Basil Fest!

 

 

 

 

Put basil in just about anything and I will try it.  Kinda like bacon.  I think it’s got a place in both sweet and savory dishes from apps to desserts and this time of year I can’t get enough of it.

If you’re lucky, and you’ve been an attentive gardener this summer, right about now your basil is blowing up.  Fortunately for me, my blooming basil timed out with my favorite sous chef (my sister) spending some time in town.  We love spending time in the kitchen together.  And we love preparing big family feasts together.  She had a brilliant idea this go ’round: Basil Fest.  We picked as much as we could from my garden, my parents, and a neighbor and went to town!

basil harvest

I had a bucket full of bright, big, flawless green leaves to work with, so coming up with the menu wasn’t tough.  There were still plenty of fresh, juicy strawberries to be had and tomatoes are just starting to ripen around here.  So those, plus all of our basil harvested, and another neighbor’s fig tree were the inspiration for the menu.

basil fest menu

I started with the lemonade.  I love making home made lemonade!  It’s a few extra steps compared to dumping the powder and mixing it with water of course, but I think the fresh tasting results are worth it.  I used Paula Dean’s recipe for strawberry basil lemonade.   I halved it, since I didn’t have the time or energy to juice a whole bushel full of lemons, and it was easy and fabulous.  Bonus: makes a good mixer for cocktails, too!

strawberry basil lemonad

Next, I moved on to my panzanella.  I like to let mine sit for a while to soak up all the juices and really marinate.  This is where my Cheftovers magic comes into play.  Panzanella is a salad that combines bread (leftover or stale, preferred actually) and fresh veggies.  So I cut a handful of rolls we had left over from the previous weekend’s barbecue into cubes, and toasted them up in a pan.  Voila!  What would have been trash is now an essential component to my colorful salad.

IMG_8176

There are plenty of routes you can take with panzanella depending on your taste and what yo’ve got on hand.  I used fresh tomatoes, yellow and orange peppers, cucumbers, red onion and a ton of BASIL, naturally.  I tossed everything together and dressed it with a simple red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing (seasoned with only salt and pepper).  If they made a panzanella print I would wear it as a dress!  Isn’t it beautiful looking?

panzanella

I took more of those same leftover rolls and used those for the base of my bruschetta.   No surprise, more tomatoes and basil at play here.  But instead of finely chopping the garlic to add to that killer combo, or painstakingly shaving garlic and scraping the freshly cut cloves on to the toasted bread, I decided to finally break in my “brand new” mortar and pestle I scored from cookbook author, Michael Ruhlman’s estate sale.  By using that tool, I created a smooth garlic paste to mix in with the fresh basil (minced) and tomatoes (diced).  Drizzle that with olive oil and pile it on to toasted bread and you’ve got a bright, crunchy bite with a more gentle and evenly distributed garlic flavor that other methods will deliver.

 

Now it was time to move on to the real work-the pasta.  This is where my sister shines.  I have tried, and tried and listened and watched.  But my homemades never seem to turn out the way hers do.  So I let her go to town, making fresh noodles with the help of my 3 year old, a real chef in the making.  The only secret I can share that maybe you won’t find in other recipes: she pours white wine into the shell of the empty egg she uses for the dough and adds it to the mix.  It’s magic.

While those beautiful noodles rested, I made the pesto.  More BASIL! Lots more basil.  Recipe follows.  One trick that will help you keep your pesto that beautiful bright green of the leaves, and not brown from bruising them-add a little ice to the food processor!  And if you don’t keep pine nuts in your pantry (I usually don’t because they’re so expensive but for this dinner we were sticking to tradition) substitute almonds for a cheaper, super food solution.

pasta with pesto

When it was time to cook and toss the pasta in with the pesto, I warmed it up in a large pan, and loosened it up with some olive oil.  I added grilled chicken for some protein, but shrimp is nice with pesto too.  And be sure to sprinkle your pesto generously with some Parmesan or Romano.  While the pasta was cooking we sliced up the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and more juicy tomatoes then hand picked the prettiest and largest basil leaves left to top off our caprese salad. (BONUS: We learned a new hack from the cheese vendor where we bought the log of buffalo mozzarella-slice it with dental floss for a smooth even cut)

better caprese salad

This is an easy finish after you’ve sliced and stacked the components.  Just drizzle it with the best olive oil you’ve got and then top it with balsamic vinegar, or even better, balsamic glaze for a sweeter touch.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and let the flag of Italy inspired salad sing!

