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....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

If It's Not Food - Don't Eat It!

Saturday morning on my way into the office, I noticed a sign for grass-fed beef at my neighborhood makeshift Farmer’s Market. Many of you know that I have real reservations about, and mostly abstain from, eating meat and poultry, for numerous reasons, ranging from animal welfare, economics, to unabashed food-snobbery.

As a chef, I’m passionate about good food, of course, perhaps bordering on somewhat of an obsession. From a political or economic standpoint, the issues of food quality, point of origin, processing, distribution, and consumption can be so complex on so many different levels (which we’ve very briefly explored in previous blog posts). Because our first love is our love of food, we offer almost any kind of class you can imagine. Tonight as I type my blog, the wonderful aroma of garlic and onions are wafting underneath my closed door, as the students in the classroom are learning about vegan & vegetarian cuisine.

At Mirepoix, we believe that good health, quality of life, and excellent tasting food can all be enjoyed simultaneously. Surrounded by conflicting and sometimes complicated messages about food and nutrition, we strive to help people to make educated choices.

Over the years, we’ve all been inundated by fad diet philosophies (low fat, low carb, Sugar Busters, vegetarian, raw food, vegan, etc.) only to find out that a new plan will hit the Best Seller list. Good foods, bad foods, on and on. The Mirepoix Cooking School credo is simple – If it’s not food, don’t eat it!

Sounds over-simplified, but it’s true. The American diet has shifted from eating whole, natural, and local (or even home-grown) foods, to consuming more than half of our daily calories from processed, packaged foodstuffs made in a factory somewhere. Most of the meat and dairy products we consume in this country are raised, produced, and processed in a manner that would appall and disappoint almost any responsible human.

At Mirepoix, we have very strict and straightforward quality standards for our ingredients (we use natural & cruelty free meats and dairy products, and choose local ingredients & products whenever possible).

Now more than ever, there is a serious disconnect from the source and origin of what we pile onto our plates. Behind even the most ubiquitous shrink-wrapped boneless skinless chicken breast is a story, and most of the time, you wouldn’t want to hear it.

The good news is, you have choices!

When people hear “vegetarian”, they typically think of tofu and other meat substitutes. I, however, always stress the opposite. Many people decide to “go veg”, and their eating habits sometimes become worse than the habits they held to before! Many people on a vegetarian diet tend to eat too many carbohydrates and processed foods, rather than the healthy whole foods they need.

Tonight’s class has a recipe that features tofu and soy milk (vegan chocolate cupcakes). Typically tofu, temphe, seitan, and other “meat replacements” are more processed than I personally prefer. If my ultimate goal is to eat “real food” or “responsible food”, for me, these things do not fall into that category. Though I am a supporter of animal rights, and anti-animal cruelty, I would prefer to eat a naturally raised, free-range, non-commercially processed local chicken than to eat faux chicken or something out of a package. Stricter folks than I would never consider eating animal protein, and for them, there are other excellent and healthful ways to keep protein in their diets.

Soy milk is often flavored and high in sugar. The only soy milk we use in our classes is Eden Unsweetened Soy Milk (although I prefer West Soy plain). For me, soy “cheeses” are completely out of the question and I would NEVER, from a chef’s or a natural foodist’s perspective cook them, eat them, or recommend them.

Because or starting point is our genuine love of food, all of our cooking classes feature nothing artificial, and very few “reduced fat” items. Instead, we reduce the amounts of full fat ingredients where appropriate, and compliment them with naturally lower fat (read: not chemically stabilized) ingredients.

When you’re a chef, having access to all of this incredible food can be a dangerous thing! Most of the staff at Mirepoix watch our waistlines for practical reasons. 4 cooking classes a week can add up to some SERIOUS calories! For those of us who still want to enjoy great tasting food, without compromising the integrity of the dish, we eat less of the full-fat stuff and know that we can be satisfied with just a taste or two. We believe in moderation, quality, using proper cooking techniques, and stressing ingredient knowledge, so that we can make delicious recipes everyone can enjoy.

