Friday, December 23, 2011

Hope. Health. Joy.

A fitting sentiment. For this time of year. Or any time. But what makes this especially nice is that it is also the name of a newly launched company dedicated to giving back. This is the story of a woman diagnosed in 2010 with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, fighting to beat it back into remission, and starting anew.

Hope. Health. Joy. is the brain child of Julia Butera. After many years of traveling the world for her job in the fashion industry, she realized that all the money and prestige of working for a highly-recognizable brand were not anywhere near as important as being with her son. So after missing his fourth birthday due to a business trip, she called it quits. She bought a book on making jams, began experimenting with flavors, and gave samples to her friends and family, who encouraged her to sell them. And because of the hope and love she experienced at Hackensack University Medical Center while going through cancer treatment, she decided to focus her new business on helping others. 

So now, on to the jams! Julia is constantly experimenting with new flavors, but always has at least five on tap. The flavors change with the seasons to complement what is fresh in the local produce, and they contain no preservatives. The jams I received as samples to write this article were just delicious. My favorite, I think, is the Cinnamon Pear - a delicate cinnamon taste added to ripe pears. I enjoyed it so much straight out of the jar that I immediately had to bake something to use it on!  Now those of you who are regular readers and friends, know that I am not a fan of boxed baked goods. However, I happened to order a few months ago, a Cranberry Orange Brioche mix from the good folks at King Arthur Flour. And I thought that would be a perfect platform for the Cinnamon Pear jam (how right I was!).  The plump cranberries, orange essence, and yeasty dough complemented Julia's jam to a T.
The other flavors I was lucky enough to receive were Bordeaux Wine Jelly, Wild Fox Grape Jelly, Raspberry Brandy Preserves (hmmm, over vanilla ice cream was divine), and Red Raspberry Jam. Julia mentioned that the Red Raspberry is great slathered on a Thomas' Cornbread Muffin (definitely on my shopping list). 

Julia can create gift baskets for someone special on your list (think Valentine's Day...), or how about as delightful and unique favors for an upcoming event?

Keeping her mission in mind, 75% of the proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. So you can know that you are helping others while enjoying these luscious jams. And at this time of year, isn't that what it's really all about?

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Eat well, stay warm, be happy.

Hope. Health. Joy

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Delicious and Gluten-free, Together at Last!

That’s not a typo in the headline. When the assignment to write an article about a gluten-free bakery came across my desk, my first reaction was, well, not one of excitement. For many years, gluten-free products have not exactly been, shall we say, very tasty.  And being a baker myself, I was skeptical.  So off I went to investigate.

Most great ideas are born out of a need. And this was no different. Jeff Robbins, the co-owner of Get Fresh Bake House, based in Fairfield, NJ, has a daughter with Celiac Disease and wanted to find a way to provide great tasting treats for her.  GFBH opened in January, following three years of intensive research, planning, and preparation.  Jeff and his business partner, Peter Mykrantz, knew they needed a true food professional to help with this endeavor. And they found that person in Bill Doyle, a passionate baker, graduate of the CIA, and 30 year veteran of the food industry.

Celiac Disease affects one out of every 133 people in the United States. It is not a food allergy – it is an autoimmune disease.  The only treatment is the lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. When gluten is removed from the diet, the small intestine will start to heal and overall health improves.1

Bill uses three different types of flour, depending on the item he is baking. The bakery is 100% gluten-free and all of the equipment in the facility is brand new, meaning that traditional wheat products never touched any of this equipment.  Gluten-free foods do not contain wheat, barley, rye, oats, or their crossbred varieties.  In addition, all GFBH products are individually wrapped to ensure there are no cross-contamination issues.

But the bottom line, of course, is taste.  And I must tell you that if I did not know that these products were gluten-free, I would have never guessed it. Gone is the dry, mealy texture, and flat taste associated with so many gluten-free products. In its place, a cookie and bar as delicious as any regular product. As the GFBH team likes to say, they’re creating a delicious product that just happens to be gluten-free.

