Christmas Tree Shops

I hadn’t hit up the Christmas Tree Shops in years.  I do love a bargain (am I the only one that remembers those ads), so when my mother mentioned that the Christmas Tree Shops are now stocking a plethora of gluten-free products, I had to go and check it out.

It is well worth the visit.  The Christmas Tree Shops stock a variety of Bob’s Red Mill flours, including: polenta, cornmeal, cake mixes and rice flour.  In addition, they also offer a limited, but cheap selection of gluten-free cookies and pasta.  They also stock a wider selection of snacks that happen to be gluten-free like Welsh’s gummy fruits and risotto chips.

Restaurant Review: Burton’s Grill

While looking for a new restaurant in the Fenway area, I had two parameters: good food and a gluten-free menu of some kind.  I was just not in the mood for one of those ordering debacles, which ends up making me feel like a jag for having celiac.  Luckily, I found Burton’s Grill.

The dining area is nice, with large leather banquettes.  The bar area was ample with both plenty of seating and standing room. I would describe it as a mix between a steakhouse and a French bistro.    It is definitely worth mentioning the bathrooms: very clean and spacious.

Burton’s has teamed up with the Gluten Intolerance Group to create a gluten-free menu.  They have a commitment to food allergy awareness and post specific information on their website to help their diners before they even get to the restaurant.  In addition, Burton’s stocks gluten-free breads!  For the first time in 2 years, I was able to eat a hamburger in a restaurant.  Amazing.

The pricing is about the same as the Cheesecake Factory, but the portions are smaller (i.e. – food is not brought out on a trough).  Burton’s makes up for this with better quality.  My waiter understood my allergy needs, the kitchen’s capacity to change dishes, and was able to rattle off substitutions and options without even looking at a menu.

I ordered a burger with bleu cheese and steamed broccoli on the side. Delicious.  The meat was tender and well-seasoned.  The cheese was tangy.  The bread was soft and perfectly toasted.  My dining companions had a cobb salad and steak and eggs breakfast and each also gave the food thumbs up.  The only real draw back was the drinks.  I ordered a seasonal fall cocktail.  My friend ordered a Bloody Mary.  I thought my drink was fine, but the Bloody Mary seemed watered down.

I did not get fries, but I was told the fries are safe for gluten-free diners.  I think it is especially worth noting that they do offer a fried fish sandwich, which I am going to try next time I go!

Overall, this is a nice dining experience.  I would recommend this place to anyone with food allergies who want a painless dining experience.

G/F friendly: 5 of 5

Food Taste and Quality: 4.5 of 5

Product Review: Kinnikinnick Maple Donuts

I heart donuts.  As a kid, I looked forward to Saturday mornings because my dad would either make pancakes or take us to Dunkin’ Donuts and let us pick out an assortment.  I loved the long neat rows of donuts coated in beautiful colored frostings and glazes and mounded with sugary toppings.  This love of donuts may be why I was a chubby kid…as I got older and realized that a donut was more of a dessert item than a nutritious breakfast, I ate them less frequently, but never stopped loving that combination of slightly soft cake and sickly sweet glaze.

Sometimes, while waiting in line for coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, I stare longingly at the donuts.  I sometimes wonder if a donut and the accompanying Proustian memory would be worth the 2 hours laid on the bathroom floor wishing I could puke.

Well, I don’t have to do that now.  I recently read about Kinnikinnick’s Maple Donuts online and decided to give them a try.  They come in the freezer section, which I am always dubious of, but other reviewers had given these donuts great reviews.  They are as good as everyone says.

The donuts are small, and at a dollar per donut, at first I was miffed that I had paid so much for such small donuts.  But like so many gluten-free products, they are pretty filling, so with a little yogurt or fruit, these do make a nice breakfast.

The donut cake is rich and dense.  It is not overly sweet, which is nice because the maple glaze is very sweet.  Together the donut and glaze balance each other out to make a tasty bite.

Recipe: Goat Cheese Polenta with Andouille Sausage, Caramelized Onions and Arugula Salad

This dish may seem a little involved at first, but it’s really simple and comes together in about 30 minutes.  Husband likes warm and meaty dishes on cold nights.  The arugula lightens the dish and adds a lot of flavor.


