Fall flavors that won’t quit

Ok…I can’t stop.  I just love the flavors of fall.  They inspire me.  So after I recently tackled trio of fun fall recipes for She in CLE, I still have more to give, and cook, and eat.

How about Pumpkin and Sausage Soup?  Or a Caramel Apple Martini?  And, since nobody can get enough pumpkin this time of year…Pumpkin Sage Risotto.


Pumpkin and Sausage Soup

2 links Italian sausage

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely copped

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

2 T. butter

1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped

2-3 fresh sage leaves, julienned

2-3 c. chicken stock

4 T. pumpkin puree

pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon

1 T. heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the sausage from its casing and brown in a hot pan, breaking up with a wooden spoon.  Set aside.  In the same pan, lower the heat to medium/high and add the onion, garlic, and 1 T. of butter, then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cook until the onion softens, then add the sage, rosemary and pumpkin.  When the pumpkin and herbs become fragrant (3 min or so) add the stock and whisk until combined.  Season again. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the heavy cream, cooked sausage, nutmeg and cinnamon, and last 1 T. of butter.  Cook another 5 minutes.  You can thin it out by adding stock, if desired.  Or make it more creamy, by adding more heavy cream.


Pumpkin Sage Risotto

3 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

1 T. garlic, minced

1/3 c. onion finely chopped, or a whole shallot, minced

1  c. Arborio rice

1/4 white wine

4 c. chicken stock

1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

3 T. pumpkin puree

handful of sage leaves, chopped

1 T. chives, chopped optional)

Pour the stock in a large sauce pan and keep warm.  Heat 2 T. of the butter and the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Add the onion/shallots and the garlic and saute at medium high until vegetables are softened, season with salt and pepper.  Add the rice and cook until the grains are toasted.  Pour in the white wine and let the alcohol burn off.  Add a couple ladles full of stock and stir frequently, until the rice absorbs it.  Repeat several times, continuing to stir frequently until the rice is fully cooked.  Lower the heat and add the last tablespoon of butter, cheese, pumpkin puree and one or two chopped sage leaves.  Garnish with chives. Serve.

For a variation, heat a small saute pan on high, and pour in about a 1/2 inch of canola or vegetable oil.  Fry the sage leaves whole and garnish your risotto.  Or, top with grilled sausage, sliced into discs.


Caramel AppleMartini

1 part/2 oz. caramel vodka (salted caramel if possible

2 parts/4 oz. regular vodka

2 oz. of apple cider

pinch of salt

handful of salter, roasted peanuts

1 T. caramel sauce

Pulse the peanuts in a food processor until fine.  Pour the caramel topping on to a small, shallow plate.  Pour the peanuts on to a similar plate.  Coat the rim of a martini glass in the caramel, then in the peanuts.  Leave the glass upside down on the plate while you shake the drink.  Combine both vodkas, the cider, salt and about 6 ice cubes in a martini shaker.  Shake about 20 times.  Pour, enjoy, repeat.

I’m in the business of collecting great recipes that incorporate these ingredients.  So, please send, or share some that are working for you!


Fun Fall Recipes

The switch has officially flipped in my home.  It feels, looks and smells like fall around here.  Fall flavors are about as distinct as any.  Warm, earthy, and of course…pumpkin spicy.  I’ve been invited by my friends at She in the CLE to create some fun fall recipes.  To me, a collection like that wouldn’t be complete without incorporating apples, pumpkin and a clam bake!

For those of you who have a countdown programmed in your phone for when the Starbucks PSL is finally available…this breakfast is for you.  Pumpkin.  Spice.  Pancakes.  Now, I could have developed my own pancake mix recipe, but I’m a realist.  And I think most of you are too.  So the base of this recipe is Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix.  Then I put my own #Cheftovers twist on it.  Creative pancakes, like characters, or animals, have become a weekend tradition in my household (check out my Instagram account, @jenpicciano. My pancakes are usually my most popular posts). Just like jack-o-laterns, make these your own.  Use what you’ve got in the house to decorate these fun fall flap jacks. Or don’t.  And just enjoy fall’s favorite spice blend in a new way.


Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

1 c. Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix

2/3 c. water

2 T. pumpkin puree

1/2 t. cinnamon

one pinch each of ground ginger, nutmeg and ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Add a pad of butter on to a hot frying pan or griddle and spoon in a ladle full of the batter. Cook until you see bubbles.  Flip and cook the other side until golden brown.  Decorate like a jack-o-latern with candies, or just top with powdered sugar or syrup.

I’ve also taken some filling from leftover pumpkin pie (I know, who has that?? ) and added it to pancake batter, with similarly tasty results. 

Apples are abundant, cheap and versatile.  But why do something complicated…or expected with them? That’s not what you’re here for, right?!  Every time I walk past the caramel apple stands at late-summer county fairs, or fall festivals, I’m tempted by the combinations of sweet, tart flavors.  But I’m turned off by the task of tackling the whole apple and thick layers of caramel, chocolate etc. when I bite into them.  So why not break it down and still get all you’re after?


Caramel Apple “Nachos”

1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced

1 T. chopped peanuts

1/4 c. Smucker’s salted caramel, warmed

1/4 c. chocolate chips, melted

1 T. Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Spice or Halloween morsels

Arrange the apple slices in a pile on a plate. Drizzle with melted chocolate and caramel.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and pumpkin spice morsels.

Clam bakes are one of my favorite fall traditions.  I love the steamy, savory smells, and appreciate the process of cooking clams, potatoes, corn and chicken in one giant pot of heavenly fall goodness.  But it can be intimidating and time-consuming.  So I took the elements of the fall party favorite and made it into a pizza!


Clam Bake Pizza

1/2 russet potato

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 doz. middle neck clams

4 T. butter

1 T. shallots

1 bay leaf

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup cooked chicken (can be grilled, roasted, or leftover)

1 ear corn, kernels removed

2 slices bacon, cooked and finely chopped

1 T. chives (optional)

Pizza dough/crust

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and chop the potato, add to a pot of salted boiling water and cook until fork tender, then drain.  Mince the garlic.  Steam the clams with half the butter, stock, shallots, 1/2 of the garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and stock. Once they all open, remove them from the shells and reserve the liquid.

In a food processor, blend the cooked potatoes, the other half of the butter, the other half of the garlic, and several tablespoons of the liquid from the clams, until you get a consistency like Alfredo sauce.

Spread the potato mix on the pizza dough/crust like you would pizza sauce.

Top with chopped chicken, bacon, corn kernels, clams and cheese.  Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown, (about 10-12 minutes).

No season can compete with fall when it comes to flavors.  I hope you enjoy my favorites as much as I do!


Marriott International Cooksmart Culinary Challenge

What is it they say at the beginning of an Iron Chef competition? “So now America, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of my uncle: ‘Allez cuisine!'”  The phrase calls the chefs to the culinary battle.  And what a battle it was at the Marriott International Cooksmart Culinary Challenge.

I felt like a distinguished Food Network judge (along side Eric Williams and Tricia Chaves), sitting atop an elevated stage, ready to sample the hard work of up and coming sous chefs from Marriott properties all around the region.

I thought I’d be walking in to a generic corporate ballroom modestly put together to accommodate the competition.  But I grossly underestimated the production value of this event!  There was staging, and lighting and music, a live video feed of the action on large screens (thanks to Rock the House), and a real Iron Chef America Judge, Mario Rizzotti.

Eight talented and up and coming Marriott chefs advanced from hotel-level cook-offs, to compete here.  These are hourly associates and supervising chefs, at the top of their game.  They were tasked with a pretty daunting challenge: make something delicious, in 45 minutes, incorporating four mystery ingredients.  Those were lamb liver, monk fish, pickled green tomatoes and coffee.  I don’t know about you, but those don’t sound like an appealing group of ingredients to me.

When the clock started, the judges were encouraged to walk around the room, not only to chat up the chefs about what they were making, but also to take notes on how they kept their stations.  In previous competitions I’ve judged, we been tasked with ranking them from 1-5 or 1-10 in categories like taste, texture, presentation, etc.  But in this competition the scoring was far more intense, and including things like mise en place and sanitation.

