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.


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.

Valentine’s Menu

Happy Valentine's Day!

This week Young Chefs prepared Chicken Caesar Wraps,  Garlic Fries and  Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries  just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The adult chefs worried about how to prepare enough oven-roasted, garlicky potato wedges to give up to 20 cooking club members a sample. Would we be able to split five pounds of potatoes between two baking sheets in a single layer? Should we use aluminum foil, parchment paper or Silpat?

On Monday Chef Crye used aluminum foil but did not oil it, thinking that the potatoes had been tossed in plenty of oil. Mistake! The potatoes stuck to the foil, and it tore when the finished potatoes were scraped out.

On Tuesday she tried oiling teflon-coated baking sheets with similar results. The young people said that the potatoes tasted wonderful, but they looked like hash browns.

Here is Team Silver Spoon’s amusing menu:

Hash Drowns!
Hash browns, NOT Hash Drowns!

The consensus is: Line the baking sheets with aluminum foil, and oil it. Remove the “fries” with a silicone spatula, rather than a metal one.