Muffin Week!

Muffins make people happy! We all pretend that they are healthier than cupcakes and we eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a snack. They might be marginally healthier than a cupcake and I am going to go on record as saying sometimes they are more delicious than a cupcake. For me, a cupcake is just an excuse to eat delicious frosting. Only sometimes the frosting isn't delicious. Sometimes it's that terrible grocery store frosting on top of a bland and mealy cupcake. I am getting upset just thinking about it! I know, not all muffins are winners. But I feel like your muffin odds are better. Well this week I guarantee we will be making delicious muffins. You can eat them with no reservations!

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We are taking one basic recipe and turning it into blueberry muffins with a lemon-sugar crunchy topping and lemon poppy seed muffins. We will focus on following recipes closely,

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measuring precisely and mixing batter gently so our muffins are tender and delicious!

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You can probably plan on more muffin musings from me through out the week- some of my favorite muffins take too long to make for a one hour class. But I will tell you all about them and you can try them at home! Come back tomorrow and I will talk about donut muffins. 

Tasty Chemical Reactions

Have you ever added vinegar to baking soda? It causes an immediate chemical reaction- turning into sodium acetate, carbon dioxide and water. The carbon dioxide is what causes all of the bubbles and foaming- and it's the basis for our edible experiment from Kitchen Science class. We made Lava Candy. You can do this at home too- it involves cooking sugar, so adults need to stick close by and lend a hand. 

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Begin by covering a cookie sheet with foil and spraying the foil with cooking spray.

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In a medium saucepan add 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of dark corn syrup and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly until the mixture hits 310℉ on an instant read candy thermometer.

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Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of baking powder. The mixture will begin to foam up. Dump it out of the pan and onto the cookie sheet. It will spread out on its own- don't spread it out or you will loose your air bubbles. 

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After about 30 minutes it will have cooled and hardened. Break it into pieces, take a good look at the air bubbles left behind by the carbon dioxide and eat your candy!

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Density Experiment

You can try this fun experiment at home-

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Fill a clear glass about half full of water. Pour vegetable oil into the glass and watch the two liquids immediately separate into two distinct layers. The oil is less dense than water and it rises to the top of the glass. Next we put in a few drops of food coloring because this helps us see a little better what happens next. Each person needs a little cup or bowl of salt.

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Using your fingers drop a pinch of salt on top of the food coloring and watch what happens. Salt is more dense than oil and water and sinks to the bottom of the glass.

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On its way down in pulls some of the oil with it. But as the salt dissolves the oil is freed and makes its way back up to the top. Try pouring in more or less salt to see how that affects the oil bubbles that go floating to the top of the glass. 

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Winter Session Opens for Enrollement Today!

Our Winter Session is now open for enrollment! We are planning on another fun filled session of classes! There will be a pizza making class, a pie making class and of course, a Kitchen Science class. We will continue working on knife skills and recipe reading skills. Class time is now 90 minutes!

Here are the details: There are 7 classes in a session. Classes will run Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:00-4:30.

Wednesday classes will be held on January 3, 10, 17, 24 February 7, 14, 28. NO CLASS JANUARY 31st OR FEBRUARY 21st.

Thursday classes will be held on January 4, 11, 18, 26 February 8, 15, March 1. NO CLASS FEBRUARY 1st OR FEBRUARY 22nd

There is a 20% discount for signing up in the month of November. Use the code EARLYBIRD at checkout. Remember classes sizes will always remain small to give your kids a truely hands-on and safe experience. 

Happy Halloween!

Ok, it's here! Halloween! I hope you're planning on eating something spooky and delicious! The internet is full of ideas for creepy things to eat- hot dogs wrapped in biscuit dough to look like mummies! Pizza dough shaped like a skull and filled with tomato sauce and cheese! Bread sticks that look like severed fingers! 

And that reminds me, tomorrow in our kitchen science class we will talk about how all of our senses work together to inform our taste in food. As much as I think the severed finger bread sticks are clever, could I bring myself to eat one? You eat with your eyes first, the saying goes. We will experiment with our other senses to see if we can determine how much of a role they play in the foods we like or hate. 

