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....

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Healthy Cooking for the Foodie

Earier in the week, I was speaking with a friend who is originally from Montreal. He was inquiring about whether or not "people can really tell the difference" between high-quality dairy & meat products and the "other stuff" that is available in most grocery stores. After posing the question, he followed it up by saying, "it seems that here (America), people think "good food" is 'a lot' of food".

I knew exactly what he was referring to. The food habits of Americans tend to be very, very different than the food habits in other countries. I'd even suggest that the eating & cooking habits in Michigan, are very, very different than those of our American counterparts.

As I was putting the menu together for this evening's Healthy Cooking class, I reflected on the conversation I had with my French-Canadian colleague. Americans are very "diet" concious. The weight loss & diet industry in this country is a multi-billion dollar business niche. Still, we remain some of the fattest people on the planet. How is it that with such access to information, education, etc. have we managed to gain even more weight?

We've all but outlawed certain types of foods, ingredients, products - yet our waistlines continue to expand. We work ourselves into a frenzy on our stairclimbers, treadmills and stationary bikes, with little to show for our efforts. How can this be?

While I am the first to espouse the benefits of eating whole, natural foods, in lieu of processed, packaged, "dead" foods, I realize that overeating those things can still contribute to a bulging belly. When I reflect on the conversation I had with my friend, there was something that really resonated with me. Food in other cultures is often a more rounded experience. Enjoying small portions of wonderful, properly prepared foods is something that I believe contributes to a healthier approach to weight loss or even simple maintanence.

There is also a sense of community and mindfullness that accompanies our European and Canadian counterparts. Eating and dining are always an experience, instead of an afterthought. The portions are smaller and they are savored, truly savored, not just wolfed down without a concious thought. "Value" in these cultures is seen in the artistry of the food, its heritage, its story. "Value" to Americans often means "SuperSized" and "bottomless" menu options.

Obviously, there is no "silver bullet" when it comes to a topic as complex as this, but the sentiment was something I appreciated. Tonight's "Healthy Cooking for the Foodie" menu has a selection of natural, lower-fat, vegetable-based options, perfect for the foodie who is looking for ways to lighten up. Still, when I consider the meaning of the word "foodie" it envokes a sense of enthusiasm, passion and thoughtfulness, which are perhaps some of the most important ingredients of all.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Often called "the one pot wonder", braising is a cooking method that many people employ, sometimes without even knowing it. If you've ever used a crock pot to make a roast, you've braised!

Braising is a combination cooking method - meaning, it uses both dry and moist heat (searing & then covering the vegetable or protein with liquid). Because braised items can be cooked for a very long time (though not recommended for vegetables), it is an economical method of cooking because cheaper cuts of meat can be used. These cuts tend to be very tough, and need to be cooked for an extended period of time. Because of this, braising is the perfect cooking method!

When braising, there are a few key things to keep in mind:
1. sear the item in a hot pan with enough oil to keep the item from sticking.
2. cover the item with liquid (stock, broth, cream, etc.) the item must have enough liquid to cover it.
3. continue to cook "low & slow" (low temperature for an extended period of time) to develop the best flavors, as well as to acheive the optimal texture.

I hope you will take some time to braise something for dinner this weekend. From a simple pot roast to a more exotic curry, braising is the perfect way to enjoy a warming winter dish, without a lot of fuss.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Around the Dinner Table

Every week, I have dinner with my parents. We almost always go to the same restaurant at the same time. Sometimes my grandma joins us, which is very special, and we spend a couple hours talking about what we've been doing, good news, challenges, and, of course, my bulldogs.

Sharing food with friends and family can be one of life's greatest indulgences. Even if it's nothing fancy, even if it's not served piping hot, or with linen napkins at a properly set table, the act of eating together brings people together in a very intimate and special way. I love to invite friends over for a simple supper of soup & warm bread, or just a spread of appetizers and charcuterie items for a casual but delicious get-together. The nice thing about apps and charcuterie is that several of the items can be picked up at the store and require no preparation except to put them in a bowl and arrange them on a platter (olives, marcona almonds, dried fruits, cheeses, salami, cured ham, etc.).

