Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recipe: Blueberry Stuffed French Toast Casserole

Here's a great dish for your Christmas morning breakfast, classic with blueberries and maple syrup. It's a riff on a recipe that my friend Laura gave me years ago and that I've seen floating around the internet in one form or another for years. This is a do-ahead dish that you'll want to start the day before you plan to serve, so be prepared. :)

Blueberry Stuffed French Toast

You'll need:

  • 6 large croissants
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (whole)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese

Spray a 9" x 13" pan lightly with cooking spray. Tear the croissants into bite-size pieces and place one half into the pan. Pull cream cheese into small pieces and place on top of the bread cubes. Sprinkle the blueberries over the cream cheese, then top with remaining bread. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until lightly beaten, then add milk, maple syrup, and melted butter. Whisk well to combine, then pour over croissant mixture. Cover with foil and place in refrigerator to allow custard mixture to soak into the croissants for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees, with oven rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, then remove foil and cook an additional 10 minutes until custard is set. Serve immediately.

Note: The cream cheese doesn't get all melty and spread out, it stays the size it is when you break it up, so make the pieces nice and small.

Please, go forth and have a merry holiday. Eat much, nap much, and love often and with reckless abandon.

xo, cvb

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Class I'm Most Excited to Teach this Winter

When I was in junior high, home ec was a required part of the school curriculum. Well, home ec or shop. The girls usually took home ec to cook and sew skateboard pillows (mine was pink and purple with stripes and Hang 10 felt feet) and the boys toughed out the wood shop to make bookends or the like.

I remember very little about what we cooked through my 8th grade year. Except for the mayonnaise. I remember the mayonnaise so, so very clearly.

Because I failed. Failed mayo. Do they even teach mayo in middle school any more??

I don't remember the teacher's name, but what I remember is that she yelled at me; yelled about the stupid mayonnaise. Something I'd never made before and something, that for a new cook, require patience and sometimes even a bit of finesse. I've thought about it for years and I've never forgotten that feeling, deep in my gut that I wasn't good enough. For mayonnaise.

Think about it: Here's the recipe, here's a whisk, be sure you drizzle the oil in one drop at a time. To a thirteen year-old girl. One Drop. At. A. Time.

As if.

Patience has never once been one of my virtues. I want it and I want it now. You want me to pour this entire cup of oil in a drop at a time? Are you insane??? And at 13? Not a chance.

I was certain that if I just whisked hard, I could take a few liberties with the whole drop thing and perhaps just start with a steady stream of oil. FYI -- that doesn't work. I had created a gloppy, nasty, oily mess and was told it was completely unusable (which is not entirely true: you can fix a mayo that breaks into clumps--no, really--you can).

Mayo is all about forming an emulsion with egg yolks, oil, and a touch of seasoning, perhaps Dijon mustard, salt, and maybe the teeniest, tiniest hint of acid. You don't rush it. You take your time and do your best to get all zen with it. If you've done it right, you're rewarded with something luscious, creamy, and silky. Something that tastes nothing like that junk in a jar. Something that any Frenchman (or woman) would be proud to drag their fries through. And it is delicious.

I've been thinking quite a bit about the building blocks of cooking. The little shortcuts we've accepted over the years as required or really haven't given any thought to at all. How to roast a chicken in a cast iron skillet, or how to make homemade chicken stock or a good no-knead bread, how to make your own grainy mustard (it's super easy--pinky swear), and yes, how to make real, honest-to-goodness mayonnaise. No blender in sight. Just you, some eggs, and a bit of oil, whisk in hand, ready to take the challenge.

With the new domesticity sweeping the land, the timing seems right to teach you a few simple recipes and techniques that will ramp of the quality of your food, without a lot of hassle.

So I came up with this class: The Homemade Kitchen: Back to Basics.

On January 25 and March 17, 2012, I'll hold your hand and walk you through a few of the steps your grandmothers took to make your dinners, well, just better. And I promise, if your mayo breaks, I won't yell, not even a little bit. We'll just walk through how to fix it, and maybe give it another go. Because it's just food after all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

MTB at The Kitchen Studio Ending This November

You read that right--we're discontinuing our Make It, Take It, Bake It meal assembly service after our November session (scheduled for November 16).

After more than 5 1/2 years of helping to fill the freezers of a few of our favorite folks, we're moving on to bigger (and we hope even better!) things. Ever rising food costs have made this service cost-prohibitive for us. We're sorry to see it go, but we're hoping to have even more time to offer cooking classes open to the public, private groups, culinary team-building sessions and more! And don't forget those super-fun kid's and teen classes too!

Don't panic -- there's still time to get in on the full-freezer action. We have sessions currently scheduled for this Thursday, October 27 at 11a and 6p, and November registration will be open and online on Friday, October 28.

You can check out this month's menu here.

You can also take a look at our awesome cooking class schedule here, which is full-steam ahead, and getting better than ever, with new instructors, new culinary techniques, and a few favorites, back in action.

Now go forth and make your day delicious!


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened this Summer...

In early spring, I joined the board of the Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County. Not only is it a great organization doing a heck of a lot for teens/tweens here in Frederick County, but it seemed like an interesting job to take on.

One of the things I didn't know about being on a board is the tremendous amount of fundraising involved. It seems like it is non-stop. This summer, the members of the board were tasked with selling raffle tickets for The Ultimate Dine Out - a contest where the winner would take home $100 gift cards from 35 different restaurants in Frederick County. If you're good at math, you can quickly see that adds up to $3,500 in gift cards.

Being the person that I am, and absolutely hating fund-raising, I bailed on my chore of selling raffle tickets and decided to buy the lot myself. It was a hefty investment, but I purchased 30 tickets for $250 (tickets were $10 ea., or 3 for $25). I felt it would be well worth the money in order to save myself the hassle (and hey-it was going to the Boys & Girls Club FC).

Cut to a Frederick Keys game in very late August. I've just arrived home from picking up AVB from a road trip with grandma, then settled in to check out Facebook. One of the perks of buying a raffle ticket was also a free ticket to the Keys game on that specific night. I gave a bunch of the tickets away, hoping that others would go forth and have some local baseball fun.

Imagine my surprise, no, really, more like shock, when a message from one of the gals I gave tickets to popped up and read something along the lines of "We're having a great time and the game. How great that you won the big prize!"

Say what?

And so we went, back and forth and back and forth until I was certain, absolutely positive that the prize, all $3500, was mine.


So yup, I won 35 - $100 gift cards. One card/certificate from each of the following:
  • Acacia*
  • Beef O' Brady's
  • Black Hog
  • Bonefish Grill*
  • Brewer's Alley*
  • Callahan's
  • Canal Bar & Grill
  • Capital Crave
  • Carriage House Inn*
  • China Garden*
  • Clay Oven
  • The Cracked Claw*
  • Danielle's*
  • Dutch's Daughter*
  • Dutch's at Silver Tree
  • Famous Dave's
  • Glory Days
  • Green Turtle*
  • Griff's
  • Home at Braddock
  • Il Porto
  • Isabella's*
  • La Paz
  • Magoo's
  • May's
  • Mick's
  • Monocacy Crossing
  • Morgan's American Grill*
  • Olives*
  • Pizza Blitz
  • Red Horse
  • The Shamrock
  • Pizzeria Uno*
  • Viet Gourmet
  • Volt
*We've already used it or have given it away.


