This 4-ingredient take on flatbread is a perfect yeast-free substitute for traditional wraps, breads, pitas and more.
Happy May and Happy Allergy Awareness Month! I have been getting pummeled by allergies since we were in Florida a few weeks ago. I heard recently that “pollen season” in NYC is at it’s worst in history, and we won’t get a break until winter basically. Yippee! I foresee several Benadryl comas in my future….
In April we spent time in Celebration, Florida. We usually spend a few weekends there every year visiting Scott’s parents and grandparents. This year we went down for Easter and my birthday then extended the trip so I’d get to see my sister march at Disney World later in the week.
Celebration feels like a quaint little town, even though it is actually rather big. The houses are picture perfect thanks to strict color and design standards, everyone says hello and waves to each other on the streets, the town center is walking distance and is always lively between lunch-goers, the after-school Starbucks crowd, and evening activities, and it is close to so many major parks and attractions. It’s basically a slice of Americana. Of course, since it’s an Orlando suburb, there is Orlando traffic to deal with if you want to go to a major shopping mall, the outlets or one of the theme parks, but other than that it is a relaxing, sunny and happy place to be.
While the town center has several restaurants, not all are worth eating at. And because we were staying for 10 days, I decided to do a full grocery run to buy Kelley friendly foods to cook throughout our stay. We still went out to eat a few times, though. There are two places in town that we rarely stray from: Celebration Town Tavern, serving traditional American food with Boston flare, and Cafe D’Antonio, serving Italian food.
Celebration Town Tavern is great for a few reasons:
- It has a large covered outdoor area with a bar, perfect for watching sports while having a drink
- There is also a large covered dining area dedicated to those with dogs
- The food is consistently good
Our waiter was excellent and very attentive to my allergies. The chef sent him back out to ask about cross contamination concerns because they use one fryer for all their fried foods including my beloved french fries and hated shellfish. Funny enough, only a few other chefs have ever raised this concern so I said, let’s try it! We’ll find out if it’s an issue. Now, I know this is a horrible idea and I really do not suggest anyone with food allergies be so risky. I only did it because I know I’ve had french fries in the past that have been in a contaminated fryer and I’ve never reacted.
Everything turned out well on this occasion: I had a plain burger, no bun, and a side of fries for lunch, and I felt fine afterwards. We went back a few afternoons to watch the Indians and Cavs play (Go Cleveland!) and each time I had an order of fries with no reaction.
Our other restaurant staple is Cafe D’Antonio. While this is my favorite in Celebration, it is not always the best with allergies, which I put on the waiters, not the chef. On this trip we went to Cafe D’Antonio on two occasions: once as a family and once just Scott and me. When we went with my in-laws, we were welcomed and treated differently because they know them. The waitress diligently wrote down all of my allergies, checked with the chef that my order could be prepared allergen free, and reported back to me before placing the order. I felt completely taken care of and had no worries about my food.
I had the Capellini d’Angelo without parmesan and shared the peas and prosciutto with Scott, made with olive oil instead of butter. The meal was delicious and filling and I felt good afterwards.
The second time we went, just Scott and I, we were welcomed and seated immediately. Our waiter was friendly but kind of brushed off my allergies, saying he was allergic to shellfish also so he knew what it was like and would make sure all of my food was OK. But, he didn’t want to hear any of my allergies and didn’t write them down when I listed them. He was falsely over-confident because we shared an allergy threat, usually the opposite of how someone who shares food allergies reacts. I was a little worried but figured all would be fine.
I ordered Pappardelle Bolognese and happily saw that the pasta that came out was penne, substituted for the fresh pappardelle to avoid the egg allergen. This put me at ease and I went to town, hungry after all day in the sun walking around Disney. By the time we left the restaurant my stomach hurt so badly I could barely stand up straight. I will never know exactly what caused the reaction but I figure there was dairy or yeast of some sort in the sauce.
I had one other food encounter on this trip that didn’t turn out well. I had never heard of Dole Whip before so my mother-in-law took me to the Polynesian at Disney to try it for the first time. As I understand it, until 2014 the only place Dole Whip was served was at a stand inside of Magic Kingdom, which explains why the legend of Dole Whip had alluded me. We looked up the ingredients online, some of which looked a little suspect to me, but decided this was something I clearly had to experience in life so I went for it. The pineapple soft serve is completely dairy-free, vegan and gluten-free. Here’s the scary part: the vanilla soft serve only has casein from dairy, just the protein, so not any actually milk…… If you have a dairy allergy you absolutely will be allergic to it but if you’re lactose intolerant, you will be fine.
Anyway, we went, we ate (just the pineapple for me), I understood the glory that is Dole Whip, and then I paid the price. Scott tucked me into bed early (like 9pm early) and I watched Netflix until I fell asleep, deciding that I would come up with my own version of Dole Whip at home. I haven’t started experimenting yet but I will soon!
My absolute favorite thing to do while we are in Celebration is to go to the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Spa for some pampering, pool-side rays and the best healthy food at Vitale, the spa cafe, by the most lovely and friendly chef I’ve ever met, Chef Mirtha. I was spoiled and went twice on this trip: once for my birthday and again as a family day where we all got pedicures together, even the men!
