Blind Gnocchi Taste Test

Don’t they look awesome?!?

I really have to make an effort to be sure that this cookbook of mine gets written, but starting a new business seems to be getting in the way of course. This cookbook isn’t going to write itself, that’s for sure, but all the same, I don’t want it to be of inferior quality.

As I mentioned before, I’m able to use my cooking classes and demonstrations to test a lot of my recipes for me, which is fabulous. But for some of the finer points, I have to do the testing myself. And for that, it’s time for blind taste tests.

Why do I need these tests? Simply because I want to know which way really is the best way to make gnocchi. Potatoes are steamed, roasted, boiled and even microwaved in recipes across the spectrum of Italian cookbooks. It’s time to determine which way is the best, and that’s the method I’ll use in my cookbook.

Setting up the potatoes to be cooked. From left to right, roasting, boiling and steaming.

After the gnocchi are made, I’ve gotta keep track of which is which for the testing phase.

Every gnocchi gets the same sauce for consistency purposes. My judges taste and rate the winner.

And when the flour dust settled, we had a winner. And I was not only surprised at which method won, but also by how much! The winning method had a much richer potato flavor and smoother texture. And it makes me feel good to know I’ll be passing on the very best instructions in my book to my readers.

Want to know which method won?… Well, I gotta save something for the cookbook, right?… (Of course, you could also just take a cooking class with me, and I’d tell you there too…) 🙂

But I will say this: “Blind Gnocchi Taste Test” is a pretty good band name.

Chef Matt

Teaching Knife Skills

Everywhere I teach, every time I offer it, this is the class everyone wants to get in on. Whether they’re new to the kitchen, or seasoned pros who are tired of massacring their dishes, there seems to be no shortage of people who want to sharpen their skills with their knife sets in the kitchen. (That pun was both intended and terrible.)

So last night I was in charge of teaching a knife skills class for Fairfax County Adult and Community Education. Being a public school system, their knives were not of the highest quality, but I was still able to run through the basics of knife usage with them.

The real fun of the class for me though came during the purchasing of the ingredients. I swung by Safeway to pick up the food for the night’s class, and was thrilled to see so many of the things I wanted to buy on sale! I have a pretty tight spending budget on these classes, so it was good to see that I could get the vegetables for so cheap!

Pictured: Knife skills class aftermath.
I also threw in the uncut stuff, so don’t think they did that poorly…

After my cart was loaded up with a ton of carrots, onions, garlic, zucchini, celery, potatoes and bell peppers, I pushed it over to the meat section to see if I could pick up some chickens. (I like to teach people how to take apart a chicken in my knife skills classes as well..) But alas, the chickens were not on sale, and thus buying a bunch of them would have been cost prohibitive.

All was not lost though, because the class needed about 7 chickens total for me to be able to give everyone a chance to work on the birds. And as luck would have it, I have a Restaurant Depot card! For those of you who don’t know, Restaurant Depot is a wholesale restaurant supply store which only allows restaurants and associated business to buy from them. But at the same time, don’t go in thinking you’re going to buy 7 chickens. They come by the case.

Upon walking into the cold room, which is basically floor-to-ceiling meat, I knew this was going to be challenging to find what I was looking for. I first had to walk to the chicken section, and once there, I had to start pawing through cases to find the one that was whole chickens and not wings, or thighs or cutlets. I finally came across a pallet of whole chicken cases, but they were 25 birds to a case. A bit more than I was looking for…

All seemed lost for my students and their chance to take apart chickens. Maybe more potatoes would make them happy, and we could work on rosettes instead. At that very moment a kindly Restaurant Depot employee walked by. (It was easy to spot him – he was the one wearing a coat that was appropriate for working in a giant walk-in fridge for 8 hours at a time…)

“Excuse me sir,” I asked trying not to look like a total dolt, “but do you all have chicken cases that are 10-12 birds to the case?”

“Sure, they’re right over here,” he said while guiding me to a section I had thought was clearly labeled ‘Smithfield Ham.’

“Oh, that’s great!”

“They’re Halal,” he said, with a note of trepidation in his voice. This didn’t bother me though. As I knew from a previous job where one of the line cooks was Muslim, Halal chickens are some of the most flavorful and juiciest ones out there, and they are usually quite affordable despite the specifications they have to meet.

Meet your meat.

“That’s wonderf-”

“They have the heads still on,” he added bluntly.