We've used/given away a little less than half so far, which has been really, really fun, and I'm looking forward to using the rest to treat family & friends throughout the fall.

My question is this: Do you think you'll buy a raffle ticket from me next year?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Wine Kitchen, Frederick: Gracious & Delicious...Booyah!

I don't usually write a review of anything or any place after just one visit. You want to be sure that there's a consistency, good or bad, before you recommend or discourage folks from going somewhere.

But seriously, I totally can't do that here.

Because The Wine Kitchen, located on Carroll Creek, next to Hinode, is JUST THAT AWESOME.

I kid you not.

Fantastic. Wonderful. I may even go so far as to say, Just Right. Because for me, it totally is.

Let's start at the beginning: A few weeks ago, a friend and I stopped at The Wine Kitchen's Leesburg location (don't get all "it's a chain" panicky on me here -- there are just two...relax) after a funeral. We were sad, and hungry, and it was a grey, rainy day. So we threw down. A cheese course. A charcuterie plate. A salad. An appetizer. Four or five main dishes. And let's not forget dessert.

For two of us.

Hey - I said we were sad and hungry.

Before you think we totally gluttoned out (ok-we totally did), we did indeed have half of each dish(except the cheese, the charcuterie, & dessert) packaged and took them home. We just wanted to try everything we could. And It. Was. Good. Really, really good. It stoked the fires of desire for the Frederick location to bust a move and open it's doors. Pronto.

And so they did.

The Frederick Wine Kitchen opened quietly on Saturday, October 1, and the Twitterverse started to hum. "Excellent service" I heard. "Reasonable prices" hit the interwebs. "Great food!" You had me at Hello.

So I grabbed the nearest spouse and was a total door buster this past Saturday night. They currently open at 5:30 for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. I'm assured that lunch service will begin shortly and have already decided to host the annual TKS holiday soiree there in December. because this place is great.

Scott, our server, was knowledgeable, friendly, and had a great sense of humor. We were off to a good start.

Before even really looking at the menu too hard, we ordered cheese and charcuterie plates, along with two flights of wine. For those unfamiliar, a flight is a series of glasses of wine, not full pours, but slightly less so that you can try more options. Since I'm one of those annoying "red wine gives me migraines" people, I stuck to the only all white wine flight on the list, which went for 9 bucks. My whites were a little brighter & lighter in flavor -- good for warm weather. I'm hoping they add a Winter White flight of really buttery, oaky whites perfect for fall and winter soon. Each wine comes with a clever descriptive paragraph. Being married to an English teacher, we dissected the writing. It was a fun little touch that we both enjoyed.

JVB tried the Pinot Evil flight (3 different pinot noirs for $12) and was very, very happy. So happy in fact, we even bought a bottle and took it home with us, partially because the deal was so great. See, if you try a wine and you love it and want to take a bottle home, The Wine Kitchen will sell it to you for 10 bucks off the menu list price. Buy more bottles and the deal sweetens from there -- woo hoo!

But back to the vittles...The cute dish runner (she needs to work on her pronunciations and menu knowledge a bit - buy hey, they've been open a week) brought our board loaded with 3 cheeses (a camembert, a Humbolt Fog, & a blue) and charcuterie (coppa, some variety of prosciutto...I think...and the most luscious chicken liver pate, topped with glorious duck fat). Seriously -- the fact that I even left the place is a miracle. I did everything but lick the pot the liver was served in. It was that good. It was served with red onion jam & coarse mustard (and needed a bit more of each of these on the plate to balance out the quantity of liver), and a fruit compote of some sort to go with the cheeses. The portions felt reasonable and not the least bit skimpy. Very nice for $12 each.

Dinner included the scallops with pork cheeks (so tender I almost stabbed JVB so that I could eat every morsel from his plate) and the biscuit chicken, which was simple, but cooked perfectly. I cleaned that plate, and good.

We had saved a bit of room for dessert (duh), and imagine my surprise when at the very end of my pbj deliciousness, my mouth started mad! There were some sort of pop rocks of all things included in the dessert. Heaven I tell you. Heaven.

The only (slight) damper of the evening was when my new friend Scott knocked over an entire glass of wine. On me. I was soaked right through to my undies (tmi?), but there were 3 people on me in seconds with towels to help clean up the mess. Scott was very apologetic, but I assured him that it really wasn't that big of a deal. I was in a good mood, had a nice meal, and was relaxed. What's a little wine between (new) friends?

So The Wine Kitchen? Yup -- you need to get there asap and give it a try. You won't be disappointed, your mouth will be happy, and your soul will be fed by gracious and knowledgeable service. I'm even rounding up a group of ladies and headed back this weekend. I can hardly wait. :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fun This Friday: Meet Toad Hollow Vineyard's Winemaker at The Frederick Wine House

Looking for something new and totally cool to do this Friday night, 9/23? Go see my friend Gary at The Frederick Wine House in the Clemson Corner Shopping Center (across the parking lot from Wegman’s) for their very first Skype “meet the Winemaker” session with Toad Hollow Vineyards, located in Healdsburg, CA.

It's no secret that I love the folks at The Frederick Wine House, not only for their fab selection of wines, and the fact that Gary always steers me to something I like (and can afford), and that the staff is always super nice to me, but this Skyping thing is a great opportunity not only to taste a bunch of really delicious wines, but to also ask questions, live, directly to the winemakers and staff at Toad Hollow.

Wines to be tasted include:
• Toad Hollow Chardonnay
• Risqué French Sparkling Wine
• Eye of the Toad Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir (I am having such a rose thing right now!)
• Erik's the Red Blend
• Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Reserve
• Toad Hollow Merlot

The very best part? This wine tasting is completely FREE, and no reservations are required. The event is an extension of The Frederick Wine House’s regular Friday night wine tasting, which runs from 4-8pm. Want more info? Email Barb at

Here are the details:

Skype Tasting with Toad Hollow Vineyards
Date & Time: Friday, September 23, 2011, 7 pm - 8 pm*
Location: Frederick Wine House Tasting Bar
Fee: Free, no reservations required
Winery Information: Toad Hollow Vineyards, located in Healdsburg, California
Skyped Toad Hollow Officials: Toad Hollow winemaker and staff

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Make Your Rice Right: Cooking Rice the French Way

I love rice. Growing up, I ate more Minute Rice than a lifetime allotment, because it was Pennsylvania in the 70's & 80's and no one knew that rice was something that could be awesome. And not so, uh, minutey.

My confession is this: I make terrible rice. Not terrible sushi rice (at which I kick tush), but just terrible regular old rice. Basmati, Jasmine, Brown -- doesn't matter.

It could be my complete lack of patience, or maybe even my stupid ceramic top stove, but there's something about the ratios, simple as they may be, and the heat, and the pot, and well, I just kind of check out on the whole process. Mostly because, one of the very first things I learned at my fancy French Cooking School in New York City was how to cook rice the French way. It changed how I cook.

You ready for me to tell you my fancy-pants rice-cooking ways?

It's this simple: Cook your rice the way you would cook pasta.

You heard me; the way you cook pasta. Think of a nice pot of boiling, salted water (no, you don't have to measure it, just use a bunch, the way you would to cook pasta), then toss in your rice.

Cook white rice (Jasmine, Basmati, etc.) for 13 minutes and brown rice for 34 minutes at a slow boil (the way you would cook pasta), then drain in a colander.

