Blogs > Cooking from Scratch

Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Friday, April 30, 2010

Eat Local First

My grandparents farmed their own land for years, living in the rural hills of Georgia. Together, they raised 10 children. My uncle told me once about how my grandmother would bring her young sons with her to the fields to work, and she would carefully wrap her youngest child in a blanket and place him in a laundry basket that she would drag along with her as she picked each row. In the 1940's both child care and work were scarce.

When they moved north, they farmed their plot of land in Farmington, which, back then, was still pretty rural in comparison to the suburban feel it has today. They raised chickens and rabbits and other livestock, they worked tirelessly in their “garden” (a huge 1 acre plot of carefully tilled and nurtured soil that featured everything from corn, green and wax beans, tomatoes, peppers, lettuces and greens to even grapes!

Everything that was harvested was either eaten right away or canned for the winter months. I remember the way the food tasted from their garden, but I wish that I were able to taste it now that I can appreciate how truly special it was. I was about 8 years old and had no idea that the green beans my grandmother brought over for us to enjoy were something more than just a green bean. Now as a chef, I can appreciate it so much more.
To this day, I’ve never had a green bean that tasted better than what my grandmother made.

My other grandmother owns a farm in Ohio farmed by a family who grows soybeans, so I guess you could say that a sensitivity and appreciation for farming and local foods are in my DNA, but unfortunately for me, my thumb is not very green. Luckily for me, there are hundreds of farmers and food manufacturers who grow and produce their delicious foods right here in Michigan.

“Eating local” is about a lot more than just taste. There are many reasons to “go local” but this column will discuss four major issues. Think these as the four legs of a beautiful handcrafted dining table: Environment, Economy, Community & Taste.

Because of the globalization of the food supply, Detroiters can get a bright red tomato in January or jewel-colored strawberries in December. It seems that the only thing growing in Detroit (or in Michigan) during the winter months is unemployment and other unfortunate and unwelcome cases of blight, so we certainly aren’t harvesting any peaches or nectarines. That being said, the produce many of us enjoy in the “off season” has been grown hundreds or thousands of miles away, then flown or trucked all of that distance just to make it to the produce section of your favorite grocery store. If you’re someone who’s interested in your environmental footprint, then maybe plums in February aren’t the best bet (unless you canned them last summer). Also, many fruits and vegetables lose many of their important nutrients in fewer than 5 days, so buying closer to home is also healthier too.

The economy is another great reason to go local. According to Select Michigan, if every Michigan family would spend just $10 a week of their grocery budget on foods & products grown and manufactured in our state, it would keep over $37 million new dollars each week working for you right here at home. For instance, instead of buying Domino sugar, consider Pioneer. Select fruits and vegetables that are grown on a local farm. Calder & Guernsey dairy products are both available at Holiday Market, so purchasing your milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products is just a trip to the grocery store.

Buying local is a great way to reconnect ourselves to our food and our community. Something as simple as an ice cream cone on a beautiful summer day ensures that our friends and neighbors can keep working and putting food on their dinner tables each night. Putting a “face” behind our foods really brings the dining experience home to many of us. So many people love food because of what it symbolizes – entertaining and spending quality time with family and friends. Sharing, talking, savoring our favorite foods together is about hospitality, love and generosity. Buying local is the embodiment of all of those things. What could be better?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how absolutely delicious fresh local food is! You really CAN taste the difference. Each year, we teach a local foods cooking class called “Eat Local First”. This class features some of our favorite recipes that incorporate seasonal ingredients. Also, for your convenience, Holiday Market features local foods and ingredients with a “Made/Grown in Michigan” sign.

To learn more about the Mirepoix Cooking School or to register for a class, go to

Saturday, April 24, 2010


It’s no longer uncommon to hear the phrase “farm to table” or “farm to plate”, which refers largely to local foods. Organics, on the other hand, are a much bigger business.

The word "organic" refers to the way farmers grow fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat, as well as other crops like cotton. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease.

Growing organic isn’t as easy as just casting the chemicals aside. Farmers who wish to grow organics must go through a lengthy years-long and expensive process to rid the soil of any chemicals that may have been in the soil from previous use or exposure before growing anything that can be considered as “organic”. Because of this, organics cost more to grow than their conventional counterparts. Also, there is more loss per crop because organics do not have the protection against pests and spoilage that conventionally grown products do.

Organics are regulated by the USDA, and are easy to spot with a voluntary
“certified organic” seal. These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. Any farmer or food manufacturer who labels and sells a product as organic must be USDA certified as meeting these standards. The only exception to this is producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods are exempt from this certification.

