Friday, June 29, 2012

The best donuts in America

If your not familiar with Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it's a show on the food network where they check out places around that U.S. that serve really great food. If I were to host this show for one day I would travel to Wells, ME and show America where to get a great american breakfast with the best donuts you'll ever eat.

The place is Congdon's. They have the best donuts in the entire country. They are way above the level of any Krispy Creme or fancy donut shop in NYC. These are classic melt in your mouth fluffy donuts in everyone's favorite flavors.

My family has been going to this place for the past 22 years. A tradition in the family is my dad will wake up at 6am and stand online to get the donuts fresh out of the oven. When we wake up in the morning, there is a dozen warm donuts waiting for us outside our hotel room, in the white and green box. He walks out of the place with at least four dozen!  My personal favorite is the classic glazed donuts. They dissolve the second they hit your tongue.

Some of the family favorites are sugar raised, chocolate frosted and the rare maple frosted.

As we head to our favorite vacation spot this summer I will be experiencing my first gluten free trip to Maine. No donuts? To cheat or not to cheat.... If I were to ever cheat on this diet it would be with one of these donuts... no pie, no scones, no muffins, there is nothing else that compares.

I hope you'll get to visit this place on your travels.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Short Ribs and Scallops

Whenever my brother Stephen comes into town, we always plan a feast for dinner one night. It usually consists of a recipe we have never tried and a lot of complicated steps and tons of ingredients. This time around we picked a recipe from Todd English's restaurant Blue Zoo and recreated it for the family.

Stephen had this dish months ago in Orlando and I remember him calling me during or immediately after dinner to tell me about it. The dish is braised short ribs, cauliflower puree and seared sea scallops. Despite the fact that we decided to make short ribs on the hottest day of the year (100 degrees F) we really enjoyed dinner. The scallops were my favorite part.

You should have heard the two of us talking about preparing dinner. "Bring over a sieve to strain the beef stock" , "Let's do a charcuterie board and cheese plate for an appetizer" You would have though we were sous chef's for Todd English himself.

Talking about Charcuterie  (various smoked and cured meats) ...Everytime I hear that word now I think of the show Modern Family. Funny line from the show: "That's charcuterie? I've been avoiding that on menus for years! They're killing themselves with that name.

It was my job to end the meal with a dessert. My first attempt at dessert failed because my custard did not set. I felt like I was on the show Sweet Genius, coming up with a plan B. Plan B, just as delicious, vanilla ice cream sundae with salted caramel sauce, roasted peanuts and caramel corn. Oh and a few homemade mallomars I made earlier in the day. THAT'S IT...tomorrow I start a diet!

You can find the original recipe by clicking on the link below. To make this meal gluten free make sure to use GF beef stock and an all purpose GF flour. Other than that, the ingredients are gluten free.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sweet Cinnamon Bread

Rainy Monday's..I may be speaking for myself when I say there is something cozy about a big thunderstorm, stuck at home with your little baby fast asleep and a shaky dog always by your feet. It puts me in the mood to bake something for my family. This is my go to recipe when I don't want to leave the house to buy any ingredients. I almost always have all these ingredient in my pantry and refrigerator. I make this with two people in mind, my husband Tom, who eats this for breakfast and my sister Kim, who loves this bread and always gets half the loaf.

**A good thing to always keep in your refrigerator is dry buttermilk. It comes in handy with a lot of baking recipes. If you do not have any buttermilk on hand you can use 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice plus milk to make 1 cup.

Sweet Cinnamon Quick Bread 
Makes 1 loaf

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk (or 4 tbsp dry buttermilk added to dry ingredients)
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs

Streusel Topping:
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp butter or margarine-softened

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour the bottom only of a 9" x 5" loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, combine all bread ingredients. Beat 3 minutes on medium speed and pour batter into prepared pan. In a small bowl, combine all streusel ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter; swirl to marble batter and streusel.

3. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan. Cool 1 hour on a wire rack. Store in air tight container at room temperature or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator. You can also slice the bread once it's cooled and wrap and freeze each slice individually. Defrost in microwave or toaster.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sausage, Peppers and Potatoes

"Don't tie your dog to a leash of sausages."-French proverb

This is a quick and easy meal for any night of the week. My husband prefers the hot Italian sausage but any flavor will work. You can serve this on a plate as I did in the pictures below, or you can put all the components onto a hoagie roll for a sausage and pepper sandwich. I love adding in fresh basil and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to add freshness.

Sausage, Peppers and Potatoes
Serves 4

8 sweet or hot Italian sausage links
Olive oil
1 red bell pepper-thinly sliced 
1 green bell pepper-thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion-thinly sliced
3-4 Yukon gold or red potatoes (depending on size)-sliced into thin half moons 
Salt and pepper-to taste
1/2 - 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 lemons-halved

1. Preheat the broiler and place the sausage on a broiler pan. Place the sausage in the upper part of the oven (about 4-6 inches from the heat source) Cook 5 minutes and turn with tongs; cook additional 5 minutes on other side. Cooking time will vary depending on the sausage so check that the internal temperature is 165 degrees F. You can to keep cooking and turning the sausage until the outside is nicely brown. It could take up to 15-20 minutes.

2. While the sausage is cooking in the oven, heat a large skillet on medium high heat, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add in the potatoes and cook until they start to brown; about 10 minutes. Stirring frequently. Add in sliced pepper and onions, season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook until the peppers and onions are softened; about 10 minutes. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat on low and cook until ready to serve, stirring frequently.

3. Remove the sausage from the oven, leave on pan to keep hot.

4. When you are ready to serve, add in chopped basil to the peppers, potatoes and onions. Divide vegetables among 4 plates, add 2 sausage links to the plate and serve with 1/2 a lemon to squeeze on sausage.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Layla's Favorite Meals: 8 months and up

Here are a few of Layla's favorite meals. She has become a very independent eater and loves to feed herself. She doesn't have much patients eating from a spoon these days, unless its something she really loves like oatmeal or yogurt. I usually cut up fruit for her to pick up and munch on while I sneak in some spoonfuls of food in between bites.

Layla and I share a similar breakfast every morning. We eat our oatmeal with banana and cinnamon. It's one of my favorite times of day. I use the same oatmeal for Layla that I do for myself. She doesn't seem to enjoy the baby cereals anymore.

-Oatmeal with fruit:In a small bowl place 1/8- 1/4 cup of quick cooking oats and add 2 parts water (1/8 cup oats with 1/4 cup water) Microwave for 45 seconds to 1 min. Add in a little whole milk and cinnamon. You can also add in mashed banana or applesauce. Wait for the oatmeal to cool before serving. 

-Avocado and Egg on Whole Wheat Toast:
-Place one egg in a pot filled with enough water to cover egg. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat and cover for 14 minutes. After 14 minutes, place egg in cold water. Set aside. When the egg is cool enough to handle, remove the shell and rinse under water to make sure all the shell has been removed. Take the egg yolk out of the white and place in a bowl. Discard or eat the egg white (do not feed the white to your baby)
-Mash the egg yolk with 1/4 to 1/2 an avocado to make a spread. (You can also add in a little plain yogurt if you have it on hand)
-Toast 1 slice of whole wheat bread and spread on mixture. Cut the toast into small bite sized pieces and serve to your baby. They will gobble up this healthy lunch. Any extra avocado/egg mixture can be fed with a spoon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Berry Whipped Cream Frosting

I made this frosting for Tom's birthday, not realizing how pink the color would turn out to be. This might be more appropriate for Layla's first birthday. Nevertheless, it tasted amazing and Tom was happy with his bright pink birthday cupcakes. This frosting is made with fresh berries and tastes very refreshing, perfect for a spring/summer dessert.

I made this frosting using my recipe for stabilized whipped cream, which has gelatin added to hold it's shape for piping onto cakes. You do not have to stabilize your whipped cream, you can simply make the berry sauce and fold it into whipped cream and use when needed.