That's it. You'll have individual grains of perfectly cooked rice, ready to go. And yes, I promise this works. I've been cooking rice this way for almost 17 years, and I haven't messed-up a pot yet.

And yup, you're welcome. :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Easy Chicken Liver Pate & Pickled Red Onions

I love chicken livers.

I blame my mother.

Mom would grill them (until they were just a bit too tough, but what did I know), then share them with me as we stood in the kitchen over the sink, never bothering to sit or enjoy, but more likely gobbling them for no other reason then that they tasted delicious, earthy, and even a bit, well, visceral, the way offal should.

I eat pates whenever possible, and only very occasionally make more rustic pates on my own, mostly because no one else in the house will eat them. Pity.

Today, I made the most delightful chicken liver pate, and just have to share the recipe with you, mostly because it's so, so very good.

Easy Chicken Liver Pate
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
  • 1 small onion, sliced thinly or diced, whatever you like
  • 1 Gala apple, peeled, then diced
  • 1 pound chicken livers, trimmed of the chunky stuff
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 2-4 tablespoons heavy cream
  • salt
  • pepper
Melt 2 T. butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the apple and onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cleaned and trimmed chicken livers to the pan with the apples and onions and saute until the livers are just no longer pink in the middle, about 6-7 minutes. Add the brandy to the pan (carefully; you don't want it to catch fire) and cook for an additional minute, until about half has evaporated.

Place the chicken liver mixture into a food processor, adding the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, then process until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream to make creamy, adding up to an additional 2 tablespoons of cream (up to a total of 4 T.) Add a bit of salt and just a bit of pepper, give it a taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Place into a container, leave the lid off, and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Cover and place in refrigerator until firm, 6-8 hours.

Quick Pickled Red Onions

Today I made a riff on a recipe I found on the fabulous David Lebovitz's site. I'm not as big a fan of some of the flavorings he uses in matching them with my pate recipe, so I've adjusted accordingly. You can check out the original recipe here.

For my purposes, I skipped the hot pepper, allspice, and cloves, and instead added 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns. Follow the rest of the recipe and you'll be all set.

I make the onions concurrently with the pate, so they'll both have ample time to chill.

Grab a loaf of crusty bread, a liver-lovin' friend, sit back and enjoy. This is one of my favorite fall recipes, and I am ready to go. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Two Men Down: Teen Chicken Butchering

This week at The Kitchen Studio we're holding our annual Iron Chef-style camp. Each day we focus on a particular technique, then finish with a competition on the last day using a "secret ingredient". It is absolutely one of our most popular camps for this age group and usually sells out very quickly, though I often wonder if these teens (and their parents) know what they're getting into.

On day one, we always work through knife skills. Some have worked with knives before and feel comfortable working their way through carrots, celery, onions, etc. Some have never held an 8" knife in their life and are having their first taste of kitchen freedom. All goes well until about an hour and a half in. That's when we bring out the chickens.

If you're a carnivore, and oh boy am I, I think it's important that you realize that your meat doesn't start as the homogenized packages you find at the grocery. Or even worse, as chicken nuggets in a box.

I think it's important to recognize that meat was once an actual living, breathing creature. It gave up it's life (not so willingly I'd assume) so that you could have a good dinner. You must respect this, or you really just can't be a responsible cook.

So we break out the chickens. Everyone gets one, and I do mean every single person in class gets his or her own chicken to break down into 10 pieces.

This task is sometimes met with fear, but most of the time, the teens are pretty stoked. After all, it is unlikely that their parents give them a chicken to cut apart and that no one will freak if they make a mistake (I won't). It's a real step into independence in the kitchen -- trust me.

The only teens who really hate this exercise are those toying with vegetarianism, and I completely respect that. Your teen years are truly about figuring out who you are, and the whole breaking-down-a-chicken thing can really throw those that aren't quite sure of their stance on meat yet. Who knew you'd have to take a stance so young?

This year we have 12 teens in class. Ten got through the chickens, and did very well for first-timers. One potential vegetarian politely declined from the outset (she made an excellent Dutch Baby instead), and another gave in about halfway though, pale and green, though he has recovered nicely for the rest of the week (that said, he has told me that he didn't feel well at the start of class, but didn't want to miss it), so I'm cutting him huge amounts of slack, especially since he's been all in as far as using the chickens.

We use the chicken pieces throughout the week in both the morning and afternoon camp, freezing what won't be used and making stock with the carcasses. We're demonstrating that if something gave up it's life so that you could have a nice dinner, you owe it to them to use every single bit you can, right down to the bones. And teaching that is the best way I can think to teach respect.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Food Photography Class at The Kitchen Studio 10/1!

Isn't this pretty:

If you read this blog with any regularity you know that:
  1. I don't use many photos
  2. My photos typically...suck (which may explain the whole "not using them" thing)
In my heart, I believe that I have the potential to take gorgeous photos of anything, most particularly food. In my head, I know that this is not my strong suit. Case in point:

Bad lighting etc., but at least I made the pancetta!

I've looked for food photography classes locally and have come up empty handed every time, and for those of you who think food photography is as easy as getting your niece or nephew to smile in that group shot on family vacation, well, you've got another thing comin'.

Enter the lovely and talented professional photographer Andrea Walker. Of Seattle. And Frederick. (How cool is that?!)

I have somehow convinced the talented Ms. Walker to stop by the little 'ole Kitchen Studio on Saturday, October 1 to teach a class on The Art of Food Photography. Isn't that fantastic?? Here, take a look at just a few of her gorgeous food pics:

Andrea has a command of light, and that makes all of the difference in photography.

If you want your food pics to look better... more professional... less sucky, for your blog or whatever, do NOT miss this one-time class, The Art of Food Photography at The Kitchen Studio on Saturday, October 1, 2011 from 10-2.

You'll work in small groups on several food set-ups, using both natural and artificial light. An SLR camera is recommended but not necessary, so bring what you have and learn! Andrea will also will have a selection of equipment and light modifiers to use during class.

The class runs from 10am-2pm and you just know I won't let you leave hungry. A light meal will be served during class.

Interested? Of course you are! Register for class here, and just between you and me, I wouldn't wait too long -- there are only 12 spaces and this class is sure to have a big draw!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

FCC & Me

First thing first, have you seen THIS:

For some reason, the lovely folks over at Frederick Community College (FCC) asked little 'ole me to be on the cover of the brand spanking new continuing education course catalog. Woo-double-hoo! Not only did the charming Amanda Glenn from FCC set up the entire thing and made it happen in a flash, but I also had the chance to work with one of my favorite photographers, Kurt Holter, again. And let me just say that if Kurt can make a silk purse out of this sow's ear, well, mad, mad skills I tell you, mad skills.

I'm actually a huge fan of FCC's continuing ed classes and have not only taught a few (on blogging no less), but I've taken several as well, on writing and photography. I love education, which is a good thing, since I do own a recreational cooking school.

And while I've got your attention, you can tell from my lack of posting that summer cooking camps are in full swing at The Kitchen Studio. We are busy every single day cooking with kids & teens, and in the evenings, we've been hosting not only slammin' classes like our Modern Greek cooking class (Greek yogurt panna cotta...yes please!), but corporate teambuilding sessions as well. The summer so far has been covered in awesome sauce with a side of boo-yah!

