Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen


We're just one day away from Thanksgiving! Apart from all of the wonderfulness that it entails, this means that we're also two days away from Black Friday and the official start to the holiday season. Maybe you're looking for gifts for family or friends. Maybe you're hosting dinner parties, or holiday meals, and are looking for new recipes to jazz up your kitchen and dinner table. Well, today we're kicking off a blitzkrieg of cookbook reviews. And we're doing it in style, with The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen, by Laura B. Russell

Russell is a former associate editor at Food & Wine cookbooks, the "Gluten Freedom" columnist for the Oregonian, a frequent contributor to Prevention, and a gluten-free blogger. The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen is her debut as a cookbook author. The book was released earlier this year by Ten Speed Press.

It includes more than 120 diverse recipes. Those recipes are divided into sections: sauces and stocks, skewers and snacks, dumplings and savory pancakes, noodles, rice, vegetables and tofu, seafood, poultry, meat, sips and sweets. Approximately every third recipe has a full page color photo. The photos - by photographer Leo Gong - are gorgeous. The layout and photography combine to make this one of the more visually stunning gluten-free cookbooks we've seen.

As Russell notes in the book's introductory section, it includes a range of recipes - those that are naturally gluten-free, those that are GF with simple ingredient swaps (i.e. tamari wheat-free soy sauce for conventional soy sauce), and more elaborate workarounds. The introductory material also includes an extremely valuable section that defines Asian ingredients, some of which may not be familiar to American cooks. Plus, Russell lists their probable gluten-free status (always, usually, sometimes, rarely, never), and lists product manufacturers for GF versions. She also notes whether you're likely to find the ingredient in a grocery store, natural foods store, or specialty Asian market. It makes for an incredibly comprehensive resource.

Throughout the book recipes that call for an ingredient that may or may not be GF are highlighted in red, with a "GF" icon next to it. It's an elegant approach to reminding readers when to be extra vigilant, and one from which other gluten-free cookbook authors could take a lesson.


We started off by making the book's cover recipe, Gingery Pork Pot Stickers. The cover photo immediately reminded us of a food vender, Sister's Pantry, we'd frequent at the Boulder Farmers Market. They sold amazing dumplings, but alas, they weren't gluten-free, and so we hadn't had a dumpling - gluten-free or otherwise - since before 2007 when we switched to the gluten-free diet.

Russell's pot stickers were time consuming and labor intensive to make. This is not a criticism, just a fact of life. We find that often, the more elaborate gluten-free recipes (such as our own tortellini) involve an investment of time and energy. It's the price of admission. Having tasted Russell's pot stickers, the price for this recipe is more than worth it. These dumplings are phenomenal. You'd never know they're gluten-free. The gingered pork has bold, well-balanced flavors. The texture of the dumpling wrapper is sublime - a nicely browned, crisp bottom; moist and tender from steaming elsewhere. The dish finishes with a simple but flavorful dipping sauce (which we made with jalapeno pepper from our garden).


Next up we made the Mu Shu Pork. As with the dumplings, I can tell you exactly when was the last time we had mu shu pork. It was circa 2005, when we picked up an order of mu shu pork from P.F. Chang's prior to seeing James Taylor in concert in Denver, Colorado. This gluten-free version has been a long time coming for us!

With this recipe, Russell hit another home run. It was similarly labor intensive, and so it's something we won't make every day. But it was a real treat, and has earned a slot in our rotation of go-to meals. Our girls loved it, too. Kelli in particular was in heaven. The Chinese pancakes that form the base of this recipe start with a near identical dough as the dumplings, but are treated differently. The pancakes had superb texture - moist, smooth, pliable. The black wood fungus, Savoy cabbage, and bamboo shoots were nice additions to the filling. The seasoned pork was excellent. We agreed that Russell's gluten-free version is better than the P.F. Chang's version we had years ago.

As a matter of personal preference, we would have enjoyed more cabbage in the filling. Also, we didn't use the extra salt called for in the recipe. We made a from-scratch Hoisin sauce, since we couldn't find a GF version at our local markets, and that provided enough saltiness for us. One final note: at the end of dinner, we found ourselves with extra filling, and could have used 50% more pancakes. Even so, the filling was great the next day reheated and served simply in a bowl. (Update: 11/23/11 - Chatting this afternoon, Kelli and I remembered that the girls had eaten at least four of the pancakes before we sat down to dinner. Had we had a full batch of pancakes, the ratio of filling to pancakes would have been perfect. That's also a testament to how good the pancakes are!)


