Kitchen confidence: Cooking school gives home chefs next-level skills for the holidays

Tuesday, 14 November 2017, 11:31:37 PM. Maggie Norris started Whisked Away cooking school in 2009. Her classes, taught in her Phoenix home, teach you how to be more efficient in the kitchen.

Maggie Norris' students have jobs, families, busy lives. They don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen. But they still want to elevate their game, especially during the holiday season.

It's a Wednesday night and Maggie Norris is preparing to welcome another group of aspiring home cooks into her Phoenix home. Her spacious kitchen counter serves as a demo stage, covered with fresh tomatoes, unshucked corn, zucchini, cutting boards and a mishmash of knives. In the living room, seven chairs are set up, aprons draped over their backs, ready for tonight’s students.

This is Whisked Away, a cooking school Norris started in 2009. Her focus is on teaching cooking technique, so everything she demos can be replicated by students in their own kitchen at home

➤ JUMP TO: Holiday-cooking tips  |  Whiskey Away details, upcoming classes

Many of her students have jobs, families, busy lives. They don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen. But they still want to elevate their game, especially during the holiday season.

“My goal is for people to want to cook … so that their time in the kitchen is more efficient and not so daunting,” said Norris, who teaches holiday-centric classes such as Thanksgiving sides and seasonal desserts. 

Maggie Norris, left, demonstrates basic knife skills for Michelle Wong while Michael Lopez preps ingredients during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for amateur home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009.

Maggie Norris, left, demonstrates basic knife skills for Michelle Wong while Michael Lopez preps ingredients during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for amateur home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

On this night, Norris has created a menu that started with tomato-Manchego tartlets, an adorable appetizer and simple recipe for any holiday party; and finished with blueberry bread pudding, a satisfying, easy dessert for any potluck.

Students begin trickling in, bottles of wine in hand. This is one of her "girls" groups, including some of her first students, who encouraged Norris to start her business eight years ago.

The women settle in and catch up on life, pouring a glass and looking over the menu, which has been printed out for each of them to follow along.

➤ JUMP TO RECIPES: Tomato-Manchego Tartlet  |  Blueberry Bread Pudding  |  Gazpacho  |  Charred and Raw Corn with Chile and Cheese  |  Steak with Chile-Lime Chimichurri  |  Sprinkles' Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting

Michael Lopez cuts corn off the cob during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009.

Michael Lopez cuts corn off the cob during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Norris, 43, offers a variety of one-on-one and group classes. And it all started with a cooking class, except that Norris was the student.

It all started with a cooking class, except that Norris was the student.

She had just moved to Phoenix, an undergrad psychology degree in her pocket and her sights set on a doctorate in art therapy.

That’s when everything took a turn: She was given cooking classes as a gift and fell in love. At the time, she wasn’t married, didn’t have a family and realized that if she didn’t pursue this now, she might never get the chance.

Within six months, she was enrolled in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale.

 

“You think if you go into culinary, you’re going to be catering or working in a restaurant, and both of those are super tough,” said Norris, who has an 8-year-old daughter.

But her passion was in teaching others how to cook.

Maggie Norris peels skin off a cucumber during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009.

Maggie Norris peels skin off a cucumber during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Norris graduated at the top of her class, earning her the opportunity to do her externship at the Food Network in New York. She was a food stylist, helping with shows hosted by top celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse.

When she moved back to the Valley, life sped up. Before she knew it, Norris was juggling three nearly full-time jobs — selling appliances, getting her cooking school off the ground and taking care of a baby. 

“I was exhausted,” she said. “I was missing out on a lot of what was going on in my daughter’s life. I wasn’t giving 100 percent to either my sales job or Whisked Away. It was hard.”

So she took a chance, quit her job and began building her new school.

Busy parents learn to cook

Maggie Norris seasons top sirloin steaks with salt

Maggie Norris seasons top sirloin steaks with salt during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for amateur home chefs, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Norris was experiencing a common struggle for families with two working parents who are just too busy to sit down for a meal.

That tradition —  of family coming together over food — was an integral part of Norris' life growing up in Washington, D.C. In a city full of ethnic restaurants and a variety of cuisines, her own kitchen at home was filled with Southern cooking.

Her mother ran a catering business, which, ironically, Norris had no interest in at the time. Cornish game hen, couscous and roasted onions was one classic meal her mom would serve. The whole family would eat together in the dining room most nights.

Maggie Norris chops parsley during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009.

Maggie Norris chops parsley during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Norris cannot restore that tradition for today's busy families, but, as a cooking instructor, she can keep her students' time in the kitchen as efficient as possible.  