And as if the pressure wasn’t intense enough, Mario was walking around the room interviewing the chefs as they were working.  But everybody seemed to handle the pressure like champs.  When the clock wound down, the chefs presented their dishes on stage and explained how they incorporated all these seemingly incompatible ingredients.

Most admitted they’d never worked with liver before and struggled with the cook on it.  But some used it wisely and flavored things like gravy, sauce or couscous with the sometimes off-putting protein.

When the scores were tallied, it was a unanimous decision to crown Courtney Nielsen, of the Renaissance Hotel in Columbus, as the victor.  She cleverly made a spin on dirty rice with the liver, made coffee and used it for the liquid, pan seared the monk fish and whipped up a pickled veg salad.  To me, it was the most harmonious off all the entries.

As the winner, she’ll be sent to Marriott HQ and test kitchen in Washington D.C. where she’ll get to rub elbows with corporate chefs and VIPs.  The brass behind this event say it was created to recognize their young talent and support sous chefs and cooks who do a lot of the heavy lifting in the kitchens of their properties, and while it’s only regional for now, they expect this Farm to Fork Culinary Challenge to be a national event come next year.


What an honor it was to serve on this panel (get my first….and second-eighth tastes of lamb liver!) and help support talented, creative people like these chefs.  They rose to the challenge.  Days later, I still can’t imagine what I would have done with a mystery basket like the one they were presented with.  What would you have made?


Slovenian Sausage Festival

It doesn’t get any more “Cleveland” than this.  A Slovenian Sausage Festival, put on by the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame & Museum, at SNPJ Farm in Kirtland.  Being invited to participate in this event means a lot to me…I’m half Slovenian.  My grandmother would argue…the good half.  And when your mother’s maiden name is Tomsic, you don’t turn down an opportunity to listen to polka music while crowning the next King of Klobasa.

It’s the biggest event of its kind in the nation, and with the largest Slovenian population outside of Slovenia, you can see (and smell, and hear) why Cleveland is the natural host for such a party. 

Polka and sausage fans were invited to dance their calories away to the music of more than fifty accordionists and musicians brought in to perform. Guests got to taste sausages from several makers and then pick their favorites. There was definitely some lobbyin going on. 

Prizes were awarded by People’s Choice and the juried Best of Fest.  And here’s an honor: the winning sausage-maker becomes the official supplier to the three-day Thanksgiving Polka Weekend at the Cleveland Downtown Marriott Hotel.  Who needs the “Sausage King of Chicago,” Ferris Buhler.  We’ve got our own king!


For my role, I served on a jury with other distinguished judges, like the Lady Butchers from Saucisson, a Slovenian diplomat and fellow food writer, Debbie Snook, of Cleveland.com. So as not to be pursuaded by preconceived notions or family favorites, the tasting was blind. Truth be told, we did discuss the make up of the five contenders a bit.

It was interesting to taste it and examine the texture, color, seasoning and overall tastes, instead of just devouring them pretty quickly like I’ve been doing most of my half-Slovenian life.

In the end, to my delight, my long time family favorite, Azmans (of Euclid) was crowned the judges’ favorite. So glad to see these fine butchers and old world artisans rewarded.

It was a real treat to return to the retreat location enjoyed nearly every weekend by my grandparents and my mother, as a child. And I was tickled to watch my two year old eagerly finish her first Slovenian sausage, like she was born to, and see my girls enchanted by the magic of button box music like I used to as a little girl. Anybody who is old school Cleveland, or old world American, can certainly relate.  And, dig in.


Taste of the Browns

The bar has been raised for the stadium, ball park and arena fan food experience, especially in Cleveland.  Local sports fans are also big foodies.  They are coming to the game expecting a win, and a belly full of top notch local food.  Taste of the Browns gives them a generous helping of what they’re after, with a side of social good.

For nearly 20 years, Taste of the Browns has been helping to tackle hunger in Northeast Ohio.  The event is the major annual fundraiser for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.  The region’s biggest hunger buster was able to serve up 896,000 meals in six counties with the funds raised at last year’s event, which was nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

The event returns to First Energy Stadium on Sept 19th, where the Browns are bringing some big players to the table.  The team and the region’s most notable chefs have got a culinary play book you’ll want to be eating from.

