if your kids are anything like mine…..

Because I am a health food educator and mom to two teenagers, people assume that my family eats healthy 24/7. I wish that would be the case but let’s debunk this myth☺
My family lives in the US of A and like any other family is more influenced by TV, commercials, videogames, peers, school, internet, billboards, smell of junk food stores, well anything besides mom. If we don’t change as a society our kids won’t change either and that’s why I really admire what the first lady is trying to do, even I must say I started my business a year before she came to the White House.
My kids like burgers and fries and full fat ice cream topped with junk like any other kid given the choice. How can we fix that?
Long ago, I realized that we can’t change it by force feeding them broccolis and cauliflowers. They will hate it and hate us too. So I started to change them marginally by teaching them how to make chocolate chip cookies only a bit healthier with no white sugar and with fewer and darker chocolate chips that have flavanoids. Adding a bit of flax seeds to them. They actually loved it.
Also, keep in mind that opening and closing the refrigerator is an epidemic of their generation. I think they do it when they don’t know what else to do with themselves. So the best tip I have for you is to have some ready washed and chopped veggies and fruits ready on a shelf they can see so when they open that door they have no choice but to go for them.
Empower them to make their dinner. If they like French fries, teach them how to make oven baked fries, which have less calories and actually they taste better too.
I have learned that peer environment works best for any type of learning. I have observed at my own camp that when kids are together they would even eat stones if the kid next to them tried it. My daughter has tried things like salsa, hummus, vegetable chili, zucchini pancakes and kale chips at camp, which she would have never had at home!!! And then she has a Eureka moment and screams: mommy I tried salsa and I really liked it.
If you have any other great idea, please share them with me at bibi@harvardcookingirl.com

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Is there a shortcut in cooking?

I am often asked this question and I have to say that I love shortcut myself because I live in America with two teenagers, a 24/7 job and lead a very busy life. Whenever I can use shortcuts and not compromise on taste I do so and I teach my tricks to others but when it comes to “Umami”- that deep and evasive flavor and intensity that every chef struggles to develop- there is magic involved and not so many shortcuts.

I always tell my customers if you go for Italian and as soon as you open the door of a restaurant and it reeks of garlic, run away! If you want Japanese and all you can smell is seaweeds, do the same.

Umami is achieving a flavor in the combination of a spoonfool that goes into your mouth that creates the “je ne sais quoi”, I can’t point out the flavor sensation.

It is tough to learn. I have trained Cordon Bleu Chefs who are solid bakers and know the basics of French or Italian soups, sauces, etc and can’t achieve Umami.

If you are well versed in spices and flavors and have the audacity to experiment and fail, or if had a grandmother like mine who was a magician in the kitchen, you have a palette that lends itself to taking on such an adventure.

That said, we are talking about shortcuts and a few things are considered “fairy dust” when it come to the kitchen. For me Saffron which is worth as much gold per ounce (you can google it) is one of those ingredients.  Recently I read that the Western world has finally caught up with Fennel Pollen and it brought a smile to my face because that’s exactly what I do when I want to put a twist on something. Fennel is a flavor booster. Yes ladies and gentlemen, don’t use MSG, use fennel pollen. Use saffron and even though expensive, a little goes a long way if you use high grade, really red saffron.

There are other shortcuts too but you have to first visit me at my store for San Diego’s Best Cooking:)

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Secret ingredient

Secret ingredient

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To yelp or not to yelp- that’s the question

When I started Harvard Cookin’ Girl- my cooking school in San Diego, I was genuinely interested to know what my customers (children and adults) are thinking about my offering, my service, open events, etc. I always engage my clients to make sure the expectations are met and that they walk out of here satisfied so that I have a return customer not a one time client.

Now two years into my business and with a retention rate envied by any business (not just cooking schools in San Diego), I know that my formula is right. I am the second attraction in La Jolla voted by tripadvisor and best ethnic food by San Diego Alist. My customer come back and refer me to friends, colleagues, family. They celebrate birthdays, have showers, birthday parties, corporate team building events, etc here. However, my 34 positive reviews from the same customers are filtered in Yelp and 3 bad reviews from members of the same family who went on a Jihad against me, are highlighted.

