Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas to You!

I wanted to take a moment to wish you the very merriest of holidays this year and to thank you for coming to visit, even though there hasn't been a whole heck of a lot to read. I've been pretty darn sick for the past month, with two blood clots in my lung and two in my leg. To say that this has put a bit of a damper on my holiday season would be an absolute understatement. But I'm trying... (maybe I'll learn how to take a more flattering selfie in 2014!)


I've learned a few things over the past month, and thought I'd share:
  1. Thanksgiving dinner at the hospital, regardless of how fantastic the hospital staff is, will always be awful, and may even make you cry...just a little.
  2. My husband has excellent turkey cooking abilities that I never knew existed.
  3. I will never cook a turkey again.
  4. Having meals brought to your home, when you have no energy to cook, is the most wonderful thing imaginable.
  5. Spending time with family and friends is truly fantastic, especially when they have a place for you to sit and don't mind if you go lay down for a bit in the middle of a conversation.
  6. If I never see another episode of Law & Order, or SVU, it will be too soon.
  7. Going vegetarian for a few days a week really isn't that bad, despite being an unrepentant carnivore.
  8. Technically, French fries are vegetarian.
  9. I am really, really, really ready to feel like myself again and get back out there and into the kitchen. 
  10. I have, without question, the best staff in all of Frederick. Thank you to Caroline, Kerry, Wendy, Sharon, Dotty, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Sarah. You. Are. AWESOME!
So let's raise a glass (sparkling cider for me-don't want to mess with those blood thinners) and toast the end of 2013, and get ready to seize the heck out of 2014. Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Recipe: Easy Pumpkin Bread, x 3!

I almost feel that title is misleading. I mean, isn't all pumpkin bread easy to make? Of course it is!

In my quest to cook more at home, and to feed my ever-growing teenage athletes, I've been baking pumpkin bread like mad this fall. It's super easy, takes mostly basic ingredients, and comes together in just a few minutes. My only problem is that my kids can devour a loaf in an afternoon (did I mention the growing part?), leaving nothing behind for breakfast or even snacks.

All of those recipes that bake one loaf? Ridiculous! Clearly, you need at least three to get through the week. If the novelty wears off after the kids hork down the first loaf, I've still got one for breakfast for a couple of days and one to freeze or even share. I mean really...look at those beauties!


This recipe makes three loaves. Don't cut it down to make one -- there are a million (really!) recipes out there that will make a single loaf for you. One of my favorites is from Simply Recipes. In fact, my recipe is riff on that one, making a few changes along the way to better suit my tastes and needs.

Pumpkin Bread
Makes 3 loaves
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (can also substitute 3 1/2 c. ap and 1 c. whole wheat)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 29-ounce can 100% pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees, with a rack positioned in the center of the oven.

Add the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a large bowl. Whisk well to combine.

In a separate bowl, add the vegetable oil, eggs, and water. Whisk until well combined and eggs are thoroughly beaten. Add pumpkin and stir well until mixture is completely combined. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined, but taking care not to over-mix.

Spray three 8-1/2" x 4-1/2" x 2-1/2" loaf pans with cooking spray to coat. Note: You can also use 9" x 5"loaf pans, though they will take slightly less time to bake. I use what I have (they're all different!) and watch at the end of baking to see if they need to come out at different times).

Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 10 minutes, then remove from loaf pans. Allow to cool completely (good luck!), then wrap well in plastic wrap. If freezing, wrap well in plastic wrap, then place in a freezer bag.

Make it, eat it, love it, then hit the gym. :)


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thanksgiving with Birds & Bulgogi-My Latest for The Gorilla

I have a fun column in the current issue of The Gorilla on not-so-typical Thanksgiving traditions. I interviewed two Facebook friends, Andy Nichols & Meredith Lawler because each has some unusual T-Day traditions, from Andy's Korean Thanksgiving and bulgogi laden table to Meredith's foray into  turkey farming (hint: it doesn't end well...for the turkeys).

But before I detailed their bits and bobs, I had a few wee recollections of my own highly unusual holiday. Here's an excerpt:

"If you only watch celebrity chefs and Lifetime Channel movies, you might think everything about Thanksgiving dinner is more or less the same — turkey and fixings, lovely table settings, football, family and pie. Think again.

I considered the unusual but still deeply traditional Thanksgivings I experienced when growing up. Built by my great-grandfather, a rickety four-room cabin, perched on a hilltop deep in the woods in Pennsylvania, would fill beyond capacity with aunts and uncles, grannies and pappies, and more kids than you could count. Plus, it was serviced by one small, overused outhouse. At “The Cottage,” we were too far away from civilization to be connected by television, phone or even radio. We spent our Thanksgivings cut off from the world. When I asked my brother, Brett Querry of New Market, (a rabid Eagles fan), when he first realized football was a big Thanksgiving Day tradition, he responded, “1996! I was 21!”

With 45 to 60 people being the norm in attendance, we ate in shifts at picnic and folding tables with mismatched plastic plates and cups, but always with real silverware. The second shift berated and teased the first shift to get moving so they could enjoy the meal, then lolled by the table as the teens washed every dish used that day. Laden with more desserts than people, the front porch was a sight: kids picking off the corners of cakes and snatching cookies at breakfast, hoping no one would notice.
Once married, I made the biannual switch to fancy clothes and sterling silver, but I recall my husband being astounded by the differences in our celebrations. From taking responsibility for raising and processing the major part of the feast (could you follow through and enjoy your dinner?) to embracing family heritage with foods at the table, I asked some Frederick County residents to dish about their Thanksgivings past and present."

Want to read more? Awesome!! Just click here to check out the entire piece on The Gorilla web site. Feel free to leave a comment on the site and let them know if you enjoyed the article. :) I won't hate'cha!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Do You "Like" The Kitchen Studio Cooking School on Facebook?

Did you know that The Kitchen Studio has a Facebook page? I mean seriously...who doesn't? 

On our page, we like to post links to fun food news, pics from classes, information on upcoming classes and events, and of course sometimes, CLASS DISCOUNTS.

It's super easy to like us. Just visit our page here, and click..."Like". We'd love to have you on board!


Friday, October 11, 2013

On Bennigan's, Soup, and Dating Above Your Pay Grade

Ran through the pouring rain into Starbucks this morning to improve my caffeination situation, and started a discussion with Jeremy, one of my favorite baristas, about the weather and an extreme need for soup on a torrential day like today.

Jen, the manager, quickly piped up on her feelings for French onion soup. Perfect in weather perfect for ducks. Jeremy mentioned his past job at a Bennigan's (remember them?) and his belief that they had the best French onion soup...ever.

My experience with Bennigan's is extremely limited. Because as a rule, I hate chain restaurants from the 80's. My Ground Round waitressing days in college have ruined me I suppose. But I couldn't stop thinking about hitting Bennigan's...in New Jersey...fairly soon after I had moved to Manhattan.

To say I was naive would be a gross understatement. I was young, and not very bright, and stunned to be living in the greatest city in the world. I was still dating-ish Frank the Weasel (a story for another time), though he had made abundantly clear that we were cool to date others, despite my offers to stay in PA just for him. Little did we know that a phone strike by NYNEX at the time would make severing ties easy, at least on my end. In those pre-cellular days, no phone = no contact = young girl in the big city with no ties (it didn't quite shake out the way Frank the Weasel thought it would).

