Monday, February 25, 2013

Knife Skills Are Life Skills

I am of the opinion that every independent person who eats, should know how to cook. Everyone should have some rudimentary cooking skills if they want to live a healthy and delicious life. I think learning to cook is as important as learning to drive, maybe more so. To be independent, to feed oneself in a healthy manner, is a basic life skill. It is good not to have to rely on someone else for sustenance. Prepared food from the grocery store, frequent restaurant visits or the employment of a personal chef are expensive alternatives to learning to prepare a meal for yourself. I have tried to pass this philosophy on to my children. My girls are good cooks and my boys can feed themselves as necessary. I didn't focus enough on teaching cooking skills to my older boys, mostly because they were often otherwise occupied, but we did have some cooking lessons before they flew from the nest. Once they were out on their own they had to learn. They also worked restaurant jobs that trained them in some important skills (such as tossing pizza dough like a Sicilian).

I am starting to implement this philosophy at a younger age with my second set of boys, hoping to cover more ground, by having them help prep food for dinner, cook for themselves when I am away for the day, and bake goodies just for fun. Hopefully by the time they are teenagers they will have some real kitchen skills and will be preparing whole meals without help.

I decided to carry this a bit farther by volunteering to teach a class for Sam and Peter's 4-H club. Knowing that the nearly all-girl club had done plenty of cookie and muffin baking already, I chose to teach them how to care for and use kitchen knives. A good knife is a cook's best friend and kids should learn how to use them before they learn to cook.

I began by showing the kids a variety of knives and explaining their uses. I brought my paring knife, a filet knife, and serrated bread knife as well as small and large chef's knives. Those versatile wide-bladed knives are my favorite tool in the kitchen. I figured out that I never even had a wide chef's knife until I was at least in my thirties. It is so true that each knife has its special use and I am utterly amazed I cooked for so long without one. For my birthday last year my son and his girlfriend gifted me with a wonderful set of Miyobi knives. Razor sharp and perfectly weighted, I am now shamelessly spoiled.

At the 4-H class we talked about how to keep knives sharp. The kids each brought a knife and a cutting board to class so I set them up to learn the honing technique.

The proper way to hone a knife is to hold it at a 20 degree angle to the steel honer which is held firmly at a perpendicular angle to a cutting board. Two or three smooth strokes from the heel of the knife to the tip, on each side of the blade, is sufficient. Cutting boards should be made of wood or plastic. Ceramic or glass boards, like tile or granite countertops, will dull the knife edge by chipping microscopic bits when the knife contacts the hard surface. Honing the knife will smooth the burrs off the blade that are caused by use.

After I demonstrated how to chop a vegetable in even sized pieces, the 4-H'ers practiced by cutting potatoes into french fry sticks.

I then taught them the easy recipe for oven fries. While we proceeded with the class the fries baked in the oven. When the fries finally emerged, steaming and spicy with mustard and seasoning, they were eaten so quickly I didn't get a photo of them.

The next easy recipe was creamy potato soup, which required an onion. Each of the kids brought an onion and learned the proper way to dice it.

This is the point in the class when pandemonium broke out as the fumes from fifteen onions began causing kids and moms alike to weep and wail.

Somehow when I was planning the class this cumulative effect of onion chopping didn't occur to me. It brought to mind the scene in the movie Julie and Julia where Julia Child (Meryl Streep) is practicing her onion dicing skills on twenty pounds of onions. Yeah, it was like that... only louder.

But the kids survived. We bagged up the onion bits to contain the fumes and proceeded to evenly chop more potatoes for the soup. Sauteed onion and celery, potatoes and chicken broth were soon bubbling on the stove as the students devoured the oven fries.

By the time we were done with the clean-up the soup was done cooking. I added some heavy cream, salt and pepper and put the delicious results into containers for the kids to take home.

I'm hoping that the kids will remember more from this class than their burning eyes, but I'm not so sure.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

To my Valentine...