“Oh.” Now I’m not the kind of person who has trouble removing the heads from dead chickens. Heck, as a chef, you have to learn how to kill mice in a variety of very quickly improvised ways. (I will not mention which restaurants I worked in where I had to learn those skills…) But my mind quickly went to my students. For many of them, past experience had taught me that this would be one of the first whole chickens they would ever try to take apart. Could they do it with the chicken staring back at them?

But what other choice did I have? I figured I could get to the classroom early, remove all the heads, and nobody would be any the wiser.

The best laid plans of mice and men being what they are, the classroom was of course locked when I got there, and I had to wait for the evening building manager to show up so I could get in. By the time he arrived with the keys, two students were already there.

As I was hacking off heads one of my students said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chicken with it’s head on before.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” I offered. “But at least removing their heads isn’t part of the class tonight.”

“Thank God.”

Here’s hoping I still like chicken noodle soup by the end of the winter…

The class went very well. The students chopped the vegetables with reckless abandon, and the end product was great. They tore apart their chickens with skill and speed, and loved every minute of it. At the end of the class, I had to turn in my “grade sheet.” Since some of these classes offered are for continuing education, I’m actually supposed to give out grades. Since I didn’t find any fingers on the floor when I cleaned up, I gave everyone an “A”.

When everyone was gone though, I realized I had a ton of chopped carrots, celery, onions and garlic as well as 10 cleaned chicken carcasses….

Yes, today is chicken stock making day. And by the looks of it, I’ll be set for the rest of winter as far as soups are concerned. Now I just have to figure out what to do with a freezer full of chicken parts…

Chef Matt

“Natural” Disaster

I try not to get up on my soap box too much, but this is one I just couldn’t hold back on any more. The word “natural” is really getting on my nerves with it’s overuse and misleading connotations in the world of food.

We’ll get to what set me off in just a second, but first, a little information for those of you who want to do good by yourselves and your family by buying only “natural” foods.

Look for this on foods if you want to at least be doing better than average.

When a food is labeled as “organic” with the USDA organic label, there is actually some meaning to that. The labeling process requires the food producers to trace all of the ingredients to make sure that everything in there is cultivated in a way that is in line with the guidelines set forth by the USDA. Whether or not you think those guidelines are strict enough (currently it means only 95% of the ingredients must be organic for example…) is of course up for debate, but there is a level of accountability and meaning behind this label.

In fact, the bureaucracy involved in government labeling is so tedious, there are many small farms that can’t earn this label because they can’t keep up with all the paperwork. Even though they meet or exceed the guidelines in their everyday practices.

There are regulations on other terms as well, like “light” (or “lite”) which means that a nutritionally altered product contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the reference food. If the food derives 50 percent or more of its calories from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat.

But what about “natural?” The USDA is silent on the matter and the FDA has no formal definition except to say that a product that is natural is one that has not had any artificial or synthetic substances added to the product that would not normally be expected to be in the food – including artificial flavors or color additives. (But let’s not forget that most of the “natural flavors” you find on ingredient labels are in fact synthetically made…)




“All Natural” really is a meaningless term, and food manufacturers know it. They are banking on you liking how it sounds, and choosing a product with that phrase on the label, and hoping you won’t ask any questions about what it really means.

All this is well and good, and has been a pet peeve of mine for some time, but has never warranted a rant on my part. Until this morning. That’s when I saw this:

“Naturally, we slice it…”

I guess that can be taken two ways. I mean, they could mean, “What else were we going to do with it? Make love to it? Naturally, we slice it!” But do they mean, “We slice it in a natural fashion?” What the hell does that mean? What would it be to have “unnaturally” sliced fries? Do other companies summon hoards of demons to do their French Fry manufacturing?…

It is pretty obvious that what Wendy’s is trying to say is that their fries are all natural, that is, the potatoes and salt (and hopefully oil used for frying) are all natural. But what does that mean? Does that suddenly mean they’re good for you? According to the Wendy’s website, here is the breakdown of the nutritional value of a Medium “Natural Cut Fries”:

Weight: 142g
Calories: 420
Fat: 20g (14% of the total weight…)
Calories from fat: 180 (43% of the total calories)
Sodium: 500mg (~20% RDA)

Let’s compare these stats to a medium “unnatural” fries from McDonald’s:

Weight: 117g
Calories: 380
Fat: 19g (16% of the total weight…)
Calories from fat: 170 (45% of the total calories)
Sodium: 270mg (~12% RDA)

The only difference between the two is that the use of “sea salt” at Wendy’s is resulting in a heck of a lot more sodium being on the fries… But neither of these are exactly a healthy option people. Wendy’s new marketing scheme is to make you believe their “natural” fries OK for you and the environment, but please, they’re just fries. It doesn’t matter how you slice them – naturally or otherwise – they are not going to be good for you.

