Working Mom Gourmet: Weeknight Dinner Solutions

Now that the school supplies are purchased and orientations under our belts, it’s time to settle into to this school year’s weekday routine. And for most people that means juggling carpools, sports practices and games, piano lessons and lots of homework. Oh yeah, you gotta squeeze in dinner somewhere too.

Resist the urge to hit the drive thru, order take out or give in to expensive pre-made or frozen dinners. We almost never do any of those things in my house and I am a pretty busy gal. My friends are convinced I’m a vampire because of all I manage to get accomplished.

A couple of followers have asked for my suggestions for easy weeknight meals with little prep or cook time.  Happy to share!

pesto.jpg

Presto, pesto!  Make a batch now, while the basil is abundant and fresh. Freeze it in ice cube trays or small containers for use when you need it.

Pasta is the obvious pairing with pesto. Choose a quick cooking pasta like angel hair to get dinner on the table faster.  Add the pesto to cooked pasta with olive oil, and toss, and you’re in business.

Grill some chicken ahead of time, or add in some quick cooking shrimp for a protein add-in for the pasta. For a creamy option, add a tablespoon or cream cheese or goat cheese to the pesto mixture. So delish!   If you’re over (or off) pasta, pesto is GREAT on zucchini noodles. Or you can also spread it or chicken, fish or shrimp too, for an herbaceous baked protein.

See below for my go-to basil pesto recipe (I use almonds instead of pine nuts because those are too expensive, plus I always have this super food around). I also like to mix it up and use walnuts for a variety, and I often make parsley, mint or cilantro pesto which is incredible on fish.

For a dinner that’s super kid friendly and fun for both them and adults, try my walking turkey Frito pie. (see previous post, A Portable Picnic, for this recipe)  You can always chop your veggies and cook the rice for build-your-own stir fry bowls the night before. 

Or mix up fresh pizza dough in the morning or the night before (so cheap to make and uses so few ingredients). The dough will be perfect by dinner time.  I use Leanne Brown’s recipe from her book, Good and Cheap.  Getting the kids involved in topping their own pizza always ensures they’re more likely to eat it!  It’s not rocket science, but it is science.  It’s proven!!  Crank up your oven to 500 and that ‘za will be ready in 10 minutes.

pizza

Cut down on cook time for family-friendly favorites like meatloaf, tuna noodle and broccoli, cheese and rice casseroles, pot pie or baked mac n cheese, by portioning them out into ramekins, or cupcake tins. Adults can control their portions better and cook time is cut in half! My kids always get a kick out of eating things “just their size” too.

For tonight’s dinner, I sneaked in some finely chopped zucchini and kale into mini meatloaves for a helping of greens that my children (and husband) won’t even know they are eating. Pillsbury has a really easy crescent roll mini pot pie recipe that I like, too.

Another favorite among my kids is carrot soup. It’s colorful, sweet and savory. Plus it keeps well so you can make all, or portions of it, ahead of time. I usually make it on the stove top with lots of fresh shaved ginger. But I had a bunch of HUGE carrots and some red/yellow peppers from the farmers market so I decided to roast them!  (recipe follows)

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, make baked taquitos.  I like to mix up shredded leftover chicken, cheese, rice and/or beans, and any veggies I have hanging around.  Put a spoonful of the mixture in a tortilla and roll them up tightly.  Place them in a baking pan seam side down and bake at 350 until they’re just barely browned. It’ll take no time at all!  You can dip them in salsa, guac or sour cream. Great way to use leftovers and not repeat taco night!

I always feel better when we have dinner together, especially one that I made myself.  And when it doesn’t take me all night, I’m happy.  We all know, when mama’s happy….

Roasted Carrot and Pepper Soup:

3 large carrots, peeled
1/4 of a red onion
1/2 a red or yellow pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled
3-4 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt/pepper
1 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
Heavy cream or half and half (optional)

Cut the veggies into similar sized pieces, about one inch chunks so they will roar evenly.
Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat oven to 400*.
Drizzle veggies, and garlic in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss to coat. Spread evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 30 min.

