I’m not a big Halloween person.  My neighborhood is mostly retirees, so in the 3.5 years I’ve lived there, I’ve never had a kid come by trick-or-treating.  Sometimes I buy candy just in case, but mostly I just ignore the entire holiday. 

On the other hand, I rarely ignore easy-to-make snack recipes.  So when I saw these bars on You Are What You Eat…or Reheat, I couldn’t pass them up. 

I’ve done a million recipes like these.  My mother used to make them with jelly in the middle (called Oatmeal Jelly Bars, of course).  I’ve seen them with peanut butter in the oatmeal crust and jelly in the middle.  But I’d never seen  a version with chocolate and Reese’s Pieces before.

Halloween Bars

The crust is a basic oatmeal bar crust – flour, melted butter, brown sugar, and oatmeal, some nuts if you like them.  About half of it gets pressed into the bottom of a 13×9. 

For the filling, melt a cup of chocolate chips and some butter in a can of Eagle Brand.  I’m tempted to call it a ganache, but I suspect there’s a Foodie Law against using “ganache” and “Eagle Brand” in the same paragraph, so I won’t.

Pour the chocolate over the crust, sprinkle with the Reese’s Pieces and the rest of the crust mixture, and bake for about half an hour.  That’s it.

This is what you get:

Halloween Bars

Perfect fall munchie food.  I wouldn’t make these all the time – they have an awful lot of processed stuff in them – but they’d make a great quick treat for an office Halloween party.

( see the recipe )

(The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.)

Finally, a Daring Baker challenge that I was really excited about!  This just looked fun, I love doughnuts, and I’ve never made them before.  There were a few different recipes to choose from, but I picked the Good Eats yeast doughnut recipe, because Good Eats recipes rarely go wrong.

They started with a simple-but-sticky yeast dough – bloom the yeast, mix it with warmed milk and melted shortening, add a couple of eggs, and then the flour and just a bit of nutmeg.  I mostly followed the recipe as written, except I don’t keep packets of yeast around – instead, I have a bowl of the super-strong yeast for sourdough in the fridge. And instead of rising it in my big dough-rising-bowl, I followed a suggestion from the King Arthur flour blog, which says that the best place to rise dough is in a big glass measuring cup, because it makes it easier to see when it’s doubled.

The combination of the too-small rising bowl and very enthusiastic yeast caused the dough to attempt an escape:

Doughnuts!

Luckily, it was spotted in time, and I did not have to spend an hour cleaning sticky yeast dough off my stovetop.

After the first rise, it got rolled out and cut into doughnut shapes.  I did some in the traditional hole-in-the-middle shapes, and a few smaller ones I cut out with a biscuit cutter to fill with jam.  They got laid out onto baking sheets to rise again:

Doughnuts!

I tried deep-frying them in a big cast-iron wok instead of using a Dutch oven.  The internet says the increased surface area of the oil makes it less likely to bubble up and all over the stove.  Plus, I only needed 3 inches of oil, so it seemed like a waste to fill my entire Dutch oven. 

That worked out great.  I had some issues with my clip-on thermometer, so I ended up using my Thermapen.  It couldn’t be left in the pot, so I just had to check the temperature every batch.  I was conservative, and only put in a few for the first batch:

Doughnuts!

After a minute, they got flipped:

Doughnuts!

And then after one more minute, they came out to cool:

Doughnuts!

I made a quick ganache to put on top, and added some sprinkles:

Doughnuts!

The next batch got cinnamon and sugar:

Doughnuts!

Then some glazed:

Doughnuts!

And finally the filled ones:

Doughnuts!

The scraps and doughnut holes went in last, and they just got tossed in the cinnamon-sugar.  The final tally:

Doughnuts!

They were amazing.  The insides were light and fluffy, and they didn’t come out at all greasy.  The cinnamon-sugar ones were my favorites, but the rest were good too.  They made an excellent, if not particularly nutritious, Saturday night dinner.

I’d do them again, hopefully with more people around to eat them next time!

( see the recipe )

( see the challenge )

For no apparent reason, I’ve been in the mood for banana bread.  I’d been putting it off until I went to the grocery store this weekend, where I found a bunch of 5 overripe bananas marked down to $.69.  I couldn’t pass them up, so they came home with me.

I have a really good banana bread recipe, with coconut and lime, but I didn’t really want something quite that complicated.  I’m not sure where this recipe came from originally – it’s one of those recipes that lurks in the depths of my recipe database.

