The BEST way to spread Christmas Cheer…

…is singing loud for all to hear!

Watch my video first and then I’ll give you all the juicy details that went into the making of…

So. Where to begin? I only watched the Sing Off because I graduated from the University of Delaware and knew some of the Deltones that were on the show! So proud of them, what an honor to have been talented enough to be chosen! I don’t usually enjoy reality TV music competitions, but these judges actually knew what they were talking about, and the second I heard Pentatonix, my mom and I looked at each other, jaws dropped, and said “they’re going to win!!!” At that moment, I was hooked.

I do love PTX and I tell everyone about them.  And my video was absolutely meant to be a form of flattery. I think they are all incredibly talented musicians/arrangers and are bringing a new level to the a cappella genre.  They make it “cool” and my younger cousins and young music students are picking up on it and LOVE it.  They cover so many different genres. They’ve covered rap songs and then go write beautiful 5 part a cappella hymns.  I have been to 2 of their concerts and both times I noticed how incredible it is that you scope the audience and see 5 year olds… to 95 year olds.  They reach an audience that no one else is reaching.  It’s unreal. That’s why I know they’re going to last for a looong time. If not for their ridiculously catchy beats, luscious harmonies and individual flair, my cousins would only have Miley and Robin Thicke as role models. Not cool! I’m so happy they have a group to be just as obsessed with as I was with N’SYNC.  Same story, all talented musicians who wrote and sang real music.  Not that there aren’t talented musicians out there right now…  but, when you look at the current face of pop music, you certainly see a lot of people who are clearly auto tuned and just faces with a name, not musicians.

I bought tickets to one of their first shows on their tour at BB Kings in Times Square. Then I moved to the city, and happened to get a job there.  Needless to say I totally fan girl-ed when I met them backstage. (Not to mention, 3 of my managers watching this interaction who then didn’t let me live it down for a few days.) PTX was so humble and sweet and I’m thrilled I had the chance to meet them before they became so so sooo famous.

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Besides the instrumental and vocal musical gifts passed down to me from my very musically talented parents, I’ve always had an ear for harmony.  I naturally hear the harmony before the melody.  Pretty sure some of my friends get annoyed when I sing harmony to the radio, but the others love when we harmonize together! And I think picking out the 5 different harmonies in NSYNC’s songs, most especially their a cappella “O Holy Night”, helped me hone that talent. I remember going to sleep at night, cuddled up with my N’SYNC blanket and pillow and my little blue sony walkman, blasting that song in my ears and trying to follow their individual lines to find the harmonies. And sometimes… it wasn’t even in December. 🙂 So good. If you haven’t heard it, watch it here!

Last year when PTX’s Christmas EP came out, I was living in New York City.  I was freezing my butt off with that wind whipping around the buildings, so I would put my headphones in and blast it as I walked through the hustle and bustle.  I repeatedly thought, “Hey, this would be an awesome music video!”.  And then I thought, “Heeeyyyy, I can actually sing Avi’s bass part…”.  So a few weeks ago, I decided to start using garageband on my mac to record the parts and see what it sounded like.  It sounded okay, but not great because my little mac speakers couldn’t handle what I was trying to do. The parts were not distinguishable.  So I called my friend, Jason, who loves recording, and he so graciously made time in his very busy schedule to help me out!  When all the vocals were recorded, he kept trying to show me electronic noises to make a beat box.  I kept saying, no, because I wanted to keep it all natural and all me.  I didn’t want anyone to say, “well, if the rhythm is fake, then the bass must be fake too!”  Oh no no no, I did not want that.  I finally said, here’s what I can do… I like to call it “lip popping”, definitely not beat boxing.  It sounded pretty decent in the microphone so we kept it and it actually worked!  I said to Jason, “How do you think it sounds?”  His reply, “Like a white girl trying to beat box…”.  Haha!  Hey, I did the best I could and I think it came out pretty darn good! I didn’t think there was going to be any rhythm section at all!

Next came the video taping. First, my cousin Anjelika came to help me make a video…

and after that we went to the local dog park that has a running stream to take some clips. We were frozen. I couldn’t feel my fingers.  I brought my flute but could hardly play it because I was so cold! Since we were at the dog park, random dogs would run over to us and run in the stream, then come out soaking wet.  Luckily, none of them decided to shake off the water onto my camera! Wouldn’t you think someone sees a camera, a tripod and expensive equipment, that they would call their dog back to them, not let him slobber all over me? I know I’m in a dog park and I totally love dogs, but come on!