This can be done ahead of time. And if you double the portion, use the half roasted veggies for a side dish today, use the rest for soup tomorrow!

Place the roasted veggies in a blender with 1 1/2 c. broth (chicle or vegetable). Blend until smooth.

Put the soup in a sauce pot and cook a little longer to thicken. Add salt and pepper if needed. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream or half and half of you want a more creamy consistency.

Basil Pesto:

1/2 c. Pine nuts (pignoli) or almonds
2 c. Loosely packed fresh basil
1 Clove of garlic
1/3 c Parmesan cheese (or Romano)
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt as the cheese is salty already)
1/2 c. Of olive oil

Add the nuts to the food processor first. Blend until they are crumbs.
Add everything else but the oil. Turn on the processor and slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust (you add more of anything you like to find the perfect balance)

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Chef’s table at Table 45

If you haven’t been to Table 45 lately, or ever, make a point to. It’s a global treat for the senses. Sophisticated and modern, Chef Zack Bruell calls it his favorite restaurant space, and that’s saying a lot. The man is starting to lose count of his establishments, there are so many! 

table 45 chefs

I was invited, along with a few select others in the food media world, to taste the changes Chef Bruell is making under new Table 45 Chef Matthew Anderson, and new Executive Chef Michael Swann.  New and exciting details of this year’s Tour de Bruell were also revealed (keep reading!)

We were wined (with pairings for each plate) and dined (with a whopping 8 courses), and impressed with the knowledgeable and attentive staff.

table 45 sushi

The sparkling evening started with a glass of Von Schleinitz Secco Sparkling Dry Reisling, and assorted sushi out on the tranquil patio. The restaurant is inside the InterContinental Hotel, a Cleveland Clinic property. The environment is a welcome reprieve from hectic pace kept around the rest of the mini-city that is The Clinic.

table 45 chef swann

The group moved into the fabulous chef’s table for the remainder of our meal. The set up provided us with a front row seat for all the meal preparation. And the chefs accompanied the wait staff to explain each course and answer questions. You know I had one.

“How much does the international clientele and heart-healthy focus of the Cleveland Clinic play into the new menu?” The answer: quite a bit. Chef Anderson says Table 45 has always offered global cuisine, and still will. But he says they have also developed their dishes with capability of being “deconstructed” to accommodate various dietary restrictions, choices and allergies. So rather than limiting those who are cutting sodium, gluten free, dairy intolerant, etc. to just a few dishes, they are able to adjust most of the menu to please the patron. I appreciated the “choose your own adventure” approach to their offerings.

The second course was a vegan Caesar salad, made with a creamy tofu vinaigrette, nori crumbles and fried tofu as croutons. Imagine my husband’s surprise that he actually enjoyed tofu. It was paired with a lovely Chilean wine, Mayu.

For our third course, and one of my favorites, we were served a pan seared diver scallop with a chickpea puree (which ate like a slightly thicker hummus) and a raspberry glaze for the perfect acidic compliment. The Italian Conte Brandolini D’adda was a crisp partner to the dish.

The fourth course featured a goat cheese gnocchi (instead of using potato) which I had never had before. What a scrumptious substitute. It was sauced with a tomato fondue, arugula, basil and balsamic reduction. My only complaint was I wish there was more of it! We were poured a Baumard Savenierres. Honestly, I can’t remember much about this wine. But I don’t remember disliking any of them!

We continued our family style feast with a pan seared Chilean Seabass, always a favorite of mine. It sat on some smashed potatoes and a caper-tomato white wine broth which gave it a nice bite. The wine pairing here, another hit, Chanson Bourgogne Blanc.