There is much debate as to whether or not organic foods are healthier and safer for us to eat. Many people suggest that the pesticides and other chemicals used in conventional farming practices are toxic to our bodies as well as the planet. Others say that only certain fruits and vegetables are adversely affected by conventional farming practices and that other foods are perfectly safe and nutritious when grown conventionally.

Production volume is another thing cynics of organics site when weighing the pros and cons of organic vs. conventional products. Since there are billions of people to feed, some argue that an organic farm system couldn’t produce enough food to feed the planet. By contrast, foods grown conventionally are much more available and productive in terms of yield.

The environment is also a consideration that many advocates of organics reference when making their argument in support of chemical free farming. Since organics are grown without the use of harsh chemicals, there is no “run off” of the chemicals into our lakes, rivers, etc.

Whether it be the environment, food supply, or health concerns, many people see the value of buying and consuming organic products either exclusively or a combination of conventionally produced and organic items. As you can see, food can be a very substantial political and emotional issue for many people, and we’ve just scratched the surface. Our next post will discuss the local food movement. Until then, whether conventional or organic, if it’s not food – don’t eat it!

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Is "All Natural" - All Marketing?

Americans have become much more food savvy in the last few years thanks to the help of a few key voices and a television network that made the ordinary act of cooking and eating an extraordinary obsession. “Organic”, “natural”, “free range”, “cage-free”, “local” are terms that might seem to be very straight forward, but, unfortunately, food as we know it is nothing but.

A focus on nutrition, the environment, the humane treatment of our livestock, and an explosion of special diets considerations have brought very interesting and passionate conversation to the dinner table. In the coming columns, we will explore these special diets, but for now, we are going to start with the most basic category, “natural”.

The word “natural” sounds, well…. Natural. Surreptitiously, though, products labeled “natural” can sometimes be just the opposite. If a food product has an ingredient that was at one point in its lifecycle a “natural” ingredient, but has since been modified, the package can still boast the “natural” claim. Currently, the FDA is being petitioned by activists to be more stringent in regard to its labeling criteria when it comes to “natural” products.

The FDA has long been non-committal in regard to precisely the standard is for such a claim. Its origins were really vague in 1993, and seven years later, they are vague still.
In 2007 the FDA received two petitions, one by the Sugar Association and the other from Sara Lee requesting them to clearly define the term. The FDA is still holding to policy that it released in 1993: “FDA has not established a formal definition for the term ‘natural’, however the agency has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

If you are one who wants to avoid extraneous chemicals, preservatives, additives, hormones and umpteen other “junk” ingredients, be persistent and dig a little deeper. Focus on the ingredients listed on the label, or better – don’t buy processed foods. Our policy at Mirepiox is simply, “If it’s not food – don’t eat it!” A general rule of thumb for practical purposes is to avoid eating most foods that come from the center of the supermarket (shop the perimeter). For dairy & meat products, you will have to do some research.

Next our discussion will expand to organics, which are regulated by the FDA, which makes for more clear understanding.

To learn more about the Mirepoix Cooking School, visit our website at or join our Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Food Revolution

I was mid-jumping jack when the ladies in my aqua aerobics class this morning started talking about Jamie Oliver and his food revolution. The great thing about aqua aerobics is that I am easily kept informed about the latest issues of importance on topics ranging from the health care overhaul, the best place to get a cup of frozen custard or who got dropped from Dancing with the Stars (and who SHOULD HAVE gotten the boot instead).

There is anywhere between 4 and 7 women in my Tuesday class, which makes for lively and interesting conversation. Since they all know I’m a chef, they assume that I am up to date on every show on the Food Network, Bravo and otherwise. Naturally, they assumed that I’ve seen Oliver’s new series. Though I’m aware of his latest project, I’ve not seen the show. “How is it,” I asked. One woman started to answer me and then another one jumped in. Before I knew it, there was a pretty intense conversation about the show, its message, and its relevance. Shortly after that, the conversation expanded to lobbyists, the public school system and “the government”.

As we bobbed along with our Styrofoam dumbbells, it struck me that this was the first time that I’ve ever entered into this discussion with non-chefs. I’ve always known food is not “just food”. Food is culture, food is tradition, food is economics, food is policy, food is politics. It was a new experience to see the policy and cultural aspects of food through the eyes of the layperson.

This conversation is not new, though. It’s just that now, more people are talking about it. What used to be considered the concerns of those “hippies” or people on the “fringe” is now considered “conscious”. Conversations you would only hear at the co-op or health foods store is now common in Starbucks and apparently, therapy pools across the country.