Berry Whipped Cream Frosting
Makes enough for 12 cupcakes or fill and frost one 9" cake (recipe adapted from King Author Flour) 

6 oz raspberries
6 oz blueberries
6 tbsp powdered sugar-divided
2 tsp lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp cold water
1 pint (16 oz)  heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat add in raspberries, blueberries, lemon juice, 3 tbsp powdered sugar and 2 tbsp water. Simmer the mixture (stirring occasionally) until the berries have softened and can easily be mashed; about 15 minutes. Once the berries have cooked down, strain them over a bowl with a fine mesh strainer. Press down making sure to get as much juice as possible. Place the berry syrup into the refrigerator to cool.

2. While the berry mixture is simmering start making the whipped cream. In a small heatproof bowl add in 2 tbsp cold water. Sprinkle gelatin over the cold water and let sit for 5 minutes. Melt the gelatin over simmering water or in the microwave for 10-15 seconds on low power. Set aside to cool.

3. While the berry mixture and gelatin are cooling; make the whipped cream. Using a mixer, whip the cream and vanilla until it begins to thicken and the whisk starts to leave tracks in the cream. With the mixer on medium speed, pour in the melted gelatin. Once the gelatin is incorporated, stop the mixer, add 3 tbsp powdered sugar and continue to beat the cream until it forms medium peaks.

4. Once the berry mixture has cooled down, fold it into the whipped cream gently until evenly incorporated. At his point it is ready to use to fill or frost cakes.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rosemary Sweet Potatoes

Layla and I love to eat sweet potatoes at dinner time. I could eat a sweet potato every day and be a very happy person. They are super healthy for you, full of vitamin A, vitamin C and high in dietary fiber. This is a great recipe to change up your basic baked sweet potato. By splitting the potatoes in half and baking them cut side down, you create a crispy outer layer with a smooth sweet middle. The rosemary and fresh lime make this side dish something special.

Rosemary Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4-6 (recipe from Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen)

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp melted unsalted butter
1 tbsp fresh rosemary-chopped
Sea salt
Cracked pepper
4 sweet potatoes
2 limes

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil and melted butter onto a rimed baking sheet. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper.

2. Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Rub the cut side of each potato in the butter/oil and seasoning mixture. Arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet, cut side down.

3. Bake the potatoes until soft to the touch and the cut side is golden brown, 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with sea salt and lime wedges to squeeze over the potatoes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grilled Pork Chops with Apples and Onion Rings

Have you ever watched the show The Best Thing I Ever Made, on Food Network? I always start drooling when that show comes on. Some of the recipes are just unrealistic for a home cook, too many ingredients that you can't find in your local market. On the other hand, some of the recipe are easy enough to make at home and come out really good.

The episode for Best Thing I Ever Made: Grilled, chef Elizabeth Faulkner made her grilled pork chops with apples and onion rings. I gave it a go, and was very satisfied with how it come out. The pork chops in particular were so flavorful. I have actually never had pork so tasty before. This is one to try! If you don't have time to make the sides, at least try the pork recipe..yum!

I did substitute a few ingredients with what I had in my pantry. I have the original recipe below, along with my substitutes in italics.

Grilled Pork Chops with Sauteed Apples and Onion Rings
Makes 3 servings

Pork Chops: 
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon pimenton (I used smoked paprika)
4 whole cloves ( I used a 1/2 tsp ground clove)
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
3 bone-in center-cut pork chops (10 to 12 ounces each) Make sure they are pretty thick

Sauteed Apples:
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 whole star anise (I left this out)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brandy (I used apple juice)

Onion Rings:
2 cups canola oil, for frying
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used Gluten Free All Purpose Flour) 
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
A few grinds of black pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large yellow onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rings and separated
Mustard greens, for serving (I used mixed greens)

1. For the pork chops: Grind all the spices together with the sugar and rub all over the pork chops. Set aside for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature.

2. Preheat the grill on high or heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stovetop and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan if cooking in cast iron).

3. Cook the pork on one side for 4 to 5 minutes on the grill or in cast iron. Flip over and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes on the grill; if cooking in cast iron, flip the chop and transfer to the oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes.

