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)

 

 

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SummerDine

 

 

How does a citywide dinner party sound to you?  I’m in!  Dine with a couple (dozen) of your closest friends and participate in a culinary celebration stretching across Cleveland. 

Les Dames

Courtesy: Les Dames Cleveland Chapter website

The Cleveland Chapter of Le Dames d’Escoffier (made up of women in the food-service industry) is hosting one BIG dinner party on August 24th.  Fine restaurants throughout the region have ponied up a table for 2-10 diners, and the meals at every establishment will be served at 6pm, at a unique location in the dining room.  Each guest will be treated to a 4-5 course meal, paired with two glasses of wine (or a signature cocktail and a glass of wine).

 

edwins salmon

Participants can chose from the menus at Edwin’s, The Emerald Necklace Inn, Fire Food & Drink, Greenhouse Tavern La Campagna and Michaelangelo’s.

The SummerDine event supports an organization that includes Northeast Ohio’s top women in the culinary and hospitality industries.  With the purchase of tickets, Les Dames can continue funding their Green Table Initiatives outreach and grant programs.  Past beneficiaries include the “Take Charge and Learn Food” program at the Coit Road Farmers’ Market, the Case Western Reserve University Farm, Veggie U, the Countryside Conservancy Farmers’ Market Junior Chef Program, and the Tremont Urban Learning Garden.

Tickets for this citywide culinary celebration at $75 each, and are sold directly though the Les Dames d’Escoffier Cleveland event page.

Eat, drink, and toast to your dining companions and to those eating elsewhere in this tasty city, all for a good cause!

Veggie U Food & Wine Celebration

When the wine is flowing, the food is great, and the cause is even better…it’s hard to say no, right?!  That’s why I’ll be at Veggie U’s Food & Wine Celebration on April 30th.  And you can be too!  Read on to see how to win a pair of tickets to the event, valued at $200.  

You may recall I posted about Veggie U at the beginning of the school year.  They’re an incredible organization, a non-profit dedicated to increasing children’s awareness of healthy food options, and teaching them how real food reaches their plate.

food and wine girl planting

For nine years, Veggie U has been taught in every Cleveland Metropolitan School District Elementary School.  That adds up to more than 40,000 Cleveland students who have “graduated” from Veggie U!  They’ve been encouraged to play in the dirt and learned the importance of good nutrition, as well as how food really reaches their plate.  Here’s the rub: the program costs more than $80,000 to place 180+ gardens in CMSD this year alone—and they are underfunded.

Their upcoming event represents their biggest fundraiser of the year.  And this time around, they’ve got a pretty incredible venue, the 925 Building, formerly The Huntington Bank Building.

food and wine band

 It will feature several food stations, spirits, signature cocktails and live music from The Discovery Band.  A wine pull and silent auction will round off the evening while providing further opportunities to donate to the Veggie U mission.

“Our goal is to provide great food and great fun for our guests, but to also make sure the Veggie U story is told. Veggie U believes children who are exposed to growing their own food are more likely to include vegetables in their diet. Our national non-profit organization supplies Classroom Gardens and a standards based, five-week science program to elementary and special needs students. Locally, Veggie U has been part of the learning process for every Cleveland grade schooler since 2007, as well as hundreds of suburban children,” said Executive Director, Nadia Clifford.

Some of my favorite chef/philanthropists, and local restaurants will be represented.  And these people don’t disappoint.  Featured establishments include: Momocho, Dante’s, Hodge’s, Cork&Cleaver, Graffiti Social Kitchen, Urban Farmer, and AMP150, with more establishments planned to join.

Tickets for VUFWC are $100 per person. To purchase tickets and learn more about the event, visit click here, or call 440.774.8344. Sponsorship opportunities are available and food and wine vendor applications are also being accepted.

Want to WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS to the Veggie U Food & Wine Celebration?  Send an email to Enter@VeggieU.org and put “Cheftovers” in the subject line.  The winner of the tickets will be chosen at random (tickets sent electronically).  You have until April 27th to enter.  See you there!

