Young Chefs & ZeBot Bake Great Things in Silver Spring

by (in order of who spoke up first) Bryce (age 11), Michele (age 10), Oliver (age 10), Wiley (age 11), Clint, (age 11), Quinn (age 12) and ZeBot Zebra (age infinity – kitchen creds at

We’re baking up amazing things here in Silver Spring – and we want to share our expert kitchen observations and insights with you!

We think the best things about baking are:

The fun of making everything ourselves
Stirring ingredients and watching batter come together
Tasting different flavors and textures
Being proud that everything is really homemade
Not having to buy muffins and scones at the store
Eating all the great things we baked ourselves
Our families and friends enjoying the special things we bake

Here are a few of our favorite baking secrets:

Being creative is cool. You can customize recipes with your favorite flavors. Just for fun, we added a little bit of freshly grated orange zest to our scones. (We were snacking on oranges and thought it would be interesting to mix them into the batter we were making). When the scones were baked, the bright, fruity flavor perfectly complemented the crunchy sweetness of the caramelized topping.

Measuring is a science. You would think you could just scoop out flour with the measuring cup, but it turns out that’s not the best way to do it. Chef Sheila said that when you dip a measuring cup into a tin of flour, it compacts the flour and actually increases the weight relative to the amount of space it fills (so your measurements are a little bit off), which means your baked creations won’t have a light, fluffy texture. Instead, use a spoon to over-fill your measuring cup, then level it off with a straight edge like a bench scraper or wooden spoon.

Mixing is an art. When we were stirring, we realized how important it is to move the spoon across the bottom of the bowl and all the way through the batter, turning and folding so that all ingredients get completely mixed in. Otherwise you can have big lumps of flour or clumps of zucchini or other goopy stuff messing up your recipe! Little lumps of flour are okay in muffins–it’s important not to over mix. If you over mix, you’ll see tunnels in your muffins, and the top will look like an exploded volcano.

It’s fun to talk while you bake. We learned lots of interesting stuff from each other – like what people’s favorite flavors are, what our fellow cooks’ cats and dogs look like (please see below), and that avocados (which were in the fruit bowl next to ripe pears) are also known as alligator pears. In general, it was a great example of creative collaboration!

Teamwork is important. One of the best things about teaming up with other cooks is that everyone can take charge of a different task to make sure things get done properly and on schedule. It’s great that one cook can be measuring or stirring while someone else is keeping an eye on what’s baking in the oven.

Baking details are important. Here are some examples: Using a silicone baking mat helps your scone topping brown and caramelize perfectly without sticking to the baking sheet. A mini scoop makes it easy to put equal amounts of batter into each well of a muffin pan. And if you spray the top of your muffin pans with a nonstick baking spray, you can easily remove the baked muffins before they’ve totally cooled.

Hungry for more creative kitchen inspiration? Stay tuned – we’ll be back soon!

Click here for the recipe for Oatmeal Currant Scones and here for Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins.

Friday, March 2, Early Release Baking Class


A kids’ afternoon baking class–what a fun thing to do on the next early release day from MCPS schools, March 2, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.! Chef Sheila gently guides children ages 10-14 in her home kitchen classroom as they learn the basics about measurement, food chemistry and working safely with heat sources. Your child’s suggestions are welcome for what to bake, including a cookie, a cake and a quick bread. Your child will go home with their share of the treats and all the recipes. For registration directions, click on the tab for Early Release Baking Classes.

Early Release Cooking Classes, Jan. 25 and 26


Something fun to do on the afternoon of an early release day from school Jan. 25 and 26

Chef Sheila will open her kitchen to children (ages 13-17) who love to bake cookies, muffins and quick breads on Thursday afternoon. As usual, she honors special recipe requests, so let her know what baked goods your child is eager to learn to make. We will divide up the baked goods to take home, along with recipes.

On Friday afternoon, boys and girls (ages 8-12) will try out their apple pie baking skills. Everyone will go home with a 9-inch flaky, buttery double-crust apple pie they will construct in class and bake at home. A Pyrex glass pie plate and recipes are included in the fee.

Email Chef Sheila to let her know about your child’s food allergies, sensitivities and restrictions: crye4(at)aol(dot)com.


THURSDAY, JAN. 25, 1:30-4:30 p.m., for ages 13-17: Cookies, Muffins and Quick Breads; FRIDAY, JAN. 26, 1:30-4:30 p.m., for ages 8-12: Apple Pie and Pie Crust Cookies EACH 3-HOUR CLASS COSTS $75


Chocolate Celebration Cake

Kids in Young Chefs cooking classes and camps are empowered to choose the foods they want to learn to prepare–a unique method for engaging their interest.

During last summer’s July 31 to August 4 camp, the group decided to bake an old-fashioned chocolate birthday cake with divinity frosting. They used recipes from Baking Kids Love, by Sur La Table with Cindy Mushet and Baking for All Occasions, by Flo Braker. Below are some photos that demonstrate how easy it was to bake.

First, assemble the ingredients and equipment. In French, this is called mise en place.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix.

Divide between two layer cake pans, and bake. Note that the oven racks evenly divide the oven into thirds.

Just out of the oven, the cake layers have a domed surface. You can correct this by placing a clean, dry kitchen towel on top of each hot cake layer and pressing down firmly with the palm of your hand to level it.

Tucking wax paper beneath the cake keeps the plate neat during the frosting process.


Spread any leftover frosting on graham crackers for a snack that resembles s’mores, without the melted chocolate.

If you would like to try baking this cake yourself, here are the recipes. The chocolate cake recipe also offers a cream cheese frosting as an easier alternative to the divinity frosting: Chocolate Celebration Cake, Divinity Frosting.


