Friday, August 26, 2016

The "No Agenda" Weekend

A couple of weeks ago, I started talking with my husband (more like lobbying) about getting away for a quick two-day trip somewhere. Nothing fancy, just something to help me pretend that summer really isn’t almost over. Of course, I should have thought about this earlier. WAY earlier. Anywhere I wanted to go was either booked up, or the hotel prices were so exorbitant, even I couldn’t justify it. So I gave up and resigned myself to a weekend at home. The last weekend before Labor Day. The next to last weekend of “official” summer. Do you hear the tinge of sadness in my voice? I even held off on making any local plans with friends for this weekend in the hope of a last minute breakaway. But, alas, it was not to be.

So now with nowhere to go, and no local plans, I am embracing the “no agenda” weekend! That's right, we're just going to throw caution to the wind and do whatever we want, go wherever we want, laze about in the sun, maybe even show up at a restaurant without a reservation! Oh, the horrors!

Of course with all this lolling about we’ll need a cool beverage, so perhaps I’ll make this cocktail that my friend, Pam, sent me the other day (recipe below). It sounds so crisp and delicious.

What will we eat? Who knows? Maybe we’ll go out, maybe we’ll stay in. No agenda, remember? We had a delightful meal the other night at a cool Mediterranean spot in Montclair called “Mish Mish.” We could go back there for breakfast or brunch. 

And for dinner? I have been craving a lobster roll and with no trip to Maine in my near future, I think we’ll try the ones at Gus and Co (also in Montclair). The rolls looked divine when we were there buying soft shell crabs a few weeks ago. 

Luckily, if we need a sweet, dessert is already taken care of.  Last weekend I made this delicious Frozen Yogurt Bark, which is totally chilling in the freezer.  Fun and easy to make, frosty and sweet with raspberries, blueberries, and toasted almonds, it’s the perfect end of summer treat. You can use other fruits, nuts, or seeds to add different textures.

Pre-frozen yogurt bark

What is it that my Italian friends say?  “Dolce far niente,” literally, “sweet doing nothing.” That’ll be me this weekend. Hope you have a lovely, “no agenda” weekend, too.

Cucumber Vodka Cooler

- 2 cucumber slices
- 1 oz. simple syrup
- 2 basil leaves
- 1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 oz. white cranberry juice
- 2 oz. Praire cucumber vodka

- Muddle first 4 ingredients three times in a mixing tin
- Fill glass with ice (medium size glass) and pour ice into tin and muddle ice with rest of ingredients 7 times
- Cup mixing tin and shake vigorously for 10 seconds
- Pour contents into glass

- Use 1 Basil leaf for garnish

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dough Pizzeria, Caldwell

Heirloom Stracciatella
Summer in New Jersey. Can’t beat it. Warm temps, beautiful beaches, rolling countryside, and gorgeous Jerseyfresh produce. I went in search of how a local restaurant makes the most of the bounty.

Dough Pizzeria, owned by Ed Simmons, exemplifies what makes “the Garden State” a chef’s playground. Their chicken comes from Gladstone Valley Farms in Peapack (pasture-raised, non-GMO), the pork in his homemade sausage is from Riverbend Farms in Far Hills, and of course, his produce is Jersey-grown (Circle Brook Farms in Stanhope). Let’s not forget about seafood: Jersey clams are on the summer menu. 

I asked Ed about his favorite produce. He likes “challenging, unique” greens, such as escarole, collards, jicama, broccoli rabe, and kale. He is definitely a veggie-forward kind of guy — his current breakfast smoothie consists of kale, spinach, and avocado. 

Ed’s philosophy is to offer patrons high quality, healthy ingredients  with excellent customer service, at an affordable price. 

Dough has a rich and varied menu. Obviously, there’s pizza (almost every table orders a crispy, wood-fired pie). But there’s also a creamy stracciatella, served with heirloom tomato, avocado, and watermelon; tender meatballs, and interesting salads (on one of my visits, I had a wonderful escarole and strawberry salad). The new summer menu highlights a quinoa salad dotted with summer squash, radish, blueberries, and pistachios in a lemon-cumin vinaigrette; little neck clam pappardelle served with bacon, Jersey corn, in a white wine butter sauce; Jamaican-jerk pork medallions (a special); and the currently on-every-menu- around (but for good reason) poke (raw tuna with jicama salad, crispy wonton, candied ginger, and avocado). There's also a lovely vegetarian falafel served with butterhead lettuce and cashew tzatziki.

