Jan 30, 2011

Will the Real Nutella please stand up?!

     "Reeni from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice and Christine of The Cupcake Bandits have created a progressive blogger competition with a monthly winner who will go head to head at the end of the year (December) to secure the position of ULTIMATE DESSERT WARRIOR and win a grand prize package. Each month we will be challenged with a theme ingredient and/or a specific dessert to bake." How could I not join in with this goodness?
     This month we were challenged to use a ingredient I find near and dear to my heart, Nutella.  To be honest I didn't have Nutella until I was 26,when I went to Italy on a holiday.  The friend that I was travelling with and I planned out our entire trip and stayed in many hostels along the way.  Breakfast was usually available in the morning and consisted of some sort of baked good with little packets of Nutella.  I was hooked.  One of the first things I did after I got home was buy a big jar of it and proceed to cover everything in its hazelnutty goodness.  Now, several years later my passion for Nutella has waned a little but I still enjoy it every once and awhile.  The first thing I thought when I read the challenge was think: homemade nutella and finally today I got a chance to make some.... but I didn't just stop there! 
     I got to thinking earlier today that if hazelnuts and chocolate could marry together in such a perfect symphony then how would dark chocolate and almonds? Or what about white chocolate and pecans furthermore...what about other things you can melt...for instance...butterscotch...and cashews.
Yes, my mind was like a runaway carriage, and I decided to enjoy it for the wild ride it was going to be!
I didn't start with homemade nutella, I was too excited about the other blends in my mind. I started with the wildest in my opinion, Cashew and Butterscotch butter...or ButterCash as SA started calling it.
Definitely a taste explosion, it was a creamy mix of golden sweet caramelly cashewy slightly salty goodness that melted on our tongues.

1 cup toasted cashews
4 ounces butterscotch chips, melted
1/2 split vanilla bean
a few drops, vegetable oil (optional)

Add cashews to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a smooth peanut butter-like consistency. Add the melted butterscotch and vanilla. Process until smooth and well-mixed. Add vegetable oil one drop at a time, and pulse to a smooth, spreadable consistency, if necessary.

       Next I spied almonds and couldn't help but think a nice milk chocolate.  It wasn't bad.  Although it was the spread with the least amount of flavor it was still pretty good.  I think next time I try it I will try making it with white chocolate and almonds. 

Milk Chocolate & Toasted Almond Spread
1 cup blanched and toasted almonds
4 ounces milk chocolate, melted
2 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 split vanilla bean
a few drops, vegetable oil
Add almonds to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a smooth peanut butter-like consistency. Add the melted chocolate, cocoa, sugar and vanilla. Process until smooth and well-mixed. Add vegetable oil one drop at a time, and pulse to a smooth, spreadable consistency, if necessary.

     The Hazelnuts were my last prey tonight and I have to admit, now that I have made homemade nutella, I'm not sure that I will go back to the store bought stuff.  The only complaint that I have is the homemade stuff isn't quite as smooth but I think that adds character.  The next time I make it I will process it through the blender once I get everything added together in the food processor.  This was our second favorite of the night and I am super excited to use it to finish my project for the month!

Homemade Hazelnut Chocolate Spread
1 cup shelled, toasted hazelnuts, skins removed
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
2 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 split vanilla bean
a few drops, vegetable oil (optional)
Add hazelnuts to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a smooth peanut butter-like consistency. Add the melted chocolate, cocoa, sugar and vanilla. Process until smooth and well-mixed. Add vegetable oil one drop at a time, and pulse to a smooth, spreadable consistency, if necessary.

     Clearly, SA and I couldn't eat all these delectable nut butters by ourselves so I did what I had been obsessing over for the past couple of  weeks... Made a NUTELLA TIRAMISU. Yeah, I did that and it was AMAZING! I am submitting this as my January submission to DESSERT WARS and I am crossing my fingers to win this amazing prize packages:

The Most Wonderful List of PRIZES!
-Whisk and cupcake necklace from Moon & Star Designs
-The Smartshopper Electronic Grocery List Organizer
-Beanilla Sampler Pack of Vanilla Beans
-Lenox Personalized Musical Cupcake
-1,000 ideas for Decorating Cupcakes, Cookies & Cakes
-Endless Vanilla and Cinnamon Extract
-Unlimited Layers: A Recipe for Turning Your Passion into Profits
-$50 Gift Certificate to Theme Kitchen
-$50 Coupon Redeemable for Organic Valley Products
-$50 Coupon Redeemable for Organic Prairie Products

