December 30, 2010

Homemade Fresh Mozzarella

Did you know you can make your own fresh mozzarella at home? You can! I am very pleased to bring you this post with the permission of the New England Cheese making Supply Company, benevolently ruled by Ricki the Cheese Queen. Ricki Carrol is also the author of Home Cheese Making, the first book (and one of the best) I have read on the subject. I bought this outstanding book seven years ago and went around telling all my friends I wanted to move to a farm and raise goats and make cheese (hey, there's still time...). The New England Cheese making Supply Company sells equipment, ingredients, kits, books... a veritable wonderland of cheese. Check it out, y'all!

Before we get started, I want to tell you that a) I am not a cheese making expert, I am an extreme novice and b) I did not find this to be easy-peasy- but I hope my mistakes and trial and error will help you have success faster!

To make my fresh mozzarella, I used one of the recipes that is included in 'Ricki's Cheese making Kit for Mozzarella and Ricotta,' shown here (left). I used the recipe that calls for instant non-fat milk and heavy cream. Why did I use this recipe? A few reasons- first, the non-fat instant dry milk (until you mix it with water, of course), does not take up any room in your refrigerator, second, you can have it on hand and make cheese when the mood strikes you and finally, this may be one of the most important, you may not have access to 'good' milk. Since this blog reaches people that live in may different areas, I thought it would be best to use ingredients that would be the easiest and most realistic for everyone.

If you are interested in using fresh milk, however, here's the 411. What do I mean by 'good' milk? A few things- home cheese making requires milk that has not been pasteurized at a high temperature. You may have noticed on your grocery shelves many dairy products that are "ultra-pasteurized." This is bad news for the home cheese maker- pretty much everything marked "ultra-pasteurized" is unusable (with the very small exception of the heavy cream that can be used in the instant non-fat milk recipe). Why is this? It's because the heat changes the milk proteins and they will no longer do what they need to do in the cheese making process- basically your curd wont form properly. What can you do about this? A few things- some grocery stores, Whole Foods is a good example, make an effort to carry locally produced, low-temperature pasteurized (and non-homogenized) milk. Purchase milk that is either labeled 'low temperature pasteurized' or just 'pasteurized,' but keep in mind that without knowing the temperature range for the pasteurization, it's possible the temperature was still too high. Unfortunately, you'll just have to find out by trying!

What's the deal with homogenization? That just means that the milk particles have been passed through very fine holes and that the fat particles in the (cow) milk were made smaller and therefore it no longer separates. Goat milk has finer particles, but that's another story (keep an eye out for the goat milk panna cotta recipe I'm working on). Non-homogenized milk is also called 'cream-top.' Homogenization does not have an impact here- you can use homogenized or non-homogenized milk.

Let's begin! Here's what you need:

Large, stainless steel pot with a lid

Stainless, wide ladle with holes (I got mine at Harris Teeter, shown at left, but has one too)

Heavy rubber gloves, new (like for washing dishes that can withstand high heat)

A very fine wire mesh sieve or cheesecloth draped over a larger mesh sieve

Non-chlorinated water (16 1/4 cups)

Dairy thermometer (has a lower range than meat thermometers, you need something that will show you from 80-105 degrees Fahrenheit)

Here's the recipe using the instant non-fat milk:

Fresh Mozzarella from Scratch

15 cups instant non-fat milk (made using non-chlorinated water)
1 cup heavy cream (ultra-pasteurized ok)
1 cup non-chlorinated water with 2 tsp. citric acid dissolved
1/4 cup non-chlorinated water with 1/4 rennet tablet dissolved (or 1/4 tsp. liquid rennet)
1/2-1 tsp. cheese salt or kosher salt (optional)
(recipe used with permission of New England Cheese making Supply Company)

