Poached Pear Banana Nut Bread

Why a Food Blog???

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For years my friends and family have asked me for my recipes for dishes I serve when I entertain. I have sent out countless emails with recipes for this and that. I thought it would be easier (for me) to place my recipes on a central location, like a blog, so I can share them and invite feedback from those who have tried them. Every recipe will include a picture of the dish, taken by me. Most of my recipes originate from another source, like Bon Appetit magazine, Saveur magazine or a website, however, the recipes are altered to my liking. That is what make these dishes Personal.

More importantly, I want to show my readers that you do not have to sacrifice taste for nutrition. All of my recipes have nutritional value, are low in calories, and taste delicious. Don’t take my word for it, try the recipes and tell me what you think.

How do I keep my weight down, maintain a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol level? The answer is simple…I eat well and exercise. It is a lifestyle change I made a decade ago, when I noticed that my clothes were “shrinking” and my physical stamina had lessened.

Gwen’s Lens is a view of eating through the lens of my camera. As a photographer, I am documenting the process to prove to the naysayers that it can be done.  I eat well, meaning, the food I prepare is nutritious and delicious. I joined a gym. I am conscious of my caloric intake and make sure the intake vs. calories burned is in ratio. It’s not hard. It becomes second nature in no time. Hopefully, these recipes will encourage and inspire my readers to change their cooking habits, change their food choices, read labels and take the stairs.

I look forward to hearing your opinions on this blog and most importantly, on the recipes you try. Did you alter them in any way? Please share. All of my recipes can be improved upon. My feelings will not be hurt.

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Apples with Text

Hard Cider for the Holidays!!!

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As Newsday so cleverly coined…”The Cider House Rules.”


Have you noticed all the articles about cider lately? Ciders are trending. Fermented apple juice is the country’s fastest growing alcoholic beverage, up more than 75 percent last year after even bigger jumps in 2012 and 2013. As a matter of fact, in the past three years, its market share has surged more than five-fold.

As illustrated in the chart below (taken from fivethirtyeight.com) the rise of hard ciders is expected to gross revenue in the hundreds of millions.

Cider Sales Projection
Cider Sales Projection

Although you can drink cider all year round, the fall is definitely the time of year when cider vintners advertise, looking to encourage cider at the Thanksgiving spread, along with sparkling grape juice.

Good artisanal cider is having a renaissance of sorts. Most good wine shops carry at least a small variety, and online choices are impressive. You will also find a good selection in your local supermarket, in the beer isle, usually called “ale.” 

Cider is quite affordable, usually $10 or less per bottle, and definitely food-friendly. Fermented ciders can be bubbly or still, sweet, dry or in between. However, remember, it does contain alcohol, usually between 5 to 7.5 percent. If you want non-alcoholic, choose an Apple Cider/Juice, which is usually found in the produce section of your local supermarket.

Angry Orchard's The Muse
Angry Orchard’s The Muse

As is true with wine, hard cider is being produced all over the U.S. You might want to check the web for local orchards in your area that are producing cider. You may be pleasantly surprised.

What is my favorite cider? I’ve tried a few. My personal favorite, this year, is Angry Orchard’s The Muse.

The Muse is a bubbly, effervescent cider, aged in french oak just like traditional wines. Its flavor profile comes from a blend of Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Gala, including french varieties such as Amere de Berthecourt, Beden, Medaille d’or, Michelin, and Binet Rouge.

The Muse will appeal to those who don’t necessarily like the taste of alcoholic beverages, but will be intrigued by the hint of fruit and sweetness. It has the bubbles of a sparkling wine. That should titillate as well.

Doc's Draft Hard Apple Cider
Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider

Also consider Doc’s Draft Hard Apple Cider. It too is semi-dry with a fruity forward taste and a nice aroma of fresh cut apples. Guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser. 

While you’re exploring, check out the strawberry,raspberry, cherry and pear ciders as well.

These ciders are available year round, subject to availability.

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SIMI Merlot

SIMI Merlot

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This wine is a must have for all red wine lovers. It is smooth and subtle. Perfect to sip while watching TV or great with a bold pasta dish like my Baked Cavatappi. It is also a perfect compliment to beef, poultry and, of course, the hearty pasta dish.