Books and movies like 'Fast Food Nation', 'Diet for a New America', and most recently 'Food Inc.', have brought the conversation ever more to the forefront. Companies like Horizon, Organic Valley, and thousands of others have edged out their conventional competitors and have become household names.

Some chefs long for the days when “special diet” was just a handful of diabetics or the dreaded lone vegetarian. Now we have vegetarians, vegans, raw foodists, macrobiotic, organic, dairy-free, locovores, and celiacs (and every combination of those!). Other chefs welcome the new challenge of creating delicious and interesting meals that can satisfy these special considerations. Welcome challenge or inconvenience, one thing is for sure- the food scene has changed.

In the next few days, we’ll explore organics, “all natural”, and local food trends and avoid all of the heavy stuff like politics, policy and other polarizing pieces of the puzzle. After all, even with so many passionate convictions and values, we can all agree on at least one thing – readers of this blog LOVE FOOD, and that’s enough for me.

To learn more about the Mirepoix Cooking School, visit our website at

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quick Weeknight Meal Options - Flank Steak

Incredibly easy to prepare and delicious, flank steak is a chef’s top choice for creating versatile, simple, and flavorful dishes that can be cooked quickly and with minimal effort. Flank steak is popular in Argentina, where it is known as vacio, and also in Mexico where it is known as arrachera. French chefs are quite partial to this cut known as bavette. Flank steak is also widely used in Asian cooking, often marinated with cornstarch, oil and other flavorings, and then quickly stir-fried.

As its name indicates, flank steak is cut from the flank, a muscle from the belly. It can be somewhat tough because this is a well-exercised muscle. A lean cut of meat, flank steak should not have much marbling, and should have a bright, red color.

Flank steak is commonly marinated before it is prepared, simply because marinades offer an additional layer of flavor, but also because the acid (vinegar, wine, lemon juice, etc.) used in the marinade tenderizes the meat, making it even more palatable. Flank steak should be marinated for 30 minutes before cooking, or up to 3 hours. Do not exceed 3 hours, or the meat will have an overpowering flavor from the marinade, and the texture will be unsatisfactory.

Flank steak can be grilled, broiled (it was the original cut of meat used to prepare the classic London Broil), sautéed, or stir-fried. It is less commonly braised. No matter which cooking method you use, it is essential to avoid overcooking the meat. When overcooked, flank steak will have a very tough, rubbery texture, and will be unpleasant to eat. It is recommended to serve flank steak rare or medium rare, so as to preserve its tender texture.

Grilled flank steak is a delicious choice for fajitas, a perfect addition to a chopped salad with crumbled blue cheese and dried cherries, an irresistible baguette sandwich with cherve and freshly dressed greens, or served grilled with roasted potatoes.

You can prepare quick and delicious weeknight meals that you & your family will make time and time again in our Quick Weeknight Meals class on April 19. To register, go to

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Sharpen Your Skills in the Kitchen - Knife Skills 1.0

Our most common cooking class at Mirepoix is Knife Skills 1.0. Over the years, we’ve taught this class a myriad of different ways, and now I think we’ve found the best way to teach this very important topic. Our Knife Skills 1.0 class, like all of our other classes, is completely hands-on. Students learn best when they do it themselves instead of watching a demonstration-only format.

We also change our Knife Skills 1.0 class seasonally to feature ingredients that will be used in recipes that make sense for that particular time of year, so, even if you already took Knife Skills in the summer, we have something different to offer in the fall.

Knife Skills 2.0 features ingredients that are in season, but, more importantly, more difficult to prepare. We select produce and meats that people enjoy eating but may not know how to trim, slice and dice. Like Knife Skills 1.0, this class also changes twice a year to feature different seasonal ingredients.

Finally, Knife Skills 3.0 is our most advanced Knife course. This course outlines basic cuts of meat and proper “butchery” techniques. Learning how to cut and trim meat yourself is economical when money is tight.

Good cooking begins with good ingredients, but also the right tools, as discussed in an earlier post, “Tools of the Trade - Cook Like a Chef”. We recommend three knives to get you started – a chef’s knife, paring knife, and a boning knife. Of course there are other knives that you will eventually need, but we recommend starting with these three as they are the most commonly used.

Selecting a chef’s knife is important. Below you will find some tips to help you select the best knife for you.

