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.


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?


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)



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


Prep Kitchen CLE 

It’s no secret that the food scene is exploding in the CLE but the growth is not limited to restaurants.  

Starting this March, Prep Kitchen CLE, a culinary incubator, will offer affordable, commercial kitchen space to community members starting their own food business. They’ll occupy about a 2,000 square foot space in The Flats and operate 24/7 to help start ups and entrepreneurs. Sarah Halko, with Prep Kitchen CLE, says there three aspects to our kitchen that will allow them to serve every single community member. 

“Not only are we providing kitchen space for food startups, but we’ll also have a portion dedicated to nonprofits, as well as a chef’s table,” she said. 

Orale has already signed on as a tenant, and they’re pursuing arrangements with a few food trucks and other food startups. 

“Vendors will occupy our space until they feel they’re successful enough to go out on their own,” Halko told me.

Some just have an idea they want to try. Others need additional kitchen space to meet production demands of an already successful product. Their mission is to give occupants continued support and opportunities to help maximize their growth potential. 

How it works: Upon signing up, tenants will choose blocks of times they want to use the kitchen. First come, first serve. Kinda like a good BBQ place.

They’ll dabble in the event business, by renting out their Chef’s Table for small scale events for companies. And they plan to host event nights for potential investors, so that they can try tenants’ products, and provide more opportunities for tenants to share their products with consumers.

The space itself will house two commercial kitchens, the above mentioned chef’s table, a retail section, cold and dry storage, and a small retail space set-up for on site sales.   

“The West Bank is the perfect place for this kitchen, there’s something special about this neighborhood, the history, the industry- and we’re going to maintain that same look and feel inside of the kitchen,” Halko said.

Why launch something like this in CLE now? Halko says it makes perfect sense and it’s perfect timing to capitalize on all the opportunities and tasty ideas being generated. 

“Cleveland has an amazing food scene and we’re bursting at the seems with food startups,” she said.

Prep Kitchen CLE intends to be an integral part of the new Flats, respecting its traditions, and contributing to the neighborhood through efforts like a Refugee Job Training Program. 

Come March, they can have two groups working at a time. Since the kitchen is open 24/7, that makes for six 8 hour shifts per day. Can’t wait to see what they’ll serve up.

White House Recipes 

On Inauguration Day I can’t help but think about all of the “changing of the guard” details that are being put in to motion in preparation for the Trump Family occupying the White House.  I had opportunity to meet a former White House Chef, Sam Morgante, during the Fabulous Food Show this year.  He and I have stayed in contact and he was gracious enough to share some of the favorite recipes among the many Presidents he has served.  

Cowboy Steak

Three-peppercorn sauce

• 1 1/2 teaspoons oil

• 1/3 cup peeled and diced carrot

• 1/3 cup diced Spanish onion

• 2 tablespoons thinly sliced leek (white part only)

• 2 tablespoons chopped shallot

• 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic

• 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed mixed peppercorns (black, green and pink)

• 2 sprigs fresh thyme

• 1 small bay leaf

• 2 tablespoons Cognac

• 2 tablespoons red wine

• 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

• 2 cups low-sodium beef broth

• Salt

• Freshly ground black pepper



1. Heat a small, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the carrot, onion, leek, shallot, garlic and peppercorns and sauté until the vegetables are tender, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf and cook for 30 seconds.

2. Stir in the Cognac and red wine. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by one-third, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the vinegar and broth and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by one-third, about 30 minutes.

4. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and discard the solids. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep covered in a warm place until needed.


Grill the beef and assembly: Recommend ONE TEMPERATURE ONLY

• 10 -16 oz. (size optional) Cowboy Steak, Trimmed and seasoned

• Salt

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided


Three-peppercorn sauce

1. Begin with steaks at room temperature.

2. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Season generously with 1 teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon pepper, or to taste.

3. On a large in-fired broiler, brown the steak on one side, criss-cross, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Place the beef on a rack in a roasting pan; Roast the beef until desired temp, roughly 20 minutes, longer for well-done. Remove beef to rest.

5. While the steak is resting, gather a sauce pan to the stove top over medium-high heat. Ladle one-half cup of the sauce and cook, gathering any flavorful bits of Au Jus from the resting meat. Heat the sauce over high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into the rest of the sauce.

6. To serve, dress the beef onto or aside your choice of starch. Spoon sauce over each serving and pass any remaining sauce alongside.

 I got ambitious and tried the “Freedom Chocolate” recipe he sent me. Evidently a favorite of President George W. Bush’s.    Worth.  Every Calorie.

Chocolate Freedom (911 Memorial Dessert)

President George W. Bush’s favorite

• 6 (1-ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate

• 2 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate

• 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) butter

• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

• 3 large eggs

• 3 egg yolks

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 2 tablespoons orange liqueur


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Grease 6 (6-ounce) custard cups. Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave, or in a double boiler. Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur. Divide the batter evenly among the custard cups. Place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates.