For a final dish (we're testing three recipes from each cookbook we review) we made the Shredded Chicken with Creamy Sesame Sauce. It was significantly easier to make than the previous two recipes. You boil, steam and shred chicken. Whip up the creamy sauce in a blender. Serve over rice noodles or your base of choice. Top with freshly chopped cilantro. Bada bing, bada boom. Done.

The shredded chicken - boiled and steamed in low sodium chicken stock - turned out moist and tender. Tahini paste gave the sauce its rich, creamy flavor, while classic Asian ingredients, such as soy sauce and ginger, rounded out the flavor. For the sake of the girls, we omitted the red pepper flakes from the sauce. The creamy sesame sauce tasted a touch salty by itself, but once we combined it with the chicken and plated it over a bed of rice noodles, everything fell into balance.

I will say that we made a few adjustments to the sauce. As we were preparing dinner, we looked at how much sauce the recipe made, how much chicken we had, and how much rice noodles we boiled up, and decided that we didn't have enough sauce to go the distance. So, we made a double batch of sauce, and also thinned it out with a bit of GF chicken stock from when we boiled the chicken. This gave us a better thickness for tossing with the noodles. No matter how you make it, though, it's a versatile sauce that would go well over chicken (as in the recipe), vegetables, rice, lentils.

Additional thoughts

Overall, we found Russell's recipes to be easy to follow, with specific, accurate instructions that gave results just as her recipes indicate they would. Also, following her advice in the book, we found many ingredients - some of which we couldn't locate anywhere else - at our local Asian market. Of the ingredients that were available at our area supermarkets, many were significantly less expensive at the Asian market.

Conclusion

As both a gluten-free and an Asian foods cookbook, The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen is a double-niche book. If you're gluten-free and into Asian cuisine, this book is a no-brainer. It's a must-have for your cookbook collection. Plus, this book has very little overlap with gluten-free cookbooks that are already on the market. It's filling an important void.

As a cookbook, period, it's beautiful. Great photos, great recipes, great layout. Anyone can enjoy the recipes in this book...gluten-free or not.  

In the interest of trying to quantify our subjective experience (for this and future cookbook reviews), we'll be using a five star ratings scale, with "points" earned as follows:

Layout and design = up to 1 star
Is the book appealing to the eye? Intuitive to navigate? Sensibly organized?

Photos = up to 1 star
Are there photos? Are they in color? How many photos are there? Are they good photos?

Recipe quality = up to 2 stars
Most importantly, how good is the food? Are recipes easy to follow? Do they deliver as promised?

Overall impression = up to 1 star
How well does the book achieve its vision? 

And so, how does The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen rate?

Layout and Design: 1 star
Photos: 1 star
Recipe Quality: 2 stars
Overall Impression: 1 star
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars

This book is top-notch. The dumplings and mu shu pork especially were ethereal. Don't take our word for it. Make them for yourself. Now. You won't regret it.

For our part, we're excited to continue cooking our way through the book's recipes...

- Pete

Book cover image courtesy the author. Cookbook provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Artist's Palate, Poughkeepsie, NY


When Kelli and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary earlier this month, we wanted to pause from our busy schedule and mark the occasion. But of course, because we'd been so busy lately, we had barely given a thought to the day and how we'd celebrate it. Walking home from work around 5:00pm that day, though, I had an epiphany.

Our favorite local sushi restaurant is Bull and Buddha, on Main Street in Poughkeepsie. Each time we visited, we walked past another restaurant just a few doors down - The Artist's Palate. The restaurant looked beautiful, and the menu tempting, with its Hudson Valley-inspired contemporary American flare. There was just one problem: whenever we walked by, the restaurant was always closed. Was it ever open? we wondered.

A quick check of their website confirmed yes. (They're in fact open for dinner 6 nights a week, so we'd just had coincidentally unfortunate timing on all of our previous visits...) At 5:15pm we made a reservation for 6:00pm, dressed the girls (such last minute dinner plans meant a babysitter was out of the question), and we were off for our celebratory dinner!

