When Your Five-Year Old Renounces Meat or Spicy Swiss Chard Pasta with Poor Man’s Cheese

Plate of spicy winter pasta with breadcrumbs

I often post my newest recipes or the things I am most recently excited about here and forget that some of my easiest and humblest recipes might also be useful to many of you, as my youngest sister reminds me. Perhaps one dinner in an entire week is planned more than 4 hours ahead of time with most conceived 20 minutes before we sit down and eat them. This is the give and take of a busy family who nonetheless wants to stay healthy and thrifty by not caving and going out to eat all the time. (And forgive me, but although it is cheap and a 5 minute drive from our house, I am on an In N’ Out hiatus for at least another three months…or maybe years.)

Meyer lemon, dried padron pepper, garlic,

Along those lines, In N’ Out hamburgers have joined the list as relics of a bygone era, an era when my five-year old son would still eat meat. This comes as no surprise (I am literally singing, “And then there were none,” to myself) since my husband and I began counting on one hand the meat based foods that he would still eat. For a while we still had a meat-tomato sauce on pasta, meatballs, breakfast sausage, hot dogs, and bacon.

Five color silverbeet swiss chard growing in our garden

As of two weeks ago he decided that he cannot eat bacon either. What I initially assumed was a texture avoidance for him–as an infant he was repulsed by the pureed chicken I once made, but frankly so was I–turns out to be a moral issue. My discovery occurred several months ago, right before good old “Turkey Day” actually, when an out-of-town friend was staying with us. At dinner, my friend offered my son several meatballs and I heard him decline, stating, “No thanks. I do not like to eat things that came from animals because they have to die.”

My vegetarian "fishing" or "rowing"; he never committed

After school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my son fervently grabbed my hands, stared into my soul, and attempted to make me pledge with him not to eat turkey at Thanksgiving so that the bird would not have to lose its life. “Seriously?!” I thought, “You are five!” In November, my little guy was a fresh five-year old and here he was espousing his food ethos…vegetarianism?! Do young children take moral stances against meat?

Zesting meyer lemons

Meyer lemon zest

The silver lining of my son’s “vegetarianism” (and I have purposefully never informed him of this word), is that he is a rare one in his taste for fruits and vegetables. He loves most of the “superfoods” out there–berries, swiss chard, kale, spinach, yogurt, whole grains, beans–and is undaunted in trying new foods, even if it means he gags upon discovering a microscopic piece of shredded chicken in his soup.

Here is a quite balanced vegetarian pasta that is gourmet and easy enough to pull out when it is your turn to cook the romantic dinner, “Inept-but-Earnest-Cook,” and even a five-year old loves….well at least one I know.

Spicy swiss chard capellini with poor man's cheese

Spicy Swiss Chard Pasta with Poor Man’s Cheese

Notes: If you have an old piece of bread on hand or even a package of panko or plain breadcrumbs, I implore you not to skip this five-minute step. It takes the pasta from great to stupendousand unexpected, and will truly stand in for cheese if you elect to make this a vegan pasta. I like the crunchy breadcrumbs and the cheese together.

1 bunch of swiss chard, any color (I have also made this with agretti, kale, and mustards)

4 cloves garlic, minced

Zest of 1 lemon

1-2 dried spicy peppers or pepper flakes (much milder)

3 tablespoons breadcrumbs or panko

1 package of long pasta such as capellini or spaghetti

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for finishing

Sea salt for finishing

Aged gouda or pecorino romano grated (optional)

Set a pot of heavily salted water to boil. First make your garlicky breadcrumbs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan with 1 minced clove of garlic and breadcrumbs until golden in appearance. Dump out into a little serving bowl and continue with the same frying pan.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons more of olive oil on medium low. Add the garlic and let cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add a crumbled up spicy dried pepper or pepper flakes and zested lemon. I save just a dash of the zested lemon to add again at the end. Meanwhile remove the ribs (the stalk) from the swiss chard. You can chop these up and add them to the garlic for 2 more minutes or only add the leaves.

Add your pasta to the pasta water. Stack the swiss chard leaves on top of each other and roll them like a cigar. Beginning at one end, cut through to make thin ribbons–almost the thickness of your pasta–and add to the garlic and chopped chard stems. Cook until the ribbons just wilt.

Drain the pasta, mix in the frying pan, and add a pinch or two of coarse sea salt and one more little glug of olive oil and toss. Serve with the garlicky breadcrumbs (“poor man’s cheese” ‘formaggio dei poveri’) and grated cheese.