Now with out further adieu:

Nutella Tiramisu
adapted from a Giada De Laurentis recipe
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 cups strong espresso, cooled
2 tablespoon hazelnut Kahlua
1/4 cup homemade Nutella
24 packaged ladyfingers
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream

     In a large bowl, using an electric mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Add mascarpone cheese and beat until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of espresso and the nutella and mix until thoroughly combined and transfer to another bowl.
     In a small shallow dish, add remaining espresso and 1 tablespoon of the hazelnut Kahlua. Dip each ladyfinger into espresso mixture for only 5 seconds. Letting the ladyfingers soak too long will cause them to fall apart. Place the soaked ladyfinger on the bottom of a 13 by 9 inch baking dish, breaking them in half if necessary in order to fit the bottom.
Spread evenly 1/2 of the mascarpone/nutella mixture over the ladyfingers. Arrange another layer of soaked ladyfingers and top with remaining mascarpone/nutella mixture.
With an electric hand mixer or stand mixer combine heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar and remaining hazelnut Kahlua. Whip until soft peaks form and spread over top of dessert.
Cover tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 8 hours. Before serving sprinkle with dark chocolate cocoa and chopped hazelnuts.

Special thanks to Reeni and Christine for this special adventure. I loved it and can't wait for more!

Dessert Wars

Jan 27, 2011

Poached Eggs with Creamy Brussels Sprouts

There is something coy about a Brussels sprout:how its tender leaves curl over its crunchy green inside. How many flavors they can take on... I just love them.  Tonight dinner needed to happen and it needed to happen quick! This recipe was amazing! The Brussels sprouts were flavorful and slightly crunchy and the eggs made it even more creamy.  The bacon was the perfect amount of salt and once the yolks were broken and it all mixed together it was AMAZING! I modified this recipe from the Feb/March episode of Fine Cooking.

Poached Eggs with Creamy Brussels Sprouts
4 Slices of toast
2 c. Brussels sprouts trimmed and shredded
4 slices of bacon
2 tbsp. butter
1 large shallot sliced
1 garlic clove diced
1/4 half and half
4 poached eggs
Parmesan for garnishing
salt and pepper

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crispy, and once cooked pour off all but 1 Tbs.  of the left over oil. Add 1 Tbsp. of butter and the shallot and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened, about two minutes.  Add 1/3 c. water and Brussels sprouts, cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until the Brussels sprouts are just tender 5 to 7 minutes.  Put two toast triangles (or flowers!) on each of two plates and top each toast with an egg. Season the eggs lightly with salt and pepper and spoon the Brussels sprout mixture on top.  Sprinkle with the bacon and a few shavings of Parmesan. (Obviously I didn't follow these instructions and instead piled up the sprouts, put the bacon on top and added the egg.)

Well, isn't that fancy?

This months daring bakers challenge was to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime/Entremet
I honestly I have to say that it is the most challenging dessert I have ever made and yet the most rewarding!  I decided to do a fairly complex pattern and had a bit of trouble with the math for how much I needed of the joconde for my spring form pan (hence the tall skinny entremet), however everything else went quite smoothly and I am thrilled to add skill to my list!

Joconde Sponge

YIELD: Two ½ size sheet pans or a 13” x 18” (33 x 46 cm) jelly roll pan
¾ cup/ 180 ml/ 3oz/ 85g almond flour/meal - *You can also use hazelnut flour, just omit the butter
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/ 150 ml/ 2⅔ oz/ 75g confectioners' (icing) sugar
¼ cup/ 60 ml/ 1 oz/ 25g cake flour *See note below
3 large eggs - about 5⅓ oz/ 150g
3 large egg whites - about 3 oz/ 90g
2½ teaspoons/ 12½ ml/ ⅓ oz/ 10g white granulated sugar or superfine (caster) sugar2 tablespoons/ 30 ml/ 1oz /
30g unsalted butter, melted
*Note: How to make cake flour:

1. In a clean mixing bowl whip the egg whites and white granulated sugar to firm, glossy peeks. Reserve in a separate clean bowl to use later.
2. Sift almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, cake flour. (This can be done into your dirty egg white bowl)
3. On medium speed, add the eggs a little at a time. Mix well after each addition. Mix until smooth and light. (If using a stand mixer use blade attachment. If hand held a whisk attachment is fine, or by hand. )
4. Fold in one third reserved whipped egg whites to almond mixture to lighten the batter. Fold in remaining whipped egg whites. Do not over mix.
5. Fold in melted butter.
6. Reserve batter to be used later.
Patterned Joconde-Décor Paste

YIELD: Two ½ size sheet pans or a 13” x 18” (33 x 46 cm) jelly roll pan

14 tablespoons/ 210ml/ 7oz/ 200g unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups plus1½ tablespoons/ 385ml/ 7oz/ 200g Confectioners' (icing) sugar
7 large egg whites - about 7 oz / 200g
1¾ cup/ 420ml/ 7¾ oz/ 220g cake flour
Food coloring gel, paste or liquid
COCOA Décor Paste Variation: Reduce cake flour to 6 oz / 170g. Add 2 oz/ 60 g cocoa powder. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together before adding to creamed mixture.

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (use stand mixer with blade, hand held mixer, or by hand)
2. Gradually add egg whites. Beat continuously.
3. Fold in sifted flour.
4. Tint batter with coloring to desired color, if not making cocoa variation.
Preparing the Joconde- How to make the pattern:
1. Spread a thin even layer of décor paste approximately 1/4 inch (5 millimeter) thick onto silicone baking mat with a spatula, or flat knife. Place mat on an upside down baking sheet. The upside down sheet makes spreading easier with no lip from the pan.
2. Pattern the décor paste – Here is where you can be creative. Make horizontal /vertical lines (you can use a knife, spatula, cake/pastry comb). Squiggles with your fingers, zig zags, wood grains. Be creative whatever you have at home to make a design can be used. OR use a piping bag. Pipe letters, or polka dots, or a piped design. If you do not have a piping bag. Fill a ziplock bag and snip off corner for a homemade version of one.
3. Slide the baking sheet with paste into the freezer. Freeze hard. Approx 15 minutes.

4. Remove from freezer. Quickly pour the Joconde batter over the design. Spread evenly to completely cover the pattern of the Décor paste.
5. Bake at 475ºF /250ºC until the joconde bounces back when slightly pressed, approx. 15 minutes. You can bake it as is on the upside down pan. Yes, it is a very quick bake, so watch carefully.
6. Cool. Do not leave too long, or you will have difficulty removing it from mat.
7. Flip cooled cake on to a powdered sugared parchment paper. Remove silpat. Cake should be right side up, and pattern showing! (The powdered sugar helps the cake from sticking when cutting

I filled it with Nutella mousse, ladyfingers soaked in hazelnut kahalua, marscapone fresh whipped cream and topped with dark chocolate covered coffee beans. It was INCREDIBLE!

Blog-checking lines: The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.


Jan 25, 2011

A Baby Shower Menu and Hummus

                                                          Welcome CLARA JOY!
Recently I had the pleasure of helping out with one of my good friends baby shower. In the way of baby showers I would say this one was perfection.  Not too many people, not to few, no chocolate diaper games and great people all assembled in one place to celebrate the upcoming birth of Clara Joy into the world. (And can I just mention right here how much I love that name.  I really do!)
The shower was at two during that weird dead time between lunch and dinner, where most people wouldn't expect a full meal but a snack would be wonderful.
I covered the food, excluding the cupcakes and I have to say I think three people is the perfect way to throw a shower! One person to host the location/decorations, one person to do the food and another to take care of the cake/cupcakes. Much less stress.
I served:
Fruit Salad (Orange segments, grapes, kiwi, strawberries and bananas)
Homemade Salsa

Roasted Garlic hummus and Pita

Spinach Artichoke Dip with spicy crackers
Brie en croute with cranberry compote
Brie en croute with rosemary and garlic
sugar cookies

cucumber water
pink lemonade
and a hot chocolate bar with homemade hot chocolate and the
available additions of
caramel, mini chocolate chips, marshmallows,
whip cream and  butterscotch chips
cheesecake and brownie pops, how fun are these?! They were a huge hit!

Now how could I leave the blog without at least one little recipe?! This recipe is perfect for gatherings because it does not use tahini and I find that tahini is a love it or hate it kind of ingredient.
Roasted Garlic Hummus
2 C. garbanzo beans
1 head roasted garlic
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 tsp. Lemon juice
1 tsp. Cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
Combine ingredients in food processor and pulse until completely smooth.  I like to add a little extra cumin at this point and if it is too thick you can add more olive oil or lemon juice depending on your preferences.