Eggnog Ice Cream

The holidays mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, they mean it’s time to start consuming eggnog in mass quantities. Some people like the cookies, others go for the ham or turkey, I go straight for the rum and nutmeg as I power down eggnog by the quart.

And my doctor wonders why my cholesterol is high…

I made it from scratch once, and it was also awesome…

My love affair with eggnog started at a young age – way before I knew that adding rum to eggnog was an option. I loved the stuff, and patiently awaited my parents bringing home a quart to make a little holiday cheer with. I learned how to work the nutmeg grater over the glass, and was mesmerized by the spreading of the little grated flakes on the surface of the drink.

One year, while lying awake in the middle of the night, as is so common for young boys of that age near Christmas, all I could think about was the quart of eggnog in the fridge, and how great that would taste. Strapping on my robe, I sneaked downstairs, got out the nutmeg, and proceeded to consume almost an entire quart in one sitting.

For most people, this would cure them of ever wanting to touch eggnog again. But not me, it only made me more of a fan.

How much nutmeg would I have to put on here before this became a controlled substance?…

Anyway, for Christmas this year, on the heels of my limoncello gelato experiments that I ran back in September, an ice cream maker found its way under the tree with my name on it. Well, there was no question what kind of ice cream I wanted to make first around Christmas time! I made up this recipe for eggnog ice cream, threw it in the maker, and voila! (We served it on top of toasted chocolate pannetone, and that was darn good as well.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! And enjoy!

Eggnog Ice Cream

Yield: ~ 1 qt

2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 ea whole nutmeg
2 cups half & half
1 Tbsp dark rum
¾ cup sugar
6 ea egg yolks
1 cup eggnog

– Toast grated nutmeg in skillet over medium heat until lightly browned – about 1 minute. Set aside.
– Wrap whole nutmeg in a paper towel, and hit with a mallet or hammer to break apart. Discard paper towel.
– In saucepan, heat half & half, crushed whole nutmeg and rum over medium heat until just simmering. Set aside to allow flavors to steep, and mixture to cool, for 15 minutes.
– In large bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks to make a ribbon. Slowly whisk in half and half and whisk to combine thoroughly.
– Return egg/half & half mixture to the sauce pan, scraping out bowl with rubber spatula. Cook while stirring gently until mixture thickens and reads 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. Do not allow mixture to boil.
– In the scraped out bowl, add the 1 cup of eggnog and the toasted nutmeg. When the custard is at temperature, pour into the bowl with the eggnog to begin it cooling right away.
– Chill custard in fridge, stirring occasionally until cool – about 4 hours.
– Process custard in ice cream maker according to instructions. Transfer to container; cover and freeze.
– Serve ice cream with fresh grated nutmeg on top.

Chef Matt

A Favorite Fall Cooking Activity

OK, so this post is late given when the event occurred. But even with the speed of communication that we have these days, there was a delay in my getting the photos and the actual product. So I guess it’s fresh in my mind now to blog about.

I’m talking about making apple butter. When you have a ton of apples, you can only make so many pies, and that isn’t likely to even make a dent in your supply. Cider is a great use for apples, but storing gallons and gallons of cider can be problematic. For me, it’s going the other direction with the apples that’s the best.

Stirring and stirring. It’s the work I put in to get some great apple butter in exchange. And it’s a small price to pay.

Cider is simply when you grind and press the apples to get out the juice while discarding the solids. Apple butter is all about getting rid of the excess water, and concentrating the apple flavor down to make a rich, concentrated sauce. It truly is fabulous.

The other great thing about making apple butter is how it’s made in a large cauldron over high heat for hours on end. And the whole time, it must be stirred to keep it from sticking. The WHOLE time. That means lots and lots of stirring, and that means you need lots and lots of friends. It’s a true harvest-time get together to be sure, and if that’s not a great holiday tradition, I don’t know what is!