The Artist's Palate opened in 2006, the baby of co-executive chefs and co-owners Megan Kulpa Fells (a Culinary Institute of America graduate and previous competitor on The Food Network's Chopped) and Charles Fells (they're a husband and wife team). I'd read rave reviews from gluten-free diners on the Internet, and the restaurant's website also mentioned that they accommodate gluten-free dietary needs. As we'd soon learn, the rave reviews were entirely justified.


We were seated toward the back of the comfortable, warm space, a few tables away from the open kitchen, where Kulpa Fells (in the yellow hat, above) was busy at work. We had noted our gluten-free needs when making our dinner reservation, and our server - Andres - re-confirmed our dietary restrictions.

A few minutes later, Kulpa Fells came out from behind the kitchen to introduce herself, discuss our dietary restrictions personally, and assure us that she could craft a wonderful gluten-free dinner for us. As we walked through the menu, it was clear how well she knows her own food, highlighting naturally gluten-free dishes, as well as deftly offering ways she could prepare other dishes to make them gluten-free (such as making a fresh pan sauce to go over a steak that otherwise would have been finished with a gluten-containing sauce). She even offered to prepare anything our girls might like for dinner, even if it wasn't on the menu. (Kulpa Fells has a toddler of her own...) We swooned. And it only got better from there.

We ordered a bottle of wine, some appetizers, our entrees. While we waited for the first course to arrive, the chef sent out an amuse bouche - gluten-free, of course - tomato, fresh basil, olive oil, and a touch of cheese over a rice cracker. Then came the gluten-free bread basket (photo below). The texture was divine. These were some of the best GF dinner rolls we've ever had.

Appetizers followed. The Caesar salad - dressed with naturally GF polenta croutons - was very good, though a touch heavy on the anchovies for our taste. A second appetizer - crispy tofu in a rice flour batter - was also very good.


Our entrees only elevated the dinner further. The Hudson Valley duck breast in an orange-rhubarb glaze, with aromatic rice, was moist, perfectly cooked, abundantly flavorful.

Our second entree was a special of the night - bacon-wrapped filet mignon (photo below), with a GF au jus and mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes were slightly mealy, but the beef was ethereal. With each bite my eyes rolled back in my head, and I don't say that about beef very often.

I joked with Kelli: "We need to start making our steaks like this!" To which she countered: "Then we need to start buying better cuts of beef!" That, and perhaps we'd hire Kulpa Fells to work her magic in our kitchen.

An a la carte side of roasted Brussels sprouts rounded out the meal.

(Note: The menu at The Artist's Palate changes about every two weeks.)


Finally, for dessert we ordered a flourless chocolate cake with fresh berries (very good), and a pumpkin creme brulee (excellent), which was the direct inspiration for yesterday's pumpkin-bourbon creme brulee recipe.

Throughout our dinner, service remained discretely attentive. Wine glasses were filled, finished plates cleared, silverware replaced as needed...all without us feeling like the service was overbearing or otherwise interrupting our dinner. It is a highly underrated skill - attentive service that manages to fade into the background. Very well done.

At the end of the night, two shared appetizers, two entrees, one a la carte side, two desserts, a bottle of wine, and a generous tip set us back about $150. As such, The Artist's Palate is not kind of restaurant we'd patronize every day. But on this special occasion, it was worth every penny, and we'd go back in a heartbeat.

- Pete

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin-Bourbon Creme Brulee


With Thanksgiving just days away now, I've been thinking about the day and the menu. I suspect most people have a favorite part of the meal. The turkey, or the stuffing, or the gravy, or the mashed potatoes, or the dessert. Not me. I genuinely don't think I have a favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast that occupies a position of heightened importance above all the rest. For me, the meal is a package deal.

That said, there's nothing like finishing the feast with a proper, traditional dessert. And when I think of Thanksgiving desserts, pies immediately come to mind. Three in particular figure prominently: apple, pumpkin, and pecan. In our household, certain pies are requisite traditions. Apple is one. As superficial as it may sound, the holiday just wouldn't be the same without one.


This year, however, we've been inspired to also serve as a somewhat less conventional Thanksgiving dessert that's still in the spirit of the holiday and the season: pumpkin-bourbon creme brulee. Credit for the inspiration goes to The Artist's Palate in Poughkeepsie, New York. When we celebrated our anniversary there a few short weeks ago, we concluded dinner with a shared pumpkin creme brulee. From the first bite, we knew we had to go home and concoct a recipe of our own.