Posted in Chard, Dinner, Inept-but-Earnest Cook's Night, Uncategorized, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Brown Butter Belgian Waffles

Brown butter Belgian (yeasted) waffles

While I have been near the end of my third trimester twice prior, I nonetheless remain baffled by the lethargy and physical, um…difficulties of pregnancy. Typically I thrive on having too much to do in too little time. Throw in a few loaves of homemade bread, a batch of cookies, and a quick walk and I have a perfect day. Not right now folks. How did bending over to help clean up (read: threaten to throw away) my kids’ toys become as hard as doing squats? Why does climbing up a flight of stairs wind me more than a good swim workout? How did this baby get in here in the first place? Actually, no need to answer that one.

Hanging with my little girl...her last few weeks of being the youngest

While I have certainly forgone–or at least tabled–some of my more elaborate recipe schemes, I simply will not stop relishing the magical moments with my two kiddos in their last few weeks of being just the two of them.

Particularly as those moments relate to food, we have been on fire over here; pistachio and vanilla macarons, chocolate-marshmallow bars, spinach and dal stews, pure durum wheat loaves, Valentine’s day sprinkle cookies, more preserved lemons, Meyer lemon curd, whole wheat cinnamon-raisin spiral bread, and brown butter Belgian waffles have sidled their way on our table amidst 5 minute boxed shells and cheese pastas, yogurt, radish-butter sandwiches, and a whole lot of simple salads.

I am hoping to post one of the more time-consuming of my creations alongside one of my simplest and favorite of pastas before this baby comes (which should not be too difficult considering my kids tend to incubate waaaay past due date). Until then, I offer you a new incredible breakfast treat.

This waffle, amongst the many in our rotation, is a yeasted waffle roughly based upon the breakfast queen, Marion Cunningham’s Belgian waffles. In addition to the seductive and frankly haunting flavor of brown butter, what never ceases to tickle me happy is the fact that I can make them the night before and flip out a quick batch of tremendously scrumptious waffles in the blink of an eye the following morning. I have a phenomenal (but work in progress) multigrain morning-of waffle that also incorporates brown butter, but I still need to tinker with the ratios of barley and whole wheat flour. More on that one another day…

For those of you who have never delighted in a Belgian waffle (!!), you must know that the slightly sour, complex flavor of the yeast, combined with the light, slightly crispy lacy crust and custardy, eggy middle of the waffle is an absolute treat. Now just add brown butter and you have breakfast nirvana.

I recommend that you either prepare surplus brown butter the night before or make some more in the morning to drizzle across the waffle with maple syrup or some homemade fruit preserves (or fresh fruit if berries, stone fruits, etc. are in season). Finally, if you still disbelieve how quick these are to pull off, note that these were our Valentine’s day breakfast before shuttling off kids to school by 8:30am.

Lacy windows in the waffle

Brown Butter Yeasted Waffles.

Notes: If you desire to serve these with more brown butter–something I highly recommend–make extra the night before and simply warm it up in the morning. These are best in a Belgian waffle maker, but I have also had success in a regular waffle iron. Just be sure to spread the batter out quickly after you pour it in so it distributes well.

Night before

1/2 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons

2 cups warm milk (I have used all kinds)

1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter (plus more for drizzling the morning of)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or just more all-purpose, if you do not have it)

Add the morning of

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Optional for serving

Fresh fruit, fruit preserves, maple syrup, whipped cream

The night before, place butter in a pan and heat on medium low until the room smells fragrant, vaguely nutty, and the butter has turned a golden amber hue. Watch it so it does not burn. Remove from heat and let it cool. If you do not care for the dark specks from the milk solids, you can strain the butter over paper towels lain over a mesh sieve. I usually do not bother. Meanwhile, place the warm water in a very large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the top to confirm that it is bubbling and active (about 5 minutes). Add slightly warm milk, 1 stick of butter worth of brown butter (keep in mind that it will be significantly less liquid than the 8 tablespoons you started with if you have made extra for drizzling the next day), flours, salt, and sugar and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set on a counter until the morning.