In my job in the sub-basement of a major skyscraper (we'd look at the bike messengers coming into our office to see what the weather was outside), I often run errands to a local dub house, that is, a business whose job was to make videotaped copies of commercials so that we could mail them to tv stations across the county. Talk about obsolete! But it was the job that helped me move to the city and I enjoyed getting out of the office, even if it was just to walk around midtown.

I still remember the company name, PDR, and that it was staffed by many young men. When I'd make a trip, fresh-scrubbed and wide-eyed (my friend Glenn called me Milk, because I was the whitest person he ever met), there would be a bit of fawning, which I of course completely enjoyed.

One boy (and I'll call him that because he was close to my age, early 20's) was quite a dish -- way above my pay grade dating-wise. Tall, built but not too much, blond, and with a killer smile. Definitely way, way out of my league, so I made no efforts on that end.

Imagine my glee when this boy called to ask me on a date. Woo hoo! First date in the big city and with an uber-hottie! I couldn't believe my luck. He lived on Staten Island, which I had heard of but really had no clue where it was distance-wise, being not-so-bright in a metropolitan kind of way.

He came into town on a Sunday afternoon, in his baby blue Z-something. He suggested getting out of the city for dinner; surprising to me as Manhattan has more than a few great offerings, even then in my East Village neighborhood. He popped the locks and low and behold, Playboy Bunny lock covers. Interesting.

We hit the streets, then the tunnel, and before I knew it, we were seated at a Bennigan's somewhere in New Jersey. Huh.

He discussed the distance to get to my apartment, and in my naivete, and being a recent college grad where offering a sofa for the night was no big deal, I offered mine to him.

After sitting with him at a crappy NJ chain restaurant, eating crappy chain restaurant soup (I believe I had the baked potato soup, and can't even believe that I remember that!), I realized that looks-wise, he was so, so far above my grade, and I had acted that way the entire night, grateful that a handsome boy would show interest in frizzy-haired, ever-so-slightly buck-toothed me, well, anywhere.

As he talked about his car and his life, I realized fairly early on that indeed, he may have had the looks, but he was absolutely dumb as a stump. Maybe dumber. I mean, really, really, really vapid. And dumb.

I was in the date, had made the couch offer (which he had readily accepted), and saw no way out.

We went back to my apartment with my haughty roommate, where I informed her that we would have a couch guest that evening. She was less than thrilled, but as I was the connection to the sweet apartment, she had no option but to go along with the plan. You can imagine though his surprise when he realized that I really mean the couch. It wasn't a euphemism for anything even closely resembling my bedroom. And that couch sucked.

The next morning, I quickly ushered him out the door and realized that perhaps looks weren't everything. How lucky for me that I could learn that lesson so early on. Grade wasn't just looks any more. Grade included humor, and looks, and morals, and values, and liking real food, and things I didn't even know existed yet.

Needless to say, in the end, I married well above my pay grade in every sense, and had no more Staten Island frogs in my future, and no more Bennigan's. Ever.

I look at my daughter and son and wonder when they'll learn the lessons I did, and if it will turn out as well for them as it did for me. Hopefully, at the very, very least, they'll avoid Bennigan's, and make their own soup.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Etiquette of Free Food

As the owner of a food business, I am asked to give away my food...a lot. I carefully pick and choose where the best events are for my business, get myself motivated, and start cooking. I hire staff and buy ingredients. In case you didn't know, the vast majority of benefits and expos and demos out there are unpaid events for the folks serving the food. The compensation is a presence at whatever fabulous event is taking place.

Taking part in these events is fun, hard work, and a great chance to mix and mingle with fun folks and potential customers. However, sometimes, these events aren't as great as they could be. I know -- they're work events, so get over your bad self and quit your belly aching. Am I right?

In the spirit of getting you the best food and best service possible, I'd like to give you a few helpful hints for the next time you're at an event featuring free food. Take it as you will, tell me I'm a terrible ingrate, but just take a minute to read:

Helpful Hints for Attending Events with Free Food

  1. Food businesses love to give away food. Sure, it costs us money and time, but who isn't happy to snag a free, freshly-baked cookie when given the opportunity? We want you to love that cookie and really enjoy it. True fact.
  2. It's ok to say please and thank you. In fact, I absolutely adore folks who stop by and say, "May I please have a cookie?" Of course you can! Thanks for making my day brighter!
  3. If you're nice to me, I'll be nice right back 'atcha. Walk up to me while you're on your cell phone, snag a cookie, then mumble as you walk away...the reception probably isn't as warm.
  4. Don't ask us if you can please have 3...or 4...or one for your aunt's grandma's dog. We're given numbers that we need to hit (my last event was for 350-400 people). If we run out of food, people get angry with us. If you're looking for extras, feel free to swing by toward the end of the event. No one wants to pack up food to take home, and we'd be more than happy to share once we know we've got enough for everyone.
  5. We're here to talk about our business as much as we are to give you goodies. We love the opportunity to talk about what we do with you. Don't be afraid to stay for a minute or two to ask questions. We love that!
  6. We are required by the Health Department to obtain (and pay for) an event-specific license and follow their rules. We will pay more attention to their rules than breaking them on your behalf. Sorry, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. 
  7. When you ask if we brought gluten-free, diary-free, Paleo etc., don't be miffed with us when we say no. We're trying to appeal to the masses here (remember the 350-400 people mentioned in #4? Yeah...that.), and your special diet doesn't make the cut unless we're at a health-focused event.
  8. Don't walk away while telling us that C may stand for cookies, but it also stands for calories or whatever fat-issue you may have. If you don't want a cookie, a polite no thank you will do just fine. Don't yuck my yum Debbie Downer.
  9. I understand that you may have no interest in my services -- that's totally cool. Not everyone wants to take cooking classes (or enjoys Mexican Food, or likes pasta). Just use those fabulous manners and we will still give you a cookie or whatever we're handing out that day. And we'll still hope that you enjoy it. Because we didn't get into the food biz for money. Most of us got into it because we like to cook and make people happy. Promise.
Easy, right? Essentially, be nice, use good manners, and understand that I'm paying to be there to give you free food. I want you to think that my business is awesome, and maybe to even come by and take a class sometime. We love you, and we love seeing the look on your face when you enjoy something awesome that we made. So drop by and say hello, and a quick thank you as you leave. You'll feel good, we'll feel good, and we'll definitely want to do it again.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

This Week at TKS

Happy day! This week is pretty light at The Kitchen Studio, mostly because...it's (almost) my birthday!
This is the situation I'm hoping to avoid on this birthday-last week's cupcake class colors!

I do so adore my birthday, and if my 98 year-old grandmother is any indication, I don't see the feeling subsiding anytime soon. Friday the 13th -- my lucky day! At work, I call it "Founder's Day", pop it on the calendar, and take the day off. Silly, isn't it?

That said, this Wednesday we're hosting a Girl Scout Troop for quick hands-on class Wednesday afternoon. Have a Girl or Boy Scout troop that needs some time in the kitchen? Here are the details; we'd love to work with you! Just give us a shout at 301-663-6442 and we'll go from there.