Carrie Liakos, a neighbor, was part of Norris' first class at Whisked Away. When she and other friends found out Norris was a chef, they asked her to teach them to cook for their families. 

““I’ve always wanted to appeal to my husband and kids through food, but I never was equipped. This has given me that.”

Carrie Liakos, on what Whisked Away cooking classes mean to her

Now, the group comes to a class three times in the fall and four in the spring. Liakos, a working mother of three, said these classes are sometimes her only time away.

“Growing up, my mom never taught me how to cook because she worked full time,” Liakos said. “I’ve always wanted to appeal to my husband and kids through food, but I never was equipped. This has given me that.”

Strapping on the aprons

Every cooking class at Whisked Away begins with a demonstration.

Norris walks her students through every step of the recipe: Rolling out the puff pastry, slicing the tomato, chopping the chives small for garnish, shucking the corn, chiffonading the basil.

Part of the appeal of her classes, Norris said, is that a growing number of people want to know where their food comes from, want to make dishes from scratch and want to use fresh, local ingredients.

Maggie Norris, left, assists Berkeley Lopez during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009.

Maggie Norris, left, assists Berkeley Lopez during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

“Do you use organic herbs?” one student asks.

“Do you keep berries and grapes in their container or a separate bowl in the fridge?” another asks. “Should I rinse them first?”

Many students make notes on their recipe sheets as they go. They’ll add these to their recipe books at home and come back to them in later weeks.

As Norris finishes her instructions, the women pair off and split up, each cooking the appetizer, main course or dessert. They grab their aprons and start cooking.

After cooking, the group will sit down in the dining room and enjoy the meal they’re prepared.

Now, Liakos no longer feels intimidated as a home chef. Neither does Terah Nassos, a stay-at-home mother of two. 

“It’s given me the confidence to try new things in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes,” she said.

Charred corn is made during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009.

Charred corn is made during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)


About Whisked Away  

Private classes can be anything from a team-building event to a bachelorette party.

Pricing for a private group of up to four starts at $340, with an additional cost of $40 per person, up to eight people.

Students are always aware of the menu before they come to a class; for private classes, they can choose their own menu.

Upcoming classes include: 

  • Thanksgiving sides: 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 15. 
  • Seasonal desserts: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 18.
  • Parent/child baking class: 1-4 p.m. Nov. 25 and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 16. 
  • Friday night foodies: 6-9 p.m. Dec. 8.
  • Holiday sides: 6-9 p.m. Dec. 19.

Details: 480-330-6525, whiskedaway.net.


8 holiday-cooking tips for home chefs

From Maggie Norris

Thanksgiving is about family and friends. Of course, the food is important, but you want to enjoy the time with your loved ones instead of being stressed and stuck in the kitchen.

Friends won't mind helping clean up after the meal.

Friends won't mind helping clean up after the meal. (Photo: Thomas Northcut/Getty Images)

  1. Grocery shop early: Avoid the last minute crowds and get your nonperishable items two weeks or more ahead of time.
     
  2. Do your prep ahead of time: Most people don’t realize how much can be done up to a few days before Turkey Day. Cut your potatoes the day before and put them in a pot of cold water in the fridge. Most of your casseroles, stuffings and dressings can be made the day before and reheated the day of. Desserts can be made the day before. Salads can be prepped the day before and assembled just before serving. Homemade cranberry sauce can be made a few days ahead of time.
     
  3. Don’t try a new recipe on game day: If you want to introduce a new dish to your Thanksgiving repertoire, great. Just test it well in advance so you are not stressing the day of if it doesn’t turn out.
     
  4. Set the table a day or two ahead of time or delegate it to the children: This won’t work in some households, but if you can get your table set early, it is one less thing you will have to do the day of.
     
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in the kitchen: Your guests (who are most likely close friends and family) will be happy to take something out of the oven, fill the water glasses, clear the table, clean dishes, etc. 
     
  6. Make it potluck: The load becomes a lot lighter if everyone is assigned a dish or beverage to bring. Just make sure you know what people are bringing so there is enough room in the fridge and oven to store and heat up dishes.
     
  7. Don’t underestimate the power of foil: Timing the food to come out at the same time is a struggle for everyone. Foil can keep things hot for quite a while.
     
  8. Take time to remember what the day is all about: It's not about a perfectly set table or a super-flaky crust. It's about being thankful and enjoying those closest to you.

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RECIPES


Tomato-Manchego Tartlet

Servings: 24 tartlets (8-10 servings).

