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)

 

 

Dinner Lab Does Cleveland

The culinary scene in Cleveland is something to behold…and devour!  And the rest of the country is finally figuring it out.  Besides world class chefs (including James Beard Award winners) and destination restaurants, other related businesses are flocking to town to feed us foodies.

Dinner Lab is a pop up restaurant concept offering memberships to diners who want to try innovative food from emerging chefs, or new menu concepts from established ones.  The events are hosted in unconventional spaces that exist for a mere 24 hours.

This weekend Dinner Lab officially launched in Cleveland with an event catered by Daniel Espinoza, a chef from Chicago.  As a member, I got an email several weeks ago, revealing the date, and the menu title and concept, “Anomar” Modern Mexican Cuisine.  I was excited to be a part of the first meal so we immediately bought the max amount of tickets allowed per membership, 4.  Then about 48 hours before the meal, the location was revealed.

Dinner-Lab-Gallery

The host site, smARTspace at 78th, is a mixed use space on Cleveland’s west side, offering up 6,000 sq. ft. of event and exhibit space.  It was nice to wander down the hallway, sipping on the signature cocktail of the night, checking out the various displays.

Dinner-Lab-Cocktails

We chose the second seating, so we got to check out the meals of our fellow diners on the other side of the room as we made our way to our communal table.

Dinner-Lab-Menu

Now… after all this hype is was finally time to EAT! Out came the first course, an imaginative calamari salad with chorizo.  (Here’s the part where I regretfully admit that I forgot to take pictures of the plated food.  I was so excited about the meal, that I failed to properly document it.  I’ll do better next time! Grateful for my guests who shared their pics)

Dinner-Lab-Calamari

Second course was a crispy tostada topped with pork.  A humble, hearty round two.   As we were served, we were also invited to give honest, constructive feedback and reviews of each dish on survey sheets.  It’s an integral part of the Dinner Lab experience.  I was a tougher critic than the rest of our party.  I didn’t care for the consistency of the chorizo in the first course, and thought the tostada could have used a little sauce to top it off   But the rest of the meal was a home run!

Dinner-Lab-Prep

We had some exceptional fried chicken, served on a cilantro grits for the third course.  And the final savory course was my favorite, a generous portion of tender mahi mahi, with a green mole sauce (my favorite component of the whole meal!)

Dinner-Lab-Jen and Drew

And for dessert, the make-shift kitchen cranked out a dense sponge cake with strawberries, peanuts, and caramel sauce.  The meal was also accompanied by three drink pairings, all of which were well-matched.

Dinner-Lab-Diners

While my husband and I mostly came to visit with our guests (my brother and his fiance, and a friend Danielle who joined us) the Dinner Lab concept encourages a “community dining”, through their communal tables.

Dinner-Lab-Dining-Room

We met a nice couple from Pittsburgh who dined next to us.  A Dinner Lab membership allows you to take advantage of events all over the country…which I think is pretty fun.  I’d love to wrap an overnight trip around one of these events in the future.

Chef Daniel Espinoza

Toward the end of the meal, the chef addressed the crowd as a whole explaining the inspiration for “Anomar,” his grandmother, Ramona.  Then after service was over, Espinoza came to visit each table individually, like a newlywed glad-handing guests at his wedding.  Espinoza was charming, gracious and attentive.  He asked us questions and answered ours.

Front of the house staff told me that initially they’ll be hosting events every month until word gets out and membership builds up.  The goal is to offer one every week.  Sounds delicious!

Dinner-Lab-Jen and Danielle

I invite you to join me for dinner at the next Dinner Lab event!  Click here: Member Invitation  and get $20 credit toward your first meal.

Cheftovers Live! Demos on the Marty Allen Show

It’s good to know people.  And I’ve been fortunate enough to be introduced to a lot of good people through my work in television over the years.  During my first internship (like a hundred years ago!) I met veteran radio producer, Marty Allen.  He and I have maintained a friendship throughout the twists and turns in our careers.  And he was generous enough to offer up an opportunity for me to appear on his show and share what I’ve been up to with Cheftovers.  “3-2-1….we’re live!”

marty Allen photo

Marty has an internet radio show, The Marty Allen Show that airs live every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons from 2-3pm.  He invited me to come on and do some cooking.

“Do you have a kitchen in your studio?” I asked.

“Guess I didn’t think this through,” he replied.

Not a problem.  I’ll figure something out,” I said, convinced.

