Anyone can be "the family chef". You just need good recipes and techniques! Chef Amy Fothergill shares her best recipes with you for quick and easy dishes with an emphasis on gluten-free.

Get information here about her cookbook, The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Birthday Cakes

As many mothers say, it seems just like yesterday when your children were born. My youngest turned 2 recently. I have started a tradition to make their birthday cakes.

I always think of the cakes as being 'silly' but maybe the term should be festive. My mom made my cakes when I was growing up as well. The difference is she didn't have 2 cameras and a video recorder to capture it all!

Making a cake from scratch isn't hard. However, it does take time, the right ingredients, some essential tools, and a dash of patience. The end result will more than likely taste better (or at least be easier on your pocketbook). Any home cook should be able to do it with some training.

When it comes to a recipe, I'm not going to bother posting one. Use a recipe from some of the classic cookbooks like "The Joy of Cooking" or "Better Homes New Cook Book". These basic cookbooks are some of the best.

If you normally open a box to make cake and a can for the frosting, I can teach you a thing or two! Here are some of my favorite photos from my cake making adventures:

The cake's theme was a farm. The green colored coconut was fun and I used licorice for the "fence". There were bunnies and chicks and eggs, too. This was a basic vanilla cake that was just yummy.

The dinosaur cake was a blast to make...the center was supposed to be a volcano that had a lake in the middle. The 2 year olds loved it. There's the green tinted coconut again!

Siena frosts her cupcake

Laurel assists with cupcake decorating

Each child had their own cupcake, decorated it with my famous homemade frosting and then added a variety of sprinkles. I put candles in everyone's cupcake so they all got to blow out their own candle. Another big hit, especially for young ones who don't understand when someone else is blowing out the candles and not them.

Another party; cupcakes baked in an ice cream cone, topped with frosting.

The ladybug cake (or as my husband calls it "ladybird"!)

For this next set, my 3 1/2 year old son helped with the design! Here it is, from assembly to finish. Also, this is my first gluten-free cake to make for a crowd. There was one piece left!

The base was a 13x9 vanilla cake with green frosting and sprinkles for the grass. Then a flower shaped chocolate cake was put on top. I used a smaller round cake for the ladybug; I cut out the larger circle with a glass and the smaller piece with a biscuit cutter.

The trick for really red frosting is using Wilton concentrated gel paste.

The ladybug on the flower!

The competed product.

Another happy customer!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cooking Classes-How does it work?

Do you want to learn how to make a wild mushroom tart with goat cheese in a whole wheat crust? Read on.

As the Family Chef, I prepare everything from applesauce to sushi. I focus on foods that are flavorful, healthy, and fun for the whole family. Friends say I am inspirational! I provide useful tips about cooking and nutrition.

I offer in-home cooking classes for either you or a group of your friends. I can also provide cooking parties and I offer cooking consultations.

If you host a class or party in your home, discounts are available. For hosting, your fee is 25% off. If there are 4 guests, the fee is 50% off. If there are 6 or more, your class is free. And you always get a gift!

Here are some class topics:

  • Easy Appetizers (perfect for the Holidays)
  • Healthy Cooking
  • The Perfect Dinner Party
  • Baby, it’s time to eat! (cooking for babies)
  • Cooking for pre-schoolers (as well as toddlers)
  • Cooking with your Children
  • Family Dinners
  • Back to Basics
  • Knife Skills
Please contact me for any questions:

Amy is a graduate of Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, a world-renowned culinary and hospitality program at an Ivy League college. Amy has been cooking for over 30 years, was in the hospitality industry for over 10 years and has been specializing in family cooking for the last 10 years. She has also auditioned for Food Network's The Next Food Network Star.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More about the Family Chef

