Vitamix basics class

There are a few kitchen tools and applicances out there that can change the way you cook, and eat, forever.  They can encourage healthy eating, cut down on prep time, and expand your culinary horizons.  My new Vitamix Ascent series falls into that category.  I’m never turning back!   


To make best use of my new machine and get acclimated with the various settings and capabilities, I attended a Vitamix basics class at the company’s one and only brick and mortar store in Solon, Ohio.  The store manager Michelle, and her team helped a small crowd get to know all the delicious, versatile and healthy creations one can make with this awesome blender.

Attendees were treated to generous samples and invited to help out in executing the 8 recipes demonstrated during the class to have a more hands on experience.  I did a Facebook live during the first portion of the class.  If you’d like to check it out, click here:  Vitamix Basics Class Facebook Live Video


We started with a cocktail, a healthy one made with spinach. Since the class, I have made this at least a dozen times, even putting my own twist on it occasionally, adding things like half an avocado or almond milk to make it creamy. 


Next we sampled and prepared an example of what Vitamix is famous for, smoothies.  This one had beets, strawberries, and cranberries in it.  Since I couldn’t find frozen cranberries in my grocery store I substituted with frozen cherries when I tried this at home, plus I added some of the green beet tops for additional nutrients.  This one is another new go-to for me in the mornings.  Look at the vibrant color on this!  

I don’t know about you, but summer salads are a staple in my lunch box and dinner table, especially with all the lettuce varieties I have planted in my garden this year.  But I am always looking for new bold dressings to spice it up.  The creamy raspberry vinaigrette was a sweet tart punch, that would be beautiful with a nice spinach salad, for example.  I have a bucket full of fresh picked strawberries that are super ripe, so I’m planning to try this recipe with those as well.  

For a “main course” of our class, Michelle demonstrated a black bean soup.  Technically the Vitamix doesn’t cook the soup, but the blades run for five minutes to fully blend all of the ingredients together and the finished product is piping hot.  You can transfer the soup to a pot to cook further, or freeze it if you’d like. It was creamy, spicy and filling.  I can see us making this a great quick-fix weeknight dinner option, or an easy meal to take to friends houses when you’re visiting a new baby or new home.  


This class also helped me think of the Vitamix not just as a blender, but also as a food processor.  It’ll cut down your chop time significantly on recipes like homemade salsa.  I tried it on a pineapple salsa I was making for a TV demo and was thrilled at the results.   

Want something you can make your kids with only two ingredients? Try the raw applesauce.  I love knowing it only has natural sugars in it when I spoon it on to their plates. 


Hummus is anothe recipe people rarely seem to try on their own, but it is so very delicious when made fresh.  The version Micheel made for the demo was creamy and easy, and a perfect make ahead item for a party or healthy option to have in the fridge for the week. 

We made the Vitamix work the hardest when we saw Michelle turn four cups of cashews into homemade cashew butter.  I would spread that on a tire and still want to eat it! To be honest, I was hoping that making it myself would make it a little less expensive.  That isn’t necessarily the case, depending on where you buy your nuts, but it may still be worth it for those who eat it by the jar, or who would appreciate knowing the nutritional content, and controlling it. My daughter now claims she can taste the difference between my homemade peanut butter and store bought.  I actually believe her. It’s that good. 


Can’t believe the machine actually cleans itself out after that, especially with something so sticky.  Michelle shared a great tip too!  On days she makes nut butters, before she cleans out her container, she will make something with the residual product, like a peanut sauce or a peanut butter milk shake.  Great Cheftovers ideas!  

For dessert, we had a refreshing strawberry lime sorbet.  I’ve been picking fresh strawberries and stocking up on beautiful other berries while they’re in season, then freezing them.  Can’t wait to put them to use with a sorbet using my “frozen dessert” program on my own machine.

When I got home from the class, I immediately wanted to start putting all of these great ideas and applications to work.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.  But I have been working on some pesto recipes using my Vitamix, like a mint pea and a kale walnut combo. Tell me what you think!

Kale Walnut Pesto

  • 1/3 walnuts, toasted
  • 1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 c. Chopped kale
  • 1 T. Lemon juice
  • 1.2 c. Olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 t. Salt
  • 1/4 pepper

Add all above ingredients except the olive oil into your Vitamix or food processor. Begin mixing and slowly stream=a in your oil until the mixture is smooth.  Add more if it’s too dry.  Taste for seasoning and refridgerate or use immediately.  

