And then, Keri-Ann: Our very newest addition, Keri-Ann is our brand new kid's cooking instructor, getting ready to lead kid's cooking birthday parties, and even a few summer camps. A foodie at heart, she gifted me with homemade bourbon balls and freshly made chicken basil sausage for the holidays. Add into that the fearlessness in eating foie and pate and snails, and you've got my kind of gal. I have a feeling I should probably keep Keri-Ann and Wendy separated, or there may be nothing left in the fridge!
You can say what you want about women, but I will tell you this: The Kitchen Studio staff is a drama-free zone. Now, hopefully I'm not dooming myself to days filled with picking and pecking and complaining, and I don't think I am. These ladies are all different, they're all mature, and they make a great team.
The best present I've received this year?
A loyal and wonderful staff that I love to work with in the kitchen.
So ladies, Merry Christmas.
And to my readers, Merry Christmas too. Why don't you stop in and see us sometime. :)
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Or maybe that's just me.
Here's the menu that my family enjoyed on Thanksgiving (and for several days thereafter):
- Baked crab dip*
- Marinated cheese*
- Dry-brined turkey*
- Bacon-pecan stuffing* (in the bird, then baked)
- Filling (that's stuffing that never saw the inside of the bird)
- Kluski noodles* (a PA tradition)
- Kick-butt mashed potatoes*
- The best gravy. Ever.**
- Baked corn* (another PA tradition)
- Cranberry-citrus compote*
- Green bean casserole (no, not the tacky kind)
- Baked Oysters*
- Amazing green salad with glazed pecans & goat cheese (yay Jill!)
- Pumpkin cheesecake
- Chocolate-dipped strawberries
- Pumpkin roll
- Upside-down apple pie
**Prepared by me to a point, then turned over to mom because she is the Gravy Queen!
I won't even get into the whole "Stovetop Stuffing Debacle" started by my husband.
Ok - I will get into it.
Two days before Thanksgiving I asked my husband John if there was anything special I could fix for him, especially since this was a heavy PA-centric menu to keep the family happy and we wouldn't be able to travel to Jersey to see his family. His response? "Y'know... something like Stovetop Stuffing".
Uh, EXCUSE ME? Do you know what I do for a living???!!! Do you know that I'm being featured in the newspaper the day before Thanksgiving for my STUFFING RECIPE??? (You can see that article here). AND that they even made a VIDEO of me preparing said stuffing??? (You can see that one here, and yes, I do a little dance:)
Husband: "Y'know...with stuff in it. Not just bread"
Yeah, I can do that (and boy, did I!).
But nonetheless, can you guess what John had on his plate as we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner?
Box and all. You didn't think I'd actually cook that...did you? ;)
Monday, November 1, 2010
But with all of sadness, Hospice, funerals, viewing, speeches, caskets, burials and everything that goes along with someone you love dying, there was a lot of good, and love that came out of all of this.
I spent time with my brothers and their lovely families. I spent time with my mom. I got to talk to many people that I haven't seen for a very long time, and I spent time with my own family (and Munchie the Wonder Puggle, who was not, shall we say, great).
A few years ago, just after my friend Mary died, I wrote a short post about how food is love. You can read it here if you're so inclined.
And these 3 years later, I still believe it.
We received gorgeous baskets filled with quiches, fruit, and coffee cake, subs, cakes, danishes, a gigantic baked ziti, garlic bread, cookies, brownies, & muffins. And that's just what I remember! I'm sure there was more, but things are a bit hazy, I hope you'll understand.
We shared a meal with 36 people after the burial, and we talked, and laughed, and cried a little bit. My dad would have loved it.
It seems like any of the good times in the past week revolved around food. Sharing, and loving, and eating. And I am so grateful for that.
I'm grateful that when people don't know what to say, they bring you dinner instead of working the same, tired phrases in. That they bring you a cup of coffee, or send you salted chocolate bars. And yes, my waistline is reflecting all of this love, but that too shall pass.
Just before my dad died, I made a quick trip to Wegman's in Mechanicsburg. I zipped through and loaded the cart with anything prepared that I could find, and on a Sunday night, they were running a little low.
I grabbed salads and sandwiches and meals that could be easily nuked. But the best thing I bought was easily an assortment of lovely cheeses, roasted tomatoes, and bread. I knew this wasn't a snack that my mom & I would attack, but for some reason felt it was a necessary addition.
Because when someone dies, people stop by the house to express their condolences, and when they see how things are going, they tend to stick around and reminisce and offer to help with the details, which is invaluable. And more times than not, you want to offer them something, and they wouldn't dream of asking (or wanting) anything. But if you're able to pull out something simple and filling (because we all know that cheese deadens the appetite, right?), and set in on the table in front of them, they will eat it.
And you will feel good that you did something easy for them. They will feel good that they can enjoy something easy and delicious, and no trouble at all to fix, and you will all be as happy as you can be between the tears and the laughing.
And really, what more could you want?
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
My family just made the decision to call in Hospice for my father, and now it's just a waiting game. Which, no matter how prepared you think you are, is impossible to be ready for.
Beyond that, things have also been tough on other fronts (though not work, or family, woo hoo!), and I'm just feeling beaten down.
Then, my husband forwards an article in today's Frederick News Post about tools in the kitchen by the lovely Susan Guynn. He didn't read it, but thought I may be interested.
Lo and behold, I'm actually quoted in the article. Hey...I remember talking to Susan a few weeks ago. Cool! And I even sound like I know what I'm talking about! Here, see for yourself:
"The one thing I couldn't live without is my KitchenAid mixer," said chef Christine Van Bloem. "It's the ultimate workhorse." Van Bloem received hers as a gift after graduating from Peter Krump's New York Cooking School (now known as The Institute for Culinary Education) 15 years ago. Van Bloem teaches others the pleasures of cooking at The Kitchen Studio on Buckeystown Pike in Frederick.
"I can walk away from it and it keeps working." She uses it when making baked items and for making pasta. "I'm dying for the meat grinder attachment," she said, along with the sausage stuffer attachment. "I want to make homemade sausages."
