Market Chef : Julie Merry

September 24, 2012 |  by  |  Chef Demos

In the hotseat this week, we’ve got Julie Merry! With a Bachelors in Nutrition and a culinary degree from Western Culinary Insitute, Julie Merry is one well-rounded lady. Since opening her buisness, the Merry Kitchen, in 2007, she’s been spending her days teaching children and teens one of lifes’ most important lessons ; how to cook! Come see her at the Market this coming Sunday, Sept 30th, for a freebie lesson at the Chef Demo table! From 10:30 – 1pm Julie will be doing totally hands-on cooking with kids, so definitely bring the little ones!

So, tell me a bit about what you do? What role does food play in your life?

I teach kids to cook out of my home in Northeast Portland. I started the Merry Kitchen in the summer of 2007. In each class, we cook a meal from scratch, kids eat at the end and they get to take the recipes home! The classes themselves are generally about 2 hours long, and it’s all very hands on — the kids are actually chopping, measuring, mixing, rolling out dough, etc. I consider myself the “director”, my job is to make sure things are going as planned. If something ever goes wrong, as so often happens in the kitchen, we learn how to fix it together. (editors’ note : Julie doesn’t mention it, but the classes are super affordable too! Just $35 for a 2-hour class!)

What brought you to this work? Why is food so important to you?
So many kids today don’t know how to cook because their parents are too busy, or their own parents don’t know how to cook either. Many of the kids come to be because they’ve watched a lot of Food Network or something similar they are just dying to do something hands on. There aren’t many year-round kids’ cooking classes here in Portland and I really love love having the opportunity to teach this lifelong skill. I have kids come from all over, even Eugene, Salem, Camas, Ridgefield and the coast!

What are some of your earliest food memories? When did you first know that food would be so important in your life ?
I used to cook sweets with my mom. There were five of us kids, so we each were in charge of the dinner menu one day a week during the summer. She would make a list of entrees, veggies, starches and other side dishes and then we would put our  meal together by choosing from her lists. We’d help prepare it as well. My college degree is in Nutrition, and I loved our work in the food lab – I knew I wanted to work with food in my daily life, I found the science of it fascinating, too. During that time, I worked as a nanny for 4 kids. They had never so much as made Christmas cookies with their mom, so a light bulb went off. I decided to go to culinary school in Portland after college to lay the foundation for basic cooking skills I may have missed growing up.

What do you cook with you cook for your family/friends? What do you cook when you cook for just yourself?
I like quick and healthy cooking when I cook with my friends/family and also for myself. I like to grill fish, chicken or steak with a simple rub or marinade, then add grilled veggies or saute something in season on the stove. I actually don’t have time to cook much on my own since I teach so many classes.

What are your hopes for the future of the food culture in this country? In Portland? What are we doing right, what needs to change?
I like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, the idea of changing the food that children are fed in public schools. I do think they need to add back some sort of culinary option in high schools, at least.  Home Economics isn’t an option any more at most schools these days, and I hear a lot of parents complain about that. I know it’s probably not in the funding, but for parents who can’t afford to have their kids take weekend cooking classes year round, it would be easier for them to have it offered at schools again.

I love that a lot of Portland Public Schools have gardens. I think that’s brilliant! A lot of the kids who come to me know about composting, and even seasonality and growing seasons. I applaud Portland for making that part of the school curriculum. Kids need to know where food comes from.

Growing Gardens is another brilliant non-profit doing a great deed for low-income families. They go into low-income areas (even apartments) and teach people how to grow their own food.

If you don’t mind, would you share a recipe with us?

This quiche recipe is a great to get those veggies in! Throw whatever vegetable and cheese is in your fridge – it’s a very versatile recipe.

Asparagus & Broccoli Quiche

4 asparagus spears, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
½ cup broccoli, chopped into small bite-sized pieces
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch fresh grated nutmeg
½ cup gruyere cheese, shredded
4 ounces deli-style baked ham, cut into ¼ -inch dice, optional
1 9-inch partially baked pie shell (warm), baked until light golden brown

Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Blanch asparagus and broccoli in 1 quart salted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk all remaining ingredients except cheese and ham in medium bowl.

Spread asparagus, broccoli, cheese and ham evenly over bottom of warm pie shell and set shell on oven rack. Pour in custard mixture to 1/2-inch below crust rim. Bake until lightly golden brown and a knife blade inserted about one inch from the edge comes out clean, and center feels set but soft like gelatin, 32 to 35 minutes. Transfer quiche to rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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