for you

Well hello there!

It feels like it's been ages since I've posted! About two weeks, which in my life really is a long time. Since you last heard from me, I've been road-tripping, concert-going, and birthday-celebrating. It's been a wonderful whirlwind, and I'm tired, but I'm also grateful to be living a life that presents me with such enjoyable occasions so frequently. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that, quite often, my life is fun.

And although I am very much a creature of routine, I can absolutely appreciate the value in leaving my routine behind for a while. Letting life get hectic and scattered and over-tired, and then settling back in at home - both literally and figuratively - gives me a chance to clear my head of the mundane clutter of daily living and really see my life for what it is. To understand what is right in front of me, to re-prioritize and brush aside the distractions preventing me from truly appreciating what I have. And boy, do I have a lot. Two incredible, enchanting children, who humble me every day with their wisdom and intuition and overflowing love. They are, quite simply, two of the most stunning people I know. I have a gracious husband, one with surprising reserves of strength and commitment, who turns dreams into reality and who believes in me more than I do. And I have an extended family of relatives and close friends, people who fill my life with love and friendship and laughter, and who give me more unwavering support than I could possibly be entitled to. I stand in awe of my good fortune. Really, this should be enough.

But then there is this space, where I come to share images and favorite recipes and random bits of my life with all of you, you who are mostly strangers to me and yet still kindred spirits, bonded as we are through this strange medium called food blogging. When I started down this path nine months ago, I never could have imagined the amount of gratitude I feel when I get compliments from readers. When you contact me to let me know you made one of my recipes and liked it, or to say that something you saw here inspired you, I feel amazed that you are not only reading what I write, but going a step further and taking me into the kitchen with you, to feed your loved ones. A true compliment if there ever was one. Honestly, I am bowled over by the kindness of strangers on a regular basis, and know without a doubt that my life is enriched by it.

On top of all this, I've made some dear friendships with incredible people as a direct result of blogging, something that I heard happened to other people but which was never an intentional goal of mine. But, like so many good things in life, these friendships happened almost on their own, picking up steam before I was fully aware of what was happening. I don't mean to imply I wasn't paying attention. But I never before believed that something so impersonal and abstract as the Internet could facilitate true, life-enhancing relationships. I stand 100% corrected.

 There are so many unknowns in life, so many experiences that we won't see coming, and won't have much control over once they get here. Some of them will be bad. This can be quite an unsettling thought. But I'm realizing more and more that if you learn not to take anything for granted, and can see the beauty in everything and everyone around you, all the unpleasantness of life can be handled with a lot more grace and understanding than you ever thought possible. It's the best win-win situation I can think of.

And so, with my renewed sense of gratitude, I'm giving you a gluten-free doughnut recipe. It's a recipe that was intended for you all along, created specifically for placement on this blog. That is, until I gave some to my celiac father, and he took one bite and said, "You have to sell these. Find a way to make money from these! They're better than any other gluten-free doughnut I've bought!"

This brought my very deliberate steps of recipe development → product tasting → blog posting to a halt. Suddenly, I didn't know what to do. Was I unknowingly in possession of a potential money-maker? Certainly, these are delicious cake-style doughnuts, and goodness knows the idea of doing something to financially contribute to my family is appealing. But what would be a realistic next move for me? I didn't know. So I've been sitting on the recipe for about three weeks now. Which is a pretty boring place to be, actually.

The more I thought about it, the more I didn't see any reason to keep the recipe secret. I'm not working on a cookbook that it could be included in. I don't have any contracts to develop recipes for other companies. I don't have a dedicated gluten-free commercial kitchen in which to produce them for the wholesale market. I can't even get my own kitchen certified for commercial production due to our lovable, but fur-dropping, Lab. I'm not in any position to turn a doughnut recipe into a new career.

But what I do have is this space, something that gives my baking a purpose and brings me personal satisfaction. And this blog would be nothing without readers. I believe that you deserve this recipe more than anyone, as a thanks for all the feedback and encouragement you've given me this year. Thank you, truly.

Also, when you get right down to it, all this is is a recipe for doughnuts. Doughnuts. One of the most social, satisfying treats out there. Who doesn't like a doughnut? Who doesn't love the timeless combination of a doughnut and a cup of coffee or (especially this time of year) warm cider? No one makes a batch of doughnuts to save for later, to be eaten here and there throughout the week. No, you make doughnuts to eat piping hot, straight from the fryer, with your friends and family and anyone else you can round up. Doughnuts are for sharing and conversation. Obviously, if I can add to that with a fabulous gluten-free version, I'm going to. Otherwise, I'd be missing the whole point of the doughnut.