A less expensive kitchen tool is the microplane grater/zester. "I tell my students it's like hundreds of tiny little knife blades on a stick," Van Bloem said. It's perfect for grating nutmeg, chocolate and Parmesan cheese.
"And it goes without saying you need an excellent knife." She recommends Edgeworks Knife & Supply Co., a downtown Frederick store, as a good resource for choosing the perfect knife. "It's a great place to go and learn about knives," she said. "If you spend a little more money on a knife, you'll have one that will last for years."
Her 95-year-old grandmother recently gave Van Bloem her favorite knife -- one she used for more than 60 years. Sharpened so many times over the decade, Van Bloem can no longer identify the type of knife it was. She plans to retire the knife and display it prominently in a shadow box.
So, I'm sitting on the couch, rubbing my calf (because I stepped off a curb funny today and strained, sprained, or cramped the sucker), trying hard not to feel sorry for myself when I see someone on the front porch.
I open the door and there is my neighbor Kathy. And guess what she has in her hands...
Ok, ok! Kathy magically appears on my front porch, bearing a gift for me. Out of the blue:Dear, lovely, sweet, kind Kathy walks into my living room carrying a brand new meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer.
Because she read the article and knew she had one she had never used and thought I would enjoy it.
Timing, as they say, is everything.
I'm very emotional right now, but still can't help but squeal with delight. And then tell Kathy about my dad, because it's the overwhelming presence in my life right now. She shares the story of her own father's passing, along with a few words of wisdom, and somehow, peace. We both tear up, feeling a little awkward, but also like we both understand what the other is going through, or has already experienced.
I know that the next few days, or heaven forbid, weeks, are going to be a symphony of discord, with waiting and praying and suffering.
But I also know that I'm not doing this alone. And that over a meat grinder, I've found not only kindness, but someone who understands this end game.
And for that, I will always be grateful.
Thank you Kathy. Thank you so very, very much.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
One of the components of the evening is a competition between all of the purveyors for best savory dish, best dessert, and best display.
I was asked to be a judge last year, and just couldn't quite make it, but this year, when I was asked again, I jumped at the chance. And you know what I learned?
It's really hard to judge other people's work.
The folks who provide the goodies for the event do so at their own expense. For A LOT of people. Sure, they get the publicity and get themselves in front of an audience that may use their services in the future, but it's an expensive proposition. Working in the food business, I can't tell you how many times folks think they're helping me by letting me provide them with free food. Uh, not so much.
But anyway, I couldn't help but think about that as the other judges and I sat in back, behind curtains, doing a blind judging. Here's how a blind judging works:
- The judges do not look at booths beforehand. You don't want to cloud your judgement. At this point, you're judging solely on the food.
- Servers, in this case students from the culinary program at FCC, bring you food, in random order, in 5 minute intervals.
- You taste the food and then assign a point value based on presentation, taste, & difficulty.
- The judges can discuss taste, appearance etc., but not points or ratings.
- The food just keeps coming.
In the end, the best savory dish, and hoo-boy was it delicious, was a braised short rib on mashed potatoes from The Comus Inn. So very, very tender and dare I say, succulent. Short ribs must have been a theme, because the wizards at Canapes took second place with their delightful short rib on sweet potato hash. What a wonderful fall dish!
I got a bit overwhelmed on the sweets (I know, I find that hard to believe too!), but The Perfect Truffle won first prize for an assortment of lovely chocolate truffles (my fave was a pear-ginger truffle).
For display, well, that was a tough one. Gourmet with Paula had a striking, simple display, and seemed to clearly be a first place winner. I really liked the clean lines and lighting in the display. Completely beautiful. For second, well, that one spurred debate among the judges. All of the displays were terrific, and you could totally tell that everyone had put their best foot forward. There were displays showcasing stunning treats, and displays true to the business itself, and in that case, Home at the Braddock Inn took second place because their display really reflected who they are. It was homey, authentic, and just, nice. All in all, a tough pick, and display is certainly my weakest area as a cook, so I really appreciated all of the effort that went into making everything not only taste great, but look great too.
So judging other people's food? Stressful, but delicious. I can't wait to do it again next year!
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Pic lifted from the L.O.V.E. website
Before you start thinking that this is the same evoo you're getting at the grocery store, think again. From the L.O.V.E website: "L.O.V.E. has over 40 different flavors of oil and vinegar for you to taste, pour, and purchase. I am sure you already know this, but olive oil is such a healthy option when cooking instead of butter, and it just so happens I have a butter 100% natural oil for you to try! That alone is a good reason to come and taste the butter oil for your future meals, popcorn, and more!".
Not only is the store well designed, but the owner, Maggie Lebherz, is cute as a button too. And let me tell you this...girlfriend knows her stuff! Maggie won't hesitate to take the time to educate you on the finer points of production, flavor, and uses of her products, which are imported from all over the world.
Personally, I've purchased a classic olive oil from California and a traditional balsamic, no infusions or added flavors for me. But I've tasted the infused oils, and they're delicious.
Prices range from around $10 for a small bottle to $30 for a wine-sized bottle, so this isn't the stuff you're going to use for general cooking. No way man! These oils and vinegars are meant to be savored and appreciated for their flavor, so don't waste them in tomato sauce or the like. Use these to finish a dish, or straight for dipping, even in a lovely vinaigrette. Speaking of which, here's my semi-famous Honey Balsamic Dressing recipe for you, to give a try with some of the goodies you'll find at L.O.V.E.:
Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe:
1/2 cup Good Quality Balsamic
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 to 2 tablespoons Honey
1 cup Good Quality Olive Oil (I like the Arbequina from L.O.V.E.)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Whisk together Balsamic, Dijon, and Honey in a medium bowl until combined. Slowly stream in Olive Oil while whisking (this will keep your vinaigrette emulsified instead of separating). Store in fridge for up to two weeks. Note: I like my vinaigrette tart, so I use a lot of vinegar (1:2 vinegar to oil). The traditional ratio is 1:3, so feel free to use a little more oil (or less vinegar) if you don't like it so puckery.
