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!

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Mangia at Miceli’s! An inside look at how some of the best cheese you’ll ever eat is made.

I usually don’t think about where my cheese comes from.  Unless it’s “stop you in your tracks” good.  And I take for granted just how often I get that feeling, because there is a lot of good cheese produced locally, by a company that’s been around for more than half a century.  I was invited to tour Miceli’s Dairy Products on Cleveland’s east side, to get a look at what $17 million in improvements completed in the last 2 years have done for the place. 

Micelis-bar

I was so happy to see a family-owned and operated business, continuing to invest in the community in which they are deeply rooted.  The new “Visitors Center” boasts a beautiful dining room and full bar, both fully operational.  Executive Chef and Food Services Manager, Mark Arndt, tells me they use the facility to host clients, and showcase new and classic applications of their products.

Micelis-welcome-center-and-bar

Now for proprietary reasons, I couldn’t take pictures of inside the manufacturing facility.  I felt like a guest at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

However, trust me when I say that it’s impressive!  They’re the largest privately owned manufacturer of ricotta cheese in the U.S.  They take hormone-free milk from Mid-West co-ops and produce dozens of varieties of ricotta, mozzarella, marscapone, and provolone cheese.

The operation sits on 20 acres in Cleveland’s east side, not exactly a hub of industry right now.  Yet the Micelli family, which already employs about 180 people, is planning to expand even further there, with facilities dedicated solely to mozzarella and provolone.

They even have a “Cheese Wizard” on staff to help them match the flavor and blend they’re trying to achieve.  How do you get that job title?!

The recent expansion includes a massive machine brought in from Italy that helps them process the curds, replacing the old manual way of doing things and helping them triple their ricotta production.  We’re talking millions more pounds of cheese because of this bad boy.  They now make 30 different varieties for clients like Nestle and Kroger.

micelis-fresh-mozzarella

After our tour, Chef Mark set out a nice plate of fresh mozzarella, drizzled with equally fresh pesto, and some candied pancetta.  I don’t have to tell you that I totally ignored the grapes on the plate.  I suppose those were to serve as a palate cleanser, but I didn’t want to use up any room in my stomach for that…as I also knew there was pizza coming!

chef mark arndt

Mark had fired up their massive custom wood-fired pizza oven earlier in the afternoon and crafted a fresh pie for me while he explained the newest product in their line, block fresh mozzarella.  It is more sturdy and less “weepy” than their six other traditional varieties.  Per their website: Miceli’s fresh mozzarella is made through a process called “pasta filata” which involves stretching and kneading the cheese to produce its soft, delicate texture.  It’s placed in water for freshness.  This new “block” form is better on pizzas and will have more commercial application, Mark tells me.

block fresh mozzarella

After just a couple of minutes in the 670* oven, I had an incredibly fresh and fragrant pizza to devour before I parted ways with the fine folks at Miceli’s.  Can’t wait to see what dairy dreams they turn into reality next!  

micelis-pizza

Spinach and Artichoke Mac n Cheese

After a long work week, it’s tempting to just pick up the smart phone and order take out on a Friday night.  (especially during Lent when menu options are limited)  But I am trying to make smarter choices about where our food budget goes, and how far it goes.  And I’m always trying to develop new Cheftovers dishes.  So when I was trolling the fridge for dinner ideas, I decided to start with some excellent mac n cheese in a Bechamel sauce (a doggy bag from a previous dinner out).  

mac n cheese

And I knew just what direction I wanted to go with it.  Since I was craving “bar food,” I was going to turn this into Spinach and Artichoke Mac n Cheese.  

I gathered the elements I would need to “refresh” these leftovers and beef up the portion to make it enough for dinner for two.  I found a can of quartered artichoke hearts in my pantry, a bag of fresh spinach, and half a shallot and some garlic in the veggie drawer.  I also grabbed some heavy cream and Parmesan cheese (two staples I always keep around) and Monterrey Jack (leftover from a white chicken chili recipe I made-happy to have use for it.  Not something we eat much of regularly)

I started by chopping the shallots and garlic and tossing them in to a pan with some olive oil  Once they softened I added the artichokes and let them do the same for a few minutes.  Then I tossed in the spinach.  And while that wilted I grated the cheeses.

sauted artichokes and spinach

Once the veggies were cooked, and seasoned, I poured in some heavy cream and tossed in the cheese. I stirred it around and let it thicken up and get bubbly, but not burn, so I kept the heat on medium/low.  After tasting it, I remembered a spice that Italians like to put into some of their cream sauces…nutmeg.  It doesn’t seem like a natural addition, but trust me, it works.  I added a pinch of that and let the sauce thicken a tad.

spinach artichoke sauce

It was time to toss in the original mac n cheese.  I gave it a good stir with the supplemental sauce I made, to ensure it was totally coated.  Then I transferred the mixture to a greased baking dish.

baked spinach and artichoke mac n cheese

For a couple of final touches, I topped the mixture with buttered bread crumbs and drizzled some white truffle oil.  A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly if you have it.  I put the revamped mac n cheese in a 350* until the bread crumbs were golden brown, roughly 25 min.

The end result was a warm, satisfying main course made from what may’ve otherwise been thrown out, plus a few kitchen must-haves put to good use.  I will certainly add this to a my go-to Lenten dishes.  What are you making during Lent (besides a phone call to your local pizza shop?)