Disclosure: I was invited by Vitamix to attend this class free of charge.  All opinions are my own.

Ultimate Culinary Clash

Cleveland culinary students valiantly took on San Francisco counterparts and competitors from as far away as Mexico City in this week’s Ultimate Culinary Clash at The Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel in The Bay City. 

Following the regional competition at Table 45 inside the Intercontinental Hotel in Cleveland, the local team headed west to compete against culinary teams representing other Intercontinental properties. 


The stakes were high, $5,000 scholarship money to the team with the winning appetizer and entree combination. 

Meet the competitors: 

Luce, representing the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco. This crew presented a menu of Tostones with Soffrito, and Aji Amarillo. 


The Nob Hill Club, representing the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel, also in San Francisco, made Asparagus Veloutee and Glazed Pork Belly with Fennel Pollen Grits and Dandelion Greens.


Cafe Urbano, representing the Intercontinental Hotel property in Mexico City, put out Drunk Salad and Tekuani Beef. 


And my home town team from Table 45, the culinary team from the Intercontinental Hotel in Cleveland, presented an Aleppo Pepper Roasted Pork Belly and Miso Roasted Sable Fish. 


Janice Campbell, a culinary student at Tri-C, and her Sous Chef, Cynthia Rice, put together a menu that plenty of people at the event were talking about. They should be proud of their efforts! 


I served as a judge along with several San Francisco food authorities and a representative from Mexico City. Each station thoughtfully prepared their dishes for us, and the crowd, which was also asked to judge their plates (for taste, seasonality, presentation and creativity). In addition, the students were judged on their engagement with guests and their ability to present and sell their dishes. 


The students weren’t the only ones on the spot. The executive chefs from the restaurants they represented were also challenged to put together passed appetizers incorporating sponsor product, Kikkoman.  


In addition, they had to develop a burger for the Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project. Each of those sliders had to contain 25% mushrooms, in an effort to curb meat consumption and foster more sustainability. 

Lots of eating and lots of judging. I was up for the task. The toughest category for me to judge was seasonality. I am not very familiar with what is in season in Mexico City or San Francisco. But I know good food when it hits my lips.  Among my favorites, were Student Chef Campbell’s marinated sable fish and the Cafe Urbano team’s drunk salad made with salt cured cactus leaf and a tequila vinaigrette.


In the end, the team from Nob HIll was victorious, taking home bragging rights and the scholarship money.  But the Cleveland team made food that had the room talking.  This was surely excellent real world, working kitchen experience, alas well as excellent exposure for all involved.  The culinary team from Table 45 showed the heavy hitters from the major culinary mecca that is San Francisco, just how great the food can be coming out of  CLE.

Cru Uncorked, a new fine dining destination in CLE

Who said white tablecloths were out? Not so. A new fine dining destination is pulling out all the stops to reassure Clevelanders, and visiting guests, that fine dining is not dead in our culinary crazy city. 


Perched at the corner of Chagrin Boulveard and SOM Center Road in Morland Hills, Cru Uncorked is a French New American restaurant five years in the making.  


The property itself is impressive even before you walk in the double doors to the entryway.  It’s made to look like a French Chateau inside and out, and it delivers.


Inside you’ll find four intimate and themed dining rooms, The Wine Cellar Room, The Terroir Room, The Winery Room and The Vineyard Room.  All are decorated slightly different to reflect a certain mood.  General Manager Billy Cutler tells me guests can choose the “scene” they’d like to dine in.  Some are decorated with original vineyard photography, or murals created from such photographs. 


The restaurant seats about 100, plus space for private events in a separate banquet room drenched in natural light in the afternoons.  There’s also a spacious and secluded patio in the back. Everywhere you walk you’re reminded of the time and care that went into creating this space.  


There are thoughtful details like the cedar lined ceiling of the lounge which makes you feel like you’re inside a wine barrel, and the antique grape gathering baskets affixed on the wall.  I was fascinated by the collection of vintage corkscrews, cheese knives and tastevins (small metal cups worn around their necks used instead of wine glasses to taste wine) displayed on the wall of The Wine Cellar Room.