4 cups water or veggie / chicken broth

Olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of a pan

2 Tbsp butter

Handful of chopped pancetta

Handful of goat cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Caramelized Onions and Andouille Sausage

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp butter

Olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of a pan

½ tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Packet of Andouille sausage, 4 – 5 sausages

Arugula Salad

1 large handful of arugula per person

Mustard, just a few drops

Red wine vinegar, about 1 Tbsp per person

Olive oil, to taste, I like a 1 to 1 ratio with the vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large skillet, melt a little butter and olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan) over medium-low heat.  Slice the onions and add to the pan.  Sauté 3 minutes or so: until the onions are softened.

Left: Step 1 Right: Step 4

2. While the onions are softening, coat the bottom of a large saucepan in olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the pancetta and garlic.  Cook until the pancetta is browned at the edges.  Add three cups of the water or broth to the pan: turn heat to high.  Let the liquid come to a boil.

Left: Step 2 Right: Step 3

3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining cup water and the cup of polenta.  Whisk together.

4. Go back to the onions, add the brown sugar and the smoked paprika.  Lower the heat slightly.  You want the onions to cook slowly, without burning off the liquid.  Season the onions with salt and pepper, to taste.

5. When the water / broth starts to boil, add the polenta slowly, whisking all the while.  Turn the heat back to low.  Stir the polenta frequently.  It will thicken.

6. Add the Andouille sausage to the pan with the onions.  Adding the sausage now will help to flavor the onions.

Step 7, making the dressing

7. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and some mustard. Whisk together.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the olive oil, whisking all the while, to create a nice thick dressing.  Drizzle over arugula.  Toss.

8. Add goat cheese to polenta. Season with salt and pepper. Stir.

9. In a serving dish, I like bowls, layer the meal as follows: polenta, onions and a sausage, top with the arugula.

Left: adding the goat cheese to the polenta. Middle: the finished onions and sausage. Right: the finished meal

Restaurant Review: Wagamama

I am not sure why I am just posting about Wagamama now.  I go here all the time.  There are three locations around Boston and Cambridge; mostly, I frequent the one near my office in the Prudential Center.  I have been to all of them and found them all equally accommodating.  First of all: props to a venue that can accommodate a range of dietary needs.  I sometimes go with a vegan friend and we are each able to pick from about 4 or 5 items on the menu.

Wagamama does not have a gluten-free menu per say, but they do mark with an exclamation point those items that can be made gluten-free.  When you order, you do need to alert the staff that you have an allergy, just to make sure that they prepare the item correctly: the kitchen may need to make substitutions.

The wait-staff make take your order and just send the manager over to confirm the food allergy, or they may say that the manager will be over to take allergy orders.  I have had them go both ways.

The restaurants are all typical long benches with hard wooden seats.  It makes it difficult to sit for too long.  After about an hour, you start to think about how much your butt is starting to ache.  Sometimes these long benches mean that you end up sitting next to a really annoying bird with a loud voice, going on about a variety of stupid subjects.  Amusing sometimes: asinine and irritating others.

I think at this point I have tried all four or five of the gluten-free items on the menu.  They are all pretty tasty.  The dishes themselves are mostly just fresh veggies / meat and noodles.   There is really nothing remarkable about them, no unbelievable sauces or broths.  It is nice to go out for lunch and get something fresh and healthy.    I would highly recommend the chicken itame, it’s a soup with fresh lime juice and cilantro.  Yum!

g/f friendly: 5 out of 5

taste and quality of food: 3 out of 5

Recipe: Bouillabaisse

I am not actually putting a recipe up.  I decided to the bouillabaisse recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I was a little intimidated.  Maybe it is the name, bouillabaisse, it just sounds complicated.   The steps were surprisingly simple, but some of that came from the shortcuts I took.

I didn’t really change the recipe at all: I had to improvise in a few places based on what I had on hand and what I could do time and money-wise.

I am not saying it’s not worth the additional effort / money, to do this recipe exactly as written, but it is the holidays: who has extra time and money?