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I always cheat, and instead of mashing bananas by hand, I just toss them in the stand mixer for a few minutes. After they were sufficiently “mashed”, I took them out of the bowl, then creamed the butter and brown sugar, then added two eggs and put the bananas back in.

I never bother putting dry ingredients in a separate bowl – I just use a bigger measuring cup, and mix them in there.  In this case, I put the 2 cups of flour in my 4-cup measuring cup, and there was plenty of room to mix in the baking soda and salt.  I added a dash of cinnamon to the dry ingredients, but it wasn’t in the recipe.

The dry ingredients went on top of the wet ingredients and got mixed very lightly.  If you wanted nuts, you could add them here, but I didn’t have any.

Then the batter went in a greased loaf pan and baked for an hour.

This is one of the most banana-y banana bread recipes I’ve ever had.  The texture is perfect:

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Not every recipe has to be complicated. Sometimes the simple things are perfect just the way they are.

( see the recipe )

"The word gnocchi means "lumps", and may derive from nocchio, a knot in the wood, or from nocca (knuckle)."

This is exactly what every one of my previous attempts at gnocchi has come out like:  A lump of wood.  I’ve tried a bunch of recipes.  I bought a potato ricer just for making gnocchi.  And every single time, I got dense, chewy, tasteless lumps.  I’d had good gnocchi – the best ever was from a little restaurant way off the beaten track in Niagara Falls – but somehow I kept failing at it.

So I gave up.

Then I saw a post from Vanilla Garlic about their lemon gnocchi.  It had two interesting features – lemon, which I can never resist, and a distinct lack of potatoes.  It made me wonder – maybe the potatoes had been my problem all along?  Maybe leaving them out was the answer!

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It was certainly easy enough to assemble – put all the ingredients on a cutting board, and knead them all together. Then roll it out into a log (I had flashbacks of PlayDough snakes), and cut it into 1/2 inch logs.  Mine came out a bit bigger then that, but close enough.

Lemon Gnocchi

Then toss them into a pot of boiling water until they float. Leave them alone for another two minutes.  I couldn’t resist trying one as soon as it was cool enough to eat – and it was perfect.  They would have been good with just olive oil and a bit of cheese, but I found a lemon-artichoke pesto, which worked great. 

Lemon Gnocchi

I’m still not sure if it was the lack of potatoes that made the difference, or maybe I’ve just gotten better since my last attempt, but these were really good.  Great texture, just enough lemon to be interesting, but not enough to be overpowering.  Definitely going in my dinner rotation!

( see the recipe )

It’s starting to feel like fall. I can walk from the back door to the garage without dying of heat exhaustion, and I’m starting to think that in another month I could turn off the AC and open the windows. 

It’s time to put away the lemon recipes for the winter, and switch to something more autumnal.  It’s still too early for really good apples, so the apple cobbler will have to wait another month.

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Instead, I found this great post from 17 and baking – maple pot de crème.  I love pot de crème recipes – I have an excellent chocolate one, but I’ve also seen caramel, coffee, and citrus versions. 

I’ve never seen a really complicated recipe for a pot de crème.  They’re all basic custards – warm up the milk, temper it into the eggs, put the eggs back into the milk mixture, strain, and bake.

This was no exception.  I doubled it, because I don’t have 4 matching pretty cups for them (did you know they had special dishes?  there’s a history of the here). I have a lot of ramekins, but they’re two different styles, and because they’re different heights, each type needs it’s own baking pan.  Instead, I made it in my stoneware French Onion Soup bowls – a double recipe made 4 big dishes full, plus the leftovers in a small ramekin in the middle.

I always put a dishtowel in the bottom of the baking pan, because it seems pointless to carefully meter the heat on the sides with water, but expose the bottom of the bowls to direct heat.  So the towel went in, the filled ramekins went on top, then it went in the oven and got filled halfway up with water. 

Then they baked for an hour.  I let them sit in the water on top of the stove for another 15 minutes or so, then put them in the fridge to chill. 

Maple Pot de Creme

I’d like to say that the big bowls were a mistake, because it’s an enormously rich dessert, but I managed to finish an entire bowl myself, so maybe they were just right.  The maple really stands out, although if I was going to do them for a dinner party, I might decorate them with a tiny dollop of maple whipped cream, with a maple sugar candy balanced on top…

( see the recipe )