Forged versus Stamped
The weight and balance of a chef's knife is said to depend on how the blade was manufactured. Forging, which involves pounding a relatively thick, red-hot billet of steel into shape under extreme pressure using a forging hammer and die, produces a slightly thicker, heavier blade. A forged knife also has a bolster, the thick piece of metal between the blade and the handle. A bolster adds weight, is said to improve the balance between the blade and handle, and can protect your fingers by separating them from the cutting edge.

Other knives have stamped blades, which began life as thin sheets of steel. Blade-shaped blanks are punched out on a huge press, almost like cookies being cut from rolled dough. Manufacturing techniques now allow bolsters to be attached to knives with stamped blades.

Heavy vs. Light
When you’re buying a knife, you are looking for something that feels good in your hand. It is nicely weighted, moves easily and feels balanced. We have a collection of both 8 and 10” Chef’s Knives, and each of the Mirepoix Cooking School staff has their preference for individual reasons. I prefer a 10” knife. I like the heavier weight and find it easy to use when cutting up hearty vegetables like hard squashes, melons, etc. Some others on my staff prefer the 8” because it is easier to use.

10” knives are heavier, so if that’s something you prefer, you might want to go with that. If you feel that the 10” is too large to handle, then the 8” is the right knife for you. A good knife, no matter the length, will be nicely weighted.

Price vs. Cost
A good knife is an investment. Most of my chefs have owned their knives since attending culinary school (for us that was about 10+ year ago). If you take good care of your knife, it is something you will be able to use for many, many years.

Caring for Your Knives – The 10 Commandments

1.Do NOT put your knives in the dishwasher
2.Do NOT use an electric sharpener to sharpen your knives
3.Do NOT store your knives in a drawer or in any other manner that would allow them to bump up against each other or something else
4.Do NOT put your knives in the sink
5.Do NOT take your knives to be sharpened by anyone who is going to “grind them”
6.Do NOT attempt to sharpen serrated knives
7.DO use the right knife for the job – not all knives are interchangeable
8.DO remember to sharpen your knife at least twice a year
9.DO use an oil stone to sharpen your knives
10.DO remember to use a steel on your knife at least every other time you use it

To learn more about the Mirepoix Cooking School or to register for a class, go to www.mirepoixcookingschool.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kitchen Science - Emulsions 101

Don’t let the word intimidate you, an emulsion is an incredibly easy thing to create, if you have the know-how to do it right. An emulsion is a mixture of one liquid with another with which it cannot normally combine smoothly, such as oil and water. An emulsification is accomplished by slowly adding one ingredient to another while mixing rapidly (whisking). This suspends droplets of one liquid throughout the other. Salad dressings, mayonnaise, and hollandaise sauce are just a few examples of emulsions.

The usual suspects in an emulsion are often eggs, oil, water, vinegar, or some other type of acid. Sometimes, you may see a recipe that calls for mustard. This is because mustard is an emulsifying agent, and also because mustard lends an interesting flavor.

When making an emulsion, the key to success is to be careful not to add the oil too quickly. When drizzling oil into the other ingredients, it is imperative to do this in a slow, steady stream. If the oil is added too quickly into the rest of the ingredients, it will cause the emulsion to “break”, at this point, the mixture will be separated and have a curdled appearance.

If separation occurs while you are trying to add the oil, do not throw the mixture away, as it can often be saved. To salvage the broken emulsion, simply remove a portion of the mixture and set aside. Add another two egg yolks to the small amount of the mixture, whisking quickly. Add about a tablespoon of water, and then slowly drizzle in the reserved mixture.

If there is oil that still needs to be added, simply drizzle it in as you whisk (or process) quickly. It is extremely important to constantly whisk or process the mixture as the friction warms the mixture and helps the emulsification.

This weekend, participants in our Date Night – Picnic in Provence class will be making a delicious French Mayonnaise, otherwise known as ‘aioli’. Become a fan of Mirepoix Cooking School on Facebook to receive this recipe update, which will be sent out on Sunday, April 11.

For more information about our classes and how you can cook like a pro, visit our website at

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Monday, April 5, 2010


Nutritionally friendly, salmon is an interesting meal solution, providing rich flavor to various types of dishes. Known to be rich in Omega -3 fatty acids, and other nutrient powerhouses, this fully flavored fish is great for a heart smart diet, those watching their waistlines, and those hoping to reduce their risk of certain cancers.

From a culinary perspective, salmon is also incredibly easy to prepare. Grilled, sautéed, poached, steamed, or smoked, salmon is one the most versatile protein choices available.

For as many preparations there are for salmon, there are even more varieties available in most seafood counters. Alaskan King, Coho, Sockeye, Atlantic or Pacific are the most popular and widely available types of salmon.