There will also be a few other experiments up my sleeve- some molecular gastronomy in the works and a good old fashioned Mentos and Diet Coke fountain. We will talk about chemical vs physical reactions in our experiments. This is probably our funnest class so don't miss out! 

Your Tongue does NOT have taste zones!

When I was 17 my mom worked in a kindergarten and I visited her class one day and taught the kids a science lesson on taste. I had a giant tongue cut out of construction paper and we talked about taste buds and how differnent parts of the tongue were sensitive to different tastes- 

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We had pictures of different foods cut from magazines and we placed them on the tongue according to their dominant flavor. Afterwards the kids wrote me a thank you card and one of them wrote: "Thank you for teaching us to use our tongues" which was both sweet and maybe a little misleading if you didn't know what I had been doing in there. So maybe you already know this but it turns out IT'S NOT TRUE!!!!!! There are no taste zones on your tongue. You can taste different tastes all over your tongue- and in addition- there are actually taste buds in other parts of your mouth and throat besides your tongue. 

So this week in our Kitchen Science class we won't be learning this bad science about taste buds but we will learn about how your other senses help enhance taste. There will be other fun things too so don't miss out- one more day to sign up

The scariest class of all

Sixty minutes goes by in a flash when you're making Halloween treats! We had so much we wanted to get done so we had to use our time wisely. We began by making some shortcut donuts- we used a roll of refrigerator biscuits, cut a hole in the middle and fried them up. 

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The whole thing took less than 10 minutes. We set our donuts aside to cool and started making our brownies. This is my favorite brownie recipe- it's dense and fudgey and comes from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. 

You begin by melting chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Then stir in the sugar. Whisk in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and then fold in the flour and salt. Pour into your pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. 

Then decorate to your heart's content.

More Spooky Treats

My mother in law makes these cute Halloween cookies out of Nutter Butters, mini chocolate chips and white candy coating. 

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I am not sure where she first got the idea for these cute little ghosts, but I know she was making them long before Pinterest turned us all into the craftiest treat-makers around. Nutter Butters are the perfect shape to be ghosts but a Milano might also work if you need a nut free option. I wish we had more time in class tomorrow! So many fun treats and so little time......

Halloween will soon be here!

For class this week we are making Halloween treats. The first thing we will make is a homemade brownie that we decorate to look like a grave.

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The idea comes from Tastes Better from Scratch via Pinterest.  But we will be using my favorite Brownie recipe- the one I usually make and smother in peanut butter frosting and chocolate ganache. This time the peanut butter will have to wait.  Instead we will make up a batch of frosting and use a milano cookie to make a little headstone. 

Then using the left over frosting, a donut, some sprinkles and vampire fangs we will assemble a second treat. But what will it be? You'll have to join us in class to find out!

Baked Potato Soup and a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

For class this week we made a delicious baked potato soup from a cook book called Teens Cook by Megan and Jill Carle. The soup is quick to throw together and is based on a roux sauce, which is the base for many other fun things to make- like home made mac and cheese, and any kind of chowder. 

I made a few changes to the recipe- we used a stick blender to puree the soup slightly while leaving a few larger bits of potato. Next, I think the soup is slightly too thick (ok fine- because I pureed the potatoes) so we added a little more milk to thin the soup out. 

Now the girls had all made a grilled cheese sandwich before and they didn't need much guidance from me. 

Maybe just a little reminder like- put the bread on the griddle butter side down! The sandwiches turned out beautifully! The bread we used is Brenner Brothers Challah and it is amazing! I think I have a new favorite for grilled sandwiches and French Toast! 

More Sandwiches I like

This week we will be making baked potato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Unless you're not a fan of cheese, knowing how to make a grilled cheese sandwich is a life skill that won't take you very long but will greatly improve your life. A grilled cheese made from what ever bread you have on hand and what ever cheese is in your fridge will be delicious. If you're planning ahead to make a grilled cheese, go ahead and get yourself amazing bread, maybe more than one kind of cheese and think about extras you can add on. 

