Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “NJ”

Gluten-free cookies that actually taste like…cookies! — The Butterfly Bakery review

Anyone who reads my blog on semi-regular basis knows that my mom is gluten-free by way of Celiac disease. We don’t keep an entirely gluten-free household, but she keeps plenty of gluten-free alternatives for herself, and she’s always looking for new ones to try. (Because, believe it or not, many gluten-free baked goods aren’t so, well, good.) I also often make sure if I’m cooking or preparing food that it’s either entirely gluten-free or easily adaptable for her.

So, needless to say, we were both totally excited when the Butterfly Bakery in Clifton, NJ, contacted me about sampling and reviewing some of their gluten-free baked goods.

Funnily enough, the Butterfly Bakery started out of owner Brenda Isaac’s desire to create tasty baked goods for her dietary-restricted mother. Isaac’s mother was a diabetic, so she started experimenting with sugar-free baked goods in 1998. Fourteen years later, the Butterfly Bakery now has multiple lines that include gluten-free, no sugar added and 100% whole grain.

Naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is…gluten free baked goods? So how do they taste? Well, not half bad! The Butterfly Bakery sent me a package of chocolate chip cookies and a package of blueberry mini muffins to taste. When they arrived, it was clear they did not hold up to shipping well–some of the cookies had started to crumble and a couple of the muffin tops had separated from the base. Otherwise, though, they were in decent shape (as in, not a package of crumbs.)

See? Only the top couple of cookies took the brunt of the damage. (This is how they arrived.)

Luckily, they tasted better than they looked. Of course, as soon as the package arrived, Mom and I dug right in. It was like Celiac Christmas. The cookies actually had a really nice nutty, almondy flavor, though they were nut-free. (Most likely, the flavor came from the brown sugar or the Teff flour in the recipe–more on that in a minute.) I was, admittedly, surprised by how addictive these cookies were! The downside, though, was the texture.  The crumbling in the package was not a one-time fluke. They had a really nice flavor, but they were too messy to eat. We literally stood over the sink as we nibbled on them to catch the crumbs. Perhaps the recipe could benefit from some kind of extra binder, like honey or molasses. Then again, maybe it’s a trade-off for the freshness. (Many packaged gluten-free cookies are more processed; these are pretty much oven-to-door.) And if that’s the case, I can handle that.

Some of the tops were dented, while a couple (like the one down in front) were totally separated. But really, the top’s the best part of the muffin anyway, so it’s kind of like they were doing the dirty work for us!

Fun discovery: the cookies actually benefit from refrigeration. Instead of leaving them out on the counter, we refrigerated them (also instead of just eating the whole batch.) When I ate another one after it had been in the fridge overnight, it held together much better and was much easier (and even tastier!) to eat. So fridge=happy gluten-free cookies. The flavors were more pronounced, and the overall cookie had a better, chewier bite.

I wasn’t quite as enamored with the muffins. They looked just like any other packaged blueberry mini muffins you’d buy at the store (minus the shifting tops), but the texture was a bit more…off. The muffins were grainier and grittier than a regular wheat-based muffin and, like the cookies, fell apart easily. These were more obviously gluten-free. That being said, they were still chewy and sweet and tasted like a blueberry muffin. I wouldn’t buy them over regular muffins, but they’re still a solid option for those who maintain a gluten-free diet. My mom liked them enough to finish off the package while I was on vacation. I have a feeling they became more than a couple breakfasts.

So…their secret to gluten-free baking? They use teff flour, a flour ground from an Ethiopian grain similar to quinoa or millet.  Both the light and dark varieties of teff have a nutty flavor: the white teff has a chestnut-like flavor while the darker teff can have an almost hazelnut-like flavor. (And there we may have some of the nutty flavor in the cookies!)

Teff has 14% more protein than normal wheat flour and is full of other nutrients like potassium, vitamin B, iron, thiamin and calcium. It is also high in fiber and naturally gluten-free.