Its composition consists of 96% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec, & 1% Cabernet Franc. This might not mean much to you but the subtle percentages in grapes and detectable. The more you drink Merlot, the more keen your taste buds will become to the differences in the grape variations.

The winemaker, SIMI, is part of the Russian River Valley appellation. I mention this because I have never tasted a bad wine that originates from the Russian River Valley. Of course, I have not tasted every wine from this region, however, these wines have never disappointed. If you are new to wine, start by asking your local merchant for wines from this California region.

For more information about this wine and winemaker, visit their website: http://www.simiwinery.com/product/2011-Simi-Merlot-Sonoma-County

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Local Produce

Farmer’s Market — September 2014

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It is harvest time. Farmer’s market signs are cropping up all over, even in the midst of the concrete jungle (Rockefeller Center), increasing foot traffic and pointing people to where they can purchase local healthy bounty. Everything from just picked produce to homemade jams and marmalades, to fresh baked ethnic breads, to cheese making classes, to spices grounded in a home kitchen, to family owned and operated vineyards are available. What a marvelous way for local artisans to display their wares; born from the desire of their hearts, grown from their soil, made by their hands.

Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes

There is something about fresh produce that makes us feel wholesome. Touching, feeling, squeezing, pinching, comparing, sniffing. Suddenly we are experts at selecting the ripest, freshest and sweetest of whatever we are considering. We assume we are getting the highest quality, less the additives and preservatives, and to a great extent we are. We are happy to encourage and support our proud local farmers, excusing, even justifying their higher prices. No one knows their product like them. They can explain the growing methods and conditions, when and how they were harvested, its nutritional value; describe the recipe handed down through the generations, and the best way to prepare it for your next meal. Such detailed and specific information about our grocery picks are rarely offered at Stop-n-Shop. Even restaurant chefs have been known to frequent farmer’s markets. I like to follow their lead. 


Oftentimes, what makes these markets so alluring are the choices. How often do you see green zebra tomatoes, or rainbow colored fingerlings? The mini fruit pies made and sold by the Amish are irresistible. If you are an artisan like myself, browsing the variety at the farmer’s market is like being a kid in a candy store. “So many choices…what should I try?”

If you’re interested, some farms offer opportunities to pick your own fruit and vegetables. Much like apple-picking, lots of summer and fall produce can be harvested by you and your family. Long Island, for instance, has many farms that encourage family picking. Curious? Check out the following link: http://www.pickyourown.org/nylongisland.htm. You will find a thorough listing of farms throughout Long Island that allow customers to pick their own produce.

Spirits are making an appearance at more and more farmer’s markets. I don’t necessarily consider vintners to be farmers, but they do grow produce…grapes. They harvest the grapes, then begin the process of making wine. Many times the representative is the owner and/or operator of the label. I was offered free tastings and a tour if I committed to a visit. Many of the vineyards offer tours and tastings.  It is a great way to expand your knowledge of wine and discover your favorite varietals.

Long Island Vintner
Paumanok Vineyards

As I have stated on my wine page, every state in the union produces wine. It will become more probable to now see an offering of locally produced reds and whites, not just at farmer’s markets, but at restaurants as well. The next time you dine out, ask your server if they offer local wines. Whatever the venue, chances are you will be able to sample the wines.  Nothing compliments a salad with locally grown greens like a local Chardonnay.

Believe it or not, the government is involved in encouraging farmer’s market patronage. Check out Know your Farmer, Know your Food, where it touts “every family need a farmer.” Again, supporting our farmers (who are often our neighbors) can be an education.  

Hot Bread Kitchen
Hot Bread Kitchen

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Am I a Master Sommelier? Yes.

No I’m not. But I probably know more about wine than most. I am an Oenophile. I enjoy wine as much as I enjoy my meal.

My wine curiosity started about 25 years ago.  I had no idea how or where to go to learn about wine. One day, while working in Philadelphia, I attended my first wine dinner, held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was hooked. I learned so much. I did not know that wine was a living organism…that it tastes different from day to day. I did not know that wine tours almost surpass visits to Disneyland. I did not know that global warming may have an impact on wine production. (Oops, that statement was political. My bad!!!) I did not know that all 50 states produced wine. Alabama appellation??? Anyway, that evening showed me that I had a lot to learn if I was to become even remotely familiar with wine.

