Senior Independent Study Project


What a great assignment! Two high school seniors, TJ and Ryan, asked me to mentor them on the last project of their high school careers: They wanted to learn to cook two simple meals, so that they could then videotape themselves preparing the foods.


I asked the guys to come up with the menus for the two meals, and we cooked each one on a different day. In the end, they came up with the main course and asked me for suggestions for the vegetable side dishes and dessert. This menu included Fried Rice (Chao Fan), Baby Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce, Steamed Pears, Chinese Almond Cookies and Lemonade.

Neither young man had ever tasted bok choy before. I asked them to describe it, and they struggled to find the words. I would say the bok choy had a mild, cabbage-like flavor; it was crisp but tender, bright emerald green and enrobed with a savory sauce. If we were to make this dish again, I would split the bok choy into quarters instead of halves, because the base of the heads was not quite cooked enough.


Baking for the County Fair

Wixson, Mary Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Winning a ribbon at the Montgomery County Fair for something you baked yourself is a highlight of some lucky young people’s summer. Chef Sheila fondly remembers her own childhood Fair competitions and would like to pass on the tradition to the generation coming up.

Again this year, Young Chefs is offering a special camp, Baking for the County Fair, on August 6-10. Each day we will not only prepare and eat lunch, we will also bake entries for the Fair. Families can deliver the entries themselves on Friday afternoon, August 10. If that’s not possible, Chef Sheila will help out.

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.