As if we had room for more…the heavier entrees were now coming out. This roasted chicken with a mole rojo and Spanish rice was a standout for me. Something I don’t ever cook myself, and rarely order, but really enjoyed. And the wine for this sixth course was the table favorite, a Chateau Musar Juene Rouge from Lebanon. Who knew Lebanon made such great wine?!

The final savory course was my personal favorite, a grilled New York strip steak with a warm fingerling salad, wilted arugula, plenty of wild mushrooms and a port wine sauce. I am glad I paced myself up until this so I could have seconds! The wine was a velvety Rompicollo Sangiovese blend. Could’ve had three glasses of that.

And for our eighth and final course, the chefs put out a simple spoonful that satisfied our collective sweet teeth: a classic crème brulee paired with a Marchesi Di Barolo Moscato.

table 45 dessert

We were invited not only to share in this wonderful meal and see what these new chefs can do, but also to hear about this year’s Tour de Bruell. It’s the Amazing Race for Cleveland Foodies. The challenge is simple: eat at least one entrée at six of Chef Zack Bruell’s restaurants (Alley Cat, L’Albatros, Parallax, Chinato, Cowell & Hubbard and Table 45) between Memorial Day and Labor Day and get a card stamped at each stop. When your card is full, it’s entered into a hopper and the  grand prize winner is treated to a lavish four course meal for 8 at your home, cooked by Chef Bruell himself. This year there are also some additional incentives and fun elements to the promotion.

New this year: Finish the tour in the first 30 days and be entered to win a progressive dinner throughout several Zack Bruell’s Restaurants. Five lucky winners and their guests will be selected at random from submitted complete tickets to enjoy the chauffer-driven progressive dinner. And everyone who fills their ticket is invited to a complimentary VIP Party at Table 45 in September.

If that weren’t enough for you Bruell Restaurant Group groupies, there is also an exclusive wine tasting event, open to the public on June 6th. The Zack Bruell Restaurant Group has paired up with CBS Sports Commentator Jim Nantz’s acclaimed wine label, The Calling. The Sonoma Valley wines are the official wine partner of Tour De Bruell. Chef Bruell will host Nantz and his wine partner Peter Deutsch, starting at 6 p.m., as
they discuss The Calling at L’Albatros in University Circle. They will then move to Table 45 in the InterContinental Hotel, Parallax in Tremont and Alley Cat on the East Bank of the Flats. Each of these locations will feature complimentary tastings of several 90+ rated wines from The Calling.

Reservations for the wine tasting can be made with the individual restaurants.  I’ll be there! Will you?  I also plan to start my journey on the Tour de Bruell by the first week in June.  Better get dining! 

Cut. Chop. Dice. Sharpening my knife Skills.

My New Year’s Resolution was to do more focused things to accomplish my food related goals.  Take classes, strengthen my network, identify my strong suits, learn, and sharpen my skills.  So what better way to kick off 2016 than with a Basic Knife Skills class?  (insert sound effect of knife sharpening) 

I’m fortunate to live very close to the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking and ICASI, or International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute.  The pair provide incredible resources for both the recreational cook and the professional chef.  I’ve attended several classes at the school before, but all were recipe based and themed, like “A Night in Tuscany,” “Phyllo Baking,” etc.  This time around it was more skills based, and I was eager to get after it.

knife skills carrot demo

Our class of about 15 was lead by Chef Tim McCoy, a guy who’s taught there for just as many years and who spoke about cutting his teeth at a Japanese restaurant.  Can you imagine how much cutting and dicing goes on in the prep kitchen of a place like that?  Instant credibility.