It has been a relief to me to see that the food scene is trending towards casual, but with expertly prepared dishes. Two weeks ago, on a research expedition to Chicago, I was able to visit several restaurants which were packed from wall-to-wall with people hungry for comfort and a twist on familiarity. From The Purple Pig, to the Publican, it was clear to see that ingredients once considered humble are now considered the foods of the gods. Certainly, the quality and imagination behind the preparation of the dishes at these up-and-coming eateries is an essential part of their success, but their relaxed, but quietly sophisticated atmosphere cannot be disregarded. The approachable and casual energy of these spaces fosters open and enthusiastic conversation amongst friends and family, which is the most delicious thing of all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vegetarian Feast

Every year, many people make a resolution to "go veg", banishing meat and adopting a plant-based diet. There are many benefits to adopting this new way of eating, but also quite a few unexpected pitfalls. The biggest obstacle that many people encounter is that they are sometimes surprised at the amount of preparation and effort it requires to have access to the right types of ingredients to put a meal together on the run. This is the case with any new, healthier eating plan, but a vegetarian diet does require a bit more discipline and organization. Many times, without a plan and thorough preparations, it is easy for many vegetarians to fall into the carb-rut, making their new diet actually more unhealthy than the way they were eating before.

Vegetarian meals are sometimes heavy in carbohydrates and light on flavor. Thankfully, with a little imagination and planning, you can create delicious vegetarian meals that everyone will love. Our cooking class last night featured the following dishes - roasted spaghetti squash with moroccan spices, vegan peanut butter cookies, stuffed eggplants with roasted fennel and tomato sauce, mushroom & leek frittata, creamy gorgonzola polenta with grilled portobella mushrooms, and, my favorite, a curried lentil crostada with the most delicious chili yogurt sauce & grilled scallions.

The curried lentil dish is somewhat involved, but the result is so delicious that the additional effort will become a distant memory. This recipe was originally made by Holiday Catering as a burrito, which was served with rice. For my tastes, this dish was too heavy. I made a few changes to the presentation and added a chili yogurt sauce, which really makes the dish! At home, I like to take jicama and shave it into thin strands, combine it with some shredded carrots and then toss it with the grilled shallots and some of the yogurt sauce. I like the addition of the vegetables to boost the fiber, as well as the crunch of the vegetables alongside the soft texture of the lentils. If you don't like jicama, you can use finely shredded napa cabbage.

The tortilla in this recipe is dipped in egg and then flash-fried. If you are watching fat grams or want to make this as a vegan dish, simply omit this step and toast the tortilla in the oven until it's crisp. When making this as a vegan dish, you will also want to eliminate the sprinkling of cheese and forgo the yogurt sauce.

I hope you take the time to make this recipe. The lentils can be prepared in a large batch and then frozen in small containers so that you always have them at hand when you need a flavorful meal on the fly. Simply thaw the lentil mixture and then proceed with the recipe.

Curried Lentil Crostada

1 large sweet potato, small dice, roasted until tender and lightly browned
1 onion, small dice
4 cups baby spinach, chopped
1 cup Jack’s Salsa, mild or medium heat
2 cups green lentils
1 cup red lentils
4 – 5 cups vegetable stock
1⁄2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon each: cumin, coriander, curry powder, and black pepper
1 – 2 T brown sugar (or to taste)
1 T fresh lime juice

Salt to taste
2 T chopped fresh cilantro

6 -8 Large whole wheat flour tortillas
2 eggs mixed with 1⁄4 cup milk
cup shredded jack cheese (optional)

