Monday, February 25, 2013

Ooh La La Crepes! | Cooking Class with Chef Diane

Last October I went to the NYC Wine and Food Festival as part of my blogging gig with ShopRite. Did I mention that? If not, please forgive me for the missing blog post. It was our first time leaving 10 week-old Max overnight and I was frazzled. We did, however have a fantastic time and that experience warrants its own blog post.

Anyway, Chef Dianne Pollick, who has a personal chef service and who works as one of ShopRite's Culinary Workshop instructors also attended the NYCWFF. Somehow we didn't meet that day, but she followed up with me and invited me to attend one of her classes at a store in Delaware. Last fall I attended not one, but two of her classes and I had such a great time that we decided to book a private class for my new moms group.

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast region, it's likely that your local ShopRite store hosts cooking classes on a weekly basis. You can find the current class schedule at your local store or online at the ShopRite web page. In my area a two-hour course costs $20. The classes are hands-on and there's plenty of time to ask questions and learn new techniques. You get to eat everything you create and you come home with a handful of recipe cards so you can re-create everything at home. The classes in Northern Delaware are taught by Chef Dianne and she's pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

This past Saturday we enjoyed a lesson on crepes.

It was extra special because all of the attendees were from my new moms group. We spent a few hours away from our infants and got to socialize, enjoy a meal and learn some new recipes. Each woman in the group is a mother to at least one child and all of us have children under seven months old. Needless to say, we had a great time getting out, even if it was to a cooking class in comfortable clothes.

I love these classes because they are hands-on. Each person in our group of eight got to help prep ingredients and we all got to take turns making crepes. I made at least ten crepes and I now feel confident enough with my technique to make them at home.

We did savory crepes like crab florentine...

And roasted asparagus with goat cheese...

And you know we had to have dessert, so we also made a blueberry ricotta crepe, which would be even more awesome if made with marscapone cheese...

As much as I love to cook, I had never made crepes prior to this class. I love crepes and I order them when they are on the menu, but I really appreciate knowing how to make my own.

I learned that crepes are simple to make once you learn the technique and that they can easily be frozen. You use the same base recipe for both sweet and savory crepes, so they are versatile. I plan to make my own recipe for fillings that work for my family and I promise to share it right here on the blog.

If you live in Delaware, the Brandywine and Riverfront ShopRite stores offer classes and you also have the option to book a private class for a group of 8 to 10. If you live in another area, contact your store's customer service desk for available classes.

Just a note, this is NOT a sponsored post. I'm just sharing my experience with Chef Dianne and ShopRite's Culinary Workshop. I was not compensated for sharing my experience. I am just a woman who loves crepes.

Want to hear more about ShopRite's Culinary Workshop? Click here to read a review of my experience at an earlier class with Chef Dianne.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Vitamix | Yes, I finally bought one.

I've had a Vitamix on my wish list for a few years now.  For the past few years I'd watch the sales reps do big demonstrations at Costco where they pulverized whole carrots, ice, avocados, tomatoes and any other produce into juices, smoothies and hot soups. Always the skeptic, I'd try a smoothie (or a soup) made with some ingredient that I thought I hated (like avocado or mushrooms) and end up loving it. Then I'd look at the huge price tag and decide that I'd never spend that much on a blender.

When I was pregnant I started drinking smoothies all the time. At first I'd buy them at shops and pay $5 or more per serving. Then I started buying smoothie mixes in the frozen food section of the grocery store (about $5 for two smoothie servings) and using my Cuisinart stick blender to whip them up. That worked well for 2012, but I realized that I couldn't blend whole fruits (due to the small size and low power) and that I could only make pretty small servings. I've already owned at least three cheap blenders in the past few years and most of them couldn't even crush fresh fruit. Right before Christmas there was a Vitamix demo at Costco and I watched in awe (again) and tasted a hot chicken tortilla soup that came out of a blender. Hot soup cooked in a blender?! What?! But Max had a meltdown and I had to hurry to checkout, so I didn't even check the price. I walked away from the Vitamix.

By Christmas day I was researching Vitamix (and its competitor Blendtec) online and decided that Vitamix was the right choice for me. I priced it at several places and found that Costco had the best deal. I went back to Costco on December 27th and... Vitamix was gone! But, they did have a few mixers left behind from the demo and I was able to snag a base model one for about $75 less than retail. I threw it in my cart and I haven't looked back since.

And believe it or not, I've used it every day (sometimes three times a day) since I've purchased it. Ask my family. They are tired of hearing me run that thing.

Here's why I love it:

1. It's easy to clean. I hate doing dishes. To clean the Vitamix you rinse the jar under warm water, fill the jar half full with warm water, add a drop of dish soap, turn the blender on high (with the lid on), let it rip for a minute, rinse and it's clean.

2. I've increased my intake of raw fruits and vegetables. As much as I love to cook, I used to throw produce in the trash because it would rot before we could eat it. Now I start every day (including days when the temps are below 30 degrees) with a fruit and vegetable smoothie. That's right, I now drink those scary looking bright green smoothies for breakfast. I also make hot soups from fresh vegetables and reheat them for lunch at work.

3. It makes great cocktails. It's the same blender used at bars and restaurants. You get perfectly slushy margaritas, daquiris, and smoothies. I still can't believe that I can make a drink at home (with or without alcohol) that is the same (or better) than one served in a restaurant.

4. It makes desserts, dips, sauces and a bunch of other stuff. That's an entirely different blog post, but this mixer can make ice cream... and hummus... and enchilada sauce! Seriously. I even make awesome Starbucks-like coffee drinks with the frothy top.

5. I use it to make baby food. You can also use a food processor, food mill, or immersion blender to puree fruits and vegetables for a baby. Max is just starting to eat solids, so I'm looking forward to using the Vitamix to make his food.

There is a learning curve with the Vitamix. I normally try a recipe first (there are tons on the website and a recipe book comes with it) and then adjust the seasonings and consistency to fit my taste. It also takes a few tries to figure out how long to blend foods and how to figure out when they are "done".

Believe the hype, Vitamix is worth the price. I'd put it right up there with my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and my Cuisnart food processor as a kitchen essential for me. I use it as often, if not more so, than our coffee machine. I don't know if it's paid for itself yet, but I believe it will within the first year. Plus, any kitchen device that has me eating three cups of raw spinach for breakfast has got to be good, right?

Is anyone else out there as addicted to kitchen gadgets as I am? Any other Vitamix users? I know Brandy loves hers!
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