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Julie Kelly's Blog

Another Super Bowl Sunday, another big game without the Bears. It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since the McMahon-Payton-Hampton-Perry team that did the Super Bowl shuffle all the way to New Orleans. I was a high school senior in Naperville….I remember driving to pick up a friend at halftime to come back to a party with me and the streets were completely empty. That was such a great time in Chicago sports history.

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 if off to a great start for everyone.

We’ve been so lucky this winter, right? Thinking back to two years ago and that wretched winter filled with freezing temperatures, snow drifts and school closings, I feel like we deserve a mild start to the season for once.

But alas, we know it’s only a matter of time before the temps drop and the snow blows in. Then it’s time to hunker down and create some hearty soups.

Here are two of my favorite soup recipes – Chicken Tortilla and White Bean/Vegetable (my easier version of ribolitta). Both are tasty remedies for the wintertime blues. Soups taste better a day or two after preparation as the flavors truly combine so don’t be afraid to make a double-batch and enjoy for a few days.

I have a class planned for the last week of January, so I hope to see some of you soon!

Christmas dinner (either Eve or Night) is often the most luxurious home-cooked meal of the year; one mom told me recently that it’s only one of two occasions during the year when she uses her oven. After weeks of mall-hopping, present-wrapping, party-going and house-decorating, there is little energy or interest left to prepare an elegant dinner.

Thoughts of Christmas tree-shaped pizzas dance in your head. But you will never live that down, so better get your holiday groove on one last time.

Here’s an elegant Christmas dinner menu that’s only moderately challenging to prepare. Serve the salad cups first then the rib roast, scalloped potatoes and asparagus as the entrée. You can make a horseradish cream sauce to serve with the roast and some popovers if you’re feeling ambitious!

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Cooking with squash is a little bit like parenthood – it’s a lot of work, somewhat dangerous and frustrating but the end result can be delightful and rewarding.

Tackling a gourd is not for the faint-of-heart, which is why most people prefer to use them for a Thanksgiving centerpiece instead of for dinner. If not for the many health benefits – and the versatility – I’d agree with relegating squash to the Halloween haystack. But adventure is part of your culinary approach, right? So now is the time to master the gourd.

Gourds like butternut squash are actually a fruit, so it lends itself to many different preparations. One of my favorite ways to eat acorn squash is to slice in half and roast with butter and brown sugar. This is a great way to get kids to eat it.

As the media continue to burnish the “good health” halo of the organic industry, another new narrative is emerging–that “Big Ag” lobbyists are paying off lawmakers to advance their agenda while advocates of the poor, beleaguered organic industry are camped mournfully outside the Capitol in their compost-soiled overalls. The metamessage recalls the admonition ascribed to “Deep Throat,” reporter Bob Woodward’s confidential Watergate source: “Follow the money. Always follow the money.”

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The GMO-labeling movement — the latest cause célèbre of liberal elites — was dealt a major blow last week when Congress passed HR 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. The bill, sponsored by Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), prohibits states from mandating labels on products with genetically modified ingredients and creates a voluntary certification system at the USDA. “This bill, supported by over 400 groups that provide safe and affordable food for our world, will eliminate the state-by-state labeling patchwork that would serve to confuse consumers, stigmatize GMO crops, and raise food costs,” Pompeo said after the 275–150 vote on July 23. Forty-five Democrats voted in favor of the bill — including Marcia Fudge, Sheila Jackson Lee, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus — over concerns that labeling would mean higher costs to their constituents. The bill now needs a Democratic co-sponsor in the Senate.

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It’s that time of the season when the little basil plant you purchased a month ago now threatens to overtake your patio and make the side of your house look like the outfield wall at Wrigley Field. Making pesto is a great way to use abundant herbs like basil. Like so many yummy sauces, pesto originated in Italy and is the essence of simplistic, authentic cooking. By incorporating just a few basic ingredients like herbs, cheese, nuts and olive oil, you can create a flavor-packed mixture with endless culinary purposes. While basil pesto is the most popular version, you can experiment with other herbs and greens such as mint, spinach and arugula.


My family and I just returned from a two-week vacation on the East Coast. We rented a home near the beach and hosted a rotating guest list of family, friends and teenagers (thank God you can start drinking early on vacation. Like really early).

One evening, we were expecting a larger group - about 15 people – and since no one wanted to slave over the grill cooking steaks or ribs, I decided to prepare one of my family’s seasonal favorites: Low Country Boil.

I live in a fairly typical suburb outside of Chicago – about 50,000 people, lots of families, good schools and many strip malls. From Target to Starbucks to PF Changs, I can pretty much be anywhere in less than five minutes.

One strip mall houses three of my (former) favorite places: Orange Theory Fitness, Chipotle and Whole Foods. I could squeeze in my work-out, shop at Whole Foods to pick up food for dinner and treat myself to Chipotle about once a week for lunch (eating twice as many calories as I worked off). As a cooking teacher, I shopped at Whole Foods a few times a week. Chipotle was hands-down my daughters’ favorite fast food restaurant; if we had an evening when there wasn’t time to make dinner, it was always their first choice. It was also our go-to place on Saturday afternoon if Friday night had been particularly festive.

