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.

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 www.choosemyplate.gov 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.