1. Sauté the onion in a small amount of oil over medium high heat until caramelized; deglaze pan with white
2. Add the green lentils and a pinch of each spice; sauté briefly until the spices become fragrant; add 4 cups of
stock and salsa and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover.
3. When green lentils are almost tender, add red lentils and spinach and additional stock if needed; simmer until
4. When all lentils are tender remove from heat and drain off any extra liquid; add more spices to taste, cilantro,
brown sugar, lemon juice, and salt to taste; add the roasted sweet potatoes and cool completely

1. Dip a tortilla shell in the egg mixture and drain well; sauté in melted butter in a non-stick pan until the egg is
lightly golden and crisp; drain each shell well on paper towel to absorb excess oil, then repeat with remaining
2. Top the tortilla with some of the lentil mixture.
3. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and top with a few sprinkles of shredded cheese
6. To serve bake at 425 degrees for about 10 – 12 minutes or until golden and crispy

Grilled Scallions
2 bunches scallions, cleaned and trimmed
as needed, olive oil & seasoning mix

Char the scallions on a very hot grill. Serve with crostada & yogurt sauce

Yogurt Sauce
6 poblano peppers, roasted and cleaned
1 Tb. Minced ginger
2 tsp. cumin seeds
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup pure olive oil
3 Tb. Lime juice

½ cup plain yogurt

Place chilies, ginger, cumin and cilantro in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth.
Take the oil and heat it in a medium saucepan over high heat and add the puree. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently until thickened. Add lime juice. Cool and then add the yogurt. Chill. Adjust seasonings.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fishing for our Future

I just recently attended a seminar about Sustainable Seafood which was sponsored by Fortune Fish Company. What was most interesting about the lecture was that the focus was not just focused on the sustainability of our resources, but the sustainability of the American economy.

The speaker, Mark Palicki, explained that most of the seafood that we enjoy in the US is not raised or caught in American waters or farmed on American soil. Most of our seafood is coming from Asia. Because the regulations are so tight in the United States, private fishermen as well as those American entrepreneuers who would like to farm fish are compelled to operate in other countries like Indonesia, Panama, Mexico, and China.

The demand for seafood is great not just in the United States, but also in other countries, especially in Asia. Since much of the world economy has its point of origination in China and other rapidly developing countries, people living in the Far East are now able to afford luxuries (meat & seafood) that they were not able to afford before. Many of these countries no longer see the need or feel the economic pressure to export their farmed fish to other countries, since the food can now be consumed widely there, and at a profit.

We feel the pinch in our pocketbook every time we fill-up at the pump because the global community is so starved for oil. Food and fresh water are commodities, just like oil. During the question and answer portion of the lecture, an audience member asked the speaker how the BP oil spill affected the prices of fish and seafood and the industry as a whole. The answer might shock a lot of people - the speaker said that only about 2% of all fish and seafood in their supply is sourced from that particular region!

There are many things that we can do to not only support the fishermen and seafood companies based in the Gulf of Mexico, but other American fisheries as well. The first thing we can do is to notify our elected officials that this is a topic of great importance to our economy. Urge them to develop our aquaculture industry (such as it is) and to make it a priority so that American businesses can compete, just as many other foreign governments are doing all over the globe.

The second (and easiest) thing we can do is to dine with an open mind. Many people enjoy Atlantic salmon, and I agree that Atlantic Salmon is a very fine fish. However, there are several other underutilized types of fish and seafood that are available and they taste very, very good! When fishermen go out to bring in their catch, they also bring in some other types of fish that they had not intended to catch. These fish are still very delicious, but there is little demand for them in the market because many people are not familiar with them (barramundi, tilefish, etc.)

Many chefs are open to adding some of these lesser-known species to their menus, but are concerned that their patrons will not select these when glancing at the menu. If you dine with a spirit of adventure, you not only help to create a market for this new "catch" but you will also help to support American businesses and help to keep their operations in America.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011


I remember a bottle of vanilla extract that my mother used sparingly that was a gift from my father's grandpa. The bottle was plastic, simple, and completely unadorned. It lacked aesthetic appeal, but the aroma and flavor were so irresistible, no one was concerned with the packaging.