L.O.V.E is located at 214 N. Market St, just a few doors down from VOLT. They're open Tuesday through Thursday, 11-6, Friday & Saturday 11-9, and Sundays from Noon-6. Everyone needs a break sometime, so they're closed on Mondays.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Make a dish that pleases Tom & Padma (judges), and their babies?
Sometimes, you know exactly when the show you love is no longer worthy of your attention. And tonight, it was my beloved Top Chef.
Sayonara sweetheart. The dvr has been changed.
Friday, July 2, 2010
You know that I was super-excited about participating in this launch, even though there were many, many people attending, and I still see several bold-faced names who were in attendance missing from the list of chefs who have signed-up to participate in the program.
But after some time, and a chance to dig into the web site and the program, I'm realizing an important fact.
There is no program.
Now don't misunderstand. There's a web site and a lot of excitement among those in the food community, particularly those of us who already work with kids and love doing so. But I haven't yet found a specific program to help put this all into action. To help all of the participants, both from the school & chef sides, to be on the same page.
An email received from Share Our Strength, a really fabulous organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America, encourages us to "Search for your state, then look for a school near you; there is a contact listed for each school. You are also encouraged to match yourself with a school of your own choosing - where your kids go, near your restaurant, maybe even the one you attended as a child! If there isn't a school near you at this point, check back later or just ask around in your community to make a connection! "
Ok, I can do that. In fact, I'm already teaming with Monocacy Elementary School. But it seems to me that by encouraging Monocacy to participate, I may have just added a layer of red tape to our process. Maybe? I really can't tell.
Here's what I thought would happen:
- Schools and chefs would register for the program, then be paired
- Schools and chefs would both be given program guidelines to follow with the flexibility to put our own spin on things
- Suggestions for funding would be offered (not the actual funding, but ideas on who and how to approach this issue)
Instead, here's where it stands today:
- Schools and chefs register for the program and are expected to pair themselves up (no problem here)
- There's a website with info as it pertains to school lunches and daycare, but with no curriculum guidelines for chefs and cooks going in and teaching the kids about food.
- No one is discussing funding. This is 100% volunteer.
Before you start thinking I'm greedy, please understand that food costs money. And when you're going into a school with hundreds of kids, and you're expected to provide not only your time but the food as well, we're talking what could be a major financial commitment from some very small business owners who probably don't pay themselves very much, if anything.
If you're a big name in the field with successful restaurants, tv shows, and the like, that's very different from someone who owns his or her own business and isn't raking in the big (or even medium) bucks. I will willingly donate my time, but providing all that food for samples etc.? Where is that money going to come from? Are there grants? Ideas on working with PTSAs, or do I need to figure it out myself? Doesn't it seem a little silly to have 900+ chefs (those currently registered for the program) all starting from scratch, on their own? Seems like we'll end up with 900+ different approaches.
I love me some Obama, deep, deep down in my heart, but either I'm missing some major info on this program (which is not impossible), or it's just not there, or it's not easy to find.
I've gone ahead and registered for Share Our Strength's Operation Frontline program to see what their curriculum looks like and see if perhaps that program is a good fit for me & the school. I'd like to know what other cooks & chefs are doing and what their plans are for participation in this program and if maybe, just maybe, I'm missing something here. Because right now? I'm just confused.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
You can click on the article here: or you can read the copy below. If you want to see fun pics of the kids cooking allllllllllll summer long, check out our kid's cooking website at Gotta Break Some Eggs or "like" us on Facebook for Break Some Eggs or The Kitchen Studio Cooking School. I'm posting photos several days a week, and you can really see the kids getting into the cooking.
Teaching the Joys of Cooking
Kids Cook Like Celebrity Chefs at Camp
by Rochelle Myers
Special to the News-Post
There is a group of children ages 8 to 11 standing around a steel kitchen work table. About two-thirds of them are holding plastic spoons that have been lightly laced with cayenne pepper.
Chef Christine Van Bloem had just instructed a child to add some of the cayenne to some flank steak destined for fajitas, prompting him to ask what cayenne pepper tastes like.
"I'm never gonna lie to you," Van Bloem said. "I think it's not very good on its own, but if you want to try it ..."
Most of the kids were game, and so they stood about waiting for a cue from Van Bloem to try the pepper.
At her signal, the spoons disappeared into waiting mouths. There is a brief pause, and then the kids start screwing up their faces in the universal "yuck" expression.
As the tasters run off for cups of milk to dull out the burning sensations on their tongues, I am reminded of the principle of professional cookery that everything must be tasted. These kids may not have known what straight cayenne pepper tasted like, and Van Bloem warned them that they probably wouldn't like it, but this is Celebrity Chef Camp -- and these kids are eager to learn as much as they can about the world of real chefs.
Celebrity Chef Camp took place June 21 through 25 at The Kitchen Studio in Frederick , where Van Bloem used a different group of celebrity chefs each day to inspire her participants.
The week was photographed for Van Bloem's "Gotta Break Some Eggs" website (gottabreaksomeeggs.com), where campers could enjoy a taste of their own celebrity. A segment aired by WHAG NBC-25 reinforced the kids' star power, and their parents videotaped their newfound skills on the last day of camp. Through it all, the kids never stopped learning the real hands-on techniques used by celebrity chefs to produce delicious food.
"The whole idea of Celebrity Chef Camp is to capitalize on how kids are so enraptured by cooking shows. They are very familiar with celebrity chefs from TV. This camp gives a taste of that, and each day's activities are designed to be in the style of a different celebrity chef," Van Bloem said.
The first day was inspired by Mario Batali and Giada de Laurentiis: Campers cut their teeth by learning to make ricotta cheese and pasta dough, which they transformed into ricotta-filled ravioli. Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay inspired a Tex-Mex menu of fajitas and corn-black bean salad, followed by churros, while Rachael Ray's approach to quick and easy food translated to zucchini fries and panko-crusted chicken. Duff Goldman of the TV program "Ace of Cakes" inspired a cake-centric day, during which campers learned how to use fondant to decorate cupcakes. The camp wrapped up Friday with the kids preparing a dish they learned earlier in the week for their parents' cameras.
