Dinner Lab: Antico E Moderno

As I reflect on my third Dinner Lab, experience a single word comes to mind, synergy.  It was a truly collaborative effort of creative minds and local leaders.  And it was pretty exciting.

Dinner-Lab-St. Thomas

The location of the September event was the most interesting of all of the Cleveland dinners so far.  The site was St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sanctuary that won’t be around much longer.  Brickhaus Partners intends to turn the property on Lake Avenue into a collection of luxury townhomes, and call it 95 Lake.

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

So as part of the experience, the developer, Andrew Brickman, and Cleveland City Councilman, Matt Zone, were on hand to talk about the big plans for the neighborhood.

Dinner-Lab-band

And as an added bonus to the evening, there was entertainment this time.  City Councilman, Kevin Conwell and his band, The Footnotes, played during cocktail hour and through most of dinner service.

Dinner-Lab-Mytro-menu

The menu and the concept belonged to Chef Matt Mytro, (coincidentally, the same guy behind our Chef’s Table from last weekend.)  He and his partner at Flour Restaurant, Paul Minnillo, like to combine old school Italian cuisine with the occasional modern touch.  Mytro took this opportunity to take his modern approach to the next level.

Dinner-lab-burrata

First course was a warm burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream) with vanilla infused potato chips and pickled chili.  Innovative and tasty.

Dinner-Lab-beet-salad

The second course was a mock beet salad with pistachio, whipped ricotta, dried olive and sorrel.  It was definitely a favorite at our table.

Dinner-Lab-John and Dani

My friend, Dani and I were still admiring the beautiful presentation when we noticed that her boyfriend, John, had already polished his off and was asking for seconds.

Dinner-Lab-swordfish

Course number three had easily the most tender swordfish I’ve ever eaten. Had to look up what “Alla bagnara” meant to understand how it was made…steamed in a garlic broth.  Aha!  That’s why is was so fantastic.

Dinner-Lab-rigatoni

The fourth course was hearty and satisfying.  Chef Mytro said they made the corn rigatoni fresh that day.  But to me the lamb neck sugo (a rich tomato sauce) was the star of this dish.  I could’ve eaten several bowls of that!!

Dinner-Lab-panna-cotta

Dessert was a familiar treat.  The panna cotta sweetened with cereal milk that we’d enjoyed at Mytro’s restaurant, Flour, on Saturday.  This time there was a toasted marshmallow, always a good idea.

Dinner-lab-jen and ben

I love these dinners for a score of reasons.  But I appreciate them because they give me a reason to sit down through a relaxing service and enjoy my husband’s company, as well as those of good friends.  Can’t wait to see what’s next. 

“sCRUMBtious” Shrimp

I like potato chips a whole lot.  And it always pains me to toss the end of the bag away, along with all those perfectly good crumbs.  But until this week, the only way I knew to consume them was through a very undignified method of upending the bag and pouring them into my mouth.  Not ladylike.

I love to take a whole Sunday afternoon and just experiment in the kitchen.  This week I was able to try out a handful of things.  Some things worked, some didn’t (I’ll spare you the details of the failures).  The results of what did work was pretty damned tasty.  Potato Chip Crusted Shrimp with a pair of dipping sauces, Honey Sriracha and Chipotle BBQ.

leftover Lays

I grabbed the remnants of what was a jumbo bag of Lays chips out of my cupboard and crushed them inside the bag (less mess!!) I used my hands and a rolling pin.  When then were almost the size of bread crumbs I was satisfied.

potato chip crumbs

Since the chips were already moist (and seasoned) and the shrimp I was working with were wet, I chose to skip the usual 3-step breading process: flour, egg and breading…and just go right to the breading.  The coating would probably stick better with the standard method, but I was looking to use up my calorie count with the chips instead of the flour and egg.  I coated the shrimp in the potato chips crumbs and thought it best to move quickly before they dried and fell off.

potato chip coated shrimp

A chef friend of mine, Brandt Evans, taught me how to make pretzel crusted trout, and one of his tricks was to add oil (about a tablespoon of canola) to a cold pan and then put the seafood in, to avoid burning the coating.  I tried that in this case, and it worked well.  It goes against what most of us know, but it’s the right call here.

fried potato chip crusted shrimp

This step just took a few minutes on the frying pan.  I put it on medium/high heat and they were golden brown in only about 3 minutes.  Now, prior to browning up the shrimp, I started experimenting with the dipping sauces.  First thought: Honey Sriracha.  I’m very in to “sweet heat” nowadays.  And it was done in no time at all.  I just put a couple of teaspoons of honey in a ramekin and heated it up so it would mix well with a dash of Sriracha, my new favorite hot sauce.  This step is up to you, however hot or sweet you want it.  Find your happy place.

chipolte BBQ sauce

If you don’t keep Sriracha in your fridge, try a Chipotle BBQ variety instead.  I just put a couple of tablespoons of BBQ sauce in another ramekin, and added a dash of chipotle chili, and the same amount of cumin for some smokey flavor.  I fired that up in the microwave to heat it up.  Both sauces were good.  But I preferred the Honey Sriracha.