Both the tub of 13 chocolate chip cookies and the package of 12 mini muffins retail for $5.99 at the Butterfly Bakery web site. You can also buy Butterfly Bakery products in grocery and specialty stores nationwide or on Amazon.com. The coolest part? The Butterfly Bakery has a request form on their site than you can print and fill out to take to your local grocery store’s bakery department to request they carry Butterfly Bakery products!

Now I’m not going to say these are health foods. They are still cookies and muffins (which have an undeserved false “health halo” for what is really an icing-less cupcake.) That being said, for someone with dietary (gluten) restrictions, they’re a great alternative and a way to indulge without having to go for processed or unappetizing substitutes.

I’ll tell you this–they got my mom’s stamp of approval, though she admits it’s been so long since she’s had “real” baked goods that she may not be the best judge. But what’s even better? I couldn’t stop eating those cookies, either! (The muffins? I could take or leave them.) But the cookies definitely get the gluten-free AND the gluten-full (not a word, but now it is!) stamp of approval!

Porta Patens Esto. Nulli Claudatur Honesto. “Be the door always open. Be it not closed to any honest person.”

First off, I’d like to apologize for the lag in posting. The last couple of weeks have been utterly crazy for me; I started up working full-time again, but didn’t quit my old job, plus I’m in the rehearsal process for a show that opens in three weeks. So I’m working 6-7 days a week and going to rehearsal, which unfortunately leaves little time to cook or enjoy a nice meal out.

But Monday I had a half day at work, so Kevin and I took the opportunity–and free time–to go out for a nice, sit-down meal. He and I have this little thing we do where we try to go to a new restaurant every month. Monday was our February opportunity though, admittedly, we cheated on this one a bit. We chose to go to Porta in Asbury Park, N.J. It was brand new to him, but I had been there. Just once. And not for dinner. I just went there after work late one night with a friend and we split a pizza and a carafe of their house red wine (more on that later.) So really, I hadn’t experienced Porta to its fullest, so it was still fair.


Porta is a pizzeria by name, but it is so much more than that once you step inside its wide white doors. The building looks like a converted garage, complete with three large bay doors on one end that open up to their patio and outdoor bar (dubbed “Porta National Park”) in the warmer seasons. Inside, Porta is arranged family-style, with large picnic-style tables rather than traditional individual seats. The back wall is lined with antiqued wooden doors, and in clear view sit their wood-fired pizza ovens, imported from Italy, with the open prep and cooking space. Porta also has a large bar, complete with a great wine list and varied beer options. (“Porta” is Italian for “door,” hence the door theme.)

By night, Porta becomes a bar and nightclub complete with a DJ, live music and dancing. But by day (well, Monday evening), it had a unique, modern-classic feel, pumping standards through the sound system rather than Top 40 dance beats. It mixed sophistication with a backyard feel.

But enough of that. Really, this is about the food. And the food is no less unique than the space itself. While the menu is small by normal standards, its anything but boring. Mostly appetizers and pizza with a few pasta options, Porta keeps it simple while keeping it special.

For appetizers, we ordered two salads to share: The Winter Caprazy and the Cavolo Nero. The Winter Caprazy is exactly what it sounds like: a seasonal take on the classic Caprese salad. This one included slow roasted tomatoes, black garlic and fresh oregano.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had black garlic or fresh oregano (only dried.) I’ve been missing out. Black garlic, while it looks a bit scary, is a sweeter, richer cousin to what we know. And fresh oregano blows the dried stuff out of the water. Upon eating it, I got that distinctive bite and slight hit to the sinuses that confirmed I was indeed eating oregano, but the flavor was so much milder and fresher than its spice rack counterpart. Where has this been all my life? Needless to say, everything worked together pretty well, with the roasted tomatoes imparting a sweeter, heartier flavor than the raw version. I don’t love roasted tomatoes, but this definitely made a pretty good winter version of one of my favorite classic Italian salads.

