Sunday, February 25, 2018

CozyMeal Philadelphia: Secret Italian Recipes with Chef Renee

CozyMeal is a national brand seeking to directly connect us with local professional chefs and caterers. Whether it's for cooking classes, team building activities, or catering services, it's a great way to enjoy a night out with loved ones or new acquaintances. Instead of the typical dinner at your everyday restaurant, why not go behind the scenes in a relaxed atmosphere and directly engage the Chef? Better yet, you'll find yourself cooking and picking up tips along the way. Chefs are vetted and come from a diverse range of culinary backgrounds. Hosted at their place or yours, you're able to choose from variety of experiences. 

Clockwise from Top Right: Fresh Produce for the Night | Tablescape | Baking Tools for Olive Oil Cake | Chef Renee Weigel

They've recently expanded to Philadelphia and Chef Renee Weigel is one of their brightest stars. She was awarded the James Beard Scholarship and will soon graduate from the Drexel Culinary Arts program. But don't let the fresh face fool you. Her experience in the restaurant industry starts from a young age. With local Pennsylvania Dutch roots, she's worked in numerous restaurants and has a passion for sustainable agriculture and sourcing ingredients from local farmers. She's also involved with LocalStove, which provides subscription-based meal prep planning or catering. 

Clockwise from Top Right: PhillyFoodLove preppin | Belly of the Pig stirring | Arancini with homemade red sauce | Chef Renee frying up Arancini

For CozyMeal, Chef Renee's base of operations is the open kitchen at Good Food Flats. With a gorgeous tablescape and place settings all ready, I knew all I had to do was pop open a bottle of wine and relax. After a brief introduction, Chef had us join in on the prep for the meal. Sembat from PhillyFoodLove got to work on chopping up some shallots while I went after the onion. This was all for the base of a nice red sauce, with both fresh vine-ripened and canned tomatoes. Touch of sugar, salt, and herbs and it was good to go. There was also plenty left for us to take home in several jars! Chef Renee then cooked up some arborio rice to make risotto. With this cooled, we helped roll out some rice balls with bread crumbs, which were then deftly fried to give us our first course - arancini with homemade red sauce. Delicious! 

Clockwise from Top Right: Wet ingredients for the Olive Oil Cake | Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi

I was excited for our next dish. Having had Vetri's spinach gnocchi several times, I actually attempted a recreation a few months back. That was definitely a fail, with the gnocchi turning out rock hard. But having Chef Renee provide me with proper instruction, we were able to create a rustic and fluffy iteration, with ricotta and fresh spinach coming through. The browned butter and Parmesan helped to create a salty bite that was simply delicious. Definitely helped myself to seconds of this.

Olive Oil Cake with Whipped Cream and Orange

For dessert, a quick 15 to 20-minute baked olive oil cake was all we needed. Crispy on the outside and fluffy within, we had a lot of fun plating our own dishes. We even made homemade whipped cream and topped it all with powdered sugar and slivered orange slices. Bellisimo! 

Be sure to check out the CozyMeal options available in Philadelphia. Apart from the Italian Recipes cooking class with Chef Renee, she also has cooking classes for Dim Sum, Mexican, and French fare as well. CozyMeal is expanding quickly and appears to be a great way for folks to amp up date night or provide a creative way to host friends. 

FTC Disclaimer: Thanks to CozyMeal and Chef Renee for hosting me for this experience. Regardless, my opinions are mine alone and, therefore, unbiased.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Flavor by Loews Philadelphia *Media Event*

Having been to every Bourbon Bash over the past three years, I'm always excited to hear about new events held by Loews Philadelphia in coordination with Bank & Bourbon. Flavor by Loews is a new program with select Philadelphia partners, providing patrons with the very best our great city has to offer. This is a national program that extends to all of the cities that are home to Loews Hotels, with local flavors being brought right to their guests. 

It makes sense that at Loews Philadelphia, they start by waking up their guests with Philly-born La Colombe coffee. We enjoyed draft lattes as well as Pastry Chef Amanda's always-great doughnuts, filled with La Colombe coffee cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The Banker's Choice was a favorite cocktail of mine, with bourbon-infused coffee mellowed out by the sweetness of creme de peche, amaro, and maple syrup. Easy drinking. Loews Philadelphia is also partnering with Saint Benjamin Brewing Company, a craft brewery and taproom operating from Kensington! A bourbon-barrel aged ale is made exclusively for guests of Bank and Bourbon, with the barrel-aged flavors balanced by the lightness of the lager. 

And who can say no to boules of bread from the Metropolitan Bakery. A perfect crust on the exterior belied pillowy innards within. It made for a great vehicle for both the lemon-pear ricotta & avocado-brussels toasts that Executive Chef Tom Harkins put out. He also provided us with Saint Benjamin's Beer-Braised Short Ribs with Pommes Puree & Horseradish. 

So if you have guests from out of town or are looking for a staycation, Loews Philadelphia has got you covered, with plenty of Philly flavors to boot. Also - be sure to be on the lookout for tickets to the 4th annual Bourbon Bash. It's sure to be another stellar event, with great bourbons and food to be enjoyed! 

FTC Disclaimer: Thanks to Loews Philadelphia for hosting us. Regardless my opinions are mine alone and, therefore, unbiased. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Revivalist Spirits Event at Rouge

It's highly likely you've seen the Revivalist Gins as part of your favorite Philly mixologist's portfolio. Enjoyably light, these are unlike any British gins you may have previously encountered. And by that I mean that after you've had a taste of these locally distilled products, you won't associate gin with pine cones or being overly juniper-forward. With five expressions, Revivalist Gins seek to embody each of the seasons, along with a jalapeno botanical infusion that provides a nice juxtaposition between spice and nice. 

Founders & Brothers Don and Scott Avellino | Rouge Executive Chef Sam Noh

After speaking with founders and brothers Don & Scott Avellino, their passion for producing a quality local product is clear. Understanding the lack of U.S. distilled gin-based products, they both quit their day jobs to distill these spirits in hand-hammered copper stills. And to great success - their product was voted Top 100 Spirits of 2017 by Wine Enthusiast! And why the seasonal expressions, you ask? It came with the understanding that appetites and palates change along with the climate. Seeking the refreshing nature of spring? Look no further than the Equinox expression - perfect for a G+T. Need cooling citrus married with a compelling warmth? Summertide has got you covered. Autumnal vibes will certainly take you to their Harvest expression, emanating complex spices. And keep warm during the winter with Solstice on the rocks. 

If you're looking for a bit of spicy kick, be sure to grab DragonDance. Rouge's mixologist, Nathan Weigert, married the jalapeno-infused gin with the house-made Bloody mix perfectly - who needs boring vodka? Not to be outdone, Executive Chef Sam Noh paired each cocktail with small bites, including a fresh caprese salad [Equinox G+T] and a shrimp cocktail [DragonDance Bloody Mary], among others. 

Looking to pick up a bottle or five of the Revivalist Gins? The DragonDance, Summertide, and Equinox expressions are available at Fine Wine & Good Spirits. Solstice and Harvest are available through special order at the PLCB. And heads up - they're also expanding to ride the whiskey wave with the Original Resurgent Whiskey. Cask-strength at 118.4 proof, I know I'll be on the look out for that.