Our open class this Thursday, 9/12, is one of our new mini-classes, Cooking with Herbs. Just 2 hours long, we're working through how to work with fresh herbs, before they're gone from your garden. The menu includes Chimichurri Sauce, Coconut-Coriander Chutney, Rosemary Vegetable Skewers, and believe it or not, super fab Thyme Ice Cream. (I'll Instagram pics of the food -- just follow ChrisVanB). We still have a few spaces, and you can register here if you like. It's just $40 -- a bargain if I do say so myself, and we'll have you out the door by 8:30. Easy and fun for a weeknight.

That's it -- easy breezy lemon squeezy. Hope to see you Thursday!

Monday, September 2, 2013

This Week at The Kitchen Studio

I'm starting a new format where each week I'm going to post a few different items. Let's start with Mondays, shall we? Each Monday, I'm going to pop up what's happening at TKS that week. It's a great opportunity to put out there if we've got available class spots (take classes...we love to cook with you!!) and if we've got anything free, fun, or unusual too.

This week, we've got a few different events:

Cupcakes! (Thursday, 9/5, 9a-12p, Ages 8-16)

School is closed, so we're going to get together and have some cupcake-baking fun! This super fun 3-hour class will have your teen/child baking and decorating like a pro. All participants will prepare cupcakes from scratch, then have 6 to decorate and take home to share. We'll be using both buttercream and fondant.


We still have lots of space left in these, and would LOVE to cook with your kids this Thursday!! Cost is $45.



Just Like an Italian Cooking Vacation...in Frederick! (Friday, 9/6, 6:30-9p)

Remember that trip I took to Italy back in the spring? This class features a few of my favorite dishes that I learned at the Italian Cooking School I attended.  Here's the class description (it's a demo btw):  

You don't need to take a cooking vacation in Italy to learn authentic Italian dishes! Join us for the light-hearted and fun rustic Italian-themed class based on a trip to the mountainous Abruzzo region of Italy. Menu includes Involtini di Prosciutto con Arugula (arugula, prosciutto & Parmesan), Polpettine Cacio e Uova (egg & cheese dumplings), Focaccia, and Sorbetto al Limon & Limoncello.   Cost is $55.

Polpettine Cacio e Uova & Focaccia (homey & delicious)
Involtini di Prosciutto con Arugula (I could eat a hundred of these)
Sorbetto al Limon & Limoncello (looks so good..right?)


We also have two kid's cooking birthday parties on Saturday, but those are private events already set by lovely parents. You can always arrange to hold a bday party for someone you love, kid, teen, or adult. We love 'em and have been doing a ton of them lately. We've also been holding lots of bachelorette parties on Saturday nights (3 in August alone!) and have had the most wonderful groups of ladies grace our kitchen. Such fun, and seems like everyone is sporting fab shoes too! ;)

Next week, we've got a mini class on Cooking with Herbs working (short and satisfying!), so feel free to take a look at our class calendar here.

Thanks, and see you back here on Wednesday!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Holy Instragram Batman!

In keeping with my grand tradition of always being behind the times, I've just added an Instagram feed to the blog...woo hoo!

As if having a blog isn't self-absorbed enough, now you can look at pics I take throughout my day. I'm trying to focus in on the food (the most gorgeous tomatoes right now), but I'll admit, my first day of school reward pedi did make the feed. So shoot me. A girly cook likes pretty toes every once and a while. ;)

Take a look -- it's over on the right -- you'll need to scroll down a bit -- TA DAH!

If you're on Instagram, you can follow me at chrisvanb. I know, I know, I should have done FrederickFoodie, but the times they are a changin'.

Thanks for sticking around, and check out those pics!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

It's August, So That Must Mean...

We're gearing up for fall at The Kitchen Studio! Woo hoo!

Today is our 8th anniversary, and I couldn't be prouder. Over the past 8 years, I've washed a lot of dishes (though not as many as my super terrific awesome staff), written even more emails, developed classes and recipes, mopped the floor, bought 5 different computers (computers in the kitchen have a fairly short lifespan), taught over 700 classes (no wonder my feet hurt!), made many hires, and no fires, got to work early, stayed at work super-late, and had a heck of a good time in the process.

See, I really like my job, and especially the folks that go along with it. So thank you. Thank you to all of our wonderful students. Thank you to all of our vendors who put up with my last minute requests, and thank you to my family, who have also washed a good number of dishes and listened to my harebrained schemes along the way.

This fall, the hope is to write weekly on the blog, in addition to my gigs with The Gorilla and Chesapeake Family magazines. In the brand new issue of The Gorilla, I have a fun article about local beef and my friend Josh, fab badass butcher dude at The Common Market. Here's a link to the article (leave a comment please!!), and when you stop by Common Market, stop by the meat department and say hello. He'd love to meet you (really!). Isn't he adorable?


Right now, I'm push, push, pushing my way to full attendance at both our adult and kid's classes. We're already stating to book fall private events, and I am ALL IN as we take on everything that comes our way. I'm hoping for a busy couple of months, and would love your ideas and feedback. Really. Because I couldn't do this without you.

 Just to give you a little taste, here are a few of the classes on the September calendar:
  • Just Like an Italian Cooking Vacation...In Frederick!
  • Bacon Date Night, Beyond the Pig
  • Mini Classes: Gourmet Pizza & Cooking with Herbs (they were muy popular over the summer-just 2 hours and 40 bucks!)
  • Making the Most of Your Pressure Cooker
  • Mediterranean Meze
  • Saturday Night Special: Small Plates, Big Flavor
  • Kid's and Teen Afterschool Classes (3 week series, starting the end of September)
  • Special School's Closed Classes on school Holidays for kids and teens
And we're just getting started!

One quick note for you: Some folks using Microsoft Explorer have had some trouble viewing future months on our class calendar page. This is a bug in that browser, and we're working on a fix. Just pop onto Google Chrome or FireFox instead and you should be in the clear. And thanks for sticking with us!


Friday, June 14, 2013

And the Winner Is...

Sherry Wilson!!!

Sherry Wilson said...
As a southerner, it has to be South Carolina mustard based bbq sauce on pulled pork. 'Cause nothin' beats barbecued PIG!
June 13, 2013 at 7:57 PM
I used Random.org to pull the number, and Sherry has won 2 VIP tickets to Swinetastic for tomorrow, Saturday, June 15. Woo hoo!

Sherry -- be sure to stop by to say hello in you're near the demo stage from 2:15-3:30ish. Drop me an email and we'll coordinate pick-up. :)

Congratulations!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

WIN VIP Tickets to Swinetastic BBQ Fest -- This Saturday!

You read that right BBQ fans -- I'm giving away 2 VIP Tickets to the super awesome, absolutely fantastic, and most definitely messy Swinetastic BBQ Festival being held this weekend at the Frederick Fairgrounds.

You like ribs, right? Saturday features a Backyard BBQ contest where amateur grillers get their ribs on for 8 hours using fresh pork ribs -- yum! And you have the chance to win two tickets. How spectacular is that?