Some of my cooking philosophies…
People will tell me they think cooking is hard but the more you make something, the easier it will get. It’s important to learn some basics and be able to know how to make a substitution. Examples are soup, sauces, roasts, and dips. If you have a base recipe, it’s easy to experiment.
I have been cooking for a long time (I know, I don’t look a day over 35 but that’s just not the case!). I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen to the pleasure of my friends and family. But now, with 2 young children under 4, I have to be creative, flexible, and some what organized.
As the Family Chef, I will share my secrets with you about how to juggle cooking with any busy lifestyle. I now understand that there are many aspects to cooking and not everyone has all day to prep.
Why are you here? Do you want to learn how to cook something specific or just hone your skills? Think about what you want to get out of cooking classes. Here are some considerations:
Time-Cooking is a balance of how much time you have and what you are trying to accomplish. I sometimes cook with convenience foods but it all depends. Knowing how long something takes is important. But, the more you cook, the higher you’ll be on the learning curve and the less time it will take. As you sit through a class, listen for tips on saving time, prepping and planning. I use recipes as guidelines and try not to measure (unless I’m baking). It saves me time and washing up as well!
Planning-Meal planning is important for shopping purposes and meal prep. It’s also essential to always have some things in the freezer and pantry to fall back on. We’ll talk about what you should have stocked; it depends a lot on all of these considerations.
Money-You can buy anything prepared but it can be expensive. You can spend lots of money on expensive ingredients; some times it matters and some times it doesn’t. As you experiment with ingredients, make notes on when you need to spend the money. It will make a difference.
Health-Are you looking for low-fat, low-carb or low-sugar or just overall good nutrition? Do you want some recipes where it doesn’t matter or do you want to learn how to adjust a recipe accordingly? Part of cooking is learning how to make the appropriate substitutions.
Taste-I know for me, the end result is what really matters (although nutrition plays a big part as well). As you learn more, your food will taste better and you will become more motivated. Your kids might even appreciate it!
Convenience-This goes hand in hand with time and planning as well as money, health and taste. It’s all a balance.

Cooking for Kids and Meatloaf recipe

Long before Jessica Seinfeld published her book and before my children were pros at eating veggies, I used to add chopped cooked vegetables to dishes like meatloaf and meatballs. Here's a recipe for a healthy delicious dinner. You just need to plan ahead a bit (maybe start at 4:00 if you want to eat at 5:30).

Meatloaf w/secret veggies
To a food processor*, add:
2 peeled carrots, cut in 4 lengths
1 small onion, peeled and cut in quarters
1 zucchini squash, cut in 4 lengths
½ lb cleaned white mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
*if you don't have a food processor, chop very finely
Chop vegetables to a mince. Add olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat to medium. Add veggies and season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened. Remove from heat. While the veggies cool, mix in a bowl:
1- 1 ½ lb of ground turkey meat (can also use chicken, pork or beef or any combination)
1-2 eggs
about 1 cup of plain bread crumbs
½ cup of ketchup
1-2 Tbl yellow mustard
1 Tbl soy sauce
*optional: 1 package of chopped spinach, thawed and drained (of you can buy bags of frozen chopped spinach and just add 1 cup)

Add the slightly cooled veggies to the meat mixture. If mixture is not stiff, add more breadcrumbs. Form into rectangle in 13 x 9 inch pan. Top with more ketchup. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Remember: taking the internal temperature is the best way to determine whether your meat is cooked. Temperature should be 165 degrees.
I like to serve with traditional mashed potatoes, more ketchup and possibly another veggie on the side.

Wild Mushroom Tart

This is one of my favorite appetizers right now. If cooked properly, the mushrooms are so flavorful; they are almost meaty! And, it's very versatile. If you are cooking for vegans, omit the cheese and substitute margarine for the butter. Don't have tomatoes? Just leave it out. Want something thicker? Add a couple of beaten eggs with some milk and a little flour. And of course, if you don't have whole wheat pastry flour, use white flour. I would suggest unbleached if you can.

I encourage you to try this:

Wild Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Tomato Tart
Whole wheat pastry crust (see recipe below)
2 Shallots, chopped
Olive oil and butter
Assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (about 3-4 cups total)
1/4 tsp Herbs de provence
1/4 c Marsala
1/2 of small package of Goat cheese
1/2 c Shredded mozzerella
1 ripe tomato, sliced

Pie crust:
7 Tbl unsalted butter, cubed and put into freezer for a few minutes
1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/8 tsp salt
2-3 Tbl ice water

Add flour and salt to food processor and pulse a few times. Add butter and pulse unitl crumbly. Add water slowly until forms into ball. Remove and pat into disk. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute shallots in oil/butter over medium heat in a large pan. Once golden, add mushrooms, herb de provence and pepper. Allow to cook for a few mintues, then turn. Once softened, add marsala and allow liquid to evaporate. Cool before adding to tart.

Roll out dough and shape into tart pan. Add mushrooms, top with goat cheese and mozzerella and then sliced tomatoes.

Preheat oven to 400F. Put back in fridge for a 10 minutes. Bake for 25-30 mins or until crust is brown. Allow to cool slightly then remove and allow to rest before cutting. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pumpkin Pie

When I was younger, I loved baking. Ok, younger I mean like in my twenties! I stopped for a while but always kept my favorite equipment (and maybe even upgraded along the way). I tend to bake pies in the autumn. So my point is (oh finally, here it is) I have had a lot of experience with pies. Here is what I think is most important:

  • A great pie crust
  • A great recipe for the filling
  • The right equipment
  • Time to do it right
The best pie crust techniques came from Martha Stewart. I have to give her credit. And although she has been accused of many things, her cooking and baking skills are really the best for the home cook. She also has recipes for tarts and other crusts which are outstanding.

