Monday, September 30, 2013

A trip down Memory Lane...

It's hard to believe that it's been almost three years since we opened the doors to Urban Kitchen.
So...I had to grab a little excerpt from one of my posts from 2010 before it all happened...makes me a little nostalgic and just a bit incredulous that we actually did it.
Here's a little blast from the past:

Next...the kitchen is coming together in spite of all of the crazy things that have happened from the vent hood installers cannibalizing my hood fans to figuring out the new heat sensor requirements to...well, I'm sure there's something else but I can't think of what it is.  Here is a picture of the kitchen...not the same one as on Facebook so a little variety coming atcha...
On the food front...I just read that legendary Chef Alain Ducasse has expressed himself on the subject of complicated food and he's too damn complicated!  YAY!! Thank you so much!!  In fact, he is completely reworking his menu and is going so far as to limit all items to three ingredients.  That just speaks to my heart after all this silly, self-absorbed, overly complex cooking that's going on out there! I have always said, delicious, honest food, completely identifiable that you can be passionate about.
We will start being passionate about the food we cook very shortly at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street...can't wait to share with everyone...I will be scheduling cooking classes in November!

So, actually, we didn't schedule cooking classes in November of 2010 because the Health Department insisted on a particular kind of floor drain under my three compartment sink that required additional plumbing and tearing up of the tile.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that while I was at it, I needed to put in a grease trap?  Lord help me, I don't know how any of us survive the food business with all of the "help" we get from the city.  We also didn't get a break from the weather gods either with one of the worst winters on record (exception being the ice storm of 2009) so I think we started classes in the Spring of 2011.

But now, three years later and lots of experiences under my belt here is little Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street where we're cooking recipe and a time!
And, oh yeah, again...Chef Alain Ducasse is still my hero!

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.

And, if personalizing your cooking and making it fun is interesting to you, you might enjoy my Complete Resource Guide to Stress-Free Entertaining.   Check it out by clicking on the's free!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tools: The big, the small, the essential

Let's talk about what you've got in your kitchen.  Not what food you have, what kinds of tools and equipment you have.  Do you have a favorite whisk or wooden spoon or spatula?  I do!
And, because I do, I'm going to share a few of my go-to's.  I could come up with an entire list of things and maybe I'll do that, in the future but for now, let's just stick to some great basics.  I love basics because they're a really good way to get started.

Of course, there are the knives but I could spend an entire email (or more) just on knives so let's save that, too and get into some super cool tools that will make your time in the kitchen easier and, dare I say, fun!  This will also be fun because I'm going to show you pictures of my personal favs!

I limited myself to five but I have many, many more.
So here are the top five small kitchen tools on my Hit Parade and in my kitchen, right now!

Number 5 - Fine mesh strainer
Pour sauces or stocks through this to get perfectly clear liquids, nothing is left behind.  Also good for draining and rinsing canned goods.

Number 4 - Microplane
Always sharp and makes grating cheese or veggies a breeze.

Number 3 - Poultry shears
These are indispensable for cutting up chicken or other birds.  These are cool because they come apart for easy chicken "goo" left on these!

Number 2 - Utility tongs
Man, I love these things!  If you don't have anything else for picking things up out of a hot pan, this is the tool.  They are really an extension of your hand.
Finally, and this was a hard one because I really love those tongs but...

Number 1 - Japanese mandoline
You must be careful with this guy but if you are...slicing is so fast and fun!!  Plus, it's super inexpensive.  So if it breaks (and it could although none of mine ever have), you don't feel bad throwing it away and getting a new one.

So these are a few of my favorite things, I think I feel a song coming on.
But instead, how about a recipe?  Experiment with it and have some fun!

Penne Mac ‘n Cheese
 Serves 4 – 6

¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded aged cheddar
½ lb penne, cooked al dente, cooled and drained
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°.

