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coveted chocolate hazelnut deliciousness

By on Oct 14, 2013 in dessert, love, snacks, unprocessed october | 0 comments

There is a substance out there in the universe so coveted, the mere presence of it brought chaos to an Ivy League university as students hoarded it like gold. The name of it, when called out, causes heads to swivel in the hopes there is some to be had. People clamor for it as if it is some sort of currency. Except it would do no good as currency. You would eat it so fast you would be “broke” in a matter of minutes. It is Nutella. And I love it. Or at least, I did love it. It now contains the ominous spectre of high fructose corn syrup, a substance I try to avoid. There are other varieties out there, but honestly, they fall a little flat in comparison to the original. I was resigned to abandoning my love affair with the chocolatey hazelnut goodness. And then one day a cookbook arrived on my door. A magical cookbook full of ways to make your own things most sane people would just buy already made. Inside the wondrous pages of this cookbook lies a simple recipe for chocolate hazelnut spread. Nutella. From scratch. With six ingredients. I had to try it (with a tiny tweak here and there, of course.) It all begins with the roasting of hazelnuts, an always welcome task, the warm scent of roasting hazelnuts gently draping across the kitchen. A vigorous shake in a bowl sends the dark papery skins flying, and you inevitably sit, pinching at the skins that have refused to release themselves, wondering why on earth you decided to do this? What insanity would drive you to sift through over a hundred hazelnuts, plunking them one by one into the bowl of the waiting food processor? These thoughts are lost quickly, though, in the gentle crackle of the cooling nuts, each crack letting loose a little more of that warm roasted aroma. And from there… magic. A press of the button on the food processor, and the whirling blades (after an initial noise that sounds like the end of times) pulverize the hazelnuts into dust. They blades keep whirling, slowly drawing the natural oils out of the nuts. The whole mass suddenly seizes into a ball, clunking about the bowl, and then, with a shudder, the oils fully release and the whole thing sinks back into a creamy smooth paste (this will never have the absolute smoothness of actual Nutella.) Some confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder is thrown in. A generous pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla extract gets thrown into the fray. The button is depressed again, a poof of powdered sugar and cocoa powder explode inside the bowl. A bit of hazelnut oil is drizzled through the top, the dust settles, and suddenly a dark and glossy substance appears. The substance that caused chaos. The substance that causes heads to swivel. And here it is. Warm. Gooey. Nutty. Chocolaty. You will consider whether or not you will share it. You wonder how long it will keep. And then you realize you will never know, because you have already dipped a spoon in to taste, and you know without a shadow of a doubt that this spread is not long for this world. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (adapted ever so slightly from the America’s Test Kitchen DIY cookbook) Makes a little less than a pint 2 cups raw whole hazelnuts (if you can find them unskinned, this will go all the quicker) 1 c. confectioner’s sugar 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 Tbsp. hazelnut oil (a quick aside here. Hazelnut oil is not cheap, no two ways about it, but it does add a lovely hazelnut kick to this. If you parse it out, one bottle will likely get you dozens upon dozens of batches, so it will be worth it, but it is really hard to swallow the price of the initial purchase. If you don’t’ want to do it, you can use a neutral oil like canola or sunflower.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread hazelnuts out on a baking sheet. Roast for 12 – 15 minutes, until the skins have turned dark brown, the exposed parts a lovely light gold. You will also know by scent. When you actually start to really smell them, they are likely done. Don’t let them go too long. Even 30 seconds too long can burn them. Pull them out of the oven and pour them into a large bowl. When they are cool enough to handle, place a plate or another bowl over them and shake vigorously. This should get most of the skins off. Carefully remove the skinned hazelnuts and place them in the bowl of a food processor. It is not the end of the world if there are some skins in there, but try to get rid of as many as you can, as they will make it bitter. Bribe people into helping you by saying they get to like the bowl when it’s done. Once all the hazelnuts are in the food processor, pulse a few times until they are pulverized. This will be unbelievably loud. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then just… hit the button. Let the food processor run. After a minute or two, the nuts will seize up into a cohesive mass. Keep letting...

breathe in the fennel

By on Oct 12, 2013 in dinner, for one, love, quickie, salad, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 0 comments