The spa uses a few different lines of products, from all natural to more chemically enhanced lotions and serums. I went through my allergies with my aesthetician and she was able to come up with a mixture of products that made my skin look and feel great without any reactions.
But the real reason to go to the spa is so that you can lounge poolside for the day. Since the spa pool is only accessible to those who have booked a treatment or bought a spa pass, the pool is quiet and relaxing. The first day we went we were some of the only people there but the second day it was a bit more packed since it was the weekend. Thankfully the spa manager set us up with a cabana so even though there were a lot of people sunbathing, we felt like we were in our own little paradise.
The spa cafe, Vitale, serves their full menu poolside. On our first trip there I mentioned to our server that I had allergies and, instead of trying to wade through the menu himself, he sent out the chef to speak about preparing a custom meal. Chef Mirtha was extremely knowledgable and more than happy to personally cook and prepare a meal for me. After walking through the list, she suggested a simple grilled chicken salad loaded with veggies and topped with a honey-lime emulsion. She even brought the prepared dish out to me herself to make sure everything was OK.
I do not know what she did to this chicken while it was grilling but it was the juiciest, most delicious piece of grilled chicken I’ve ever had. Needless to say, when we returned later in the week I requested the salad again and shortly thereafter Chef Mirtha appeared with another outstanding dish. To top it off, she prepared a plate of dairy- and soy-free chocolate covered strawberries for me so that I could enjoy dessert with everyone else.
I also took the opportunity to try the new(ish) Moët Ice Imperial, the first champagne made to be enjoyed on ice. My expectations were really low; I figured it would be flat and overly sweet. To my surprise, it was actually delicious and extremely refreshing on a hot day. But that’s where the issue came in: it disappeared really quickly as in I couldn’t stop drinking it because it was like alcoholic flavored seltzer. Would I buy a bottle for myself? No. I would drink it on the beach if someone else brought it, though.
The rest of our trip was spent relaxing/working at the house and at the parks. While we usually do not go to Disney or Universal, on this trip we did both. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both parks have strict allergy and dietary standards, which I’ll talk about in another post. The good news is, I was able to eat at both without any problems.
I’ll leave you with a few more photos from this trip including a two friendly kitties that live around the neighborhood and like to visit with you on walks.
Stay tuned for part 2: Eating at Universal and Disney.
Last week I was standing in the meat section at Whole Foods, thinking to myself “I cannot have chicken again tonight,” when a package of lamb stew pieces caught my eye. I had never cooked lamb before but hey, it was Thursday – red wine and Scandal night – and it couldn’t be that hard, so I grabbed it and some other items to make a warming, rich and hearty ragu perfect for a cold day and a bottle of red wine.
I’m a big fan of ragu, doesn’t matter what kind really. But recently I discovered, thanks to a very attentive and allergy-knowledgable waiter, that many ragu recipes, especially those you’ll find at restaurants, contain MILK! Quelle horreur! As it was explained to me, the milk helps bring out the richness of the meat to enhance the overall flavor of the dish. Blah, blah – all I heard was “you’ve been slowly killing yourself” while I realized why I came home from restaurants with stomach aches that lasted for days. (I’m not dramatic at all…)
Now I’m sure any trained chef would laugh at me not knowing this. Growing up, my mom’s ragus never had milk and all of the recipes I’ve tried over the years have not called for milk, so I’m going to ask for a pass on this one. Afterall, I’m definitely not a master chef.
My ragu does not have any dairy in it and yet it is still rich, meaty, tomato-ey and very satisfying. It is the perfect meal when you need some comfort food or when you’re just sick of basic everyday recipes. It has just 9 ingredients (plus salt and pepper, of course) is allergy-friendly, and is very easy to make. Just make sure to start several hours before you need to eat.
A note on canned tomatoes: As with all food, the less processed, the better, and canned tomatoes are no exception. Many recipes call for diced or crushed canned tomatoes but with each step past whole peeled tomatoes there are more processes and additives to get to the end result. In my recipes, I always use whole peeled tomatoes, with as few other ingredients as possible, and cut them or hand crush them to the size they need to be. This will add maybe 5 minutes to your prep time but it is worth it! Also, hand crushing tomatoes is really cathartic and fun.
The Fresh Direct brand is the best I’ve found for whole peeled tomatoes. There are just two ingredients: tomatoes and tomato juice (shocking!). Most other brands contain citric acid, naturally or chemically derived, which is an allergy red flag for me. To make chemically derived citric acid, simple carbohydrates are fed to a specific strain of mold to produce the fermented compound that is citric acid. Gross, no thanks. While some say this should not trigger mold allergies, for me it absolutely does. Most brands also contain salt or calcium chloride in varying amounts.
To prep the meat, pat it dry with paper towels, then generously season with salt and pepper. Patting your meat dry may seem like a bother and waste of time but to get a proper sear your meat cannot have extra moisture. Don’t worry, the lamb will cook long enough in the tomato and wine sauce to become tender and juicy and amazing.