Van Bloem uses a hands-on approach to involve children in learning cooking skills. For example, she stands behind a child with her hands on the girl's hands when showing her how to use a chef's knife. The knife is long and sharp -- exactly the sort wielded by a celebrity chef on television -- and the girl's hands appear small next to the enormous blade.
With the help of Van Bloem's physical guidance, the girl cuts the garlic clove evenly and safely.
Van Bloem also uses lessons learned from celebrity chefs to illustrate helpful cooking techniques. For example, she cites Rachael Ray's "garbage bowl" -- a bowl set on the counter to collect cooking waste. Van Bloem uses a garbage bowl to collect corn cobs as she slices corn off the cob for a black bean and corn salad.
"Anytime you invoke a chef's name that's familiar, it changes kids -- it energizes them," she said.
"I try to adapt recipes like the black bean and corn salad to introduce new flavors to kids without overwhelming them with flavors. I'm not talking about hiding vegetables in a dish -- I will never lie to kids," Van Bloem said. "A lot of parents try to overwhelm their kids with a side of asparagus, rather than adding a little asparagus to a salad."
Her efforts pay off when the campers gather around a table to scoop up the black bean and corn salad for lunch.
"Are they using good technique? Are they doing something cool? Then camp was a success," she said.
FYI - Our summer of cooking camps is completely sold out. A happy surprise for us, not so happy for the folks who just found out about us. So this fall, we're going to offer several of our most popular cooking camps after-school. And next summer, we're going to somehow find a way to add more hours into the day and add a few more camps. Though it seems far away, mark your calendars now, because camp registration opens March 1, 2011. :)
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Washington Street Gardens - Plants and vegetables
Tomatoes Etc. - Vegetables
Lewis Orchard - Fruit
Bella Terra Farm - Vegetables and cut flowers
Rettland Farm - Beef, pork and eggs
Goose Creek Farm - Baked goods, lamb, beef, cut flowers
Kiparoo Farms - Wool, yarn, and handknits
Truffle King - Chocolates
Pennys Plants - Plants and herbs
Whitmore Farm - Lamb, pork, rabbit, and vegetables
Sunday, June 6, 2010
We passed through two checkpoints and showed our id and had our names checked off a list -- a really, really long list. Then we went into a small building to have everything x-rayed and metal detected. It was quick and without doubt, everyone was super friendly. From there, we were allowed to walk the grounds (within reason of course) until the program started at 12.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
On Friday, June 4, I'll be part of what will no doubt be a massive scrum of chefs, cooks, and culinary instructors as part of the First Lady's Chefs Move to School program, being held on the South Lawn.
Seriously, how freakin' cool is that?
The gist of the program is to have chefs, cooks, & culinary instructors volunteer in schools to teach kids about healthy eating. Simple enough, right?
My focus has been slightly different from this, but hopefully with the same eventual result. I believe that if you teach kids (and teens and tweens) to cook, if you give them the skills to fend for themselves a bit, you're giving them the power to start making the right choices. Rather than getting every kid to love broccoli so much that they want a broccoli tattoo someday, I want to get them away from all of the stupid preservatives and ingredients you can't pronounce.
Because if you can't pronounce it, you shouldn't eat it. Am I right or am I right? :)
I'm catching a very, very early Marc train down to DC tomorrow morning at some obscene hour and am heading to a breakfast that Share Our Strength is hosting. Some bigwigs and muckety-mucks will be speaking, including the Secretary of Education, the White House Assistant Chef, and the founder of SOS, and I'm excited to hear what they have to say. This is a massive undertaking and I'm interested to see how it plays out once the photo ops are over. Personally, I've been working with Monocacy Elementary with an afterschool program and with Parkway & Yellow Springs Elementary doing lessons on cooking with math & using fractions. I get the feeling that there are a lot of cooks out there who specialize in kids. Guess we'll see tomorrow, from the White House lawn.
Stay tuned for pictures!!
Monday, May 17, 2010
Correction: I've written a proposal to try to convince someone to hire me to write a cookbook.
Nah, I don't really mean that. In fact, I'm super excited to have even gotten this far. I thought it might be fun (i.e.: cathartic) to write it all down and put it all out there so that you can see what the process is like and lend me a hand through it because peeps, I don't think this is going to be easy.
Two years ago, I came to the realization that I am really, really good at teaching teens & tweens how to cook. I figured that the best way to get my skills out to the masses (because good heavens, someone has to teach these kids to cook!) was through a cookbook. I'm a little old-school and it seemed like the best plan of attack. So I started doing some research on how the process works.
Step One: Write a detailed proposal (approximately 50-100 pages-holy cow!) detailing the concept, your credentials, testimonials, outline, recipes to be included, sample chapter, & sample recipes.
I started the proposal just shy of two years ago.
Last spring, I took a class at the local community college on proposal writing - THAT was interesting. Truthfully, I stalled a bit on the proposal and didn't really get going in earnest until late fall 2009. In November, I took a class (specifically on cookbook proposal writing) that was absolutely amazing and extremely helpful. From there, I started pushing things into high gear.
I finished the first draft and hired an editor to take a look so that I could be sure to send out my best work. The editor was friendly and knowledgeable, but had a few unexpected delays. *sigh*
I started to get antsy. After attending a great lecture at BlogHer Food in September, I remembered a real pro on the panel and hired her to take a look ($$$) and give me her opinion on my work.
Ah hem - My voice is good, but I don't have a national platform. Without a national platform, it's impossible to get a contact.
What to do, what to do...
In my life, I've had one motto, thanks to my sister-in-law Mo: "What's a cup of water when you're drowning."
I got in touch with the amazing author who taught the class I took in the fall and asked her opinion. Bear in mind, this is a woman with mucho experience, but with no billion-visits blog, tv show, or the like. Just someone who is excellent at what she does and put out an admirable cookbook. And she said not to be afraid (I'm paraphrasing). She said to go for it.