When we plated everything up it made for a stunning tablescape of BASIL centric dishes.  I set a nice table and we feasted on our hard work.

AND-we couldn’t forget dessert! Using a recipe from Fabio Viviani’s new cookbook (Fabio’s 30-Minute Italian) as inspiration, I combined ricotta, honey, mascarpone cheese and put a dollop of that on a freshly picked fig (halved), courtesy my parent’s neighbor.  Drizzle that with more of the balsamic glaze and top it with another perfectly petite basil leaf and you have a sweet and savory finish to Basil Fest.

Now you know there is more where that came from!  Still plenty more of my favorite herb growing in my garden.  So, inspire me!  What are you making with your basil? What should I try? 

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)

 

 

5 fun ways to get your kids to eat healthier in 2017

Is your New Year’s resolution to get your children to eat better? I got you covered like a kid in frosting at his first birthday party. 
With childhood obesity and diabetes cases at alarming levels, it’s important to get ahead of this and establish healthy eating habits now.  My kids eat, enjoy even, things like salmon, hummus, cashews, avocado, broccoli and shrimp. They ask for salads.
Don’t get me wrong. They still pound some sodium-heavy mac n cheese, and opt for French fries over almost anything else when given the option. But I can get them to eat good-for-them foods at nearly every meal with a few tricks that I rely on.
1. Get creative with names
My girls are obsessed with mermaids and princesses. So I make kale chips, which resemble dried seaweed, and I call them “mermaid snacks.”  And they’re gone quicker than chicken wings at a Super Bowl party.
tiana-pasta
Or I’ll make “pesto” by blending cooked broccoli, grated cheese, garlic and olive oil in a food processor, then toss it in whole wheat farfale (bow tie shaped noodles). I call it “Tiana pasta” since it’s the color dress that Disney princess wears. Honestly, I can’t believe it works either. For boys, you could use wheel shaped pasta with the same sauce and call it Ninja Turtle pasta, for example.
2. Let them play with their food. 
I’m becoming pretty famous for my animal pancakes. Sure, there is usually whipped cream, Nutella or chocolate sauce on them. But there is always fruit. And about the half the time I substitute regular pancake batter for Katie Lee’s power pancake recipe (with cottage cheese and rolled oats) from her Endless Summer cookbook. They are distracted by the fun faces and shapes, and race to finish.
A bowl of oatmeal can also serve as a sort of blank canvas as well. Top with blueberries, sliced almonds, etc.
face-plates
I let them become the food artists with these fun face plates too (available at Bed Bath & Beyond). And since eating healthy=eating colors, they get to make bright pictures and faces with nutrient rich foods.
get-them-involved
3. Have them help
 
If they have a hand in preparing it, they’re more likely to eat it. It’s a fact.
Try a “veggie only” pizza on a whole wheat crust that they can top themselves. Who cares what it looks like?  Pride tastes good, doesn’t it, Junior?
Or simply measure out everything you need for say, a soup or turkey chili. Let them pour in the ingredients and they usually can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Bonus: this also helps with counting and math. “Pour in two cups of flour.  Then hand me 3 eggs, etc.”
farmers-market-five-collage
If cooking with kids is too much for you, engage them in other ways to get them interested and invested in what they’re eating.
One of our favorite games in the summer and fall is “farmers market five.” I hand each child five $1 bills to purchase whatever tempts them. It’s easier in this environment because most prices are in whole dollars but you could try the same thing at a grocery store.
placecards
Have an artistic kid? Have them make placemats. Does your picky eater also thrive on order or accomplishing tasks? Ask them to set the table. It just might work.
4. Get playful with your packaging or environment.
One of my favorite lunches as a kid was served in a humble and well-seasoned cupcake tin. Each hole is filled with something healthy to make for a well-balanced meal.
Put a blanket on the floor and call it a picnic. Pack their meal in a lunch box so they can play “school.”  Make it a “mystery meal” and see if they can guess what it is by tasting it or smelling it with a blind fold on.
5. Sneak it in
 