From Marian Copper-Cairns

For this recipe, you will need four small to medium tomatoes.

For this recipe, you will need four small to medium tomatoes. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ingredients:

  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry (from one 17.3-ounce package), thawed
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 ounces Manchego cheese, grated (about ¾ cup)
  • 4 small to medium tomatoes, sliced into 24 slices
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Chopped chives, for garnish

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a floured work surface, roll puff pastry into two 10-inch-by-13-inch rectangles. Cut 24 rounds using a 3-inch cookie cutter. Prick rounds all over with a fork. Arrange on prepared baking sheets. Freeze 10 minutes.

Dab the center of each pastry with mustard and sprinkle with cheese, dividing evenly. Top with tomato slices and brush with oil, dividing evenly. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through, until pastry is golden brown, about 28-32 minutes. Cool completely on the sheets on a wire rack.


Blueberry Bread Pudding

Servings: 10-12.

From Maggie Norris

You'll need two cups to make blueberry bread pudding.

You'll need two cups to make blueberry bread pudding. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups half and half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 
  • 1 day-old baguette (1 pound), cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 5 ounces white chocolate, broken into 1-inch chunks (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

Preparation: 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 13-inch-by-9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk the milk with the vanilla. Add the bread, submerge it in the milk and let stand for 5 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add to the soaked bread and stir; fold in the blueberries. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and poke the chocolate halfway into the pudding. Dot the pudding evenly with the butter and bake for 45 minutes, or until the pudding is browned and crisp.  Let stand for 10 minutes.


Gazpacho

Servings: 12.

From Maggie Norris, adapted from Andrew Zimmern

A bowl of gazpacho is shown during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009.

A bowl of gazpacho is shown during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for home chefs, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Ingredients:

  • 10 Roma tomatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled and seeded
  • 2 cucumbers (about 1 pound), peeled, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley, plus whole leaves for garnish
  • 1 bunch basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Tabasco
  • 1 46-ounce jar tomato juice
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper/li>

Preparation:

In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the cucumbers, bell pepper, onion, garlic, chopped parsley, fresh basil, dried oregano, olive oil, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and Tabasco.

In a blender, puree the mixture in batches until nearly smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the tomato juice and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the gazpacho for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Season the soup again if necessary and transfer to bowls.


Charred and Raw Corn with Chile and Cheese

Servings: 4.

From Maggie Norris, adapted from Alison Roman

Charred and raw corn with chile and cheese is shown

Charred and raw corn with chile and cheese is shown during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for amateur home chefs, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Ingredients:f

  • 4 ears of corn, husked
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • ½ Fresno chile, thinly sliced into rings
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces fresh queso fresco, crumbled
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Preparation: 

Prepare grill for medium heat. Cut kernels from 1 corn cob and toss with shallot, chile, and lime juice in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Brush remaining 3 ears of corn with 2 tablespoons oil and grill, turning occasionally, until very tender and charred in spots, 5-10 minutes. Let cool.

Cut kernels from cobs and add to reserved corn mixture along with cheese, cilantro and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Toss to combine; season with salt and pepper.


Steak with Chile-Lime Chimichurri

Servings: 4.

From Laureen Pittman

Grilled top sirloin steak with chimichurri sauce is

Grilled top sirloin steak with chimichurri sauce is shown during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for amateur home chefs, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • ¾ cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • ¼ medium red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobe sauce
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon grated lime peel
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper, divided
  • 2 beef top sirloin steaks (1 pound each)

Preparation:

For chimichurri, place the first five ingredients in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Add oil, vinegar, lime peel, lime juice, oregano, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper; process until blended. Transfer to a bowl; refrigerate, covered, until serving.

Sprinkle steaks with the remaining salt and pepper. Grill, covered, over medium heat 5-8 minutes on each side or until meat reaches desired doneness (for medium-rare, a thermometer should read 125 degrees). Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve with chimichurri.


Sprinkles' Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting

Servings: 12.

From Candace Nelson

Strawberry cupcakes are shown during a private class

Strawberry cupcakes are shown during a private class at Whisked Away, a cooking school for amateur home chefs, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 in Phoenix. Maggie Norris has been teaching the classes from her home since 2009. (Photo: Sean Logan/The Republic)

Ingredients:

CUPCAKES:

  • ⅔ cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ¼ cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.

Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about ⅓ cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla and strawberry puree; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffins cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, about 22-25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

FROSTING:

  • ½ cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 3½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation:

Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the electric mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment), beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners' sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.

MORE HOLIDAY RECIPES & COOKING:

 

 

 

 

 

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