The morning of, your batter will have doubled. Add the two eggs and baking soda and whisk until smooth. Prepare whatever toppings you plan to use (including the warmed extra brown butter). Ladle the batter into a greased waffle iron according to the instructions. (Before each waffle, I usually brush some vegetable oil or baking spray to avoid sticking). These taste great medium-dark, not underdone or you do not get the fantastic textural differences between the middle and the crust of the waffle. Serve with syrup and (salted) brown butter or whatever toppings you choose.

Posted in Breakfast, Jams and Preserves, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

White Chocolate Chunk Pistachio Cookies: My Favorite “Chocolate” Chip Cookies

Chopped white chocolate pistachio cookies

Everyone has a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. If you do not have anything else in your recipe box, I am willing to bet that at some point you acquired a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

If you feel up to the challenge of questing out the superlative recipe, you are in for it. I tried this a couple of years ago. My curiosity was piqued when the New York Times posted the supposedly epic Jacque Torres chocolate chip cookie recipe. I tried that one, David Lebovitz’s from his Pure Dessert, a couple of blended whole wheat flour versions, and countless others lacking notable creators, but delicious nonetheless. And the winner?

Well, I grew up spoiled because my mother was the one everyone came crawling to for her chocolate chip cookie recipe and to be perfectly honest, it trumps all the others. For the past four or five years I have averaged a batch of these cookies every month and a half.  We eat a sizeable portion of the dough straight from the fridge, but the rest are baked sheet by sheet a couple of days each week.

We commence with a lovely ritual.

We plop down directly on the kitchen floor in a circle with a couple of small mugs of cold milk and a plate of gooey, crispy, warm chocolate chip cookies in between us and make a mess out of dessert. It can best be described a sort of Pavlovian communion. The kids smell the cookies baking and drift into their accustomed seats. (My son right next to the energy inefficient 1981 fridge that disturbingly wafts hot air upon his feet and my daughter squeezed between him and the cabinets.)

Real white chocolate and toasted pistachios

The trick to perfect chocolate chip cookies is a lot like that of a favorite salad–what one individual might call too acidic and over-dressed, another would declare heavenly (not pointing any fingers)–or an ideal steak that runs the gamut from rare to well-done. In addition to whether one prefers underdone, gooey, crispy, or crunchy cookies, one can tinker with the salt and choice of chocolate (or other add-ins) as well.

As I have opined elsewhere, the chocolate that sufficed when I was a kid has no place in my adult kitchen. The only premade chocolate chips that I ever put in this sumptuous cookie dough are Guittard or Ghiradelli 60% chocolate. Otherwise, I prefer hand-chopping a couple of high quality bars of 70% chocolate. If the dough is half the dessert then the other is a chocolate whose pedigree is immediately detected, for good or for bad.

As far as salt goes, I also switch this up quite a bit. My two favorite options are either fleur de sel or coarse sea salt, but I actually think kosher salt does a fine job too. The distinct flavors of chocolate and salt in each bite is probably part of why these cookies are so lethal; prompted by the addictive flavors, it is pretty difficult to limit oneself to a reasonable serving size of two or three cookies. (Hence why I bake them in very small batches. I freely admit to possessing a mere crumb of self-control so I must explore other strategies.)

Now stop and imagine my favorite swap out for dark chocolate chips. White chocolate chunks and lightly roasted pistachios.

While I can (and frighteningly, do) consume several bars of divine dark chocolate a day, I am not a fan of white chocolate on its own. Cooked into a dessert and caramelized, however, is an entirely different story. Do not purchase “white baking chips” or anything of that nature. Rather, obtain real “white chocolate” with a minimum of 30% cocoa solids (typically made up of cocoa butter). If you want to make a white chocolate sauce or ganache read here, but the simplest way to caramelize white chocolate is merely baking it into cookies.

A half caramelized white chocolate chunk

Every exposed chunk of white chocolate loses some of its moisture and begins to literally caramelize, especially those touching the cookie tray or parchment sheet. For me the combination of the caramelized white chocolate and the roasted pistachios is so delectable, especially dunked into a cold glass of milk that it makes up for my not being able to eat raw cookie dough presently.

On that note, my extreme truancy from this site this past month has been the result of some crazy times in our family. Multiple illnesses, crazy work schedules, prepping the garden for the new season, and generally being 33 weeks pregnant took its toll in January. I have several easy-to-make treats for you planned for February.

Enjoy my favorite “chocolate chip” cookies!

White chocolate pistachio cookies

White Chocolate Chunk and Pistachio Cookies

(Note: I usually make the dough and split it in half, adding 2 cups dark chocolate chips to one half and 2 cups white chocolate chunks and 1 cup pistachios to the other.)

