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. 

 

Giving local and gifts for foodies

More and more people are making an effort to eat local and support locally made and sourced products. And the holidays provide a great opportunity to continue that trend, and introduce loved ones to some of your favorite local restaurants and artisans. 

For one stop shopping, try the new Merchants Market in Legacy Village.  The shelves are stocked with things that will please a variety of tastes.  My friend Dane Wujnovich, of  Brucato Gourmet has an incredible Sicilian pizza sauce, in two varieties, that would be a great addition to a gift basket.  The artisan sauces and cocktail mixes from Pope’s Kitchen make for perfect hostess gifts, as would the sweet offerings from Fear’s Confections.  Craft cocktailing fans can stuff stockings or mix up holiday party bevvies with bar ware and mixes from Happy Hour Collection.  Or satisfy the coffee lovers with some beautiful beans from local small-batch roaster, Six Shooter Coffee.

Toast to your health and the New Year with a bottle of Cleveland Whiskey, or a premium rum from Portside Distillery.

Or send a little piece of Cleveland to someone who can’t get home this holiday, with a gift crate full of local goods, artfully packed in a salvaged apple crate from the Cleveland Crate Company.

cleveland-crate-co

Put the flavors of your favorite Cleveland restaurant under the tree, with products developed by a number of local chefs.  Try Chef Doug Katz’s line of recipes and spice blends, Fire Spice Company.  Chef Zack Bruell also makes retail products, including a trio of sauces, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a line of coffee blends.

I’m a big fan of giving the gift of an experience.  For the foodie on your list, send them on a local food tour, like Taste Cleveland Food Tours.  They offer Tremont, Little Italy and West Side Market options.  Cooking classes are a fun way to connect and bond over what we all have in common, food!  I love the variety they offer at the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking.

And take advantage of restaurant gift card deals this time of the year.  Many establishments, like Pranzo, in Willoughby are offering a bonus gift card of $10 or $20 when you purchase $50 or $100 in gift cards.  People who like to eat out frequently will love The Deck from Cleveland Independents.  The organization of locally owned restaurants produces this yearly collection of discounts (average savings of $10 on a $30 purchase) to nearly 50 restaurants.  Or get gift certificates to their member restaurants at a significant discount (like $35 for a $50 gift certificate).

The Fabulous Food Show

My favorite food event of the year is always the Fabulous Food Show, at the I-X Center.  It shines a national spotlight on all that the Cleveland food scene has to offer, to 30,000 people over the course of a weekend.  Vendors, purveyors, artisans, chefs, foodies, students and avid eaters gather for three days celebrating all things FOOD.

ffs-steak-cake

This year they offered new things like a Baking Pavilion, Cocktail School and Friday night fund raising event, Savor Cleveland, to raise money for No Kid Hungry.  It was a fun evening attended by some of the celebrity chefs in town for this dynamic event.  The floor was also peppered with samples, and special offers for everything from salsa, to knives, to artisan cheese.  The neighborhood stage was a great showcase for local talent to demo techniques and recipes.  And the main stage offered presentations and Q&A from celebrity chefs like Aaron Sanchez, Daphne Oz, Michael Symon, Damaris Phillips and Melissa D’Arabian.

Once again I was honored to participate on a main stage event.  CLE Cooks for a Cause was expanded this year to include 8 teams of two, a local celeb and a local chef-going head to head in a “Chopped” style cooking competition.  Each team selected a charity to compete for.  The show itself donated $500 to each of our charities, plus donated the proceeds from reserved seating.  I was playing for the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland.

It was a rematch.  Chef Matt Mytro, of Flour, and I went back at it against Matt Fish, of Melt Bar & Grilled and Jeremiah Widmer of Q104 FM. We’d been ribbing each other for the better part of the year since the last time we cooked against each other at the Fabulous Food Show last year.  But Mytro and I wanted to take the title away from Team Melt.

We were given beef as a protein and the chefs set about rapidly raiding the back stage pantry for something they could pull off in 30 minutes, and still impress judges like Damaris Phillips, and former White House Chef, Sam Morgante.

Chef Mytro conceived, executed and plated a beautiful sirloin steak with a celeriac puree and a punchy salad on top.  He tasked me with making a perfect meatball, and braising it in some marinara.  His bold flavors and my comfort zone worked in our favor.  WE WON!  The judges were very complimentary of Mytro’s flavors and my ability to get the meatballs done in such a quick amount of time.  It felt good to win!  (especially because Matt told me his partner threatened to take his chef’s coat away if he lost a second year in a row!)

ffs-mytro-and-jen

To watch the entire competition from the perspective of the stage, click here for my Facebook Live broadcast.

I also scored, with some one on one interview time with three of the biggest celebrity chefs featured in the Fabulous Show.  It’s always an honor and a blast to talk to Cleveland’s own Iron Chef, Michael Symon.  Great to catch up with him about plans for Lolita, progress at Mabel’s and his yearly opportunity to show off the CLE culinary scene.  To watch my entire one on one with Chef Michael Symon, click here for my Facebook Live broadcast.

jen-and-daphne-oz

Chef Symon brought in fellow cast member from The Chew, Daphne Oz.  I loved visiting with her about tempting toddlers with healthy food, and her new cook book, The Happy Cook.  She is stunning in person and remarkably relatable.  To view my entire interview with Daphne Oz, click here for my Facebook live broadcast.

jen-and-damaris-phillips

And one of the newest members of the Food Network family, Damaris Phillips was also in town.  Phillips, of Southern at Heart, is as sweet as pecan pie and a ton of fun.  She is a great resource for those trying to please a variety of dietary needs, especially come holiday times.  She’s a southern meat-eatin’ gal who married a vegetarian!  My entire interview with Damaris Phillips can be viewed here.

The Fabulous Food Show is my happy place (one of them) it combines the energy of the Cleveland food scene, with incredible talent, learning opportunities, cutting edge products, fan favorites and delicious food.  Mark your calendar and get there next year!

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!