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)

 

 

Chef’s table at Table 45

If you haven’t been to Table 45 lately, or ever, make a point to. It’s a global treat for the senses. Sophisticated and modern, Chef Zack Bruell calls it his favorite restaurant space, and that’s saying a lot. The man is starting to lose count of his establishments, there are so many! 

table 45 chefs

I was invited, along with a few select others in the food media world, to taste the changes Chef Bruell is making under new Table 45 Chef Matthew Anderson, and new Executive Chef Michael Swann.  New and exciting details of this year’s Tour de Bruell were also revealed (keep reading!)

We were wined (with pairings for each plate) and dined (with a whopping 8 courses), and impressed with the knowledgeable and attentive staff.

table 45 sushi

The sparkling evening started with a glass of Von Schleinitz Secco Sparkling Dry Reisling, and assorted sushi out on the tranquil patio. The restaurant is inside the InterContinental Hotel, a Cleveland Clinic property. The environment is a welcome reprieve from hectic pace kept around the rest of the mini-city that is The Clinic.

table 45 chef swann

The group moved into the fabulous chef’s table for the remainder of our meal. The set up provided us with a front row seat for all the meal preparation. And the chefs accompanied the wait staff to explain each course and answer questions. You know I had one.

“How much does the international clientele and heart-healthy focus of the Cleveland Clinic play into the new menu?” The answer: quite a bit. Chef Anderson says Table 45 has always offered global cuisine, and still will. But he says they have also developed their dishes with capability of being “deconstructed” to accommodate various dietary restrictions, choices and allergies. So rather than limiting those who are cutting sodium, gluten free, dairy intolerant, etc. to just a few dishes, they are able to adjust most of the menu to please the patron. I appreciated the “choose your own adventure” approach to their offerings.

The second course was a vegan Caesar salad, made with a creamy tofu vinaigrette, nori crumbles and fried tofu as croutons. Imagine my husband’s surprise that he actually enjoyed tofu. It was paired with a lovely Chilean wine, Mayu.

For our third course, and one of my favorites, we were served a pan seared diver scallop with a chickpea puree (which ate like a slightly thicker hummus) and a raspberry glaze for the perfect acidic compliment. The Italian Conte Brandolini D’adda was a crisp partner to the dish.

The fourth course featured a goat cheese gnocchi (instead of using potato) which I had never had before. What a scrumptious substitute. It was sauced with a tomato fondue, arugula, basil and balsamic reduction. My only complaint was I wish there was more of it! We were poured a Baumard Savenierres. Honestly, I can’t remember much about this wine. But I don’t remember disliking any of them!

We continued our family style feast with a pan seared Chilean Seabass, always a favorite of mine. It sat on some smashed potatoes and a caper-tomato white wine broth which gave it a nice bite. The wine pairing here, another hit, Chanson Bourgogne Blanc.

As if we had room for more…the heavier entrees were now coming out. This roasted chicken with a mole rojo and Spanish rice was a standout for me. Something I don’t ever cook myself, and rarely order, but really enjoyed. And the wine for this sixth course was the table favorite, a Chateau Musar Juene Rouge from Lebanon. Who knew Lebanon made such great wine?!

The final savory course was my personal favorite, a grilled New York strip steak with a warm fingerling salad, wilted arugula, plenty of wild mushrooms and a port wine sauce. I am glad I paced myself up until this so I could have seconds! The wine was a velvety Rompicollo Sangiovese blend. Could’ve had three glasses of that.

And for our eighth and final course, the chefs put out a simple spoonful that satisfied our collective sweet teeth: a classic crème brulee paired with a Marchesi Di Barolo Moscato.

table 45 dessert

We were invited not only to share in this wonderful meal and see what these new chefs can do, but also to hear about this year’s Tour de Bruell. It’s the Amazing Race for Cleveland Foodies. The challenge is simple: eat at least one entrée at six of Chef Zack Bruell’s restaurants (Alley Cat, L’Albatros, Parallax, Chinato, Cowell & Hubbard and Table 45) between Memorial Day and Labor Day and get a card stamped at each stop. When your card is full, it’s entered into a hopper and the  grand prize winner is treated to a lavish four course meal for 8 at your home, cooked by Chef Bruell himself. This year there are also some additional incentives and fun elements to the promotion.

New this year: Finish the tour in the first 30 days and be entered to win a progressive dinner throughout several Zack Bruell’s Restaurants. Five lucky winners and their guests will be selected at random from submitted complete tickets to enjoy the chauffer-driven progressive dinner. And everyone who fills their ticket is invited to a complimentary VIP Party at Table 45 in September.

If that weren’t enough for you Bruell Restaurant Group groupies, there is also an exclusive wine tasting event, open to the public on June 6th. The Zack Bruell Restaurant Group has paired up with CBS Sports Commentator Jim Nantz’s acclaimed wine label, The Calling. The Sonoma Valley wines are the official wine partner of Tour De Bruell. Chef Bruell will host Nantz and his wine partner Peter Deutsch, starting at 6 p.m., as
they discuss The Calling at L’Albatros in University Circle. They will then move to Table 45 in the InterContinental Hotel, Parallax in Tremont and Alley Cat on the East Bank of the Flats. Each of these locations will feature complimentary tastings of several 90+ rated wines from The Calling.

