Tuesday, April 28, 2009

i scream: ice cream!

On a hot spring day, I glued my eyes to Food Network and watched Giada, in all her cleavage-baring glory, talk about Nutella gelato and then...and then! make Gelato Coolers out of it. It was almost too much for a girl to handle. So I said "I have to make that. Now."
And I did. And it is...holy crap.
One taste and the only words I could muster up were "oh my god".
Nutella is a fabulous - and I mean fabulous - concoction of chocolate and hazelnuts. A sort of chocolate-and-peanut-butter combination that is so divine, so rich, so creamy, so good. I hadn’t had Nutella in ages, but my undying love of chocolate and peanut butter is indication that I love Nutella just as much.
Funny enough, my all-time, hands-down, absolute favorite ice cream is Haagen - Daaz’s Chocolate Peanut Butter.
I can’t say this tops it, but it is super close. The hint of the hazelnuts in the background add for this really distinctive, really fabulous flavor.
It’s slightly rich, but it’s not terribly chocolatey. It’s just plain good. Great, in fact.
And it’s so easy.
Homemade ice cream is a term that just comes across as so daunting. But homemade ice cream is easy. It’s a simple process and the rewards are fabulous.
I mean Nutella. And ice cream.
On a hot day, even on a cool night, one bowl of this is the perfect remedy for anything.

Giada DeLaurentiis' Chocolate-Hazelnut Gelato

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella (or any other chocolate-hazelnut spread, though I can't say I know any others. And I'm not too sure I'd want to...)

1. In a saucepan combine the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup of sugar over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and it comes slightly under a boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage: pale yellow, thick, and falls back in ribbons.
3. Temper the yolk mixture by slowly adding ladle-fuls of the milk mixture and whisking to incorporate. Do this until half of the milk mixture has been added to the yolk mixture.
4. Pour the yolk mixture into the milk mixture and cook until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. This can take anywhere from 5 - 7 minutes. But keep your eye on it. No scrambled eggs, please.
5. Once thickened, strain to make sure everything is smooth and add in the vanilla and nutella. Whisk to melt and combine. Chill the mixture completely.
6. Once chilled, pour into ice cream maker and follow the ice cream maker's instructions. Once it's churned you could do as I do and attack it right there, as is. No need for scoops or other bowls. Just the ice cream maker and me.
Or you could freeze it until it hardens up a little more, garnish it with some chopped hazelnuts, and float away into a chocolatey heaven.

Friday, April 10, 2009

homecoming sweets

So the boyfriend has been gone for the past week.
Hanging around the snowy mountains and fishing in the icy lakes of Tennessee. Not entirely successful, though why do I have a feeling it’s because of that charming 27º weather..?
When I see his oh-so-lovely face on Friday, I will greet him with one big hug, many big kisses, and a plate of brownies. Loaded peanut butter brownies.

That are big bites of chocolate fabulous-ness hiding little bitty treasures and swirled with peanut butter.
See also: I took just about all I had in my pantry and threw it into the batter.
Brownies - like cookies (though, technically they are cookies) - are the perfect vehicle for anything and everything you may want to get rid of.
Got some extra walnuts on hand? Ok. Perhaps some chocolate or chocolate chips? Perfect. Marshmallow fluff and peanut butter? Why the hell not?
And this brownie recipe is divine. I’ve been using it for years and years and it’s such a hit every single time.
The main thing about brownies is to really mix everything by hand. It’s how I have always done it. Put away your electric mixers and stop being lazy for a second. It’s almost therapeutic: the whisking of the butter and sugar and the eggs and the gradual addition of the flour and cocoa.
For me, sometimes cooking is so much more about the process and the ritual and the calming sense of it all, than it is about the end product.
This is one big instance where that rings true.
Boyfriend will love them. Or, rather, he better.
If anything, I’m sure he’ll love the warmer weather he’ll be coming home to.
And hey, my kisses too!

Loaded Peanut Butter Brownies
Brownie base recipe from Allrecipes.com.

3/4 cup butter, melted
1 ½ cups sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup all purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
½ t baking powder
½ t salt
1 pack of Reese's peanut butter cups, cut into cubes
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.)
½ cup peanut butter (good quality peanut butter, not store brand stuff. it really makes a difference.)

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9x9 square pan. (A 13x9 inch pan works ok, but I really wouldn’t recommend it.)
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugar until combined. Add in eggs one at a time, whisking in after each addition.
3. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add into the butter-egg mixture, whisking slowly to combine.
4. Sprinkle a little flour over the nuts, peanut butter cups, and chocolate chips to keep them from sinking to the bottom. Gently fold them in. Pour batter into pan.
5. Place the peanut butter in a small bowl and microwave to loosen up, about 10 seconds. Pour over batter and, with a toothpick, swirl around.
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes. The recipe calls for 40-45 minutes, but it never takes me that long. Keep an eye on them. Your oven may vary.

These are pretty fabulous all on their own. But, hey, a little vanilla ice cream never hurt anybody.