Don't mix your citric acid or the rennet yet- wait until it's time in the recipe! Here we go! Following the directions on your instant non-fat milk's box, make 15 cups of milk using non-chlorinated water. How important is it to use non-chlorinated water? Well, it won't work if you don't! Chlorinated water renders rennet useless and basically nothing will happen... Ok! Moving on! Let this milk sit in the refrigerator either overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Pour the milk into the large, stainless steel pot you are going to use and place on the stove, but don't turn on the stove yet. Mix in the 1 cup of heavy cream. With the ladle you have, one of the most effective ways to mix is to keep the ladle underneath the surface and move it in an up and down motion. Because of the holes and wide area, this is very effective. It's also the technique you'll you use later when you add the rennet. Ok! So we've mixed our milk and heavy cream well. Now, in a measuring cup, combine the 1 cup of non-chlorinated water and the 2 tsp. citric acid, stir until dissolved. Pour into the milk and cream, stirring well. Turn on the stove and heat at a medium-low heat, while stirring, to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

This will take a little while- stir often and take the temperature every couple of minutes to see how it's progressing. I wait until I've hit 80 degrees to mix the rennet and the water- the reason being that if you mix rennet with water (either the tablet or the liquid form) it will loose its effectiveness after 30 minutes. Ok! So you've been stirring and the milk and cream have been heating up and when you hit 90 degrees, remove from the heat source, take the rennet that has been mixed with the water and pour in, vigorously mixing with the up and down motion discussed earlier for 30 seconds only. A few thoughts on this step- if you're using a rennet tablet piece, make sure it is fully dissolved and do NOT stir more than 30 seconds, you'll be tearing the curds into small pieces as they form and effectively making ricotta looking curds...

Cover the pot and let sit for at least 5 minutes, I let mine sit for about 30 minutes since the curds were somewhat soft at first. So here's the deal with curds... if it's working, after 5-30 minutes your pot will look like a large thing of custard with fairly clear liquid on the sides. You can check if your curds are firm enough in two ways, the first, just use your (clean) fingers to touch it on the side to see if you can separate it gently from the whey (that's the liquid) or, second, take a long narrow knife and insert it into the curd at an angle and lift up. If the curd separates with a distinct line and doesn't kind of crumble wetly, that's called a clean break and you are in business my friend! What if your curds are not that firm? A few things- first, let them sit a while longer. In this example I've photographed for you, I used liquid rennet and my curds were not super firm. They were acceptable enough, however, to separate from the whey and stretch into a ball of mozzarella. You'll have to make that distinction for yourself. You can try two things if your curds are not very firm, let them set longer, or start over and use more rennet.

So let's assume you are AWESOME and you have outstanding curds (I know you will), take a long, narrow knife that will reach to the bottom of the pot (I use a bread knife) and cut your curds in a grid pattern (left). Each grid piece should be about an inch and a half long. They kind of look like tofu floating around. Next you are going to return the pot to the stove and heat until it reaches 105 degrees. Stir it a little, but not much and very carefully, because you don't want to cut the curds apart. Taking the temperature of this now is effectively taking the temperature of the whey, that is ok!

Alright, so we've reached 105 degrees- I think methods can vary a little for this next step, what I found effective was to place a very fine mesh sieve over a bowl and using my ladle, scoop up some curds and place them in the mesh sieve. If the curds are large enough and holding together, the whey will probably drain without any help. If the curds are not super firm, you may need to press a little with your hands or the back of the ladle. Press gently and make sure your mesh sieve is very fine, otherwise little pieces of curd may be forced through. Don't have a fine mesh sieve? Use some cheesecloth lining a colander over a bowl to achieve the same thing. Place your curds, once sufficiently drained, into a microwavable bowl. You'll probably need to drain the curds in batches, so once they are all drained and in the bowl, microwave for 1 minute.

