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.

2 Ways to Save on Cooking Camps and Classes


Cooking classes are expensive! Chef Sheila now offers two discounts:

  1. Referrals Write to her at crye4(at), and let her know you have referred someone for a cooking class or camp. When that youth submits a completed registration form, you will receive a $25 discount on your next class or summer cooking camp. Just think! If you refer 15 young people, and they all sign up, your week of cooking camp will be free!
  2. Family discounts Families will receive a 20% discount on their second (and third) child. The second child pays $300 for a week of camp or $60 for a 3-hour class.

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.


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.



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.


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.

Cooking camp memories, July 11-15 and July 18-22, 2016

Young people go to cooking camp because they either like to cook, or they would like to learn how to cook. The easiest way for the cooking teacher to find out their needs and wishes is to ask their parents via email in advance of the camp. By incorporating as many of their favorite foods as possible into the menus, I meet their needs and fulfill their wishes. This method of menu planning takes the guesswork out and gives the youth voice and choice–an important element in their engagement with the program.

Butterflied roast lemon chicken and potatoes
Butterflied roast lemon chicken and potatoes

Butterflying the chicken on the first day gave the campers a quick lesson on food safety–how to prevent cross contamination with raw meat juices, and how to use a food thermometer.

Photo by Megan Meinberg Photography



Before we started cooking each day, we talked about what we were going to make and what to make first, in order for all the dishes to be ready to eat when it was time for lunch.



One day, we visited the Crossroads Farmers Market and watched a culinary demonstration using a mezzaluna knife to prepare two kinds of salsa.



There were many colorful vegetables.


Another day we baked carrot cupcakes from Virginia Willis’ award-winning cookbook, Lighten Up Y’All!

Mounding the cooked rice pilaf onto a serving platter
Mounding the cooked rice pilaf onto a serving platter Photo by Megan Meinberg Photography

One of our campers during the first week is a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats fish), and so we provided a vegetarian alternative entree, like rice with lentils, from Food of Life, by Persian cookbook author, Najmieh Batmanglij. It was so delicious that I was glad there were leftovers!


During the second week, we experimented with a variety of frozen desserts. We even came up with our own simple and smooth version of fresh plum sherbet.

Matthew, our guide, passes around a 10-pound Guittard dark chocolate bar
Matthew, our guide, passes around a 10-pound Guittard dark chocolate bar

Luckily for the campers, we were able to visit Moorenko’s ice cream production facility, located nearby. The young people were impressed that Moorenko’s uses 3,000 pounds of ice cream mixture every week during the summer months. That’s a lot of ice cream, and they have over 100 flavors!

Photo by Megan Meinberg Photography

On the last day, we had a taco party, including soft and crispy corn tortillas, ground beef filling (picadillo), tempeh chorizo for our vegetarian camper, fresh salsa, refried beans and chocolate coconut sorbet. It was the ultimate challenge and test of the campers’ cooking abilities, and every dish was so good! I especially liked the refried beans. We melted queso fresco on top–yum!