Michael Symon (B Spot Burgers, Lola Bistro, Lolita, Mabel’s BBQ)

Jim Blevins (Butcher and the Brewer)

Dan Deagan (Deagan’s Kitchen and Bar and Humble Wine Bar)

Michael Thompson and Odell Boone (Pickwick & Frolic)

Eric Williams (Momocho and El Carnicero); and more

In all, more than 25 local restaurants and purveyors will participate.  Want a full list of who’s going to be there? Click here.
Honorary event co-chairs are Cleveland Browns Tight End Gary Barnidge, former Browns Linebacker and current Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge, Dick Ambrose, and Chef Rocco Whalen of Fahrenheit, and Rosie and Rocco’s.

Taste of the Browns guests will get to mingle with current and former players and bid on a variety of auction items, which include dinner with a player, and special autographed items.  And you know, I love a good wine pull!!


The event will be held in the Club Lounge at FirstEnergy Stadium. Tickets are still available for $175 ($75.00 of which is tax-deductible) or you can also get VIP tickets are available for $250 ($150 of which is tax-deductible).  That will get you access to the VIP Lounge and include exclusive tastings, as well as access to Cleveland Browns celebrities.

Every dollar raised for the Food Bank helps them provide FOUR MEALS to those in need.  I’ll see you there!  For more information or to order tickets, call (216) 738-2046 or visit
lobster empanadas

Chefs Unbridled

We are all often asked to support good and worthy causes.  But some are just more compelling than others.  The Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center falls into that category.  Can you name another non-profit that helps with such a variety of people?  The organization, which uses therapy horses, assists everything from PTSD and ADHD patients, to riders dealing with blindness, down syndrome, multiple sclerosis and neurological disorders.

Chefs Unbridled at Chagrin Valley Hunt Club is Fieldstone Farm’s primary benefit to raise money for the Ridership Program. Serving more than 1,000 students each year, Fieldstone Farm is one of the largest centers of its kind in the country.  And I’ve got nine reasons you should join me on September 17th.

The food.  It’s about the food, people.  The event highlights an array of talented and influential Cleveland chefs who are ready to “bring it” for this cause.

  • Demetrios Atheneos of Bold Food and Drink (Cleveland)

  • Jim Blevins of Butcher and the Brewer (Cleveland)

  • Chad Bolar of Pesto’s Pizza & Wine Bar (Chandler, Arizona) – Private Guest Chef

  • Adam Bostwick of Graffiti: A Social Kitchen (Cleveland)

  • Chris Hodgson and Scott Kuhn of Driftwood Restaurant Group

  • Jimmy Linhart and Pablo César Montiel of Lemon Falls Café (Chagrin Falls)

  • John Owens of Market Rocky River & Wine Bar Rocky River (Rocky River/Cleveland)

  • Ian Thompson of Cedar Creek Grille (Beachwood)

  • Eric Williams of Momocho (Cleveland)

    Your ticket to Chefs Unbridled gets you a seasonal tasting dinner at the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club Polo Field.  But this isn’t your traditional “small bites” type event.  Chef Hodgson tells me the portions will be about 7 oz.  So you WON’T go hungry. Guests will enjoy cocktails, the tasting menu, and tasty treats from a food truck and the cupcake truck. Yes.  There will be a cupcake truck.







    Chefs Unbridled - Kuhn Hodgson - Credit Creed Woodka PhotographyWant specifics?  I got ’em.  Chef Williams says he’s making Grilled Chicken Tinga Tacos with Yucatan slaw and chipotle tomatillo salsa.  Chef Blevins is going big, planning a whole Braised lamb, hand pulled naan bread to order, tzatziki sauce, oven cured tomatoes, and arugula.  Chef Atheneos is bringing Braised Pork Belly w/ ancho chile jam to the table.  And for a “choose your own adventure” option, Chef Bostwick is preparing a 72 hour “pastrami” style short rib with a ton of different breads, pickles, sauces, mustards, all made in house!


mini empandas

Chef Hodgson is perfecting some lobster empanadas.  He showed me a couple of examples of the dough, size and filling he was working on. Wanna see how he makes these?  I got you. To check out our video of his demo, click here.