Time to put on your cheese gloves! My cheese gloves are the same type of rubber gloves I use to wash dishes, but, they are new, have only been used for cheese and I've labeled them with a sharpie so I don't get the gloves mixed up. After the curds have been microwaved for 1 minute, remove them from the microwave and either using the fine sieve drain them again, or, if they are holding together enough, just drain the whey from the bowl, the curds will have released a little more whey while heating. Add the cheese (or kosher) salt to the curds and mix either with your gloved hands or a spatula. I like 1/2 tsp. of salt. Place the curds back in the bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

You are now ready to stretch your cheese!!! The cheese should now stretch and pull easily, like taffy. Stretch it several times- mozzarella is a 'pulled' cheese and without these motions, your finished product won't have the right texture and bounciness. Stretch and either a) form into one or two large ovals or b) form into small bit sized balls (called boccaccini). I've read that you can also form a braid, I'm not skilled enough for this yet, but if you can, excellent work and you have my extreme admiration! Take your cheese and place in water that is 50 degrees for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, place it in ice water for 15 minutes. Either eat immediately or store in plastic wrap or an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Congratulations! You are a cheese maker!!! You are so awesome!!!

Where can I buy a cheese making kit? You guessed it-

Your cheese making kit will include: citric acid, rennet tablets, cheese salt, dairy thermometer, cheese cloth and recipe booklet. Remember to keep your rennet tablets in the freezer! If you have liquid rennet, remember to refrigerate it! The citric acid and cheese salt may be stored at room temperature.

How do I know if my water is chlorinated? I think most water is- so buy some spring water at the grocery store.

December 29, 2010

Panna Cotta with Goat Milk and Buttermilk with Lychee Rose Syrup

Panna cotta is so delicious- and so easy! If this isn't already in your dessert repertoire, it should be! What's also wonderful about panna cotta is that is can be made in advance- in fact, you kind of need to, since it takes a while to 'set.' Here's a version I made recently that used goat milk and buttermilk.

Why goat milk? I have two words for you- fat particles. Did you know that goat milk has higher fat content than cow milk? Not only that, but the fat particles are smaller and therefore they stay evenly distributed through the milk, which is what gives everything goaty its lush, rich flavor. Yes, I am getting goaty with it. Before you get worried this panna cotta tastes like chevre, it doesn't- in fact, when you taste it, you'll be surprised it contains goat milk and buttermilk because all you taste is creamy richness...

Panna Cotta
2 Tbsp. water
2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups goat milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla powder

Pour the water into a small bowl or cup. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the water. Let this rest for a few minutes and in the meantime, combine the heavy cream and 1/2 cup of sugar in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Take the 1/2 of a vanilla bean and cut a slit lengthwise down the bean. Peel back either side so that you are looking at all the tiny seeds inside. Use the blunt edge of your knife to scrape them out as best you can, adding them to the heavy cream and sugar mixture. Also add the scraped vanilla bean. You will have the best luck using a whisk to mix this- now because of the vanilla bean's seeds and later because of the gelatin. Bring the cream, sugar and vanilla bean mixture to a simmer, then remove from heat. Immediately add the gelatin, you may need to use a spatula to scrape it out of its bowl, it will be fairly solid. Whisk well, you want the gelatin to dissolve evenly. (Don't be shy about letting the milk and sugar mixture bubble a little bit, it needs to be hot enough to dissolve the gelatin.)

In a separate bowl, possibly with a pouring spout, combine the buttermilk, goat milk and vanilla powder. Add the cream mixture and stir well. Taste the mixture and determine whether or not you'd like to add the additional 1 Tbsp. of sugar (I do). Mix well, then pour into ramekins. This makes 8 generously sized portions. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. As you are pouring, you'll notice the vanilla bean seeds seem unevenly distributed. Just try your best to spread them around the ramekins evenly. What will happen is that the seeds will sink to the bottom of the ramekins anyhow, making an interesting pattern when you turn out the panna cotta later. Don't have ramekins? Not a problem. Use a rectangular or square cake or brownie pan, no greasing necessary. After it has set, use a knife to cut square portions and a spatula to help you remove them. The ideal height of panna cotta is about 1 1/2" deep, if you go much taller, they kind of can't sustain their own weight once on a serving plate. In either the ramekins or the rectangular pan, this will be best if you let it set overnight. It's done when it has the texture and bounciness of jello. Although panna cotta means cooked cream, it's really done with gelatin. We LOVE panna cotta at our house, even baby!
You may eat this panna cotta by itself or with a small amount of this syrup (the recipe below).