I also saw this as an opportunity for a long time friend, and fellow food blogger, Michelle, of The Secret Ingredient Is.  So I asked her to join me.  Who needs a working kitchen to perform live demos on a radio show, right?! We had a small card table and some outlets.  Time to adapt.

Michelle cooking

I knew Marty well enough to know that it would go over well to start with a cocktail.  Easy.  That’s when I came up with the recipe I posted earlier in the week for a Berry Boozy Arnold Palmer.

berry-boozy-arnold-palmer

I mixed a couple of those up while Michelle walked Marty and his co-host, Bill Bender, through her recipe for her No Bake Energy Bites.  Then it was time for some more significant eats…prepared on a 4×4 card table in a radio studio, mind you.  Having been a part of countless cooking demos on television before, I suggested Michelle do one of her killer salads.  Easy to prep and it doesn’t have to be hot.

pretzel crusted honey mustard chicken

She assembled and dressed her Honey Mustard Pretzel Crusted Chicken Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette for a couple of hungry hosts.  It’s a great summer salad.  And as she dished that out, carefully avoiding all the expensive equipment, I fired up the panini press.  In preparing for this appearance, I figured it would be a great tool to turn Michelle’s leftovers into something else equally tasty.  (and work around that whole, “no kitchen” thing)

prepping panini

I sliced up the Orlando Ciabatta Rolls I brought, then piled on some of her leftover chicken, a handful of spinach leaves from the salad, and the remainder of the Brie wheel.  Then to add my own touch, I prepared a balsamic mayo by mixing about 2 T. of garlic cilantro balsamic vinegar with roughly a 1/4 cup of mayo. (the ratio is up to your own taste).  And finally, I included one of my favorite things in the world, caramelized onions.

grilling panini

While that melted together on the press, Michelle and I got to chat up Marty and Bill about what we do on our blogs.  They were happy to have us do most of the talking, as their mouths were full with our good food!

sliced panini

I sliced and served up the fourth and final recipe, pleased that this turned out as well (and as delicious) as I’d hoped, given the fact that this was the first time I’d made it…live on the radio.

This experience was a blast, and a boost of confidence for me.  I starting to think that I can indeed figure out a way to marry my experience in the media with my passion for food.  “Stay tuned” as we say, for what I have on tap next.  (I’m behind the camera for the first time since college!)

Berry Boozy Arnold Palmer

Cheftovers is expanding into cocktails!  And if this first one is any indication of what I’ve got shaking and stirring around in my little head, happy hour is gonna be great this summer. 

Who doesn’t love an ice cold Arnold Palmer in the summer?  For those unfamiliar, this traditional summer drink is a half-and-half mix of iced tea and lemonade.  Cool and refreshing, it’s one of my favorites.  So I decided to give it a new twist and turn it into a “cooler.”  In summers past, I’ve been introduced to a few varieties of iced tea vodkas, Firefly Vodka is my pick.

Firefly-vodka

Now this wouldn’t be a Cheftovers cocktail without a leftovers element.  I like a little splash of fruit in both my lemonade and my iced tea.  And it just so happens that I had a boat load of frozen berries in my freezer.

frozen-blackberries

I like to toss them in there when I get BOGO pints or when they’re getting too ripe.  Don’t toss ’em, freeze ’em!  I thought I’d substitute frozen cubes of fruit for ice cubes, so as not to water down the drink and add that subtle fruit flavor I was after.

frozen-raspberries

I tossed what I found in the freezer, (a mix of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries) into the blender, then added about a tablespoon of honey, some water, a squeeze of lemon juice from a single wedge, and a generous splash (like a 1/4 cup) of limoncello (an Italian lemon flavored liqueur).

blended-frozen-fruit

I blended it until smooth, then poured the mixture into ice cube trays to freeze.

berry-ice-cubes

When those were good to go, it was time to bust out the shaker.  Staying true to the original Arnold Palmer recipe, I mixed one part Firefly sweet tea vodka with one part lemonade, added some ice cubes to the shaker and did the “it’s almost happy hour” dance to shake it all up and chill the mixture.

berry-ice-cubes

I poured the iced tea vodka/lemonade over the berry ice cubes, and garnished it with a sprig of mint for a classy touch.  Cheers!

For another (and less sweet) take on this drink, try lemon flavored vodka (like Absolut Citron), and unsweetened ice tea.  What are you mixing up for your patio parties?