Jan 18, 2011

Beef and Cheese Enchilidas

Have I ever mentioned I absolutely hate getting dirt/dough/meatycheesey mixtures under my fingernails? Yep, its true, its up there on my top five things that give me the heebie jeebies right next to feet and being touched by people I don't know(and that my friends is a whole nother story!).  What does that have to do with tonight's recipe? Well, when I make up a batch of enchiladas I like to make two! One for dinner that night and another to freeze sans sauce.  This makes me life easier and more importantly, I only have to touch the meaty cheesy mixture once!
A couple of months ago I stumbled on Debby's recipe over at A Feast for the Eyes and I was THRILLED!  Living in the PacNW there aren't a lot of places that do Tex Mex and being that I am from Texas this was OBVIOUSLY a problem in my book.  The first time I made her recipe I cried a little with joy  was very excited to taste the chili gravy of my childhood again in my own kitchen!  I'm not going to lie, I have made that recipe no less than four times since seeing it and each time I have changed it a little this is the latest version:

TexMex Chili Gravy
1/4 c. Crisco (I know shocking right? But its only 1/4 a cup!)
1/4 c. Flour
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large garlic cloves finely chopped
2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tbsp. ancho chili powder
1 tbsp. chili powder
2 cups of organic chicken broth

To me the key to this recipe is having all of your ingredients ready. 
First melt your Crisco over low heat and add in flour, stirring until your flour has turned light brown.  Then add in spices and stir until combined.  Add in chicken broth and stir until well combined and cook until thickened (This took about 20 minutes for me.) stirring occasionally.

For the beef and cheese enchiladas I simply prepared some ground beef like I was making it for taco's and stuffed it into warmed corn tortillas with a little bit of cheese, and topped it with the gravy and more cheese and baked it in the oven for 20 minutes on 350.

p.s. In my book you have to have horchata, and guac with your enchiladas!

Jan 14, 2011

Cassoulet--Daring Cooks Challenge Jan. 2011

This month's daring cooking challenge was for cassoulet.  I had my severe reservations about this dish before starting it, while doing it and even about to take my first bite.
First of all I had difficulties finding the ingredients. Maybe I was just not looking in the right places, but I couldn't find the duck fat for the confit.  However I persevered! And in the end was GREATLY REWARDED!
"Cassoulet is a rich, slow cooked stew or casserole that originated in the south of France during the 14th century. It traditionally contains pork, sausages, and white beans as well as a duck or goose confit and then topped with fried bread crumbs or cracklings. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, which is a deep, round earthenware pot with slanted sides. This is a dish that traditionally takes about three days to prepare, but is oh so worth all the effort!! A confit, in case you don’t know, is one of the oldest ways to preserve food. It is essentially any kind of food that has been immersed in any kind of fat for both flavor and preservation. When stored in a cool place, confit can last for several months! Typically meats (most often waterfowl) are preserved in fats, while fruits are preserved in sugar."

inspired by Anthony Bourdain's recipe
5 white beans
1 large ham hock
1 pound thick cut bacon
1 two pound pork roast, slow cooked and shredded
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 bouquet garni
salt and pepper
6 pork sausages
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 confit chicken breasts (confit in olive oil)
1 c. panko

Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight. Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot. Add the ham hock, the quartered onion, 1/4 pound of the bacon, and the bouquet garni. Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni. Remove the ham hock,strain the beans and the bacon and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.

In the sauté pan, heat tbsp of oil from the chicken confit over medium-high heat carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, draining on paper towels. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic and the reserved squares of bacon from the beans. Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add 1 tablespoon/14 g of the remaining olive oil and puree until smooth. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the uncooked bacon in the bottom of a deep ovenproof earthenware dish. You're looking to line the inside, almost like a pie crust. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork roast, beans, chicken confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup in the refrigerator for later use. Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 250ºF and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and cook the cassoulet for an hour. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to 250ºF and continue cooking another 15 minutes. Add panko to top and dot on a bit of the chicken confit oil.

Blog Checking Lines: Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.


Jan 9, 2011

Zuppa Toscano & Spicy Nuts (a two-fer!)