So happy holidays, and enjoy this recipe for one of my favorite ways to use apple butter. In fact, my family simply calls them “Apple Butters,” since we just know that this is how part of any jar of apple butter will be used.

Apple Butters
Yield: makes 10 apple butters

30 squares of graham crackers
~3/4 cup of apple butter

-Spreading a thin layer of apple butter on one graham cracker square, and top with another. Spread another thin layer of apple butter on top of the sandwich, and top with another graham cracker square to make a double-decker apple butter sandwich.
-Continue in this manner until you have made all 10 apple butters.
-Wrap each of the sandwiches individually in saran wrap or wax paper and place in a container overnight in the fridge. They can be eaten right away, but they are much better if they have overnight for the flavors to blend.

Am I Getting Soft?…

Yesterday was a great day as measured in the world of being a private chef instructor. I had two classes in one day and like in any business, the more business you have, the better things are going.

But the schedule of the day had the two classes placed so close together, that once I’d finished cleaning for one class, and the set up for the next class had to begin immediately. By the time the second class was set up, I realized the class would be arriving momentarily! My break time was a mere 10 minutes in the middle of the day…

Thanks Steve. I feel the love.

Before you begin to play those tiny violins for me, allow me to go into more detail on the day. The morning class was a private 1-on-1 class with a gentleman whom we will call “John” (because that’s his name) who wanted to learn more about making handmade pasta. Well, handmade pasta happens to be a specialty of mine, so I was happy to share all I knew with him and his wife about making pasta from scratch.

He specifically wanted to know about making gnocchi, and well, since that’s something I had actually posted about in my previous version of Deglazed, there was no question I could help him there! By the end of the class, they were wrapping raviolis like pros, and the gnocchi were some the prettiest and lightest I had ever seen from my students.

I guess getting the 1-on-1 attention really does help out! (Note: There’s still time for you to buy such a class as a perfect Christmas present! 🙂 )

John mentioned during the class that he had tried to sign up for a class previously with Open Kitchen, but that class had been canceled due to lack of enrollment. I asked what class it was that he had tried to take, and he said, “Soups, Stocks and Sauces.” “How interesting!” I said, “That’s the class I”m teaching later tonight!”

Well, you can guess where that led to. John signed up, and said he’d be back for the class later that night. So since I knew he was coming back, I had to get the place ready. I cleaned the kitchen, did the dishes, and started the chicken stock for the nighttime class. Since the class at night was for several people, there was significantly more set up involved. And when I sat down for my 10 minute rest, I was ready for it.

Yeah, we made hollandaise. I promise not to tell you how bad it is for you if you promise to let me put it on everything I eat…

John et al showed up perfectly on time for the evening class, and we jumped right in. They had tons of great questions – one of the most inquisitive groups I’ve ever taught – and at the end of the night, they’d made awesome fish stock, mushroom soup, clam chowder and had seen demos on hollandaise and veloute. (And of course when you learn veloute, you’ve also learned how to make roux, gravy, and bechamel…)

It was a fun class for all, and when they left, I cleaned again, and locked up the place to head home. The day had passed, and I had done 13 and a quarter hours on my feet with a single ten minute break in the middle. And yes,  I was tired from it.

But wait a minute… In the process of working at Open Kitchen as their Sous Chef and Kitchen Manager, I would regularly pull 16 hour days with NO break! There were 90 hour work weeks and 19-day stretches with no days off when covering for the regular vacations of those above me…  In short, there was a time when I would have considered a 13-hour day as “early release for good behavior.”

So maybe the life of a culinary instructor has turned me a bit soft. In it’s longest format (two classes in one day is all I can realistically do) it’s still not as long as a double shift in the kitchen. But all the same it’s good to know I’m making a difference, and people are enjoying the work I do.

This is the wine. It looks lovely, and I’m sure it’ll be wonderful. Thanks again, John.

Two great examples of that from just yesterday:

1. When John came back for his second class of the day, he brought me a bottle of wine as a present from him and his wife. I guess they really loved the class in the morning!

2. Awaking today, there was a very nice and positive review on Yelp for Open Kitchen that was about my cooking class from last night. Very nice to be singled out in a Yelp review for my cooking class! (Thank you “Kate F.”!)

So today is now a day off. Not because I need it, but because nothing filled up today. But that’s OK, since I’m planning lots of great private classes for next year with my time! And of course, I’ll be happy to share them with you as they happen.