So again, thank you. And here, have a doughnut. I made them just for you.

Just in case this post isn't already too overflowing with appreciation, I'd like to mention one more thing. It was brought to my attention that this little blog is among the 25 Food Blogs We Love on the new do it Delicious site, run by none other than Jessica Seinfeld. I'm beyond flattered and honored - I'm flabbergasted. To be among such illustrious blogging company as Jaden, Lara, Matt, Deb, Aran, David, Molly, and Béa is just thrilling to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Old-Fashioned Apple Cider Doughnuts
yields approximately 10 doughnuts and doughnut holes

1 1/2 cups (212 grams) Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
1/2 cup (90 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (22 grams) certified gluten-free oat flour 
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp guar gum
1/4 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg
3 Tbsp (45 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1 large egg (55-60 grams)
1/4 fluid cup (60 grams) buttermilk
2 Tbsp apple cider (Or, if you're feeling particularly motivated, place 1 cup apple cider in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer, and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup. Use 2 Tbsp of this syrup in place of the apple cider.)

3 pounds trans fat-free Crisco, or your favorite frying oil, enough to fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of three inches
Granulated sugar, for coating (optional)

Combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to combine. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse just until there are no pieces of butter larger than a small pea.

Combine the egg, buttermilk, and cider in a small liquid measuring cup (one with a pouring spout), whisking just to break up the egg. With the food processor running, pour in the liquid mix and process just until everything is incorporated.

Line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper, lightly dust it with gf pastry flour, and spoon the doughnut batter onto it. Dust the top with gf pastry flour. Using lightly floured hands, press the dough into a 3/4-inch thick round. Transfer to the freezer until firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Line a second baking pan with parchment or wax paper. Remove dough from freezer, and using a doughnut cutter (mine measures three inches across), cut out doughnuts. Scraps can be pressed back together and cut. Place doughnuts and doughnut holes on the second lined baking pan. Refrigerate for up to 30 minutes.

Heat the Crisco or oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat to 375º (use a candy thermometer for accurate temperature readings). I realize that Crisco is shunned in many, many kitchens. Mine too. Except that Deb shared the secret of frying with a fat that's solid at room temperature: foods fried in it don't get soggy and grease-laden as they cool! This is key to making a doughnut that still has a crisp exterior and soft interior on Day Two (assuming you have leftovers). You need to do what feels right for you and your family. But on the few occasions each year that I make doughnuts, I'll be frying them in Crisco from now on.

When the oil is up to temperature, use a thin spatula to pick up and gently lower the doughnuts into the pot. Depending on the diameter of your pot, three or four at a time is good - you don't want to crowd them! Watch your thermometer and adjust your burner accordingly to keep the temperature at 375º. Cook the doughnuts, flipping them over halfway through, until they are a rich golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the doughnuts to a paper towel-lined plate. If desired, toss the doughnuts in granulated sugar to coat.

Doughnuts are great right away, still excellent on Day Two, and good on Day Three. Don't bother trying to keep them any longer than that - they'll start to taste old and stale.

A photo from this post has been submitted to the GF Photo Contest, which can be found here: http://simplygluten-free.blogspot.com/2010/10/gluten-free-photo-contest.html


a treasure in our midst

I've been in a hearty-soup state of mind lately.

The temperature has dropped suddenly, and our neighbors have lost no time in firing up their wood stove. This means I am inclined to randomly open the door in the evenings, close my eyes, and breath deeply, calming my mind and body with that primal, reassuring scent. A recent drive inland carried with it the realization that parts of this state are already experiencing their peak foliage season. Our house as well is being overtaken by deep reds, oranges, and yellows. Mini gourds lay everywhere, pumpkins grace our table and front porch, we've got bundles of flame-brilliant leaves curing in glycerine solutions for later crafting projects, and for the first time in my adult life, ornamental corn has joined our Autumnal decorating scheme. We're doing everything we can to embrace the season.

Soup, for me, is a natural desire in the cooler (and, as things progress, downright cold) months of the year. There's something about a pot simmering on the stove in the late-afternoon light, filling the house with rich aromas and steaming up the kitchen windows just a bit. It's relaxing and comforting to know that your work is done; you're just waiting for the melding, intertwining magic of the soup pot to happen.

It's also convenient. Dinnertime at our house is not always the calmest, most congenial part of our day. With two little ones (who have usually maxed out their daily cooperation allotment) running around, and Josh away at the restaurant, making dinner can often be a stressful and scattered time for me and the boys. But if I get a pot of soup going early? Well, knowing that dinner is taken care of makes the end of the day feel positively easy and luxurious. You can see why I love soup.