• Betty Crocker Lava Cake Mix 1 Box

• Vanilla Ice Cream 1 pt

• Fresh Raspberries 1 pt

• Fresh Black Berries 1 pt

• Fresh Blueberries 1 pt

• Raspberry Coulee 1 bt

• White Chocolate 1 bt

• Bittersweet Chocolate Chips 2 bags

• Wafer 1 flat

• Cooking Spray 1 can

• Cocoa Powder 1 co

• Tin or regular soufflé dishes

 South West Chicken (1-3 Servings)

• Chicken Breast​​​​1 lb

• Garlic Minced​​​​1 tbsp

• Cilantro Fresh​​​​¼ cup chopped

• Olive Oil​​​​​¼ cup

• Kosher salt​​​​1 tsp

• Black Pepper​​​​¼ tsp Grinder

BBQ Sauce

• Brand name w/ honey​​​½ cup​​

• Brown Sugar​​​​¼ cup

• Apple Cider Vinegar​​​4 tbsp

• Liquid Smoke​​​​1tsp

• Molasses​​​​2 tbsp

• Dijon Mustard​​​​1 tsp

Pico de gallo

• Tomato Fresh Diced​​​1 each

• Roasted Sweet Corn​​​1 ear

• Jalapeño Fresh Diced​​​1 pepper

• Red Onion Diced​​​​1 tbsp

• Cilantro Fresh Chopped​​​3 tsp

• Olive Oil​​​​​4 tbsp

• Lime Juice​​​​2 tsp

• Kosher salt​​​​Dash

• Black Pepper​​​​Dash


• Monterey Jack Cheese​​​1 Slice

Toast Points

• French Baguette​​​​3 slice


Step #1 Take chicken breast and marinade with chopped cilantro, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Step #2 Prepare modified BBQ sauce by adding all ingredients together and stir. Hold.

Step #3 Prepare Pico de gallo by dicing all vegetable uniformly. Roast corn in oven with oilive oil and salt until golden brown. Take diced tomatoes, jalopenos (W/O Seeds), onions, cilantro, corn, olive oil, lime juice, kosher salt, and pepper and combine in a bowl and let set for a few minutes.

Step #4 On a in fired broiler or sautee pan brown chicken with olive oil on both sides until desired temperature. Finish with BBQ sauce as a glaze. Hold for a least 5 minutes to let chicken rest.

Step #5 Slice chicken bias . Take pico de gallo and cover the chicken slices. Place a small slice of monterey jack cheese over the Pico de gallo.

Step#6 Place finished chicken under a broiler for a few seconds until cheese is golden brown, or if using a sautee pan place back into the pan an cover until the cheese is melted.

Step #7 Arrange chicken with a grilled bagette and serve on desired plate.

The dreamer in me thinks of all the important and influential conversations that have taken place over meals just like these prepared with precision, care, patriotism and love.    

































Chef’s Table: Date Night at Flour

Old friends are the best.  Old friends, and good food…now that’s a great night!  My husband recently reconnected with a childhood friend (through a chance encounter I had with him during one of my cooking segment shoots).   They quickly caught up over the phone and decided to plan a night at the restaurant where he is a chef, Flour.  We scored the Chef’s Table on Saturday night so that we could chat up Brett and enjoy the incredible menu the place offers.  

Flour Salumi 

Seems only fitting in a restaurant labeled an “Italian Kitchen” that immediately after being seated, Brett greeted us with a stunning Salumi plate (complete with delectable selections like mortadella, coppa picante and salametto framani)

Flour cheese plate

And before we could even look at the menu, I was won over by the cheese plate that had fresh sliced turkey figs, Calabrian pecorino. langherino, humboldt fog and aged gouda.

Flour Allison and Andy

We had the pleasure of dining with another couple of old friends of the chef, Allison and Andy.  They too were ready to indulge in all that the menu offered, toast, taste and celebrate the success of their childhood buddy.

When I mentioned that we were coming to Flour, a friend who dines there often recommended one of the appetizers.

flour big a$$ meatball

“I have dreams about the Big A$$ Meatball at Flour,” she said

Didn’t take much to convince us.  We ordered a pair of these softball sized portions, which were placed on a rich whipped ricotta and topped with fried sage.  Heaven indeed.  We also tried the chorizo stuffed dates and a plate of mussels.

Flour Mussels

Since Brett is the self-proclaimed pizza master of the kitchen, we had to try one of the wood-fired pies that people rave about here.  Didn’t need to hem and haw about this choice…it was the potato carbonara for us and we were not disappointed.

Flour carbonara pizza

This killer pizza incorporates potatoes as part of the base beneath the aged provolone, egg and pancetta.  You’d think that was enough food…but once again our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we decided to order three entrees to share as well.  We went for the Mediterranean Branzini, a tagliatelle with a bolognese, and the show stopper, a lobster strozzapreti with pancetta, bone marrow and cream.

Flour Lobster Pasta

This was a noodle new to me, and worth every single calorie.  Just when we thought we were done, Brett brought out dessert, a cereal panna cotta, sweetened from Frosted Flakes!

We shared a couple bottles of wine, plenty of memories, more food than we should’ve eaten, and some good laughs.  That’s a good date night no matter what your taste in food, or friends!