The pumpkin is prominent, but not overpowering. The bourbon adds a layer of complexity to the flavors. The texture is silky, smooth. When we tested the recipe over the past weekend, Kelli and I both intended to just sample the creme brulee to confirm success. Instead, we both ended up eating an entire 6-ounce ramekin! Try this recipe for yourself and see why we couldn't hold back. For our part, we'll be serving it to our family on Thanksgiving. It's that good. It's a dessert that can stand up to one of America's great holidays.


Pumpkin-Bourbon Creme Brulee
Makes six 6-ounce ramekins

Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
8 egg yolks
1 cup pumpkin puree (cooked and mashed, or canned)
Granulated sugar

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 300 deg F.
2. Whisk together all of the ingredients except the granulated sugar.
3. Skim any foam off the top of the mixture.
4. Place 6 ramekins (6-ounce size) into a pan. Divide the mixture evenly between them.
5. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven. Pour enough hot water into the pan so that the water comes half way up the side of the ramekins.
6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the creme brulee is just a little wiggly in the center.
7. Cool the creme brulee completely in the water bath. Remove from the water bath, cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
8. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of each ramekin just before serving. Use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

Notes:
1. If you don't have a kitchen torch, you can caramelize the sugar by placing the creme brulee ramekins under the broiler in your oven. Just watch them carefully!
2. You can also use smaller or larger ramekins, but the bake time may decrease or increase accordingly.
3. Normally you'd serve creme brulee with a spoon. We had a brain cramp and photographed it with a fork. Either way, it's delicious!

- Pete

Friday, November 18, 2011

Spicy Tofu Patties


An admission: from time to time, I can be a picky eater when it comes to the texture of my food. There are certain textures that, for whatever reason, my palate finds a big turn off. The result is that I'll love a certain food prepared one way, but would rather leave it on the plate when it's prepared another.

Tofu is the perfect case in point. Grilled, marinated tofu? Great. Fried rice-flour-battered tofu? Love it. Small cubes of tofu stir fried until lightly browned and added to pad thai or fried rice or whatever? Super. But big chunks of bland, mushy tofu? No thank you...

You can imagine my skepticism, then, when I walked into the kitchen to find Kelli pulsing a block of tofu in the food processor to make a tofu paste. She asked me to withhold judgment. I warily obliged, as she added an assortment of spices and a touch of cornmeal and gluten-free all-purpose flour to bring it all together. That's when my opinion slowly started to turn. It smelled fabulous. But how would it taste cooked, and more importantly, what would the texture be like?

After Kelli formed the tofu paste into patties and pan-fried them in a touch of olive oil, I became a believer. Crispy exterior. Silky interior. Bold flavors. These patties were delicious.

They're also super simple to prepare, which makes them especially appropriate for this week leading up to Thanksgiving (and the week after). If you're like us (and many American families) you'll be doing no shortage of cooking and/or baking in preparation for the big Turkey Day. Which means that it pays to have easy recipes on hand, so you can save your kitchen stamina for the main event.

Finally, one additional admission: as you might guess from the plate in the picture, Kelli originally made these spicy tofu patties with the girls in mind. But I think we ended up enjoying the patties more than they did! Try them for yourself and see.

Spicy Tofu Patties
Makes 2-3 servings

Ingredients
7 oz extra firm tofu
1/4 cup (31 g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 tbsp cornmeal
2 tsp tamari wheat-free soy sauce (or GF soy sauce)
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Salt and pepper (dash each)
Olive oil

Steps
1. Add all ingredients except olive oil to a food processor and pulse until combined and smooth.
2. Preheat a little bit of olive oil in a skillet on the stovetop.
3. Use a cookie scoop to drop balls of tofu batter onto the skillet.
4. Use a spatula coated with non-stick spray, or wet fingers (be careful of the hot oil!), to press the tofu balls down into round patties.
5. Pan fry until golden brown on the first side. Flip and repeat.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free, vegetarian.


- Pete

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Thanksgiving Countdown


Thanksgiving is one week away. Let the countdown begin! We're hosting again this year, and as usual many traditional foods are on the menu: roasted turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, apple pie. And of course, no classic Thanksgiving spread is complete without stuffing.