McCoy started with the bare bones basics, like how to stand when cutting (where to place your feet, and best posture) and of course, how to hold the knife.  Immediately I began to liken this process to golf, tweaking my stance, grip and follow through to better my game.  And that analogy stuck with me throughout the evening, as I fought years’ worth of muscle memory and tried to correct what I’d been doing wrong for years…sub-par grip and lack of follow through.

knife skills carrots

After a series of demos, McCoy tasked us students with cutting a couple of carrots-julienne cut, dice, brunoise, cube.  I moved my knife much slower that usual, while even holding the vegetables differently than I have my whole life, with that “claw” grip, so as not to expose my fingertips to potential cuts, but only my knuckles.  Chef McCoy quipped you can still cut your knuckles, but there are fewer nerves there and less blood.  Good takeaway.  I felt my middle finger start to blister and knew I was doing something wrong…adjusted and kept going.  The food nerd in me was excited about doing this right.  Finally. Speed, and consistency would come along eventually, right?

Next we moved on to dicing tomatoes, and learned the chiffonade, technique for leafy greens.  Then it was the skill that brought tears to many eyes in the room…dicing the dreaded onion.

knife skills onions

I watched my fellow students’ minds being blown…as they learned and applied the proper technique that will save them enormous amounts of time and aggravation in the kitchen.

When none of the veggies were whole any longer, we set about making dinner for ourselves, splitting up into teams to tackle five recipes that required us to apply our new knife skills.

My team prepared a crisp antipasto salad and a fresh angel hair pasta primavera.

The other students made a creamy garden vegetable chowder to start, plus a tender chicken cacciatore and mixed fruit mini strudel for a  sweet finish.

I left the class in a state of mind that I like-inspired.  Now, I’m ready to tackle a new year…and a pile full of onions too! #bringiton

What’s for dinner? Mod Meals!

Chef-inspired, restaurant quality food can now be delivered to your doorstep.  Goodbye greasy take-out.  No more cardboard pizza.  Time for delicious, delivered.  Mod Meals is sourcing great food from familiar Cleveland chefs and bringing the meals right to you.

mod meals packaging

This week I attended the launch party for Mod Meals.  It’s a new service that gets you off the hook for dinner, offering a healthy alternative to drive-thru… soggy, lukewarm take out, or slaving over the stove after a long day.  It provides locally-sourced quality meals developed by four of the city’s favorite chefs.

mod meals launch party

The Chefs

Eric Williams of Momocho Mod Mex, El Carnicero, Jack Flaps & Happy Dog

Karen Williams from The Flying Fig 

Ben Bebenroth, the man behind Spice Kitchen and Bar, and Spice of Life Caterers 

Brian Okin of Cork & Cleaver and Graffiti Social Kitchens

Through a free app, customers will be able to browse the day’s menu.  Creators expect each chef will each offer three items daily (entrees, snacks and kid’s meals) They will change them up regularly.  Users can view the ingredients, for diet or allergy concerns, and price.  There will also be bios and backgrounds on the chefs for those who are interested.  Mod mealers will then choose the dish(es) they’d like to eat, along with a delivery time (cut off time will be about 3 or 4pm…they will work out those kinks as the first orders come in)

I have to admit, this sounds both easy and appealing…especially as those cold winter months descend upon us, when the thought of leaving your house to get food seems as appetizing as cold leftovers.

The chefs who attended the launch party were all excited about getting their cuisine out to people who may not have sampled them before, and furthering their brand.  And they were all genuinely interested and challenged by the process of developing food for “at-home finishing.”  Chef Okin said he actually had to buy a microwave for his restaurant’s kitchen so as to properly write the heating instructions.  Chef Small told me that during development, they had to work with the ingredients and the dishes to develop them to a certain stage, then chill them…factoring in re-heating that would be going on either in a conventional oven or a microwave.

mod meals-mac n cheese

Cost is also a factor, obviously.  To keep prices points for customers within a certain range ($10-15 for entrees, $5-10 for kids meals) the chefs have to sell the dishes to the company for about $5 each.  So the kinds of ingredients they’re using for their Mod Meals are not going to be exactly the same that you’ll see at their establishments.  But still, the dishes they offered as tastings at the event certainly echoed their established menus.

mod meals tamales

Eric Williams sampled corn tamales with roasted chicken and steamed corn tamales with eskabeche.