RestauranTOUR: Behind the scenes as Zack Bruell opens Alley Cats

There are fewer things more stressful for a chef than the opening of a new restaurant.  Yet seasoned restaurateur, Chef Zack Bruell, appears cool as an English cucumber as he readies his new river’s edge restaurant, Alley Cats.  

The oyster bar will be the first tenant to open in the new Flats East Bank project, a massive development that promises to revitalize a once-thriving entertainment district in Cleveland.  If the way in which Bruell is finishing Alley Cats is any indication, Clevelanders and their visitors, have a lot to be excited about.


Bruell invited me to tour Alley Cats as he makes finishing touches, and prepares for inspections and a soft opening.  I could feel an almost tangible sense of urgency as soon as I walked in to the construction site.


Electricians, carpenters, and various other contractors working feverishly at this stage of the process.

This two-story building, and enclosed patio went up in about three months.  “That’s insane,” Bruell tells me, chuckling.  

But since he was making such a substantial investment in the building and the property, he wanted to get it up quickly to try and take advantage of the precious, and unfortunately short, summer season along the Cuyahoga River.


The brutal northeast Ohio winter took its toll, delaying construction on the building itself and the roads/sidewalks leading to it.  Bruell tells me he was ready to open around the 4th of July, but it looks like it’ll be the first week of August before the doors actually open.


The lighting is the first thing that caught my eye in the dining room.  It’s something Bruell is extremely particular about in all of his restaurants. (Cowell & HubbardChinatoParallaxL’AlbatrosTable 45Kafeteria, Dynomite)

Even the fixtures in the kitchen must meet his standards of dim, soft, flattering light for his female patrons.  Something, I have to say, I’ve appreciated every time I’ve dined at one of his establishments.  


He shook his head as he saw the fluorescents installed in the prep kitchen.  Even the light from those, he said, was too cold and would spill into the dining room.  Not acceptable.  They’d need dimmers too, he decided on the fly.  Add those to the list of last minute changes he’d have to make before they’d be ready to open.


Alley Cats, like the rest of Bruell’s restaurants, has an open air kitchen.

“Human beings are drawn to fire….it’s a primal instinct,” the chef tells me.  


In it they’ll make casual, Southern California inspired food.  Bruell intends for people to dock their boats along the adjacent boardwalk and stroll right in to the “shore restaurant,” flip flops and all.  It’ll be a much different kind of vibe than the rest of his places.


The fixtures in the rest of the dining room are “industrial cool,” his take on grunge.


 And the seating is an inviting combination of banquet and communal tables.


However, he added partitions (also industrial looking) throughout the floor to help maintain an intimate feel in the 110 seat dining room.  It’s certain to help ward off the sense of emptiness during slower winter months too.


But until dreaded winter descends upon us, and while summer still lingers, the views from the open air dining room, (complete with garage style doors) are classic Cleveland.


As I walked out of the dining room and through the enclosed patio and private dining room, I caught a glimpse of some wood trim that was being artfully stained.  Picture a sophisticated driftwood look…appropriate given the waterfront venue.  Can’t wait to see where that pops up.


There was still plenty to do as I looked around, but Chef Bruell assured me they are close.  He can taste it.    


Five great gadgets for your summer herbs

Fresh summer herbs are a coveted commodity.  And they make everything and anything taste better.  Since last week’s post about my favorite new gadgets for summer was so well-received, I’ve decided to do this “gadget thing” regularly.  This week, I went hunting for 5 great gadgets to help you best use the herbs you’re growing or bringing home from the market.

 herb keeper

1. Cuisipro Herb Keeper  This gadget not only stores and preserves your snipped herbs, it also promises to keep asparagus longer. (I hate when pricey stuff like that goes bad quickly)
Product description also says it’ll fit in most refrigerator doors.  It retails on Amazon for $22.95, and comes in a compact version.
2. Artland Press and Measure Glass Herb with Oil Infuser  Those who own and reviewed it say it’s a quality product, easy to use and effective.  Think of the tasty salad dressings and marinades you could make using this!  I. WANT. IT.  It sells on Amazon for $15.80.
herbcicle (2)
3. Herbcicle Frozen Herb Keeper  (this link even has a how-to video for herbal novices!)  Now, THIS looks cool.  According to the manufacturer,, you just fill the unit up with leafy green herbs, then twist the top on tight, pop it in the freezer and hours later you’ve got frozen herbs at your disposal.  You can use a knife to cut off the desired amount, or grate directly into food.  It sells for $7.99 on Amazon.   
herb stripper
4. Chef’n Herb stripper  Nothing annoys me more than stripping rosemary stems, or thyme leaves.  So tedious.  This guy will do it for you, for $7.99 (on Amazon).  The vessel will even measure them for you as it collects.  And it has four different sized holes to accommodate any variety of woody, stemmed herb. Clever.
herb chopper
5. Chef’n Herb’n Shears Herb Chopper and Bamboo Bowl Set.  I love a quick chop on something rough like rosemary (after you use the stripper!) I also discovered that someone at the company is also a fellow blogger, using videos to demo their products.  This one is on sale at for $14.99.