We've been making this version for years - a corn bread stuffing with onion, sage, and pork sausage. The recipe first appeared in Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, and then here on blog back on November 2009. For the forthcoming 2nd edition of the cookbook, we've tweaked the recipe slightly (mostly to reduce the salt and butter). Those subtle changes sacrifice none of the flavor.

When we made this recipe earlier this month to re-test it for the cookbook re-release, it succeeded in putting us in the mood for the Thanksgiving holiday. Since then we've been looking forward to making it again, and now we're just one week away. I can hardly wait!

Is your Thanksgiving menu planned yet? What dishes are you most looking forward to?

Corn Bread Stuffing
Makes 8 servings

Ingredients
1 pound GF pork sausage (caseless, or with casings removed)
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) salted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
GF corn bread (9x9 pan size), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups GF chicken broth

Steps
1. Preheat your oven to 350 deg F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish.
2. Cook the sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat until browned. Remove and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in the same skillet. Add the onion and saute until translucent.
4. Return the sausage to the skillet, plus the sage, salt and pepper. Stir to mix.
5. Combine the sausage mix and the corn bread in the baking dish. Toss to mix, and pour the chicken broth over the stuffing.
6. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the stuffing is heated through. In the last minutes, remove the foil to allow the top to get nice and browned and crispy.

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free.

Depending on your corn bread, this recipe can also be made dairy-free, egg-free, and refined-sugar-free.

- Pete

Friday, November 11, 2011

Go Ahead, Mako My Day


No matter how busy life gets, it's hard for me to stay away from certain activities for long. Trail running is one of those activities. So is mountain climbing. And now that we're back living on the East Coast, surfing has once again entered the queue of options that help to define my active gluten-free lifestyle. Lately I've been especially chomping at the surfing bit, because Kelli and the girls got me a new wetsuit, so that the surf season can extend well beyond the summer months. As of last weekend, the suit was still waiting for its maiden voyage. But on Sunday morning, that changed.

The morning dawned cold. At 7:00am the air temperature was just 32 degrees. A layer of frost covered the windshield and roof rack of our car. I wore jeans and a hat and a down "sweater" as I strapped my surfboard—a board I bought more than 16 years ago used from a surf shop on Long Island—to the roof of the car. I drove south from my mom's house where we were staying for the weekend to the barrier beaches of Long Island's Atlantic shore. There's something about that drive... early in the morning... few other cars on the road... the sun low in the eastern sky, glistening off the water...

The water temperature was in the high 50s, maybe 60 degrees F at best. Only a handful of other cars were in the parking lot. Surfers, every last one of them. I pulled on my wetsuit—a full body 3/2. I had no booties, no gloves, no hood. (Though those will be mandatory items if I'm to surf straight through the winter.) The hardest part was walking across the freezing parking lot and then the cold sand with my bare feet before the sun warmed things up. Once I made it into the water, though, I was in heaven.

The waves were modest but rideable. The ocean surface was clean. Fewer than 10 other guys were in the water. The beach was otherwise deserted. It was the kind of morning I live for.

When I had had my fill of the waves, having caught some fun rides, I paddled to shore and traded my wetsuit for jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt. Then, as has become routine when on the Island, I stopped by a local fish market on the way back to my mom's to see what the fresh catch was. To my delight, they had some of the most beautiful mako shark steaks I've seen. And for the rock bottom price of $6.99 per pound to boot.

I've only had mako two, maybe three other times in my life. Once at a restaurant on Long Island's North Fork; once caught fresh and grilled at home. Each time it had been superb. This was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. It's a hearty fish that stands up well to grilling, with a firm texture similar to swordfish.

I whipped up a marinade/glaze, following the principles in our "tips for making successful sauces and marinades" post: a little salt, a little sweet (from brown rice syrup), a little spice (from chipotle power and paprika), and a little acid (from fresh squeezed lemon juice). Later that evening, we feasted.


Grilled Mako Shark
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
1.5 pounds mako shark steaks
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp GF Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Steps
1. Rinse and pat dry the fish.
2. In a bowl, combine all other ingredients and whisk well to make a marinade/glaze.
3. Pour the marinade over the fish and let marinate for at least 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, preheat your grill to 400 deg F.
5. Place the mako steaks on the grill. Grill on the first side for 7 minutes. Halfway through, pour and/or brush half the remaining marinade onto the fish.
6. After the 7 minutes, flip the steaks, pour/brush any remaining marinade onto the fish, and grill for 7 more minutes, or until done. (The fish done when opaque throughout and flakes well.)