So I did.
Step Two: Try to land an agent, because that's definitely the best approach to getting in with a publisher.
I mailed my first copy of my 63-page proposal to my first agent, and now sit, with fingers, toes, and spleen all crossed, waiting for the next 4 to 6 weeks to see if she thinks I have potential. Because that's really all I need - someone to see that I have the potential to write a great book to teach this audience that will sell. A lot.
I'm hoping I have the stomach to make it through my foray into the publishing world. And I'll let you know how it goes: good, bad, or ugly.
Friday, May 7, 2010
(pic from Fairway in NYC *sigh*)
Easy Roasted (Grilled) Red Bell Peppers
One quick note before I get started: I did learn this in cooking school-promise. I've just adapted a little for the grill.
1. Start your grill and turn it on high. Place the pepper on the grill and grill all sides until black (not gray-we want this puppy charred).
2. Remove pepper from grill and place on a paper towel. Safety Note: Be sure that you don't have a flaming stem before you put pepper to towel. Personal Note: Ignore the Butterworth in the photo. It's not mine... Really... Pinky-swear?
3. Wrap that pepper, gently, in the paper towel.
4. Place the paper towel-wrapped pepper in a plastic grocery bag and close the bag tightly. Set to the side and take a break for a 10-15 minutes. Maybe make yourself a cocktail. Hey, I know! How 'bout a Tom Collins?
5. Here's where the magic happens. By placing the hot pepper in the plastic bag, steam will be created, loosening the skin from the pepper. Cool, right?
6. Now, use the paper towel to pull off the skin. The towel is a little abrasive and will help you easily remove the skin without messing up your manicure too much. SUPER-fancy.
7. Now, revel in your awesomeness and put that sucker in salads, sandwiches, wherever it makes you happy. You now have mad skillz yo.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Rochelle chose a popular downtown eatery with a rep for excellent cocktails. With the warmer weather here, I didn't really need anything super-foofy. In fact, after an incredibly delicious Tom Collins a few months ago at Firestones (I have got to get their recipe), I've been having a little craving.
We enter the bar a little after 10, and being in the food business, I completely understand that feeling when folks walk in the door late, so I always check to be sure that the business is still open and serving new customers. It was pretty obvious from the start that we weren't high on the bartenders' classy-cool list. Though not initially unpleasant, there certainly was no spark or enthusiasm on his end, but there were other folks sitting at the bar, and things were still moving along in the restaurant, so we decided to stay.
After a quick look at the cocktail list, I went with the Tom Collins. Now listen, I get that this isn't the super-chicest drink around. It's even a little old school. But I don't need a bartender to sneer at me when I order one, and to inform me that I "know there's gin in that, right?". Yeah, I know what I'm ordering. From then on, not a word as the drinks came and the check was brought without asking if we wanted another round (after 3 more people had just walked in and had a seat). BTW - we didn't.
I could go on, but I'm just having a little vent here. Abrupt, bordering on unfriendly service, especially while younger, cuter, more scantily dressed people than me keep walking into the bar and having a seat with no issue, just makes me angry. It makes me feel like I don't belong. And I hate that.
Maybe everyone had a long day. Maybe the bartender was beat. But you know what? I've had days like that, plenty in fact, and I do my best to make sure the customer feels welcome. Because after all, service tends to be as important as the food, even if that's sometimes forgotten.
Monday, May 3, 2010
And for all of you folks that are regulars, well, thank you to you too!
I have the absolute pleasure of being on the cover (squee!) of Fred Mag this month, along with 5 other awesome people around town. Seems like one of my fabulous customers nominated me to be one of the magazine's 2010 People to Watch. And lucky me, I was picked! (It's sort of like picking teams in gym class, only this time, I wasn't last!)
I've been lucky enough to have been in the magazine a time or two, but this is a really big deal to me, and is very, very exciting. The cover! I even ran down to The Muse on Market St on Saturday and snagged the owner's copy to take to my mom & dad. They should be out on newsstands today, so I'll be able to buy the obligatory 10 or 20 copies :).
If you haven't been there yet, please check out the web site for The Kitchen Studio at http://www.kitchenstudiofrederick.com/. We would love to have you come take a cooking class or try our one of our Make It, Take It, Bake It meal assembly sessions. Though we really put a lot of our attention to teen, tween, & kid cooking camps over the summer, we still have a light adult summer class schedule rolling. Don't see anything that's working for you? We have a few more classes being added to the schedule this week, but feel free to drop me an email or leave me a comment and we'll do our best to accommodate you this fall.
If you're checking us out for the first time, you may want to try one of our fabulous Bring-a-Friend-for-Free classes. This month, Kitchen Studio sous chef and new instructor Kerry Lebherz will be whipping up a wonderful Mediterranean Dinner for your enjoyment on May 25 from 6:30-9. It's a great way to see what we're about and enjoy a night out with a friend, especially if you're watching your bottom line.
No matter what, I'm thrilled that you're here and really appreciate you taking the time to check us out. Cheers!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Why you ask?
Because of Cafe Nola's super-duper green-ness and dedication to sustainability, I found out from my fave barista today that they will NOT be offering to-go containers or disposable cups on Thursday in honor of Earth Day.
Now, I gotta say that the first few times out, I wasn't really feeling the groovy hipness that is Cafe Nola. I have no tattoos and I'm so not cool and I am a little, well, zippy. Nola is a bit more laid back and relaxed, and truthfully, now one of my very favorite places in Frederick.
After the demise of La Dolce Vita (excellent coffee but tragically slow), I needed to get my coffee groove on, and Nola seemed the most likely place to try. Starbucks's brew no longer works for me and I really didn't know where else to go. I sucked it up, hit up Nola, and have been happy ever since.
Ok, ok, so their wireless is spotty and they're feeling more of a restaurant-vibe than a coffee house sit-and-chill-all-morning vibe, but I can make that work (they haven't kicked me out yet). And if I can get Good Lovin' in the morning (get your mind out of the gutter - I'm talking about their egg sandwich on fab foccaccia bread with yummy pesto) with my capp, I'm all set.
