Sunday, August 25, 2013

Are you keeping it personal?

I know, I'm asking crazy questions again!

But are you keeping your cooking personal?  And, by that, I mean, is your kitchen space personal to you, is your cooking the kind or the way you like to do it?  If it's not, then I bet you don't enjoy cooking (or at least, not as much as you could!).

Now, you're going to either say, huh? or, Candace, what are you talking about?  I don't know HOW to keep it personal! are a couple of tips for keeping it easy and fun that will help simplify your life.  Remember, this isn't rocket science so don't make it that way!

But first, a little background...I'm all about making things easier for my students in my cooking classes.  My goal or maybe I should say, my mission is to show you how to make great food that will impress your family and friends and be as easy as possible to cook.  So, I try to show you sensible ways to have it going on in the cooking arena and not dazzle you with my fancy footwork.  That means that you take what we learned in class and do it at home.  So...keeping it personal is just an extension of what I teach in my cooking classes.

I don't emphasize recipes that need exact measurements (for me, that's most recipes, really).  I use ingredients that are not difficult to find but are not your run of the mill, ordinary meat and potatoes.  And, I show you techniques that will make your life easier.

Case in point, I get tons of questions about knives.  What knife should I get?  Frankly, I don't know.  You are the only one who knows what kind of knife you need.  So in class, I provide everyone with an inexpensive but very sharp knife to begin finding out what kind of knife they like.  The weight, the shape of the handle and the blade are all important but above all else, it must be sharp.  So you can have great success with a very inexpensive knife IF it is super sharp.  You can also have a disaster with a dull, expensive knife.  There's one way you keep it personal...get a knife you like.  And, don't buy a big set like that salesperson wants you to buy at the gourmet kitchen store.  Buy your knives one at a time so that it makes sense when you add a new one to your personal kitchen.  And, then keep them sharp.  Learn to use a knife steel that straightens the blade (that's another story) and then have them sharpened professionally when needed.  "When needed" is also personal because everyone uses knives differently.

Bottom line is choose knives, tools, equipment and food to suit your personal style.  You like Asian food...get a wok, go to the Asian market, familiarize yourself with ingredients and flavor profiles for Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Vietnamese foods, search the Internet for ideas, that's what I do when I want to personalize my cooking or cooking classes.

Wouldn't it be cool, though, if there was a resource out there that provided you with a step-by-step method for personalizing your kitchen and cooking and making it super enjoyable.  Well, stay tuned my is on the way!

To that end, you know that I have to include a little somethin', somethin'.  Here's a great recipe for Grilled Romaine Hearts and the house vinaigrette from Urban Kitchen.  With Labor Day coming, this will change up your grilling routine.
Be sure to play around with it...make it you're own!

Grilled Romaine Hearts

Serves 8
4 romaine hearts
1 red onion, thickly sliced
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese                                                             
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Rinse romaine hearts and remove any blemished outer leaves.  Cut hearts in half lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Drizzle red onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Heat grill to medium high.  Place sliced onions (oiled side down) on the grill and drizzle the other side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill for 2 – 3 minutes until they have grill marks.  Flip onions and allow to cook until softened and slightly caramelized, about five minutes.  Remove from the grill.  Allow to cool and then chop the onions.  Set aside.

Place romaine hearts cut side down on the grill for about a minute until the edges start to wilt.  Remove from the grill.  Dress with your favorite vinaigrette (mine is below).  Followed by chopped grilled onions and crumbled goat cheese.

White Balsamic Vinaigrette
 Makes about one cup of dressing

1 garlic clove, smashed
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ - ½ cup canola/olive oil blend

In a pint jar or squeeze bottle, combine all ingredients and shake well.
And as always...
If you like this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it! 
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  
Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.

I continue to get great feedback about my Complete Resource Guide to Stress-Free Entertaining.  If personalizing your cooking and making it fun is interesting to you, you might enjoy this free guide.  Check it out by clicking on the link.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Curiosity of Cooking Classes Redux