  • New additions for the 2016 event include private vintner getaway packages (for 2 people) in Sonoma or Napa Valley, as well as an exclusive Kentucky Bourbon Trail getaway experience (for 2 or 4 people) and a wine pull raffle.  You can score a really valuable bottle of wine for a song with a feature like that.


    You can also indulge in a horse drawn carriage ride throughout the historic district of the village and a bourbon tasting with Tom’s Foolery.  Um…sign me up!

Students who work with the Fieldstone horses make progress in overcoming barriers and achieve goals such as independence, self-esteem, strength, and socialization.  So, I hope to see you at Chef’s Unbridled, on September 17th.  Click here for tickets.  They are $140 a piece and include a tax-deductible donation to Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center.


Jen at the Garlic Festival

Cleveland Garlic Festival

Pass the breath mints.  It’s time to consume garlic with reckless abandon.  The Cleveland Garlic Festival is the annual fundraiser for the North Union Farmers Market. The two day event allows the market to operate weekly throughout the year in Greater Cleveland.  I’ve gone for years.  But this was the first year I got to participate!

garlic fest raw

The funds generated help them administer and expand their educational and charitable market programs, which include Food Stamp enhanced purchases/EBT-SNAP, Music at the Market, Chef at the Market and the Mighty Locavores K-2 educational programming in Cleveland Municipal School District.

As you make your way around Shaker Square, which hosted the festival, you could sample countless varieties of the vampire repellent.  Purple, elephant, you name it.  Plus local producers had samples of the other products they make from it.

Even more popular were the stands that incorporated garlic, like garlic fries, garlic pickles, garlic burgers, even ice cream and cotton candy.

garlic fest chef demo

Throughout the weekend, there was also a series of demos, and competitions, the Top Chef Garlic Grill Off.  Local chefs were asked to bring their A game and feature various combinations, highlighting garlic.  I was asked to judge the pasture raised pork and garlic round.  Don’t mind if I do?!

Everyman chef, Mike Downing, of Garage Cookin’ presented his “tacanini,” or a cross between a taco and a Panini.  The smoked pork had just enough subtle garlic and smoke flavor to it, and it was very tender.  Loved the touch with the pickle, too.

Table 45 Chef Matthew Anderson gave us a dynamite pulled pork slider using pork butt, garlic used three different ways, a carrot slaw and a killer aioli.  Can you tell I liked that one?

garlic fest winning dish

Chef Cameron Krahel, from Canal Tavern of Zoar, took the classic pork and beans to a new level, and even found a way to incorporate garlic in to the peach garnish…a great surprise.  The vinegar-based barbecue sauce that he provided on the side was a better choice compared to a heavier, ketchup/tomato based one.  And the beans were cooked to perfection.

pork tenderloin

Finally, Chris DiLisi, from Willeyville in the East Bank of the Flats, plated up the prettiest dish of the competition, using pork belly and tenderloin, among other ingredients.  It not only packed the boldest garlic punch of all the dishes, but it also displayed many difficult culinary techniques.

The surprise bonus to those watching the competition? There were samples (full sized ones!) of all of the “contestants” provided to the audience in the demo tent. Admission to the festival was only $9, plus a whole meal’s worth of taste tests.What a deal!

We were asked to judge the dishes in five categories (flavor, texture, appearance, creativity and use of garlic). In the end, the scores were quite close, but my fellow judges (Tricia Chaves of Fresh Water Cleveland and ptaom.com, and Michael Feigenbaum of Lucy’s Sweet Surrender) and I chose Chef Krahel as the winner.  The small town chef was genuinely surprised to nab the win, but he deserved it.

garlic fest winner

What a great way to spend a sunny Sunday.  And I have 3 more cooking competitions on my calendar coming up the fall.  Not a bad line up ahead for me!  Think I could make a living with gigs like this??  I’m working on it!