We're currently planning and plotting our fall cooking class schedule and plan to have it online by August 1. In the meantime, we still have some space in the following summer classes:
If you have a class you'd like to see on the fall schedule, please let us know. We'd love to see you at TKS soon. :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So You Want to Work in Food? We Should Talk

Every day, I meet people who want to work in food.

They dream about food. They love food. They just don't know how their lives could possibly be complete without making a career in food.


There are a few things you should know about getting a job in food before you decide you just can't make it without devoting your soul to this industry.

1. You're not going to make very much money. At least not at first and really, probably never. Because cooking for friends out of your kitchen is pretty darn different from making a living at it. You've got to pay rent (becasue you're going to do this legally, RIGHT?), utilities, possibly pay to get a commercial kitchen up and running (and that will set you back major bucks), insurance, and supplies, whose costs seem to be rising every single day. All of those bills get paid before you make a dime.

2. You will always smell like food. And not necessarily in a "yummy chocolate cake" kind of way, but more like a bbq, onions, garlic in your hair aroma.

3. Your feet will hurt...all the time. This is a very physical profession. I constantly shop, and schelp, and haul, and stand, and I'm no spring chicken. Food is a profession for the young, and if you're not in your 20's be prepared to deal with that. Which leads me to...

4. You will never look cute at work again. You must wear solid shoes (Danskos rules!), clothing so that you don't catch on fire, absolutely no flip flops, pull your hair back, wear a hat, and be prepared to sweat. Kitchens are hot. Duh.

5. Nights and weekends are required. You will miss family occasions. You will miss going out with your friends (unless they are also in the industry, in which case, you'll be going out after your place closes). You will have to rearrange your schedule so that you can work while others play. If you're into baking, you may even need to work in the middle of the night, because that's what bakers do.

6. If you're even a little successful, you will need to hire someone else to do the cooking, while you handle other ends of the business. Awesome, right? You're no longer working with the food as much, but paying someone else to do what you love. If you ever want to make money, it's what you'll need to do.

7. You are now "The Help". Your job is now to provide the eats and to serve. I actually really enjoy this part, so it's good with me. But if it bothers you, move on...not the career for you.

Still can't get over the whole idea of ditching your job and starting your fabulous, marvelous business in food? Well, kudos to you. In fact, we're just now starting to offer The Kitchen Studio as a shared use kitchen for new food businesses. It's a way to test out your concept without huge start-up costs in a licesened commercial kitchen. We've got reasonable hourly rates and can also offer consulting services to help you get your business rolling. Love it??? We sure do and already have two businesses beginning to make use of the space, with another 2-3 starting the process. Just give me a call at 301-663-6442 or drop me an email and we can talk. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Manhattan in the Spring: Artichokes

Growing up in South Central PA, I'd never heard of an artichoke, let alone eaten one. My diet consisted mostly of good Pennsyltuckey food; meat, starch, and some form of gravy, the remnants of such still apparent today about my waistline.

Before I delve into the artichoke, a little back story, and you are going to love it.

During the end of my senior year in college, I stumbled on a rent-controlled sublet in New York City's East Village (1st Ave. between 3rd & 4th Streets). A true two-bedroom apartment, with an eat-in kitchen AND balcony, for 500 bucks a month, and that included utilities. If you stood on the balcony and looked to the north, it was a clear view to the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. To the south, the Woolworth building and Twin Towers (also seen from my bedroom window while laying in bed, partially because I couldn't figure out how to hang curtains. Hey - I was 21 and had never hung curtains before and because of the whole illegal sublet thing, I didn't want to damage the wall. Don't judge.)

Anyway, being me, and a bit naive, and in need of a roommate to share the cost of the exorbitant $500 rent (HA!), I made fliers on the copier at my internship and colored them in with highlighters, then posted them around the art building on campus because hey, art students surely would be looking to move to Manhattan. Am I right or am I right??

I was right.

Enter my roommate Nancy, a more savvy than I grad with an art degree and a job in the big city, looking for a place to live. We were opposites in every way except for both being girls. She was a good person, but a bit uptight for me. I'm sure that I made her crazy with my country-girl mentality and complete lack of style or grace, while being completely devoid of any city chicness, no matter how hard I tried. I was flea market and she longed for 5th Avenue.

After getting booted from our fabulous illegal sublet just 5 months in, we found a much smaller, more expensive abode on East 93rd St, between 1st & 2nd Avenues. With one bedroom measuring just 8' x 10', I had to beg for my mom to give us my brother's old bunk beds so that we would both have a place to sleep. It was a little bit "Good night John-boy", and felt the complete opposite of whatever you think it should feel like to be young and living in the most exciting city in the world, tucking in at night with your chic, savvy, slightly-haughty roommate in the bed under yours, while the city zooms just outside your window.

Just a few months after moving into the new apartment, a 4th floor walk-up compared to our 7th floor elevator building (*sigh*), Nancy decided to have a soiree at our place for some school and artsy friends. Not being quite the person I am today, I was sure to make myself scarce. The next morning though, I was regaled with the tale of Nancy and the gentleman she had met the night before, while she was walking to the liquor store with friends and he was driving down our street. Throwing caution to the wind (and yes, we really were very cautious, being two young ladies living on our own in the city), they exchanged numbers and made plans for a date later that week.

A bit hungover, but secretly thrilled with her own chutzpah, Nancy let on that her date was a bit older, and left it at that.

Two weeks of dating, and Nancy moved in with Bob. The 67 year-old man who had been driving down the street and had quite a posh one bedroom in a doorman building, a few blocks away. We were 22.

Now Bob was certainly nice to me, but please understand, Bob wasn't Robert Redford/Paul Newman-older. No. Bob was grandpa-older. He looked, and sounded, like my grandfather. But Nancy knew what she wanted, and what she wanted wasn't a tiny one bedroom walk-up where you had to flick on the kitchen lights a few seconds before walking in so that the roaches would scatter. She was focused.

I was dating John, now my husband, at the time. Nancy tried to arrange a few dinners at Bob's apartment for the four of us, but it just felt so odd. Like I was trying to impress my grandpa.

But Bob knew about food, and I was just starting to show an inkling of interest in new and interesting things, like asparagus (a pot just to cook asparagus? That's crazy talk!), and yes, artichokes.

Bob and Nancy introduced me to my first artichoke and carefully taught me how to remove each leaf, dip it in mayonnaise, and scrape it on my teeth to pull the tiny bit of deliciousness onto my tongue. They showed me to carefully cut away the fuzzy interior (the choke) and be left with that treat of all treats, the heart.

It may have been just dinner with artichokes, but it felt a bit like a minor seduction scene of a slightly nefarious nature, and were it not for my new favorite treat, I wouldn't have even stayed for dessert. I did make a quick retreat and quite possibly, it was all in my head, but, I suppose we'll never know.

I covered for Nancy with her parents for close to two years while she lived with Bob, and didn't really accept many dinner invitations from there on. I was making my own life, making my own friends, and dating for love.

After Nancy and I no longer lived together (I had just gotten engaged and she wanted someone she could connect with I'm sure, someone more chic and together and city-like), I moved into a tiny studio apartment just around the corner, with slanty floors and a minuscule kitchen. My big splurge, once I was done with my regular evening workout, was to stop at the fancy gourmet market on 3rd Avenue in the upper 80's and buy an artichoke, or if I was feeling rich, two, with a bottle of Blanchard & Blanchard Mustard Vinaigrette, walk to my apartment many blocks away and prepare the artichoke(s), noshing while sitting on my futon and watching bad 90's television. But I was still loving on those artichokes.