Lychee Rose Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 20 oz. can lychee, drained
1/2 Tbsp. rose syrup

In a small sauce pan, combine the water, sugar and lychee over medium heat. Stir occasionally as the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium-high and gently boil, uncovered for 15 minutes. Strain using a colander or sieve and refrigerate. Once cooled, stir in the rose syrup.

Once your panna cotta is 'set,' turn it out onto the serving plate and top with a small amount of syrup. Enjoy!

A few thoughts about lychee... I love lychee, they are so delicious! If you aren't familiar with lychee, they are a fruit that originated in southern China. During the summer, you can sometimes find them fresh in the produce section. They are small and round, have a hard outer shell that is light to dark pink and has a 'crackled' appearance. This shell should be removed and inside the fruit has ivory, opaque flesh. Inside the fruit is a black large seed (don't eat the shell or the seed). Lychee is available year round in cans, usually in the Asian section of the supermarket. These will already be peeled and seeded for you. Sometimes lychee is mistakenly referred to as a 'lychee nut.' This is not correct, and actually refers to a dried version of the lychee fruit. If you are incredibly fortunate, you may also have longan available in the summer at your supermarket. Longan, which means dragon eye, is a similar fruit with a more delicate flavor that is similar in appearance but the outer color of the shell is dark yellow. Longan are usually a little smaller than lychee. Lychee may also be spelled lizhi, which is the technically correct Mandarin Chinese spelling.
What if you find yourself with an overwhelming urge to wear black pajamas like a cat burglar and sneak into your neighbor's backyard to steal lychee from their trees? Well, you would not be the first, my friend...

December 27, 2010

Gingerbread Little Piggies!

Gingerbread is just wonderful, isn't it? Here's a gingerbread cookie recipe that has wonderful flavor- and depending on the size of your cookies and cooking time, you can determine how hard or soft you want your cookies! This post was inspired by my Mom, who has a new found love for gingerbread after a recent trip to Germany around Christmastime. She brought back some lebkuchen, a variety of German gingerbread, which were so delicious! She decided she liked the orange flavored lebkuchen the best. While these are not really lebkuchen, the vibrant orange flavor inspired me!

You may be wondering... why would you want gingerbread cookies in the shape of pigs? Isn't the right question 'why wouldn't you want gingerbread cookies shaped like pigs? Or lobsters for that matter? Go crazy people!' I for one like to make cookies in unusual shapes... Isn't is a little bit fun?

5 1/2 cups flour (plus more for rolling)
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
11 Tbsp. unsalted butter (room temperature)
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses (measured in a liquid measuring cup), not black strap
zest of one whole orange
1 egg (room temperature)
1/4 cup buttermilk (full fat if possible)
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. orange extract

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the butter and shortening. Add the sugar, molasses and orange zest, mix well. Use a spatula if you need to- there may not yet be enough in the bowl to make it all mix well together. Add the egg and buttermilk and mix. In a small cup, combine the water and baking soda, add to the butter and shortening mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine 5 cups of flour with the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, mace, cardamom and allspice. Add the flour and spices, but not all at once, to the butter and shortening mixture. A sticky dough will form. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour to the dough and mix. The dough will be pretty sticky, but will hold together. Separate into three portions, wrap each portion in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least a few hours.

Once your dough is sufficiently chilled, preheat your oven to 350 and position your rack in the center. Using a little flour underneath the dough and spreading a little over the top of the dough, roll out one of the three portions of dough. What's great about this dough is that it isn't hard once it is chilled, so you can pretty much roll it out right out of the fridge. The downside of this, though, is that you have a limited amount of time to roll it and get your shapes cut out. If your dough is too sticky, use more flour, you can even spread flour over the rolling pin. If your dough is too soft, chill it again, maybe using the freezer if you want to speed it up. Use a spatula if you need to to transfer your cookies to the baking sheet.