If you're thinking brunch, a word to the wise -be a door buster when they open at 10 on Sunday mornings. The place has a waiting line out the door by 11. Better to be breakfasted without a mimosa and get a seat (alcohol isn't served until after 11 or 12). Are you with me??
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Here's the premise, from Oliver's website: Jamie has made a new series for American TV about food – how families eat, what kids get at school and why, like the UK, the diet of processed food and snacks is causing so many health and obesity problems. The series was filmed in Huntington, West Virginia. Jamie's challenge was to see if he can get a whole community cooking again. He worked with the school lunch ladies and local families to get everyone back in the kitchen and making tasty meals with fresh ingredients – no packets, no cheating. He's started a Food Revolution: to get people all over America to reconnect with their food and change the way they eat.
It should go without saying that Oliver is going to get a lot of grief along the way. After all, he's going to West Virginia from the UK and stepping in somewhere he hasn't been asked and telling those folks that they're wrong. Yeow! No one likes being told they're wrong, especially by someone they don't even know. It's sorta like going out and having a stranger come up to tell you not only that your dress is ugly, but that you're looking a little chunky too and maybe you should take care of that. Now.
The cooks at the elementary school hate Oliver (seriously though, who doesn't want to launch into a chorus of Adam Sandler's Lunch Lady Land every time you see Alice??), the guy at the radio station really hates him, and the administrators seem to be smiling while on camera because they know they're kinda hosed, and they're not to crazy about him either. You gotta appreciate a guy who knows he's walking into this situation and does it anyway, even if it is for good tv.
But here's the bitter pill to swallow: He's right. Truth be told, though I've searched the CDC website and all over the web, I haven't been able to locate the specific statistics that show Huntington, WV as the "unhealthiest city" in America. But Huntington, WV is representative of, well, us. And by us no, I don't mean Frederick, but really the country as a whole.
It seems to me that Oliver is using this one town (and tv show) to put his ideas out there. He's had success with this program in the UK schools (albeit there are many, many fewer schools than in the US) and for some reason has decided to bring his message across the pond. If anything, simply dragging the issue out and slapping us across the face with it at least garners some recognition for the problem. In my own home in the last week, it's become a topic of discussion with a real focus on the lunches (and breakfasts, and dinners) that my kids and family as a whole are eating.
People are going to complain, endlessly I'm sure, about Oliver, his mission, and how we don't need him. Folks will say he's misguided and that he's doing it all wrong. Baloney. He's doing it exactly right, because now we're talking about it, aren't we?
The funniest thing so far has to be the reports that the kids in the schools Oliver touched don't like the food. Well, uh, big fat DUH there. If you eat a steady diet of pizza, fries, and burgers, and someone switches it out for (not fried) chicken and salad, heck yeah, you're gonna complain. But this stems again to everyone abdicating their adult responsibility to the kids. Our role as adults is to teach our children well (thanks Crosby, Stills, & Nash), not to give them everything they want. I'm hoping that someday, grown-ups start to understand that again.
What I love about Oliver's approach, and what I've been preaching myself for years (**cue back-patting**) is that he wants to teach people how to cook. He wants kids to cook for themselves and he really thinks they can do it. Amen brother, amen. Sort of a "teach a man to fish" moment, eh? Getting teens and tweens into the kitchen, and using way more than just the microwave is fundamental to teaching good eating habits. There are a ton of parents out there who really get this. I think that's why our summer cooking camps and afterschool programs are selling so well. Parents recognize a need and we are here to fill it. How cool is that?
So many parents are starting to grasp this concept, that I've been asked to host an assembly at a local elementary school to talk about their new school garden and the veggies they'll be growing. How much fun will that be!? I see flying broccoli in my future...
The bottom line is this: If you have kids, teens, or tweens in school and you don't know what they're eating, find out. Have a conversation with your kids and get them involved with their food. Take responsibility for at least knowing the food that goes into your family's mouths.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Your budding chef can spend the summer whipping, whisking, and chopping up a good time with us and learn new cooking techniques and recipes to boot! We are so excited to offer all new recipes this summer - dishes the kids have never made before!
The schedule this summer includes camps for 6-8 year-olds, 8-11 year-olds, and 12-17 year-olds. We have a little something for everyone, including:
- The ever-popular Celebrity Chef camp with a mini-taping at the end of the week
- That's Italian! featuring foods from everyone's favorite foodie country
- Farm Fresh Cooking
- Culinary World Tour, including foods from Germany, Thailand, Morocco, Mexico, and Italy
- Teen Culinary Techniques, including an Iron Chef-style competition at the end of the week
- Bake-a-Rama, including working with fondant
- Kid's Culinary Adventure
- Advanced Skills for Teens (sushi rolling, macarons, & ravioli, just to name a few...)
- Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner 3-day mini-camp for 6-8 year olds
Whew! And to make things just as awesome for the parents as the kids, we're offering special early-bird pricing through March 31. Register before the end of the month and you're paying the same rate as 2006! That's just crazy!
Personally, I'm thrilled to have your kids with us again this summer. It's a real highlight of the year for me and something I look forward to every, single summer. The kids are just great and leave The Kitchen Studio with tons of new skills, ready and excited to go cook! Doncha love it?
I do! :)
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Well today, we're adding a new component to the site: our Gallery of Cooking Stars!
This is a place for teens & tweens to send us their stuff: short cooking videos (2 minutes or less please) and pictures of themselves making a little magic happen in the kitchen. Silly? Great! Serious? Terrific! We just want to see the kid's real flavor come through.
If we like what we see, we'll add them to our gallery. It's a fun place for them to show their stuff.
And since I'm a mom too, we'll identify the teens & tweens by first name and last initial only. No school name, towns, or last names. We'll keep things super safe.
Send us your child's pics and videos at email@example.com and stay-tuned to Gotta Break Some Eggs!