Once you have all your ingredients prepped, heat a dutch oven on the stove and sear the meat in olive oil. You want a nice dark crust on each side which will take some time, probably about 10 minutes or so. If you have too many pieces to do this all at once, take your time and sear in two rounds. The more crowded the pot, the less your meat will sear and the more it will steam cook.
If you’ve cooked the lamb in two batches, put it all back into the pot, reduce the heat and add the onions, cooking for 8-10 minutes. Then add in the garlic, carrots, sage and rosemary and cook until soft, about another 5 minutes.
Pour in the wine (and pour yourself a glass because you deserve it!), cooking until the liquid has reduced by half. Crush the tomatoes, with your hands or with a fork/potato masher, and add to the pot along with their juices. Cook for 5 minutes then cover and place in the oven.
You’re basically done! Kick back with your wine and a book while your dinner cooks. The longer this cooks the more tender and flavorful it will be. Leave it in the oven for at least 3 hours and up to 5 hours if you have the time and patience. You may think you have the patience but just wait until the smells permeate your house….
Ah, you made it. Some lamb pieces may have already fallen apart but others will need a little help. Take your spoon and gently break the remaining pieces apart. It won’t take much effort. Stir it all up and serve it over pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, polenta, quinoa, you get the idea. Hopefully you still have a glass of wine left to enjoy with it! Bon appétit!
If you make this recipe, post a picture on Instagram and tag me! #champagneandfrites
- 1 pound lamb stew pieces
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, de-stemmed and chopped
- 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped
- olive oil
- salt and fresh black pepper
- 1 cup wine
- 1 28-oz can peeled whole tomatoes
- Preheat the oven to 275.
- Clean the lamb pieces and pat dry with a paper towel. Season generously with salt and pepper then set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Heat an oven-proof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot then add the lamb and brown, about 10 minutes. If you have too many pieces to fit into the pot then do this step in two batches.
- When the meat is browned, lower the heat to medium and add in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until transparent, 8-10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, carrots, rosemary and sage, cooking for 5 minutes until carrots are soft.
- Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
- While the wine is reducing, crush the tomatoes by hand, over the can to save the juices, or with a fork. Once the wine has reduced, add ¾ of the crushed tomatoes and juices to the pot, simmer, cover and place the pot into the oven for 3-5 hours.
- Remove the pot from the oven and shred any remaining chunks of meat with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
- Serve over pasta, mashed potatoes, or your choice of grain.
Vegetable stock is a pantry staple for me. I think I use it almost daily, actually. It’s so much more useful than just a base for soups. Cook quinoa, farro and rice in it for extra flavor; sauté vegetables in it; add it to mashed potatoes; use it to braise meats. Basically, you can replace water with vegetable stock in nearly any savory recipe to give the final dish extra flavor and oomph.
I have a major issue with store bought, pre-made stocks, though: they are full of allergens! Many use mushrooms to add a depth of flavor and umami quality. Others use yeast extract to do basically the same thing. On top of that, you’ll often see “natural flavors” listed in the ingredients which is a red flag on any packaged food.
“Natural flavors” are typically used to trick your taste buds into thinking something is better than it is by making food seem fresher or more flavorful, even adding in a hint of a food that isn’t present at all. I do one of two things when this ingredient is in a product I want to buy: 1, walk away because it’s not worth the risk, or 2, call the customer service number on the label and request to know what is included in their “natural flavors.” I usually end up being allergic to whatever is in it and can’t buy the product so option 1 is my norm these days.
My quest to find a pre-packaged stock has ended because I simply can’t find one that works with my allergies. After making my own stock, I really don’t know why I resisted it for so long. It’s seriously mindless, takes next to no prep work and the vegetables you need are probably already in your fridge.
Another plus, you can make the flavor profile whatever you want. I love celery, so I add more celery. I also love fennel so I use a full bulb. If you like leeks, add leeks! Go crazy!
Once you gather all the vegetables and herbs you want, roughly chop them up and sweat them out for a few minutes to help sweeten and release their flavor. Some people advocate cutting the vegetables more finely so more flavor is released into the stock but I’m lazy. I also peel the onion, garlic, carrots and parsnip, because their skins can hold mold even after a good scrubbing, which some would say is a big no-no. If you’re not concerned, leave the skins on!
The amount of water you add will determine how concentrated your flavor is. I add about 4 quarts of water which reduces to roughly 12 cups of stock after an hour. The flavor doesn’t hit you in the face but it’s also not subtle. If you want it stronger I’d suggest adding less water.
After an hour, give or take, scoop out all the vegetables with a slotted spoon or a fine mesh strainer. There’s not much you can do with the vegetables because they’ll be pretty bland at this point. Either discard them or save the carrots and celery as a treat for your dog. Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into storage jars, cooling completely before freezing, or store in the refrigerator. The stock will last 3 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer.
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 2 parsnip, peeled
- 3 celery stalks
- 1 bulb fennel
- 1 large onion, peeled
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 small bunch parsley
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 quarts water
- Roughly chop all vegetables. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add in all ingredients except water and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
- Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon or fine mesh strainer and discard. Pour stock through a fine mesh strainer into storage containers. Let cool completely before freezing.