Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse

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Back when I followed the recipe for chocolate-hazelnut spread that was supposedly “better than Nutella,” I made three suggestions for utilizing the spread. One was to mix it with whipped cream and create a chocolate hazelnut mousse.

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So that’s just what I did. I’ve actually done it with real Nutella. It takes a little coaxing, but eventually the whipped cream and Nutella will blend into a wonderful mousse-like texture.

It’s so easy. The most important thing is to warm the Nutella to room temperature first.

Pour 2 cups of whipping cream into a large bowl. Whip the cream, using an electric mixer, until stiff peaks form.

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Place about 6 ounces of the chocolate-hazelnut spread in a large bowl.

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Add a few tablespoons of the whipped cream, and gently beat the two together until the spread softens.

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Then gently fold the remaining whipped cream in to the Nutella, taking your time.

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Save about 4 tablespoons of whipped cream for a topping, if desired.

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Place in 4 serving glasses.

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If you don’t mind deflating the mousse a bit, you can use your electric mixer to get a smoother blend.

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The mousse can be served immediately; it doesn’t require chilling.

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Serve with a dollop of the extra whipped cream, or marscapone or creme fraiche.

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Chocolate curls would be pretty too!

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Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, I enjoyed my mousse with a glass of sherry!

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Enjoy!

Embracing the 21st Century

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It might seem odd to admit this, being that I’ve been cooking for about 40 years, but I’ve never owned a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Why? Well for one thing, I’m more a cook than a baker. For another reason, I have a really old house. My countertop surface area is limited, as well as the vertical space from countertop to the above cupboards. So I haven’t been interested in a giant appliance that would monopolize my kitchen work space.

Well, here we are in 2017. I just received my first Kitchen Aid stand mixer, Artisanal Series. I purchased it at an incredible post-Christmas sale price of $278.00.

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What prompted me to finally give in was that my sister-in-law sent me a Kitchen Aid spiralizer attachment for Christmas. She, of course, assumed I already owned a stand mixer, like most people do.

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I called her to say “thank you” but “no thank you.” But that’s when I got chided into embracing the 21st Century kitchen. I thought long and hard, but finally gave in. So now I own a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and a spiralizer attachment.

When considering how to christen my spiralizer, I immediately thought of zoodles, which are zucchini noodles. And then I saw this photo online.

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I’d love to give somebody credit, but the photo was on Pinterest with no information associated with it. I just knew I had to test out my new spiralizer in order to make these burgers!

I opened the spiralizer box and it looked like something that an assassin would have. I took a big breath and read the directions.

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Here’s how I created my electric-powered zoodles, in order to make turkey zoodle burgers.

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Turkey Zoodle Burgers

1 pound lean ground turkey
2 eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped orange bell pepper
Garlic pepper
Salt
Bread crumbs, about 1/2 cup
Zoodles, made from 1 medium zucchini
Olive oil

Place the turkey, eggs, onion, bell pepper, and seasonings in a medium bowl. Stir until combined.

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Stir in the bread crumbs. Use enough to stiffen the burger mixture but not so much as to dry it up.

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Chill the burger mixture in the refrigerator and proceed with the zoodles.

To make the raw zoodles for these burgers I used the extra-fine spiralizer blade. The spiralizer plus the two other parts were easy to put together. Relief!

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Simply turn on the mixer and watch the noodles form!

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I placed the zoodles on paper towels to release some of their water for about 45 minutes.

When you’re ready to make the burgers, remove the burger mixture from the refrigerator.

Place the zoodles on a jelly-roll pan drizzled with olive oil.

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Using some of the oil on your hands, form four even-sized burgers. Then press them gently into the zoodles on both sides.

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Pour some olive oil in a flat skillet over high heat. Add the burgers and cook them for about 4-5 minutes.

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Turn them over gently and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to lower the heat as you cook the burgers through, without having to flip them over any more. Total time varies on the burger thickness; you can always use a meat thermometer to check the doneness.

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I served these burgers with a mayonnaise mixed with some paprika creme. It was a wonderful combination.

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You could also make a Sriracha mayonnaise, or use Dijonnaise as a condiment.

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I wasn’t tempted in the least to wrap burger buns around these burgers. They are just too tender, delicious, and pretty as is!

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So, first off, I learned that with half a brain one can easily use the spiralizer attachment on a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. And now I’m intrigued and excited about other attachments….

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The burgers came out great, by the way.

Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

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A while ago I pulled out all of my Italian cookbooks to locate a specific pasta recipe, which I never found. But perusing these cookbooks gave me an opportunity to bookmark recipes and remind me of some I’d already bookmarked.

One cookbook was Molto Italiano by Mario Batali.

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Mario Batali is one of those chefs who really marketed himself into TV stardom, with many restaurants, cookbooks, plus Eataly that followed, all thanks to this stardom.

I remember his cooking show on PBS that I really enjoyed. There was no band, no audience clapping, just him cooking in a little kitchen.

At the beginning of every show he would pull down a wall map of Italy and give you some history on the provenance of the dish he was about to prepare – something I really appreciated. I didn’t feel “dumbed down” by Batali, in fact, it was more educational than entertainment.

