Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lee Health's 4th Annual Vegetarian Chef Challenge Cook Off

Chef Cathy Berner and Chef Jack Brown
In recognition of National Vegetarian Awareness Month this month, Lee Health hosted its fourth annual Vegetarian Chef Challenge at its four acute care locations.  Each of the four locations showcased one of their chef’s as they created a culinary dish using ONLY plant based ingredients. The chefs traveled to all four locations the week of October 16th.   Cafeteria patrons voted for their favorite dish. The top 2 chefs, Chef Cathy Berner, and Chef Jack Brown, competed in the grand champion cook off held at Health Park Medical Center at 1 pm on Wednesday November 1st. Chef Brown was defending his  Championship crown for the last four years, so Chef Berner was truly up against a well seasoned chef!

The competition started with passed peanut butter and coconut balls, which surely whet the appetite!

Chefs had only 20 minutes to prepare their entries, then judges and the audience got to taste their dishes.

Chef Cathy Berner presented a classic diner dinner meal with a vegan twist

. She crafted a vegan burger with a delicious vegan tofu, tempeh, cremini mushrooms, beet, almonds, panko bread crumbs and vegan "Parmesan cheese" burger patty, topped with crispy roasted carrot "bacon" and  sautéed onion rings on a toasted bun. A side of sautéed; carrot  fries, with a a chipotle mayo dip's heat accented the burger.
   A refreshingly cold vanilla vegan milkshake, using a mix of So Delicious brand coconut milk and  Silk vanilla almond milk, topped with vegan ice cream, countered the chipotle mayo's warmth.

Chef Jack Brown crafted an Italian duo of "chicken Parmesan" and "chicken" marsala using vegan cheese and panko breaded green jackfruit, which did a quite nice substitution for chicken!

 It pulls apart much like chicken breast!
These "proteins" were accompanied by mashed parsnip potatoes with a dash of black truffle oil, and fresh steamed mushrooms,  baby carrots, purple cauliflower and  zucchini, with a dash of lemon juice.

Either dish could have been a signature dish at any restaurant! The competition was very close, however Chef Brown won by a hair, according to the panel of four judges. (I was one!)

 The two final contestants (of four original ones) took home prizes.

This event clearly raised awareness about the delicious flavors and benefits of using ONLY plant-based foods in a healthy approach to dining and to living. Plant-based diets have  improved chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and COPD. Eating this way helps one to become leaner and avoid or lessen use of processed foods.

P.S. Health Park Medical Center's atrium lobby is as beautiful as that of many fine hotels!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sasse's Restaurant's Wild Game Wine Dinner...and More Dinners to Follow!

Executive Chef and Owner Josef Zimmermann of Sasse's Restaurant  in Fort Myers started off Sasse's wine dinners on October 26, with this well-attended wild game dinner-a true sensual delight one might find in Germany or Denmark. Ah, a decision to be made. Two roads diverged in the wood  on this; dine without wine for $65, or dine with five different wines for $85. I chose the latter path and that made all the difference. A properly paired wine greatly enhances a dish's flavors.

Chef Josef Zimmerman is, hands down, one of THE top handful of chefs in Southwest Florida. I've had a variety of his dishes before, and I'll have quite a few different creations  more times in the future, be it lunch, dinner or a wine dinner.  Word of mouth fills Sasse's seats, off Season or in Season. The restaurant's setting is warmly cozy in size and ambiance. Seating is thus limited, so reservations are encouraged.

Sasse's cuisine leans toward Northern Italian and Mediterranean influences, With the menu changing weekly-you won't be  bored!  Chef Josef  combines his creativity with old school training, and selects the best local and US sourced foods for his culinary creations. The servers are professional, friendly, and second to none in their fine quality of service.  

This Fall themed game dinner started with  Essence of Creamy Wild Game Soup "Hubertus." 

This alone could have been my "happy meal" for the evening-it was that richly flavorful! Jalapeno-seasoned wild boar sausage in a sour cream and lingonberry sauce is the written description- that barely hints of the rich, earthy concentrated flavors, or the cool dollop of creme fraiche.  Tellingly, fellow diners used their baguette bread to sop up every morsel.