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I like challah best for any grilled sandwich but there are many acceptable favorite breads. Have you ever had Grandma Sycamore bread? (I can't link to anything- apparently they have no on-line presence?) It's made in Salt Lake City and not available everywhere, but I have found it in Seattle. It's perfect for a grilled cheese sandwich. Also King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread. 

The best cheese? The whole world is full of delicious cheese options! Pick one or two or three or four that you like and melt well. Not American. I get irritated when I see American cheese on anything. It's not even cheese! 'But it melts and is gooey!' GRRRRR.

(fine, not everyone agrees with me.)

You know what I really love? Thinly sliced apple added to the center of the sandwich, between cheese. And while bacon tastes great, the texture just doesn't feel right to me. But I have a solution for you! Bacon Jam. While I see tons of online bacon jam offers, the original Bacon Jam, I believe comes from Skillet in Seattle (the same place where I had my first Fluffernutter). They sell their jam on Amazon. While finding that link I just saw a fig spread that would probably be fantastic on a grilled cheese sandwich! Trader Joe's used to make some that was pretty good but they discontinued it. Traitor Joe's, I call them.

Tomato on a grilled cheese? No thanks. Do you put it on before grilling? It will make everything soggy. After? You're going to pry your sandwich apart? No! Eat your sandwich with Tomato soup, like nature intended. 

So you butter the outsides of the bread, keep the heat on medium low. Stack your cheese and whatever you like in the middle (I won't judge you for putting tomato in there if you want.) It's true that if you're using cheese that takes a little longer to melt than cheese food product it can take patience to get the melting and browning in sync. Low and slow. If you're cooking with a little buddy they will want to flip the sandwich. I suggest just one slice of cheese and nothing else on the sandwich. That way when the sandwich is ready to flip the bread is already welded together. For your more complex grilled cheese, good luck. Sometimes the sandwich needs a little straightening up after flipping. It happens to the best of us. 

 

We will never make this in class- Peanut Butter Sandwiches

We keep Kitchen Explorers nut free because I am the seriously noble kind of person who doesn't want to accidentally kill off kids with allergies. Heroic of me, I know! That means that any class where we talk about sandwiches will preclude my beloved peanut butter. 

When I was a kid I had a friend named Anne-Marie. We went to school together, rode the school bus together, lived on the same street and spent all of our free time together. We came up with an after school snack that might make your stomach turn, but we loved it! We made peanut butter sandwiches but instead of using honey or jam to complete the sandwich we used pancake syrup. Extra crunchy peanut butter and Mrs. Butterworth's syrup. On white bread. How am I still alive?

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I listened to a podcast the other day where the topic of conversation turned to a Fluffernutter sandwich. Apparently in certain parts of our country the Fluffernutter is a staple of childhood. In all of the crazy peanut butter sandwich making of my youth,  I never had a Fluffernutter. While it sounds sounds sickly sweet, you know that I am not one to judge. I ate one for the first time about 6 years ago. I fell so in love! I had a peanut butter, fluff and strawberry jam sandwich on brioche bread that was grilled and served warm. I ate this delicious sandwich at Skillet, a local diner, and looking at their on-line menus, it appears they no longer offer this sandwich. So If I want to eat it- and I do- I will have to make my own! I am in luck- it's a super easy sandwich to make. 

My favorite bread to use for the sandwich is a braided challah. Just like the choosy moms of my childhood, I always buy JIF peanut butter. While there are many superior brands, I stick to Smuckers for strawberry jam. And does the brand of fluff matter? It turns out Fluff is a brand name, so I guess that answers that question! 

Here's what you do: 

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Cut two slices of challah (not the ends though. You need pieces close to the middle for the optimal sandwich.) Butter the outer faces of the bread with unsalted butter. The interior faces need fluff spread on one side, and peanut butter and jam spread on the other. Sandwich the bread together and cook in the skillet until the bread is golden brown. Flip the sandwich over and cook to brown the second side. Serve warm with a glass of milk.

You could try the peanut butter and pancake syrup sandwich too, if you want but it's probably more of an acquired taste!

Keeping it in the family

I wish I could say that everything I know about cooking I learned from my parents. They made every effort to teach me, but as a kid I wasn't interested. My mom would say, "Come learn to make pie crust." I would say "No thanks". I watched my mom and dad work side by side to create elaborate meals for holidays or when guests came to dinner. I saw them put together simpler meals for the family on weekends. I enjoyed eating the food, but I was just fine not knowing how to make it.

