Dinner Lab: Antico E Moderno

As I reflect on my third Dinner Lab, experience a single word comes to mind, synergy.  It was a truly collaborative effort of creative minds and local leaders.  And it was pretty exciting.

Dinner-Lab-St. Thomas

The location of the September event was the most interesting of all of the Cleveland dinners so far.  The site was St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sanctuary that won’t be around much longer.  Brickhaus Partners intends to turn the property on Lake Avenue into a collection of luxury townhomes, and call it 95 Lake.

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

So as part of the experience, the developer, Andrew Brickman, and Cleveland City Councilman, Matt Zone, were on hand to talk about the big plans for the neighborhood.

Dinner-Lab-band

And as an added bonus to the evening, there was entertainment this time.  City Councilman, Kevin Conwell and his band, The Footnotes, played during cocktail hour and through most of dinner service.

Dinner-Lab-Mytro-menu

The menu and the concept belonged to Chef Matt Mytro, (coincidentally, the same guy behind our Chef’s Table from last weekend.)  He and his partner at Flour Restaurant, Paul Minnillo, like to combine old school Italian cuisine with the occasional modern touch.  Mytro took this opportunity to take his modern approach to the next level.

Dinner-lab-burrata

First course was a warm burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream) with vanilla infused potato chips and pickled chili.  Innovative and tasty.

Dinner-Lab-beet-salad

The second course was a mock beet salad with pistachio, whipped ricotta, dried olive and sorrel.  It was definitely a favorite at our table.

Dinner-Lab-John and Dani

My friend, Dani and I were still admiring the beautiful presentation when we noticed that her boyfriend, John, had already polished his off and was asking for seconds.

Dinner-Lab-swordfish

Course number three had easily the most tender swordfish I’ve ever eaten. Had to look up what “Alla bagnara” meant to understand how it was made…steamed in a garlic broth.  Aha!  That’s why is was so fantastic.

Dinner-Lab-rigatoni

The fourth course was hearty and satisfying.  Chef Mytro said they made the corn rigatoni fresh that day.  But to me the lamb neck sugo (a rich tomato sauce) was the star of this dish.  I could’ve eaten several bowls of that!!

Dinner-Lab-panna-cotta

Dessert was a familiar treat.  The panna cotta sweetened with cereal milk that we’d enjoyed at Mytro’s restaurant, Flour, on Saturday.  This time there was a toasted marshmallow, always a good idea.

Dinner-lab-jen and ben

I love these dinners for a score of reasons.  But I appreciate them because they give me a reason to sit down through a relaxing service and enjoy my husband’s company, as well as those of good friends.  Can’t wait to see what’s next. 

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Forage with Strangers

I had the distinct honor of attending (in all honesty, crashing) a truly spectacular event, the inaugural “Forage with Strangers.”  It brought together influencers, connectors and innovators in Cleveland.  And we strangers bonded over a universal language: GOOD FOOD.

Let’s start with a little “behind the scenes” insight to how I came to be a part of this experience.  Over the course of the last year, I have been trying to immerse myself in the local culinary scene.  I’ve come to know some incredible people and eaten some spectacular food.  Social networking, no doubt, is a huge component of this.  So on Monday night, I started to see posts on Facebook and Twitter about this “Forage with Strangers” concept.  I was intrigued.  Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I started making some inquires.  And by mid afternoon, I was invited to join in.

I love people in the food world.  They just want everyone to have a good time and be well fed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a microphone, or a a blog.  But I sincerely appreciated the willingness to include me in such a cool and intimate experience.

Here’s what the day was all about:  A creative thinker from The Adcom Group teamed up with Kalman & Pabst Photo Group to orchestrate a networking event connecting local food brand reps, with local farmers and producers.  The idea was to drum up business for everyone involved.  But for as long as I was around, no one mentioned dollars and cents.  Everyone was just talking about food and ideas.  So refreshing and so delicious.  Yet still so productive…and in the end, probably profitable.

The group started the event with a five course “pre-foraging” meal dreamed up by Dante Bocuzzi.  In my year as my station’s designated “food reporter” his name has come up more than anyone’s in the city as the guy you’ve got to work with, and whose food you have to eat.

forage with strangers van

The next morning, the group ventured out in a van to half a dozen locations to “forage” for ingredients that would be used for a catered feast that night.

forage with strangers bounty

Photos Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

The 150 mile trek included Yellow House CheeseRittman OrchardsSpice AcresTrapp Family FarmOhio City Farm and Heinen’s.  The group gathered gorgeous fruits and vegetables picked at their peak, artisan cheeses and savory proteins.  In all, 40 bags were hauled back to the host site of the “Forage with Strangers” dinner.

forage with strangers happy hour

When I joined the party it was already time for happy hour.  Chef Bocuzzi and Chef Douglas Katz of Fire Food & Drink worked feverishly with a team of helpers to turn the day’s haul into tonight’s feast.

forage with strangers chefs working

Beer Master Sam McNulty of Bier MarktBar CentoMarket Garden Brewery and Nano Brew among the participants…as was Chef Adam Lambert, of The Black Pig and the upcoming Ohio City Provisions (a partnership with Fresh Fork Market).

forage with strangers table

The space was fantastic…full of natural light, props, and working kitchens for the commercial photographers at Kalman & Pabst to work their magic.