Bill does this by taking a regular recipe, removing the traditional flour, and replacing it with gluten-free products. Everything else remains the same. He uses top-quality ingredients, including Callebaut chocolate, and no preservatives of any kind.  This produces a product with a shelf-life of only two weeks, but I don’t really think they will be hanging around that long! 

Of the products I sampled, the oatmeal-cranberry cookie and the brownie were my favorites. The oatmeal cookie was as delicious as any of the traditional oatmeal cookies I’ve made hundreds of times.  The brownie, extremely moist with a tender crumb, would satisfy the chocolate cravings of any true chocolate lover.  

And, in a fancy bit of name dropping, their classic chocolate chip cookie was the runaway winner of Oprah’s “Life Lift” blog.

GFBH makes a variety of cookies and bars, such as The Midnight 2X Chip Cookie, which is a dark, dark chocolate cookie, Bill’s Excellent Butterscotch Cookie, blondies, and the aforementioned brownie.  They are still working out the formula, but hope to offer a top-notch gluten-free bread in the near future.

Get Fresh Bake House products are currently sold on-line or at various retail locations around the NY/NJ area.

I don’t have gluten issues, but I know this affects many people. Until now, there has been little in the way of delicious dessert options for them.  It seems Get Fresh Bake House has helped to solve that problem, and along the way, created an entirely new category of desserts – “gourmet gluten-free.”  

Get Fresh Bake House
1-855-GET-FRSH (438-3774)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I Go to Extremes

In bakeries, that is.  Last week, I visited a brand new, state-of-the-art bakery that specializes in gluten-free products. On Saturday, I happened upon a traditional, family-owned, bakery that has been in business almost 100 years!  A separate post on Get Fresh Bake House (the gluten-free facility) is coming shortly. 

But right now, step back with me to the early 1900's.  Kohout's Bakery in Garfield, NJ, opened its doors in 1917. It moved to its current location in 1924. Walk in and the sights and smells transport you back. Heavy wooden bakery cases line the walls, laden with old-fashioned baked goods. Delectable treats such as glazed doughnuts, yeasty crullers (how many of you even know what a cruller is???), crumb cake, and sweet, fat tea biscuits (pictured at the top of the post) sit waiting for you. Not to mention the gorgeous Danish pastries, salt sticks, and hearty rye and pumpernickel breads that I was lusting after!  A girl can only eat so much...

As a kid, I remember going to bakeries like this many Sundays after church - I think it's what started me down the dessert highway of my life. There was something really nice about the routine. I can still remember the anticipation of walking through that bakery door and seeing the array of beautiful pastries and cakes just lined up for the taking. There aren't many of these bakeries left anymore. They've mostly been replaced by supermarket bakeries pretending to bake but they're really just "baking off" the dough that's been shipped to them by the mother ship. I'm not saying these items are bad, but they're definitely lacking authenticity. I can count on one hand the number of small, individually-owned bakeries in this vicinity. It's a sad state of affairs.

Look at the texture of the dough in the cruller in this photo. It's amazing - yeasty pockets of dense deliciousness. And the crumb cake - mounds of butter-cinnamon-infused crumbs strewn over a delicious dough. But they are nothing compared to the tea biscuit - two inches thick, and bursting with plump raisins. Mine was enjoyed slathered with butter and plum preserves. Nobody makes tea biscuits anymore - too bad. They are a throwback to a more genteel time.

Got a small, neighborhood bakery near you? Patronize it. If not, pretty soon they'll be extinct. And that would be a shame.

Kohout's Bakery
75 Jewell Street
Garfield, NJ

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blue Morel, Morristown, NJ

When you are invited to a restaurant media dinner, you expect that the restaurant will pull out all the stops to impress you. You are there to experience the restaurant at its finest. And as a lover of food, you ardently hope that it will live up to the hype that accompanies all new restaurant ventures.
Blue Morel, safely ensconced in the warm confines of the Westin Governor Morris, fully exceeded any expectations I might have had. OK, I gave away the story ending right here in the second paragraph, but read on as I detail the delights of the evening.

