Halloween Treats With A Trick: Caramel Apple Jello Shots

And a little something for the adults.
     I have never used a melon baller in my life.
     Shocking but true.
     So it seems fitting that the first time I do use a melon baller is to make these boozy Halloween treats with a wee trick in the form of butterscotch booze (previously purchased, also for the first time, for my caramel apple martini binge, a trend that continues in my house and will until the apple cider runs out and it gets too cold to think of drinking sweet, cold cocktails).
     This year’s Halloween entry is late, and it sort of typifies the way Halloween has worked this year in general. The Teenager is going to a non-costume Halloween party at a friend’s (which seems really strange to me. No costumes at a party on Halloween? Even costume-optional? But I digress.), which turns out to be fine because she couldn’t get her act together enough to figure out what she wanted to be.
     Usually I am a witch because it just fits, and I happen to own tons of black which means that costume shopping for me entails finding/borrowing a witch’s hat.
     But this year I wasn’t feeling it. And The Teenager wasn’t either, which is sort of sad because I told her this is the last year I was footing the Halloween costume bill. This morning (actual Halloween but actually afternoon because she is a teenager and we did spend several hours playing with the dogs and eating doughnuts in her bed this morning), The Teenager is in the shower, getting herself together for the party tonight, and as I melon-balled my way to these delicious treats with a wee trick I started to get a little nostalgic, as I am prone to do when I cook and listen to Hozier.
     She was a pumpkin for her first year, and a bumblebee after that. Then a fairy. Then a couple years get fuzzy (but included her making a costume as a shadow, which was pretty epic), right up until the string of years when I made her various states of dead as a zombie.
 
My sweet little bee, many years ago. 
 
      As The Teenager got older, I started feeling a little weird about being so gleeful about making her look as undead as possible. She pushed it one more year as a dead bride, the best, most disgusting year of her zombie-ness, until she started to branch off into different costumes.
     This year, she is nothing but herself, heading to a party while I stay home in our new house, doling out literally 20 pounds of candy and non-candy treats for allergic children, wearing my Halloween costume alone on the stoop with the dogs barking like crazy people as little trick-or-treaters flood the neighborhood.
     It’s hard not to tie the passing months to The Teenager’s impending departure. Every year she leaves behind a little more of the child she was and begins to step towards her own life. It is inevitable, joyous, and a little sad.  I am going to need these treats with a wee little trick, and I suspect some of the parental chaperones will, as well.

 

     Happy Halloween!

Experimenting: Gnocchi

I am more excited about this potato ricer than perhaps I should be.

True confession time: I have only had gnocchi once.

It was at a restaurant in Little Italy in Baltimore, a place that shall remain nameless but based on reputation alone should have had someone’s nonna in the back making delicate little puffs of potato. 

They certainly charged cash money like they flew Nonna over first class.

Turns out, their gnocchi was less than stellar. They were lukewarm and gummy, served in a quickly-cooling butter sauce with fairly tasteless Parmesan that may have seen the inside of a green can. It was not a good showing, and for years I ignored the presence of this dish in favor of anything else.

Flash forward to gluten-free years, a chilly fall in Baltimore, and some gorgeous and delicious organic russet potatoes from the local market. Turns out gnocchi is a great pasta dish for those avoiding gluten, and some recipes don’t require the use of eggs (although Tom Colicchio’s does, and his is on the list for testing).

I have no idea what I am doing, but tonight is the first experiment with the recipe from Mark Bittman’s book How To Cook Everything. All it requires is russet potatoes, salt, pepper, and flour (I am using my gluten-free all-purpose flour blend, so we will see). 

I have a newly-acquired potato ricer, a bowl that is too big for the aforementioned potato ricer, and the will to dive in.

I also have a four-hour Sunday sauce that I made on Monday (details, details), and I figure the gnocchi might like to rest on top of that when all is said and done. 

