Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lookin' for Cookin' Teens & Tweens!

Have you checked out our super blog for teen & tween cooking? Gotta Break Some Eggs is all about getting teens & tweens in the kitchen and building a little confidence while they're there.

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 chefchristine@msn.com and stay-tuned to Gotta Break Some Eggs!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

10 Tips on How to Throw a Great Cooking Birthday Party for Kids

Want to throw a cooking birthday party at home? You've come to the right place!

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 Say It's Your Birthday...Kitchen Studio 5-Year Anniversary!

I need a little help.

The Kitchen Studio Cooking School will celebrate its 5th Anniversary this summer. 5 Years.

And yup, no one is more surprised than me. (Well, maybe my dad is...) :)

For those of you who don't know, the vast majority of small businesses fail within the first 5 years. And that's not us. In fact, we are going strong doing all of the things we love to do, teaching adults, kids, teens, and tweens how to get their groove on in the kitchen. It's what we do best.

Cooking birthday party? Check, and heck yeah, your kid is gonna have the best. Party. EVER. Private classes for Adults? Check! Just pick your theme and we'll develop that perfect menu. Culinary Corporate Teambuilding? Double check, and your staff will go freaky-deaky with how much fun they have and learn a little something about themselves in the process.

So what do I need help with?

A celebration.

A par-tay.

Something to really show how happy we are that you, yes you, have been a major part of our success these past 5 years.

And I need your ideas.

ALL of your ideas. We're gonna have giveaways. We gonna offer sweet new classes. We're gonna make this something to remember. And the best part? I know someone who can make some really great food ;)

So let me know what YOU think could make this an anniversary worth remembering, and if I use one of your ideas, I'll bake you some super awesome cookies. You know we make cookies, right? ;) Leave a comment, send me a tweet (you DO follow us on Twitter, right? @frederickfoodie, just in case), and let me know what would put you into a partying mood. 'Cause we are ready to get doooowwwwn in the kitchen. With you.

VOLT Special Snowpocalypse Menu: Wednesday Only!

**UPDATE 12:44p, 2/10 - Looks like Volt is now totally booked for tonight. And yeah, you're welcome ;)**

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!


Your fan,

cvb

Snowpocalypse 3.0 Recipe: Potato Leek Soup

Psssssssssst.

Hey you.

Yeah, YOU.

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.

Your fan,

cvb