Forage with strangers cheese tray

We started with an impressive array of cheeses from Yellow House and Mackenzie Creamery and a charcuterie display to die for, courtesy of Chef Lambert.  I couldn’t stop myself from seconds and thirds of his chicken liver parfait, topped with Guernsey butter (from his own cows, and flavored with thyme and orange zest)

forage with strangers charcuterie

Wine was poured and conversation flowed among movers and shakers in the food world. I was eager to devour the details, and jealous that I missed all the foraging.

 forage with strangers diners

The inviting communal table set for 30 was soon filled with an incredible bounty.  Everything brought out family style, as you might imagine large farmers’ families do.  Even though the table stretched the length of the large space, there was barely enough room to set all the large platters full of farm fresh food.

tempura fried heirloom tomatoesforage with strangers walleye

Tempura fried heirloom tomatoes and Lake Erie Walleye with miso and radishes.

roaste beet-plum-goat cheese-salad  corn tomoato and cucumber salad

Plum and roasted beet salad with goat cheese.  Corn, cucumber and tomato salad.

Chef Doug Katzforage with strangers roasted chicken

Buttermilk fried chicken livers and Harissa roasted chickens by Chef Katz.  Plus hand made gnocchi ratatouille from the pasta master himself, Chef Dante.

Photo Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

Photo Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

We ate and talked and shared ideas, and ate and listened and shared seconds, and ate and laughed and shared inspirations.  The meal ended with everyone reflecting on their favorite part of the day.

forage with strangers dessert

There was dessert…oh yes, there was dessert.  Dante made an apple tarte tatin, and Doug crafted a couple of spectacular ice creams with fresh fruit toppings.

I left the dinner table buzzing with ideas and tingling with inspiration.  There are immensely talented people in my city who believe they can change their world and yours with food and shared experiences.  I want in.  How about you? 

“Freezer Games”

I’ve been given a challenge, a culinary challenge actually.  And I plan on tackling it with the tenacity and focus of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss in “The Hunger Games.”  

In an effort to curb the grocery bill, my husband (responsibly) asked that I try to shop a little smarter.  You see, leftovers aren’t my only game.  I have a weakness for cookbooks, and each week I try to make a couple of new recipes outside of my normal comfort zone.  But that often means buying up ingredients I don’t usually keep in my kitchen.  And that adds quite a bit to my final tally at the check-out line.  So, I’m going to hunker down and take a good hard look at the collection in my fridge, see what’s buried in the back of my freezer, and examine the odds and ends in my pantry.

There are still plenty of proteins in the house, thanks to a couple of BOGO deals at the grocery store and the remnants of my parents’ freezer (See previous post “Snowbird Special”).  I’ve got several chicken breasts, plus thighs and tenderloins, a couple of pork chops, a can of black beans, and Slovenian sausage.  So that’s a great start.

Other things in the freezer that will come in handy in my “frugal gourmet” campaign: home made pesto, pasta sauce and meatballs that I make ahead and freeze, frozen peas and snap peas, almonds, lots of frozen berries, pasta,  and cauliflower puree (which I sneak into recipes to boost the veggie-value of things like mac n cheese)

A collection of things catch my eye in the fridge…some savory chutney I have leftover from a pork tenderloin recipe I made, whole grain mustard, salsa verde, a pair of sweet white wines that were gifted to me (and I’ll never drink) caperberries, cocktail onions, and whole jar of jalapeno slices.

In the pantry there are plenty of things I should make use of, if not for the sake of my mission, then for the sake of making space in there.

bread crumbs

Before I even begin to tackle a dish, I remove the two bags of hot dog buns from freezer and make a batch of home made bread crumbs.  (See previous post “Quick Flips”)  I know those will come in handy, likely on Super Bowl Sunday…something will surely need to be breaded and fried on that junk food holiday.

Plum vida

Among the seemingly disjointed things I found, was a box of Plum Vida pouches.  They’re organic fruit/veggies blends.  I bought them thinking my girls would suck them down as quickly as they do the apple sauce “squeezies” they go through like water.  They did not.  But I took a look at the label and saw they contained cherries, berries, beets and ginger (Bonus: 3g of fiber, 1/2 c. fruits and veggies, and only 80 calories in each pouch)  Seemed like the perfect sweet/savory base for a sauce that would pair perfectly with the pork that I was defrosting.

shallots

So I started experimenting.  I chopped up some shallots (about a tablespoon), and added them to a saute pan with some hot olive oil.  Once those softened, I poured in about a half a cup of chicken stock, and a heaping tablespoon of apple balsamic vinegar.  (I’ve been wondering where and when I’d use that gift! Apple is another fruity flavor that goes great with pork)

apple balsamic vinegar

I let that reduce for a few minutes then emptied the contents of one 5 oz. Plum Vida pouch.  I left that at medium heat and let that bubble up, thicken, and reduce for a few minutes.  Then I tasted my concoction.  Wow.  I’d eat that!

Plum sauce

Last step was incorporating the pork.  Easy.  I just seasoned the pork chops with salt and pepper and seared them in a hot pan with oil.  Once those were browned on both sides, I added them to the pan with the sauce (an emptied the bits in the pan) and let them hang out together for a while.  Just a few minutes, covered, and they were ready to go.

Now, what to do with the rest of my inventory...Guess you’ll have to stay tuned.  And please, take a second look at what I’ve listed above and tell me what strikes you.  Based on what I have in the house, what direction should I go next? (instead of back to the grocery store!)