By Josette Keelor
The average shopper at Nibblins Edibles and Gifts in Winchester might not realize what goes on after hours inside the store's kitchen.
Most nights of any given week, the scents of soups, scones or cinnamon rolls spiral through the air, with everyone from guest chefs to store owners Susan and Blair Dolinar demonstrating the ins and outs of cooking.
In recent weeks, guest chefs have offered instruction on pressure cooking, the "dynamics of dough" and the secrets to perfect pie. Upcoming shows will emphasize using infused herb vinegars like barbecue beef and espresso rubs on Oct. 2, cooking Thai recipes like coconut milk soup and fresh spring rolls on Oct. 12, and whipping up tarts from scratch on Oct. 14.
But it's not just adults who can learn a thing or two at Nibblins' cooking classes. The store hosts birthday cooking parties and this summer held camps for children and teens, planning to continue weekly "Heir and a Parent" classes this fall with topics like Cincinnati chili with toppings and "Harry Potter" themed food.
Susan Dolinar said children's camps have been so popular that she plans to start offering after-school classes.
"The kids are really getting into cooking," she said. "So they will talk and they will tell us some ingredients they want us to use."
She and her husband both have taught classes at the store and have started hiring employees who have culinary training.
Repeat guest chef Kim James, of Six Star Catering and Events, recently led the store's annual Soups and Stews class.
Normally James uses her own recipes for classes, but this time she tweaked her routine, pairing soups from books by Pati Jinich and Ree Drummond alongside her own recipe for gazpacho.
"Last year I did a chicken and corn chowder and roasted red pepper," James said. "This year I'm going with celebrity chefs."
She also made Jinich's milkshake recipe so she could show off the Vitamix blender Nibblins has for sale.
"This machine is like a rock star," James said.
"I'm really starting to use things like this a lot," she said. The machine has a seven-year warranty and Dolinar said it also can make ice cream.
James told her Soups and Stews class that most really great soup recipes start with onion, garlic, carrots and celery. But she doesn't stress observance to rules.
"I kind of think when you cook if you want more carrots in there, put more carrots in there," she said. The same goes for celery or other vegetables.
Dolinar said she plans to keep adding to the course schedule based on customer interest and the skills of employees and guest chefs.
Since moving in November 2011 from the smaller store in Apple Blossom Mall to its current location at Rutherford Crossing, Dolinar said Nibblins can offer more extensive cooking classes.
"A lot of people don't realize that we do it."
For more information about cooking classes at Nibblins Edibles and Gifts, at 229 Market St., Winchester, call 540-535-0787 or visit www.nibblins.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Perfect Potato Soup, from Ree Drummond's "The Pioneer Woman"
Six slices thin bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
A whole medium onion, diced
Three whole carrots, scrubbed clean and diced
Three stalks celery, diced
Six whole small Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
Eight cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Three tablespoons all-purpose flour
A cup of milk
Half a cup of heavy cream
Half a teaspoon of salt or more to taste
Black pepper to taste
Half a teaspoon Cajun spice mix
A teaspoon minced fresh parsley
A cup grated cheese of choice
1. Add bacon pieces to a soup pot over medium heat and cook bacon until it's crisp and fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pot and set it aside. Pour off most of the grease, but do not clean the pot.
2. Return the hot to medium-high heat and add the onions, carrots and celery. Stir and cook for two minutes or so, then add the diced potatoes. Cook for five minutes, seasoning with salt, pepper and Cajun spice.
3. Pour in the broth and bring it to a gentle boil. Cook for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are starting to get tender. Whisk together the flour and the milk. Then pour into the soup and allow the soup to cook for another five minutes.
4. Remove half to 2/3 of the soup and blend in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. Pour it back into the soup pot and stir to combine. Let it heat back up as you taste for seasonings, adding more of what it needs. Stir in cream, then sir in parsley, reserving a little for garnish.
5. Serve in bowls, garnish with parsley, grated cheese and crisp bacon pieces.