Inside the spacious kitchen I was introduced to Executive Chef, John Stropki, who said it is an honor to be at the helm at such a place.  He was busying working through a dessert from the menu.  No pastry chef here, Stropk says.  He’s behind every item on the menu, which ranges from a burger to halibut and beautiful pasta options. Prices range from $26-$55.  But side dishes are included in the menu price for each dish.  Reps say they believe this makes them competitive in the local fine-dining scene, as a la carte side dishes can add an $15-18 more per entree.


Guests will also be able to choose from more than 200 wines from all over the world, thanks to their massive wine cellar with the capacity for 6,000 bottles.  And for a sweet finish to a meal, they have several dessert wine flights to choose from.


Cru Uncorked is preparing for top of the line service and exquisite meals for those who crave the finer things in life.  They’re accepting reservations now, ahead of their May 16th opening.  Bon Apetite! 

Pasta with Creamy Greens and Chicken Sausage

I’ve been making a real effort to find creative and tasty ways to eat more greens.  Smoothies only satisfy once a day, so it was time to get serious about incorporating more leafy greens into things other than a salad or juices.

Pasta is one of my favorite canvases.  I took a look inside my pantry and refrigerator last night and went to work.

Get out a food processor, and put on a pot of water.  This dish will satisfy served piping hot for dinner…or cold or room temp for lunch or a side dish.


Pasta with Creamy Greens and Chicken Sausage

2 Large clove garlic

4 c.  Loosely packed fresh spinach

4 c.  Loosely packed fresh kale, chopped

8 oz. (or 1/2 c.) cream cheese, softened

4 oz. (or 1/4 c.) goat cheese, softened

Salt and pepper to taste (1 t. Salt, 1/2 t. Pepper)

16 oz. Short pasta (like penne, rigatoni or rotini)

4 links chicken sausage (I used Parmesan Chicken Sausage from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market)

1/4 c. Grated Parmesean

1 tomato, sliced and 1 T. Chopped parsley (for garnish)

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta al dente.  Heat a grill pan or frying pan and prepare the sausage until it’s browned on the outside and cooked through.  Combine the rest of the ingredients (except for grated cheese, tomatoes and parsley) in a food processor or a blender, like a Vitamix. Blend until smooth, then taste to adjust seasoning.  Drain pasta and reserve about a 1/2 cup of the pasta water to loosen the sauce later, if necessary.  Slice the sausage into bite sized pieces.  Transfer pasta to a serving bowl and add greens mixture and sliced sausage.  Stir until until everything is combined.  Top with tomatoes, grated cheese and parsley.

Serves four.  If you’re using the new Vitamix Ascent, your should double the recipe for the volume minimum.  Sauce will keep for about a week  or your can freeze the extra.

I am always looking for better ways to eat, or drink, my greens.  I’ve shared my newest secret…what are yours? 

 

Recipe Testing for Chef Jonathan Sawyer’s new book!

Pucker up! There’s a new cook book in the works from one of Cleveland’s most celebrated chefs, Jonathan Sawyer.  And boy, does that man love vinegar. It’s the centerpiece of the his second cookbook that he is readying as we speak.  The working title is “The Sixth Taste,” with publisher  Ten Speed Press.  I had the honor of recipe testing for the Greenhouse Tavern, Noodle Cat and Trentina founder. 


 His social media team gathered some fellow foodies and avid home cooks in the Chef’s circle to put his chef inspired recipes to the “real home cook test.” The Chef’s assistant says they shared a post on social media asking for the public’s help and the response was overwhelming. She tells me they got hundreds of responses within hours, a testiment to the excitement over this latest project. There were fans selected at random plus friends of the Chef’s that also pitched in.

“Being professional culinarians we, chef and I, can lose sight of what is easy to execute in a kitchen. Making a pan or emulsified sauce is second nature to us. We can execute it without much thought. We wanted to be sure that what is organic to us wouldn’t be beyond the ability of even the most novice home cook,” said Chef Jeremy Umansky, a pivotal member of Team Sawyer.

I joined my co worker, and partner in all things food, Amanda, for the adventure. We met up at Team Sawyer HQ on the near east side where the team turned the studio into a make shift commercial kitchen.