Many can rightly argue that eating better quality food (unprocessed) is expensive and out of reach for many. I will never argue against that point, or try to marginalize the desperate economic restraints that impact the quality of food served at the dinner tables across our country and all over the world. The economics of the plate can be complicated, but, for the purposes of narrowing them for the average middle-class American, responsibly raised and produced food can be within reach.

Because I feel so strongly about the quality of the food I eat and serve, and the story behind it, there are certain things I will not buy. Personally, I do not buy Land O Lakes dairy products because reports have shown that their treatment of livestock is inhumane (and that’s being polite). This doesn’t mean that I buy excessive amounts of expensive European style butter to stock my fridge at home, or even pounds and pounds of the pricier, but local “Calder’s”. It simply means that I spend my money on what seems appropriate, and I use it sparingly. There is also an innate ability that chefs have to enjoy pure food and its nuances (real food without all of the butter and salt!)

There is a notion in America that we “need” to eat heavy portions of meat and other animal products, and we’ve even fooled ourselves into thinking that it’s good for us. The fact is, a true serving size of animal protein is much, much smaller than what we typically eat (think 2/3 less) or “need” to feel satisfied. With the money spent on all of the extra, mass-produced chicken you don’t really need, you could buy (albeit less) higher-quality, more responsibly raised and processed ingredient(Bell & Evans, or a local farmer, etc.).

Of course, these are just our recommendations and guidelines, and I’ve only superficially scratched the surface of the economic, political, and social issues surrounding this topic. Regardless of what we recommend, you will make the best selections in your kitchen at home, based on your unique lifestyle.

Whether flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore, focus on flavor, good food, and moderation, and your body will run like the beautifully designed machine it is.

Don't forget about our Cooking From Scratch Recipe Contest! The deadline for entry is August 7!

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cooking from Scratch Recipe Contest - Enter Today!

Our Taste of Summer recipe contest is in full swing, and I’m enjoying reviewing the recipes that have been submitted so far.

You can easily enter the contest by reviewing the rules outlined in the Oakland Press (clicking here).

Once you’ve reviewed the rules, simply email your recipe to me at and if you’d like, tell me why your recipe is special to you (not necessary to win, just more fun for me to read).

There are three categories: Entrée, Salad, and dessert. You may submit recipes for all three categories, but are not eligible to win in more than one category.

Please do not call Holiday Market for questions. All of the necessary information is outlined in the Oakland Press article.

Good luck!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Celebrate the Chef in You

I came to Holiday Market almost four years ago with a very specific mission – to teach people to cook and think like professional chefs. Sounds, easy, right? Surprisingly, it is much more difficult than I thought it would be! My boss, Tom Violante, Jr. is an extraordinary person (I mean that in all sincerity, not just because he sometimes reads my blog) who leads with vision and an innate understanding how to support the people who work for him.

Mirepoix was Tom’s idea, and a brilliant one at that. The entire concept was something that he had been thinking about for a while, and one day, we met to talk about it. It took me several months to wrap my mind around what he was asking me to do. I’m incredibly literal and specific and Tom is into “the big picture”. I, being a complete pain in the ass, gave him the run-around for a while, since I didn’t quite see the opportunity in its entirety (which was incredibly dense on my part). Finally, Tom called me out (if you know me, this earns you major respect in my book) and I took the job. Subsequently, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

So here we are, almost 4 years later, our cooking school past its infancy and growing pains. After some trial and error, I’m now blessed with a staff of incredible chefs and assistants, and I can finally breathe just a little bit easier. Still, I’m not ready to rest. The business of professional cooking is honestly, a brutal one. My own father once owned a restaurant and still says that the happiest day of his life was the day he sold it. My dad is a tough guy, so if the restaurant business gave him hell, that’s saying something.

We teach all kinds of classes at Mirepoix, from knife skills to couples classes. At the outset, each class was formatted in a way that offered something for all ability levels, so that no matter how unskilled or advanced you were, we had just the right recipe project for you. My original vision for Mirepoix was to offer professional culinary instruction for the person who longs to cook like a professional, but doesn’t have the time to invest in pursuing a culinary degree.

