Thanksgiving in donut form

It’s a big surprise to absolutely no one that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. More than Christmas, more than my birthday, certainly more than Valentine’s Day (really, whose favorite holiday is that? No one.) Thanksgiving though, is seriously my jam.

And as such, I’ve been all sorts of excited in the weeks, now days, leading up to it. When I recently read about Zucker Bakery in the East Village and their seasonal Thanksgiving donuts, my head practically exploded. Thanksgiving AND donuts? Combined into one thing? YES.

They come in four flavors: cranberry turkey, turkey gravy, cranberry, and sweet potato. Due to a mix up with the order I placed (because duh, I placed an order) cranberry wasn’t available, but I made sure to get my grubby little fingers on the other three.

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My lovely selection of Zucker Thanksgiving donuts

For savory pastry lovers, the turkey gravy donut is the way to go. This spiced pumpkin donut stuffed with gravy and turkey is a definite departure from its glazed and frosted cousins of the donut world. It would make a great lunch paired with soup, in my opinion.

A donut stuffed with turkey and gravy? God, I love the holidays.

A donut stuffed with turkey and gravy? God, I love the holidays.

Slightly sweeter, thanks to a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and some cranberry filling, is the cranberry turkey donut. If you’re like me, and enjoy the mixing of sweet and savory flavors, this could be for you. The cranberry sauce is tangy and just subtly sweet, and goes great with the turkey and gravy. (In case you somehow had never had a Thanksgiving meal and didn’t already know that.)

Turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce... all inside a pumpkin donut.  Uh huh, that's right.

Turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce… all inside a pumpkin donut. Uh huh, that’s right.

But because I’m a complete sugar junkie, my favorite was the sweetest of the bunch, the sweet potato pie donut with marshmallow filling. Like the pie itself, the sweet potato part of this isn’t super sweet, but the delicious glob of fluffy marshmallow cream inside? Well that’s pure, sugary perfection… especially warm and just out of the oven the way I had it.

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My fave, the sweet potato donut. (And how bout my nails? Pretty spiffy, no?)

Thanksgiving donuts, a new thing for me to give thanks for this Thursday!

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Hey there, sweet stuff

Say what you will about Valentine’s Day, but I for one, am a fan. I mean, how could I not be when there are so many sweet things to be had? Yes, kisses, cuddles and hanky panky are fun but I’m talking the real sweet stuff: SUGAR.

Valentine's Day can't be anything BUT happy when it involves this.

Last year, my darling boyfriend got me doughnuts (from my favorite place to get them in the whole wide universe, Doughnut Plant) so this year I decided to take his idea and put an Italian spin on it. I schlepped it uptown to Bomboloni, an Upper West Side bakery specializing in— you guessed it— bomboloni, which for those of you who might not know, are the Italian cousin of the traditional filled doughnut, and came home with a box of six. Bomboloni are more round than American doughnuts, almost perfectly spherical, and back on the Boot, they’re covered in a sparkly dusting of sugar, with usually either cream or chocolate filling.

At Bombolini in the UWS (there’s also one in Rome), the bombolini come in a whole assortment of flavors and only one, which was actually called a bomba and was much bigger than the rest, had the traditional sugar coating. The others varied between caramelized sugar, chocolate glaze, confectioners sugar, crushed nuts and other toppings. In the picture above, the middle one is crème brulee, then starting with the red one and going clockwise: raspberry, banana, chocolate cherry, vanilla cream, and toasted marshmallow cream. We both agreed that our favorite bombolone, with its  bright, thick jammy filling, was the raspberry (even though in Italy I’m a cream girl through and through).

My Italian beau likes to complain that while he can get almost any food in the world here in New York, the Italian pastries, like bomboloni, are not as easy to come by. My box from Bomboloni was a nice way to prove him wrong and get a sugary treat all in one present. Made Valentine’s Day all the sweeter.

