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Chef Kelsey Nixon sets sights on busy young people

| Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Move over, Paula Deen, Martha Stewart and Lidia Bastianich. Kelsey Nixon is in the kitchen.

Nixon is a rising star at the Cooking Channel, a sister network of the Food Network, whose programming goals include attracting a younger viewer demographic. The dishes she prepares on her cooking show, "Kelsey's Essentials," appeal to everyone, she says, but are especially geared toward busy young people who want to eat well but have little time for complex recipes.

"To me, the important essentials of every home cook are tips, tools and techniques, whether they're first-time cooks, young professionals, college students or teenagers," she says. She offers all three "essentials" on her cooking show and on her blog at

Nixon will share some of her recipes during appearances at two Pittsburgh area Market District stores Saturday.

Many of her basic and simple culinary creations result from her experiments with favorite ingredients in her New York City apartment kitchen, which she shares with her husband, Robby. She developed a recent recipe when she teamed apple-wood-smoked bacon and Granny Smith apple slices with cheddar cheese and whole-grain mustard for a grilled cheese sandwich she calls "my new-found love during lunch. The ingredients all paired together are like a match made in heaven."

At 27, Nixon says her cooking show -- which premiered Nov. 6, 2010, on the Cooking Channel -- is a dream job.

"I have 'pinch-me' moments all the time," she says.

Nixon was a Season 4 finalist in 2008 on "The Next Food Network Star," where she was voted the season's fan-favorite contestant.

This season's episodes of "Kelsey's Essentials" include a trip to Bobby's Burger Palace in New Jersey to work on the line with Chef Bobby Flay, and a visit to The Meat Hook butcher shop in Brooklyn for tips on selecting cuts of meat and a conversation with a female butcher.

Nixon also appears on "Unique Sweets," a Cooking Channel show that explores innovative eateries across the country whose chefs are creating a new take on desserts.

One of the young chef's' current favorite sweet treats is her Apple Pie Shake, which is as easy as combining a leftover slice of apple pie, diced, in a blender with 1/4 cup milk and 2 cups vanilla-bean ice cream. For a thick shake, she freezes the pie before adding it to the blender. Her Pumpkin Pie Shake variation replaces the apple pie slice with a large slice of pumpkin pie, and each serving is topped with 1/2 cup crushed gingersnap or graham-cracker cookies.

Nixon got her first taste of cooking for TV as a college student at Brigham Young University, where she was a broadcast-journalism major. As a class project, she created "Kelsey's Kitchen," a cooking show on the university's cable television station that focused on simple and affordable meals for college students.

She produced and hosted 100 episodes of the show in two years.

"It gave me wonderful experience in front of the camera," she says.

After graduating, she earned a professional culinary arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles and studied at the French Culinary Institute. She had internships at "Martha Stewart Living" and Food Network's "Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee" and was featured with "Top Chef's" Spike Mendelsohn on a series of web videos for Cooking Channel's website.

Besides her television work, Nixon is writing a cookbook that will be similar to her TV show with tips, tools and techniques for the beginner cook.

She is a spokeswoman for Pyrex and its new line of bakeware, cookware and tools. But her favorite kitchen essential is a cast-iron skillet.

"Everyone should have one. It gets better with age," she says.

Pickled Spring Asparagus

Prep time: 15 minutes

  • 3/4 pound pencil-thin asparagus (about 30 stalks)
  • 3 shallots (about 1/2 cup), chopped
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, more if needed
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Remove the stalky ends the asparagus by snapping or trimming the last 1 to 1 1/2 inches of each stalk. If using larger or thicker stalks of asparagus, peel the outer layer with a vegetable peeler.

In a medium size bowl, combine , more if neededshallots, rice vinegar, dijon mustard, kosher salt and black pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season the vinaigrette to taste, adding more salt and pepper, if needed.

In a plastic zippered plastic bag or small casserole dish (cover with plastic wrap), submerge the asparagus in the vinaigrette. Allow asparagus to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

Corned Beef Breakfast Hash

Prep: 10 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound baby red potatoes, quartered
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium-size Spanish onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium-size sweet red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup shredded cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 ounces corned beef, thinly sliced crosswise into strips
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the onions and peppers and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and Worcestershire sauce and saute until the vegetables are tender, for about 3 minutes longer. Stir in the corned beef and cream and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Crack the eggs over the hash. Cover with a lid and cook until the eggs are set, for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve the hash divided among 4 plates.