Here's a little info from the Swinetastic folks to give you an idea of what the festival is all about:

"CQue Events is happy to bring to historic Frederick, Maryland a nationally sanctioned BBQ Contest, just like you see on the Food Network and A&E’s BBQ Pitmaster’s. The Great Frederick Fairgrounds will be the setting for this great event. The festival will be a two day event with Saturday's contest being the nationally sanctioned Kansas City BBQ Society event. This event will be held during father’s day weekend, with live music, games, great food and a beer garden!! Proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society and the Frederick County Mental Health Association.. Come out and see BBQ teams from all over the country compete for great prizes and trophies.  "

And while you're at it, there will be tons of fun and talented food vendors on site really to ply you with their tasty wares. And music! And a place for the kids to play! And a beer garden! Did I also mention, the weather is supposed to be perfect???? Booyah!!

Now, just because I like to put a little icing on top of an already sweet cake, I'll also be doing a fun demo from 2:30-3:30...on stage! You know I do love an audience, and I'd love to see you there. I'll be demoing two tasty side dishes (I am no pit master and will leave that to the pros!) and will absolutely be having some fun.

So here's what you need to do:
  • Leave a comment on this blog and tell me your favorite BBQ. (Isn't that easy?)
Now the fine print:
  • Comments left on our Facebook page will NOT be counted (sorry!)
  • We'll do a drawing Friday evening at 6p to choose the winner, so have your comment in no later than 5p, 6/14/13.
  • Tickets are good for Saturday only (11a-7p)
  • There is no cash value for these tickets. You get tix to a fun day. So enjoy that. 
  • Don't panic if you don't see your comment right away. I filter them to avoid spam so you don't have to see ads for Viagra and stuff. Don't worry -- I don't judge or edit them, I just hate all that stupid spam.
Leave me a comment, and let's have some BBQ fun this weekend!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"New" TKS Summer Camp: DESSERT & Diner Delights

Soooooo...I was planning camps this winter and started thinking about diners and how iconic and fun the food is. It's not necessarily super complex, and kids and teens seem to love it, so I pulled together a week-long summer camp based on the theme.

But after a little thought, I started to wonder if we should broaden a bit, and add something the kids & teens are super familiar with, like maybe...DESSERTS!


Desserts are a great way to get kids and teens cooking, because hey, everybody likes desserts. In fact, one of the reasons that I even started cooking was so that I could make all the desserts that my crazy powerful sweet tooth craved. I'd whip up cream puffs and chocolate eclairs because, well, I could.

From there, I became the hot dog queen of Pennsylvania. I could make a hot dog anyway you wanted it. Sliced and placed on middle-school quality apps, bathed in homemade bbq sauce...it didn't matter. I loved hot dogs, so I'd use them anyway I could. And from there, I learned such a wide variety of cooking and balanced things flavor-wise and nutritionally.

Why do I tell you this? 

We've made a change to our Diner Delights camp being held the week of June 24-28 at The Kitchen Studio. Now the camp is called DESSERTS & Diner Delights, and will include a pretty major dessert everyday in camp, developing and honing baking skills in kids ages 8-11 & 12-17. In addition to making a diner-themed meal, we'll be rocking out some pretty serious desserts too, stoking the sweet tooth and with it the desire to learn to cook beyond sugary sweetness. Besides, everyone likes pies, cakes, brownies, and cookies...don't they? You've got to start somewhere, and balancing a meal, then serving a bit o' yum at the end is never a bad thing.

So do me a favor -- tell you favorite young cook that we've got some space for them and we'd love to show them how to cook great food, AND great desserts at The Kitchen Studio this summer. In fact, if they use the code DESSERT, they can even save $20. Just pop on over to our web site right here and get things started.

Thanks, and happy cooking!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recipe: Arugula-Prosciutto Wraps

Just a few weeks ago, a few of us from TKS returned from a culinary vacation in Italy. (That sounds so fancy as I type it!) If you've been reading, you know that we spent a week in the Abruzzo region perched on top of a mountain, cooking and learning traditional foods from the area. This dish, Arugula-Prosciutto Wraps, was one of my favorites. Of course they had just picked the gorgeous arugula that morning, and most likely nursed and cured the pig themselves, and good heavens, I'm sure someone's nonna was responsible for the prosciutto...not really. But the part about picking the arugula? Yup -- totally true, and you could tell.

The folks at the cooking school were super nice, but they were a little slow getting our recipes into our hot little hands, so I went ahead and re-wrote this one from memory. It's just about the easiest recipe ever, so don't be too impressed. I've made it since I've been home and it's a huge hit -- crazy easy and super yum. Give it a whirl this weekend!



Arugula-Prosciutto Wraps
  • 1 bunch fresh arugula, washed and dried with roots removed
  • 8 slices very thin prosciutto
  • 1 small wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • good pinch of salt
  • black pepper to taste

Divide the bunch of arugula into 8. Nestle 2-3 shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano on the arugula. Using one slice of prosciutto per batch, carefully wrap the arugula and Parmesan bunches, leaving a bit of the arugula stick out the top.

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Place arugula wraps on a plate and drizzle with olive oil mixture. Serve immediately. If you want to go full Italian-style, add a few oil-cured olives and grissini (dry, thin breadsticks).

One note: You're going to want to use real, grown-up arugula (it's near the lettuce in the grocery store), not the baby stuff you get in the plastic container. And use good prosciutto too! The fewer ingredients in a recipe, the better quality each one needs to be. Word.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Things I Learned in Italy

I've returned to bucolic Frederick, ready to seize the day and take the town by storm. Or instead, I'm totally and completely jet-lagged and have had my 3rd night in a row of waking up at 3am. Amateur.

A world traveler I am not, though I guess, technically, I am, having spent time in Rome, Abruzzo, and ever so briefly in Copenhagen. I'm new to the 8 hour flights and the accompanying layovers. To the strangeness of being functionally illiterate with words swirling about that I simply do not understand. (Example: Uscita is not a subway stop in Rome. It means exit. Moron.) To driving up what seem to be endless and death-defying mountains with twists and curves that no bus should ever try to maneuver.

But with that said, I really enjoyed the adventure. I liked being away from home, for a bit, and I liked seeing things I never thought I'd lay my own eyes on, in their natural setting.



Look! The colosseum!

I'll tell you about the trip and the bits and bobs of all of the adventures in the next few weeks or so, as I remember them and go through my notes and so on and so forth. The cheese factory, the almonds, the ridiculously good pizza. Today though, today, I'm going to tell you what I learned while on my grand adventure, and not a whole heck of a lot of it has to do with food.

Fish & emotions...really!
  1. I am neither as brave nor as badass as I actually thought I was, and actually missed my family tremendously, including the two teenagers.
  2. Americans on holiday with unlimited quantities of wine sometimes do not behave in a way that is appealing.
  3. You should have at least a passable understanding of the language before you visit a foreign country. It's just the respectful thing to do.
  4. Fish, when consumed on a trabocco on the Adriatic Sea, really can conjure emotions (the restaurant's tagline, almost assuredly translated not quite correctly, read Fish & Emotions, and I had both)
  5. Hearing an Italian say the word Viper instead as Veeper will cause endless hours of laughter, and perhaps a nickname or two.
  6. You cannot seek out epiphanies. They must arrive on their own schedule, and sometimes not at all.
  7. Sitting in the basement of an Italian palazzo, cooking while music plays and a slightly off-kilter German stokes the fire of the pizza oven can be very pleasant indeed.
  8. If you're on a tour with a group of 20, you're incredibly lucky when you get a really good batch, even with the over-imbibing.
  9. A detox meal on the 8th day of a food-centric Italian vacation is never a good idea.
  10. It may be a fault to some, but I really don't care for Italian red wine, though Limoncello is all together another matter.
  11. If an Italian butcher and his family ask if you want you pasta "just a little spicy", the answer, must absolutely be a resounding NO.
That's our chef, Dino, behind me. I got a "brava" for my mad gnochetti kneading skills.