I've been searching for Blanchard & Blanchard Mustard Vinaigrette for several years now, but haven't been able to locate it. Maybe they've gone out of business? But when spring is in the air, and I'm wistful for my time in Manhattan, I look and search and Google, hoping to find that dressing and the perfect artichoke so that I can have a taste of New York in the spring, and think back on Nancy, and Bob, and why my life now is so, so much better than I could have imagined back then.

If you have any leads on that dressing, please let me know. I'll make us a few artichokes and we can pour a bottle of wine and maybe, just maybe, I'll have more stories to tell. ;)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Charcutepalooza Pancetta Challenge: Lazy Girl's Coq au Vin

In deference to Tom Colicchio, this should be called Red Wine Chicken Stew, not Coq au Vin, which we all know must be prepared with an old rooster and nothing, I say, I say nothing else. (Anyone else get the Top Chef and Foghorn Leghorn references? See how I did that? Awesome.)

I started Charcutepalozza bit late, and thus, my pancetta is a bit late. But no worries, I'm right on track for the brining challenge. Hello brisket!

But I digress...

So here's the thing: you do the challenge and then, once you're done, you say to yourself, "Holy crap, I've got a lot of pancetta! What the heck am I gonna do with it all?"

So you cut off great slabs and hand it out to friends, with explicit instructions to cook it thoroughly, less you be down one friend due to poisoning, which I'm seriously trying to avoid.

Then, supposing you had just taught a class on making Coq au Vin, you might also say to yourself, "Maybe I'll make a really lazy version of Coq au Vin, because I don't feel like going all in today and I'll just use the stuff I have on hand. HEY! I've got pancetta!"

So you see how I ended up here.

First of all, look at this gorgeousness:

I know, right?!

Even though I wanted to leave it whole forever, partially because I love being able to say that I've got meat hanging in the basement (it makes me feel a little badass) I sliced it, thickly, so that I would be able to get lardon-esque pieces out of it to replicate the bacon needed in the recipe:

FYI - pancetta is essentially unsmoked bacon, so though it adds the fat and the meatiness, it doesn't lend any of that bacon-smokiness to the party.

Funny...I seemed to get someone else's attention at this point...

No Munchie. No pancetta for you!

I just bought a gorgeous red, enamel coated cast-iron Dutch oven at Sam's Club for $40 (Yes, I know they're the evil empire, but man, I love this pot, and it was really reasonably priced!) and thought I'd give it a whirl with this dish. So I jacked the heat up to high and tossed in my pancetta.

Just to prove that even professional cooks occasionally get it wrong, I'll let you know that medium heat would have been much more appropriate. I wanted to render out the fat, not kill it and burn my pancetta. So I turned the heat down a bit, saving me from myself, and let it do it's magic. Just look at that:

Once the fat had rendered, I pulled out the browned, tasty pancetta pieces and put them into a bowl. This was a major mistake, simply because apparently, my 14 year-old son just looooves pancetta. Or as we were calling them, bacon bites (which I know isn't technically true, but cut me some slack here).

I added the chicken parts to the pan to brown in the fat. Full disclosure: I did not have a whole chicken on hand, so even though that totally would have been my preference (bones rule!), I went with semi-frozen chicken breasts (do as I say, not as I do).

Once they were browned and beautiful, and not cooked through, I removed them from the pan and set them aside.

I left the remaining fat in the pan and added my mirepoix (fancy way to say carrots, celery, and onion), cooking until it was soft, about 5 minutes or so on medium heat.

At this point I added about 1/4 cup flour, stirring it around a bit to get rid of that raw flour taste and to make a pale roux. (Interesting fact: The longer you cook a roux and the more color you get in it, the less thickening power it has. You're welcome :)

I also made myself a little bouquet garni, which in this case was essentially parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaves wrapped in cheesecloth. It save a lot of time fishing things out of your finished stew.

I added the equivalent of a bottle of wine to the pot, starting with just a bit and whisking until it was a little pasty, being mixed with the roux and all, then a bit more, all the while whisking, until it was all in the pot. I tossed in my bouqet garni, and added the chicken back to the pot. I also added a couple of fresh thyme sprigs, because I love thyme.

I turned the heat to high, brought it just to the boil, then immediately turned it down, way down, as in off and put it into a 325-degree oven for about an hour, hour and a half (I started reading and lost track of time).

This is where I tell you that if I was making real Coq au Vin, I would have then removed the chicken from the pot, drained the sauce to get all of the veggies out and leave a nice, smooth, sauce, squished the well-cooked veggies into submission to extract all of their juices and flavors, and then added a garnish of button mushrooms and pearl onions that had also been browned in the fat from the pancetta, leaving me with silky sauce, perfectly cooked chicken, and a delightful, flavorful bit of veggie with the mushrooms and onions.

But for real? Forget it.Since this was for my family, I left the mirepoix in because any way I can get veggies on that plate, I'm gonna take it. I also didn't have mushrooms on hand and knew I'd be the only one to eat the pearl onions, so I skipped those too.

And you know what? It was still pretty darn good.

That's a close to a beauty shot as you're going to get (ha!), but I'll tell you what, they ate every bit of it, not just for dinner, but as soon as they all got home from school yesterday too.

So lazy girl's Coq au Vin with homemade pancetta? Win! Charcutepalooza 1: CVB 1.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Service Matters

When I go to a restaurant I expect two things: good food, and good service.

I may be having someone else do the cooking so that I can enjoy something wonderful that they prepared, or I may be out because I'm celebrating something or just want some time away from the kitchen. You never know.

But last night, well, last night...

My dad died not quite 4 months ago, and yesterday would have been my parents 45th wedding anniversary. Mom has been handling things remarkably well, and it didn't seem like we should let the occasion pass without recognition. So I invited mom down to take her out for a meal she would enjoy.

Mom loves seafood, so I choose a popular seafood restaurant in town that seemed right up her alley. With a reputation for good fish and good service, I planned what I hoped would be an enjoyable evening for all of us.

I planned ahead (not something I usually do) and made a reservation very easily. We even bumped up the reservation a tiny bit earlier in the day with no issues at all. So far, so good.

After arriving on time, we were shown to our table and had a seat. I had heard the the prices were steep (and they were), but my husband and I have always been willing to pay for good food and a good night out, and I was hoping that it would be great for mom. That's all I wanted: Mom to have a great time.

Our server was irritated right off the bat, when we decided to skip the alcohol (8 bucks for a glass of Ecco Domani? No thanks, and mom doesn't drink). Without going into painful, irritatingly long detail (the food glued to the side of my glass, the server snatching it out of my hand without a word and all but stomping from the table, forgotten food, and so on) I'll just say that the service? Not what I'd hoped.

When I go to Black Hog, I know what I'm getting. Good food, friendly service, and a tasty meal. When I go to Nola, I also know what I'm getting: delicious coffee et al, and friendly service that's a tiny bit slow, but I'm prepared for that. Acacia or The Tasting Room? Usually primo service and food, which I love.

When I go to an expensive seafood restaurant, I want the server to be nice to us, and especially nice to my mom, and anything less, well, is unacceptable. I don't mind spending almost $300 for a meal on a special occasion, but I do expect that we'll be treated well. Because service can make or break the experience. And last night, it broke it. A special occasion, ruined, because someone had a bad day. I can forgive a dirty glass and forgotten food (hey, I've waitressed), but I can't forgive a brusque attitude and being made to feel like our table just didn't matter.