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
One of the specialties of the house at The Kitchen Studio is the awesome kid's cooking birthday parties we offer. We spend pretty much every Saturday rockin' and rollin' with the kids, helping them whip up their own meal and enjoy some great eats and good times as they go.
If you know me at all, you know that I am all about loosening up in the kitchen, and getting kids in on the adventure makes things loose by default from the very start. Nothing will make a kid's eyes widen like sprinkling flour directly on them as they get ready to roll out dough or having them chuck things into a blender for fruit smoothies. Kids desperately want to be in on the action, and we do everything possible to make sure that happens, from making a holy mess to piping frosting to working with real yeast dough for the first time.
Our parties are so popular in fact, that it's sometimes hard to get on our schedule. Or maybe budget is an issue. Regardless, some folks want to do it on their own, but aren't quite sure where to start. I thought that maybe a few tips on throwing the perfect kid's cooking birthday party would be helpful to all of you out there on the interwebs. I'm giving it to you straight, without all that sugary-coating parenting websites will give, 'cause I know you can handle it.
Birthday Party Tip #1:
Prepare for the kitchen to get messy. There is no way around this. If it freaks you out (and that's ok), then you need to go somewhere else to hold the party or throw a different kind of bash. You will not be comfortable and your child will totally pick up on this. Sorry, but it's how it is.
Birthday Party Tip #2:
Limit the guest list. This really isn't the type of party to invite little Isabella's entire preschool class. In general, the younger the kids, the fewer there should be at a cooking birthday party. These parties are very hands-on and you need to supervise what the kids are doing and where their hands are. And booger cookies are soooo not yummy.
Birthday Party Tip #3:
Get some help. Have a (patient) friend be your back-up or even better, hire a teenager or mature tween from down the street to lend you a hand and help keep the kids happy. And don't be cheap! If you're hiring a teen/tween, pay them well and make them earn that money. Just be realistic in your expectations. After all they're not a professional party planner, so be sure to keep that in mind. They're really more of a kid-wrangler. Let them do that.
Birthday Party Tip #4:
Keep the menu simple. This isn't the time for Baked Alaska. Make food the birthday child enjoys. Smoothies are super easy and much beloved. Kids love a good blender, especially a safety lesson that includes the term "wall smoothies" *hint: these are NOT a good thing* Pizza is safe, tacos are wonderful, fried rice is a snap and includes lots of stirring. Ethnic foods can be fun!
Birthday Party Tip # 4.5:
Pick a menu that will be universally appreciated. Your kid may loooove sushi, but that doesn't mean all of the kids do. It also doesn't mean that you should buy some frozen chicken fingers and call it a day. Just remember that even though you are there to celebrate the birthday child, a good host/hostess makes sure that their guests are happy, an essential fact we sometimes forget (Remember all those weddings you went to where there was 4 hours between the ceremony and the reception? That's the kind of thinking we want to avoid, regardless of the excuse.) If you're having a dish that may be considered a little funky by some of the guests, balance it out with something familiar.
Birthday Party Tip #5:
Have an activity ready to go as soon as the kids arrive. Whether it's free cooking coloring pages that you printed from online, or cooking wordsearches (I love http://www.thepotters.com/ for these!), or handy-dandy aprons that the kids color with fabric markers, have something to keep them busy, because you know someone will be early, and someone will be late. (Side note: whatever you do, don't use puffy paint to decorate aprons. It takes at least 24 hours to dry and the kids will want to wear the aprons as soon as they can, so no one is happy. Plus, they'll smear on the ride home or on your couch. Trust me here.)
Birthday Party Tip #6:
Lay down the ground rules before you step foot in the kitchen. No running, jumping, hugging, nose-picking, butt-scratching, hair-fluffing, or saying any of the following: Ewww, yuk, gross, disgusting, I hate that, or I think I'm gonna barf. Kids love to hear grown-ups say barf. They'll crack up and you'll get your point across. And make sure they wash those hands. A lot.
Birthday Party #7:
The younger the kids, the more you should measure everything out ahead of time. This will also cut down on the number of measuring tools you need to have on hand. Kids love to smell and touch and dump and whisk. LET THEM DO THIS. Have any spice containers open so that you can pass around the herbs and spices for them to sniff. The scent is really strong and it freaks them out, which is awesome, in a good way. They'll be curious to see how those ingredients taste in the finished dishes.
Birthday Party Tip # 8:
The older the kids, the longer you can cook. Four year-olds just want to stir, mix, roll, and eat. Keep the actual cooking time to about 45 minutes for these guys. Older kids (from 7 to 15, really) can cook for about an hour and a half with no complaints, as long as you keep them moving. Lag time is a killer, so plan your menu really, really well.
Birthday Party Tip #9:
Build in time to eat. I usually try to allow 25-30 minutes for eating and talking. If you're planning on including present opening, build that into the schedule too. Maximum cooking birthday party time should be around 2 hours. Write out a schedule for yourself and start on time. Be flexible and ready to adapt. If something goes wrong, make a joke about it and let the kids share in the laugh - they love to see grown-ups make mistakes too, and if you can roll with the punches, they'll always remember that.
Birthday Party Tip #10:
Reward good behavior, acknowledge bad only when completely necessary. I always look to profusely praise the kids who raise their hands, use good manners, etc. Most kids will pick up on this pretty quickly. I even mention that I ask the kids with the best manners to help with the most tasks, and everyone wants to help. If you have high standards (and you should), let them know early on and they will do everything they can to please you. Everyone will have a great time and you will only need one glass of wine when you're done, not a whole bottle. :) (BTW-Kids often act better when their parents are not around, so unless you know that you're inviting a particularly difficult kid, you may be happier doing this one as a drop-off party).
Bonus Birthday Party Tip:
Have the kids clean up after themselves. No, not the kitchen, this is a party after all and you're the one who decided to have a cooking birthday party at home. Have the kids (NOT their parents, and that is so important) clear their places and gather their belongings. I've had kids as young as 4 take their own plates to the garbage and in return, praise them up, down, and sideways. You're a parent, not a servant. Teach them young and they'll have the habit for life.