Enjoy!

This recipe is: gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free.


Note: If you don't have brown rice syrup, you can substitute similar quantities of honey or agave nectar.

- Pete

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Foto: Apple Harvest


For the last month it feels like we've been living in a black hole. From time to time we've popped our head out to blog here and there, but mostly it's been nose to the grindstone on gluten-free book projects. It's also been prime harvest season here in the Hudson Valley, and a few Saturdays ago we took an afternoon off, packed up the girls, and headed to a local orchard to do some good old fashioned apple pickin'.


We drove across the Hudson River to Wilklow Orchards, in Ulster County. Wilklow is a regular fixture out our semi-weekly local farmer's market (walking distance from our house), and so when it came time to decide which orchard to visit, Wilklow was at the top of our list. You pick your own apples by the half-bushel bag, which Wilklow sells for $18. Each bag holds 20-25 pounds of apples. If you do the quick math, that equals lots of local, fresh apples for less than $1 per pound. How can you beat that?


Since then, we've been enjoying apples every which way. I've been eating roughly two a day straight up. We've had sliced apples with peanut butter. We've made two apple pies (one of which we photographed for the revised second edition of Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, due out May next year). But I just might be the most excited about the hard apple cider fermenting away right now. After we had finished picking apples, we picked up three gallons of fresh-pressed apple cider from the farm's tiny country store. One gallon we drank. But two gallons we "brewed" to make a hard cider that we'll hopefully be drinking on Thanksgiving.


As homebrewing goes, making hard apple cider is about as easy as it gets. Strictly speaking, all you need is apple cider or apple juice and yeast. That's it. Sure, you can add more ingredients (such as brown sugar, to help boost the final alcohol content of the cider). And yes, you can complicate the process by racking and aging the cider to both clarify the brew and mature the flavors. But that's all optional.

The trick is to make sure you're using fresh-pressed cider or juice that does NOT contain preservatives, such as sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. They'll kill your yeast, and you'll end up with a wasted batch of cider. With in mind, you're good to go!

For this recipe, I went with a champagne yeast. Normally used in winemaking, it works very well for cider (so I've heard...this is my first batch). And by stroke of luck, our local homebrew shop gave Kelli the yeast for free! Having spent $10 for 2 gallons of fresh cider, having gotten the yeast for free, and already having the brew equipment, we're looking at a cost of about 50 cents per bottle of cider, or $3 per six pack, roughly 1/3 what we pay for a 6 pack of Woodchuck.


Hard Apple Cider
Yield (accounting for loss when racking and taking hydrometer measurements) = ~20 bottles

Ingredients
2 gallons fresh-pressed apple cider (preservative-free)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 packet (5g) champagne yeast (I used Lalvin EC-1118)

Steps
1. Sanitize all of your brewing equipment.
2. Pour one gallon of cider into your carboy.
3. Heat the second gallon of cider in a pot on your stove to about 140 deg F. Dissolve in the brown sugar.
4. Pour the heated cider into the carboy. The cider should equalize to about 90 deg F. Allow to cool to below 80 deg F.
5. Pitch the yeast and shake/swirl to aerate. Place an airlock on the carboy and let the fermenting begin! (The fermentation is complete after you get steady hydrometer measurements for three consecutive days.)

This recipe is: gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, nut-free, tree-nut-free, soy-free.


This recipe is easily made refined-sugar-free by substituting honey, molasses or another natural sweetener for the brown sugar.

Notes:
1. If you're using truly untreated fresh-pressed cider, you should heat ALL of your cider to at least 140 deg F, but NOT to boiling point (which will "set" the pectins and cause hazy cider), to kill off any wild yeast or bacteria. Allow the full batch to cool to below 80 deg F before pitching your yeast. If using UV-treated or pasteurized cider, follow the directions as in the recipe.
2. Homebrewed cider naturally finishes pretty dry. Most commercial ciders back-add sugars to sweeten the cider and balance the tartness of the apples. There's no need to do that with a homebrewed cider. Many people enjoy it dry.
3. If you want carbonated cider, you can do one of two things: force carbonate, or bottle condition, as in beer brewing. (I do the latter.)
4. If you want to back-sweeten your cider AND carbonate it, things get more complicated. Email me for details.

Otherwise, enjoy!

- Pete