There was a pantry, produce, kitchen gadget and utensils station all laid out for us. It took a bit of time to get our bearings, but we’re excited and eager to get after out “assignment.” Amanda and I were tasked with working through the veggie burger and pickeled romaine recipes. 

While we worked on that, the beans and rice were cooking for the veggie burger patties. That was a bit more of a challenge, given the cooking conditions and “first draft” form of the recipe. What’s really cool about the concept of this burger, is the color and texture. By incorporating roasted beets, the patties closely resemble ground beef.

It also had mushrooms and fennel, yum! As we progressed through the recipe we started to noticed there were things like the yield, and cook time for the rice, that were not accurate as written. But that is the reason why we we’re there! It was fun to talk through and work through the bugs with Chef Sawyer…who couldn’t resist popping in on the group to check on our progress.

recipe testing discussing with Sawyer

The testing gave Team Sawyer a chance to taste the dishes as they would be prepared by a home cook.  They could then see and taste what needed to be tweaked. Some recipes needed more vinegar. Some needed longer or shorter cook times. Some needed a dash more salt. 

“The testing was a huge success and gave us invaluable data that we needed to fine tune the book,” Umansky said.

recipe testing finished veggie burger

 “All the recipes survived the testing, which was our goal. There’s always a reserved fear that something won’t be well received. We were fortunate that every one was a success,” Umansky said.  On top of that, Umansky says the testers appeared just as excited about the recipes as Team Sawyer is. 

The recipe testing was conducted over a two day period…three groups the first day and six groups the second day. And as a group, we cooked through 30 recipes! 
Chef Sawyer’s book is due out late this year or early 2018. Can’t wait to see these recipes come to life on the page and know that I played a SMALL role in the development.  

 

recipe testing group shot

 

Butcher Class at Urban Famer

I won’t shop, cook or cut meat quite the same from now on.  I had the pleasure of attending a Butcher Class at Urban Farmer recently.  They went above and beyond to teach, answer questions and arm attendees with the information and know-how they’d need to select the best cuts of meat, and best utilize less popular, yet more economical cuts.  

Head Butcher and Urban Farmer Sous Chef, Vincent Delagrange, lead the class.  He’s been professionally cutting meat since 2011.  He knows his stuff.  He whizzed through the prepared Beef 101 slides, covering the basics, like “What is a steak?” (2″ thick or under with a quick cooking method) and “what makes it tender?” (It’s inversely related to the amount of work a muscle has to during the life of the animal).  Fat is flavor, and the fattier the beef, the beefier the flavor.  This is an equation I can study. 

Here’s what I learned: 

Delagrange also touched on U.S.D.A. grading, explaining that most meat we see in a butcher shop of the meat counter is Prime (highest designation, less than 2% of cattle) or Choice (less marbling, but widely available), occasionally Select (lean and less available, potentially tough).

And then there’s is Wagyu.  It’s the Cadillac of cows, people.  It has a high percentage of marbling which far exceeds that of USDA Prime. Yes, please. And get this: “Kobe” beef isn’t really Kobe beef unless it is from Tajima breed cows raised in the Hyogo prefecture of Japan, and you’re eating it in Japan.  They don’t export it.  So all those times you THINK you’ve purchased or been served Kobe beef…you were duped. How about that?!


We did a blind taste teste comparing the Prime cuts they source at the restaurant, versus a Choice cut offered at a large (unnamed) grocery chain.  Not a tough call.  

Delegrange was happy to answer all kinds of questions the group had about shopping for beef too.  Like “What day is best to shop for meat?”  Answer: find out which day of the week your local butcher or grocer gets their shipments.  And that’s the day!  Likely Friday morning is good.  For large chains, Delegrange suggests checking their ads.  The first day sales take effect you’re sure to find the freshest product.  And for markdowns…try Sunday evening, or Monday.  What I was surprised to hear was those markdowns haven’t been sitting there for days…only a couple of hours.  So scoop them up, check the freshness or sell-by date and save!

I learned that you can identify high quality meat by look and touch. There should be exterior fat (remember, fat=flavor!).  Press on the side of that fat.  You’ll want it spongey, or to bounce back, not firm.  And you’re looking for a good balance or ratio of interior or marbelized fat to exterior fat.  