My most recent pot of soup was inspired by a Sunday outing with friends to Beth's Farm Market. The Market is huge, which is especially impressive considering it represents the bounty of a single local farm. I've lived here for over seven years, but had never turned off Route 1 at the numerous 'Beth's farm stand' signs to see what all the fuss was about. I'm so glad we finally made the trip! My farm-obsessed kids adored it. Tractors everywhere, hay pyramids to scale, even a corn maze to lose ourselves in!

 But for me, the most fascinating part of the day was wandering among the squash. Really, the place was just overflowing with orbs of every size and color! Many familiar to me, some not so much. A few were a mystery even to the staff - Josh asked an employee about a particularly drab, tan-colored specimen, and was told that she really didn't know what it was or how it tasted. Of course, he snatched one right up.

I was especially enchanted by a jumbled stack of large, pale pink squash. They were unusually knobby with warts, with some covered so thickly it was difficult to see their skin! The sign in their midst declared them "Double Uglies" - obviously a made-up name, as I can't find any other references to a squash with that moniker. I will admit to being a bit offended on behalf of the defenseless things - they seemed beautiful to me! Delicate yet sturdy, girly and homely all at once, a study in physical contrasts. I had to take one home.

 When I looked it up at home, I discovered that my squash was actually named Galeux d'Eysines, a prized French heirloom variety of pumpkin. This made me feel like I had had one of those painting-over-the-sofa moments. You know, the stories about the painting that had always hung on grandma's wall, got added to the drafty, cobwebbed attic with the rest of her belongings after her death, and is later found to be an original, unknown da Vinci. Like this recent story. A treasure right in front of me, under-appreciated by everyone else. Suddenly, my pumpkin was special.

All specialness aside, however, it never occurred to me to make anything other than soup with my new pumpkin friend. Funny how some ingredients just seem destined for a particular dish, even before you realize you've decided on it. There is a bit of irony, though, in the way I decided to prepare this soup. Remember everything you just read about how much I love the do-ahead nature of a long-simmering pot of soup? It's all true, except that this particular soup doesn't work that way. It's somewhat backwards. Sure, you get needed downtime at the beginning while the squash roasts, but the actual soup itself comes together quickly at the end, with your full attention at the stove. The final result, however, is everything I want in a soup. It's rich and filling, but not too heavy. It tastes warm and comforting, with unexpected flavors that complement each other perfectly. It has lovely contrasts - velvety and crunchy, salty and sweet, warm and cool. Even the color - a vibrant yellow-orange, like my favorite Fall sunrises - is perfect.

Maybe you haven't seen the lovely Galeux d'Eysines at the markets near you. Sugar pumpkins however, as well as butternut and buttercup squashes, abound at even the most basic of grocery stores this time of year. Any of those would be a fine stand-in. And larger winter squash, such as Blue Hubbard or Long Island Cheese, can also usually be found at farmer's markets through the Fall, and are excellent for making soup. Really, any orange-fleshed winter squash with a sweet, nutty flavor is going to produce a superbly-flavored soup.

At the heart of it, it's all about the feelings the soup inspires. Does making it create a cozy atmosphere in your kitchen? Is it the culinary equivalent of a warm blanket, enveloping you in comfort and contentment? Are you sated and satisfied after eating it? Yes?

Then it's a good soup.

Roasted Squash Soup
yields 4 main dish servings, or 6 servings as a side dish

4 slices cooked bacon, 1 Tbsp fat reserved
one Galeux d'Eysines squash, or other large winter squash (you may need two if you use a small variety, such as buttercup), to yield 580 grams of roasted flesh
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Cortland apple, peeled, cored, and chopped, or other tart, firm baking apple
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 pint chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 Tbsp heavy cream, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
apple butter, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400º.

Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into wedges, drizzle with 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and roast in the oven on a baking sheet until the flesh is very tender and slips easily from the rind, about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Cool on the baking sheet until just warm. Remove flesh from the rind and weigh out 580 grams of squash into a bowl. Set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion, and cook slowly until the onion softens and just begins to brown. Add the minced garlic and sauté for two minutes, then add the chopped apple, dried thyme, and reserved bacon fat. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the apple pieces soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the roasted squash (and any accumulated juices) and chicken stock to the pot, stirring to help mash the squash. Once the soup has reached a simmer, take the pot off the heat and use an immersion blender to purée it. (Alternately, you can purée the soup in batches in the blender. Return soup to pot once it's smooth.) Stir in the butter and 2 Tbsp heavy cream. (You may need to re-warm the soup at this point, if it has lost too much heat.) Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls, and garnish with crumbled pieces of bacon, dollops of apple butter, and a swirl of heavy cream.