I liked Italy and I'd like to go back someday. I really liked the idea of Copenhagen a great deal more than I thought, though I never even got out of the airport or the hotel adjoining it. It could have been the great design or the tall blondness of everything, but it felt like a place I'd want to see...someday.

So here's the group, with our hostess Christina, on our last evening at the Palazzo. We cooked, we ate, we had fun together. I met people I wouldn't have otherwise, from Vancouver and Alexandria, and from a few places in between.

I was awed by the bravery of 3 young women, each traveling alone, and sometimes cursed the ability to go online and check emails and post pictures and recount the day to those at home instead of finishing it out by being downstairs, swilling down bio-dynamic Montepulciano in great quantities. I relished each lunch and dinner and cursed each breakfast, sucking down cappuccinos and not much else. I was terrified on the mountains and became "that woman", much to my chagrin, and tried to play off the fear, though unsuccessfully. I learned a few things in the kitchen, though not as many as I hoped, and though I was happy to set foot again on American soil, it was really for the family at home and not necessarily just being in the good 'ole U. S. of A.

So now it's back to real life, and summer camp registrations and staffing and business and softball, and track and...you get the idea. It was a week ago from this very moment that we were filled to capacity with fish & emotions. I'm glad I did it, and I'm glad to be home.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Now We're Cookin': Palazzo Tour d'Eau

Yup...still in Italy, and now we're actually cooking...woo hoo! I've spent a few days in Rome with two of my wonderful friends, Sharon & Kerry:

And now we've finally moved on to the reason for the trip...cooking! We're in Caruncchio, Abruzzo (Italy), and as I may have mentioned yesterday, we're on the top of a mountain...in a old castle-ish villa, Palazzo Tour d'Eau. It's crazy around here. All of the towns are perched on the top of the mountains, my guess is to more easily defend themselves during an attack. I actually think it's to make hysterical tourists more hysterical. Whatever. ;) What I think I'm actually getting though, is a real taste of Italy and the culture, albeit in a slightly sanitized American-friendly way. This isn't touristy Tuscany -- this is the real Italian country-side. It's very, very...quiet.

The lovely Angela, traveling by herself for the very first time is sweet, funny, and knows how to taste wine while videotaping the instructor!
After a wonderful dinner Sunday evening, totally prepared for us by the terrific staff here, we got to move on today and get the ball rolling. We started the day the way anyone would start, tasting wine! We hit the Montepulciano, both cheap and not, in an effort to learn more about how to properly taste wine and to give the grape juice of the region a go. Our host, Massimo, knows a thing or two (or three or four...) about wine. It's always fascinating to listen to someone who really knows his stuff. The class went for some time, and ended with a "peasant" lunch. I must be a peasant, because it was delicious. Do the words "anchovy toast" make you salivate? Of course not! But it was indeed tasty, though I feel like every time I take a breath a giant fish holding a head of garlic is making an appearance. Good thing the family is thousands of miles away!

I try to steer clear of the typical food shots that are so pervasive and, uh, annoying, but I believe that a trip that required my very first passport breaks the rules a wee bit. Don't you? Here's lunch, missing the veggie frittata (yum) and a veggie torte in pastry (also yum):

Anchovy Toast -- Sounds funky, tastes yummy

Bruschetta

Caprese

Doesn't that look like a real food pic??   


Lunch dessert - don't know the name, but it was very satisfying with homemade amaretti cookie crumbled over whipped cream...duh...it was awesome!

So with full belly and droopy eyes, I dragged myself up to the room, snuggled under the covers, and then proceeded to check emails and do work until it was time for our first real class. I'd like to be better at this whole napping thing, especially from a castle in Italy, but there's always so much to do. Like get ready to cook...finally!

This is Cheryl and Dino, our instructors for the week in the gorgeous basement kitchen of the Palazzo Tour d'Eau

 We tumbled into the basement kitchen, which doesn't make it seem nearly as fab as it really is. With high ceilings, gorgeous handmade mosaics, and a wood-fired pizza oven, this place is a rustic cook's dream come true. They use induction burners instead of gas due to local regulations, but since Cheryl & Dino were running that end of things, it didn't matter a lick to me. Over the course of the evening, we made stuffed artichokes (if you don't know about my fondness for artichokes, you may want to check here), arugula-prosciutto wraps, and tiramisu, which truthfully, I thought was one of those made-up American/Italian dishes. Take a look:
Dino is working through dealing with a group of hungry Americans...I keed, I keed!
The cooking was pretty light for us. Trimming a few artichokes, crumbling some bread, pulling together the filling. Nice and easy, and a gentle intro to the kitchen and working together.
Not the sexiest shot, but look at that space!

Kitchen Studio Represent!

Just one example of the fab mosaics in the kitchen. This actually takes up the entire wall.




Fab fresh artichokes

Now they're stuffed and ready to cook, stove top

Freshly picked arugula, with shaved Parm inside, wrapped in prosciutto, then drizzled with a quick lemon/olive oil vinaigrette and served with oil-cured olives and grissini
Tiramisu does not suck.

So there's the day. Looks like Tuesday starts with a pasta-making class, then caps the day with a truffle hunt (the Abruzzo region is known for truffles and saffron -- I had no idea) and a trip to the truffle-maker's home for a tasting. Stay tuned...



Monday, April 22, 2013

Now That's Italian!

As I sit in a castle on the very tippy top of a mountain in Italy, I think to myself, Holy cow! I'm sitting in a castle on the top of a mountain in Italy!!!! Check it out -- here are the views from my room:




Had you asked me just a few months ago if this was part of my plan, I would have, of course, sighed and said something about maybe someday (minus the top of the mountain part -- I'm absolutely terrified of driving on or up mountains and truth be told, I'm not so sure about how I'm going to get up and down without complete panic), then gone back to my everyday life at home and The Kitchen Studio.

Thanks to my friend Sharon, I'm on a cooking vacation with a week full of cooking-related activities ahead of me. A deal on Groupon and a bit of coordinating with the travel company, Epitourean (who really should have told me about the darn mountains when I asked), and here I am. The welcome dinner last night was lovely, featuring truffles and wild boar, as was the homemade limoncello to cap the evening.

There are 20 in the group, with 16 women and 4 men, some in for the adventure and some, obviously, for the food. Today the plan was to go truffle hunting, but the weather is iffy and we may lead with a wine tasting class instead, though I am a bit dubious of tasting wine on a Monday morning. It feels so decadent, doesn't it?

I"m curious to see what the week brings, with the people and the food and the host and staff (who all seem terrific btw). Personally, I'm hoping for inspiration and education, and a bit of time to write and plan. Our first cooking class is this afternoon and I'm curious to see how the instructor handles a group of 20 in the kitchen at one time for a hands-on class. 