From the forest came the Wild Boar Cingale, a Tuscan specialty, with the ragout served over pappardelle paste, and paired with Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico Reserve. 
Wild Boar Cingale

 The tender boar was not "gamey"-this is a function of both getting a younger boar, and knowing how to spice and slow cook it. Some less experienced  chefs may overcook game meats.

From the sky descended  sliced Pheasant Breast with Onion,Apple wood-smoked Bacon and Tender White Grapes. 
Pheasant Breast with Onion,Apple wood-smoked Bacon 
The tartness of the Champagne sauerkraut, and pumpkin gnocchi pangrattato  (with Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs) put this over the top! Paired with a 2015 Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Kabinett, the sweet Riesling masterfully matched the sweetness of the white grapes, deliciously accenting the sliced pheasant's delicate flavor.

The pasture brought forth a Duet of Fallow Venison- Noisette and Loin. 
Duet of Fallow Venison- Noisette and Loin

This savory dish had a hint of fruitiness with the juniper berry sauce brightened with lingonberries, house-made German spaetzle, and a red wine-poached Williams pear. The Poppy 2013 Cab paired nicely with the fork-tender venison in both the noisette medallion and the longer loin presentations.

The five course meal finished on a sweetly earthy note with the Fall-inspired Pumpkin Crème Brûlée.
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Chef Josef Zimmermann (on right)
Chef Josef  deftly torches each ramekin's sugary top to a glassy  firm finish before serving. Paired with a good glass of hot coffee, it had just  enough pumpkin flavor with a hint of raisins within the delectable custard. This was then topped with a tiny "pumpkin cake" He sparing incorporated  the oft-overused pumpkin "spices"so as to not overwhelm other flavors.

Not a wine drinker? Have a Krombacher wheat beer with your meal, or a glass of black coffee with dessert. After partaking of this wild game dinner's dishes from forest, sky and pasture in Sasse's warm setting with chilly winds outside, it brought back frosty memories... of stopping by Vermont's woods on a snowy eve. You get a true bonus-to savor Chef Josef's culinary creations through all four seasons, while being a short drive from Florida Beaches!

Check out Sasse's  schedule for upcoming monthly multi-course dinners-they are well worth your time and wallet. Lunch and dinner are served Tuesday-Friday from 11:00 a.m., to 8:30 p.m.. Dinner is served 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Sasse's is closed Sunday and Monday.

Sasse's Restaurant, 3651 Evans Ave, Fort Myers, Phone: (239) 278-5544,

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sea Salt and Bleu Provence Raise Funds for Red Cross Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief

Sea Salt's Chef Fabrizio Aielli, Bleu Provence's Lysielle Cariot, and the Sea Salt staff  collaborated on crafting a five course benefit dinner menu that raised  thousands of dollars for The American Red Cross's Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief Fund.

Over one hundred patrons supported the sold out culinary event, as restaurant personnel  gave of their time and talent  to help those suffering from the effects of Hurricane Irma. Jill Palmer, Executive Director of Florida's Southern Gulf Chapter of the American Red Cross, was the special guest.
 Foie Gras Terrine, with Toasted Brioche
The first course was Chef Cariot's delectable  foie gras terrine, with toasted brioche and richly caramelized plums, served with a glass of Meyer-Fonne Edelzwicker Alsace 2015. Some could have made a whole meal out of this dish!
Uovo Stuffed Pasta
Second course was my favorite; Chef Aielli's seductively simple appearing uovo stuffed pasta with black truffle and ricotta, paired with Massolino Barolo, Piemonte 2012. Sometimes this ravioli-lke pasta contains a whole egg yolk!  It's an art to making a fine ravioli (or simple roasted chicken for that matter.) Chef Aielli's creations never fail to amaze me!
Chef Cariot's Loup de Mer Pastilla 

Next, was the creative loup de mer pastilla by Chef Cariot, with a brick-shaped  light cover encasing flavorful mixed vegetables and sea bass, and accented by a red pepper coulis.
Chef Aielli's Wagyu Beef Loin
Chef Aielli's 9-hour Masami Wagyu beef strip loin hit the mark, cooked at 128 degrees with bordelaise sauce, bone marrow panzanella (Tuscan-style bread) salad, and saba (reduced grape must). What a treat!
Chef Cariot's Tarte Tatin ,with Chef Aielli's Italian Saffron Gelato
The dessert of desserts was Chef Cariot's classic French apple tart (tarte Tatin), paired with a scoop of Sea Salt's  Italian saffron Gelato. This saved me a trip to France for this delicacy...or or may have inspired others to make reservations for a dinner-at both restaurants. BTW, Have you ever seen Paris,while  covered in snow? Venice in a morning fog? These are experiences to savor, just like the food from Sea Salt and from Bleu Provence.