A photo from this post has been submitted to the GF Photo Contest, which can be found here: http://simplygluten-free.blogspot.com/2010/10/gluten-free-photo-contest.html


a single-minded passion

 I went grocery shopping the other day, semi-spontaneously.

I say "semi" because, while the trip was intentional, most of what I ended up buying was not. Usually I get to the store with a very well-thought-out list, and don't stray too far from it. Sometimes, though, my lists are more haphazard, vague. Instead of actual foods, it might be constructed simply of categories, like Meat, Various Cheeses, Veggies, Fruit. It's always interesting to see what I come home with after a day out with such a 'list.' Meal planning gets extra creative that week, I can tell you.

So this most recent trip was . . . more impulsive, shall we say. I bought whatever struck my fancy at the moment. Not so good for the food budget. Or for replenishing staples. At home, unpacking the bags, I didn't find any buttermilk, which we needed. There were no raisins, which Kalen has been asking for every time I make oatmeal. No all-purpose cleaner was to be found (which was a boon to Josh, at least, since it let him off the bathroom-cleaning hook for another day). So what did I end up with?

Ah, some glorious, glorious stuff! Four individual serving-size containers of Häagen-Dazs (two chocolate peanut butter and two chocolate chocolate chip, if you must know). A seven-pound bone-in pork shoulder. (Dinners have been very good this week!) A big bag of roasted and salted cashews. And a five-pound bag of apples . . . to join the twenty pounds I still had left from apple picking! In my defense, the new apples were Honeycrisp - one of the best eating-out-of-hand apples out there - while the picked-from-the-orchard apples were Cortland, which I save for baking. Two completely different species, in other words.

But still, apples. Apples are apparently the only fruit I care about, or even recognize the existence of, this time of year. Josh brought home some plums and late-season peaches the other day (to round out my single-minded fruit selection) and I have absolutely no interest in them. They might as well be rocks, rolling around in the refrigerator drawer, taking up space, contributing nothing to my daily produce intake.

The apples, though, those I am taking full advantage of! Lots of apple butter, of course. Fresh applesauce, which should be required eating for anyone who thinks the stuff in jars at the grocery store tastes good. Slices of apples simmered with some of the above-mentioned pork. Crisp, cold apples eaten alongside crisp, warm grilled cheese sandwiches. Apples eaten outside after an afternoon of yard work, which entices a lone, apparently ravenous honey bee to join the picnic. Everywhere, every day, it's just apples apples apples.

One of the more impressive, yet still simple to pull off, forms the apples have taken is in an apple rosette tart for my sister and brother-in-law's anniversary/housewarming party last weekend. I love this type of dessert. It looks fancy, everyone oohs and aahs over it, and yet it's actually easy as pie (literally!) to make. Easier, really, since so many people seem to be afraid of pie crust, and with this tart you don't have a top crust to worry about finagling into place and decoratively crimping and such.

At its heart this tart - just like apple pie - really only needs apples, some sugar, and complementary spices as a filling. But I decided that a layer of homemade applesauce on the bottom wouldn't hurt, and while I was in an accessorizing frame of mind went ahead and made a caramel sauce to drizzle over it. Because we were celebrating an anniversary and a housewarming, after all, so slightly over-the-top seemed entirely appropriate.

Having now tasted the final product, however, I feel I must tell you that these extra components are, in fact, mandatory. The tart wouldn't have quite enough body without its cushion of applesauce, and the caramel . . . well, let's face it, once you put caramel on something, can you ever really go back to not putting caramel on said something? I didn't think so.

So you get my applesauce technique (it's really a stretch to call in a 'recipe'), and a simple, perfect caramel sauce recipe as bonuses with this post. I can sense some of you tensing up at the mention of 'caramel.' Trust me, you needn't fear it. Making caramel is actually much easier than everyone makes it out to be, so you have no excuses (and nothing to worry about!) that would keep you from experiencing this tart in all its full glory.

 And in case you are a gild-the-lily sort of person, might I push you in the direction of serving this tart with a scoop of slightly melty, rich vanilla bean ice cream? Store-bought is fine, just make sure it doesn't have lots of weird additives in it - you don't want that stringy, spongy sensation getting in the way of dessert nirvana. Although, I will caution you, once you add the ice cream, it gets a bit harder to justify eating this at breakfast time. Which you will of course want to do if you are lucky enough to have any left over the next morning. But I've got faith in you. I know you'll persevere!