However, I don’t think the Winter Caprazy can hold a candle in creativity next to the Cavolo Nero. Tuscan kale, shaved sunchoke and watermelon radish with garlic crostini and parmigiano reggiano in a lemon-garlic dressing. This was my first introduction to kale, and what a way to start! This definitely makes me want to eat kale more often. My only complaint about this salad would be that the toppings (sunchoke, watermelon radish, garlic croutons) were a bit too scarce. As good as the kale was, it was a bit boring without the accouterments and we left some on the plate once we finished everything else. But it was delicious. I love radishes, so this was a treat to me, especially with how beautiful shaved watermelon radishes are.

Sliced watermelon radish. Photo via SmartSeeds

I need to find some watermelon radishes and use them in everything I make. Everything. They taste great, and they’re gorgeous! (New goal.)

Moving on…

Kevin, being the pizza-lover that he is, obviously could not resist the major part of Porta’s menu: the pizza. He ordered an Italian Stallion with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, Gorgonzola, sweet Italian sausage and long hots. (I could insert a joke here about him being an Italian stallion, but I’ll pass for his sake.)

As much as he loves pizza, Kevin hates blue cheese, but he bit the bullet and tried it on this pizza. And he didn’t hate it. Overall, he thought the pizza tasted great, but the generous drizzle of olive oil (and probably the grease from the sausage) made it a little soggy for his liking. He boxed half up to take home and said he’ll try to crisp it up in the oven before eating the leftovers.

I was in a pasta kind of mood that night, so I went ahead and ordered off their small, but not limited pasta menu. I went a little off the beaten path with a wild boar ragu with rosemary papardelle, rosemary, sage, red wine and parmigiano reggiano. If you hadn’t told me this was wild boar, I wouldn’t have known. But I’m so glad I tried it. It’s, unsurprisingly, very similar to pork, but a bit heartier and beefier. Sort of like a delicious pork-beef hybrid all stewed up and served over pasta.

Oh right, the pasta. Between the rosemary papardelle and the rosemary in the sauce, I expected a double whammy of in-your-face rosemary. But instead, it was subtle and underlying and I had to really look for it at times. Still, I ate almost the whole thing. Hearty, warm and inviting. It almost made me forget it was nearly 60 degrees that afternoon.

Pizza; Photo via http://www.pizzaporta.com/

Not the Italian Stallion, but another one of Porta'a pizzas. Photo courtesy of Porta Pizza.

And of course, what better to complement a great meal than some house red wine? Porta has a nice Italian wine list, but the standout is their house-made red and white wines, which can be ordered by the glass or the carafe. I’ve been here twice and only ever had one wine–the house red, a Cabernet. I thought about switching it up at dinner, but I figured, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Next time I’ll have to try their house white and eventually branch out to their other wine selections.

Kevin went a more traditionally American route–pizza and beer. Porta seems like the kind of place that would have tons of local and craft beers on hand, but most of their beer list is surprisingly generic. They have a few crafts, including three varieties of Six Point. Kevin had the “Bengali Tiger,” which he said was very pine-y with a citrus finish. He equated it to Pine Sol at one point, which I assumed was a bad thing, but he seemed to enjoy it. I picked up on the pineyness but not as much on the citrus. However, the back of the can did quote William Blake’s “The Tyger.” (Plus one for Six Point.)

Porta’s minimalistic atmosphere and inspired take on locally-sourced ingredients may be far too hip and trendy for some, but I actually found it a relaxing and enjoyable Monday evening. Is Porta a bit hipster? Yes. Are the food, drinks and service worth it despite that? Absolutely. It’s nestled on an obscure little corner of Asbury Park, right between the bustling downtown and the boardwalk and offers a casual retreat that’s still leaps beyond traditional pizzeria fare. So, if you’re looking for an original, quality meal in a quaint, casual environment, head for Porta.

Porta also runs several specials throughout the week, like gluten-free pizza every Tuesday and a 4-course family dinner every Sunday night. They weekend brunch every Saturday and Sunday and, of course, the club/bar scene at night.

I’ll have to check out the nightlife sometime and see if it lives up to the weekday fare. Come summertime I’ll have to give this another go too, of course.

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