I started my wine education in my backyard, Long Island. Long Island is becoming more and more respected for producing serious vintners. Many 90 point wines (Wine Spectator’s flagship wine rating) are produced 90 minutes outside New York City. Regardless of what you’re told, tasting is the best way to become knowledgeable about wine. In my case, many Long Island wineries still offer free tastings, in spite of the incidents chronicled in the New York Times some years ago. Appreciating the complexities of wine takes time. It takes lots of practice. I’ve been at this for 25 years and I’m still learning.

Long Island Wine Country

There are long-held steadfast laws regarding when to drink what with what, like white with poultry and red with beef, however, many restaurant sommeliers are loosening those rules, allowing the palette to dictate what to drink with what. I think a nice French rosé, such as the Mas Fleurey Côtes de Provence would go nicely with lemon-herbed roasted chicken. Ultimately, you will decide what you will drink with what.

Seek out your local wineries. Wherever you live, there is wine produced there. Support those wineries. Their wines will probably surprise you.

Periodically, I will add posts, introducing to some and presenting to others, wines that I find noteworthy. I am not partial to region and I am not a snob. I have no problem recommending $7 dollar wines. If it’s good, it’s good. Bottom’s up!

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First, let me say that I am, in no way, a selmelier. However, I do believe I know more about salt than most. Most of us take common salt for granted. Salt has gotten a bad rap of late. We tend to eat far more than is necessary. But a life without salt, or more specifically, food without salt is unimaginable, because salt is a basic human taste. Salt serves other purposes other than seasoning food, like using it for food preservation or baths in soaking tubs, but for the sake of this blog, let’s talk about using salt to enhance the flavor of food.

All of us are familiar with table salt, but what has eluded many of us are the other forms of salt we can use to season food. It is important to note that salt is regarded as the world’s most essential mineral.

What is the difference between Kosher salt and Sea salt? Good question, right?

Actually, there is no difference in Kosher and rough sea salt. For the most part, all salt has the same chemical makeup. Kosher salt has rough large crystals that dissolve in your mouth. It is often used as a finishing salt…added to chocolate perhaps, to give that crunch sensation. Sea salt…let’s talk about sea salt.

Sea Salt

Where does sea salt come from? It comes from the evaporation of seas all over the world. That is what accounts for the difference in its appearance and taste. Even though there are no added health benefits to using sea salts, the various in texture and taste makes it worthwhile.

Selmelier Mark Bitterman: 5 Simple Truths about Salt

The best way to educate yourself about salt is to go to a store that specializes in gourmet spices like “Spices and Tease” and “Oliviers & Co.” These stores will allow you to sample their variety. 20140909_130559

The variety is impressive. There is flavored sea salt and natural sea salt. Natural sea salt is that which is harvested from various seas around the world. Depending on the terrain and climate, its salt will have a distinctive and unique flavor, which is why one of my favorite salts is the truffle salt, which is a Mediterranean salt with a combination of finely ground truffle and porcini mushrooms added for emphasis. Sprinkle a little of this on a portabella and spinach omelette, OMG!!!

Lest I forget black salt. Very exotic in its appearance, it is often harvested as whole crystals. Perfect as a finishing salt on salad, seafood, chocolate and even watermelon. It adds a crunch with nutty flavor to excite the taste buds.

Other natural sea salts to try are:

  • Himalayan Pink (Pakistan)
  • Bamboo Jade (Hawaii)
  • Black Lava (Hawaii)
  • Sel De Guerande (France)
  • Fleur De Sel (France)
  • Blue Diamond (Iran)
  • Red Hawaiian (Hawaii)
  • Black Salt (also known as Black Lava Hawaiian salt)

These are just a sampling of the natural sea salts that are available to enjoy.

Amagansett (Long Island) Sea Salt

Flavored sea salts are products of the imagination of its producers. Girlichef’s Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez makes a myriad of sea salt combinations like Lavender sea salt, where she takes dried lavender buds and blends them in a mini food processor until it becomes a powder. She then adds the salt (light grey Celtic sea salt) and blends again. This method can be used for many flavored salts. How about macadamia sea salt?


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