The following recipe for the pie crust makes more than plenty for a 9" pie. I cut off the extra and threw it in the freezer. Hopefully at some point in the next year, I'll remember it's there. I also used the scraps to make some cute little leaf cut outs. Extremely easy but it really adds to the Wow factor. You'll need to plan ahead and make the crust at least an hour before you want to bake.

Now there are times when, yes, even I buy a pre-made pie crust (really?!) but when you have the time, make it from scratch. There is no substitute. If you don't have a food processor, you can do this by hand but boy, does it take a long time! This is the basic recipe:

Pie Crust
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted, very cold butter, cut into cubes
3 Tbl very cold shortening, cut into cubes (if you don't have shortening, you can use margarine. If you have neither, use more butter)
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Note: I like to take the eggs for the pie filling out of the fridge when I start the dough so that they begin to come to room temperature. It's a good practice so that your food is not too cold. If you are making the pumpkin pie below, do that now.

Add flour and salt to the food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until crumbly. Pulse for as short of time as possible. The less time you handle the dough, the more flaky and delicate it will be. While pulsing, add water, a small amount at a time until dough forms. Carefully remove dough from bowl and form into a disc with a little indentation in the middle. Wrap in plastic and place into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to one day. Or, you can freeze and save for later.

Once it is chilled, remove from fridge and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Get your pie dish ready and some flour. I like to keep a small jar of flour on the counter by the stove for making rouxs, etc so I don't have to lug the big jar out of the cabinet. Roll out the pie crust into a circle. Make sure it is wide enough for the pie dish. Here's a little trick: put flour on the top of the crust. Using your rolling pin, roll the pie crust onto it to remove from counter and then place over your pie dish. This way is does not crack. Ahh, what a great tip! Thanks ATK. Press dough into dish. Cut extra dough, leave a 1/2 inch border. Fold dough under to make crust. Place back in fridge while you prepare filling.

To make pastry leaves: With some of the extra dough, roll out. Using mini leaf cookie cutters (or your paring knife skills), cut and place on metal pie dish or baking pan. You can use a knife to simulate the pattern of the leaf. Brush with an egg wash (1 beaten egg and save this for later). Bake at 400 degrees until golden, maybe 7-10 minutes. Allow to cool for a minute or two. Remove and cool on a rack. Save for later and make sure to tell the family these are off limits!

Pumpkin Pie
Now that you have made the dough and it is getting nice and cold, you can prep the filling. Now, when it comes to certain recipes, just use what works. I like my pumpkin pie pretty basic. What makes this special is the perfect pie crust and of course the pastry leaf embellishments. I'm also going to add a yummy whipped cream that will rock your world (also great for a pumpkin cheesecake).

  • 1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove crust from fridge. Combine ingredients in large bowl and pour into shell. You can also brush some egg wash on the crust so it browns nicely. Mine started to brown a little too quickly so I had to place foil around the edges about half way through. The result though was perfect. You can try it either way but always keep an eye on it.

Bake 15 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking 35-40 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once cool, place leaf cut outs on top and serve with cinnamon whipped cream:

  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon
Mix all ingredients together, preferably in a cold stainless steel bowl. With cold beaters or a whisk, whip cream until thickened. Serve a dollup on top of each piece of pie served.

After serving, if there are any leftovers, place pie in fridge.

The Right Equipment
When making this pie, there are some essentials. Here's my list:
  • Large food processor to make pie crust
  • A good pie dish like Emile Henry. For this recipe, you'll need at least a 4 cup capicity
  • A bowl for mixing the filling, preferably one with a spout for easy pouring
  • Large whisk for mixing the filling
  • Pastry brush for the egg wash
  • Immersion blender fitted with the whisk attachment to make the whipped cream
When my friends sank their teeth into the pie, I knew it was worth it. Yes, it took longer than buying a crust or even (gaffaw!) buying the pie from the store. There is a cost-time-convenience factor that only you can determine.

However, if you are looking for a great tasting pumpkin pie, invest the time. It will be worth it. I made the crust the day before and had all of my ingredients ready when I started the baking process. I made sure this was a few hours before my event started as well.

I hope you enjoyed my commentary. It took me almost as long to write it (well I did it over the course of a day) as to make the pie!