1 lb butter, room temperature

2 cups dark brown sugar

1 1/2 cups regular sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

5 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons fleur de sel, coarse sea salt, or kosher

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

4 cups chopped real white chocolate (cocoa solids around 30% or more)

2 cups toasted pistachios

In a Kitchen Aid type mixer, cream the butter and both sugars with the paddle attachment. Add the vanilla and eggs and mix incorporated. Sift in the flour, salt, and baking soda until just incorporated, scrapping up the sides. Carefully add the white chocolate and pistachios and mix until just incorporated. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using. If you cannot wait, no matter, you will just have flatter cookies.

Bake somewhere between 325-350 for 8-10 minutes depending upon if you want crispier or gooey cookies. I find that 350 for 7 minutes crispens the outside while leaving the inside slightly underdone, but I run the risk of overdoing the cookies if I forget about them for even a minute.

Posted in Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert, Pistachios, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Chard-Chickpea Stew with Spicy Red Pepper Sauce

Chickpea chard stew with spicy red pepper sauce

Despite the global economic crises, the fact that the apocalypse was supposed to enshroud us (myriad times), and that many journalists have branded 2011 as one of the worst years in several decades, I fancied it.

We planted a garden, which is insidiously spawning more craziness than simply growing our own veggies and baking our bread. (Anyone want to grind their own flours with me? Raise chickens? ) I began this website and a couple of writing side projects when I am not actively raising, cleaning, teaching, lifting, and generally engaging with my children.

My first baby began kindergarten. My second baby is crafty enough to snatch and hide her brother’s toys and the gall to stash them in secret hiding places. And I am in my final trimester with our third child. What a splendid year. What a lucky gal I am.

I hope that your 2011 treated you well too and wish you a 2012 that tops it and then some.

And I leave you with a simple dish that I concocted for my kids, based on a few key ingredients that they adore. This is a perfect way to ring in the new year because it is vegan, chock full of superfoods, simple enough for my inept-but-earnest cooks, and insanely delicious.

One starts with a stew of chickpeas and greens (this time I mixed rainbow swiss chard from our garden and lacinato kale) and pour on a hefty amount of a garlicky, spicy, almond and roasted red pepper sauce and–if you do not mind disqualifying it from the vegan awards–a dollop of creamy yogurt. On the dry side, one could name this a chickpea salad (in which case it actually beats out my old favorite chickpea salad with pumpkin), and if  made a little wetter, it is much more like a winter stew. Either way, it is healthy and phenomenal.

Happy New Year!

Chard-chickpea stew with roasted red pepper sauce and yogurt

Chard and Chickpea Stew with Spicy Red Pepper Sauce

Notes: You can skip the sauce if you want to make this a really quick and simple meal, but if you have a food processor and you purchase canned roasted peppers, the sauce takes a mere 1 minute to make. Also, I mixed Swiss chard and kale, but you could use one or the other if that is your preference.


2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion

4 cloves garlic

4 cups cooked chickpeas

1 large bunch swiss chard

1 bunch kale (optional) (I had 6 leaves leftover from something else)

1 large lemon, zest and juice

2-3 tablespoons tomato paste (or 3-4 tablespoons plain tomato sauce, or 2 minced tomatoes)

salt to taste

Yogurt to dollop (optional)


Red Pepper Sauce

3 roasted red peppers, oven roasted or from a jar

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1/4 cup sliced almonds (raw or toasted, depending upon preference)

salt to taste


Mince your onion and garlic and cook in the olive oil on medium heat until just past translucent and beginning to color light brown. If you cut your onion thinly, this should take no more than 8 minutes with stirring. Add the chickpeas and their cooking liquid if you made them yourself. (If using canned chickpeas, add no more than a cup or so of water.) Bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the chard and/or kale and add together with the tomato paste, salt, and half of the lemon zest. Let cook for 3 minutes and then add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and taste for balance. A minute before serving add the remainder of the lemon zest and more lemon juice if needed. If the stew seems too dry, add more water until it is the consistency you desire.

While your stew finishes up place all of the red pepper sauce ingredients into the food processor and blend until you have a smooth sauce. Taste for balance and add more salt or crushed garlic, if needed.

Serve each plate individually, passing around the sauce and yogurt so each person can doctor it to their taste.