Now these little pig shapes, which are so cute, don't you think? are very small. So if you are making larger cookies, you'll need to adjust your baking time upward just a tad. So go ahead and cut out your adorable cookie shapes and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. If you have more to do before you bake them, pop the cookies that have already been cut out but not baked back in the fridge so they'll keep their shapes nicely!

Before you bake your cookies, you can decorate them! Use colored sugar or sprinkles- I made my little piggies pink with some beautiful pink sugar crystals. So if your cookies are tiny, like these little pigs, which might be and 1 1/2" long, bake for just 8 minutes at 350. When you take them out of the oven, let them rest on the baking sheet for just a minute or two before using a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy! These little piggies may become a favorite!

December 13, 2010

Ode to Pimento Cheese

Love pimento cheese? Sing its praises with this nifty poem!

Honey Lavender Gelato

Homemade gelato, yay!!! Gelato is actually not that difficult to make once you have the technique down! I started making gelato a few years ago and once I figured out the basic recipe and technique (basically you have to keep your egg yolks from being heated too fast) you can pretty much flavor it however you'd like! Which got me thinking... We used to eat several years ago at this wonderful Argentine restaurant that had honey lavender gelato as a dessert. I never saw it in stores, so I figured if we wanted to eat it, I'd probably have to make it!

Honey Lavender Gelato
3 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp. honey
1/8 cup lavender (dried flowers)
pinch sea salt
4 egg yolks (room temperature)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar

It's very important that your eggs are room temperature. In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine the milk, honey, salt and lavender flowers. The flowers will only float on the surface of this step, so don't be alarmed if they won't mix in. Heat, stirring constantly, until bubbles form around the edges of the pan- you are just scalding the milk, don't allow it to simmer or boil.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the egg yolks, cream and sugar. Stir with a whisk until well combined and the sugar begins to incorporate into the other ingredients. Once the milk mixture has reached the desired temperature, use a measuring cup to remove roughly 1 cup of the hot milk. In a very slow trickle, add to the egg yolk mixture while whisking. This will take several minutes to add the whole 1 cup of hot milk, keep whisking the whole time. This is tempering the eggs, raising their temperature slowly enough that they don't cook and become scrambled eggs. You need to do this with at least 1 cup of the milk mixture, more is also acceptable, but it's probably unnecessary to do more than 2 cups.

Add the egg yolk mixture to the remaining milk in the sauce pan and heat over medium to medium-low heat. You need to stir it constantly and do not allow it to boil. An occasional simmering bubble is alright, but not a lot of them. This next step is probably best with a wooden spoon, you won't need the whisk anymore. You might be wondering if we're going to be keeping the flowers in the gelato, we aren't, but we aren't at the step where we are straining it yet. This stirring over medium/low heat can take up to 30 minutes. In this step we are forming a custard and the mixture will start to gradually thicken. When it is slightly more viscous and coats the back of the wooden spoon well, not in a watery way, your custard stage is complete!

Now, strain the custard through a mesh sieve. It may be slightly too thick to pass through easily, you may need to stir the contents of the sieve to help it along. Once you've strained it, mix the strained custard well and place the bowl that it is in in a larger bowl full of ice water. Allow to cool, then place plastic wrap over the custard, with the plastic wrap touching the surface of the custard and refrigerate overnight.

Pre-freeze the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer. Remove your custard from the refrigerator and using a spatula, empty into the ice cream maker bowl. Turn on the ice cream maker and mix for 20-30 minutes, you'll visually be able to tell when it is done. Using a spatula again, scrape into a freezer container and freeze before serving.

This is so marvelous! The flavor is amazing and your family and friends will love it. It will be a flavor they can't get anywhere but at your house! What's also outstanding about this dessert for a dinner party is that it can be make several days ahead of time!