Chef Matt

Fish Cookery

It’s funny how chefs have strength and weaknesses in the kitchen. While we think that the people who are “blessed” with the ability to cook can really make any sort of magic happen in the kitchen, the truth is, we all have things we prefer to cook with, and things we subtly try to avoid. We of course want everyone to think we can cook everything, so we just sort of “omit” those things which give us more trouble. Like how Paula Deen “omits” anything healthful from her recipes…

Meh, why not throw in the occasional beauty shot for the blog? Damn, that looks inviting in the middle of December…

While I mentioned before that pastry arts have never been my strong suit, I’m still competent enough to make a good dessert when I have to. Heck, for an upcoming Greek Isles cooking class, I was asked to add a dessert to the menu, and I was easily able to come up with something great. (It’s a cake soaked in orange syrup – you DON’T want to miss this!!)

In fact, what it is that I have always considered to be my weakness in the kitchen actually is fish and seafood. Just something about the delicacy needed with making them, and the way they can turn on you so quickly has always given me pause when pursuing a recipe or creating a special with them. And I don’t know why really… It’s not like my dishes have been coming out badly. It’s just that I have this voice in the back of my head that seems to chime in every time I want to cook a fish that tells me I’m not doing it right.

Whole Red Snapper Cooked en Papillote with Littleneck Clams, Lemon, Olives and Fennel.
OK, so maybe I can cook seafood…

To be fair, I think we all have self-doubts and fears that plague us day to day, but it’s not helpful to have these when you suddenly, somehow, find yourself straddled with a series of fish cooking classes. This week alone, I had to demo stuffed calamari on Sunday, teach a class on the Italian-American tradition of the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” on Monday, and tonight (Wednesday), I will be teaching “Seafood Demystified” to a sold out class.

How did I get myself into this?…

I think it actually stems from the need to not have weaknesses in the kitchen if I’m going to be a culinary instructor. It’s a different kind of expertise people seem to expect of me as an instructor. While a chef needs only to be a master of his/her own kitchen and his/her own recipes, a chef instructor needs to know the answers to almost any question people can come up with. And believe me, the topics can go all over the place in the course of one evening’s class! One minute, I’m answering questions on cooking fish, the next minute, I’m comparing the differences between bread and all purpose flour in a biscuit recipe, and then the very next question asked is about the proper method for brining a turkey before it’s roasted.

So lovely. Time for me to take a class of my own…

So to that end, I have to make sure that I learn how to make anything that I might otherwise consider to be a weakness. If people are going to pay good money to have me tell them what to do in a kitchen, I’d better be ready to have the answers at the tip of my tongue. So fear not, my students who want to learn how to cook fish properly this evening. You’re in good hands.

Now all I have to do is learn how to make sushi…

Chef Matt

Testing Recipes – Linguine with Spinach, Olives and Goat Cheese

So if I’m going to be teaching cooking classes, I have to make sure I’m using top-notch recipes, right? And if I need to use top-notch recipes, then I have to make sure that these recipes are in fact top-notch, right? And if I’m going to be writing a cookbook, then I REALLY have to make sure these recipes are the top of the top-notch, right?

OK, time to start inventing in the kitchen!
Note: That’s not me…

So how exactly do I test all these recipes to make sure they’re really that good?… Well, the answer may surprise you.

As far as using recipes in classes are concerned, many times those are recipes that I have either made once, or have just come up with. Once you’re able to write recipes from scratch, you have a good mind set of what works and what doesn’t. So writing a recipe in my style using the ingredients and techniques that I want to highlight in my class really isn’t that hard. And if I have any doubts as to measurement ratios or cooking times/temperatures, I usually consult one of my many cookbooks I have laying around just to make sure I’m on target.

Now I’m not saying that the recipes are perfect every time, but they are always pretty darn good, and definitely of the quality necessary for one of my classes. If my students are going to shell out good money for a class, they’re going to get good recipes. Simple as that.

The word you’re looking for is “Yum”.

Case in point, I recently taught a class on game meats at Open Kitchen called, “It’s How you Play the Game.” (Cute, huh?…) Anyway, the recipes for this class were all ones I made up from my past cooking experiences. None of the recipes had ever been “tested” per se, but they were all based on things I had cooked many times before. The menu was:

  • Venison Loin Steaks with Cranberry-Rosemary Reduction
  • Roasted Pheasant Stuffed with Apple Onion and Thyme
  • Braised Rabbit Ragu on Papparadelle

Yes, they were every bit as good as they sound. The results were really quite great, and when the class was done, there were only a few minor modifications to the recipes that I thought needed to happen. (And of course I shared those changes with my students as well.) Simply put, one run through the menu, and I have three “tried and true” recipes ready to go!