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As Congress considers changes to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), one little-known section of the law is expected to sharply increase the number of students receiving free lunch (and breakfast) over the next several years. This includes taxpayer-funded meals for students who would not have previously qualified under the old rules.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows entire school districts, rather than individual families, to qualify for subsidized meals. This is a stark departure from how the program has been administered over the last 70 years, when families needed to prove financial need. Now, all students in a school district are eligible if more than 40 percent are low-income. So even if only half of the students actually qualify, every single student will receive a free breakfast and lunch each day.

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Brine before it’s time (to grill)

Few summer entrées look more enticing than barbecued chicken; this was my favorite summertime food as a kid. But more often than not, the glossy, caramelized exterior disguises a bland, dry interior.

Low-fat proteins like chicken breasts and pork tenderloins are tricky items to grill properly. The combination of low fat content and high, dry heat can be a prescription for dinnertime disappointment. And no amount of Sweet Baby Ray’s can mask overcooked, dry chicken meat.

I’ve had some time to reflect on the March Against Monsanto two weekends ago. I almost feel sorry for the protesters I had come to counter-protest in downtown Chicago. They were an odd collection of characters: aging hippies, ragtag Millennials wearing gas masks and granola-ish mommies with children dressed in bee costumes (honeybees are the new spotted owl).

Transport them back to any given decade – 60s anti-war demonstrations, 80s nuclear war protests or 2000s Occupy Wall Street – you’ll find a strong resemblance, like a counterculture family reunion. Irony was lost on the picketers carrying signs about poisoned food or mothers claiming to protect their children while standing next to guys wearing profanity-laced T-shirts and screaming epithets at us.

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Skirt steak is one of the most adaptable cuts of beef; it can be grilled, broiled, braised or featured in fajitas and stir fry. It’s a dense meat – my youngest daughter calls it “chewy steak – and very popular in my household (both my girls prefer skirt steak to any other cut.) 

GUEST POST WRITTEN BYJulie Kelly and Jeff Stier

Ms. Kelly is a cooking instructor and food writer. Mr. Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Don’t let his bespectacled, mild-manner fool you: Mark Bittman is the foodie version of a war-monger.

“There’s a war here,” the New York Times columnist proclaimed at a food conference last year. His battle is America’s next social justice crusade much like civil rights and suffrage. But this time, the oppressors are McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Monsanto. From soda to sugar to meat, Bittman has declared war on nearly every ingredient in the American food system.

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This weekend is the official kick-off to a summer season filled with pool parties, graduation celebrations and last-minute neighborhood gatherings. Most people prefer to nosh on a few tasty appetizers rather than a big dinner on a hot night. Today’s post includes some of my favorite summer bites, including an artichoke fritter that can be frozen either before or after the frying process and ready-to-go when needed.

Gary Hirshberg is a bit selective when it comes to transparency and labeling food and ingredients…at least when it applies to his own products.

In a televised interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, Hirshberg–the chairman of Stonyfield Organic and funder of the anti-GMO, pro-labeling Just Label It organization–was asked by a reporter why the company doesn’t give more information about the ‘natural flavor’ ingredient listed on its yoghurt containers.

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Easy, healthy and delicious: Oven-roasted vegetables

Like most of us raised during the 70s and 80s, I ate vegetables prepared in a few unappetizing ways: warmed up out of a can or frozen bag. Fresh vegetables were somewhat of a luxury. We ate corn, tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer; green beans were slow-cooked with bacon for hours into unrecognizable mush. I don’t recall ever eating asparagus or cauliflower.

I’m a suburban mom. I became an accidental activist when I uncovered a nefarious corporate/government scheme to poison my tap water and confiscate my property.

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GMO: Gimmicky Marketing Obfuscations

by Julie Kelly & Jeff Stier May 1, 2015 5:30 PM

Perhaps Chipotle should have learned from Starbucks.

From grocery stores to Mexican restaurants to coffee shops, do-gooder retailers are serving up a side of liberal politics with every purchase. Earlier this year, Starbucks had to ditch its “Race Together” promotion after backlash from customers who wanted to leave black and white to coffee and cream. Now Chipotle is the latest overpriced chain forced to backpedal: on its claim to “remove the few GMOs in our food so that our customers who choose to avoid them can enjoy eating at Chipotle.”

A woman emailed the other day in response to my column about SNAP (food stamps). She asked for suggestions about what to buy on a limited budget since she is a food stamp recipient herself (she sent the request via iPad, but that’s another issue.)

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"Julie, I really enjoyed your class and took way more away than I ever thought I would. I never in a million years thought a cooking class would make me excited to try new things!! So my hat's off to you. You are a great teacher and the recipes are so good!" 


Susie C., Orland Park