mod meals braised beef shoulder

Karen Small provided braised beef shoulder pot roast with celery root puree.

mod meals seared salmon

Ben Bebenroth cooked up some seared salmon with ginger broccoli and wild rice, and squash mac n cheese.

mod meals chicken confit

And Brian Oken offered chicken confit, creamy polenta and bacon braised collard greens.

mod meals instructions

Now…for an at-home taste test.  Launch party guests were sent off with packaged samples of what Mod Meals will deliver to its customers.  So I brought home a pair of braised pork chops and celery root puree dreamed up by Chef Small, and followed the instructions on the packaging.

mod meals test drive

The meat was tender.  The sauce was flavorful.  The sides were not an afterthought.  All the things you’d expect from a restaurant quality meal.  I ate it in my pajamas, and I didn’t have to do any dishes.  Not a bad Tuesday night.

Ohio City Provisions: a new, and true Farm to Fork concept

The term “Rise and Shine” was made for people like Trevor Clatterbuck and Adam Lambert.  They have been getting up before sunrise for months, working long hours readying their new project.  And it’s pretty exciting.  Both are heavy weights in Cleveland’s local food scene independently, (Trevor is the man behind Fresh Fork Market, a very popular CSA business (community supported agriculture) in Cleveland.  Adam is a well-established local chef, who’s logged hours in the kitchens of Bar Cento, and The Black Pig, to name just a couple) but together they’re doing something that isn’t being done anywhere else in town.

OCP Rise and Shine

The plans are to open up a market and butcher shop in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, near St. Ignatius High School.  The two plan to grow or raise everything they’ll sell there.  Fans of Fresh Fork will find all the good quality produce they’re used to (sourced from farms within 75-100 miles of Cleveland, organic when possible, and picked at the peak of freshness).

OCP produce

But what’s new, innovative and mouth-watering…is what they’re doing with hogs.  The pair have been experimenting with animal husbandry and feed to develop meat that you can’t get anywhere else in the state.

OCP hogs

I got a tour of the property in Holmes County where they have about 150 hogs on site.  Mangalitsa, Berkshire, Mulefoot, Red Wattle…all new vocabulary to me.  But what they have planned is not…charcuterie.  Yes, please!

OCP jen and a hog

They’ve got a supply chain in place, thanks to their “adventures in hog sourcing.”  The details of which the pair chuckle about, but don’t care to share.  After all, learning about heritage breeds is new territory for them too.  Clatterbuck has a background in business and political science.  Lambert is a self-taught chef.  But the two both seem right at home on the 200 acre property where they plan to get a lot of their product.

OCP Wholesome Valley Farm

They’re promising the best pork in the state.  The red wattles are said to be more tender.  The mangalitsas, used for things like Jamon Iberico.

OCP mangalitsa

What takes time, but will be worth the wait, I’m told…is controlling the product…all of it…from start to finish.  They are playing with breeds and what they feed the animals to get optimal product.  These hogs are given specific ratios of barley and grass from the fields.  Lambert says they have marbled loins, and even appear more red than pink when you cut into them.

Red Wattle Pig at Wholesome Valley Farm in Holmes County, Ohio

Red Wattle Pig at Wholesome Valley Farm in Holmes County, Ohio

Plus, they’re also raising other animals.  They have laying chickens, meat birds and heritage birds, whose pens and coops are moved weekly to insure exposure to fresh grass and soil for them to feed on, not to mention fresh air.

OCP mobile coop

They’re also working on ways to make heritage poultry more affordable. (which currently takes 18 wks.)

OCP heritage birds

The Hereford beef they are raising will be grass-fed, sustainable and have better flavor, according to Clatterbuck.  Those with smaller frames, he says, are easier to finish without incorporating high energy corn and grain.  Their plans also include growing non-GMO (and eventually, organic) corn and soy beans on site so the animals can feed off that.