So help me out before I judge my initial effort (which Tom Colicchio insists will be unsuccessful on the first attempt): describe the texture and taste I am aiming for. What is the goal?

I plan on trying several different recipes before reporting what actually happen. I may need volunteers to taste. Any (local) takers?

Book Review: Ratio By Michael Ruhlman

I am a novice, a mere stripling in the kitchen, propelled only by a pretty good palate and a desire to make things that are delicious and, for me, gluten-free. I got sick of substandard gluten-free offerings and sick of feeling like an inconvenience at other people’s tables. 

This journey has become something of a mission, albeit a mostly personal one. Along the way, I am following my own inclinations, starting with developing recipes to replace gluten-free staples that are expansive and/or awful, and tossing in doughnuts and other sweets because they are delicious.

Because I have zero training of any kind beyond watching my mother and my grandmother cook, I am always on the lookout for a particular kind of resource. A resource that speaks in the language of the chef, but slowly so that I can understand. A resource that gathers a vast amount of information into small, manageable, portable bites that has many applications.

(Nearly) Above all, I am interested in resources that do not distinguish between the “home cook” and the “chef.” Yes, of course, I am not a professional chef, and I have no idea how to run a professional kitchen. I lack the lingo, experience, and training.

But I want to learn the way a chef might learn, by doing it, fucking up and then making some changes (or a lot of changes) and then not fucking it up. I am not interested in pre-packaged, pre-made shortcuts, and I don’t want recipes or direction to cut my prep time or fresh food. I am down with the mise en place, thank you very much.

Please don’t talk down to me, authors.

So when I picked up Ratio on a friend’s coffee table, leafing through it briefly when I stopped by to watch their dogs, I was merely curious, not committed, and there was a good possibility that my relationship with the book may have ended there if I had not read this line:

“Technique must be practiced – you can never stop getting better. This is important: my aim isn’t to make perfect bread or pasta or mayonnaise or biscuits – ‘the best I’ve ever had.’ It’s to set a baseline to work from, to codify the fundamentals from which we work and which we work off of.”

From that moment on, this book had me. Practice to get better, practice to learn more, not allowing perfect to be the enemy of good: these are the lessons of this book, and I am steadily committing these fundamentals to memory.

Ratio outlines the basic proportions  used in cooking that enable the chef to conjure a fresh loaf of bread or a Bearnaise sauce from memory. Culinary schools use ratios instead of recipes to teach their young chefs to work quickly and consistently, and over time these ratios are deeply embedded in their brains. 

Because many recipes have similar ingredients as a base, it is the ratio that makes bread (five parts flour to three parts water) different from pie (three parts flour to two parts fat to one part water) and crepes (1/2 part flour to one part liquid and one part egg). 

There are, of course, variations in cooking and technique that make breads successful or not, and there is yeast and salt and any variety of flavors that can be incorporated into the ratio at various time, but through it all the basic formula is the structure that binds everything together.

This book does not stick to breads but also dives into batters, stocks, sauces, and custards. Each has its own section, and classics are well-represented.

We are only two in our household, so the progress is slow but infinitely educational (for better or for worse, if I am being honest. Still haven’t made a decent pastry creme that has not broken.). Of all cookbooks in my possession, and the many more to come, I can safely say that thus far this is the one I would take with me on a desert island. Which I certainly hope has adequate facilities for practicing pastry creme.

Side note: Ruhlman is also the author of a series of books that begins with the title The Making of a Chef. He wanted to write about a cook’s experience at the Culinary Institute in America, in the end becoming a student himself. I highly suggest the first two, as they give insight not only into the process of becoming a chef through culinary school but also follow some well-known chefs (Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller, Michael Simon and others) as they build their kitchens and careers.

What book  has revolutionized your work in the kitchen?


On Writing, Friendship, And The Perfect Pumpkin Doughnut

We probably could have used some doughnuts. #RoughNight


“The urge to write has to be stronger and more compelling than the belief that no one wants to hear your stories.”