So how did a guy from Sussex county come to own a pizzeria in Essex county? Ed started working in local restaurants at age 14, discovered he was good at cooking, and put himself thru culinary school at the CIA. He  worked in New York City at various restaurants but was laid off after 9/11. This lead to a big life decision: he realized he didn’t want to work for other people anymore. While he and his wife opened a children’s fitness center, he continued to work in the food industry, working at Columbus Bakery in NYC where he learned all about pizza. At home, he began experimenting with wild dough starters and practiced his craft for four years before opening his own restaurant. But he didn’t want to open a typical pizza joint. He focused on developing a spot where the chefs could be creative in utilizing local foods, where guests are warmly welcomed, and where exemplary service is job #1 for the staff. 

When you’re looking for a restaurant that stays true to its’ (Jersey) roots, think Dough in Caldwell. Fresh ingredients, local farmer partnerships, sustainable practices, and delicious food.

437 Bloomfield Avenue
Caldwell, NJ


Photos courtesy of Dough Pizzeria

Saturday, August 13, 2016


You know here in the Garden State, we’re all about #Jerseyfresh produce, and summer is the time when it really gets into high gear. Jersey peaches are something I look forward to every year, but they don’t come into their prime until July through September. So when I saw an article in Food & Wine raving about peaches from a small, specialty grower in Georgia, I decided to splurge and order a box.

Whoa! Wow! Wonderful! And, of course, OMG!

My order of Georgia peaches sent from The Peach Truck arrived on a Friday, perfectly timed for weekend eating and baking. When I opened the box, I found thirteen beautiful peaches, carefully wrapped in paper, packed in foam to prevent bruising, and at peak ripeness. When I picked one up and held it to my nose, that’s where the first “wow” came out of my mouth. It was the aroma and essence of summer. 

Now, what to do with these beauties? Well, of course, the opportunities were endless. I knew I would bake something, but what? Right now, I needed to sink my teeth into one of these babies. Wonderful! The texture was perfect - no mealy, blah flesh. And sweetness like I’ve never had in a peach before. 

Now I was peach-obsessed! Need to eat them, use them, in EVERYTHING! 

I started with a little pre-dinner snack. How about Jersey tomatoes, Georgia peaches, homegrown basil, and fresh mozzarella? Whoa! This, my friends, is what summer is all about! We had this simple dish for lunch every day that weekend.

So, what did I bake with the peaches? I thought you’d never ask! There are zillions of peach recipes out there to choose from, but the folks at The Peach Truck have put together a lovely collection of recipes on their site and one, in particular, caught my eye. Their Fresh Peach Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel. Oh yeah…that’s got my name all over it. If you know anything about me, it’s that I will take a good coffee cake over any other type of sweet or dessert every time! And in reading the recipe, I just had a feeling that this was going to check every box on my “coffee cake must-haves.” Buttery? Check! Cinnamon? Check! Nuts? Check! And just for good measure, this recipe threw in one of my favorite spices: cardamom. 

Off I went to bake last Sunday morning! This makes a nice, big 9” cake, so you could make it for company, take some to work (as I did), or just keep it for yourself and eat it every day (as I did)! The cake is baked in a springform pan (essential so you don’t have to invert it and risk losing any of the incredible streusel!), and is easy to put together. The aroma in our house from the cardamom and cinnamon was heady. 

From the minute it came out of the oven, I was in love. A thing of beauty, I could see the streusel had baked to a perfect golden brown. After cooling, I released the cake from the pan, and waited (not so patiently) to cut it after dinner. 

OMG, people! This was the holy grail of coffee cakes! The body of the cake was super light with a fabulous buttery taste, intermingled with the incredible sweetness of those peaches. And the streusel was over-the-top amazing: sweet, crunchy, spicy. I know I’m gushing, but really, it is all that! If you’re a coffee cake fan (like me), MAKE THIS CAKE! 

Now for the bad news, peach season in Georgia is over, and The Peach Truck is sold out, but Jersey peaches are going strong. And wherever you are, use your local sweets. 

How good was this cake? So good, that I’m making it again today for dinner with friends. I have four peaches left and since the recipe calls for 2-3, believe me, I’ll be enjoying that last peach the old-fashioned way: out of hand, with those slurpy, sweet juices running down my chin.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Print recipe here!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

RECIPEinaFLASH: Gluten-free Banana Bread

Have a few over-ripe bananas in your fruit bowl? Are you (or a friend or loved one) on a gluten-free diet? I've got your perfect Sunday afternoon recipe right here! Courtesy of The Kittchen, I whipped this up in no time last weekend.

Bursting with (to borrow a wine term) "fruit-forward" banana flavor, I loved the texture it gets from almond meal and chopped walnuts.

I made a couple of tweaks to the original recipe. Rather than traditional brown sugar, I used Whey-Low's Gold Brown Sugar Replacement, and when serving it, I dusted the top with their powdered sugar replacement to make this an "almost" totally guilt-free dessert. Scatter a few sweet berries on the plate for good measure, and voila!

Have a great Sunday!

Print original recipe here.