Sunday, August 30, 2009

Italy Nostalgia

If you read my blog while I was in Italy this summer you know that I pretty much lived and breathed nutella when at all possible. I ate nutella filled cornetti, nutella filled cookies, nutella gelato, nutella on bread/cookies/crackers/apples and when all else failed straight out of the jar on a spoon. It was heavenly. Even the smell of nutella is divine, I can just sit there smelling the stuff without eating it and I am satisfied. So, I have been on a quest to incorporate this wonderful spread into my normal diet as much as possible (because lord knows I need some nutritious chocolate/hazelnut spread as part of my daily food intake).

Luckily, I am also on a quest to use my ice cream maker more! With these two goals combined I set out on a mission this weekend to make homemade nutella ice cream, attempting to somewhat replicate the delicious gelato I had in Italy, but realizing that whatever happened there was basically no way it could go wrong--I mean, nutella, sugar, cream, whole milk, there is nothing bad about this.

I found a pretty simple recipe online a while ago and unfortunately I am unable to find it again in order to include the link, but it went something like this:
1 c. nutella
1 c. whole milk
1 1/3 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. sugar
2 t. vanilla
Mix the nutella and sugar until smooth. Add the milk and cream and blend on low until combined. Stir in the vanilla. Combine in ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions.

The recipe itself was very simple and took me all of ten minutes to finish. I was generally happy, but would make a couple changes the next time because it turned out a bit too sweet, even for my tastes. I think I would cut out the sugar altogether since nutella alone is incredibly sweet. The mixture was very soft, like a soft serve, which is fine with me, but it would have been nice just a bit more solid. I think I'll play around some more with this recipe, but its a great base to work off of. For now, I am having no trouble finishing off the batch I made!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chai for Elizabeth #2

My dear friend Elizabeth (confusing, right?) loves chai, she even has this habit of ordering a "dirty chai" at coffee houses, which is a chai latte with one shot of espresso. It sounds really disgusting, but its pretty good and does the trick when you need that burst of caffeine. When I came upon a recipe for chai latte cupcakes at the blog loveandoliveoil I knew that I had to make them. Not only is the recipe full of the delicious spices that make chai tea so wonderful, but it is also vegan! I have never made a vegan cake before so I was actually pretty excited to see how it turned out. Its actually really simple and is sort of like making a devil's food cake in that it uses vinegar and (soy) milk to create extreme moisture. The cakes also rose up really nicely creating great little domes! I was extremely happy with the results. Plus, they really taste like chai.

The icing is a Swiss Buttercream, which is a smoother, lighter variation of traditional buttercream. I've had mixed results with it in the past, but this time it worked great and even has a hint of cinnamon and vanilla, complimenting the chai cake and making it seem even more like a cup of tea topped by whipped cream. This particular buttercream is not vegan, but it could easily be made so by substituting margarine or another non-dairy spread for butter. With the success of these vegan cupcakes I am even more excited to try more of the recipes from loveandoliveoil.
Elizabeth's not coming over until tomorrow to sample her cupcakes, but I don't know how many will be here by then. We've already finished off two and I am seriously contemplating going back for a second as we speak (edit: three gone).

In other news, the first week of school went pretty well! Next Tuesday I start teaching my discusson sections (I teach three every week), which I am really excited about. Other than that, I just keep reading and writing, the show goes on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Most Perfect Tart Ever

Although classes didn't officially start this week until Tuesday, I had all sorts of meetings and appointments on Monday, but I still wanted to savor the freedom of my last night before the start of school. To celebrate, I decided to cook! Nectarines are my favorite fruit of all time (even more than strawberries and blueberries and all those other delicious berries) and I am constantly looking for good desserts to use them in, because I tend to stray more towards the cake side of things--I could easily polish off an entire cake in one sitting (I wouldn't feel very well afterwards, but I would enjoy every minute of the process).
Needless to say, I was thrilled when I stumbled upon a recipe for a nectarine and mascarpone tart that utilizes the nectarines in their fresh state. Its sort of similar to cheesecakes with a crumble crust and a creamy base. I, however, am also not a huge fan of cheesecakes often finding them too heavy and those graham cracker crusts are generally not worth the calories spent. Luckily, this tart uses ginger snap cookies for the crust, which adds an extra dimension of loveliness because ginger makes everything better!
This tart did not disappoint--the creamy filling is deliciously light and rich all at the same time and I can imagine all sorts of wonderful ways of using it all by itself with fresh fruit or stewed fruit or maybe even with some sort of chocolate concoction. Needless to say, it will be repeated. (please forgive the horrible photos, I didn't finish until nighttime and the light is burnt out in our kitchen making proper photos difficult...)
Now that school has started the cooking and baking will probably be slowed down. I am taking two courses as well as writing my thesis and TA'ing for an undergraduate course so I will be plenty busy. Do not fear! I do have great plans in the works for some chai cupcakes and a few other special concoctions up my sleeve.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Farmers Market Bounty

Yesterday being Saturday we headed to the downtown Farmers Market to get some local produce. Normally, I only buy a little here because there is another market nearby that sells local produce at a much lower price, but its often easy to get carried away walking through the booths and looking at the produce. Yesterday was one of those days. Luckily, the most attractive stuff was tomatoes, which I could basically eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day so I am not too worried about finishing them all.