The first step is simple: sauté onions, leeks, tomatoes and garlic.  I also added a little bit of orange bell pepper, just because I like bell peppers.

The recipe calls for making your own fish stock with fish heads and bones.  I did not have time for this.  Alternatively, Child suggests using a mixture of water and clam juice.  Then there is secret option #3: buy fish stock.  That’s what I did.  In just a matter of minutes and the addition of some spices later, the soup base was ready to be simmered as directed.

Left: the broth before simmering. Right: using the immersion blender.

Child suggests passing the broth through a food mill to smooth it and remove the bones and other non-edibles.  I don’t own a food mill (shocker, I know, maybe when we have a bigger place… as it is, I have roasting pans and kitchen utensils hiding in every closet in the house).  Instead, I used an immersion blender to smooth the broth.  Since I used stock, I didn’t need to remove the fish bones.  I just picked out the bay leaf and orange peel.

Child suggests a variety of about six types of white fish for her bouillabaisse: some firm and some flakey varieties.  This may not always work budget-wise. The day we went to the market, it seemed the flakey, white fishes were more economical than the firm fishes Child suggests in her book, so we just used flakey white fish.  Added bonus, without the firm white fish, we were able to reduce the cooking time by about 20 minutes.

Adding the fish and mussels.

The fish market we frequent, Cherry Street Fish Market in Danvers, even has “chowder fish,” a mixture of small chunks of soft, flaky white fishes.  At four dollars a pound, this is a good alternative that will still work with the recipe.  Mussels and clams are generally also pretty inexpensive and add visual interest to the finished product.

The soup may not have been executed exactly as directed by Child, but it tasted fantastic.

Beautiful and tasty, this is the finished product. The slight orange tint to the broth is from the orange bell pepper I added.

Recipe: Cranberry Cashew Quinoa

This dish is really easy to make vegan or kosher, just substitute either tofu or turkey bacon in for the pancetta and omit the cheese.

1 cup quinoa

3 cups water

1 onion, diced

¼ cup chopped pancetta

olive oil, enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan

salt and pepper, to taste

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup cranberry sauce

1/3 cup cashews


Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1. Boil water (sometimes I use chicken broth to add more flavor).  When the water begins to boil, add the quinoa.  Cover and turn the heat off.  Leave standing for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile:

2. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet, over medium heat.  Add the onion and pancetta.  Cook 5 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.

Left: step 2 Right: step 3

3. Add the cranberries and the cranberry sauce.   Season with salt and pepper.  Sometimes, I add a little dash of clove or cinnamon.  Turn the heat down to medium low.

4. Over low heat, in a small skillet, gently toast the cashews.  They will smell toasty when they are ready.  Check often, cashews burn easily.

5. Fluff the quinoa.  Add the onion / cranberry sauce.   Mix together.  Add ½ the cashews.

6. Place a little arugula on the dish (I don’t dress the arugula, but if you want to, I would suggest a little balsamic or honey mustard).   Add the quinoa.  Top with a little Parmesan cheese and few of the remaining cashews.

This isn’t how the dish is supposed to look, but this is the finished product the night I photographed this dish.

Why didn’t this come out properly?

I got overly enthused about the capacity of my rice cooker and blindly just tossed the quinoa in, hit white rice, as directed by the instruction book, and ended up with extremely mushy quinoa.  It was almost oatmeal-like.  It tasted ok, but I think the dish would look more appealing if the grains were more distinct.  It would also make it easier to toss the arugula and quinoa together.

Next time, I will just cook my quinoa on the stove so I can maintain the integrity of the grains.

Recipe: Cranberry Sauce

I know, it’s after Thanksgiving, so you have probably already made all the cranberry sauce you are going to make for the year.  Then again, maybe you are also a cranberry junkie and will be making cranberry sauce a lot over the holidays.

This is my recipe for cranberry sauce.  It is not drastically different than what you would see on the side of any Ocean Spray bag, but I think the addition of a little vanilla and cinnamon go a long way in this dish…

½ stick cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

12-16 oz. fresh cranberries

1. In a large saucepan, over high heat, combine the water and sugar.  Whisk to combine until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the cinnamon stick.

