{You Pick Six} An Interview with Founder of Helen’s Kitchen Cooking School: Helen Rennie

Cooking School Founder Helen Rennie holds a raw chicken

A few weeks ago, I attended Amplify, an event in Boston hosted by Branchfood.

It showcased new local food companies and introduced them to retailers and media. I learned about some great products, that I hope to write about soon.

I also met a fellow food blogger whose blog, Beyond Salmon, was one of the first that I read when I first started blogging.  Helen Rennie has been blogging since 2005, so she is one of the first in the food blogging world. So it delights me to no end to welcome Helen to this blog! Now founder of Helen’s Kitchen Cooking School, let’s find out what she’s cooking up next in the 12th in the interview series, You Pick Six.

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Tell me about what you’re working on now?

I’ve been working on short cooking videos that focus on techniques.  They are all available on YouTube for free.  I started making them to help my students review the material they learn in my cooking and baking classes, but to my surprise and delight I’ve been getting comments from cooks all over the world.

What is a favorite cookbook?
Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.  Judy has always been a great inspiration to me and I was devastated when she passed away at a very young age due to cancer.  Her book is unique in many respects.  She is the only restaurant chef that I am aware of who wrote her book cover to cover without a shadow writer.  The level of detail is fabulous.  I am forever grateful to her editor for not cutting Judy’s wisdom out of this book.  Do you need five pages on how to roast a chicken?  Absolutely! Although the zuni roast chicken is great, the real gem of this book is Judy’s advice to salt all your proteins a day ahead.  It makes everything so juicy — just like brining without the mess of a bucket.
What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
This is not the best life advice, but it’s the best advice all home bakers need to hear: weigh all ingredients for baking.  I am a cook by nature.  I taste and adjust.  Baking was a challenge.  My pie crust cracked, my cakes were dry, my breads were dense.  Then I got Rose Beranbaum’s book “The Bread Bible” and started using a scale.  It was like magic.  Everything worked!  It wasn’t just Rose’s recipes that worked, but all my old recipes that gave me trouble worked.  Flour is a powder and it’s compressible.  Measuring it with cups is unreliable.
What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
Doesn’t get any easier or tastier than seared scallops, though a microwave poached egg is fun too.
What do you think that most people don’t understand about food?
Food is a performing art 99% of the time, and a creative art (1% of the time).  I often hear in classes the following complaint, “I can’t cook because I am not creative.  I can’t figure out what goes with what.”  Then the students watch me cook and are surprised that most of the time I don’t add anything besides salt, lemon, and olive oil.  The reason food tastes good is the balance of salt and acidity, and controlling texture through how you apply heat.  It takes dedication, patience, and constant attention to detail, just like learning a musical instrument.  If you play the violin off key, it’s hard to listen no matter how passionately you play it.  If the cook gets the salt amount wrong, it’s hard to eat their dish no matter what amazing combination of local organic ingredients are in it.  I find that we have a lot of passion for food in the U.S. these days, but not enough skill either at home or in most restaurant kitchens.  But American food culture is in it’s infancy compared to Japan or France.  I am sure the skill will come with time.
What is a favorite food movie?
Ratatouille, of course!
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Thank you so much for participating Helen!

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Photos: Provided by Helen Rennie.


I Want This Commercial Turned Into A Movie

The first time I saw this commercial, I wanted to know what was next. Who is the wife? How do they meet? Was that a restaurant he was going into? What did he eat? 😋

Since Back to the Future day is now behind us, I’ve been thinking about time travel this week and was reminded of this ad. I can’t be the only one who was intrigued by this commercial. Wonder if there will be a follow-up?

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Image: YouTube

In Light of Venus in Retrograde ~ @CoherenceMovie

Sci-fi movies are a guilty pleasure. I love a good dinner party. And with the recent blue moon, Venus in retrograde, and Jupiter getting ready to move into my sign next week, I’m feeling like COHERENCE could be an interesting movie.

So after seeing the library promote it as a new movie title, I just put the DVD on hold.

On the night of an astronomical anomaly, eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality bending events. Part cerebral sci-fi and part relationship drama, COHERENCE is a tightly focused, intimately shot film that quickly ratchets up with tension and mystery.

Will I enjoy it or will it be another two hours of my life that I can’t get back? I’ll report back!

*Updated 8/13/2015* Happy to report that I loved this movie! I definitely recommend it. It’s not what you think it is and I’m not even sure it’s possible to really figure it out, but it’s fun trying and I survived another retrograde!

Binge-watching: Alpha House

Binge-watching Alpha HouseAre you binge-watching any shows right now? If you like political shows like House of Cards and Scandal, but you also appreciate smart comedy and satire, then you’ll probably love Alpha House. Someone told me about it a few months ago and it sounded so good that I wrote it down. It was the first time that I learned that Amazon Prime has original programming, similar to Netflix. Garry Trudeau, known for Doonesbury, created the series. He also writes and produces it.

Bill Murray makes frequent appearances and the series premiere opened with him. The cast members blow me away. John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Wanda Sykes, Cynthia Nixon, Amy Sedaris, Haley Joel “I see dead people” Osment, Matt Malloy, Mark Consuelos and more.

The main characters are four Republican Senators living together in one house in Washington, D.C. and is inspired by the real life living arrangements of some Democrats.

There are a ton of celebrity appearances and many actual politicians, like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator John McCain appear as themselves too. One thing that I like about Alpha House is that while the main characters are fictional, President Obama is referred to as the President. So it feels a bit more deeply based in reality than other shows.

G and I have been binge-watching the show and we both love it. As I mentioned last week, I’m doing a free trial of Amazon Prime, so we are streaming it free online. We watched Season 1 this week and are deep into Season 2. Hopefully there will be a Season 3, but I have not been able to find out. If you’re looking for something new to watch, I highly recommend Alpha House!

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Screenshot: Here & Now (WBUR)

Recently Watched: Rain

“Rain” is another DVD that I happened to find while at the library and recently watched. The movie is a coming of age story about a teenage black girl set against the beauty of the Bahamas. But the film shows its seedier side too.

Many years ago, I visited the Bahamas for a quick getaway and had the best time. This film takes us beyond the surface of what we can see on a vacation. According to an OnlineAthens article, “‘Rain’ is the first indigenous feature film produced entirely in the Bahamas.”

CCH Pounder plays a starring role and seeing her name on the credits assured me that this would be a good movie. Her character reminds me of the saying that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

“Rain” is the title of the film and the name of the main character as well. She is a budding athlete, but needs someone to help her develop into the person that she is meant to be. The movie takes us along for the ride.

What movies have you watched recently?