Seem like a lot? It is. But, you can always come to The Kitchen Studio and we'll take care of the entire party for you. Or, if you still want to go it alone (you can do it!!) check out http://www.backyardbirthdays.com/ . Backyard Birthdays will create a custom birthday party plan for your child and mail it to you so that you can execute it on your own. The best part? They'll take care of everything from custom invites and thank yous to a timeline for how to run the party and recipes (which make a great and inexpensive party favor!) all for an affordable price. You can also give them a call at 646-456-7671. Ask for Laura - she'll be glad to help!
You know all this snow? Well, it's not only messing with you and your home, but it's messing with a lot of small businesses too.
Yesterday, downtown Frederick was like a ghost town. I've never seen it so empty. NO ONE was walking around and indeed, my family was the only one in the entire dining room at Brewer's Alley (had the kids, yo) for lunch.
Here's the thing, you can use this crappy weather to your advantage, in fact: This is YOUR chance to try the awesomeness that is Volt. Ever since Chef Bryan showed his mad skillz on Top Chef, it's tough to get in and, let's be honest here, it's usually a little pricey (not that you're not getting what you pay for, but that's still out of my price range-sorry).
BUT, this is where things get cool, and not for the reason you think:
Per Hilda, co-owner of Volt, today, Wednesday, February 10, 2010, Volt is offering a special "snow-prix" menu in their dining room for just (wait for it, wait for it...) $35. (I'm pretty sure that this is in line with their restaurant week pricing.)
If you don't know, that's pretty major. But here's the cool part:
Since the weather is horrible (at best), and since all of their suppliers have canceled their deliveries (can't blame them, but, darn), and since Volt doesn't freeze anything, Chef Voltaggio is going is going to really show his skills by working just with the ingredients on hand. Cooking, until they run out of food. Talk about a Top Chef challenge!
This is a chance for you to see someone with talent, real talent, work within the confines of his kitchen. No specially-delivered foie gras from a 63-day old goose, no imported blah, blah blah brought in especially for this meal, but really, pantry cooking at its best. Now between you and me, Volt's pantry is probably better stocked than any around, so the food will not only be inventive, but excellent as well.
Seriously, I don't know why you haven't called them already (and you can, at 301-696-VOLT). If you're downtown, you can certainly walk (I have a feeling that snow boots will be acceptable attire), and if not, pull out that 4-wheel drive that you almost never get to use and feel free to park in Volt's side lot. It's all there-plowed & free-just waiting for all of you "snow-prix" customers.
And while you're at it, go ahead and do your best to patronize all of the small businesses you can right now, any way you can. If not today, then tomorrow, or Friday, or Saturday. This storm is more than snow, and it's tough for any business to go a week or two, shut down. Especially right before Valentine's Day. Or really, any day. So stop in to anyone who's open, or check them out online (Cooking class anyone? You can register here!). But whatever you do, just let me know how dinner is!
Tired of all this awful weather we're having here in MD? Me too.
My waistline isn't a fan either, as I have been cooking non-stop since the snow arrived on Friday. And with another 10"-100" (I keed, I keed) coming tonight, it doesn't look like I'm stopping anytime soon.
I've raided the fridge and pantry at The Kitchen Studio to come up with some Snowpocalypse-esque recipes for you to try. And understand this please: These are easy recipes. You should be able to make them with a few ingredients, or at least stuff you have in the fridge. And yes, I know that I probably have more stuff in my fridge than you do. Toughies. (That's what my mom would say :) Here's the first one I've been working on and what can I say? It's my son Ben's favorite. Hey - kid's got good taste!
Creamy Potato-Leek Soup:
- 4 or 5 medium Potatoes (Idaho or Golden, but not red skinned please)peeled and cubed (1" chunks)
- 6 cups (or 8 if you like) of chicken broth/stock
- a bunch or two of leeks (no leeks? to heck with it - just use some sweet onions, like Vidalias), green part removed, white part only
- a few tablespoons of butter (I'd say 1-3, depending on your fat tolerance. I happen to have a high fat tolerance)
- Some heavy cream, or a splash of milk, no more than 1/2 cup
Place a medium soup/stock pot and place over medium heat. Add butter and melt.
Wash your leeks really, really well under running water to get rid of all the grit (Fun leek fact: leeks are grown in sandy soil and often have tons of grit and dirt between their layers. Slice off the dark green part of the leek and discard. The light green part is okey-dokey and just fine to use. Slice the leek from the top down almost all the way to the root, but not quite. Rinse really well. This technique keeps 'em all together). If you're using regular old onions, slice them nice and thin, then proceed as directed. You'll want around a cup or so.
Slice the leeks into 1/4" - 1/2" slices then place in the pot. Stir to coat in the butter (yum!) and let cook, slowly, for about 10 minutes, or until they're nice and tender.
Pour your chicken broth/stock into the pot with the softened leeks, then toss in the peeled and cubed potatoes. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. (Why you ask? When ingredients reach the boiling point, they release their maximum flavor that can't be hit just with simmering them until they're dead. That's why so many recipes say to bring to a boil then reduce the heat right away. Aren't we learning something here today??)
Let simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until potatoes are ten-der. Now comes the fun part...
If you have an immersion blender (also called a stick blender, or at TKS, the Whirling Stick of Death), you can stick it in the pot and start whirling under your soup is smooth. No immersion blender? Just smooth it out in batches with your regular blender, but don't forget to take out that little center piece in the lid and hold the top on with a towel. Blenders just looooooove to blow their tops when they're working with the hot stuff.
Add a splash of cream to enrich it (don't waste your time with skim milk, 'k?), and salt and pepper to perfection. That's it.
Don't have potatoes? Use carrots (mmmmms, carrot soup). Don't have chicken broth? Use veggie. Hate onions & leeks? Well, now I can't help you :) Just try this recipe, or this technique, or whatever you like. Just cook something, and get rid of those boxes of pre-packaged stuff. We're on a mission here.
Stay inside, stay warm, and cook something yummy.