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?