2. When the water reaches a boil, add the cranberries.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  The cranberries will start to make popping noises: like adding milk to Rice Krispies.  Add the vanilla.

3. Leave uncovered, at a simmer for about 20 minutes.  The cranberries should have popped and started to break down in the water.

4. Remove from heat.  Remove the cinnamon stick.  The sauce will still be really runny, just leave it on the counter for about 20 minutes.  As it cools, it will thicken.

You can kind of see what happens when you ignore your better instincts. I forgot to leave the sauce uncovered and the sides of the pan were covered in goo!

Recipe: Leftover Turkey Soup

Thanksgiving turkey is great, but there is only so much you can with it.  I find turkey dries out really quickly, so I like to make soup with my leftover turkey: it’s light and keeps the turkey moist.

I generally use whatever is on hand, there are no rules for this soup.  As a general guide, I start with four cups of water for each pound of turkey and add plenty of vegetables.

This is what I used this year…

Left over turkey, about 1 lb., cut into small pieces

4 cups chicken or veggie stock (if you are using bouillon cubes instead of canned broth, 4 bouillon cubes and 4 cups water)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Any leftover veggies you may have around the house, I used:

White cabbage, thinly sliced, about 2 cups

Yellow squash, large chunks (if you don’t have squash or zucchini, try a few potatoes)

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, diced

½ yellow pepper, diced

2-3 large tomatoes, diced


1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander

½ tsp celery salt

1 tsp paprika

dash each: cayenne pepper and crushed red peppers

Optional: sriracha hot sauce or tobasco sauce

1. Heat the oil in the pan, over medium high heat.  Sauté the onion and garlic for 3-5 minutes: until soft and translucent.

2. Add the cabbage, peppers and squash.

3. If you are using bouillon, break up the cubes and add to the pan.   If you are using canned broth, skip this step.

4. Add the tomatoes and the spices (and hot sauce, if you want spicy soup).  Sauté about 5 minutes: until soft.

5. Incorporate the turkey.  Then add the water (or broth).

6. Turn heat down to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

7. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

This freezes really well.

Recipe: Butternut Squash with Brown Sugar and Nut Topping

I always look forward to that time of year when butternut squash comes into season.  It’s a malleable and flavorful vegetable.  It has a nice carrot-y sweet flavor and goes well with sweet, savory and spicy flavors.

This recipe is a really nice, easy puree.  It’s really easy to make this vegan.  It’s also easy to make this spicier by adding some garam masala (try about 1 tsp total, I put most in the topping and just a little in the puree).


Rimmed jelly-roll pan, lined with foil

Food processor

Large baking dish


2 medium butternut squashes

2 Tbsp butter

¼ cup or less, chicken stock (if you are looking to make this vegan, orange juice is a great replacement)

2 Tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste


3 Tbsp butter

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup pecans or almonds, roughly chopped

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

dash each of: ginger, cloves, white pepper, nutmeg


1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F / 180˚C.  Pierce the squashes a few times with a knife.  Place on the foil lined pan and roast in the oven 1 – 1 ½ hours, until the knife is inserted and comes out easily.

2. Let the squashes cool, about an hour.

Breaking down the squash for the puree

3. Trim off the ends and cut in half.  Scoop out the seeds (you can save these and roast them later, they are like little pumpkin seeds, tasty).  Scoop the flesh into the food processor.

Making the puree, the liquid helps to make it smooth and blend more easily

4. Add 2 Tbsp of the chicken stock and pulse.  The chicken stock will help to smooth the puree and make it easier for the food processor to move the squash around.  Add the butter, cinnamon and maple syrup.  If needed, add a little more chicken stock.  The mixture should be smooth and creamy.

5. Place in the baking dish, season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. In a small bowl, combine the topping ingredients.  Mix together with your fingers or a small spoon until small crumbs form and the brown sugar is moist.

Making the topping

7. Sprinkle the topping over the squash and bake at 350˚F / 180˚C for 30 – 40 minutes.

This dish is really easy to do a day ahead of a party, just warm it up (step 7) when you are ready to eat!