Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kids and Food - Keep It Fun and Fresh

Wednesday afternoons at Le Cordon Bleu were always my favorite days when I was a student there. That's because Wednesday was kids day. In Paris, kids under a certain age get Wednesday afternoon off from school. Every Wednesday, a parade of peppy kids would bounce through the hallowed halls of LCB to cook, stir, and get their hands into food - real food, not the processed kind.

I loved watching the chefs working with them through the glass of my "pratique" kitchen. Everyone was always having a great time and I got such a thrill out of seeing children understand the joy of cooking, and consequently the joy of eating. They were developing a respect for food that will likely last them a life time, and, in a way that some might consider ironic, not a single one of these kids was overweight.

I don't think it's ironic at all. In my mind, introducing kids to different types of fresh foods and to hands-on food preparation is one of the biggest keys in preventing rampant over-eating. That's because, in this way, many good things naturally happen. Kids develop a palate and desire for fresh vegetables and a well-balanced diet, cooking for them is fun, and food is not a foe or an enemy that has to be analyzed and dissected. They learn that food and cooking is a pleasure, and like all pleasures, it should be balanced and not abused.

That's why I was absolutely thrilled to join Louis Yuhasz and a group of ten children participating in his Louie's Kids organization last week in preparing a healthy cooking class/dinner. The non-profit, Charleston-based group is dedicated to helping obese kids lose weight through diet, education, exercise, and more. Louis gathered his biggest weight-loss winners last week to celebrate their victory at a glamorous (generously donated) beach house on Isle of Palms, to play and run on the beach, and to cook and eat with me and my assistant, Sharon.

Watching the kids views on foods evolve through the 40-minute cooking class was fascinating. One girl stated an emphatic "I hate squash!" when I told her we would be working with spaghetti squash to go with the fresh tomato sauce that was also on the menu. I heard a few sighs when the kids saw the whole wheat pasta, too. But, as soon as we got underway and everyone got involved either in chopping or talking and asking questions, imaginative doors started opening and the excitement mounted as we started plating the food. By the end, everyone was talking so excitedly and loudly that I couldn't hear myself talk.

Out went the pasta (two types - wheat and rice), squash, a green salad with a fresh orange vinaigrette, garlic butter and bread, and fruit salad tossed with honey and lemon over Greek yogurt. The best part for a chef like me was to see that the kids were ecstatic about the food. The oldest, a high school student named John, exclaimed, "Miss Holly that's the BEST salad I've ever had. When I'm rich and famous I want you to be my personal chef."

That was great enough, but to have several others tell me they were going to cook these dishes at home, was the best. I left that house feeling as joyful as I did watching kids cook at LCB, maybe even more so. And, guess what, everyone sampled the squash. Not just because Louis encouraged them to do so, but because they wanted to.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Charleston's Latest French Quarter

First there was Rue, then there was La Fourchette, and now, sandwiched neatly between these two French restaurants on/near Upper King Street, we have the lovely Macaroon Boutique. Open just a month and owned by French and French-trained (the old school way, starting at age 14) Chef Fabrice Rizzo, the space is a gleaming, delicious ode to the stuff the French do better than anyone in the world - croissants, pain au chocolat, bread, and of course, macaroons, in all their meringue and pastel-colored glory.

As a bona fide Francophile and huge fan of warm, fresh bread and pastries, I couldn't be happier to have these perfect and much-needed additions to Charleston's culinary choices. Beautiful bubbles of fresh, endlessly flaky puff pastry practically call "Pick me!" out loud from their pretty glass cases. The apple turnover and pain au chocolat I sampled were simply impeccable - a light as air, artfully compiled, and easily the best in town.

Chef Rizzo was buzzing about in his kitchen, peaking in and out from time to time to chat with customers. One of these, a Euro-type dressed all in black entered with a breezy "bonjour" and then asked, in English, if the restaurant served coffee. "Non," was the proud but polite response. Why, asked the Euro-type? "Because I don't think it's my job." Simple enough. Apparently, Chef Rizzo would rather invest his time and energy in perfecting his pastries than steaming lattes prepared with 2% milk and faux sugar.

If you're aching for one of the shop's exquisite macaroons, don't come in on Tuesday morning, as I did. The shop is closed on Monday and they were not yet out of the oven. Macaroon choices include almond, caramel, chocolate, coconut, hazelnut praline and more and come in a pack of assorted flavors (6 small, $6.60, 2 large, $4).