But that’s not all. See, since I’m writing a cookbook as well, I want to make sure these recipes are not only great, but that students who read the recipes can make them as well based on how I’ve written them. And thus my students are sometimes testing my cookbook recipes as well. If I notice any directions that people can’t seem to follow, then I know I need to fix the wording on that part of the recipe.

Of course this is not to say that I don’t regularly test out recipes on my friends and family. I mean come on, if you’re going to have a chef in your family, you’d better be getting some good food out of the deal.

But all this talk of trying out recipes has left me with another idea. I want to try out a recipe, and I’d love to see if you all would give it a shot, and see how it’s working for me! So I’m including a recipe here, and I’d love for you to make it at home on your own time.

Make it, tell me how it worked out, anything you thought needed improvement or clarification, and then put your results in the comment section. You get a free recipe, I get free recipe testers! It’s win-win, and I’d love to know both if this recipe works, and if you all are willing to do this for me!

Linguine with Spinach, Olives and Goat Cheese
1 lb                  linguine
5 Tbsp            olive oil
2 cloves         garlic – minced
1 Tbsp            capers – drained and rinsed
1 cup              sliced black olives
½-1 tsp          red pepper flakes
8 oz                 baby spinach leaves
3 oz                 crumbled goat cheese
As needed     freshly grated Parmesan

-In large pot of boiling salted water, add spaghetti and begin cooking.
-In large skillet, over medium high heat, heat oil and add garlic, capers, olives and red pepper. (It may splatter some, so be careful and have a screen on hand…)
-When olives are heated through – about one minute – add spinach and cook down, stirring regularly. Keep warm over low heat until pasta is done.
-When pasta is done, strain, and add to skillet with spinach and olives. Toss to combine thoroughly over low heat.
-Stir in crumbled goat cheese, allowing it to melt through over low heat.
-Serve immediately, topped with Parmesan.

I call this recipe “Pasta alla Swan” as my girlfriend, Susan (whose nickname is “Swan”), was the inspiration behind it. As a result, I think I look with eyes that are too romantically clouded when trying to think rationally about this recipe. So give it a shot people! Please make it, and of course, tell me all about it.

How many times do you get to be a contributing editor to a cookbook anyway?…

Chef Matt

The Slow Season

While the shopping season is upon us, the season for taking cooking classes is apparently at a stand still. This being my first year (six months actually) of being a full-time culinary instructor, I’m learning this for myself the hard way.

Every month (even a few months in advance), I have my classes laid out so people can choose what they want to learn (and where).  I of course have the calendar of where and when I’ll be on my website, so you don’t have to go to the website of each place to find out where I’ll be.

Yeah, yeah. Enjoy your moment, jerk.

But the problem isn’t lack of communication, it’s the time of the year apparently.  People are buying gifts for people, so money is tighter.  People are running around shopping, and getting ready for family to come in from out of town, so time is tighter, and people are cooking up a storm in their kitchens, so time to do extra curricular cooking activities is tight as well.

In short, while this may be a great time to market yourself if you are overweight and have a large white beard, it’s tough to sell yourself as a culinary instructor.

Even my very popular class in Bedford is having trouble filling up – and that’s never been a problem before.  Just goes to show how tough the times really are.

Am I the only one who laughs at the word “Boniva”?…

But there is a light on the horizon to all this I guess. At Open Kitchen, where I have been teaching for some time, my classes seem to be filling up a little bit better than those of other teachers. Maybe I actually have fans, or people are getting the word out that they like taking classes from me, and it’s paying off. I guess I’m getting in touch with my inner Sally Field and seeing that you really do like me!

All the same, a little marketing of myself can’t hurt. Join in on one of my classes! Or better yet, if you’re still looking for that perfect something to get for someone on your Christmas list, contact me about buying them a private cooking lesson from yours truly! I’d be happy to do it, because this is what I love to do.

And it sure beats playing online poker all day…

Chef Matt

Cupcakes and Wine

As much as I love to teach hands-on classes, this demonstration class is one of my favorites.