“Eat your salad.” It is a refrain most of us have been hearing since childhood, and as adults we do (mostly) understand we should probably be eating more vegetables, but in reality, most of us view the act of eating salad as drudgery. Some sad little bowl of pale lettuce with a viscous bottled dressing poured over it, all hoovered down with one eyeball on the main plate, which is all you really care about. That is what most people encounter when they think of salad. This just makes me sad. When I eat a salad, I make it an event, piling mixed greens with exotic sounding names into a bowl the size of my torso, throwing whatever veggies I can get my hands on. Invariably, the cool delicate crunch of a cucumber gets involved. A sliver or twelve of red onion, perhaps briefly pickled in some red wine vinegar. Some sweet little tomatoes. If goat cheese happens to be in my fridge, it will be on my salad. Or blue cheese. Croutons. I insist upon croutons. If I’m really ambitious, I make them myself, chopping up a baguette from the store, letting it dry out overnight then tossing with some melted butter mixed with paprika, salt, maybe some garlic powder, and baking until crispy. Fruity olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a grind or two of pepper, a sprinkle of a nice kosher salt, and I am good to go. No need for the eerily red “French” dressing of my youth (which was my favorite, but now I can not stop thinking about what on earth goes into it…) But sometimes, I ponder a giant bowl of lettuce, sigh deeply, and think, “Really? This again?” There is an answer to this vegetable quandary. Get rid of the lettuce. Judith Jones, the remarkable editor for “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, wrote a lovely little book called “The Pleasures of Cooking for One”. Yes yes, the joke can be easily made about the depression level of a single person cooking alone, but really, it can be enjoyable. And no one sees you when you manage to drop noodles on your cleavage and scoop them up with your fingers and slurp them down. Not that I have ever experienced that situation before… But I digress. Ms. Jones wrote this book with the idea that you should be able to cook for just one, and cook well. And despite her long relationship with Julia Child, this does not instantly translate into a cookbook filled with 24 step recipes. As fall slowly descends upon Chicago (well, it seems to be waiting somewhere, bathing us in bizarre mid-70s days in October, which of course means it will snow at some point in the next two days,) apples crop up everywhere. And so I decided to try a quick recipe for an apple fennel salad for one, of course tweaking the recipe just a hair for my own good. This involves not a single leaf of lettuce. It is simplicity writ fancy. Bright crisp apple mingles with the cleansing yogic breath of raw fennel, wreathed through with a classic vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard. And of course in my case, it was whole grain mustard I had made myself (it is October Unprocessed, after all!.) It is a salad without a familiar leafy refrain, yet still crisp and cool, feeling a bit more substantial than a wedge of iceberg lettuce. Give it a whirl. I guarantee it will not be drudgery. Apple Fennel Salad Serves 1-2, depending on your appetite   1 small tart apple 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed and reserved 8 walnut halves, roughly broken 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar ½ tsp. mustard (whole grain or Dijon) pinch of salt a grind of black pepper   Core the apple and slice thinly. If you have a mandoline, use it on a very thin setting. Trim the fennel bulb, getting rid of the tough bit at the bottom, and slice thinly (again, using the mandoline if you want). If it is just you and you only want half of this salad now, place half the apple and fennel slices in a container with cold water and refrigerate. Trust me, it’ll hold for a few days.   In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Arrange the apple and fennel slices in a bowl, and yes, you should make it fancy just for you, because you deserve it. Drizzle the dressing over it. Mince a few of the fennel fronds and scatter over the whole. Toss the walnuts on. Sit down, breathe deeply, and...

bring me the salt lick

By on Oct 6, 2013 in quickie, snacks, unprocessed october, vegetarian | 2 comments

There are days you sit and crave a crunchy salty snack. At first, you ignore it. But the craving will not die. Oh sure, you might find something crunchy. An apple, a carrot, but really? It is a carrot. And you really want a chip. In the interest of this unprocessed October, I could always heat up a vat of oil, thinly slice some potatoes, and fry up some homemade potato chips. And they would be delicious. But the craving demands a salty crunch NOW, not after slicing potatoes and heating a vat of oil and all that other frippery. A quick fix would be to sprinkle some salt on the end of the carrot, but… um… no. Enter the pita. OK, I am not about to bust out and make homemade pitas (yet.) But I am lucky enough to have a local store that sells locally made pitas, all made by hand, and the ingredient list really is just flour, yeast, water, and salt. And they pretty much taste like cardboard (there really isn’t that much salt.) You see, I love those pita chips they sell like potato chips now, but have you actually read the ingredients list? Well actually they still aren’t that bad. But this is October Unprocessed month! And they are still processed. They are baked so long that they can develop edges sharp enough to be considered lethal weapons. Really not what I am looking for in a snack. And so here is it, my crazy complicated recipe for your own pita chips. Quarter 3 pitas (my local ones are pretty awesome and homemade, so I am letting them slide into this unprocessed thing.) Split the quarters apart and lay them out, smooth outside of pita down, on a baking sheet (or two, if you decided to split up more pitas.) Brush the chips with a nice fruity extra virgin olive oil. Yes, it will take a few minutes, but bear with me. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grind some black pepper over it (do these from high above, you get more even coverage.) Pop it under your broiler set on low. After a couple of minutes, flip the baking sheet around. Obviously, if you’ve got two sheets, you’ll have to do it one at a time. Keep an eye on them, because they can go from golden brown to torched in a few seconds. You just want them golden brown, which should take about 4 minutes total. And there you have it. Warm pita chips, crispy without being wheat-based weaponry, the delicate floral aroma of the olive oil wafting up. Every bite differs a bit, some with a bit more salt, some with a bit more pepper, each one revealing their inner character. Sure, it’s just a salty crunchy snack. But it is not uniformly salt. It is whatever you make...

