Harvard Cookie Girl proves kitchen may be best place to learn life skills

By Catharine L. Kaufman

The Kitchen Shrink

As a young girl growing up in Iran, Bibi Kasrai was banned from the kitchen as her mom and dad encouraged their intellectual dynamo to strive for an MBA degree rather than an MRS. degree with a minor in domestic goddess.

Following her parents’ advice Kasrai graduated from Harvard Business School although, “the scents and smells from my mom’s and grandma’s kitchens fascinated and bewitched me all my life,” she said.

After many years in the dog-eat-dog world of the executive suite, Kasrai was ready to embrace her double passion as an entrepreneurial foodie.

She started cooking with her two children, Ava, 9, and pre-teen son Kasi. Together they concocted a curriculum for afterschool enrichment programs, currently in more than 30 schools and community centers in San Diego County.

The classes are a hands-on approach to baking homemade goodies for children in kindergarten to fifth grade. She tosses in some math and measurements, reading and following recipes, the science of ingredients, the importance of hygiene, all while sprinkling in a large dollop of fun and emphasizing the value of nutrition.

“I have learned that kids are changing their parents’ habits and sins of the past,” Kasrai said.

Using her business savvy, the Harvard grad rallied SieMatic of Germany and other big kitchen players like Subzero, Thermador and Bosch to sponsor her newest venture – The Harvard Cookie Girl studio, 7441 Girard Avenue, that opened last month.

As you approach the funky, state-of-the-art three-kitchen studio, you are pulled in by the perfume of fresh herbs planted in the entranceway reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” along with mint, Italian basil and chives.

Inside, the walls are painted mouth-watering shades of pistachio, tangerine and strawberry cream, while two utilitarian wooden tables with multiple chairs are arranged head-to-toe in the third kitchen for Iron Chef-style competitions for corporate events or kids’ birthday parties.

Harvard Cookie Girl is now offers cooking classes for the big kids, including Corporate Team Building, Girl’s Night Out and Pre-College Cooking Lessons so college-bound students will learn to cook beyond the scope of the dorm diet (Ramen soup thrice daily). Kasrai is also gearing up for her Chef Series, featuring top mavens in their cooking fields performing events throughout the year.

Yours truly is scheduled to participate in this series with my quirky events, “Twenty-Minute Healthy Feasts for Kitchen-Phobics,” a “Hanukkah Hash Brown Night” with a latkes cook-off, and “Brunch for Beginners.”

Also on the menu is an upcoming “Supper Club,” that’s “like a book club for foodies,” Kasrai explained, “as a means of congregating people so they can relish the bliss of cooking and eating great food together.”

Harvard Cooking Girl has the philosophy that food brings out the best in people, and one of those traits is generosity to share and break bread with others. Hence her call to all dedicated cooks to build a community kitchen — to come forward and share their special culinary talents and recipes with one another.

Abiding by her philosophy, Kasrai shares a favorite recipe, her Persian grandma’s wedding cookies aka Lemon Nut Cookies:

Grandma’s Wedding Cookies

Yield: 36 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup ground mix of pecans, walnuts or almonds (my grandma used pistachios, too)

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 cup powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth, and beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the flour and fold in the ground nuts with a spatula. If you wish, you can add a tablespoon of lemon juice.

With floured hands, remove 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent or ball. Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies, and place onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake until firm and pale golden, about 15-20 minutes.

In a bowl, add lemon zest and 1 cup powdered sugar, mixing with a fork so the sugar picks up the lemony aroma. When cookies are cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in the lemon zest mixture. To achieve a solid coating, roll a second time.

Allow cookies to cool on wire racks and enjoy.

Bibi Kasrai

• (858) 405-1092

The Kitchen Shrink