With the explosion in popularity of cooking and specialty foods, vanilla has been elevated from pedestrian ice cream flavoring to ingredient of the gods. From extracts to beans, vanilla has achieved its rightful status as a culinarian's MVP. Chefs are using vanilla in ways now that no one considered in the past.

For a long time, home cooks only had access to vanilla extract, and worse, imitation vanilla extract. Small bottles with red caps were intermingled with seldom used spices in the back corners of kitchen cabinets. Used as an afterthought instead of a star ingredient, the vanilla products used in days gone by were mediocre at best. Very little consideration was given to this culinary wallflower, until attitudes about food began to change. With the increase in excitement regarding food and cooking, vanilla in America grew up. From extracts to the now celebrated beans, consumers have several choices when selecting the best flavoring for their next custard, cookie, or even salad dressing.

Did you know that there are more differences between vanilla beans from Madagascar & those from Tahiti than just the location of harvesting? Did you also know that vanilla is a member of the orchid family? There are many different types of vanilla available to the home chef, and they are certainly not all created equal. For instance, beans from Tahiti are thicker, boasting plump pods and lots of flavor. Beans from Madagascar (sometimes called Bourbon Vanilla Beans) are thinner, and often appear dry.

Vanilla is grown and harvested all over the globe from Mexico (its point of origination) to Bali, there are several places that export the precious flavoring to our kitchens here in the US.

Just like every other recipe you prepare, remember that when selecting ingredients at the grocery store, you should purchase the highest quality ingredients you can afford, especially when it comes to ingredients like vanilla, chocolate, bourbon, butter, etc.

Using quality vanilla extracts, pastes and beans in your recipes really does make a difference. Over the last few years, many people have cut back on luxuries, but the spending freeze seems to be turning to a thaw. If you're looking for a small way to splurge, try a bottle of vanilla bean paste to use in your baked goods and custards; you'll be hooked.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Many people resolve to clean-up their eating habits, go on a diet, exercise more, spend less, experience more, and many other vague goals without any real definition. The beautiful thing about January 1 is the endless possibilities. If you can dream it, you can do it with hard work and discipline.

Just over 4 years ago, I arrived for my first day of work and set my sights on building a cooking school. I resolved that it would be the premier resource for anyone who cares about food and has a passion for cooking. With much happiness, I am proud to say that we have realized our goal. This January, it was time for a new resolution, which I'm still formulating.

Here are a few food-lover resolutions and action steps for transitioning from resolution to reality -

1. "Eat Better" - Vague resolutions generally do not translate successfully to reality. Define what exactly "better" means for you. Whether it be to include more plant-based foods into your diet, increase natural and organic foods, or reduce processed foods, you need to be specific about your goal. Choose one and master that before trying to dramatically trying to change all of your food habits at once.

2. "Learn to how to cook" - I've taught students who did not know the difference between a lemon and an onion. Seriously. Learning how to cook is a goal that anyone can achieve, and one of the nice things about cooking is that there is always something new to learn about food, cooking techniques, culture, history, agriculture - you name it! Learning the basics (knife skills, equipment and ingredient identification, the basic cooking techniques) is the best place to start. Walk before you run. Read as much as you can, and don't be afraid!

3. "Spend Less" - Learning how to cook is a great way to save but feel like you're on a splurge. When you know how to prepare delicious food at home, you will quickly realize the cost-saving aspect of becoming a competent cook. Also, learning more about food is a great way to plan economic meals for your family. Staples such as rice, beans, canned items, more economical cuts of meat (roasts, etc.) can be transformed from economical to ethereal with a little knowledge.

I hope these tips help you to keep yourself on track. And, in the event that you might fall off the wagon - be patient with yourself and be kind. Pick yourself up and try again. The most important resolution you can make is to never give up.