Realizing this vision has taken time, but we have now grown to the level where I can finally offer 3 distinct categories of classes; open ability (the same format we’ve always offered), theory-hungry (beginner to foodie- but an obsession with food theory is a must), and advanced.

This month, we introduced a new series called, “What I Learned in Culinary School…”

This series is designed for the student who may be curious about professional cooking, but not sure if it is right for them, or, the student who longs to attend culinary school, but doesn’t have the time or resources to make that dream a reality (this fits into the “theory-hungry” category). Our first class, “Boot Camp” was last night. Each class in the series is limited to 8 students because the level of instruction is much more intense than our other classes.

Our agenda last night focused on basic knife skills, very basic butchery, and stocks. We discussed the theory of cooking and explored all of the little details that are essential for success in the kitchen, whether you’re a novice or an accomplished foodie. After over 600 classes taught at Mirepoix, this was far and away my favorite.

Building on what we learned last night, our next class will focus on using stocks to make sauces. The lessons are taught straight from our textbooks and notes from our days as eager culinarians at Schoolcraft College, making the agenda for each class very ambitious. Starting in October, I will be offering an advanced series for people who are looking for something even more intense. This series will also be limited to only 8 students.

Moving into this new phase of development is incredibly satisfying and exciting. As excited as I am about the two new class categories, you have my word that our commitment to excellent instruction, great tasting food, and a friendly and fun atmostphere will still be a part of our curriculum, and our core category of classes will not fall by the wayside with this new chapter.

We have an unbridled enthusiasm for teaching the home gourmand how to cook like we do. We are technique driven – not recipe driven, passionate about food I love the personal touch that we add to the experience. Those things, as long as I am here, will never change. In the meantime, though, if you’ve been dying to celebrate the chef in you, but didn’t know how, consider signing up for a few of the classes from the Culinary School series.

Also, don’t forget about our recipe contest! To learn more about the contest, click here.

All entries must be emailed to me at Good luck!

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Announcing the Mirepoix Cooking School Cooking from Scratch Recipe Contest!

Even as a five year old, I was monumentally unimpressed with going to school everyday. The only highlight was riding on the bus, my first glimpse of freedom and independence, which lasted only a few short moments since we lived so close to the school. While my kindergarten pals happily sang songs, put puzzles together and learned to spell basic words, I remained (not surprisingly) uninterested and somewhat belligerent. Then one day, something really great happened. My first food memory was born.

Someone’s mom came in, armed with tiny foil loaf pans, cooking spray, and ingredients to make a tasty loaf of warm, refined white flour goodness. I even remember the recipe. It was a small little booklet with a red cover that had a hole punched in the left corner and was tied with a red ribbon.

Several times at home, I tried to recreate the bread, which proved a real challenge, especially since, somehow, the recipe was lost. Every attempt I made ended in disaster, but whatever I missed out on in terms of tasting the wonderful bread, hot from the oven, I made up for in enjoyment. It didn’t really bother me that the bread failed every time I tried – half of the fun was in making it!

Anyone passionate about food has a food memory, or, maybe lots of them. Since I was a young child, I knew instinctively that cooking from scratch was worth the effort. Fast forward 25 years... cooking from scratch is still worth the extra effort, and, is more important than ever.

Starting today, you can register in the Mirepoix Cooking from Scratch recipe contest.

To learn more about the contest, please click here:

Once you’ve decided which of your signature recipes you’d like to enter, email them to me at Please be sure to follow all of the guidelines for submission, as outlined on the Oakland Press page. Incomplete entries will be immediately discarded.

I’m looking forward to reading your recipes. Feel free to also tell me why your recipe is so special to you.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

A Peach of a Coffee Cake

This afternoon, prior to coming into the office, I opened the fridge and saw the following ingredients: lowfat sour cream, organic eggs, rhubarb and peaches.

Knowing that soon, all of that gorgeous fruit would spoil, I decided to make an impromptu coffee cake. My pantry contains whole wheat pastry flour, muscovado sugar, raw sugar, vanilla bean paste, sea salt, and the appropriate leavening agents.