Posted in Almonds, Chard, Inept-but-Earnest Cook's Night, Kale, Legumes, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Winter Kale Salad

The weekend before Thanksgiving I went on a babymoon with my husband to Portland.  I had heard a lot of buzz related to the city’s blossoming food reputation (and chocolate Raleigh bars) so we booked a flight. Serendipitously for me, a week later the Oregon tourism board sponsored visits by some of the heavyweights in the internet food community. Their descriptions and pictures made it relatively simple to enact some envious, drooling, pre-trip, Oregon reconnaissance. (Here, here, here, and here are some lovely posts.)

In between a lot of Stumptown coffee, Voodoo doughnuts, Nuvrei pastries (their pretzel croissants revive the dead), Pearl Bakery, Powell’s bookshop (my brain imploded there, in a good way), the Saturday Farmer’s market, Lincoln Restaurant, and an obscene chocolate bar binge at Cacao, our favorite meal was hands down dinner at Grüner.

They describe themselves as a restaurant “devoted to the warm, hearty flavors of Middle Europe” with “[o]ld-world comfort meets new-world sophistication.” While the notion that the “New World” has attained some sort of pedigree seems a bit laughable to me, I concur that their food is both warm and sophisticated. Though they dabble in “hearty” specialties of Bavarian and Hungarian cuisines that are relatively well-known here in the U.S., nothing was heavy or greasy, but rather a surprising mix of belly sticking and simple elegance. In their originality and execution, perfectly roasted squab with house-made sausages, pickled cranberries, and stack of paper-thin creamy potatoes and the warm spiced hazelnut doughnuts with chocolate ganache dipping pot bested the (delicious, but traditional) Alsatian tart with onions, cheese, and bacon and the creamy buckwheat noodles with chanterelles.

The star of the exceptional meal, however, was their kale and farro salad.

I have grown lacinato kale in my garden for six years and despite a two-year hiatus of irresponsible neglect, volunteer arugula and kale (also called dinosaur kale or cavolo nero) continued to grow unattended and unheeded. With frozen swirls of frost it not only survives, but thrives, attaining a sweetness that trumps the flavor of cabbage. For me, kale is a quintessentially winter vegetable. Even before this last year’s garden revival, my son knew that we “San Francisco farmers” grew delicious kale that could be added to soups and sautéed into pasta as fast as you could pick it and wash away the aphids.

Cozied up reading with my star reader

In my mind’s eye, my personal Grüner kale salad begins with a bed of farro and thinly ribboned kale, julienned carrots, radishes, and whatever other root vegetable one might have on hand. It is then tossed with a lemony-garlic vinaigrette (an anchovy-less Caesar dressing really), a handful of minced garden herbs like chives and thyme, grated salty cheese, and then showered with grated hardboiled egg.

While I will always sing high praises of perfectly crafted salads, I tend to crave them more in warm weather and, rather typically, cook up pots of soup, pot pies, and pastas in the winter time. Resisting the status quo, here is winter’s salad–a nourishing, balanced, healthy salad that takes no prisoners. In an arm wrestling match against a rack of ribs or winter beef stew, I am putting my money on this kale farro salad. Best of all, it is a recipe one can turn to after the upcoming sugar-laden days of baking holiday cookies where I, for one, will taste three or four of every batch and end the day craving something fresh and devoid of butter and sweetness.

The only downside of this salad is that you have to prep the farro and egg ahead of time. If you are home half an hour before you plan on making the salad, that is not a problem. However, since most salads at my house are conceived, prepared, and consumed in around fifteen minutes, I also strongly recommend Tea’s dynamo kale salad here, which fits that bill, and I eat for lunch often.

Finally, feel free to play around with the size of the vegetables you add. The easiest, quickest, and most uniform thing to do is to julienne the roots (radish, carrot, kohlrabi, etc.) with a mandoline or box grater, throw everything in and dress it. However, if you have tiny little early spring/late fall radishes and carrots, you could also add those whole, dress the salad without the pecorino cheese in the vinaigrette, and then shave large, thin flakes on top with the crumbled egg.