Under the very capable direction of Culinary Director/Chef Thomas Ciszak, Blue Morel’s menu provides a wide variety of starters for your dinner. We were treated to a fabulous array of sushi (some of the finest I have ever had), followed by Beef Tartare accented with mustard, crème fraiche, fried shallots, egg yolk, and salt and vinegar fingerling chips. A delicious and unique offering was Chef Ciszak’s homemade pickles that arrived in a small Mason jar with carrots and watermelon rind – a nice accompaniment to the warm bread and rolls.

 The second course was an heirloom tomato salad served with cantaloupe, mint, and plum wine cocktail. The cantaloupe and mint added a bright note to the perfectly ripe tomato.  The accompanying wine was a crisp Albarino from Spain.

A meaty, luscious roasted Barnegat scallop served with succotash, zucchini, smoked tomato, and hen of the woods was presented for the next course. The scallop tasted as if it had just been hoisted up from the sea. A lush Grgich Hills 2008 Chardonnay completed this course.
 The third course, although not my favorite, was certainly well done. Grilled octopus served with a roasted red pepper basquaise, dried chorizo, blistered shishito pepper, and arugula definitely caught your attention. The octopus had just the right amount of bite, but the rest of the dish did not add up for me. In a menu of perfect notes, this dish just didn’t seem to sing.

Ah, but the fourth course had me crooning. Twice-cooked beef short rib (braised and grilled), served with a parsnip puree, a coddled Engblom egg, a divine oxtail ragu, shaved salsify, and pickled carrot was the be all and end all. Short ribs, when cooked well, are the antidote to a weary world – warm and falling apart, sopped up with the hearty ragu, it can make everything OK.  But this was more than just OK. This was, perhaps, the best short ribs of beef I’ve enjoyed.  But I must tell you about the egg! Poached in its shell at 143 degrees for more than 40 minutes, resulting in an egg so creamy that you almost think you are eating an egg custard. Fabulous! 
 Not to be outdone, the Pastry Chef, Ernie Rich, sent a parade of delicious desserts our way.  For a baker, the dessert course is always the highlight of dinner, and these offerings were sublime. A Jersey Peach Torte, served with a Vanilla Schlag, was my favorite.  But for pure fun, the Blueberry Trifle with Sweet Corn Ice Cream was the winner.  Any dessert with popped corn spilling out of the serving jar captures the flag.  Of course, it tasted good, too!  Bringing up the rear of the dessert parade, but in no way lesser options, were a Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with White Peach Ice Cream and Sautéed Red Plums, a Caramel and Roasted Banana Pot de Crème with a Malted Milk Shooter, and finally, Angel Food Cake with Roasted Plums and Crème Fraiche Ice Cream.  All heavenly.
 Chef Ciszak hails from Germany, where he attended the top schools.  In the US, he worked in some of the finest kitchens, including The Manor in West Orange.  In 2005, he launched Copeland at the Westin Governor Morris, ushering in a new level of dining to the area.  Chef Ciszak is also in command of the kitchen at Chakra in Paramus, which has earned rave reviews.

Running the kitchen on a daily basis at Blue Morel is Executive Chef Kevin Takafuji.  Originally from Hawaii, Chef Takafuji graduated from the French Culinary Institute and has worked at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, along with Le Bernardin and Café Boulud in New York City.

As I mentioned early on, Blue Morel exceeded my expectations on every level.  Warm, gracious service; delectable, unique food; and a concerted effort to utilize the local bounties available in the Garden State.  If you, like me, get excited about the prospect of an extraordinary meal, take yourself and a dining companion worthy of it, to Blue Morel.

Blue Morel
2 Whippany Road
Morristown, NJ  07960

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

As much as I love summer, there is something very appealing about many aspects of Fall - the crisp air, the changing colors of the landscape, and the warming scents of apple, cranberry, and pumpkin.