Delegrange also suggests secondary cuts to satisfy your beef craving and your budget.  Swap Ribeye for Chuckeye, Tenderloin for Sirloin and Strip Steak for Coulotte.  The idea is to buy a piece of meat that can be grilled and sliced to serve a larger number of people.  The guy has four kids at home.  I trust his advice!  He also favors the flat iron, tri tip, Babette and ribeye cap.     


The group also got a first hand look at how dry aging is achieved and how animals are broken down at Urban Farmer’s in house butcher shop.  And get a lot of their charcuterie program! Meat me, please! 


We were given a handful of great recipes from Delegrange, plus some helpful handouts to help decider between corn-fed, grass-fed and dry-aged beef for the purposes of shopping and ordering at our favorite restaurants.  And BONUS: there were swag bags with “Beefy” t shirts (which I admittedly had my eye on at the hostess stand) plus some seeds to start our garden this season.  


If you’d like to sign up for one of these comprehensive classes, their next butcher class is Saturday, June 17th from 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. This one is a showdown between the Carolina’s versus Texas BBQ.  Event details here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/urban-farmer-butcher-class-carolina-versus-texas-bbq-tickets-31904464111?aff=erelpanelorg

Carrot Ginger Soup: Vitamix Recipe

I was recently given the keys to a new car.  Or at least that is what it feels like.  I’m working with Vitamix to spread the word about the power and versatility of it’s newest model, the Ascent Series.

vitamix ascent

I got a one on one lesson from the manager at their Solon retail store about all the cool things this new mega blender can do.  What was most eye opening for me was to see this machine as much more than just a blender, it’s a food processor too.  And I’m really looking forward to experimenting with all the different capabilities of Vitamix’s newly launched product.

The first thing I wanted to do was crank out a batch of my Carrot Ginger Soup.  It’s something my kids and I both crave.  It’s bright, bold and nutrient-rich.  And now, it takes me half the time.

Vitamix settings

Instead of chopping the carrots up and cooking them in a sauce pan along with onion, garlic and ginger, then adding the remaining ingredients for the remainder of the cook time, I just added everything at once, then simply pressed the “soups” setting, which is a 6 and a half minute program designed to heat raw ingredients to a steaming hot soup by using the friction of the blades (which spin at more than 200 mph!).  People, it was that simple.  No pots and pans to clean up.  No hot cook top come the warmer months.  Boom, done.

carrot ginger soup in vitamix

The other programs available on the Ascent Series Vitamix are Smoothies, Frozen Desserts, Dips and Spreads and Self-Cleaning.  Yes, it cleans itself!  And it’s dishwasher safe if you’re so inclined.  The programs are more of a guideline than an “autopilot.”  Think of it like the “popcorn” setting on your microwave.  It’s very useful, but not a fail safe option.  This model also has a bigger blade than the classic Legacy Series blender, which allows for better access into the well to get more product out of the container (wasting less).  In the coming months you can expect additional products for use with the Ascent, like a 20 oz smoothie container and a 8 ounce small batch/chopping container.

Want to make my carrot ginger soup yourself?  Here’s my recipe:

carrot ginger soup

Carrot Ginger Soup

2 cups chicken stock

1/3 of a medium onion

1/2 pinch of ginger, peeled

1 large clove of garlic

3 cups peeled carrots, roughly cut into 1-2 inch pieces

2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

Generous pinch of turmeric, (or cayenne if you like it spicy)

1/4 c. heavy cream

Add all the above ingredients except the heavy cream, in the order in which they are listed, into your Vitamix.  (For a vegan version, substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock and use coconut milk instead of heavy cream.)  Press the “soups” setting of your Vitamix.  When the program is complete your soup should be completely blended, smooth and piping hot.  Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary.  Add the heavy cream and pulse, or blend for another 30 seconds.  Serve while it’s hot! Make it ahead for later in the week, or freeze it for another time.

I’ll be attending a Vitamix class in early May to learn to make 10 other recipes with my new machine.  And you can bet I’ll be trying it out with other recipes in my own kitchen. I see gazpacho, almond butter, and hollandaise sauce in my future.  Buy the Ascent before Mother’s Day and save up to $90.

Disclosure: I was gifted a Vitamix Ascent Series Blender, and invited to a complimentary Vitamix class at their retail store as part of an arrangement I made with the Vitamix team.