There were always 2-3 odd people sitting off to the side, not saying anything terribly profound, which always made me wonder how I could get this gig because I’d be so much better at it!!! (Not really because I freeze even when someone pulls out an iPhone.)

In spite of Mario Batali being a household name, and easy to spot with his red hair and orange crocs, I do have a lot of respect for his knowledge and passion for Italian cuisine.

While perusing Molto Italiano I spotted a dish that really spoke to me.

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It’s baked pasta with ricotta and ham. Simple, like most all Italian recipes, but it sounded nice and comforting for this time of year. Plus my husband loves ham and I don’t make enough ham recipes.

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I’d recently mentioned that I don’t make casseroles. I don’t want to insult casserole lovers, it’s just that I wasn’t raised on them. And most of them look like regurgitated food, which is my biggest issue with them. I still remember my first experience with a casserole (tuna?) when my neighbor made one for us after my first baby was born. All I will say is that there were potato chips on top. I’m still traumatized by that.

So although casserole-like, this pasta bake is actually somewhat layered. It Is a delightful meal, served with a green salad, or with anything green for that matter. Here is the recipe:

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note: There is a glitch in the recipe that I will resolve below. I had to study the recipe for 30 minutes to figure out what was wrong!

Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham
Pasticcio di Maccheroni*

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian cooked ham, preferably parmacotto, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds ziti
1 pound fresh ricotta
8 ounces hard provolone, cut into small dice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes. (I used onion, mushrooms and carrot.)

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Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 50 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.

This is the beginning of my misunderstanding of this recipe. One is to actually separate the ham from the sauce and place the ham in a large bowl. I found this impossible to do.

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Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.

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Cook the ziti in the boiling water for 1 minute less than the package directions, until still very al denote. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water to “melt” it.

Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta, provolone, and tomato sauce and stir to combine.

It’s the above paragraph that really makes this recipe confusing. The pasta is supposed to be with the ham that has been removed from the red sauce, and the ricotta, provolone and remaining red sauce are supposed to be mixed together in a separate bowl.

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Grease a round and deep 12-inch pie dish or casserole with olive oil. Place a ladle of the cheese and sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture.

Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Parmigiano over, then repeat with another layer of the cheese and sauce mixture, then pasta and meat, and Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used up.
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Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.
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You could always offer more Parmigiano, but I felt this pasta bake was cheesy enough.
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* Pasticcio, similar to its Greek sister pastitsio, also made with ziti, is commonly served at Easter.

Note: Because I couldn’t separate the ham from the sauce, I left it all together. To compensate, I added extra red sauce to the ricotta and cheese mixture. The whole pasta bake benefitted from having probably about 50% more red sauce in it, I think, than what’s listed in the ingredients.

Better than Nutella?

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Many years go I purchased a Vitamix, Professional Series 300. Having gone through various brands of blenders, I was excited to finally get one with a strong reputation.
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I also purchased a smaller blender jar for dry ingredients. I’d always thought it would be fun as well as economical to make nut butters. But have I? No.

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While on a road trip in November, I read many food magazines (doesn’t everyone?) and came across this recipe. Chocolate hazelnut spread that is better than nutella. Nutella is pretty darn good, but home-made is always better of course. So I knew this would be the recipe to christen that dry blender jar.

I used my cell phone to photograph the recipe and unfortunately do not remember from which magazine this recipe came, but I did find it on Epicurious.com.

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Here’s what I did to make the “real” Nutella, based on the above ingredients; my verdict below.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, or Gianduja

2 cups (heaping) hazelnuts, preferably skinned (about 10 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar
1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Toast the hazelnuts on the stove in a cast iron skillet. Let cool.

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Grind hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until a fairly smooth, buttery paste forms, about 1 minute.

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Combine the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Melt slowly and stir until smooth and shiny.

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So here’s the deal – my hazelnuts and sugar never formed a “buttery paste” like they were supposed to. So I added all of the cream to the blender. You can see from the photo, the blender was working hard to combine the hazelnut mixture with the cream.

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The resulting mixture was stiff and thick, but smooth and not gritty.

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The recipe says to “whisk in cream and salt, then hazelnut paste.” Since my hazelnut paste already contained the cream, I simply folded the hazelnut mixture into the chocolate, gradually, stirring well.

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Pour gianduja into four clean 8 ounce jars, dividing equally. Let cool.

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Gianduja can be made up to 4 weeks ahead; keep chilled.

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Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours to soften. Can stand at room temperature up to 4 days.

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If you don’t know what to do with chocolate hazelnut spread besides eat it with a spoon, I’ve got a few suggestions:

1. Spread in warm crepes, roll and eat.

2. Thin with cream and serve drizzled over a fresh-out-of-the-oven Dutch Baby or Crespella.

3. Fold gently with beaten whipped cream for an instant mousse.

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For a treat, I spread some chocolate-hazelnut spread on buttered toast.

