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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Sisters Pasta Night: Homemade Mushroom Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage

In colleges, my sister studied abroad in Siena, Italy.  She could barely put two sentences of Italian together at the end of her experience…she mostly studied wine and Italian men.  But she came home with a killer hand-made pasta recipe.  And while she might call me on a weekly basis for meal suggestions, and help with recipe substitutions, she is still the authority in the family on home-made pasta dough.  It’s something we do together whenever she is in town. 

For this round I was ready to make a ton of pasta, and freeze it.  And I wanted to use the bountiful herb garden I was “passively cultivating.”  It’s a real jungle back there because I can’t seem to find the time to maintain it.

herb-garden

I sifted through the hip-high cilantro and lettuce plants, to snip bunches of fresh parsley, chives, sage, and basil.

garden-herbs

I knew we’d need marinara sauce for all this fresh pasta too, so I put a pot of that on as well.  Working loosely off a recipe I learned at a class at The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking, I used garlic and onion, grated celery and carrot, whole peeled tomatoes, a pinch of crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, and lots of the fresh parsley and basil.

marinara-sauce

While that simmered, we got to work on the first dough.  The ingredients are few…it’s the technique that’s still tough for me.

3 c. flour, unbleached

3 large eggs

1/4 c. dry white wine

1 tsp. salt

Water or extra flour, if needed

Lexi-making-pasta

You start by creating a “mound” with your flour, and make a deep well.  Meanwhile crack the eggs in a bowl and break the yolks up with a fork, then add the wine and salt to the eggs.  Carefully pour the egg mixture into the well.  Then, using a fork, slowly bring the flour in to the egg mixture.  When the flour is totally absorbed, begin kneading by hand for 20 min…no shortcuts!  Add water if it seems dry, or sprinkle more flour if it’s too wet.  Gather it in a ball and place it in a mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rest for 30 min…no shortcuts there either.

The first batch was dinner that night: a classic fettuccine with marinara.  We made a second batch of dough for me to make ravioli with.  I whipped up the filling while Lexi, and my eager daughters, kneaded.

Julia-making-pasta     Natalie-making-pasta

I wanted to use all that beautiful sage.  So I sautéed some mushrooms in olive oil, with garlic and shallots.  Then I added chopped sage, and a drizzle of truffle oil.  I mixed that with some ricotta, salt and pepper, and more truffle oil and let it cool while we rolled the dough.

Natalie-rolling-dough

First we cut the fettuccine, as we’ve done every time before.  You start on the widest setting, cranking that pasta machine to gradually reduce the width until the dough is the desired thickness, then cut it. (angel hair, linguine, fettuccine, etc.)  We sprinkled a tablecloth with flour and let it dry while we moved on to the delicate ravioli.

homemade-pasta

For those, we rolled the dough out, same as before.  Then we laid the sheets of pasta over my grandmother’s old ravioli plates.  I put a generous teaspoon of the filling in each pouch.

ravioli filling

Then we placed a second sheet on top, and used a rolling-pin (and the back of a spoon) to “stamp” or cut them.  We tore off the excess around the edges then carefully popped out each delicate little ravioli.

Ravioli-trays

To be honest, these usually don’t turn out so well for me…but these looked beautiful!!

Last round of dough was experimental.  I chopped up a ton of fresh chives and we incorporated that into the dough during the kneading process.  Toss this pasta with a little butter and you’ve got something pretty spectacular.

pasta-with-chives

There was salted water boiling on the stove…time to taste the fruits of our labor!  First course was the fettuccine and marinara.  It didn’t disappoint.  While we poured a second (or fourth?) glass of wine, I browned some butter and added more chopped sage, plus seasoning.  When the ravioli were cooked through in the water, I drained them and added them to the saute pan to brown them up.  Sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Perfection.

Julia-in-an-apron

I had a full heart and a full belly at the end of the evening.  It was so much fun for my girls to share in a special sisters pasta night!  I hope they carry on the tradition.

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