 

 

 

Drying Garden Herbs

The time has come, I hate to admit, to ready my garden for the winter.  I took one of the last glorious fall days, warm and sunny, to dig out what was left of my herbs.  But, in true Cheftovers form, I had to do something with the stragglers.  And since I don’t have a greenhouse to preserve the plants, I decided to try drying them in the microwave.  It was remarkably easy and not as tedious as I thought.  And when jars of dried herbs can run $5-10 each…why not give it a go?

garden herbs

After I transplanted all that I could into smaller pots close to the house, I trimmed up a bunch of basil, rosemary, and parsley.  I took a long hard looks at the volume of parsley I had (looked like a bushel), and the thousands of little needles on the rosemary bush, and decided basil would be the only one I’d be experimenting with for now.

garden herbs leaves

I plucked the individual basil leaves from the stems and placed them in a single layer on a paper towel.  I also placed another layer of paper towel on top.  Then it was time to fire up the microwave.  Since mine doesn’t have temp control (low/medium/high), I only heated it for a short amount of time initially.  And I didn’t want to burn them or start a fire with “dry” leaves on a paper towel.  But I was banking on the fact that these freshly snipped leaves still had enough moisture in them.

drying garden herbs

After thirty seconds, I examined the leaves and was pleased that it was working!  Not enough time yet…

So I put it back in for another 20 seconds, then another 15.  Each batch varied in terms of size and number of leaves, but in the end each round I dried needed about 1:00-1:15 in the microwave.

dried garden herbs

I transferred the dried leave to a Ziploc bag and crushed them by hand.  In the end I generated about 1 cup of dried basil leaves.  As you probably know, that will get me pretty far (two full batches of Picciano family pasta sauce, in fact!)  And all for free.  Not bad!

jarred herbs

As for the rosemary and the parsley I have…I opted for the tried and true “hang and dry” method.  Besides, I think they look kinda cool in my kitchen.

hanging rosemary

I will probably need to give those a week or more to dry out completely.  Then I’ll do the same with those (remove them from the stems and crush the dried leaves).

What are you doing to ready your garden for winter?  I’m always looking for tips from those with a green thumb!

More beer, please. Market Garden Brewery taking it to the next level.

There’s something pretty exciting brewing in Ohio City.  The craft beer industry is booming in Cleveland and the brew masters and business leaders behind Market Garden Brewery are striking while the iron is hot…and the beer is cold!

market-garden-brewery-fermenting-tanks

There is a major expansion underway behind W. 25th Street.  Market Garden Brewery is turning their already impressive output into a potential powerhouse.  They’ve already installed seven 70 barrel fermenting tanks. How much beer is that?  (hint: 1 barrel=31 gallons)  That’s a lot of brewski!

market-garden-brewery-water-tank

The ownership is growing from a single restaurant’s worth of brew, to a full scale production facility with plans for kegging and bottling their beers.  They’re also working tours, tasting and retail space in to their plans.

market-garden-brewery-retail

MGB is renovating 5 old buildings behind the W. 25th Street block they already occupy, next to the back parking lot of the West Side Market.  It used to be a city block’s worth of houses.  Most recently it was a warehouse.  But when this project is all said and done, it will be an operation with the capacity for 80,000 barrels of beer.  Yowza.

market-garden-brewery-bricks

The creative and careful ownership group behind this project is taking steps to preserve the buildings’ character they’ve uncovered during the construction process.  Original, exposed brick walls still stand.

market-garden-brewery-doorway

Beautiful reclaimed wood is being re-purposed for doorways and other trim elements.  I love that they are staying true to the vibe of the neighborhood.

market-garden-brewery-reclaimed-wood

Once they are fully operational, it’s time to get their family of beers out to the masses…on tap at bars and restaurants, and on display at grocery and beverage stores.

market-garden-brewery-brewmaster

At this point, Brewmaster Andy Tveekrem says they are in the “courtship phase” with beverage distributors, trying to find the perfect marriage of production and distribution.

If it wasn’t official already, with an institution like Great Lakes Brewing Co. around the corner, and sister restaurant/brewery Nano Brew down the block, the addition of Market Garden Brewery’s expansion certainly makes a case for this portion of W. 25th St and Ohio City as Cleveland’s Brewery District.  Cheers!

Chef’s Garden

Every chef I’ve ever met speaks about the importance of fresh ingredients and working with what’s in season.  What better way to control the quality of what you serve, than to grow it yourself?  

Unless you’re a regular, you probably would never know the volumes of produce grown behind one of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland, L’Albatros Brasserie + Bar.  A tour of their garden left me hungry for a fresh summer salad and ashamed that I haven’t been taking better care of my own garden!