Autumn’s ice cream sandwiches

I’ve never been one to let a little cold weather get in the way of me stuffing my face full of ice cream. (I mean, what, am I supposed to subsist off soup and tea during fall and winter? You know how long that is in New York??) So even with a crisp autumn chill in the air this weekend, I dragged Flaneur with me to find the Coolhaus NY truck, a Los Angeles food truck dishing out gourmet, artisanal ice cream sandwiches.

The ultimate fall ice cream sandwich: sweet potato ice cream and pumpkin spice cookies. Mmmm mmm mmh!

With combinations like blood orange and cranberry ice cream and snickerdoodle cookies, and brown butter ice cream with candied bacon and red velvet cookies, I had to put some serious thought into what ice cream and cookie combo I wanted. In celebration of the beautiful fall weather I went with sweet potato and marshmallow swirl ice cream between pumpkin walnut spice cookies with cream cheese frosting drizzled on top. My chocolate chip cookie-loving-beau, on the other hand, opted for the  Maker’s Mark bourbon pecan pie ice cream between chocolate chip cookies.

Both were ridiculously good, perfect for either a sweltering day in July or a January blizzard. The pumpkin walnut spice cookies were pillowy soft and sweet, without being too much (I promise!) and the ice cream was rich, creamy, and with a more subtle sweetness than its flavor inspiration might make you think. It had just enough of the spicy sweetness of sweet potato and just the right hint of sugary marshmallow to make it the ultimate fall ice cream sandwich. If I could buy these packaged and by the dozen, I would bring them to every holiday party from here to New Year’s.

Chocolate chip cookies and Maker's Mark bourbon pecan pie. BAM!

Flaneur’s was good too, with the same autumn themed flavor but different individual tastes. His ice cream for example, had more of a smoky smoothness from the Maker’s Mark but still had the spicy, syrupy holiday sweetness of pecan pie that makes you want to sit in front of a Christmas tree and eat until you fall into a happy food coma. His cookies, unlike mine, were a little firmer and had a more traditional cookie crunch.

Lucky for my waistline, the Coolhaus NY truck changes location every day, because if I always knew where to find them every day, especially if it was as easy as it was this weekend when it was parked in Union Square…oh boy, that might be trouble. I might look like Santa Claus come next fall.

An impulse buy

Whoever had the bright idea to pack the check-out lane and space right near a cash register with candy and sweet things definitely had people like me in mind. I’m rarely able to resist making a last minute purchase of something I don’t need like candy bars, packs of gum, and all sorts of other high-in-sugar goodies. Last week, while getting coffee one morning on my way to work, I was intrigued by something I saw in a big glass jar right as I handed my credit card to the guy behind the counter.

“Oh and add one of these to that!” I quickly threw in, waving the caramel-covered marshmallow I had pulled out of the jar.

It had seemed like a good idea. I like caramel and I like marshmallows so combining the two was brilliant. But like so many things that are a better idea in theory than in practice, this sticky sweet little blob of sugar just wasn’t the great idea I had hoped it would be. The caramel was super sticky and immediately stuck to the crevices in my teeth, probably immediately causing several new cavities. The marshmallow wasn’t even fluffy and soft either, trapped in it’s tar-like suit of caramel. Sure, I ate it, but believe it or not, I actually didn’t enjoy it.

You win this time, impulse buy.

True Life: I can’t cook

A big accomplishment for me.

When I watch cooking shows or thumb through cookbooks, I gaze at their finished results with the same awe I’ve been watching the Olympics with.

Wow. I wish I could do that.

Like becoming an Olympic athlete, being a cook takes training, practice and if you ask me, some level of innate skill. All of which explains why I’m terrible at cooking (and sports, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion).

I basically didn’t start cooking until I went away to college and had to fend for myself. Growing up, my mom tried to engage me in the kitchen but I always refused

“Angie,” she would groan, exasperated, “how will you ever get married if you can’t cook? You need to be able to cook for your husband, you know.

(I was probably around 12.)

“Ma, I don’t need to cook because I’m gonna have a maid, a butler, AND a cook, and I’ll let them worry about doing all that.”