it’s never to early for pumpkin pie

By on Oct 2, 2013 in dessert, love, unprocessed october | 0 comments

I recently came upon another food blog touting a pledge to go “Unprocessed” for October. As in – do not use processed food. The author starting doing this a couple of years ago, and he noted how much his taste changed. Not as in whether or not he liked a nice purple shag carpet or not, not that kind of taste. Taste as in the sense. The thing that happens when food hits our tongue. Honestly, this was not news to me. I largely eschew processed foods in favor of the real deal. Of course I have the occasional day where I just want to crack open a box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese or a nice box of Zatarain’s Jambalaya, but here’s the thing… the more I endeavor to avoid processed foods, the less I have that nostalgic reaction to them, and the less they hit that junk food sweet spot. It’s quite remarkable, actually. If you veer away from processed food, with its overload of sodium, even in the most “benevolent” organic brands, with its random bouts of chemicals and strange additives that allows them to be on the shelves for months at a time, you really do start to taste differently. You start to actually taste, well, food. And so I decided to take this pledge. No, it will not be a cakewalk for a crazy cooking person like me. I am a freelancer who occasionally bounces four different jobs at a time, and I am actually human and don’t always make everything from scratch. I do think cooking delicious food for yourself from whole ingredients is easy, even though I am often eyed suspiciously by people when I burst out with “no really, homemade marshmallows are easy!!!” followed by a description illustrated with excited hand gestures. And of course in my head I was sort of being a jackass, saying to myself “well dried pasta is processed, you going to make all of your own?  Are you going to go squish some grapes and make wine?” Well of course not. That would be ludicrous. But I am going to stop eating out for this month and make a more concerted effort to make sure I have my homemade granola around for breakfast rather than a box of cereal. Or a nice loaf of bread and homemade Nutella. I eat out mostly because it is a social thing, and living alone, it is nice to go share a meal with someone. But for this October… maybe I’ll have to invite people over. And figure out more things that might be more easily construed as, well, easy! And yes, this pretty much guarantees that dinner some night will be a glass of wine and some popcorn popped on the stovetop. And it will be glorious. I kicked off the month a hair early with a pumpkin bourbon pie. It wasn’t going to happen this way. But we are still in farmer’s market season, and I am an easy mark for those flirtatious vegetables and fruits you just cannot find in a grocery store. I was strolling the aisles, innocently enough, and there it was. Oblong, pale green with a hint of blue, slightly mottled flesh, shrunken stem curling out of the top like a set piece from a Tim Burton movie. I had to ask. It was an heirloom squash known as the Sibley squash. The woman behind the table said it was good for pie, being slightly drier and richer than a pumpkin. It was 4.5 pounds. It had to be mine. And so it was. And by god I was going to make a pie.   I know, I know, this is where people give me that wary look when I say “it’s easy!!!” And technically it is easy, but it is definitely more complicated than opening a can of pumpkin. Not that a can of pumpkin is bad, but the point of this was to get as close to the ground up as possible. And trust me, you can definitely taste the difference between fresh and canned squash. If you are thinking of going for the can of pumpkin pie filling… don’t. I swear you can do this without roasting the squash like I did. I can also tell you that you will use way more dishes than you possibly think you could in the making of a pie. Seriously. Find someone to be your dishwasher. Bribe them with pie. It usually works. I grabbed the squash and went at it with my biggest knife. Every time I go after a squash, I briefly consider purchasing a circular saw. It would be one hell of a lot easier. But eventually I got through it, scraped out all the seeds (which I of course rinsed, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted for future snacking needs.) I pondered my heirloom squash from the Ark of Taste. I imagined the molecules of all the flavor compounds, marching two by two up the DNA strands in the squash, riding along in the seeds to hopefully pass on their legacy so this variety of squash did not die out. The whole point of the Ark of Taste is to preserve biodiversity, which is key to the future of the food chain. The potato famine in Ireland was due to the excessive planting of just one type of potato....