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.


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.

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:











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.



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!

Getting ready for cooking camp

Chef Sheila, Ladybug and Holly
Chef Sheila, Ladybug and Holly

Everybody at our house is getting excited, anticipating lots of fun during the coming weeks of cooking camp.

That includes Ladybug, our 9-month-old cavachon puppy and Holly, our almost 10-year-old golden retriever. Cavachons are a mix between a cavalier King Charles spaniel and a bichon frisee. Our Ladybug loves everyone, especially normally shy and retiring neighbors, whom she coaxes into giving her pats and tummy rubs.

If you are planning to attend cooking camp but do not like dogs or are allergic, no worries! Our dynamic duo will happily camp out with my husband in his office during camp hours.



Fresh start to Chef Sheila’s log


Hello my friends,

Until now, I have not made regular posts, because I was unclear to whom I was writing. Now I know: It’s you, who want to know more about cooking at home. You could be a child or young person, or you could be a parent or adult cooking teacher. I am happy to help you however I can.

I plan to share an idea, a recipe or a story a few times a week, not to overburden you with reading material, but instead to give you an opportunity to get acquainted gradually with my teaching methods and family favorite recipes. If you reach out and post a comment, I will respond. My hope is that like other social media, this blog will create an opportunity to exchange ideas and develop friendships.

By the way, the photo above was taken last week by photographer Megan Meinberg in my home kitchen classroom.


Sweetheart Special

For years I have taught ‘tweens home cooking skills in after-school programs and summer cooking camps. Once I provided a series of Saturday classes for military families–parent/child partner teams had a blast cooking and dining together.

Now I think it would be fun to share culinary skills with adults, too. Nutritionist Kay Loughrey and I will provide a simple but elegant luncheon class that you’ll want to repeat for your own special occasion dinner parties.

Click on Sweetheart Special Info & Menu for all the details.

Real Food for Kids Recipe Contest

Chef Crye drove through a snowstorm to attend a cook-off at the Williams-Sonoma store at Mazza Gallerie in Chevy Chase. It was the first round of the KIDS COOK Original Recipe and Cooking Competition!

The contest is a collaborative effort of Real Food for Kids and Williams-Sonoma. Metropolitan Washington 4th-8th graders were encouraged to use their creativity to invent delicious dishes using fresh ingredients and following the guidelines.

Making Topping

This girl demonstrated how to make a mixed nut, raisin and brown sugar topping.

Pear & Goat Cheese Salad

This girl showed how to make a baked pear and goat cheese/dried cranberry salad.

Breakfast Burrito

This girl demonstrated her family’s favorite breakfast burrito.

Thai Shrimp

This girl prepared a Thai-style shrimp and noodle dish–and she made her own oyster sauce!

Kids’ cookbook author Nevin Martell asked the contestants questions as they cooked. Culinary expert Katherine Newell Smith led the judging, which was based on taste, appearance, presentation, originality and nutrition.

The Winner!

Guess who won Round One? It was the second girl from the left, who made the Thai shrimp and noodle dish. She and three friends will receive a private cooking lesson at Williams-Sonoma. Her recipe will be sampled at the Mazza Gallerie store on Feb. 27-29. All the contestants received Williams-Sonoma gift bags.

On to Round Two on Feb. 28 at the Clarendon Williams-Sonoma store–what fun!

Welcome Chinese New Year with Lucky Dumplings

Chinese people like to eat lucky foods on New Years Day. One of them is dumplings, because they look like gold or silver ingots. To be really lucky, make your dumplings with lots of pleats, and arrange them in lines, rather than (bad luck) circles. Circles are interpreted to mean that your life will go in circles, and you won’t go anywhere.

Young Chefs followed our friend Pat Tanumihardja’s recipe from her cookbook, “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens.  We tried making the dumpling dough, and we also tried round dumpling wrappers available in the freezer case of Asian markets. Both were delicious!


Enthusiastic student chef literally ‘dives into’ making dumpling dough from scratch during her Young Chefs Cooking Club class.


Young Chef student chefs practice the dumpling pleating technique.


Student chefs arrange dumplings in a skillet in preparation for the steam-fry cooking technique.