White Chocolate Cupcake with Strawberries and Basil

The class is called “Adult Cupcake and Wine Pairing” which is kind of a naughty-sounding name when you think about it, but how else do you convey the concept that this is an event for adults, and the cupcakes are going to be better than the boring “White with Pink” or “Brown with White” cupcakes?

And to be fair, I’m not a huge supporter of the cupcake craze that is going around these days. Most of the specialty cupcake shops in the DC area, while they do great business, make truly dreadful cupcakes. Reality show or not, their cakes just plain suck.

Heck, the day before I was headed to the kitchen to begin baking for this event, the Washington Post Express threw in a little side note about my class called “Die, Trend, Die.” (Which I’m guessing is not German for “The Trend, The.”)

Die, Trend, Die
Cupcakes have stubbornly held on, like little buttercream barnacles, well past when everyone predicted such a frivolous item would lose its luster during a recession. Open Kitchen (7115 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church) is hosting a workshop on making cupcakes with alcohol, and how to pair them with wine. OK, the Guinness ones do sound amazing.
Washington Post Express, Nov 29, 2010

Wow, cynical stuff. But they’re right, the Guinness ones do sound amazing, and better yet, they taste amazing as well. My day began at 10am (very late by baker’s standards, but the class wasn’t until 6:30pm) and involved me baking batches of all the cupcakes and their specific toppings to create a wonderful cupcake experience for my students. My cupcake creations were as follows:

Dark Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes with Candied Orange Peel
  • Blueberry Lemon Cupcakes with Meyer Lemon Chardonnay Frosting
  • Red Velvet Port Cupcakes
  • Lemon Macadamia Cupcakes with Rosemary
  • Dark Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes with Candied Orange Peel
  • White Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberries and Basil
  • Guinness Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

The wine pairings were done by my good friend, Andy Hoyle, who is just a genius with wine. His pairings were inspired to say the least, and I thought his combination of a sparkling Pinot Noir with the White Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberries and Basil was brilliant. The Pinot mixed perfectly with the berries, picked up and amplified the basil flavor, and then when it all washed away, there was nothing but a warm, smooth white chocolate flavor left behind. Just awesome.

But the winner of the voting this time around was the same winner as last time – my Dark Chocolate Chipotle Cupcakes with Candied Orange Peel. So in the interest of spreading the wealth, here is that recipe.

Dark Chocolate and Chipotle Cupcakes with Candied Orange Peel
Yield: ~24 cupcakes

7 oz                    bittersweet (semisweet) chocolate
3 sticks             unsalted butter
2¼ cups           sugar
8 ea                    eggs
2-2½ Tbsp      chipotle in adobo – pureed (depending on heat preference)
1¼ cups           all purpose flour
¼ cup               cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1½ tsp              baking powder
¼ tsp                 salt
As Needed       powdered sugar (garnish)
1 recipe            Candied Orange Peel (garnish)

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pan with papers.
– Melt chocolate and butter together over double boiler while stirring gently until melted and combined.
– Remove from heat, and stir in sugar. Let mixture cool 10 minutes
– Pour chocolate mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix in eggs one at a time, then pureed chipotles.
– Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, and add to chocolate mixture. Mix together until just combined.
– Divide batter among cupcake papers, and bake until a toothpick comes out clean – about 25 minutes. Top with powdered sugar and candied orange peel.

Candied Orange Peel
2 ea            large oranges
3 cups       water – divided
3 cups        sugar – divided

– Remove peel from oranges using a vegetable peeler, being sure not to remove any of the white pith. Cut peels into ¼” wide strips.
– Boil peels in one cup water for 15 minutes – strain.
– Dissolve 2 cups of sugar in remaining 2 cups of water, and bring to boil. Add orange peels and simmer until peels are very soft – about 45 minutes – strain. (Reserve syrup for future use.)
– Toss orange peels in remaining cup of sugar – separating strips as you do so. Let dry for a few hours before using.

The class is a fun culinary experience, and of course the people attending had all sorts of great questions about baking, wine pairing and food in general. Much was learned, and everyone had a great time. Even if the cupcake trend itself is a little silly, I hope that this class is one I’m able to do for many years into the future. Quite frankly, as a bridal shower event, I think it’s a great idea, and a timeless one at that. But at the very least, I hope you’re willing to join me at a future cupcake and wine class. You won’t be sorry!

Chef Matt