I sound a bit whiny - I know. A little petulant and maybe just irritating. Sorry 'bout that. But fancyish seafood restaurant? Never again. Great downtown Frederick restaurants? Yes please!

Even if your food is good, if you don't have good service, you don't really have anything.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Charcutepalooza 1: CVB 0

That's right - I've already missed my first challenge. Dagnabit.

But truth be told, I thought I probably would. I didn't learn about the (still) fab Charcutepalooza until January 30, just a little more than 2 short weeks before the first deadline.

No problem I thought, I'll just speed things up.

I just gonna say that I don't really recommend speeding up charcuterie. Even though I probably could on the pancetta, simply because it's cooked before it's used.

That said, I actually did start it as soon as I could procure my ingredients (thus far the most challenging part of the whole shindig):

It's all rubbed in its cure, starting its 7 day settle in the fridge. Just a bit of rubbing and flipping, waiting for it to dry out a bit.

Then, after rinsing, doing a bit more trimming (my bad), I wrapped that sucker as tight as I could and hung it to dry.

Isn't that pretty?

It's supposed to hang for a week or two, which definitely puts me over the deadline. However, I will throw caution to the wind and use it in something fab-u-lous this weekend. Another post soon to come, hopefully minus food poisoning. :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Love Liver: Easy Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Red Onions

I have a total thing for organ meat. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Ever since cooking school when my friend Drew and I vowed to someday open "The Organ Meat Cafe", I've loved liver. Thinking back, it may even go beyond that the whole way back to when I was a kid.

Mom would pull the innards out of the chicken before grilling it, give them a quick rinse, then throw the guts on the grill too. Dad was all about the hearts and gizzards, while mom and I would split the liver. I probably started eating the livers because mom liked them, and I liked mom.

Now, it seems like everyone is starting to get into offal. Almost everyone knows what foie gras is (fattened duck or goose liver), even if they don't agree with how it's developed. Think of it like this though, fois gras is the Rolls Royce of liver, and chicken livers, well, they're a bit more like a Kia.

But I like liver. Specifically, poultry liver. I've never been a liver and onion fan, but wave a chicken liver in front of me and I'm yours forever.

Restaurants have added much more liver to their menus, in terrines, or even little pots of chicken liver pate. Mmmmm. The best is when it's served with tangy-sweet onions on the side, a bit of grainy mustard, and a toasty crostini.

So yesterday, even though my Steelers-loving brother said it makes me Un-American, I made a little bit of chicken liver pate to snack on during the game. I bought some buffalo wings too (no worries), but me, I'm about the liver. One of the very best parts of liver-loving is that they're cheap and they're quick to cook.

Be not afraid, and try this recipe. It's delicious.

Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Red Onions
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced (I like Gala)
  • 2 large shallots, diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 pound chicken livers (big, nasty veins and yellow stuff removed)
  • salt
  • pepper (black or white)
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
Place a large saute pan on the stove over medium heat. Add 4 T. butter to the pan and allow to melt. Add diced apple and shallots to the pan and saute until softened and light brown, 5-6 minutes. Add cleaned chicken livers and 2 more T. of butter to the pan and cook livers on both sides until browned slightly on the outside and just a tiny bit pink in the middle, 2 minutes or so per side (be careful not to overcook here or the livers will get hard and nasty).

Take liver mixture and place into the bowl of a food processor. Add remaining 2 T. butter and grind until smoothish. Add 2-3 tablespoons of heavy cream to the mix and grind a bit more to give it a nice texture. Salt and pepper to taste, but don't be shy.

Place liver mixture into a large ramekin and cover with plastic wrap touching the top of the pate. Chill for 2-3 hours. Serve with Pickled Red Onions.

Pickled Red Onions
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large red onion, cut in half through the root, then sliced into thin half rings
Place cider vinegar, water, peppercorns, bay leaf, and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Immediately after mixture comes to a boil, remove from the heat and set aside.

Place sliced red onions into a container (I like canning jars). Pour hot vinegar mixture over the red onions. Allow to cool for one hour, then place lid on container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. I think these are best used within a week or so, but hey, that's up to you.

Got it? Good. Now go make yourself some pate and feel a little fancy and like you're king (or queen) of the liver. :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Charcutepalooza-The Challenge Begins

I started the year looking for a challenge. Not just the challenge of living my life, but something more...foodish.

Then I stumbled upon Charcutepalooza.

I was taking a quick breeze through Michael Ruhlman's blog, and read his post on Charcutepalooza. Ruhlman actually wrote the book on charcuterie (no really, he did!), defined by the fine folks at Epicurious as meaning " ... "cooker of meat," charcuterie has been considered a French culinary art at least since the 15th century. It refers to the products, particularly (but not limited to) pork specialties such as PÂTÉS, RILLETTES, GALANTINES, CRÉPINETTES, etc., which are made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie."


Finally, a set challenge to test my skills as a cook. A task to advance my knowledge in an area that fascinates me. Folks...we have a winner!


The challenge is this: On the 15th of each month, a charcuterie challenge will be posted on the blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen. The post will kick off the project and offer some tips for success. Participants have one month to complete our take on the challenge.

Kim from The Yummy Mummy will post her take on the monthly challenge on the 15th, also. She’ll be addressing the charcuterie from a "never-done-it-before" point of view.

The ladies are letting us slide a bit with the January challenge, Duck Prosciutto, which just has to be made and posted about at some point during the year. I have a few duck breasts from my friend Chan's fall hunting trip in my freezer, so I'll probably get started with those, even though wild duck is much, much leaner than farm-raised Pekins.

And that's how it goes.

Right now, I'm getting to work on my pancetta. I need to post by the 15th of February, which means I'll need to figure out a way to speed up the 3 week process to just over a week. problem (fingers crossed!). I am a bit giddy about the very thought of hanging pancetta, prosciutto, sausages and the like in my basement from the rafters. So stay tuned. A fabulous quick pancetta recipe is just around the corner...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Kitchen Studio Update: Shared-Use Kitchen, Kitchen Assistants Wanted

It's update time at The Kitchen Studio, and we have tons going on.

The biggest news is that we're one step closer to opening TKS up as a shared-use kitchen. We'll be sending a proposal off to the Frederick County Health Department this week outlining our policies and procedures for running the kitchen as an hourly rental to other small food businesses during the hours we're not running classes and the like. We've already received approvals from the county plumbing departments and planning and permits, so we've got our fingers crossed that this is the last step.

What's a shared-use kitchen you may ask? A shared-use kitchen is a licensed commercial kitchen that is available for hourly rentals to small food businesses who need regulated space in which to cook, but don't want to (or have the big bucks to) set-up a kitchen on their own, which can be very, very expensive. Our hope and plan is that some businesses will use us for a very long time and that others will use us as a stepping stone to build their businesses before they take on the expense of setting up their own place. Sounds like a win-win to me, and hopefully the HD will realize what a great idea this is, getting folks cooking legally and generating businesses and new tax revenue for the county.

Onto to Kitchen Assistants...

We have a program in place, being updated and run by the fabulous Dotty, for volunteer kitchen assistants to lend a hand during cooking classes at TKS. It's a great way to earn a free or reduced price class, plus you'll learn while assisting and enjoy a great meal.