Sea Salt's Chef Fabrizio Aielli ,Ingrid Aielli, and Corporate Chef Jason Goddard

Co-Owner of Bleu Provence Jacques Cariot; Co-Owners of Seas Salt -Ingrid Aielli and Chef Fabrizio Aielli

Executive Chef, Co-Owner of Bleu Provence- Lysielle Cariot

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Zen Asian BBQ- October Specials are Very Special!

October is THE month to go to Zen Asian BBQ -one of my all time favorite Naples restaurants. Make your next dining out day a Zen Day!

WHY?  Every night, the entire dinner menu is 50% off from 4-6 p.m.. Yes, 50% OFF!!
 Hokkaido Ramen
 There's more. All ramen are 50% off all day  One of my top dishes is the Hokkaido Ramen and its 17 hour broth, with calamari, shrimp king crab, mussels scallion, corn, and oodles of noodles! Normally $22, it's a Deliciousl Bargain  at $11.

Also, every Monday from 4-close the Korean BBQ is 50% off. This is a must-try, as you sit at a special table with the grill built into the center of the table. Call ahead to reserve a spot for this.
Every Tuesday-Sushi rolls are half off all night from  4-12 p.m..
A-Zen Hot Pot
The newest dish at Zen is the huge A-Zen Hot Pot- the Asian version of fondue ($20 before discount.) It's enough for two or three people. First, a large metal bowl is set over a butane stove, and about two quarts of broth are heated. Then spinach, carrots, mushrooms, bok choy and carrots are heated. As it comes to boiling, teh heat is turned down, and the very high quality pork, wagyu beef, and/or chicken is added. In less than a minute, the protein is cooked! I like to add  the minced garlic, a spritz of lime,  and a touch of hot sauce to my portion.

                                                   Close up of pork and wagyu beef.

                                                                The butane stove.

                                                  Placing veggies into the hot broth.

                                      The finished hot pot, with meats under the veggies.

Crispy Gyoza

Start off with a serving of crispy gyoza, succulent chicken and pork dumplings, dipped in a just hot enough sauce ($7.95).  Add an ice cold Ichiban beet or Riff Pinot Grigio. Then try different dishes at these prices!

I keep coming back for the flavorful, tender octopus ($15 before 1/2 off discount) cooked on the robata grill, with karachi miso. The grilled cherry tomatoes and the fried bok choy are wonderful accompaniments.
Cocoa in a Jar

And desserts? My all time special is the Cocoa in a Jar, with luscious layers of vanilla ice cream, fruits, lychee boba, mochi, crushed Oreos and Belgian chocolate!

Zen Asian BBQ, 10823 Tamiami Trail North, Naples

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Steak Jeanmarie with Tequila, Kaffir Lime, Anchovies and Mushrooms

 This is the final result of cooking a marbled ribeye steak with a Tequila, mushroom, anchovy, garlic, lime juice and butter sauce. Have a look at the dish- start to finish!

It started like this. Garlic upper left, Kaffir limes and leaves, 'shrooms and anchovies.
I combined anchovy, garlic and butter to be a topping, crushing all in a mortar and pestle.
The garlic was too strong, so I tamed it by gentle heat. 
I sweated the 'shrooms in butter, added some of the sauce mixture, added Tequila, then set it all afire!

Voila! Steak topped with shrooms, and Tequila, anchovy garlic butter sauce
The sauce was decent, but the lime juice (from my Kaffir Lime tree)  just didn't complement the steak as well as lemon juice would have.
    Next time, I'll make a lemon, butter, anchovy and Tequila sauce, and add some cream to make a nice thick sauce!  I name this Steak Jeanmarie (Hendry Friend), in honor of a dear 10th generation Florida Cracker Hendry, who passed away 2 years ago. She could hunt, clean, and cook anything from fish, wild boar to deer. She would have enjoyed the concoction!

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