There is a tremendous amount of farm-raised salmon (aquacultured) being imported to the US today. Most of this farmed salmon comes from Norway and Chile being the largest producers. Although some farmed salmon are raised in salt water, their flesh doesn’t have the same rich flavor and decadent texture as their wild counterparts. Pacific salmon are in season from spring through fall.

Atlantic salmon is sometimes less abundant because of industrial pollution of North American and European tributaries. Atlantic salmon have a higher fat flesh, which is pink and succulent.

Salmon may be sold in thicker cut steaks, filets, or whole. It is recommended to keep the skin on when buying salmon, as the skin holds the salmon together nicely when cooking. However, if you prefer to leave the skin off, that is perfectly alright. Simply be more careful when cooking.

Salmon is flavored nicely by lemon, thyme, garlic, olive oil, dill, white wine, Dijon mustard, and capers. As a side dish, think of asparagus, peas, potatoes, rice pilaf, risotto, roasted tomatoes, or Hericots Verts (French style green beans).

When selecting salmon, choose a bright color, firm flesh, and a clean aroma. Fresh seafood should not have a “fishy” smell to it. Instead, it should have a mild scent, similar to fresh cucumbers, watermelon, or other fruit. If the salmon is packaged, it should be in an airtight container with no liquid.

Also, knowing the right questions to ask your fishmonger is essential. Instead of asking “when did this fish come in?” The right question to ask is, “When did that fish come out of the water and how was it stored the minute it came out of the water?” In other words, even if the fish came to the grocer yesterday, it can actually be quite old. Knowing when it was caught and how it was stored is what you really want to know.

If there are any temperature issues on fresh fish anytime in the process, the fish will lose its freshness. That’s why it’s important to ask your fish purveyor how to store the fish until you’re ready to use it, if you aren’t going to get to it until the next day.

To learn more about the Mirepoix Cooking School, visit our website at or become a fan of Mirepoix on Facebook.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Everything In Its Right Place

“Everything in its right place” isn’t just the title of one of my favorite Radiohead songs; it’s one of the fundamentals of proper cooking. The term mise en place, literally means “put in place”. Simply put, gathering all of your ingredients and utensils is an important step in food preparation. You could say that organization and foresight are the first two ingredients in any recipe.

At Mirepoix, I am known for being obsessively single-minded about our mission and our brand. Since our mission is to “teach people to cook and think like professional chefs”, the principle of mise en place is reinforced at every class for two very practical reasons.The first being that we are on a tight schedule; 3.5 hours isn’t as long as you think it is when you are working on preparing over 12 recipes! Secondly, being organized and neat is essential to kitchen safety.

More importantly, though, applying the basics of mise en place in your kitchen will aide in your quest to become a more competent cook, and, it makes the process much more enjoyable! After all, cooking is a lot of work; you should at least have a good time! I am often saying that people make things way too hard on themselves – don’t complicate it and don’t drag it out! Good cooking, as well as peaceable living is easy, not hard!

Here are the three basic things that working like a professional chef will do to enhance your next culinary undertaking:

Avoid an emergency trip to the pantry, neighbor or, worse – the grocery store at a critical step in your recipe
Save time
Better tasting food

Avoid an emergency trip - By gathering, trimming, dicing, and measuring all of your ingredients first, you will be able to avoid the inevitable and annoying realization that you are out of, or don’t have enough of a particular ingredient. The order of events should literally be: read the recipe, gather ingredients, wash/trim/slice/dice, measure. All of your prepped ingredients should be lined up (not combined) in small dishes or containers so that you can check one last time to ensure that you have everything you need, and in the right quantities. The LAST step is the cooking.

This is the LEAST fun part of cooking, the “grunt work”, but it is the most important part in order to make good tasting and properly prepared food. In restaurants, we spend hours getting everything cleaned, prepped and ready to go before service. When a chef begins service, everything he or she needs is right at hand, and ready to use. He isn’t peeling and dicing carrots in between meal tickets – this has been done hours before.

Save time - by doing all of the necessary prep work, you will be able to quickly and seamlessly prepare the recipe, simply because all of your ingredients and utensils will be at hand. At this point, it’s just assembly and proper cooking technique.

Better tasting food - You won’t be as likely to burn or scorch a pan because you are chopping cilantro, peeling carrots or dicing the remaining ingredients. By having everything in its place, you never have to be distracted because of disorganization or poor planning.

To learn more about the Mirepoix Cooking School, visit our website at and register for one of our classes!

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