It's easy to assist. Just take a look at our schedule and let us know what classes you want to assist. Show up at TKS 45 minutes prior to class starting and plan to be there for about an hour (often less) after class is complete. You'll want to wear comfy shoes and be prepared for some dish washing, but other than that, it's pretty darn simple. We'll keep records of when you assist and let you know when you've earned your free class. We plan our staffing based on our assistants, so if you sign-up to help, please be sure to actually show up for class. :)

Easy breezy lemon squeezy. Let me know if you know anyone who would be a good fit for our kitchen, either to rent or to assist, and we'll see you soon!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Best Cheese I've Ever Had: Hudson Valley Camembert

After returning from teaching a class one evening just before Christmas, I retrieved the mail from the front porch and found a large box with my name on it. Being a former New Yorker, and noticing the return label from Bleeker St., I knew this would be a treat, and WOW, was I right! I ripped through the packaging to find a crate from Murray's Cheese Shop in NYC.

One of my darling friends had sent me a crate of cheese. Varied and beautiful, and not overly stinky cheeses. I was delighted. There may have been singing involved, or perhaps dancing about with the cheeses, and utterances of "You can look, but you can't touch my cheeeeese". I don't recall really. ;) (The lid on the crate itself is so cool that I'm planning on having it framed and put on display at The Kitchen Studio soon.)

The general rule with good cheese is that it needs to set out at room temperature for at least an hour before serving. This allows the cheese time to shake off its chill and the flavors to make their grand entrance. It makes the cheese taste more like what it's intended. But there was no chance I was waiting an hour. Ha! We opened just two, the Tickler Cheddar (most likely the best cheddar I've ever tasted) and the Sapore del Piave, which I'd never heard of but recall as being mild and firm. Both delicious.

I decided to save the remaining three cheeses in the box for Christmas Eve to share not only with my cheese-loving family, but my mom too.

I talked about the cheese. I admired the wrapping on the cheese. I dreamed about the cheese (really!). Christmas Eve arrives and my mother is sitting at the kitchen table as I begin to scurry about. "Just wait mom, this cheddar is the best you'll ever have." Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought that, as my fantastic block of Tickler Cheddar was reduced to a mere sliver. The wrapping weighed more than the cheese in it. I'll just say that it was a good thing that John and the kids were at mass, or else I may have said some uncharitable things to those cheese-thieves.

With the cheddar being gone, it was time to unwrap the remaining cheeses. The Old Chatham Camembert, Young Goat Gouda, and Ciresa Mountain Gorgonzola. Munchie the Wonder Puggle availed himself to the Sea Salt Crackers, which I'm supposing he found as delightful and crisp as we did.

This time, I gave the cheese its due, and let it set out at room temp, unwrapped, for a good hour. It was well worth the time. Every cheese in this assortment was fantastic. The gorgonzola blue and pungent, with thick veins running through it, the young goat gouda tasting of youth and milk, but the camembert...oh my gosh. The camembert.

The camembert was The Old Chatham Camembert from The Hudson Valley Sheepherding Company. Specifically Nancy's Hudson Valley Camembert. Made from a mixture of sheep's and cow's milk with a bloomy rind, I kid you not -- this is the best cheese I've ever eaten. Soft, creamy, and definitely brie-ish, it's flavor not too over-powering, this cheese is the stuff of cheesetastic dreams.

In my magnificent box 'o cheese, I received a 4 ounce square of this marvelous cheese. We gobbled it up in minutes, as if there was no other option but to eat it all in a single sitting. It was so creamy, so rich, so very buttery.

On Christmas morning, I visited the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company website and ordered myself a bit more of this fantastic cheese. A two-pound wheel in fact, for just $40. There was snow in the northeast and all I can remember thinking is that I sure hoped the bad weather didn't hold up the delivery of my cheese. Selfish, I know.

My cheese arrived somewhere between Christmas and New Year's day, a 2 1/2 pound round instead of the mentioned two pounds. Score! I'd pull out my round, slice of a good-sized wedge, allow it to come to room temp and share. Invited somewhere, I would carry the remains of my round, pull it out, sheepishly, and let my host know that I had this amazing cheese, would it be ok to share? It was. This cheese would be met with groans of delight, and though meant to be savored, it was just too good. It quickly disappeared.

It may be time to order a fresh round, and this time, I'll totally take my time. Pinky swear.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kitchen Studio in The News: Frederick Gazette

So I'm a little behind the times.


I'm getting back in the swing and thought I should share this little bit of loveliness that was in a recent issue of The Frederick Gazette:

Did I mention that this made the front page?

I'm not sure what I like best...the obvious double chin or the complete baby fish mouth wide open thing. But don't the kids look great? And like they're having fun?

That's because they are! Every Christmas vacation, we hold a two-day mini-camp at The Kitchen Studio. It's the most wonderful time of the year. This is one of my very favorite camps because lots of the kids have just celebrated Christmas, they've all had time off of school, and they're enjoying this short break. They haven't had time to settle into the ennui of summer and they are enthusiastic to have something to do, especially if that something is cooking!

One of the reporters from The Gazette, Margarita Raycheva, contacted me and asked if she could come to TKS and meet some of the kids and take a few photos. We were happy to oblige.

My favorite part of the article? Check this out, "Like a military general commanding her troops, Van Bloem, of Frederick, stood surrounded by her little chefs in the middle of her kitchen in an office building on Buckeystown Pike on Tuesday and guided them as they worked to prepare a meal of English meat pie, German potato dumplings, Dutch desert pastry and whipped cream."

How much fun is that?? Military general? I LOVE it! If you want to read the complete article and see a few more pictures, this time of super cute kids and not my baby fish mouth (a shout-out to anyone who's ever seen When Harry Met Sally), you can check it out here.

Summer camp registration begins March 1, this year with 8 full weeks of camp. Holy moley!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Way to a Perfect Saute

Last week we held a Bistro Night class down at The Kitchen Studio, mostly because I really like bistro food and was a bit inspired by Shab Row Bistro down on East St. here in Frederick.

The menu featured all the usual bistro culprits: moules (mussels), French Onion Soup, Chocolate Mousse (Julia's version, 'natch), and Steak Frites with duck fat fries.

As we worked through the menu we began to finish things up by finally getting some heat on our ribeyes. That's when I realized - people love to fiddle with their meat (no double entendre intentionally intended:). If you want to get a beautiful brown crust on whatever it is you're sauteing, you need to follow a few basic rules.

Rules for a Perfect Saute

  1. Dry Product. Your product (chef-speak for your protein typically, y'know, the meat) must be dry. That means blot it with a paper towel or do whatever you need to so that it's no longer damp or wet. If something wet hits the pan it will generate steam, and steamed food is never brown food.
  2. Hot pan. A really, really hot pan. And make sure it isn't a non-stick pan because the entire purpose of a non-stick pan is so that it doesn't stick, thus you'll never form a beautiful, brown crust (catching a theme here yet?)
  3. Fat in the pan. Get a bit of fat into your pan. If your pan is screaming hot, you have to be careful not to use a fat that will burn at a high heat, like butter or extra-virgin olive oil. I use a lot of veg oil for this purpose and sometimes throw in a knob of butter later for flavor.
  4. Don't fiddle. Once you place your product into the pan, don't move it around. This is the trickiest part, since most folks feel that if they're not pushing the meat around the pan, they're not really cooking. This is FALSE. As Alton Brown so famously (and correctly) said, "Food + Heat = Cooking". I take that to mean that if you've got the pan up in the air for whatever reason, it's off the heat. If you're pushing the meat around the pan, you're not allowing it to come into constant contact with the pan, forming that desirable crust. Got it?
  5. Let the product talk to you. If you have to yank and pull, whatever you're cooking isn't ready to be flipped. I have, on occasion, felt like I need to put a foot on the pan and yank in order to get it to release a chicken breast. Unh uh. This is where your moment of Zen Cooking comes into play - the meat will tell you when it's ready. When the meat releases itself, it's ready to go, not before.
If you've done it right, you'll have all of the tasty bits in the bottom of the pan, called fond. Add a bit of wine, a little broth, maybe some shallots and scrape those bad boys up. You've just made a perfect sauce to go with your perfectly sauteed steak/fish/chicken.