Yelp of course says that it is their “algorithm” who filters stuff but I don’t believe in this magical algorithm for a moment. I had all my positive reviews on screen until the day I refused to advertise with them. Even yelpers with many friends and reviews are blocked when they say something nice….believe you me, they are not related to me. No relative of mine lives in this town and none is yelper.

At first I let this ruin my life but now I laugh at it and I have learned to live as if yelp didn’t exist even though I know that people yelp me. Well, if the readers don’t realize that a certain category of customers are simply never pleased, then I better never have such customers. If they see through it, then I am here for them with open arms and if they don’t see that yelp is a business in need of advertisers to survive, well then I rest my case.

The point is, in the age of social media and the labyrinth you have to navigate in it, you may never do right by certain people who will hide behind the curtain of anonymity and use tools such as yelp to trash hard working business owners. I have even had people who would negotiate a price and bargain to write a review for you in return for a lower price. Who yelps them?

I have heard tons of business owners who have had the exact same experience and would love to hear consumers’ perspective on this issue.

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How Big is Too Big?

I was originally a customer here at HCG; I enjoyed my experience here so much that a few months ago I became an instructor here at the school, and now I am here every day. I am always reading and seeing on the news about how the school system in our country is constantly struggling to decrease class sizes to improve the quality of education and personal experience that each student has access to, and this got me thinking about what we do here during our classes.

At HCG we often host large events with 20+ attendees, but these events are usually centered around something like corporate team building, private parties, or large holiday gatherings. Normally, when people invite us to help them learn something about cooking, food, and healthy lifestyle, we try to keep our class sizes small; maybe 10 people. With an intimate educational and fun environment, like the one we have here at HCG, you actually get the opportunity to be part of the experience and really learn something.

With this thought, about a truly personal culinary experience, I was reading through a brochure from another San Diego area cooking school the other day, and I could not believe what I was reading! On a few a of the brochures’ class descriptions there were the words, “This course limited to 35 people.” 35 people! There were many other course descriptions that did not even have this “limiting factor”, which lead me to wonder would there be more than 35 in these other courses? How is one supposed to learn anything, much less participate, when you are sitting in a stadium equivalent lecture hall to learn about something so personal? I continued to read, even though I was already completely baffled by what I had already come across, and found out further that many of the courses this place was charging for were designed to sell the participants a product! Do they really charge you to learn about a product you have to buy? Needless to say, all of this research gave me a great insight into what we really have here at HCG.

All of this made me realize that at HCG people don’t only get a cooking class, they get a truly personal culinary experience. People come here because they can express themselves in the kitchen; they can be hands on or they can sit back watch and enjoy, and really learn something they can take home to their families and friends. This is what HCG is really all about, and what you won’t be able to find at any other place in San Diego; a place where people can come and learn, make friends, create memories, and enjoy the purity of the world of food, the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

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One Tapas Leads to Another

Last night Mediterranean Tapas was a hit! Through 6 dishes from throughout this region of the world we all experienced how delightful and simplistic the food and lifestyle can truly be. Each portion contributed to a complete meal that could really be called a dining experience. Our next scheduled event is Friday, March 23, and takes us half way around to the South American country of Peru, with three courses that are sure to bring the culture and history of this ancient world to your palate.

If your appetite is still calling for tapas, HCG has a real treat in store for you! Wednesday of next week will be Japanese Tapas Night, so give us a call or sign up online for some fantastic worldly flavors and joyful company. Looking forward to seeing you soon!

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Thanks to Volcano and Looking Forward to Tapas

HCG would like to send out a huge thank you to the HR team from Volcano for the fantastic event this past Wednesday. All of your exceptional Persian inspired dishes went off without a hitch, and the involved, connected, and friendly crowd from around the world made the night even more special. Thanks once again Volcano, you have a great team! Thanks Cole for submitting the great pictures

Tomorrow night, Thursday March 21 is Tapas Night here at HCG! Give us a call to reserve a spot to come join for an evening fun and great food from Spain, Italy, and France. Looking forward to seeing you here!

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