If you're interested, I'll keep you posted this week with pics and blog updates, and any epiphanies that come my way (I'm hoping they are plentiful and frequent).

One quick note -- we stopped at a rest stop along the way here from Rome. No cappuccino to go -- they all come in porcelain cups and you stand at the coffee bar to enjoy. No time for that, which was a complete bummer, but I did grab salami & Parmesan in to-go packs...it was awesome and pricey (13 Euros!)! No fried nasty roadside food, but instead fresh salads and panini.
Add in the 4 shirtless gentlemen weightlifting and cooking on an oversize Bunsen burner in the parking lot, and the stop may have been the best part of the ride!

Stay tuned, and ciao!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today I Leave for Italy

I've always hated those braggarts who shout about every adventure, every trip. But today, I am one. Today I leave for a week of cooking classes in Italy and a few bonus days in Rome. Me. I'm leaving. Getting on a jet plane. Holy cow.

Not that we've had our requisite work meeting where I tell my more-capable-than-me staff how to work everything while I'm gone (I'm sure they'll do a better job than I usually do!), I'm finally excited. And nervous. And just a wee bit nauseous.

Some folks would consider me adventurous or brave, but really, I'm chicken-hearted to the bone. Sure, I moved to NYC immediately after college graduation not knowing a soul, not even my roommate, and making a measly $17k a year (it was a fun, but not prosperous time). Sure, I started my own business, and still have it going strong almost 8 years later, when folks in town actually laughed at me. Out loud. But I've never been a world traveler. Indeed, I just snagged my very first passport (here's a hint: go the the Middletown post office -- they're awesome there).

So when my friend and co-worker Sharon sent me a Groupon deal for a week of cooking classes in Italy, even I couldn't believe that I jumped on the deal. It didn't feel real, like it would actually happen. Then we booked the flights. Then we added on a few days for Rome because really, will I ever get back?

My husband John not only agreed to this grand Italian scheme, but encouraged me as well. The kids? They're both teens now, and pretty self-sufficient in the mornings. I know they'll be fine, as will the puggle, nuzzled under the blankets on my bed as a write.

But as I do the last minute laundry, and throw various and sundry items into plastic bags, and whip up a meal or two for when I'm gone, I wonder what I hope to get out of this trip.

Am I hoping for a fun trip with friends (my friend and other co-worker, Kerry, is also coming along) with food and wine? I am looking for real instruction form real Italians? Am I looking for time away from the family? A chance to see a place in person that I've only ever seen in movies and photos? To find my own thoughts in the mountains of Italy without the constant banging in my head of world and family and life?

Maybe I'm looking for all of the above. No one in my family is a world traveler. We kept things close to home when I was growing up, making the same trip to the same family cabin in the middle of no where (with no bathroom) for the same vacation...when we took one. An adventure was taking the highway to Gettysburg, just 30 minutes away, and driving through the battlefields, almost never being allowed to get out of the car to climb the rocks at Devil's Den or the monument at Little Roundtop, but instead listening to my dad wax on about his time there as a kid and all the fun he had.

When I met my husband, and he had a passport, I was amazed. He'd already been to London and was planning a trip to France with a friend. This just wasn't common in my circle and it seemed so...sophisticated.

So here I am, 20+ years later, getting ready to take off on my first real international adventure (I'm totally discounting the honeymoon to Aruba, where we went specifically because
I wouldn't need a passport and where every other person on the beach was from New York City too), and I'm taking it without the family. It feels weird.

I know that as much as I'd like to take more trips to more countries with more family members, this could be once in a lifetime. I'm a realist, and with two kids headed to college, one in just over a year, and a teacher's salary and a small business owner's salary, this could be it. For a long time, or even forever. But I sure hope not.

If I take a few good pics, I'll post them here, or maybe on my person or Kitchen Studio Face book pages if you're interested, and I'll do my best not to be cheesy, but no guarantees.

If you've been to Rome, or Carunchio, please let me know. I'd love to know where to go, what to see. When I'm not cooking of course. That said...ciao!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Kitchen Studio Summer Cooking Registration NOW OPEN!

That's right -- it's time to get the teens and kiddies registered for summer cooking camp with us at The Kitchen Studio. We've got all new menus, all new recipes, and even a few new themes and time options to float your culinary boat.

We take a great deal of pride in offering real cooking, with real cooking techniques. We're not big on "kid" food, but instead are more focused on getting dirty and really teaching about cooking on levels that the different age groups can understand.

We know that not every kid plays sports or wants to take summer sports camp, and our cooking camps provide a real alternative for kids ages 6-17. All of the age groups are terrific, and after 7 years of summer cooking camps (I know! I don't believe it either!) we've got the right instructors pegged for the right groups. Chef Keri-Ann makes those little guys hum along like they were all meant to be in the kitchen, while Chef Caroline can make those older elementary students cook like they never knew possible. We love that!

As for me, well, I have a soft spot for tweens and teens, and this summer I'm going to be working with the middle and high-schoolers. Dude -- I seriously love cooking with these guys. They're fun, they're sharp, they're witty, and they are the silliest group of all (but don't tell them that). But when they hone in and start really using their knife, or trying new things (Ryan and the lemon souffles in real hollowed-out lemons jumps to mind), well, it makes my hard heart soften just a wee bit. All in all, it makes for a pretty terrific summer.

Now, not trying to toot our own horn too much, (or really, more so trying to avoid the jinx), but I want to let you know that for the past 3 summers, we have sold every single spot in our camps. Every. Single. Spot. Last year, we had our first camp sell out in one day. One. Day.

Now, I don't know if that's going to happen again this year (can you say sequestration???), but you have been warned. Because we want to cook with your kids & teens. We really like 'em, and we know they're capable of more than smiley face English muffin pizzas. This is a case of you get what you pay for. For real.

Just as an FYI - our camps come in at $16/hr. for high quality instruction. Because there is no sitting around in our camps. Those kids are moving, and cooking, and using the best ingredients with the best instructors. We're even offering a multi-camp discount this year because we noticed that the majority of folks signing up kids for camp were registering for more than a single camp. Whether it's one kid taking multiple camps or two kids in the same family taking camps, we wanted to float a bit of a discount out to you. Do us a favor though...this discount is meant for immediate family only. We like our small business a whole lot and want to pass a discount to you the best way we can, while keeping things in control. Cool? We knew you'd understand, so thanks!

Sooooooo...get on over to the Kitchen Studio web site, jump on over to the June/July/August class calendar pages and get started. You AND your kids will be glad you did. :)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Summer Camp Sneak Peek!


Summer cooking camps are one of the most popular things we offer at The Kitchen Studio. We love to whisk, bake, and saute with kids and teens, all summer long. Tomorrow, Friday, March 1, we're opening summer camp registration, but until then, we thought you might like a little sneak peek into what we're offering this summer.