Microwave Risotto with Cabbage

Ever since Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka came out in 1987, I’ve been a fan. Her evocative writing in her Gourmet magazine monthly column influenced me to plant a Montmorency cherry tree in my yard, too. For the following twenty years our family appreciated jam, pies, and cherries preserved in mountain spirits that came from fruit the tree provided.

The microwave is a brilliant method for producing perfect risotto with a minimum of stirring. At Young Chefs’ recent school holiday morning cooking class, we made it with finely sliced cabbage and cherry tomatoes added in. Kids taste the chewiness of the arborio rice, the savory chicken stock and Parmesan, but the cabbage melts into the dish. Here is the recipe: Microwave Risotto with Cabbage.

Blue-Ribbon Muffins

The August 7-11 cooking camp focused on baking for the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, in addition to preparing and eating a simple, healthy lunch each day.

Since only one person could take credit for each entry, we drew lots, because everyone helped to make all the baked goods. As a result, six campers competed with seven entries. Campers baked:

  • Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
  • Chocolate Fudge with Pretzels
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Banana Loaf Cake
  • Pecan Caramel Bar Cookies

It was so fun! We had a blast. Each day, we set aside the six most perfect specimens for the fair, and then we divided the rest for campers to take home and share.

Today Chef Sheila received an email from the mother of the 8-year-old girl, who won first place for muffins. YAY!!!

Here is a link to the recipe for Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins, from Chef Sheila’s cousin, Edith Benthem Bain.



Testing Phyllo Muffin-Pies


Here is the link to the fruit-phyllo-muffin-pies that we tested with great success. Thanks to California Walnuts for the inspiration! img_1781

Apples are good practice for dicing skills, because they are not too hard. The trick is to learn how to slice the round fruits evenly.




You want the fruits to be tender without becoming sauce. By straining off the juices and boiling them down separately, the flavor and sweetness is concentrated.

The walnuts must be finely chopped. This is easily done in a food processor.



Below is the finished muffin-pie.



You can make triangular hand pies with the leftover phyllo, like this:











A plant-based Ethiopian lunch

When I was planning camp menus, one of the campers’ mothers mentioned that her children enjoy some of the milder vegetarian Ethiopian dishes. It was the perfect opportunity to try some of them, particularly because I just acquired a used copy of Teff Love, by Kittee Berns, via Amazon. Because Silver Spring has the highest concentration of Ethiopian businesses in the Washington area, I had no difficulty finding a source of special spices and both domestic and imported injera, the spongy, sour teff flour pancake used to mop up mouthfuls of stews and salad.

Photos by Megan Meinberg Photography


I especially liked the seasoned oil we made, called ye’quimem zeyet, using some Earth Balance buttery spread and vegetable oil. I’ll be using the remainder as a exotic component of stir fries and for finishing grilled fish.


Split peas in a mild sauce, stewed cabbage in a golden tomato sauce, and apple tempeh salad rounded out our platter.


These were definitely novel tastes for everyone, but they were inviting.


Eating with you hands! On the floor! How cool is that?


We finished the meal with chocolate-coconut sorbet, from The Perfect Scoop, by David Leibovitz. Although the campers enjoyed it, I wouldn’t make it again. This was the second camp where we tried the recipe, and both times the chocolate never really blended with the rest of the ingredients.


Ladybug and Holly loved all the attention from the campers. Today they seem low key, as though they are just saving their enthusiasm for when the kids come back again.


Kids cook pupusas

At Crossroads Farmers Market, we watched some women expertly prepare pupusas, which are kind of like filled corn tortillas–pork, cheese or refried bean. We brought some home, and boy, were they good! The campers asked Chef Tanya to show them how the next day, and she did.

(Photos below by Megan Meinberg Photography)


First, the mis en place (preparation): Canned pinto beans mashed, grated leftover curry vegetables, grated cheese, masa harina dough.


Then take an egg-sized lump of dough, flatten and stuff it, and close the dough over the filling without letting the filling break through. Fry until golden brown. Find the recipe here.



Plant-based Cooking Camp Reflection

“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.”

–Chef Gusteau, in the movie Ratatouille

Chef Gusteau’s words could have been the theme of Young Chefs’ first vegan and vegetarian cooking camp last week. Of the six campers, only one followed the vegan dietary pattern, while two were lacto-, ovo-vegetarians, and the three others were omnivores, like me. Everyone agreed to try plant-based cooking for a week, and that meant sometimes stepping out of our comfort zone.

Mixing vegan chocolate chip cookies
Mixing vegan chocolate chip cookies

Before the camp began, I asked the campers’ mothers what the children would like to learn how to prepare themselves, and I created vegan menus based on those food preferences. All of us, through experimenting with cooking and unfamiliar tastes, expanded the limits of our souls.

Using the immersion blender on pizza sauce
Using the immersion blender on pizza sauce

Because campers wanted to make both mac and cheese and pizza, we learned about substitute ingredients for a nondairy food that kind of tastes like cheese, including nutritional yeast, aquafaba, cashews and coconut milk. When we made a tasty tofu ricotta topping for the pizza, I relented a bit for the sake of the non-vegans and included mozzarella as an alternative topping. Some tastes are acquired over multiple tastings, rather than being instant hits.

Tofu "ricotta"
Tofu “ricotta”

My own favorites dishes were Indian vegetable biryani, vegan raita (by Vaishali Honawar) and blackberry coconut ice “cream” by Gena Hamshaw in Food 52 VeganWe experimented with a chia lemonade by freezing it, making lemon chia sorbet, but I was probably the only one who enjoyed chewing on chia seeds in the sorbet.

I’ll post more about the plant-based camp tomorrow.