Makes 4 servings.

Irish Soda Bread

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

  • 4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 stick ( 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted, divided
  • 1/2 cup currants

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Stir in the buttermilk and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter, using a fork, then stir in the currants. After the ingredients are combined, the dough should come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead gently for just a few turns until the dough can be shaped into a 6-inch round (do not over-knead).

Place the shaped dough into a cast-iron skillet or on sheet tray. Cut an X into the top of the round loaf, using a knife.

Bake until the center has cooked through (testing with a skewer), for about 40 minutes. Slather with the remaining tablespoon of melted butter.

Makes 6 servings.

Grilled Cheese with Bacon, Apple, & Cheddar

Prep time:10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 slices white bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 4 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
  • 8 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 12 slices applewood smoked bacon, cooked until crisp
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, sliced thin

Heat a grill or large skillet over medium-low heat.

Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread the mustard over the opposite side on 4 slices of the bread. Top each of the 4 slices with the Cheddar, crisped bacon and apple slices. Add the remaining 4 slices of bread on top with the buttered side facing out.

Place the assembled sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until the cheese begins to melt and the bread is golden brown. Flip and cook the other side until ut us golden brown ,as well.

Remove from the skillet, slice and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Baby Baked Fingerling Potatoes

Total time: 55 minutes

Prep time: 10 minutes

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 5 slices bacon, cut into small dice
  • 1 1/2 pounds small fingerling potatoes (about 2 inches in length), halved lengthwise
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons minced, fresh chives, plus more for garnish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a large, rimmed sheet tray with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and cook the bacon until crisp, for 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Place the potatoes on the prepared sheet tray, drizzle with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.

Place the sheet tray in the oven and roast until the potatoes are golden brown, for 30 to 35 minutes.

In the meantime, in a small mixing bowl, combine the creme fraiche and chives, and season with salt and pepper.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and transfer to a serving platter cut-side up. Dollop each roasted potato with the creme-fraiche mixture, and top with the crisp bacon bits and the remaining chives.

Makes 12 servings as appetizers.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

Total time: 50 minutes

Prep time: 20 minutes

  • Butter for greasing sheet tray
  • 24 large, whole, fresh mushrooms
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 bunches green inions, chopped, green parts reserved
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • One package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a sheet tray or line with parchment paper.

Clean the mushroom caps with a damp paper towel. Carefully break off the stems and, using the tip of a spoon, hollow out the center of the mushrooms.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the sausage, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Transfer the cooked sausage to a paper towel-lined plate to cool.

Add the white part of the chopped green onions to the skillet and cook until fragrant, for about 2 minutes. Add the chopped green onions to the sausage and cool.

When the sausage and green-onion mixture no longer is hot, stir in the parmesan, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and softened cream cheese. The mixture should be very thick. Using a small spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of the stuffing. Top with additional parmesan cheese, if desired. Arrange the mushroom caps evenly on the prepared sheet tray.

Place in the oven and bake until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under the caps, for 20 minutes. Garnish with the reserved green parts of the green onions.

Makes 12 servings.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Prep time: 10 minutes

  • 5 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 medium-size carrots, chopped
  • 2 medium-size ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 medium-size clove garlic, minced
  • 2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned egg noodles
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the chicken on a rimmed sheet tray and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast until the chicken registers 160 degrees, for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Remove and discard the skin, shred the chicken and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery and onions and cook just until the vegetables begin to soften, for about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

Add the egg noodles to the simmering stock and continue cooking until the noodles are cooked through, for about 10 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot along with petite peas and fresh thyme and heat through before serving. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Makes 4 servings.

Photo Galleries

Kelsey Nixon

Kelsey Nixon

The chef hosts 'Kelsey's Essentials' on the Cooking Channel.

Additional Information:

Celebrity chef Kelsey Nixon

What: Appearance and cooking demo

When and where: 11 a.m. Saturday at Bethel Park Market District; 4 p.m. at Robinson Market District

Free; reservations requested

Details: Website

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