I woke up this morning after a wretched night of sleep with this thought fully formed in my head. It was such a revelation to me, so astonishing in its truth, simplicity, and application to my current stage of life that I felt compelled to write it down and share it, thus proving the message itself.

Developing recipes, learning everything as I go (including some very basic cooking skills), finding new culinary projects: that has never been hard.

The hard part, as with everything I have written about life and grief and death and yoga and parenting, is the overwhelming doubt that anyone gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say.

I will pause here to assure my three loyal readers that I am not looking for encouragement or a pat on the back. 

The point is that the act of creation – of food, of words, of art – has to be so terrifyingly urgent as to make incomprehensibly unimportant the doubt of reaching an audience who cares. 

Creation doesn’t care about click-throughs, page views, and bounce rate.

(that has the rhythm of a poem to me)

What cares about those things is doubt, fear, and the thought that someone has done it first, better, and simply MORE than I have now or will ever be able to.

Creation doesn’t care because succeeding at the perfect pastry creme (ongoing) or developing a perfect gluten-free pasta (starting this week) is its own reward.

I continue to struggle daily with the feeling that my writing is not good enough and doesn’t matter, and I continue to try and do it anyway. I am learning, and this is always good.

And frustrating and infuriating and slow. 

But still.

Creation is its own reward. That, and a spicy pumpkin doughnut. Made especially for my oldest friend in the world, Kerry.

Yes, I know. Two doughnut recipes in a week. 

But Saturday we went thrift store shopping, and after tasting my apple cider doughnut, Kerry requested a pumpkin doughnut. Today is National Pumpkin Pie Day, a made-up holiday if there ever was one, but certainly better than celebrating the impending doom of 1.5 million indigenous people on this day in 1492 (or thereabouts). Other sources say it’s National Pumpkin Day or National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day, so split the difference and make these.

Kerry has been with me for my most joyful and tragic moments. Also some of my most drunken and ridiculous, which were sometimes connected to the most joyful moments. From in-school suspension together in middle school for a “food fight” consisting of throwing one piece of corn to midnight rides to being one of the first to arrive when my husband died in 2013 and the only friend to drop everything at the death of my father, Kerry has been in it with me from nearly as long as I can remember, not only listening to my stories but also creating a few right along with me. 

Seems like a doughnut is a small thing to ask for, yes?

This doughnut is for Kerry, the person who, no matter how ridiculous they are, not only always wants to hear all my stories but also wants All. The. Details.

Share this with a friend who is like this, then tell me all about them in the comments below.

Spicy Pumpkin Doughnuts

Ingredients

Doughnuts:
2 eggs
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vinegar 

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
3 tsp. vanilla extract (you could also do a maple extract here)
1 3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
1/4 cup oat flour OR almond meal
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (optional if your blend already has it. I use it anyway) 
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 T ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt 

1 tsp ginger 
1/2 tsp. ground clove 
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves

Topping:
1 stick melted butter
1/2 cup sugar 
1 T cinnamon 1/2 tsp each ground ginger, clove, nutmeg, and allspice



Method:

Preheat oven to 400 and grease two doughnut pans (either full size or mini).

Before you begin, combine the milk and the vinegar to make a buttermilk, of sorts. I chose this method over purchasing buttermilk because most people don’t have buttermilk handy. If you do, feel free to substitute 1/2 cup of buttermilk. If not, add the vinegar to the milk and let sit for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the following dry ingredients: flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices.

In a medium bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs and beat, then add vanilla, milk mixture, and pumpkin puree. Beat until combined, then add the flour and continuing mixing until it is smooth (just a minute or two).

If you have a pastry bag, use that to pipe the batter into the waiting doughnut tins. If not, scoop the batter into a Ziploc baggie, snip off a corner, and use that to pipe the batter into the tins. Fill about halfway up.

Bake for eight to ten minutes. Doughnuts are ready when they spring back from a light touch.

