Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cooking Camp, Part 2

This past week was my second session of cooking camp. I'd been looking forward to it all summer and it really was a great week. If you can believe it, it was even better than my first week of cooking camp! I'm a big "learn from your mistakes" type of person, so it was great to have time to reflect on the first session, adjust my curriculum and layout, and have another try at it. Practice makes perfect, right?

Throughout this process, I've been really lucky to be surrounded by awesome people. My husband- for bouncing ideas off of. Former members of my youth group- who were the most incredible teachers' assistants anyone could hope for. Parents and children with adventuresome palates and tons of enthusiasm- they made my job so much more fun. Having done this twice now, I realize that these are the essential "ingredients" for a successful camp.

This week, our "Trip Around the World" included 5 new countries and almost 30 kids- some of them new and some returning from the first session. I was really excited about my menus- we'd be making some delicious dishes from Italy, Japan, England, Israel, and Hawaii. The summer had given me time to do my research and plan a great set of recipes. I had taken my time visiting some of the Ethnic markets in the area and talking with the people who work there. I've found that you can really learn a lot if you're willing to simply ask for help. I got all of the information I needed plus more! Should you have the opportunity to visit Hungarian Kosher or the Pita Inn Market in Skokie, I highly recommend both places for their great shopping and super helpful staff!

Some of the favorite recipes from the week were definitely an adapted version of my spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate chip biscotti (I omitted the nibs and bumped up the chocolate chips), crunchy chicken yaki-tori, and fruit sushi. The kids in this session were especially ambitious and willing to try anything- tofu, edamame, you name it! I noticed that in this session, we were able to work through our recipes more quickly and the kitchen was less disastrous at the end of each day. I think this is where experience comes in- I'm learning to manage a kitchen full of kids a little bit better each time I do this. I can't wait until next summer! In the meantime, though, please enjoy some pictures from session 2 here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Courtney's Wedding Shower

When I was in culinary school and learning to use fondant, my cake decorating instructor warned us never to put a fondant-covered cake in the refrigerator. Why? Because the humidity in the fridge causes the fondant to become "sweaty." She spoke from experience- she was once forced to serve a wedding cake that looked soaking wet because someone had refrigerated it. I vowed never to make this mistake.

Well, if cake decorating has taught me anything, it's that no matter how hard you may try, there are sometimes things that are simply beyond your control. This past weekend was a good example. We were throwing a wedding shower for my sister Courtney. She's getting married in Florida this September and has a great palette of citrusy Florida colors selected for the big day. I wanted to use some of these colors for the shower and found some adorable invites from Kate Spade with polka dots of green, yellow, orange and pink. I thought I could carry this theme through by creating a cake with the same polka dots and maybe some wedding cake cookies to send home as favors. I was feeling really pleased with my idea and was even happier with how everything turned out. I loved the look of the cake!

Well, if you were in the Chicagoland area this past weekend, you know how humid it was. My tiny kitchen was no match for the hot and sticky weather. The cake I had labored over- carefully covering in fondant and decorating in polka dots of just the right shade- began to sweat before my very eyes. I almost fainted! It wasn't fair- I followed the rules, I didn't put it in the fridge- but my cake looked like it had just taken a dip in Lake Michigan! Quickly, I composed myself and put the cake in front of the air conditioner. This took care of the problem with the humidity and returned the fondant to its original dry appearance. I could tell that it wasn't exactly perfect, but my husband convinced me that once it was sliced, it wouldn't matter. Plus. if I fussed over it any more, we'd be late. Sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it!