When all else fails, you know what you have to do. Hide the healthy stuff in some of the foods they never turn down.
I purée cooked carrots and blend them into apple sauce.
Pint-sized objection:
“Why is it orange, Mommy?”
Successful rebuttal:
“Because I put sunshine in it.”
True story.
popcicle-molds
My girls also love smoothies. So I start with healthy stuff I know they’ll like (vanilla Greek yogurt and frozen berries) and I add almond milk, and a handful of kale or spinach. They never know. But I do. And what they don’t finish I freeze in Popsicle molds for a healthy dessert.
Jessica Seinfeld has two entire cookbooks, Deceptively Delicious, filled with sneaky ways to get your kids (your husband and yourself) to consume more veggies.
Now, I’m not saying that ALL of these will work. Or that the one(s) that work with your kids will work every time. But hell, it’s worth a shot. One bite at a time.
Despite all these ideas, I must admit I’m NOT the mom who feeds her kids organic, wholesome, nutritious foods every meal and every snack.  I do the best I can.  Full disclosure…I wrote part of this post while waiting in a long line at Target.  At check out my children put Cheetos and Doritos on the belt.  And they ate them on the way home.  Before dinner.
doritos at target.jpg
To me the most effective way get your kids to eat healthy is to lead by example.  And everything in moderation.  Try new things, watch your portions and as they say “eat the rainbow.” You’ll be amazed at what happens at your dinner table.

Sol: Redefined

It’s a tall order to offer up something on a menu in Cleveland these days that isn’t already being done somewhere else.  But they’re doing it at Sol, in downtown Willoughby.  The Spanish-inspired scratch kitchen has just launched a new menu, retaining the favorite flavors from the year-old restaurant, but rethinking the structure and approach to make its food more affordable.

The inviting and eclectic dining room, and sprawling patio are the perfect setting for the  experience ownership and kitchen staff are going for, a modern communal and social dining experience.  The changes to their menu will also facilitate that.  Tapas!  They’re not appetizers, more like shared small plates.  I know, it seems like the same thing…but they’re not.  For example, Brussel Sprouts.  Can you imagine ordering a Brussels Sprouts appetizer?  But these are among their best selling dishes when offered as a tapa.

sol-menu

The restructured menu has broken down some of their former entrees into tapas format (with 15 different options), and added a “between bread” section, to shave down the price points, and contribute to a more casual feel.  Affordability and approachability are the two most important goals for ownership right now, they tell me.  Their menu items formerly ranged from $7-$26, but now are between $5-$14 (the traditionally-sized entrees are more, but still less than they were before).  Favorites like their famous flank steak and juicy double bone-in pork chop will remain on the menu.  Phew!

I got a nice sampling of the new offerings, including Spanish Flatbread with Catalan sauce, the crispy Brussel Sprouts, Braised Pork Tacos with charred cabbage and smoked pepper aioli, and a General’s Fried Chicken (my favorite!).  All packed the bold flavors, you’ve come to expect from Chef Michael Schoen.  That chicken was crazy good.  Makes me want to try the rest of it!

sol-chicken-sandwich

Schoen says no menu is ever final, and they’re looking forward to hearing from diners about the changes. They’ve been tweaking ingredients and portion sizes throughout Sol’s first year, culminating with this new menu, full of shareable conversation pieces.

Now, he and ownership hope to see people’s impressions of Sol expand from a “special occasion” destination.  They want their Lake County clientele to think of the downtown Willoughby location as a destination for a fun, uptown communal dining experience, where people will eat leisurely, indulging in the elevated menu of tapas and relaxed atmosphere.

Sol is located in downtown Willoughby at 38257 Glen Ave.  solwilloughby.com