4. For the apples: In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, 1 tbsp water and a drop of lemon juice. Cook until sugar caramelizes to golden brown. Turn off the heat and add the apple slices and star anise. Return the pan to medium-high heat, stir in the butter and remaining lemon juice. Saute, stirring, for 2 minutes, adding the brandy (or juice) in the last minute of cooking with a pinch of salt. Simmer briefly to burn off the alcohol and thicken the caramel. Set aside.

5. For the onion rings: Bring the canola oil to 360 degrees F in a large pot. Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a shallow dish or bowl. Dip the onion rings in the flour mixture to dredge, shaking off any excess. Dip in the buttermilk to coat, and then back into the flour mixture. Shake off any excess flour. Working in batches, fry the rings until light golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

Serve the pork chops with the sauteed apples, onion rings and greens. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini

I am always trying new recipes with quinoa. It is one of my favorite foods these days because it is packed with protein and takes on any flavor. I made this for dinner the other night, the quinoa mixture is delicious on its own but you can stuff it in zucchini, tomatoes or portobello mushrooms for a more substantial meal at dinnertime. It is perfect for lunch or a light dinner, just add a simple side salad to make the meal complete.

Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini with Peppers and Corn 
Serves 2

1 zucchini- cut in half lengthwise
1 cup cooked quinoa (cook quinoa according to package instructions)
1 corn on the cob or 1/2 cup frozen corn-defrosted
1 poblano pepper- seeded and cut into big slices
1/4 crumbles feta cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with non stick spray; place the zucchini halves cut side down and the slices of poblano pepper on baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly soft. (It is okay for the skin on the peppers to get brown)

2. Meanwhile, place the corn cob in a pot of boiling water; cover and let cook about 10 minutes. Remove from water and set aside until cool enough to handle.

3. Scoop out the middle of the zucchini leaving a shell; add the inside of the zucchini to a bowl with the quinoa. Chop the pepper into bite sized pieces and add to the bowl. Cut the corn from the cob and add the kernels to the quinoa mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Fill each zucchini half with the mixture (you may have some leftover). Place bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Add crumbles feta cheese and bake additional 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Spiced Chocolate Mousse

I tried this recipe last night and was really happy with how it came out. I will definitely make this recipe again. It is so easy to make, perfect for a last minute dessert.

This mousse is very light and creamy. It has a great flavor from the chocolate and cinnamon and a little kick from the cayenne pepper. Over the last few years the use of chocolate and chili pepper has become very popular but there is a reason...they compliment each other extremely well. There is enough heat from the cayenne to give you a slight burn but it is not too hot, where you will not enjoy yourself. If you do not like any spice, reduce the amount of cayenne or eliminate it all together.

Spiced Chocolate Mousse (Adapted from Sweet & Skinny by Marisa Churchill)
Makes 4 servings

8 tbsp semi sweet chocolate chips
1 pint of heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp confectioner sugar
4 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons of good quality unsweetened cocoa powder, dutch processed or natural
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 roasted almonds-chopped
Sea salt

1. In a small microwavable bowl, add chocolate chips with 8 tsp water. Microwave until you can stir mixture smooth (about 45-60 secs) set aside.

2. In a stand mixer or hand held mixer, beat the heavy cream until is starts to thicken. Add in 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tbsp confectioners sugar. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form.

3. Add melted chocolate to whipped cream and whisk together until mixture is smooth and chocolate is incorporated. Whisk in the cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper until they are well combined.

4. Divide the mousse into serving cups. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before serving. Top with almonds and a pinch of sea salt and serve.

**You can make the mousse ahead of time, up to two days in advance. Cover with plastic wrap; add the topping just before serving.

To make the chocolate garnish:
Heat 1/2 cup of chocolate chips in a microwave until melted. Heat 1 minute, stir and continue to heat in 20 second intervals until melted and smooth. Add chocolate to a plastic sandwich bag and snip the corner to make a small hole. On wax paper, pipe out a design and refrigerate until chocolate is set. Remove the design for the wax paper carefully.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

All Purpose Strawberry Sauce

I make this type of sauce with all different fruit. It works really well with berries and taste really good on pancakes, waffles, french toast, ice cream and cake. It's really easy to make and will be ready in no time at all! Early summer the perfect time of year to try this with strawberries. I put this sauce over of gluten free waffles for a really quick, delicious breakfast. We don't eat frozen waffles very often but a brand both Tom and I like are Van's Natural Foods waffles. They are gluten free, although you would never know.