Seeking a taste of Paris without leaving home? The Macaroon Boutique should be your first stop.

Macaroon Boutique
45 John Street
Charleston, SC 29403
(843) 577-5441

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

News from Snooth on Charleston Chef's Table

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On the Road Again in the Upstate

One never knows what to expect on any given day, let alone any given book tour or series of signings. With six months of a relatively aggressive schedule of the latter under my belt, I've gotten pretty good at anticipating results. But, with a demo and signing scheduled at a barbecue and pig calling contest in Chester, SC, followed by a tasting and signing at the Artisphere festival in Greenville, SC, I had no insight into the setting or the results, except for the anticipation of my first ever visit to either of these locales and my first ever pig-calling contest.

With visions of "Sou-eee" and rampant swine running through my head, I set off with my driver (he called me "Miss Daisy") on the three hour trek from the Lowcountry of Charleston to the highlands of Chester, situated just south of Charlotte and Rock Hill. It occurred to us on the way up, that we better reserve lodging, as there was no way of knowing how hard hit the Chester hotels might be with the porcine-themed event. The Chamber of Commerce recommended a B & B called "An Inn on York Street." I called, a British woman answered, and the reservations were made.

We arrived to find a gorgeous, white 19th century building (and former sanatorium)with a sweeping, deep lawn and a virtual forest of pecan trees. Innkeeper Sandie Woodier greeted us with a warm hug and a welcome. After she showed us (and my little dog Tann Mann) to the room, she recommended The Summit as the place to go to eat. Off we went into the bowels of this beautiful former mill town to sup on New York Strip, baked potatoes, salad and the gentile graces of the staff.

A good night's sleep (thankfully minus any crazy ghosts) on the inn's gargantuan European beds fitted with lux linens, and the pig-calling day was upon me. Sandie, who's happily married to a fruit distributor known as The Berry King of Manchester, sated our hunger with a breakfast of stewed, spiced plums with sour cream, open-faced avocado and bacon sandwiches, blueberry pockets, and fresh orange juice and coffee topped with frilly, lace British bonnets. Off to the hog calling and signing it was then, just 1/2 mile away in the center of this tiny town with big charm.

Upon arrival,I was whole-heartily greeted by one of the festival organizers and leader of the local 4-H pack to prep the Sweet Onion and Corn Chowder and Butter Bean Bruschetta featured in Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. As I cooked, I met the armada of young folks who eventually helped me lug the books and all of the food up the hill for the tasting and signing. Rap music pulsed in the background as we set up. I introduced myself and the books and talked a bit about both as the small group of about twenty persons tasted away. One of my 4H camp declared that the soup tasted like pizza, which made me smile. I suggested it might have something to do with the thyme seasoning in the soup. He assured me he would make it at home, which also made me smile. Some twenty books signed and a trip back down to the hill later, and I was on my way. The only regret was that I had missed the hog calling contest which had occurred earlier that morning and had involved no pigs, but only people calling them.

After wrapping things up at the Inn, it was on to Greenville, which proved to be a verdant, exquisite city, complete with a waterfall and Reedy River running through it. We ate dinner at a new restaurant, The Nantucket, at the new Marriott situated in the heart of the small town in the heart of its annual Artisphere art festival. People were everywhere and the energy level was high.

The Cook's Station, a beautifully appointed cooking school and gourmet retail shop downtown, was my destination the following morning. The folks here did a fine job whipping up Crave's tapenade and hummus and Baked's brownies, both featured in Charleston Chef's Table for the book signing that afternoon. Folks flocked around to eat the food, as I sat downwind of a very smokey barbecue pit and smiled and signed. I got the strong sense that people were more interested in the food than the books, but I none the less sold a good amount of books and met a lot of nice folks from all over.

Just goes to show you, you never, ever know what to expect. On the way home, I discovered one of the Upstate's best kept secrets. Sphinx's fried chicken. A gas station and retail store chain, it serves some of the crispiest, freshest, most flavorful chicken on the Upstate side of South Carolina.

Culinary Cost-Cutting 101

Coupon Crazy

When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.

It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.

The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.

Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site ( , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.

The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!

My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"

Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals

With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.

In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).

For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.

Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!

Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!

Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.

Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!

Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.

Chicken never tasted so good for so little.