With our purchases we decided to embark on a culinary adventure for dinner and while these items do not fall into the category of "desserts" I decided to share them anyway! We started with these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes:and decided to use them to make a simple bruschetta:
It was delicious! Although, anything made with such great tomatoes is bound to be wonderful. We also picked up some figs at the market, which are in season now. I don't have a ton of experience working with figs so it was kind of a shot in the dark.

With the figs and the remaining tomatoes, we decided to make pizza! We always use a really simple pizza dough from Smitten Kitchen and in this case decided to make our first pizza a roasted fig, goat cheese and basil pizza. Our second masterpiece was more traditional with the remainder of the tomato mixture, roasted garlic, olive oil, mozzarella, oregano and basil. They were very different, but both delicious.

The fig pizza was great, but I think next time I would probably add some spinach or arugala to the top to add some more flavor. All in all, it was a very successful dinner and we made great use of our Farmers Market bounty.

Here is the pizza dough recipe, for those of you interested, because in my experience its been difficult to find a simply, quick and homemade pizza dough. This one is from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

Really Simple Pizza Dough


Makes enough for one larger pizza or in our case two smaller pizzas.

1 1/2 cups flour (can replace up to half of this with whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Stir all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, including the yeast. Add the water and olive oil to the dry ingredients and stir this mixture into a ball. Dump everything onto a floured surface and knead into a ball.

Knead the dough for 2-5 minutes and put it in a lightly oiled (or sprayed) bowl, making sure that all sides of the dough have been coated by the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 1-2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

After the dough has doubled in size, put it back on the floured surface and punch it down with the palm of your hands (gently, mind you!) Fold it back into a ball shape and let it sit under the plastic wrap for another 20 minutes.

Now, the dough is ready to use. Roll out or spread with your hands and place on a pizza stone/baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Dress with your toppings of choice and bake for approximately 10 minutes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Possible New Endeavors

I'm finally back in Charlottesville (for good) and boy does it feel good! I had a wonderful summer of traveling and learning, but there is definitely something to be said for relaxing in my own home and sleeping in my own bed for a while. Plus, there are tons of things to do in Charlottesville during the summer so I'm trying to cram as much in as possible before classes start next Tuesday. So far, that hasn't included too much other than TA training and hanging out with friends, but this weekend looks promising.

My trips to Omaha and New Jersey involved a bit of baking including two double chocolate layer cakes (one for my mom and one for Aaron's mom), which allowed me to improve my skills on that particular cake. I also found a new challenge when I attended my cousin's wedding and saw her beautiful wedding cake. I think I can reproduce it, or at least a smaller version since I definitely have no need to feed 300 people anytime in the near or distant future, so perhaps I will embark on that challenge sometime in the next few months....stay tuned!

Additionally, my trips involved eating a lot of desserts at all of my favorite places or my mom's favorite recipes. My mom made wonderful chocolate chip cookies and a pistachio cake and in NJ we visited the Rockland Bakery for canoli! All in all, it was a very pleasant trip, at least in the food arena.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm Baaaaaack

Alright, I've decided that despite my return to the US I am going to continue blogging. Originally, I was only going to continue this blog while I was in Italy, but I kind of missed writing in it upon my return so I figured I could keep on blogging. I'll begin with a quick recap of my homecoming:

My flight home was filled with about thirty teenagers returning from a summer trip to Europe. That ten hour plane flight convinced me that I DO NOT like teenagers. Just a snippet of that ten hours included thirty teenagers pretending that we were on a roller-coaster every time there was turbulence. Every single time.

I was greeted at the airport by Aaron who true to his word brought me a Diet Coke and a piece of homemade chocolate cake, which I devoured before we even made it out of the parking lot. The next two weeks were filled with lots of errands and sleeping and trying to catch up on real life. Aaron and I then departed on our two week journey to visit our families, first his family in NJ and then mine in NE, where we still are now.

Fear not readers! In all of this I have managed to do some baking. One week, in fact, I baked four dozen cupcakes, a batch of brownies and two mini cakes (I had really missed baking while in Italy). I've also baked two chocolate cakes in the past two weeks and I've just purchased several new cookbooks that I'm itching to try out. Here are a couple of pictures and there are more in flickr, which you can access from the link on the right side of my page.

Top right: butter yellow cake with marshmallow fondant
Bottom Left: Strawberry cake with Strawberry buttercream frosting

Perhaps I will begin including some recipes to make this a quasi food blog....we will see....