We've got classes for kids ages 6-8 (completed k-2), 8-11 (completed 2-5), and 12-17 (completed 6-11). This year, we've even added a few longer camps for teens (4 & 5 hours) that start in the afternoon -- we're super excited! And did I mention that we're using ALL NEW RECIPES this summer too? It's almost too much to handle. (*shivers with excitement*)

Here's a look at how things break out, week by week:

  • June 24-28, Diner Delights (8-11 from 9a-12n, 12-17 from 1-4p)
  • July 1-3, Global Gourmet for 8-11 from 9a-12n, Advanced Techniques Super Camp for 12-17 from 1-6
  • July 8-12, Cooking 'Round the Clock for 6-8 from 9-11:30a, Cross Country Road Trip for 8-11 from 1-4p)
  • July 15-19, Viva Italia for 8-11 from 9a-12n, Iron Chef Extended Camp for 12-17 from 1-5p
  • July 22-26, Bake-A-Rama Super Camp for 8-11, Viva Italia for 12-17 from 3-6p
  • July 29-August 2, Global Gourmet Super Camp for 12-17 from 9a-2p
  • August 5-9, Bake-A-Rama Super Camp for 12-17 from 9a-2p
Each camp participant will receive a personalized binder full of recipes to take home at the end of the week. We're even offering a multi-camp discount for families this year too! Register for two camps (within the same family please) and save 5% off your total. Register for 3 or more camps and save 10% off your total -- woo hoo!!!

Camps post on Friday morning on The Kitchen Studio Cooking School web site. Last year we sold out a camp in ONE DAY, so don't delay!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

FREE Pasta Class: And the Winner Is...

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment with all of your fab answers on your favorite pasta. You folks are creative!! You made me laugh, you made me tear up a little, and really, I just loved the sharing.

I read all of your answers, and a few folks who commented through Facebook and truthfully, I couldn't pick one. I know...I'm a coward. So I turned to the folks at Random.org, popped in the numbers, and...we have a winner!

Nicole Truscello said...
I am a pasta fanatic!! I especially love angel hair pasta with olive oi, fresh herbs and shrimp. Yum! What a great idea for a giveaway...I've never made my own pasta before!

Ta dah! Nicole - shoot me an email at christine_at_kitchenstudiofrederick_dot_com (y'know, the regular way and all), and I'll give you any info you need for you and a friend to attend tomorrow night's Handmade Pasta class at TKS.

And I have MORE good news! This was so much fun, we're going to do it again for two spots in our Gnocchi class next week. Hang tight and we'll post that one in a few days. And thank you!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Win a FREE Pasta Class at The Kitchen Studio!

You love pasta, right? I mean seriously, who doesn't love pasta. I could live on pasta. In fact, I may already live on pasta. Hmmmmmm...that explains a lot.

But I digress...

One of our most popular classes at TKS is our handmade pasta workshop. This is Carla.





Carla teaches our Italian classes. Because she is awesome. And makes great pasta.

In fact, Carla is teaching a handmade pasta class this Thursday, February 21 at 6:30.  Don't Lemony Pasta with Asparagus and Fresh Fettuccine Carbonara sound amazing? Totes.

To celebrate Carla's sheer awesomeness, and well, your sheer amazingness, we're giving away two spots in the class. For you and a friend. As in totally free. Noodleishisness...on us. And y'know what? We're making it easy too.

Simply comment on this post and tell me your favorite pasta. That's it. Points awarded for creativeness. Contest ends Tuesday, 2/19 at midnight. Winner will be chosen on awesomeness of answer.

The fine print: There is no cash value for this prize. Zero. You must be able to attend the Handmade Pasta class at The Kitchen Studio Cooking School on Thursday, February 21 from 6:30-9:30p. You may bring one friend. Not 8. You cannot transfer this as a credit to another class, or summer camp, or MTB session. K?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Win Two Spots in Sushi 101 at TKS!

You read that right -- we're working with the lovely folks over at Find It Frederick to give away two spots in our Sushi 101 class at The Kitchen Studio here in Frederick.

It's super easy to enter. Just take a look at this video:


Now visit the Find It Frederick blog right HERE and answer the question. That's it! If you win (and I sure hope you do), you'll be joining us for our super-fun, hope you're hungry, Sushi 101 class on March 22 from 6:30-9:30.

How easy is that? What are you waiting for? Get viewing and question-answering. We'd love to roll with you!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Food Informants on Huff Post

If you've ever had even the teeniest, tiniest interest in running a food business (you know who you are), you should be taking a look the the weekly Food Informants feature on Huffington Post. Liberal media aside, this column features a week in the life of a wide variety of food business across the country, from cider makers to restaurant owners (even one post-Sandy...fascinating!) to food buyers for high-end gourmet stores.

This week the column takes a look at Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, OR, a town known for slight irreverence and insanely awesome food scene. If you're a foodie or a wannabe, you should have this on your weekly reading to-do list. You can take a look at the Voodoo Doughnuts diary right here.

Have fun and go learn something!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner (almost)!

Imagine my surprise, no, utter delight, to learn that I, little 'ole Frederick Foodie, has taken second place in Frederick Magazine's Annual "Best of Frederick" issue. The category of course is blogging, taking second to the lovely and talented folks over at Want2Dish. I didn't even know I was in the running!

The way this makes me feel, well, let me just say that if I ever won an academy award, I'd be one of those silly girls blubbering her way to the mic, thanking her dog, her family, and her auto mechanic. They would be playing me off baby! For second place!

So thank you. Really. I don't get tons of comments here (though I love 'em) that aren't trying to pitch Cialis or watches or who the heck knows what, and I'm not always sure that many folks are reading, but this makes me feel all warm and gooey and nice. And did I mention that it's for second place? I'm really grateful. Because I love to write. I'm not doing this blogging thing for ads, or revenue, or to win most awesome blogger in the world, or get a book contract (though I'm open ;). I just like to write and I like that someone reads my stuff and gets a laugh, or a hint, or, well, whatever. So I'll say it again, though no less heartfelt...thank you.

If there's anything you want me to write more about, just drop me a comment and I'll see what I can do. What do you like? Recipes? Stories about coconut cakes and artichokes? Updates on TKS? The only thing I really, really hate to do are restaurant reviews, so only expect those if I've found a place that I looooove and can't get enough of. (There are too many folks out there that think they can visit a restaurant once, eat a meal, then write a really good, solid review of the joint. That's not actually how it works.)

So for one last time...I don't know who you are, or why you took the time to send in a nomination for this blog, but thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU from the very bottom of my overflowing heart. Now...just imagine if I took first!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

This Month's Gorilla: Divine Dining

I've mentioned before that I write for The Gorilla. It's a fun writing gig and I get to seek out cool and unusual people and food-tastic events here in Frederick County.

It's more than just finding someone who bakes great cookies or makes a mean milkshake (though if you know someone who can whip up the perfect coffee shake, please let me know asap--Frederick seems to have a serious lack of ice cream right now and I am just about freaking out). I get to find the cool and the fun, and this month's Epicuriosity column is all about that.

My buddy Josh clued me in on monthly gourmet dinners being held at All Saint's Episcopal Church on Church St., right across from city hall. The talented leader of the group, the charming and jovial Harry Lawrence and his sweet sweet sweetie of a wife Jeanne work with a dedicated and hard-working crew to pull off fancy-pants church dinners, minus the mac and cheese..