Turn out onto a wire rack. As soon as they are just cool enough to handle, dip each doughnut into melted butter and then roll in spicy sugar mixture. 

These may keep, but I have no experience with them lasting past noon on the day they are made, so let me know if they do.

Recipe notes:

  • Doughnuts are just as delicious without the sugar topping, and you can also just use it for the top if you want to keep sugar in check.
  • Initially I planned on frosting these with a cream cheese frosting instead of the sugar did not. That’s the next iteration.



Caution: Doughnuts Ahead

Who wants a mouthful of fall? Anyone?

It seems like fall always does this to me, and to my kid, too: sets me back on my heels, makes me a little melancholy. This fall is the first where we have been completely settled in two and a half years. The past two and a half years have been spent first in total shock, then next in planning and moving and renovating a house. Maybe that is why I have spent the last two weeks re-evaluating everything I am doing and coming to the really terrifying realization that the true grief for my departed husband has not yet quite begun. 

Fall should come with caution tape.

So I have doubled down on yoga, practicing every day, usually at a class but at home if I can’t make one, asked for recommendations for therapists, attempted to re-design this website to make it a little more interesting (ha. that has been a process that is still ongoing), and gotten my affairs in order, the better to not clutter my head with things that really don’t matter as I try to figure out what. the. fuck.

Oh, yeah, and I made doughnuts.

Baking, cooking, and preserving is the one thing that always gives me a small bit of joy. It has been that way for as long as I can remember. I love the process of baking itself. The creativity of flavors and substitutions for gluten-free or vegan baking, the mixing wet and dry ingredients and watching them smooth and wrap themselves around my beaters. 

The house smells delicious, and at the end I have something I can share, something that I know will be better than anything I can buy.

It is fall, and it’s time for apple cider. Last week was caramel apple cocktails, and this week is apple cider doughnuts.

These are cake doughnuts that are highly spiced with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.  They are, as always, gluten-free, but regular all-purpose flour works here, too. 

Enjoy.

Oh, and if anybody is a Blogger pro, get in touch, would you? I have some free stuff to give away to subscribers but can’t figure that particular magic out. #KThanks

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Ingredients

Doughnuts:
2 cups apple cider
2 eggs
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vinegar
3 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
1/4 cup oat flour OR almond meal
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (optional if your blend already has it. I use it anyway) 
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 T ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cloves

Topping:
1 stick melted butter
1/2 cup sugar 
1 T cinnamon
optional: add nutmeg, ground ginger, and cloves to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 and grease two doughnut pans (either full size or mini).

Before you begin, you need to reduce the apple cider from 2 cups to just 1/2 cup. Place in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a lazy boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced, then cool to room temperature. The mixture will resemble simple syrup and is, indeed, DELICIOUS in a bourbon cocktail. This can be made the night before, but bring it to room temperature before adding.

You also need to combine the milk and the vinegar to make a buttermilk, of sorts. I chose this method over purchasing buttermilk because most people don’t have buttermilk handy. If you do, feel free to substitute 1/2 cup of buttermilk. If not, add the vinegar to the milk and let sit for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the following dry ingredients: flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and spices.

In a medium bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs and beat, then add vanilla, milk mixture, and reduced apple cider. Beat until combined, then add the flour and continuing mixing until it is smooth (just a minute or two).

If you have a pastry bag, use that to pipe the batter into the waiting doughnut tins. If not, scoop the batter into a Ziploc baggie, snip off a corner, and use that to pipe the batter into the tins. Fill about halfway up.

Bake for eight to ten minutes. Doughnuts are ready when they spring back from a light touch.

Turn out onto a wire rack. As soon as they are just cool enough to handle, dip each doughnut into melted butter and then roll in spicy sugar mixture. 

These may keep, but I have no experience with them lasting past noon on the day they are made, so let me know if they do.

Recipe notes:

  • Doughnuts are just as delicious without the sugar topping, and you can also just use it for the top if you want to keep sugar in check.