OCP beef

There is so much in the works it’ll make your head spin.  The infrastructure is already in place for maple syrup production.  There are hives on site, for bees to pollinate the produce and generate honey.

OCP maple syrup infrastructure

They have secured their cannery, bakery, frozen foods and ferments permits.  OCP has acquired heavy machinery like bean snippers and corn huskers to handle the volume when fresh produce “comes in like a hurricane,” as Clatturbuck says.

OCP canned goods

When the store is up and running you can expect incredible products.  Believe me, I’ve had some of Chef Lambert’s charcuterie and it is unbelievable.  A true art.  But he’s even upped his game.  Clatterbuck and Lambert are fresh off a 2 day charcuterie workshop in Gascony, France.

forage with strangers charcuterie

And since it costs more (time and money) to raise these kinds of hogs, you can bet they won’t be selling them as pork chops.  You’ll see smoked and cured meats, specialty sausage and charcuterie.

Rendering of the Ohio City Provisions storefront

Rendering of the Ohio City Provisions storefront

Clatterbuck and Lambert are aiming to open Ohio City Provisions in January.  Can’t wait to see what will fill their cases, and the bellies of Clevelanders once they open their doors.

My Spectacular Spanish Feast: Tapas at Curate

Sometimes you have such an out of this world meal, you gotta write about it. My lunch at Curate Tapas Bar was that kind of experience.


I travelled to the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina to spend the weekend in a stunning cabin for my sister’s bachelorette party.  I’ll spare you the details of that portion of the festivities.  Let’s talk about the food in this tourist town!  The bride has been trying to dine at the popular Spanish tapas restaurant, Curate Tapas Bar every time she visits this charming city.   

Finally upon her third or fourth attempt, we scored seats at the bar where I got to watch our tapas being crafted right in front of us.  My favorite part played out before we even swallowed a bite.  Stunning Jamon Iberico shaved right in front of me. It instantly took me back to my time as a study abroad student in Pamplona, Spain.


We dove right in to the extensive and authentic menu… and admittedly over ordered out of pure enthusiasm and deep hunger.  I crave the kind of freshly cured olives that you get at a classic tapas bar. So I was very pleased when they tasted just as I hoped, beautifully marinated in lemon, rosemary and thyme.


Round one also included an ensalada verano with sheep cheese and pressed watermelon, and a Russian potato salad (another item I remember seeing on nearly every tapas menu in Spain) 

Next came the melt in your mouth Jamon Serrano Fermin.  Sliced thin, the salty, smokey goodness took me away to the land of bull fights and flamenco. Such a nostalgic treat for a me!  The bars in the neighborhood where I lived in the Navarre region had legs of this stuff hanging from the ceiling by the dozens.


Since it was a warm summer afternoon, we couldn’t resist ordering a bowl of refreshing, creamy gazpacho.  I was pleasantly surprised at how delicate the garlic flavor was in this cold tomato and cucumber based soup. Oftentimes restaurants make the garlic element of this iconic dish far too overpowering for my taste. Not Curate. For me, they nailed it.

  
Two other dishes we sampled were new to me and worth trying! The lamb skewers were cooked to tender perfection and accompanied by cunchy pickled cucumbers. And the grilled red peppers stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with parsley purée were decadent. I’m sure these are more modern liberties the chef was taking with tapas, but I didn’t mind.

It wouldn’t be a Spanish feast without croquetas either. These creamy fritters were filled with shredded chicken and cheese. Just rich and crispy enough.


We finished the meal with their most popular menu item, sautéed shrimp with sliced garlic in a sherry broth. And with what can only be described as the classic Spanish tapa, the tortilla espanola.  The egg, potato and onion dish is something I like to recreate on occasion. It didn’t disappoint!

When it comes to authentic Spanish cuisine and a tapas bar atmosphere, I have pretty high standards given my history.  Curate sets the (tapas) bar!

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?