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.

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