Chef de Cuisine, Temple Turner was gracious enough to show me around and walk me through what they’re growing, and what they make from their more than modest garden.

L'Albatros-greens

The staff works with a gardener, Lois, to plot out their plots and designate the best picking times for things like thyme and basil.  Turner says they are trying to get as many greens in the ground as they can fit.  They use things like Swiss chard and kale for salad specials.

L'Albatros-watercress-table2

Their two cascading watercress tables are just amazing.  They harvest from there every day for use in Watercress Cesar Salads and for garnish on nearly every other entree.

Chef-Temple-Turner

Fragrant concord grapes cover the back fencing.  Turner says they’ll use it in a sorbet, a compote for desserts or a sauce on a protein.  Same goes for the bright and bold currants.

L'Albatros-currants

About 20% of their produce during high season comes from their own garden, but they’d like it to be more.

FRISÉE AND BACON LARDONS WITH POACHED EGG

FRISÉE AND BACON LARDONS WITH POACHED EGG

“It provides some options when a picky table or diner asks to switch things up.  We pick out something from the garden as an alternative, harvest it and cook it on the spot…fresh from the garden,” the chef says.

Peppered throughout the plots are baby strawberry plants.  The fruit easily wilts almost immediately after you pick it.  So rather than incorporating them into dishes, they’ll offer them up to diners during garden tours.  Two or three times a night, guests are brought out into this little oasis after their meal, as a way to showcase what the restaurant does with the space.

L'Albatros-wildflowers

Even the flowers you’ll see decorating the bar, dining room and bathrooms come from this same garden

“It was tough to get it off the ground, and coordinate what they could harvest but once that was determined it got easier,” says Turner.

L'Albatros-watercress-salad

With limited space in the kitchen, trying to coordinate when to harvest and clean large volumes of their own produce in the kitchen is tricky.  But when you taste things like this watercress salad, made up on the fly in the L’Albatros kitchen, you’ll see it’s worth it.

Zack-Bruell-Oil-and-Vinegar

Herbal Harvest

It’s about that time when those of us in cooler climates have to come to terms with the fact that winter is coming.  Most of the leaves are off the trees and the first snow of the year will fall any day.  Ugh.  Before frost destroys it, it’s time to harvest what’s left of my humble garden.

I have a pair of four by four garden boxes in our back yard.  Not because I love to garden, or cultivate plants, but because I love to cook with fresh ingredients.  Each year I mix it up based on what did well the year before.  This year I dabbled in tomatoes for the first time, which were a disappointment due to our cool summer.  Same goes for the basil, an herb I could cook with every night.  My parsley, oregano and rosemary, however, blossomed this year.  Even into late fall, they’re still thriving.  But not for long.

After cutting all the herbs I could carry and spreading them out on my counter, I rolled up my sleeves and brainstormed about the best ways to maximize this aromatic harvest.

herbal harvest2

My go-to with excess herbs is some variety of pesto.  So I began by making a version of the Italian staple sauce.  As mentioned in a previous post, I usually make pesto with almonds rather than pine nuts.  They’re far cheaper, and I like the idea of putting a “super food” into a dish.  Pull out the food processor and combine roughly ¾ c. almonds with a couple handfuls of fresh parsley, a clove of garlic, ½ c. grated Parmesan, and some fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Season it with salt and pepper and fire it up.  The end game is a bright and fresh sauce that’s great on seafood like shrimp, salmon or any white fish.  Also try adding a little (like a quarter cup) cream cheese or goat cheese and toss it with linguine and a touch of pasta water.   Supplement with a protein like chicken or shrimp.   To. Die. For.

The food processor got me thinking about another idea that could set me up for an easy work day dinner: Herbed butter.  I softened some unsalted butter and blended it with a couple small cloves of garlic and parsley.  My husband loves spaghetti al olio.  So this will make it incredibly quick.  Simply cook some long pasta, and toss it with this garlic butter w/parsley, season, and add olive oil.  Top generously with grated cheese.

Then I took another stick of sliced, unsalted butter and added parsley, rosemary and oregano and garlic to make another version of herbed butter. I seasoned this with a touch of salt and pepper, then rolled it up in plastic wrap and foil and threw it in the freezer.  I plan to slice it off to use as needed on things like chicken and steak.  This will be versatile and very clutch when I’ve come home late from work and want to put together something great.

Fresh are too expensive to waste.  How have you made good use of excess?