There is so much going on!  I am catching myself coming and going!  But I can't let my blog go without a weekly post so I went through the archives and found this little jewel...honestly, this is one of my favorite all-time posts (with the exception of one about a particular "Throw Down with Bobby Flay" which I have promised not to re-post, for now anyway).  We do have a lot of great, fun classes at Urban Kitchen.  And, I am happy to say the Asian classes are much more popular than they were when I first posted this lament.
And as always...
If you like this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it! 
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  
Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.
I am constantly amazed by the number of people who want to learn how to make pasta...often to the exclusion of anything else.
Take this week's classes as an example:  Wednesday was Vietnamese Street Food which I cleverly titled "What the Pho?" and Thursday was Ravioli.  To me, the opportunity to make a dish as thoroughly fascinating as pho and the banh mi sandwich would win hands down over ravioli.  Boy!  Was I wrong!
My poor little East meets West fusion class would have been canceled had it not been for two stalwarts and, frankly, I should have canceled it anyway (didn't have the four required) but I couldn't bring myself to deny these gals the wonders and utter simplicity yet flavor explosion of these two dishes.  Plus, I really wanted to prove that I could make an acceptable pho (I already knew I owned banh mi land).  So we had a great class and explored the ingredients and methods of Vietnamese cooking with all of its French influences.  We even snapped a quick pic of the pho yummy-ness.  Not up to Melanie Dunea quality but passable.
Now on to my quandary...what is this fascination with pasta?  The ravioli class on Thursday was packed...I even had a woman in there who just found out she had to cut out gluten...yet she was still in class!
Don't get me wrong (I know I say that a lot but I don't want to be misunderstood, of course), I love pasta!  But please, please, please...I don't want to be reduced to becoming the Pasta Teacher of Tulsa...sounds very grand, doesn't it?
I IS fun to make pasta and it IS easy but come on, people, let's branch out!  I have soup, puff pastry, pie, roasted chicken, appetizers, and grilling, grilling, grilling classes but nothing fills up like pasta.  We've made simple pasta, all kinds of ravioli and gnocchi.  We've made sauces and fillings until they're coming out of our ears but it's never enough!
Yes...I will continue to teach you how to make pasta but couldn't you throw in a little excitement here and there? 
I'm just sayin'...

Monday, August 5, 2013

It IS entertaining...

So what if I told you, anybody can be successful at entertaining?  Already scoffing at me, eh?
OK...what if I told you that you can not only be successful at entertaining but can also enjoy it?  How about that one?  I hope, at this point, that you're intrigued enough to keep reading have decided that I have completely gone 'round the bend on this one.  But hear me out!
Personally, I have always enjoyed entertaining.  My mom was a great hostess on the order of Perle Mesta.  How's that for a very old, obscure reference?  How many of you even know who Perle Mesta was?  And, yes, I know I'm dating myself!

Suffice it to say, my mom was a superb entertainer.  She and my dad would have holiday open houses where hundreds of people would come and go over several hours in an entire evening,  It was a true open house, in every sense of the word, back in the good old (bad old?) days of the 1960's.  Copious amounts of food and adult beverages as well as the occasional romantic tryst in the coat closet with people not married to one another.  Yes, definitely the good old days!  HAH!  Anywho, my mother managed to prepare most all of the food but then hired people to help serve and bartend so that she could be "the hostess with the mostest" at my father's side.  Those parties and her aplomb associated with them were my introduction to Entertaining...I was going to say 101 but there was nothing simple or introductory about the way my mother captained that ship.  So, I internalized my maternal rendering of Martha Stewart and thought that was what I needed to do.  And, I did!  I loved throwing great parties that totally stressed me out but they were perfect and beautiful.  I loved them but I couldn't say they were "fun" for me.  Everyone else had a wonderful time, though.  I guess the question did I get from there to here?  Here being the place where I not only enjoy but have put together a lovely stress-free evening.

The "aha" moment came over twenty years ago when I was running behind getting things together for a small dinner party and was, of course, completely panicked.  One of the couples arrived a bit early (that about put me over the edge but she was a very good friend) and she said, as she watched me race around, "well, it's so nice to see that you're human."  That was my tipping point!  Indeed, I am human and why not stop trying to be Martha Stewart (who at the time had a staff of 700+) and actually enjoy the evening and my guests?  And, from that moment forward, that's exactly what I did and continue to do.

At Urban Kitchen, I teach cooking classes but I am also creating a warm and inviting environment that provides entertainment and something a little different for people to do together.  So I am entertaining guests in my kitchen anywhere from 3 to 5 nights a week.  We turn on the music, pour everyone a glass of wine and start cooking up some fun.  The atmosphere is light and easy.  No intimidation from complicated food, just delicious, straightforward dishes that are as comfortable to make as that old pair of slippers is to wear. you believe that anyone can entertain AND enjoy doing it?  I hope so!
Keep an eye out because a complete guide of how-to do this whole entertaining thing is coming your way very soon!

And as always...
 If you liked this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it!
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.