I bake all year, but I really ramp it up in the Fall. A favorite recipe is this Pumpkin Bread, which I've been making for years. This is delicious either toasted with a little butter for breakfast or an afternoon snack, or dressed up with a bit of vanilla-tinged whipped cream for an elegant dessert. 

What are your favorite Fall baking recipes?

Pumpkin Bread

1 C oil
2/3 C water
4 eggs, beaten
1 C (16 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 C chopped walnuts
1 C raisins
3-1/3 C + 2 TB flour
3 C sugar
2 t baking powder
1-1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 9" x 5" loaf pans. In medium bowl, combine oil, water, eggs, and pumpkin. Stir until well mixed. Set aside.

In plastic bag, combine nuts, raisins, and 2 TB flour. Shake until well coated, set aside.

In large bowl,, combine all other ingredients; add liquid previously set aside. Stir in nuts and raisins. Spoon evenly into pans. Bake for 1-1/2 hours or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on racks before taking out of pans.

Breads freeze well.


Credit: Free images from

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Hurricane Cookies"

OK, not really.  The proper name of these delicious morsels is "Chocolate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies," but when you are baking during Hurricane Irene, that's the name that sticks!  These are from Martha Stewart.

I love, love, love a good oatmeal cookie, especially soft ones with a nice chew to them.  But for those of you who like your oatmeal cookies crispy, this recipe provides an option for that, too.  It has just the right amount (IMHO) of raisins and chocolate, and is immensely satisfying.  I am thinking, however, of adding coconut to the next iteration (gilding the lily?).

Here's hoping that you were not seriously impacted by Irene's path.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 package (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add flour mixture; beat until just combined. Add oats, raisins, and chocolate chips; beat until just combined.
  3. Drop 32 heaping tablespoons of batter, about 1 1/2 inches apart, onto baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies have spread and are golden brown and soft to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on sheets; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

    If you prefer a crispier texture, bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 16-20 minutes.  Makes 32 cookies.

    Print recipe here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recipe Flash: Blueberry Treat Bars

Packed with fresh blueberries and berry preserves, these little bars are a delicious treat! Toasted walnuts, oats, brown sugar, and magical cardamom,  make up the crust and topping. An absolute end-of-summer delight!  

This recipe is from Malika Ameen, who was on “Top Chef: Just Desserts." The original title was "Blueberry Oat Bars," but that sounded too healthy so I swapped in "treat" because that's exactly what these are!  Enjoy!

1 stick butter and 3 tablespoons
Walnuts 1 1/4 cup
All purpose flour 1 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons
Old fashioned rolled oats 1 1/2 cups
Granulated sugar 1/2 cup
Packed Dark brown sugar 1/2 cup
Kosher salt 11/4 teaspoons
Baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
Ground cardamom 3/4 teaspoon
Berry preserves 1 heaping cup

Blueberries 1 1/2 cups
Cornstarch 3/4 teaspoon
Sugar 2 tablespoons
Lemon zest, chopped 1/2 teaspoon
Lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon
Kosher salt 1/4 teaspoon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking tray and line with parchment paper, 
leaving an overhang on two sides.

2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and set aside to cool.
3. Spread the walnuts on another baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and fragrant, 
about 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Roughly chop into medium sized chunks.

4. In a medium bowl combine blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, zest, and lemon juice.
5. In a large bowl combine nuts flour, oats sugars, salt, baking soda, and cardamom. Add in 
melted butter and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.

6. Spread 3 cups of flour mixture in the pan and gently press down to form a packed layer. 
Spread preserves over the crumb mixture. Now add the blueberry mixture and spread evenly. 
Evenly sprinkle the remaining dough over the blueberries.

7. Bake for approximately 1 hour until top is golden brown. Cool and cut into squares.

Print Recipe

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Strip House, Livingston, NJ

Strip House Strip Steak
The Cook's Tour was recently invited to a media dinner at Strip House.  Think what you will of the name, as it conjures up all types of associations, however, the food, service, and ambience were all top drawer.