Enjoy! And tell me, what are you doing to take full advantage of this year's windfall of apples?

Homemade Applesauce 
This will make much more than you need for the tart. Probably almost 2 quarts more. Eat it warm for breakfast!

5 pounds of peeled, cored, and sliced apples, or enough to fill a large soup pot or Dutch oven (I like to use tart, firm apples like Cortland, but choose any variety whose flavor you love)
1/2 to 1 cup apple cider
Pinch to 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup light brown sugar (optional)

Place the apple slices in the pot, and add enough apple cider to come about 1-inch up the sides of the pot. Add a couple pinches of cinnamon, up to 1/2 teaspoon, if desired. If your apples are very tart, or if you simply prefer a sweeter applesauce, add the brown sugar. Stir to combine, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, turn heat down to low, and simmer, partially covered, until apples begin to turn into mush on their own. Off the heat, use a potato masher to coarsely mash the apples, leaving some chunky pieces in there. Refrigerate for up to a week, or applesauce can be canned if you wish to store it longer. Warmed applesauce, with a dollop of plain yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup, is one of my favorite Fall breakfasts!

Apple Rosette Tart
Yields one 11-inch tart

One single recipe Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust, or your favorite pie crust, cool but not too cold
1 Tbsp egg white, whisked until frothy

2 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
juice of one Meyer lemon
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup homemade applesauce (preceding recipe or your favorite version)

Preheat the oven to 400º. Have ready an 11-inch removable-bottom tart pan.

Roll out the disc of pie dough into a circle approximately 15 inches across. I've found that if the dough is too cold (as in straight from the refrigerator), it's difficult to roll and cracks a lot. Letting it warm slightly results in a more pliable dough that's easier to roll out (just be sure to dust it with gluten-free flour, or do it between two pieces of parchment or plastic wrap), and it doesn't compromise the end goal (a tender, super flaky crust) one bit. It's a great thing about gluten-free pie dough; you don't have to be so neurotic about keeping it cold when you're working with it! Gently ease the dough circle into your tart pan, letting the edges hang over the edge of the plate. If the dough's gotten so warm that it's becoming too sticky, pop the tart pan in the fridge just long enough for the dough to regain some of it's integrity. Use your rolling pin to roll over the edge of the pan, which will cleanly cut off the overhanging dough.

Line the tart pan with parchment, and fill with pie weights, uncooked beans, or uncooked rice, and blind-bake the tart shell until the edges are just starting to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the pie weights and parchment, prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork, and bake for 5-10 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool 3 minutes. Brush bottom and sides with egg white wash and set aside.

Combine the sliced apples, lemon juice, sugars, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and gently toss to combine. Place in a colander set over a bowl and strain at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour. Put apples back into original bowl, mix in cornstarch, and set aside.

Pour strained juices into a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until juices have turned syrupy and dark brown. Pour apple syrup over sliced apples and toss to coat.

Preheat oven to 400º. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment or foil.

Spread homemade applesauce over bottom of cooled tart shell. Arrange apple slices in tart shell in concentric circles, starting at the outside. Squeeze in as many slices as you can fit. Pour any accumulated juices over the apples. Place tart pan on the lined baking sheet.

Bake tart for 20 minutes, then cover with foil and bake an additional 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 more minutes, or until juices are bubbling and apples are soft. Cool in pan on a rack.

Serve tart warm or at room temperature, preferably with a drizzle of caramel sauce (recipe follows) and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Perfect Caramel Sauce
Yields approximately 1 cup

1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp water
1/4 to 1/2 liquid cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Place sugar and water in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring. The sugar solution will come to a boil, and this is where you need to keep a close eye on it. Watch it as it turns from clear to amber, then darker and darker until it is a rich mahogany brown - but is not yet giving off whiffs of smoke! Immediately take it off the heat, and slowly pour in the heavy cream, whisking constantly. The caramel will steam and fizz and sputter, so keep your face back to prevent burns. If you want an intense, bitter caramel, add just 1/4 cup cream, but if you prefer a creamier, softer taste, add the whole 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Whisk in the butter. Pour caramel sauce into a heat-proof glass jar (I use canning jars) and allow to cool, uncovered. Caramel will firm up as it cools. When cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. To soften, warm the jar in a microwave or in a pan of just-simmering water. Drizzle caramel over slices of apple rosette tart, ice cream, brownies, a chocolate tort . . . you can't go wrong with homemade caramel sauce!

A photo from this post has been submitted to the GF Photo Contest, which can be found here: http://simplygluten-free.blogspot.com/2010/10/gluten-free-photo-contest.html
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