My first year of college I chose an apartment style dorm where I cooked for myself. Thinking back I am not sure what prompted me to chose that over the cafeteria meal plan dorms. I lived on Top Ramen, generic brand mac and cheese and -the fanciest thing I ever made- chicken tenders and potatoes, liberally covered in lemon pepper seasoning and cooked stove top in a skillet. 

Then I spent 18 months in France. I ate with college students just scraping by, middle class families, and everything in between. My favorite meals were with twin sisters who grew up in a family that ran several restaurants. They made me amazing things I had never heard of before like Coquille Saint Jaques and Iles Flottantes. I noticed that while not everyone had lots of money for fancy ingredients, everyone seemed to have a really good grasp of how to make great basics. Once I had a delicious Quiche Lorraine whipped up by a college student who was dead tired at the end of a long day. So tired, she whipped up a delicious Quiche Lorraine. That's what she made when she was wiped out. No bowl of cold cereal, no take out. Quiche. I came home a new woman. A woman who made quiche or salmon tarte with creme fraiche dill sauce instead of mac and cheese from a box. 

I skipped out on the knowledge my parents tried to share with me and ended up having to figure it all out on my own. But here's my daughter cooking something up with my dad in the kitchen last week:

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They made edible slime out of starbursts, powdered sugar and corn starch. He's an amazing baker, so next time maybe we will aim a little higher. I will be right there with them on his next visit- ready to learn.

Flipping pancakes

I think you already know this...I love breakfast food!

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We made pancakes for our go-to recipe and added blueberries to them on the griddle. The girls especially liked when a blueberry would escape from the pancake and sit on the griddle. They would let them cook for a minute, scoop them onto a plate to cool and then eat them while they waited for the pancakes to cook. 

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We didn't stop at pancakes! We also made delicious french toast and...

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Scrambled eggs! There was an option for bacon, but the girls said "no thanks". Weird. 

Breakfast is served!

New! Winter Holiday classes!

I just added two new classes to the lineup. They are Holiday Treat Classes scheduled for Tuesday December 19th  or Wednesday December 20th. This is the first week of Seattle Public School's winter break. This is a 90 minute morning class. We will learn how to make cheery treats that you can then use as small holiday gifts for your neighbors, friends and family. Sign up now! As always, space is limited to 6 students.

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Pancakes or French Toast?

Breakfast options are endless. However it comes to the sweet dishes, for me it always boils down to the classic face off: Pancakes vs French Toast! Can one really make a choice? At first I was going to tell you that I usually end up going for French Toast. Then I remembered that I have never been able to say no to a pumpkin pancake. I am feeling stressed out just imagining myself having to make a choice! 

In class this week we will make both and you can decide for yourself- pancakes or french toast?

Breakfast week!

I love breakfast food! Pancakes, French Toast- Good! Scrambled eggs, omelettes-  Good! Bacon- Good! Breakfast sausage links- meh. Okay, so I love the vast majority of breakfast foods. Since my family never really sits down for a big morning meal together, we eat breakfast for dinner on a regular basis. In fact, we had French Toast for dinner last night! Breakfast foods are a great way to get kids helping in the kitchen. Pancakes and French Toast, scrambling eggs, these things are perfect for kids.

Fun fact: kids LOVE to crack eggs. I can't quite figure out the appeal but without fail, when I pull out a carton of eggs the kids all start bouncing on their toes, stretching their hands up to the sky, saying "Oooo! Oooo! Can I crack the eggs?!?!?!!?" Yes, of course you can!

I always have the kids crack eggs one at a time into a small bowl. They can check the small bowl for egg shell and more easily clean out any little shards they might find, then add their egg to the main bowl. 

Pretzel making

Here are a few more pictures from our pretzel making class when we had a photographer come. Making pretzels, it turns out, is a finicky job and not as kid friendly as you'd think. The recipe we used was not a winner. I won't post it for you here, but I am on the lookout for a better and more kid friendly method!