Here is the recipe. Feel free to try the recipe with white flour and sugar if you prefer.

Fruit Mixture:
1/2 lb. sliced peaches
1 lb. sliced rhubarb
2/3 c. raw sugar
6 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
Combine all of the above together and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Then dump into a greased 9X13 baking dish.

Cake Mixture:
2/3 c. lowfat sour cream
4 egg yolks
4 eggs
2 Tb. vanilla bean paste (you can substitute vanilla extract)
4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 c. raw sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt
6 oz. softened butter
In the bowl of a food processor, I dumped in the raw sugar. I gave it a few pulses to break the large crystals down to something more suitable for cake-making. The crystals never got to be as fine as granulated, but they were relatively close. I then added the rest of the dry ingredients.

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, I dumped in the contents of the food processor (flour, sugar, salt, soda/powder). Use a paddle attachment. Then, alternately, I added eggs and sour cream. After all of the eggs and sour cream were incorporated, I added the softened butter and vanilla paste. Be careful not to over-mix this, or else the cake will be really heavy. Spread this mixture over the fruit.

Crumb Mixture:
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. raw sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
4 oz. melted butter
1 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
combine all ingredients together until they form loose crumbs. I added some homemade granola that I had kicking around in the pantry (in my granola, I use oats, maple syrup, unsweetened coconut & pecans). This is totally optional, and mostly for your reference. Sprinkle the crumbs on top of the cake batter.

Bake at 325 until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean (mine took over one hour). If the crumbs look too brown, but the cake still isn't done, cover the crumbs with foil.

Cool. Serve at room temperature.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Prime Time - The Next Food Network Star

I happened upon an episode of ‘The Next Food Network Star’ last night. I’ve never seen the show (you can look for my professional perspective if you visit my other blog, ‘Motor City Food’ in the coming days) when I heard one of the contestants describe a “prime” cut of steak as “the cut just under the quality of a filet.”


Enter the Mirepoix Cooking School class, ‘Meat Counter 101’, which will debut July 14. Many people enjoy a great steak, but do you know what makes a steak, well, great? What chefs know (unless they’re a contestant on ‘The Next Food Network Star’) is that all steaks are not created equal.

Why do steaks cost so much less at Sam’s Club and Costco, or Kroger, for that matter? Why does a steak at Holiday Market come with a slightly higher price tag? The reason is simple; our meat is “certified premium”; which is a classification that indicates the marbling, the grade, the regulation of antibiotics, as well as the age of the cattle at the time of slaughter.

There are several different grades of beef which are outlined by the USDA, which you can read about below.

Although there are eight levels of USGA graded beef there are generally only three USDA grades of beef that you would buy in a supermarket, a butcher shop or a restaurant. They are USDA Prime, Choice or Select which is the order of grade from the highest to lowest.

USDA Prime is the superior grade with amazing tenderness, juiciness, flavor and fine texture. It has the highest degree of fat marbling and is derived from the younger beef. That's why Prime is generally featured at the most exclusive upscale steakhouse restaurants. A prime steak isn’t a cut of meat like a tenderloin (filet), or a strip.

USDA Choice is the second highest graded beef. It has less fat marbling than Prime. Choice is a quality steak particularly if it is a cut that is derived from the loin and rib areas of the beef such as a tenderloin filet or rib steak. Generally USDA Choice will be less tender, juicy.

USDA Select is generally the lowest grade of steak you will find at a supermarket or restaurant. You will find it tougher, less juicy and less flavorful since it is leaner that Prime and Choice with very little marbling.

Mystified by all of the choices our Holiday Market meat counter has to offer?
Consider our Meat Counter 101 class. From beef, to lamb or chicken, this class will bring you the basics of the butcher shop and help you understand which cuts are best for which recipes and preparations. We’ll practice our knife skills, learn some basic butchery techniques and then prepare some of our favorite dishes featuring our selections from the Holiday Market Meat Shoppe.

To register, visit our websitea at

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