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A few days later, it snowed. A lot. And I thought, “wow, this would be so perfect and picturesque”! My white gloves were missing.  Oh no! Now I have nothing to match my white scarf!  So no gloves, equals more frozen-ness. Mom and I went outside and shot a bunch of clips.  Then she got cold and went in and I stayed out and used the tripod for some still shots.  The frozen-ness was soooo worth it because the clips came out beautifully!  The snow could not have been more cooperative. Giacomo Poochini on the other hand, is a pansy and such an inside dog and definitely not cooperative in the snow.  (He’s the mini poodle. You can see he was far more willing to help me out when there wasn’t snow on the ground.)  Then there’s Cosmo, the wire fox terrier who LOVES snow.  He will stay outside, eat it and run in it until his fur is a giant coat of icicles.  You have to force him to go inside. So he cooperated nicely running in the snow for me!

Then, I sat in front of my tree, and video taped myself singing all the parts.  Wanna know why some lighting is different?  Because when I was close up to the camera, I was using my cell phone for a direct light on my face! Duh, isn’t that how everyone creates lighting? (I reeeeeally need to invest in lighting.)

Did you notice I wore a different shirt for every part?  Red was Mitch, dark blue was Kirstie, white was Avi, light blue was Kevin and green was Scott.  Did you catch the signs of “peace” and “joy”? Spot the Rudolph ornaments on our tree at 1:31? We love Rudolph in our house!

At 2:05 is my second favorite clip.  (The first being at :59 for my lip poppin’ lips.)  I am very close friends with lots of dancers and one of them recently taught me how to spot when you spin so you don’t want to die from dizziness.  I concentrated on one spot in the sky and was able to finally spin in a circle without getting dizzy! Ended up with a bunch of outtakes, one of those, you can see in the outtake video – ha!

One morning, I woke up and flew out of bed with this thought… “OMG how can I tie in flute and oboe?!”  I tried adding some to the recording I made in garageband.  It sounded terrible. Then it hit me, that it would be beautiful by itself, instead of together with the voices!  And how nice it would be to start and end it instrumentally! And that’s how that idea was born.

My brother Nick helped me record the clips of flute and oboe.  He did some awesome camera angles! He’s also very musically gifted, he helped me with my Chef Stef theme song, that you heard at the very end of the video when the credits were rolling!  He played guitar, helped me perfect it and then helped me record it.  Good thing we did that before I recorded this song with Jason. It helped me get the giggles out.  I’ve never recorded something where I can hear myself in headphones while I try to record another part.  I had a serious case of the giggles that day with Nick! It’s weird to hear your voice on a camera, it’s even weirder to hear it in your head through expensive headphones so it feels like it’s echoing throughout your brain!

After downloading about 2 and a half hours of footage onto my iMovie, I began the most time consuming task of piecing it all together.  I basically edited for 2 days straight, and a few hours the final day.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  Matching the lips to the music wasn’t even the most difficult part.  It was just scrolling through all those clips and deciding what to use where! But that’s the kind of work I love the most, so bring it on!  I’m thinking of starting a production company for making videos for theatre companies and businesses… what do you all think?

I got my editing skillz from my dad.  He taught me at a young age how to use iMovie.  I’ve been making and editing movies since I was 13.  Got my musical skillz from my parents, and from generations before them!  My parents both went to Manhattan School of Music. I went to the University of Delaware and came out with a masters degree in oboe performance.  I did start playing flute before oboe, back in 4th grade. Someone recommended if I wanted scholarship money for college I should switch to a double reed and boy was he right!  (Free masters degree, anyone?) Seriously, if you’re thinking of switching, do it, because colleges are always looking for double reed players!! We are a very rare commodity and highly valuable to any school, even if you don’t want to major in music!

The wink at the end was obviously in there to tie it to Chef Stef! 🙂

Phew!  I think that’s it!  Super long, but hey, if you wanted to know all the details and the behind the scenes of how this video came to life, there ya go!  Have a VERY happy holiday and please, please, plllllease share it!!! It already has 820 views, and it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for SO many of YOU sharing it!! Thank you so much!! ❤

Keep it classy,

Chef Stef

Baked Brie…to die for

AHHHH MY 20TH VIDEO!!!

My aunt has been calling Anjelika “baby steffie” since she was born! She’s the sister I never had! I always wanted a baby sister, but instead, I got a brother… (no offense, Nick, you know I love you too)

Anjelika has always loved cooking and baking but had limited knowledge since she’s only 15 and I’m thrilled that she has been learning so much with my videos !  (My aunt is thrilled too…always nice to have another cook in the house!) I’m sure she will guest star in another video soon.

So I picked her up and we got all ready to match with our white buttondowns and pearls! We blew out our hair and did our make up.  It was so much fun! Love my mini me!