When you look at a map right now snow and freezing rain are reeking havoc across the US.  Luckily so far here in the valley, we are snow-free, regardless of the forecast showing a "wintry mix" for tonight.  It is however cold.  That kind of cold where just any meal wont cut it.  Its genuine "stick to your ribs" dinner kinda weather, and no better time to have a warm tasty soup!
There are about a million different recipes out there for this soup and the first time I made it I got the recipe from my friend "M," and of course I had to slightly modify it because...well because that is what I do!

Zuppa Toscano
an amalgamation of recipes.
1 lb Italian sausage (I used spicy the first time and the jimmy dean natural this time!)

Three large russet baking potatoes, sliced in thin slices with a mandolin
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups spinach chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream or half and half (I used heavy w/c the first time and half and half this time.  I think milk would even be fine.)
fresh rosemary and oregano to taste
salt and pepper

In a large pot cook and drain sausage leaving a little bit of grease in the pot. Add onion and garlic sauteing until translucent.  Add potatoes to the pot and then cover with chicken broth and allow to simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.  Stir in spinach, rosemary and oregano and salt and pepper and continue to simmer for five minutes.  Stir in heavy cream right before you are ready to serve it and bring it back to a low boil.  Serve immediately.

So many jokes tonight while SA and I were cooking dinner. I mean how many meals can you cook when you can joke around about sausage and spicy nuts? Yes, sometimes SA and I have the humour of a 14 year old boy. However I digress! This recipe is wonderful and one that I got from my friend K.  Back in another lifetime I used to live with K and his wife at the time and they would cook up some fantastic grub, one of the things being these salad condiments. This recipe (not really a recipe more like just some quick directions) is great because its so flexible. Out of almonds? Use cashews? Don't have brown sugar? Use white! Don't like em spicy? You are lame!  Don't add the spice! etc.

Spicy Nuts

1/2 c Almonds
1/4 c. brown sugar
red pepper flakes to taste (I used chipolte red pepper flakes)
coarse salt

In a small pot combine almonds and brown sugar over low heat.  Stir constantly and until sugar reaches the caramel or light brown stage (about 330 degrees.) pour nuts onto a cooking sheet lined with parchment and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and coarse salt.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until firm.
These rock my ever loving socks on salad.
Tonight we had a salad of spinach topped with carrots, spicy nuts, blueberry dehydrates cranberries and a quick citrus vinaigrette! YUM!

Jan 3, 2011

Jack's Bean Stalk

     I learn things every day and I like to live life that way.  Today's life lesson was where brussels sprouts come from, or more importantly, the mutant things that grow wildly, resembling jacks fantastical bean stalk in SA's bosses back yard: Brussels sprouts. YUM!
  To be honest, I hadn't had my first one until last year.  I think that one of my parents must not like them because the never graced our table when I was a kid and I never had to sit there until I finished them(yes, I probably would of been that kid with brussels sprouts!). Once I purchased them I had no idea what to do with them so I consulted several resources.  Bacon and nuts seemed to be the way to go with these bad boys and I haven't tried a different recipe yet.
     The 'sprouts that SA brought home were feral: rampant with bugs, slugs and other wild life, they were over two feet long and bursting with the small bulbous goodness that is the noble brussels sprout. Clean, stamped organic and in a carton, they were NOT! I heaved up my Laura Ingalls Wilder short sleeves and     we went to work on them, SA tearing them from the stalk, and I making quick work of their outside coverings, quick to uncover the tender goodness of the inner leaf. And how were they you ask? Delicious.   In the following recipe, the bacon simply adds a burst of saltiness to the sprouts and the nuts a texture that I feel is needed.  We had this recipe with meatloaf and mashed potatoes, however I could of eaten it by itself like a warm salad.
Maybe sometime I will try a new recipe for brussels sprouts. Maybe.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with bacon and pecans
2 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into halves

1/2 lb. bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
4 T olive oil
4 T Whole Roasted and Salted Pecans, roughly chopped
Kosher Salt and Freshly ground Pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl and add brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss well.

Line a sheet tray with foil and spray with a non stick cooking spray. Pour Brussels sprout mixture onto tray and spread out so sprouts are in a single layer. Roast for 20 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. Turn twice while roasting. Remove from oven and sprinkle with bacon and pecans*. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve Hot.

*This sounds horrible as I type it(but I am going to pull the I AM SOUTHERN card here!), but I like to pour off most of the oil from the bacon and toast the pecans lightly in the pan.