Where can I buy lavender flowers? I have bought lavender at Harris Teeter in the spice section and also at Whole Foods. I believe the brand I bought at Harris Teeter was McCormick. Why not use local honey and support your local farmers?

December 10, 2010

A Winter Treat- Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger Root and Cinnamon

Butternut squash is just wonderful, isn't it? I love a good, creamy butternut squash soup! I get so excited at the beginning of fall and winter because there are so many delicious things to eat!
This recipe I really like, not only because it's pretty easy, but because the soup also has onion, garlic, ginger root and some aromatic spices like cloves and cinnamon. The cream that you add at the end is optional, the soup is certainly delicious without it!

Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger Root and Cinnamon

1 medium to large butternut squash

1 onion

1-2 cloves garlic

2" piece of ginger root

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

pinch of cloves

1/2 tsp. salt

freshly cracked pepper

3-4 cups chicken, vegetable or beef broth

1/2-1 cup heavy cream

Prepare your butternut squash! Refer to this video on how to! You want roughly 2" pieces.

Place the butternut squash into a large pot. Cut the onion into quarters, place in pot. Add the garlic, here's how to smash it and get it out of its skin pretty easily:

Next, add the ginger root. Here's how to easily remove the outer skin of the ginger root.

Ok! So your pot should now contain the squash, onion, garlic and ginger root. Add the cloves, cinnamon, salt and pepper, then the broth. If you can get most of the contents of the pot covered with just 3 cups of broth, just use that. Use the additional cup of broth only if you have a large amount of squash and 3 cups doesn't suffice. Bring to a simmer and cover, cook for 45 minutes.

Now, we need to blend the soup. You can either use a handheld blender and blend it in the pot, or, you can blend it in batches in a blender. Be very, very careful if you are using a standard blender, the heat can cause the top to come off the blender and you don't want to get burned! You may also decide to wait to blend it until it is cooler. Once well blended, stir in the cream (the amount is up to you) and taste to see if you need additional salt and pepper. You can enjoy this soup hot or cold, although since it is winter, hot might be preferable!

Optional garnishes: bacon lardons, finely chopped ham... use your imagination! This can be served in a soup bowl or in a tea cup!

Depending on how much broth you use, your soup can be on the watery side. To ensure relatively thicker soup, use the minimum amount of broth necessary to simmer the squash and other ingredients and if you are still concerned about the soup being too watery, uncover and cook off some of the liquid (before blending).

December 4, 2010

Croque Mademoiselle!

Ok, so this is not really a thing (yet)- there is either a Croque Monseiur or a Croque Madame- wonderful French bistro sandwiches, which started showing up on menus around 1910- the classic Croque Monseiur has ham and gruyere- the Croque Madame adds a fried egg on top. This variation takes its inspiration from both- we make a 'butter' of grated gruyere, dijon mustard and butter, then nestle it between some wonderful french style slow cooked ham, soak our hearty but soft sourdough in egg beaten with milk, pan fry it in butter and voila! Croque Mademoiselle!

Croque Mademoiselle
(makes two sandwiches)
Four slices of sourdough bread (I use a boule)
2-3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup (loosely packed) grated gruyere
2 tsp. dijon mustard (not whole grain)
6 thin slices French ham (sometimes called Jambon Blanc, slow cooked ham will also be fine)
1 egg
1 Tbsp. milk or cream
Freshly cracked pepper

Melt one of the tablespoons of butter. Mix with the gruyere and mustard, this will form a paste. Spread the paste on one side of each of the slices of bread, add some freshly cracked pepper. We omit salt here because the ham and gruyere are already sufficiently salty. Place three slices of ham in each sandwich, (the sides of the bread with the gruyere spread are on the inside). Beat the egg thoroughly and mix in the milk or cream. Quickly immerse the outside of each sandwich on both sides in the egg, wiping off excess. You don't want too much egg, the flavor will overwhelm the rest of your sandwich.

Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan and at a medium to medium low heat, cook each sandwich for about 5 minutes on each side. Enjoy! This is delicious! It is also very fast and simple! If you don't care for ham, why not try turkey? If you don't care for egg, skip the egg part and have a wonderful grilled ham and cheese with a hint of dijon!

Got Five Minutes? You've Got Almond Bark!

If it is possible, this bark recipe is even easier than the one with hazelnuts!!! This takes literally five minutes to make, then you need to let it solidify in the fridge. Yay, bark!

1/2 lb. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil (light tasting)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup raw almonds
1/8-1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
tiny pinch of salt

Using a bowl or a measuring cup, melt the chocolate in the microwave. I've received a few questions about this- what I usually do is melt it in 30-45 second increments, checking on it after each increment. It might still look solid but actually be melted, so go ahead and try to stir it with a utensil. Once you've melted your chocolate, stir in the oil, vanilla extract, tiny pinch of salt and cinnamon, which is optional. If you use 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon, the taste is definitely present. If you'd like it to be more subtle, go for just 1/8 of a teaspoon. Or, if you're not into cinnamon, just leave it out! Mix well, then add the almonds. You'll probably recall that in the hazelnut bark recipe, we roasted the hazelnuts. Why aren't we doing that here? A few reasons. First, I think hazelnuts taste better when they are roasted. Do a little taste test yourself and see what your opinion is, it doesn't have to be the same as mine! I think almonds are delicious raw. Also, raw almond 'skins' aren't really offensive or a bad texture, so we don't worry about the skins here. However, if you roast pretty much any nut that has a skin, you'll probably want to remove it by rubbing the nuts in a dish cloth, the texture is not too great and sometimes the skin might be a little bitter once roasted.

Moving on! Mix to incorporate the almonds, then spread the bark on a baking sheet lined with either parchment or wax paper. Spread evenly with a butter knife or offset spatula. Refrigerate until solidified, probably at least one hour. Once solid, remove from paper and chop into 2-3" pieces. Can you believe how easy that was?

December 1, 2010

A Homemade Gift Easier than Cookies?!!! Delicious Hazelnut Bark!

What would you say if I told you there was an elegant, delicious, homemade gift you could make in 20 minutes that would delight everyone on your holiday list? You'd say get out of here! I'm not going anywhere, I'm here to share the secret with you!

Here is your new go-to recipe for your holiday arsenal, hazelnut, ginger and chocolate bark! Let's be honest about this, all we are doing is melting chocolate, mixing some things in it, and solidifying it in the refrigerator. So basically, if you can work a microwave, you can make this. That is the extent of 'technique' here. Easier than making cookies! Truly! I made this yesterday and it took about 15-20 minutes. (This doesn't include refrigeration time, just 'active' time).

Hazelnut, Ginger and Chocolate Bark
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (semi-sweet is ok too)
2 ounces hazelnuts
1 1/2 ounces crystallized ginger (chopped) (optional)
olive oil (light tasting)
sea salt

If your hazelnuts are raw, set the oven to 350. Roast on a baking sheet for roughly 8 minutes, until slightly browned, be careful not to burn. Transfer nuts to a dishcloth and rub off the skins, this is shown in the picture above.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl or measuring cup in the microwave. Once melted, stir in roughly 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil- other vegetable oil is alright also. I use a light tasting olive oil for this. Stir in 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a small pinch of sea salt. Stir well. Stir in the ginger (optional) and hazelnuts (do not add the skin that has been rubbed off). You don't need to chop the nuts.

On a baking sheet lined with either waxed paper or parchment paper, pour the mixture and spread evenly with a butter knife or offset spatula. Refrigerate until solid, most likely at least one hour. Once solidified, peel from waxed or parchment paper and chop into 2-3" pieces. Enjoy! I'll bet you can't believe how easy that was and yet how elegant and delicious the bark looks!