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(pic from my birthday this year)

Anyyyyywaayyyyy so back to the brie..

I LOVE brie.  It’s always been my favorite cheese.  Especially the rind.  Yum, yum, yum.  I remember having baked brie at someone’s house when I was younger, loving it and thinking, “this is fancy and must be difficult.”  We don’t usually make it in my family.  For holidays, we usually just buy a wheel and put it on the table.  This past Thanksgiving, I decided we needed some baked brie.  I couldn’t believe how simple it was when I realized how to make it!  You can even prepare it earlier and bake it when you need it so it’s a time saver.

Go to the grocery and buy:

Any size brie (we used an 8 ounce wheel)

A jar or raspberry or blueberry jelly (we bought a 10 oz jar and used about half of it)

Puff pastry (you can find in the frozen food section, the package has 2, you only use 1)

1-2 tablespoons of flour

1 egg (beaten with a splash of water)

Ready?  It’s so simple.  I don’t even have to reference my video to tell you how it’s done! Set your oven to 400°.

Make sure your puff pastry is thawed before you begin.  (Leave in your fridge overnight.)  Make a light coating of flour on your counter.  If your countertops are not granite, make sure you do this on a cutting board! Put some flour on your rolling pin. Roll out your pastry slightly, you don’t want it to be too thin. Now cut the corners off to make a round shape with a pizza cutter or knife.  Spread your jelly all over the pastry, leaving an inch around the edges.  I found a spatula to be easier than a knife. (*You can even add real raspberries here.. or some toasted nuts!*)  Place your brie in the center.  Fold up two opposing edges.  Now, for your remaining two, cut off about an inch because they will be too long. Fold up and use your fingers to press it together.  Wipe any excess raspberry that may have come out.

Slightly grease a baking sheet, and place your brie upside down, so that the top is the clean side.  If you want to get fancy, use your scraps, cut out a shape and place on top!  I made a tree for ours.  Now brush the entire perimeter with the egg mixture.  Place in oven and cook for 25-30 minutes.  When it’s beautiful and golden brown, take it out! Slice open and watch the joy of brie ooze out.  The two of us maaay have polished off that 8 oz wheel for lunch… haha!  I mean, who else was going to eat it?!  That would have been such a waste!  Or, it was just so delicious and we couldn’t stop eating it…

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You all probably need to practice this before the holiday since it’s soo soo sooooo difficult. And then you’ll just have to practice eating it.  😉

Enjoy!

Chef Stef

PS – did you enjoy my little flute flourishes?!

 

Snowballs!!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Not only because of the joyous holiday season, but ALSO because of all the delicious food you’ll be eating!! Here’s my first holiday video…

In college, my roommate would make these cookies and they were just to die for.  I got the recipe from her years ago and started making them for Christmas parties! They’re so quick, simple and delicious that I had to share with all of you!

So you’ll need:

2 cups of flour (the recipe calls for cake flour, but I can never find that in my grocery, so I use regular flour…but by all means, if you find it, go for it!)

1 cup of chocolate chips

1/3 cup of sugar (plus extra for coating afterwards)

1 cup of walnuts or pecans… or both!

3/4 cup of butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon water

Set your oven to 300°.

Chop up your nuts with a food chopper.  If you don’t have one, you can buy them already chopped up!  But, if you do have one, it’ll take you 2 minutes to chop them up yourself and … you’ll save money.  Don’t be lazy, just do it!

In a large mixing bowl, add your water, sugar, vanilla and butter.  Make sure the butter is softened!  It’ll make your life easier. Cream the ingredients together.  Mix in the flour, one cup at a time.

The mixture will be crumbly, and you’re probably thinking, “Great now what do I do with this?!”  Surprisingly enough, if you clump some together in your hands, it sticks and will form a ball.  Make them nice and round.  You may have to maneuver it for a minute to figure out the best way to do it.  Next, gently press the chopped nuts into the cookie.  (Do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to think of other words besides “balls” and “nuts”?  I was trying to avoid any nasty comments from the crazies that like to leave rude comments on youtube videos!!)

Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Put the tray in the oven and cook for a half hour.

Take out, roll in sugar and place on a serving tray!  Voila!

Personally, I think they taste better cold.. or even the next day!  Roll them in different sugars to make your balls festive (see what I mean?!) or roll in plain white sugar to look like snowballs!

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With the size I made them, I got 24 cookies. You can easily double the recipe if you need more!!

I hope you try the recipe… you’ll LOVE them!  It’s hard not to keep popping them in your mouth…

Have a FABULOUS week!

Keep it classy,

Chef Stef