The end result of this experiment was a great appetizer.  But you could certainly apply this to a larger volume of shrimp and be pretty satisfied!  I encourage you to try something in the kitchen this week…and report back!

“Shhhepherds Pie” As in “shhh, don’t tell anybody it’s made with leftovers,” Shepherd’s Pie

This is about the time of the holiday season when I’m just not in the mood to make much of anything for weekday meals.  My kitchen creativity is tapped out on Christmas cookies and multiple rounds holiday party appetizers I have to prepare.  During this spell, meatloaf is one of the go-to dinners I make and have ready for a work night meal.  With only two adults in our house who sit down to eat a proper portion, that means leftovers.  I took a long look at the hunk of meatloaf remaining, and the potatoes I found still lingering from a crock pot meal I’d made earlier in the week…and I decided to try something I’d never made before….Shepherd’s Pie.    

leftover meatloaf

I started by locating and chopping some veggies I’d use to supplement the meat: carrots, onions, and some baby bella mushrooms.

chopped veggies

I also grabbed some frozen peas, something I always have around (see my Pantry Must-Haves post)  I sauteed those, then added the meatloaf and broke it up in the pan, only adding a little seasoning to the veggies as the meat had already been seasoned.

sauteed veggies and meat

From there I went to work on the topping, a mashed potato of sorts.  Now, because I have never made shepherd’s pie before, I did consult a couple of recipes to make sure I was on the right track, and I was.  So I took the leftover cooked potatoes from my previous dish, and mixed those up with some sour cream and heavy cream (also leftover from a recipe.  It seems that recipes always call for half a cup of the stuff, when the smallest carton usually contains about a cup)  I suppose you could use milk here too.  I used a hand mixer to get it nice and smooth and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

shepherds pie potatoes

The last component I needed to figure out was the gravy.  So I went with what I know.  Start with some butter, whisk in some flour, then I added beef broth and, after consulting with some other shepherd’s pie recipes, I added a little bit of Worcestershire sauce and some pepper.  I let all those elements hang out until I like the consistency, took a taste….and I was satisfied.  I mixed the meat and veggies with the gravy and poured portions into some medium sized ramekins.  Since I was dealing with leftover portions of both the meat and the potatoes, there wasn’t enough for the traditional portion in a baking dish.  But I’ve found these ramekins I bought recently have been very useful in situations like this.

shepherds pie set up

I spread the whipped potatoes on top of the meat/veggies/gravy and sprinkled a little paprika on there for color.  Since everything was cooked already and the portions were not terribly big, I decided to broil them on high until the top looked golden brown.  But if you were making these ahead and were refrigerating them, I would bring them up to room temp, or throw them in the oven first before broiling so it’s warm throughout.

I got four portions of “Shhhheperd’s Pie” from only about a 3-4 inch slice of meatloaf and a handful of leftover potatoes.  This will surely become a new “go-to” meal with any sort of leftover ground meat.  

Please share some of your short-cuts and secrets to getting dinner on the table during the busiest time of year.  I could use them!

The Pilgrim Pocket: Post-Friendsgiving

Half the fun of Thanksgiving dinner is thinking about the leftovers.  There’s hardly another meal on the planet that reheats and tastes just as good in the days after as this original, American feast.  But this year, I wanted to think beyond turkey sandwiches, turkey salad and turkey soup.  And I had an idea…the Pilgrim Pocket.

Friendsgiving guests

This weekend I hosted a “Friendsgiving” to celebrate the bountiful blessings and the company of my family and of a couple others.  We watched football, snacked while enticing smells filled the house, then sat down and piled our plates high with turkey and all the traditional trimmings.  The Cabernet and the gravy flowed.  It was a warm, fun evening.

Friendsgiving dinner plate

I took a quick assessment after the table was cleared and the guests had left.   About four portions of the 13 lb turkey, one helping of stuffing, LOTS of mashed potatoes and gravy, half a casserole dish of green beans, a few cups each of corn and fresh cranberry sauce and a couple items in the fridge (a pie crust, and crescent rolls) that I never used.

Since we only get to eat this combination of delectable dishes once a year, I didn’t think it was wise to completely change the flavor profile…best to just repackage it into something a little more exciting than luke warm leftovers.  Enter the Pilgrim Pocket, a thanksgiving calzone of sorts.

pilgrim pocket crust

I pulled out the remaining pie crust I had in the fridge (from the two pack I bought for the pumpkin pie I made) and unrolled it, then sliced in half.  I took a cup full of turkey (chopped) a cup full of green bean casserole and the rest of the stuffing and mixed it all together.  I added some gravy to keep it moist on day two.  I put the Thanksgiving mixture on one half of each of the semi-circles then folded the other half over, and pinched the sides to seal it in.

pilgrim pocket egg wash

I brushed the outside with egg wash and cut a couple of slits in the top to vent.  Then I popped my Pilgrim Pockets in the oven at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.  The result was a Thanksgiving redux that would have made the pilgrims proud!

pilgrim pocket sliced

Stay tuned…I have plans for that cranberry sauce.  What have you done with leftovers from Thanksgiving?