Now go forth and saute something. And oh, don't forget about turning on your vent, cause it's gonna get smoky. :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dear Food Network...Maybe I Can Help ;)

Dear Food Network,

I recently read on The Huffington Post that your 4Q 2010 ratings are down a bit. It seems that your female viewers, ages 25-54, tuned out by around 10%. That's pretty big news.

The Food Network is the giant of food programming, but lately, things have gotten a bit, oh, I don't know...stale. Or maybe monotonous. Or maybe, you've become so focused on "Celebrity Chefs" that you forgot about your audience. You see, these celeb chefs are fun to watch. And they all seem like they'd be fun to hang out with and maybe do some cooking and have a beer (or a lovely glass of wine if we're talking my darling Ina), but they seem to be all that's on nowadays. And it's just a lot of them. All. The. Time.

This isn't to say that there isn't excellent food programming out there (Bourdain on No Reservations on the Travel Channel or the big guy, Top Chef at Bravo), or that all of your shows suck (they don't), but you need to get back to the cooking. And maybe branch out a little.

Wouldn't it be cool if you got some real chefs to do a show again? I loved Sarah Moulton & Gale Gand. You need industry heavyweights, not just fluffy programming. Hey - I know it's food which by it's very nature is fluffy, but what about Michael Pollan, doing a show on local and sustainable food? Or Michael Ruhlman, who is sexy as hell and a damn good cook doing, well, I don't care. Just something smart and foodish.

What about working in sponsorships and cool tie-ins with real food mags, like Bon Appetit, or Fine Cooking? Your Food Network Magazine is a fun read, and I am a subscriber, but why not lend yourself a bit more credibility by going with a few industry leaders in the food movement, not just building your own products?

Instead of doing a food truck race, which just seemed silly, follow a truck around for a week and see what really goes into running a successful truck (I'm a fan of the Gogo Gogi truck here in Frederick - they sell tasty Korean BBQ and are just getting started), from the shopping, to the cooking, to menu development, to finding the right place to park. That could be cool.

You used to run a show called Recipe for Success about food businesses and how they made it (or not) in their business. It was just a half hour, but I'll tell you, I never missed an episode. I loved seeing food from the business side of things. Plus, everyone thinks food is such a sexy business to work in, when really, it's quite the opposite.

I know, I've got scads of people critiquing your business, and your chefs, and your schedule. But I know that I used to love to watch the Food Network, and so did my students, but now? Not so much. It seems like it's dumbed down so much that it's not appealing to anyone who really is into food. And there are a lot of us.

One last thought, and this is the big one. The money shot if you will. My big idea. Your future cash cow...drum roll please...

Why on earth don't you have a cooking show for kids?

Seriously. This seems like such a misstep on your part. So, so many kids come though my doors every year, sold out after-school classes and cooking camps, and they want to cook. They love you. They work for your approval. They love to cook (and maybe someday be superstar chefs on their own) and yet you ignore them. And more importantly? You ignore their parents. Their moms. Those 25-54 year-old women who are slipping away from your grasp.

Maybe you need a kid's cooking show that doesn't dumb down and make stupid kid food. Or maybe a parent/child cooking show that shows parents how to loosen up in the kitchen and kids how to work the right way to make good, solid food on their own and to clean-up the mess (moms love that!). Maybe something that speaks directly to this audience in a fun, so not uptight way.

I'm here for you
. Really, I am. Because I love these kids. And I know how to talk to them. And even if I'm not your cup of tea, for goodness sake, please stop ignoring this market. Talk to the kids and they'll talk to you. Win-win I say. Win-win.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yup. I've Been Slacking: 2011 Food Resolutions

Obviously, it's been a while between posts.

Truth be told, I just haven't found my writing groove since my dad's death a few months ago. Or any groove for that matter. I've kind of checked out.

Or maybe I'm using that as an excuse. I don't really know.

What I do know is that business has been good at The Kitchen Studio lately. And I have been working. A lot. It seems like I'm working every single day, which I am. And I don't mind a bit except that I'm getting even squishier in the middle and am exhausted at the end of each and every day.

That said, it's better to be busy, busy, busy than to not be busy and sit around. And I am happy for the work, and mostly, all of the super new students that have walked through our doors the past few months. Ed and Karen and Bruce and Travis and so, so many more that I can't even name. Really fun, cool people that cook and enjoy food. I'm grateful to have a job where I'm always meeting awesome new people.

So here's what I like to do every year: Make New Year's Resolutions, but only about food. Because of course I want to lose weight, and be nicer to my kids, and save more money, and treat more people better, and paint the house and so on and so forth, just like everyone else. But what's really interesting to me is food and the revolutions that constantly occur in our world regarding how to eat, what to cook, sustainability and the like.

Thus, My Food Year's Resolutions 2011:

  1. Learn how to use my new Sous Vide Supreme in a way that works for home cooks (not just chi chi poo poo fancy restaurants) and then teach said home cooks how to get the most bang for their buck from the equipment and technique.
  2. Bring more new students into The Kitchen Studio and help them learn, really learn new techniques that will help to make them better cooks and inspire them to try new things.
  3. Learn a few new techniques myself and further my own culinary education by taking a few advanced classes myself somewhere. Any ideas?
  4. Hire a few new instructors at TKS to beef up our offerings of super cooking classes (looks like we may have a wonderful new Italian instructor coming on soon - stay tuned!)
  5. Try cool new foods every month. (I just signed up for the Foodzie monthly tasting box, so we'll see how that shakes out)
  6. Sell my book. And get an agent. And make kid's cooking what it needs to be in this era of Michelle Obama, working parents, and The Food Network.
  7. Really work the Gotta Break Some Eggs site to get more kids cooking on their own.
  8. Eat out more in good restaurants throughout the region (Hoping to get in on a Table 21 cancellation at Volt some time during the year, because even though I'm more of a casual restaurant eater, it feels like something I need, and want, to do. I want someone to blow away my expectations and change my life with a meal. Table 21 may be my best shot, even though they're booked for the year. I've also got my sites set on Blue Hill at Stone Barns in NY, more on that later.)
  9. Write more. I'm going to start contributing to Want2Dish a hyper-local web site dedicated to all the awesomeness that is Frederick, MD. This is exciting stuff!
  10. Read more. I've pre-ordered what I'm certain will be an excellent book by Prune chef/owner Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, which comes out March 1. Because she is bad ass and she has great style in food and writing.
I'll cap it at 10 for now, but I've got a few more percolating in there. How 'bout you? Any food resolutions swirling around your head?