Reservations for the wine tasting can be made with the individual restaurants.  I’ll be there! Will you?  I also plan to start my journey on the Tour de Bruell by the first week in June.  Better get dining! 

Forage with Strangers

I had the distinct honor of attending (in all honesty, crashing) a truly spectacular event, the inaugural “Forage with Strangers.”  It brought together influencers, connectors and innovators in Cleveland.  And we strangers bonded over a universal language: GOOD FOOD.

Let’s start with a little “behind the scenes” insight to how I came to be a part of this experience.  Over the course of the last year, I have been trying to immerse myself in the local culinary scene.  I’ve come to know some incredible people and eaten some spectacular food.  Social networking, no doubt, is a huge component of this.  So on Monday night, I started to see posts on Facebook and Twitter about this “Forage with Strangers” concept.  I was intrigued.  Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I started making some inquires.  And by mid afternoon, I was invited to join in.

I love people in the food world.  They just want everyone to have a good time and be well fed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a microphone, or a a blog.  But I sincerely appreciated the willingness to include me in such a cool and intimate experience.

Here’s what the day was all about:  A creative thinker from The Adcom Group teamed up with Kalman & Pabst Photo Group to orchestrate a networking event connecting local food brand reps, with local farmers and producers.  The idea was to drum up business for everyone involved.  But for as long as I was around, no one mentioned dollars and cents.  Everyone was just talking about food and ideas.  So refreshing and so delicious.  Yet still so productive…and in the end, probably profitable.

The group started the event with a five course “pre-foraging” meal dreamed up by Dante Bocuzzi.  In my year as my station’s designated “food reporter” his name has come up more than anyone’s in the city as the guy you’ve got to work with, and whose food you have to eat.

forage with strangers van

The next morning, the group ventured out in a van to half a dozen locations to “forage” for ingredients that would be used for a catered feast that night.

forage with strangers bounty

Photos Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

The 150 mile trek included Yellow House CheeseRittman OrchardsSpice AcresTrapp Family FarmOhio City Farm and Heinen’s.  The group gathered gorgeous fruits and vegetables picked at their peak, artisan cheeses and savory proteins.  In all, 40 bags were hauled back to the host site of the “Forage with Strangers” dinner.

forage with strangers happy hour

When I joined the party it was already time for happy hour.  Chef Bocuzzi and Chef Douglas Katz of Fire Food & Drink worked feverishly with a team of helpers to turn the day’s haul into tonight’s feast.

forage with strangers chefs working

Beer Master Sam McNulty of Bier MarktBar CentoMarket Garden Brewery and Nano Brew among the participants…as was Chef Adam Lambert, of The Black Pig and the upcoming Ohio City Provisions (a partnership with Fresh Fork Market).

forage with strangers table

The space was fantastic…full of natural light, props, and working kitchens for the commercial photographers at Kalman & Pabst to work their magic.

Forage with strangers cheese tray

We started with an impressive array of cheeses from Yellow House and Mackenzie Creamery and a charcuterie display to die for, courtesy of Chef Lambert.  I couldn’t stop myself from seconds and thirds of his chicken liver parfait, topped with Guernsey butter (from his own cows, and flavored with thyme and orange zest)

forage with strangers charcuterie

Wine was poured and conversation flowed among movers and shakers in the food world. I was eager to devour the details, and jealous that I missed all the foraging.

 forage with strangers diners

The inviting communal table set for 30 was soon filled with an incredible bounty.  Everything brought out family style, as you might imagine large farmers’ families do.  Even though the table stretched the length of the large space, there was barely enough room to set all the large platters full of farm fresh food.

tempura fried heirloom tomatoesforage with strangers walleye

Tempura fried heirloom tomatoes and Lake Erie Walleye with miso and radishes.

roaste beet-plum-goat cheese-salad  corn tomoato and cucumber salad

Plum and roasted beet salad with goat cheese.  Corn, cucumber and tomato salad.

Chef Doug Katzforage with strangers roasted chicken

Buttermilk fried chicken livers and Harissa roasted chickens by Chef Katz.  Plus hand made gnocchi ratatouille from the pasta master himself, Chef Dante.

Photo Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

Photo Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

We ate and talked and shared ideas, and ate and listened and shared seconds, and ate and laughed and shared inspirations.  The meal ended with everyone reflecting on their favorite part of the day.

forage with strangers dessert

There was dessert…oh yes, there was dessert.  Dante made an apple tarte tatin, and Doug crafted a couple of spectacular ice creams with fresh fruit toppings.

I left the dinner table buzzing with ideas and tingling with inspiration.  There are immensely talented people in my city who believe they can change their world and yours with food and shared experiences.  I want in.  How about you? 

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