I'm certain that in another life, Harry would certainly be running his own four-star fine dining joint, sous-viding his way to culinary super-stardom with his sturdy and faithful crew by his side. But in this life, Harry works his day job and once a month tangoes his way through the kitchen fantastic to pull off dinners like absolutely perfectly-cooked red snapper with key lime sauce or lamb tagine with Israeli couscous, a far cry from the fried chicken & ham loaf dinners I've attended.

The dinners are held on the second Wednesday of each month in the church's fellowship hall. It's not a super religious gathering, but more an evening of camaraderie and fun, with a great dinner, all for just $15. Can you imagine?

Take a look at the full article HERE and you can find a few pics of Harry & Co. Here's one I totally lifted from the Gorilla site that the talented Casey Martin took at the December dinner:

Aren't they cutie-patooties? And talented too!

Check out the dinners and be sure to put one on your schedule. A word of warning though. February's dinner falls on the first day of Lent, so don't expect the usual fanfare and gourmet delights that are typically dished out. This will more be a recognition of the season and a relaxed soup affair, though I'm certain they'll be delightful, and hey--this one is just 10 bucks! Not your cup of tea? No worries. Join me in March and we'll have a heckuva good time. Register right here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I'm going to ITALY!!!

I know...right? 48 hours ago, a trip to Italy wasn't even on my radar, and now...BOOM! I'm headed to Italy in April for a culinary extravaganza in the Abruzzo region. Thanks to the good folks at Epitourean and the even discountier folks at Groupon, I'll be drinking wine, making pasta, truffle hunting, and drinking wine (ooops, did I already mention that?) in just a few short months. Guess I better get moving on that passport thing...

Lately, I've been feeling a wee bit stagnant. Work is good, home is good, Munchie the Wonder Puggle is good, but I've felt the need to get my creative juices flowing. And nothing has been cutting the mustard around here.

Lo and behold, this trip falls into my lap (or more so my email) thanks to a most excellent friend, a willing and way more than capable savvy traveler decides to join me and I'm off! A huge thank you to John for not saying "How are you paying for this?" or "Who will take care of the kids?" Nope. He said, "You should totally do this. It's a great idea! Just what you need." Thanks honey. :)

Want a taste of what I'm doing? Check this out:

Cooking classes: During a pasta-making class, you’ll learn to craft your own gnocchi, cavatelli, and chitarra. Later on, the Palazzo's sommelier will conduct a lesson on the art of pairing food and wine. Chefs will also demonstrate preparations for classic Italian sauces, and during a dessert-making class, you’ll enjoy sweet bites alongside regional liquors. Last but not least, you will also make authentic Abruzzo-style pizza and appetizers. In the peasant food and biscotti class students learn old-world recipes. In addition to a vegetarian dish you'll create an almond biscotti. 

Truffle hunting and salami-plant tour: The group will learn how salami is made on a tour of the plant. Truffle-sniffing dogs assist in a morning truffle hunt.

Excursion to Vasto: On a day trip to Vasto, an ancient settlement on the Adriatic coast, the tour swings through the historical center of Vasto, stops at Piazza Rossetti for shopping, visits a unique Trabocco fishing house, and is topped off with a “Taste of the Adriatic” seafood lunch.

Cheese-making tour: During an afternoon excursion to the inland town of Agnone, you’ll observe the artisanal techniques used to make mozzarella, ricotta, and caciocavallo cheeses.

For a novice traveler, this looks to be the perfect way to dip my toe in the water of European travel, and man oh man, I cannot wait! This is not my usual M.O. I'm careful and thoughtful about where I go and what I do, but this, I don't think it's even real yet.

Want me to bring you back a treat?

Ciao!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Coconut Cake

When we moved from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Frederick, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I adored NYC, but had a middle-management job in one of the un-sexy departments at a mid-size ad agency (drone alert!) and my husband John was a high school teacher in the Bronx, thus, ample funds were not part of our life.

We had a super cute, but small duplex apartment near the Museum of Natural History that became infinitely smaller with the arrival of our son, the worst baby in the history of babies. Months of sleepless nights made me a little wackier than usual and I pleaded, begged even, to get the hell out of New York. I didn't see a future for us in the city, raising a kid (or kids) on our meager budget.

Knowing that our folks were getting older (and me at the ripe old age of 28), we debated where to move, with my thinking leading to midway between the two, putting us somewhere in Jersey or Philly. My brother-in-law Paul lived in Columbia, MD, and gave John an assist getting in touch with the county education departments across the state. Lo and behold, John received a letter from Frederick County Public Schools that seemed like they really liked teachers (though that fact is debatable now). A push for an interview, sitting and looking at so, so many cows, and before we knew it, John had relocated to Frederick and I was packing up the apartment and the baby, on my way to Maryland.

Frederick 16 years ago was very different from Frederick now, and I was bored. We quickly purchased a car, and some mornings, I would drive John to work so that I could have some wheels during the day. Most days though, I just stayed in our apartment, which seemed so very spacious and had a washer and dryer...score! It also had a miserable infant and a new mom struggling with the parameters of motherhood (not a big fan at that point).

Having finished culinary school just a year before our big move, I fell to cooking as stress relief. Cooking whatever we could afford and making much more food than the two of us could ever possibly eat. I shared easily with grateful neighbors and always looked for the approval that yes, I had indeed accomplished something other than keeping the baby alive that day.

One thing I love is coconut cake. I'm not iffy on the matter. I adore coconut in almost every form, from coconut curries to Almond Joys. But on this day of failed motherhood and doubt with the move I had forced, I decided to bake a coconut cake. No ordinary coconut cake, this masterpiece took hours upon hours to create. Six layers of perfect cake, with a tender crumb and a moistness lent to it by just a touch of coconut milk in the batter.  The ethereal frosting was so ample, it took two rounds in the KitchenAid to make it all. Six layers. Three cakes perfectly, methodically sliced in half, then layer upon layer upon layer. The entire cake then coated with perfectly flaky coconut shreds. A true masterpiece. I set it on the counter and waited.

John came home, exhausted from teaching a long day at a middle school as far opposite to where he had been, dreading, I'm sure, the needy wife and the hysterical baby. I waited.

The coat came off, the papers laid down. I'm certain there was no supper -- all my energy had gone into the cake. The cake that represented my skill in the kitchen, my adoration of him, my failure as the mother of an infant, because I'd so much rather bake a cake than care for a screaming baby, sat there, like a beacon, waiting to be recognized, admired. 

"That's a pretty big cake." Why yes. Yes it is. "Would you like a piece?" "What about dinner?" "Oh, let's just have a piece of cake instead." So he did. Because if you know nothing else, know that this man loves me. He forgot about his own struggles with a new school, and new kids, and a move, and an unhappy, bored wife, and a screaming baby (did I mention that he was the worst baby ever? He has since greatly improved).

But that coconut cake was huge. Easily enough to feed 16. So he had a piece, and I had a piece. And that was it. The rest of the cake sat for days until I admitted defeat and tossed it in the trash. I haven't made a coconut cake since. Frederick has changed, and so have I, no longer baking enormous cakes instead of just sitting there, waiting for something to happen.

Maybe it's time to make another. Four layers this time, and less self doubt. Until then, I'll hit up Angel Cakes on Church Street for one of their perfect coconut cupcakes. Because it's less stress and meaning and there, a coconut cake, or cupcake even, is just that.