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verdict: I’m befuddled as to why my hazelnuts didn’t grind into a hazelnut butter. Secondly, the recipe claims that the nutella will thicken; mine was already really thick, and definitely not “pourable.” My husband said that the spread reminded him of cupcake batter, which I think is an excellent comparison. Also, I would suggest 12 ounces of chocolate instead of 16 ounces, or use bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet. It was too chocolatey for me.

So is this stuff good? Yes, but I will tweak the recipe next time.

Croxetti with Smoked Salmon

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Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at Eataly.com instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

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Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.

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I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.

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For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.
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No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.
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I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.

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Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.

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Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.

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Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.

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If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
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Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.

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If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.

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The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!

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Bacon Egg Salad

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To date, I’ve never written a sandwich post on my blog. I don’t dislike sandwiches – on the contrary, if it weren’t for my lack of self-portion control, I’d probably have a sandwich every day. Simple sandwiches like braunschweiger with mustard, a hot panini, or a multi-layered Italian sub dripping with vinegar… I love them all.

So today is the day I write about a sandwich. The recipe screams to me every time I’m near this book, Gale Gand’s Brunch!

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It’s an egg salad sandwich filling with bacon. So simple and yet so perfect! Who doesn’t grow up loving egg salad, and now you get to enjoy it on bread, with bacon!!!

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Honestly, while you might be shaking your head at the simplicity of this sandwich concept, you’re wanting one at the same time, aren’t you?!!

Here is the recipe:

Bacon and Egg Salad Sandwiches

8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
4 strips of bacon, diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices white bread, crusts cut off

Roughly chop the hard-boiled eggs and put them in a medium bowl.

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Cook the bacon, and let drain on paper towels.

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Add the mayonnaise and mustard to the eggs, and mix with a fork. Then add the bacon. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
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Spread the egg salad on each of 4 slices of bread, top each sandwich with another slice of bread, and cut corner to corner to make triangles. (Obviously that’s optional.)

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Serve immediately, or cover and chill for up to 3 hours before serving.

Obviously, one can change up the ratio of the eggs, bacon and mayonnaise in this mixture. Although less “healthy,” I really love mayonnaise, and would not enjoy an egg salad that is dry.

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I also imagine that some people would prefer more bacon, and that is A-OK. Change up the bread, too. Make this sandwich yours!

Normally I would add lettuce and a ripe tomato slice, but I think I’ll leave this sandwich alone as is. I added a few olives for fun, but a pickled asparagus spear or pepperoncini would be nice also.

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This little unobtrusive cookbook was a gift, and I’m still making recipes from it, like the shakshuka-style Cucurumao I made on Christmas morning that was a huge hit. If you love brunch inspiration, I highly recommend this gem!

Carrot Cider Soup

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My husband and I were lucky enough to go to the restaurant Square One in San Francisco many years ago. And we were on expense account. There’s just something about that benefit that makes the dining experience even more wonderful!

The restaurant, owned by chef Joyce Goldstein, opened in 1984. According to an article I found online, Joyce Goldstein was “one of, if not the first, to explore Mediterranean food with her interpretations of specialties from Turkey, Italy, Greece, Morocco and other sun-washed countries.”

All I remember was that the menu was impressive and the food delicious. I unfortunately don’t remember any specifics of that night. I’m guessing our wine was plentiful, however, this dining experience was 30 years ago!

In 1992 Joyce Goldstein published the cookbook Back to Square One – Old-World Food in a New-World Kitchen.
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Recently I decided to peruse some older cookbooks of mine, and I immediately fell in love with Back to Square One again. There are so many recipes I want to try, like Balkan crab salad with walnuts and lemon mayonnaise. As well as recipes I want to make again, like Catalan-style quail stuffed in roasted peppers with olives.

This weekend we’re having our favorite people over to raclette` and I found a soup in the cookbook that will be perfect to begin our feast.

The actual name of Joyce Goldstein’s soup is French Apple Cider and Carrot Soup. It’s a carrot soup with the addition of hard cider. To make it a little more festive, I decided to top off the soup with a little creme fraiche and some julliened apples.

Unfortunately I’m not so good at presentation, but here is the recipe:
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French Apple Cider and Carrot Soup
Back to Square One

Serves 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/4 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup hard apple cider
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and sweet, 10 to 15 minutes.
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Add the carrot chunks and the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are very tender.

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Purée the soup in the blender or food processor, using only as much of the stock as necessary to purée the carrots.

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Transfer the purée to a clean saucepan and then add the apple cider, the cream, and as much of the remaining stock as necessary to think the soup to the desired consistency.

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I actually added the cider and cream while the soup was still in the blender jar.
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Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of sugar or nutmeg if the soup needs sweetening.
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I added a small dollop of creme fraiche, and a few jullienned apples, plus freshly ground nutmeg, and also pink peppercorns.

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note: After making this soup with the uncooked hard cider, I have a few thoughts.
1. In spite of the low alcohol content, the flavor is too sharp and raw for the soup.
2. Perhaps the hard cider would work better after first a reduction of 50%.
3. Regular apple cider would work, but it should be added along with the chicken broth.
4. A splash of Calvados could add a little flavor, but I recommend adding it along with the chicken broth.
5. Including a cored apple or pear to the carrots would add a natural sweetness to the soup.