Winter kale salad

 Ribboned Kale and Farro Salad with Garlic-Lemon Vinaigrette

(serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a salad)

4 cups thinly sliced kale

1 large or 2 medium carrots

3 large 5 medium radishes

1 small kohlrabi (optional)

1 cup cooked farro (cook to al dente and let cool)

handful of chives, snipped into bits

two springs of fresh thyme, minced

2 large lemons (about 5-6 tablespoons juice, plus some of the zest)

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

6-7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste

freshly ground pepper (optional)

2-3 hard-boiled eggs

Stack the cleaned and dried kale leaves in a flat tower on the cutting board to cut into thin ribbons and set aside in salad bowl. Julienne the roots (carrots, radishes, etc.) with a box grater, a mandoline, or cut by hand and add to the kale. Add the farro and the minced chives and thyme.

Make the vinaigrette. Zest at least one of the lemons and then juice the rest until you have approximately 5-6 tablespoons of juice. Whisk together the lemon juice, zest, crushed garlic, and salt and let rest a minute to mellow the garlic. Whisk in the grated cheese and olive oil. Toss the vinaigrette with the farro, kale, and julienned roots. Finish by box grating (or pushing through a sieve) the hard-boiled eggs. Sprinkle over the salad and top with freshly grated pepper if you like.

Posted in Carrots, Dinner, Kale, Radishes, Salad, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa Nibs

Homemade decadent "Nutella" spread

I have so many things to share with you right now that I actually do not know where the best place to begin is.

How about my riff on Grüner‘s kale ribbon salad with farro, radishes, and a garlicky-lemon vinaigrette that I made for Thanksgiving?

Or my ongoing experimentation to make a perfect whole grain crumpet? (After six batches I think I have finally nailed it.)

Clotted cream? Yes, I make that every couple of months, to my thighs’ chagrin, but how about cultured clotted cream?

I have been on a pumpkin spell for a while now, so why not my new maple-pumpkin granola with nuts and seeds?

Perhaps the best place to start is with something both deadly simple and also deadly delicious–the most gussied up dark chocolate-hazelnut spread you will ever taste. A couple of months back I splurged on Askinosie‘s chocolate hazelnut spread. The intense flavors absolutely killed me. I smeared it on English muffins, toast, crumpets, and plundered the jar by the spoonful for one of my thrice-daily chocolate fixes. The trouble was, my chocolate loving kids loved it as much as I did so it was gone before I could hide the jar and hibernate for the winter.

Since then I have bought a jar or two of Nutella, a mainstay when I was in Italy, but somehow it pales in comparison. Sad to write, Nutella has become a mere echo of my magical Askinosie jar.

Thanksgiving rain walk

Every year I go a bit nuts with homemade cookies around the winter holidays. Eighty percent of them are either family recipes or else made the cut in recent years. The remainder, however, consist of new auditions. I am constantly on the hunt for the next dynamo cookie and so I try out a lot of recipes, at least one a week, all year long. Last year I found a compilation of homemade gifts from the LA Times and encountered a recipe for a  homemade Nutella copycat. It looked heavenly.

Do not ask me what has taken me this long to make it. I have no idea. I was spurned on last week by my daughter, who apparently is not (yet) too cool for Nutella, and who requested more of the spread for the multigrain crumpets I had made the day before. Let me neither urge or insist that you make this spread, but rather hazard you. This spread is so incredibly addictive–deadly even–that at eight thirty in the morning I found myself desperately scraping the empty food processor with a rubber spatula and licking it clean, which literally necessitated washing my face like the elated two-year old who devoured her chocolate-hazelnut smothered breakfast crumpet.

Bliss with her grandfather

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa Nibs

(adapted from the L.A. Times)

fills roughly 2 half-pint jars

2 cups raw hazelnuts

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder such as Guittard Cacao Rouge or Valrhona

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons hazelnut oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 cup cocoa nibs

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet for approximately 10 minutes or until the turn a golden (not dark) brown. Remove from tray and spread upon a clean dry surface to cool. When cool enough to handle, repeatedly rub a kitchen towel over the nuts until almost all of the skins come off.

In a Cuisenart type food processor, blend the cooled, skinned hazelnuts into a smooth butter, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides in between. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the cocoa nibs and sea salt and blend for another 3 or 4 minutes. Finally add the cocoa nibs and salt and blend until the spread has a texture you prefer (i.e. less time if you want to taste a nib here and there).

This tastes best at room temperature, but should be kept in the refrigerator when not being obliterated by the spoonful.