Boy, am I eating my words now.

Cooking in college wasn’t great practice either. I mostly lived off macaroni and cheese, sandwiches, salads and anything that came in a box, bag, or other package and could be nuked in a few minutes.

And as far as natural ability– yea, I have none. My mom isn’t great and I never knew my grandparents well enough to comment on their cooking, but if anyone in our family had a culinary gene, I didn’t get it. Oh and my dad? His idea of a good dinner is a Burger King Whopper and half a carton of rocky road ice cream. That’s the gene I got.

But these days, I’m trying to change my ways. I can’t say I’m trying hard enough but I make an attempt every now and then. (After all, I don’t want to end up a spinster now that I know the harsh reality of a journalist’s salary.)

Usually the result is edible but slightly undercooked, overcooked, mushy, rubbery, unsalted, greasy or just plain ugly.

Which is why, on those very rare occasions when I manage to actually pull something off in the kitchen, I’m very proud of myself. Especially if it was something that didn’t come from a mix or other prepackaged easy-way-out form.

Recently, for a dinner at home with Flaneur, we divvied up the cooking and decided that he would make steaks and I would be in charge of a vegetable side. I could’ve taken the easy route and thrown some brussels sprouts or broccoli into the steamer, but I felt like trying something new. It wasn’t so much that I was up for a challenge, but more that I wanted something sweet: I had sweet potatoes on the brain. But not just regular sweet potatoes, which I’ve cooked before as fries (charred black on the bottom, limp and mushy everywhere else) and steamed in big chunks (seemingly ok from the outside, hard and undercooked at the core). I wanted sweet potato casserole.

Up close and personal with deliciousness

Some of you might laugh, and think ha, so easy. But nothing is ever too easy for me when it comes to cooking. (Example: I recently made chocolate pudding from a Jell-O Instant Pudding mix and even that was off. Instead of being smooth, it was chock full of little clumps. Think tapioca.)

Now, I’ve never made sweet potato casserole but I’ve eaten it in large quantities, mostly at Thanksgiving dinners where I always get seconds and thirds and sometimes, if no one is looking, fourths.

After a run to the supermarket, I came back and went at it with no recipe, just a vague idea of what to do. First I boiled three big sweet potatoes (skin and all), cut into smaller chunks, for about 10 minutes until they were soft. Then I took them out and with Flaneur’s help, mashed them with a fork until I had bright orange puree.  Strictly eyeballing it, I added about half a cup of milk, maybe two tablespoons of butter, and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. I then stirred it into an even, sweet smelling paste and transferred it to a baking pan. Then the really fun part: marshmallows. I covered the orange sweet potato blend with a thick layer of fluffy white mini-marshmallows, popped the pan in the oven for about 30 minutes and voila!

When I pulled open the oven door, a warm delicious burst of that spicy sweet cinnamon smell reminiscent of so many Thanksgivings past, filled the tiny kitchen. If I could bottle that smell, I would spray it in my apartment till the air was foggy.

The marshmallows were toasted to a nice gold color. No charring. No burnt smell. So far, so good. The true test, however, would be in the taste.

Digging the serving spoon into the pan, I pulled out a steaming orange heap of mashed sweet potato, the melted marshmallow making little strings of white, like gooey cheese on a pizza. Verdict: delicious!

It looked good AND tasted good! Practically unheard of when I make food. In fact, it was so good that Flaneur and I finished it off by the next day, eating a cold spoonful here and there throughout the day. That’s how good it was: you could it eat cold and it was still yummy.

So why write about a side dish that even the most elementary cook can whip up? Well, because it’s renewed my hope in becoming better at cooking. Maybe there’s hope for me yet. Maybe I can learn to cook things that are not just edible,  but actually delicious. Maybe my cooking will be so great that I’ll have a line of suitors out the door, all begging for my hand in marriage and my cooking for the rest of their lives.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll win the lottery and spring for that personal chef I’ve always wanted.