Butter a 2 qt baking dish.  In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.  Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth.  Simmer until the sauce is thickened.  Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of mozzarella and ½ cup aged cheddar.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta and cheese sauce.  Stir in ½ cup of mozzarella and transfer to prepared dish.  Top with the remaining mozzarella and aged cheddar then bread crumbs.
Bake for at least 30 minutes or until the pasta is browned and bubbly.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Be sure to try different types of pasta and cheeses with it!

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, September 2, 2013

Stop buying salad dressing!

*Note from Candace*
I have been reviewing old posts and sharing them as it seems appropriate.  I ran across this one from May, 2009.  It is funny how consistent my message (mission) has been even from four years ago.  
This is where the Urban Kitchen house vinaigrette started.  It's fun to see how it has evolved.  To my favorite container option, I would add a squeeze bottle.  With the bottle, you not only have the salad dressing mixer but an easy way to deliver the dressing on to your greens.  As for vinegar choices, consider white and red balsamics as well as the others.

The point is:  don't be afraid to experiment, use fresh ingredients and once you make dressing for the first time, you'll never buy the bottled, preservative-laden stuff again! 
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.

We all have our favorite bottled salad dressing...come on, admit it! Mine was (note the word, WAS) Seven Seas Creamy Italian. I ate enough of that dressing to float a boat - no pun intended. When I was in college, I would eat it on anything...well, not on chocolate, but that was about it. Nowadays, so many bottled dressings are filled with much so that you can hardly identify what it really is supposed to be. Then I started making my own dressings a number of years ago. It is not only fast but, once more, you can use your imagination and create so many different flavors. I am going to share my salad dressing "base" with you. Then sally forth (did I really say that?) and add different spices, herbs, ingredients to it...whatever you like or whatever seems to go best with what you're serving. Add fruit, fresh or dried. Add vegetables. I don't think meat would work but who knows...! Try it and let me know!!

Now, you will see a lot of chefs whisk the oil into the salad dressing ingredients. The reason for this is to create an "emulsion" emulsion is a mixture of one liquid with another that it ordinarily will not combine with...such as oil and water or, in this instance, vinegar. You add the oil very slowly and whisk the vinegar quickly so that it binds. This is, of course, the classic way of doing things but sometimes you have to throw classic out the window and get real. My favorite method for "emulsifying" my oil and vinegar is with a small screwtop jar and a little Dijon mustard. The flavor of Dijon has a way of blending into whatever type of dressing you're making or it can express itself, for instance, in a honey Dijon salad dressing. In any event, the mustard acts as an emulsifier and helps the process it cheating if you like but it works like a champ. And, I think most people don't make dressing because of the idea of whisking things. So now no more excuses...get a half-pint Mason jar and go to it!

Candace's Salad Dressing Base (this is purely a jumping off point)

In a small jar with a tightly fitting lid (preferably screw top)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 - 2 tsp dark brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it - you can also leave it out completely)
1 tbsp minced shallot and/or 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 parts vinegar to 1 part oil (I like light and not oily dressings)
Place the top securely on the jar and shake it like crazy.

Now you've got salad dressing that is fresh, light, full of flavor and will last in your fridge for at least a week or more...actually, probably not that long because you'll use it so fast! A half-pint of dressing is enough for many, many salad greens but please, do not commit the Cardinal sin of over-dressing your greens. Let your greens shine through...they deserve their place in the spotlight...but that's another tip for another day.
Now just to get you started thinking...
For sweeteners: try honey, maple syrup, light brown sugar, light or dark corn syrup
For vinegars: try red wine, white wine, rice (unseasoned), raspberry, sherry, or champagne
The oil you use will depend on whether you want to taste it...flavorless canola, vegetable, or flavorful olive oils...I wouldn't recommend sesame except as a flavor enhancer in an Asian dressing.
You can use this same theory with mayonnaise-based dressings.
Don't be afraid to's just doesn't care!
The rest is up to you!