Posted in Chocolate, Dessert, Hazelnuts, Nuts, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pumpkin Pots de Crème

Pumpkin pot de crème

I thought I would share a little dessert I put together last week since it would be a perfect do-ahead (even a day or two) treat for Thanksgiving. After making pumpkin kamut scones last week I had some leftover pumpkin puree to use up. In fact, when I reflect upon my method of creating recipes, I cannot help but admit that most of my original creations, indeed the majority of what we consume over here, is born of an egg white here, extra buttermilk there, a third of a can of chipotle chilis, etc.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

For instance, an egg yellow (or “orange” for many non-English speakers) in my imagination equals:

-Richer, more sumptuous soft-scrambled eggs with creme fraiche and chives

-Zabaione/ Sabayon cream

Cornmeal Pinenut cookies

-Custard based ice cream

-Pastry cream for a simple fruit tart

-Glaze for croissants (hey, who needs an excuse to make croissants?), turnovers, and pies

-Buttercream frosting for filling macarons

-Crème brûlée or pots de crème

The majority of my egg yolks lately end up in crème brûlée –with the crunchy sugar layer for me and my husband and without (!) for my kids. In this case, however, I had a couple of egg yolks and leftover pumpkin puree. For my love of most things pumpkin, I am altogether ambivalent about pumpkin pie, which technically uses many of the same ingredients as a pumpkin custard. The spices here are what make the recipe.

A boy and his dog at a frigid Bernal Heights sunrise

This is such an easy dessert to make ahead of time that I will publish it now for those of you in charge of Thanksgiving dessert. Even if you have not been assigned dessert, this is a phenomenal desert to make this time of year when the days are barely warm and the nights frigidly cold (or if your heater goes out–argh!). I prefer my pot de crème slightly warm from the oven or at room temperature. As for the crème brûlée variation, if you have never experienced the delightful contrast of the warm and crunchy sugar, the pleasure of cracking it with your spoon Amelie style, and then diving into the cold creamy custard beneath, you have missed a crucial, mandatory even, milestone in life. This is a seriously delicious treat.

In terms of making the pumpkin pots de crème your own, you can certainly make them healthier by lowering the amount of cream and using half and half or milk instead, but it will not be as smooth a custard. The spices here are what I felt would best compliment the pumpkin without being the same old pumpkin pie spice kit. Feel free to change it as you wish–just make sure that whatever you choose you let steep for a proper amount in the hot cream to infuse it with more flavor. The only one I urge you not to forgo is the bay leaf because it is really unusual and intriguing with the pumpkin. Finally, if you do like to have the thin caramelized candy layer on top of your pots de creme, either use a blow torch (really, they are not that expensive), culinary torch, or put them under the broiler for 2 minutes.

Pumpkin pot de crème and my favorite pumpkin we grew this year

Pumpkin Pots de Crème/ Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

(Makes 4-8, depending upon the size of your ramekins)

2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream, preferably organic

1/2 bay leaf

1/4 cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)

3 cloves

1 lightly smashed cardamom pod

dash of freshly ground nutmeg

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

6 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar (or combination of white and brown sugars)

1-2 teaspoons extra sugar if making crème brûlée, optional

Boiling Water, kitchen towel, casserole dish for the oven, ramekins

Preheat the oven to 300F degrees and have a pot of boiling water at hand. Prepare a  baking casserole dish by lining it with a cloth napkin or kitchen towel and confirm that all the ramekins fit inside. You will be filling the dish with boiling water so it reaches half way up the sides of the ramekins.

Heat the cream with all of the spices except the vanilla extract until the edges just start to bubble and steam rises. Remove from heat and let it steep for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture and remove all of the spices. In a mixing bowl vigorously whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks until thick, yellow ribbons begin to fall from the whisk, about 5 minutes.

Whisking constantly, slowly pour the warm cream mixture into the sugar-egg mixture, followed by the pumpkin puree. Pour equal amounts into your ramekins (4 large or 8 tiny ones) and nest them into the towel lined casserole. Pour the boiling water into the casserole, careful not to drip any into the ramekins so that the water goes half way up the sides of each ramekin. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until each ramekin sets. The custard should jiggly uniformly and not look like liquid. Remove from the oven and set each ramekin atop a cooling rack. Eat warm or refrigerate for several hours (or a couple of days, covered with plastic wrap).

If making crème brûlée, lightly sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons (err on the side of less here) equally over the top of each ramekin. Torch with low flame, moving in little circles until the entirety of the sugar caramelizes or put directly under the hottest broiler for 1-2 minutes, checking to make sure it does not burn to black. Let sit for 2 minutes before serving.

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