I like Van's products because you can find them in a wide variety of grocery stores and stores such as Target. You don't always have to go to a health food store to find gluten free products.

Strawberry Sauce
Makes 4 servings

1 pint of strawberries -chopped
1/4 cup water
1/2 lemon-juiced
1-3 tbsp powder sugar
1 tbsp mint-chopped **optional

You can add more or less sugar depending on how sweet the strawberries you are using. Add 1 tbsp at a time and add more to taste.

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add strawberries, water and lemon juice. Cook until mixture come to a low boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the strawberries are soft and start to become a puree texture. Add in as much sugar as desired. Pour over your favorite breakfast or dessert and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Spicing" up your babies food

I am always picking up the free magazine in the grocery stores that have healthy recipes and nutrition information. The other day, I picked up the free issue at Stop and Shop and saw this article on "spicing" up your babies food. Here is a summery and interesting points from the article by Wendy Cray Kaufman.

Adding spices and herbs is a great way to add interest and flavor without sugar and salt. A babies first foods need to be bland but as they grow you can use herbs/spices to develop a varied palate from the beginning stages. This helps you avoid the "picky eater" problems and create good eating habits.

In different cultures highly spiced food is very common. If you are breastfeeding, your baby may already be familiar with different flavors, as flavors of herbs and spices are transmitted through the breastmilk.

The best time to introduce more flavor is after 6 months. As always, introduce these seasonings one at a time in small amounts and watch carefully for any allergic reaction. Avoid extracts, such as vanilla, that contain alcohol. If you have any concerns about introducing herbs and spices to your baby, consult with your pediatrician.

Here are some spice and food matches to introduce to your baby:

-Sweet potatoes


-Sweet Potato







Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Pasta with Tomatoes and Corn

Tom and I are not big pasta eaters on a weekly basis but every once in a while we crave a good fresh pasta dish. This is a quick meal for any night of the week. It's best in the summer time when the tomatoes are ripe and the local corn is sweet. I made Tom tortellini pasta and for myself I made brown rice pasta (gluten free). I find the brand Tinkyada to be really delicious!

Summer Pasta with Tomatoes and Corn
Serves 4

1 lb dry cheese tortellini pasta or any of your favorite dry pasta
1 pint cherry tomatoes-cut in half
2 ears of corn- husks removed
Good olive oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1 bunch of fresh basil-chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil, place tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Season with a little salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes. Mix together and bake for 15-20 mins until very soft.

2. Meanwhile, place the corn cobs in a pot of boiling water, cover and cook 10 mins. Remove from heat. When the corn is cool enough to handle, remove the kernels from the cob. Set aside.

3. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package instructions to al dente. Drain the pasta (reserving 1/4 cup pasta water) Add tomatoes, corn, reserved liquid and chopped basil. Top with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and crumbled feta cheese. Season with addition salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Drizzle with a bit of finishing olive oil and enjoy!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Greek Panzanella Salad

I was MIA last week, but I am back to share some more of my favorite recipes. Here is one I make over and over again. This is a Greek panzanella salad, filled with fresh vegetables and my favorite...feta cheese. I have not tried this recipe since finding out I have to be on a gluten free diet, however, I have recently tried a good gluten free french baguette. Next time I make this summer salad I will try it with a gluten free bread and see how it goes!

Green Panzanella Salad adapted from (Barefoot Contessa Recipe)
Makes 6 servings

Good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes-about 6 cups
Kosher salt
1 cucumber (hothouse works well) cut into 1/4" dice
1 red bell pepper, large diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted (optional)

1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil

1. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed.

2. Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, and tomatoes in a large bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature. (You can also serve this cold)