The restaurant is part of the Glazier Group which owns Strip House along with Twenty Four Fifth and Bridgewaters in Manhattan, and also offers full-service catering for all events and meetings at the Westminster Hotel.

The Westminster has recently undergone extensive renovations, including the upgraded business center, an outdoor Zen garden, a spa/fitness center, and free Wi-fi throughout the space. The hotel offers 15,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting and event space.
Westminster Hotel Lobby
I have been to the Westminster several times for corporate functions, however, I didn't know that the hotel is a AAA Four Diamond award winner for seven consecutive years, nor did I know that only 2% of all hotels in the US have that distinction (and only 5 in NJ). Quite impressive!
Every one of the hotel's 183 guest rooms features Hollandia sleep systems, bamboo-based linens and towels, and luxurious natural toiletries. 

All that touring made me hungry so the next stop was Strip House. Decorated in retro dark red, the restaurant has a seductive feel to it. 
Strip House Dining Room
Chef Bill Zucosky
There are currently six restaurants throughout the country, and the Livingston location is overseen by Executive Chef Bill Zucosky, who had the privilege of opening the restaurant and is still there eight years later. A New Jersey native, Bill brings a low-key confidence to the property. Previous experience includes stints at the famed Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick, and the Hamilton Park Hotel in Florham Park. Bill developed his passion for food and cooking at a young age. When he was a boy scout in the Linden troop, he won the cooking contest and just kept on going from there.  He graduated from the New York Restaurant School, but uses his Italian/Lithiuanian heritage to instill a homey feel to Strip House.

Everything at the restaurant is fresh, nothing is pre-processed. Their prime beef is all corn-fed and hand-picked from Nebraska to give the customer a melt in your mouth steak. The fish comes from the Fulton Fish Market in NY fresh each day.

So what did we eat? Well, obviously, steak was on the table. A 20 oz bone-in strip cooked to a perfect rare temperature and served very simply with a head of roast garlic on the side was sublime.

Crab Cake
Thick-cut Bacon
But to begin our meal, the Strip House Crab Cake with a Cajun remoulade bursting with fresh crab was in order.  And, as you know, bacon is on everybody's short list these days and Strip House is not to be outdone.  

Their thick-cut Bacon with Arugula and Russian Dressing was just the right mix of crunch and salt and pork. And I loved how it played against the slightly peppery arugula and the creamy dressing.

One of my dining companions raved about the simply grilled, sashimi grade, farm-raised Atlantic Salmon.  
Like many classic steak houses, Strip House, offers many items on the side. We enjoyed their Ripped Potatoes, made by taking baked potatoes, "ripped" into bite sized chunks. The ripped potatoes are then crispy fried and tossed with grana padano cheese, chopped fresh parsley, and coarse sea salt. De-lish!

Plentiful sides!
Chocolate Cake!
The fried onions, sauteed mushrooms, and goose-fat potatoes were my faves.  I am not a creamed spinach fan, but the rest of the table loved them.

And if you're thinking we could not possibly have dessert after this feast, guess again!  Chef Bill sent out their signature Chocolate Cake, which seemed to be about 15 layers high of dark, rich moist  chocolate cake and frosting.  But did we stop there? No! 

Being the cheesecake fiend that I am, I had to taste their version. And it did not disappoint. 
Light and luscious, made with a combination of mascarpone and cream cheese, with a lovely hint of lemon. 

But wait, there's more!  We also loved the Apple Pie with Streusel Crumbs and Cinnamon Ice Cream, drizzled with caramel; and finally, the Brownie with vanilla ice cream.
Apple Streusel Crumb

If you are in the NJ/NY area, and feel the need for a classic steakhouse experience, make plans to visit Strip House. In fact, after a meal like this, you might not want to spoil that warm, satisfied feeling and deal with the stress of driving home. Lucky for you, there's a hotel attached to this steakhouse.  That's something other steakhouses can't boast.

Strip House
at Westminster Hotel
550 West Mt Pleasant Avenue
Livingston, NJ