I take hundreds, maybe thousands, of photos every year on a couple different cameras. I have dozens of photos albums and countless digital files of pictures. I started taking photos when I was about ten on my mom's old Brownie camera. I'd ride my bike into town to drop the film at the photo shop for developing. Two weeks later I'd ride back in anxious anticipation to see my photos, usually to be greatly disappointed at the fuzzy, off-centered results.

I continued to take lots of photos all through my young years but I appear in very few. Well... because I was behind the camera. So today when I went to look for a photo of my valentine and I in our youth, I was very hard pressed to find anything. I guess I'll have to go through my relative's photos. It seems that no one took my camera in hand and took photos of us.

I did find this one and I remember the occasion. Too bad I wasn't looking at the camera, huh? We were newlyweds in 1981 (or '82?) and my husband was singing the solo at another wedding. He sang "The Lord's Prayer" at several weddings that first year and I know I accompanied him on the organ at most of them so I may have at this wedding too. I remember I made that green dress for my Christmas dress the previous holiday. We didn't really know very many people at the event so maybe that's why I look so uncomfortable?

Happy Valentine's Day, my dear! Didn't we look great way back when?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

For Your Valentine

Your chocolate loving, coffee addicted valentine...chocolate espresso bars! These are not your mama's brownies.

This is the recipe that won Samuel a champion ribbon at the county fair last summer. He is making them again to take to his art school for their Valentines Day party. We thought we'd pass on the recipe since we can't actually share the aromas and flavors of my kitchen and Samuel's efforts. The recipe comes from my favorite baking cookbook The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book.

Happy Valentines Day! Eat chocolate with someone you love!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Talent on Display

After the boys and I took Katie and family to the airport to return home, we stayed in the big city for the annual art exhibit for Samuel's art school.

This is the big event of the year when the students put their best artistic efforts on display.

These acrylic paintings were done by the 9-12 year old class.

Samuel's painting of a St. Bernard that he made for Peter's Christmas gift was well represented in the crowd of paintings.

There were hundreds of art works on display in several different media including pencil, ink, colored pencil, pastel, acrylics and oils as well as cartooning, sculptures and computer designed art. Besides the fine arts of landscapes, portraits and still lifes, the school offers dance, choir, drama and film classes.

The techniques taught in this school are obviously successful methods that bring results with even the youngest and most inexperienced students.

The following drawings (all my favorites) were in the college level class of 19-21 year olds.

This stunning ink drawing was done by a thirteen year old artist and won the People's Choice Best of Show award.

I was proud of the efforts of my own children in their first term at this school. Alyssa's kitchen still life pastel (on the left) was a beautiful representation of her budding talent. The new term begins this month and I'm anxious to see what Samuel and Alyssa will produce in their new classes!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Savory Pesto Cheesecake

One of our family events while we were all gathered together was a bridal shower in anticipation of the next event that will bring our family all together again (an April wedding in the Midwest!)

Like any bridal shower we had lots of food and beverages.

And since it was a girl party we also had tea- Peaches and Cream and Lemon Vanilla.

The purpose of a bridal shower is to shower the bride with gifts so we did that too.

Every bridal shower needs a lovely bride and we had that too.

She was also showered with lots and lots of girl talk, stories of her intended's younger days and marital advice.

One of the yummy things that happened at the shower was this savory cheesecake. I just made it again today for an art gallery reception that is happening tonight. I thought I'd share the recipe while it is fresh in my mind. Blogging is a good way to get these things written down!

Savory Pesto Cheesecake

Prepare a six inch springform cheesecake pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper and spraying with an oil spray. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, beat together until smooth-
1 cup ricotta cheese
8 ounces cream cheese

Beat in one whole egg

Add and mix thoroughly-
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup basil pesto
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes

Pour into prepared pan. Set the pan into a baking dish with one inch of warm water. Place in the oven and bake until set, 45-55 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove and chill completely 2-4 hours (or overnight) before serving. To serve, remove the sides of the cheesecake pan and invert cheesecake onto a serving plate.