Years ago, I was traveling in Europe. I can’t remember which country I was in, but the breakfast bar had small packages of a spread that was new to me. It was made out of hazelnuts, cocoa, milk, and emulsifiers. It was called Nutella.
It had an interesting flavor of chocolate and hazelnuts, neither one overpowering the other. Most of the locals spread it on bread or bagels. I tried it; didn’t like it; ignored it from then on. But I grabbed a couple to take home to my (now) ex-wife who liked it but wasn’t transported over the moon by it.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m the grocery store and there it was on the shelf! I was tickled to see something from another part of the world showing up in my little corner of the world. I pointed it out, and grabbed a small jar “just in case”. Never opened it and tossed it years after its sell-by date had passed.
I’ve been seeing a lot of this around recently. When I would babysit the kids back in Arizona, when asked what they wanted for lunch, invariably the reply was “Chocolate peanut butter.” I knew what they meant but I didn’t have any of it.
There’s one recipe that sounds intriguing. It’s for breakfast, but I imagine it would work any time as long as you gave it time to “cook”. Take an empty jar of Nutella that has the “scrapings” left on the sides and bottom and add 1/2 a cup of oats and 1/2 a cup of water or milk. Seal tightly and leave in the fridge overnight. The next morning, remove the lid and stir. The Nutella is absorbed into the oats and gives it a chocolaty flavor. You can add fruits and nuts for variety. If you want it warm, microwave for sixty seconds before adding anything to it.
If you’re a crepe fan, Nutella makes a good spread. When I was in Paris, there were street vendors selling crepes. One of the most popular was a crepe spread with Nutella and wrapped around a banana. One of my colleagues was so addicted to these, he once said he ate so many his teeth hurt.
One dessert that Nutella seems to be made for is the Crepe Cake, the Mille Crepe Cake. Crepes are thin pancakes made from a very thin batter. When done properly, they are almost see through. They are much larger that regular pancakes, taking up the entire surface of the pan. Several are needed per person. They can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen. For this recipe you’ll need 18-24 crepes, a jar of Nutella, a jar of raspberry jam, and some fresh raspberries.
On a large plate, place a crepe down and spread a thin layer of Nutella. Place another crepe on top and spread a thin layer of raspberry jam. Continue stacking and spreading until all the crepes are used. On the final layer, spread a thin layer of Nutella and dot raspberry jam around. Place a fresh raspberry in each dot. Chill for a couple of hours, then serve with whipped cream.
It’s said that Nutella can be used in brownies, or in French Croissants making a version of Pain au Chocolat. It can be used as a cupcake filling, or a swirl in a marble cake. You can add butter and powdered sugar to it to make an icing for cakes. You can make thumbprint cookies and fill them with Nutella instead of jam. You use it as filling for sandwich cookies, or dipping for dipped cookies.
Since Nutella is sweet, it lends itself most likely for desserts. But it can be drizzled over popcorn. You can dip bacon in it. You can add a small amount to your favorite chili rub and blend well, and use it on meats to be grilled or roasted. You can even add it to hot milk and make a form of hot chocolate, to which you can add spirits and make a hot toddy.
As I said, I’m not a big fan of the stuff, but it’s popularity world wide cannot be denied. So try it, if you haven’t, and have a good time with it!
The weekend is starting to wind down. We had a great time with some successes and some not so successes. Mostly successes.
We started with an unexpected guest on Friday and my last trip to the orthopedist. My arm is healing, albeit slowly. He’s happy with the progress, so I am too. I don’t have to worry about operations, shots into my spine, or anything drastic like. At least for now. It’s always a possibility for the future. But right now, my arm is back to 90%, and only occasionally causes pain. A far cry from just a month ago when I couldn’t even hold a fork in my right hand.
Dinner on Friday was sort of haphazard. I don’t even recall what we had, but it was good. Saturday started with a trip to our favorite farmer’s market and loading up on veggies and locally made ice cream. Then, on a whim, we bought a couple of steaks from the local butchery. The rest of the weekend is a jumble. We had steak and salad on Saturday, cooked on a grill we just purchased that day. We went to a casino where one of our guests hit the jackpot on a slot machine. We had some amazing weather and opened the house up completely, which turned out to be a mistake since the flies wandered in from the freshly manured fields nearby. One morning, I got up early to let the dogs out, and I could hear a couple of bullfrogs from a nearby pond. We went to one of our favorite restaurants and got to eat outside on the balcony and watch the boats moving up and down the creek. We tried a new restaurant for us and I got to have a blackberry mimosa, well two, and we all had a good time. We bug bombed the house and garage to get rid of the flies. It didn’t work. We watched some movies, did some talking, went to a local wildlife reserve and got to watch a bald eagle diving for its dinner. All in all, just had a very relaxing weekend. Oh, and got a hair cut. Mine is now so short, it actually sticks straight up.
Through all the good times, though, it was never very far from my mind that it was Memorial Day weekend so I kept the fallen close to my mind.
Just like this little guy.
Hope you all had a great weekend and a great time!
Let’s see. Something’s going on this weekend. It’s a holiday or something. It’s the first long weekend of summer so it means it’s time to fire up the barbeque, right? No, that doesn’t sound right. It’s a beach weekend? A time to play for three days? Nope, not quite that.
Oh, right. It’s Memorial Day. It’s not National Barbeque Day. And while I respect and honor all our military personnel, it’s not Veteran’s Day. Memorial Day, or Day of Remembrance, is set aside to honor those who have fallen in the service of our country. I have a couple of memories to share.
I was 8 and living in upstate New York, in a small town (I’m sensing a theme here) called Glens Falls. My dad was a Marine at the time, and he was a recruiter during the Viet Nam conflict. He got to wear colorful uniforms and be on TV a lot. He epitomized the ideals of being a Marine.
I was in the cub scouts that year. I loved being in the cub scouts. Apart from school, it was the only other structured socialization I had. It was fun; we learned things; we got snacks. It was a bright spot on a Saturday that would otherwise be spent watching cartoons. I seldom missed our meetings. Then I found out about the parade!
Every year, our little town had a Memorial Day parade. People stood along the street, waving flags, watching the bands march, the fire engines slowly pulling floats loaded with teenagers looking adult and regal. I’d stood and watched them go by at least twice that I could remember. And now, just because I was a cub scout, I would get to march in the parade. I’d be wearing my black sneakers, blue jeans rolled up halfway to my knees, my blue cub scout shirt with the few merit badges I’d earned, my gold neckerchief rolled just right and held by the gold metal pull, and my blue cap. I’d be marching along with my den mates, and cub scouts from all the other dens, in a big group, grinning and waving. A Norman Rockwell moment.
I dreamed about that parade every night for the entire two weeks beforehand. In my dreams, the music swelled so loud, the crowds were larger than anyone could imagine. And I was right there in the middle of it. The Saturday dawned, and everything was right. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t too hot. There was not a hint of rain. My proudest moment of the parade was when I saw my mom and dad, my older sister, and my little brother all waving at me from the curb. My face must have been split in two by my smile, in a way that only an 8 year old can smile.
Once the parade was over, and I found my parents, there was something even better to come. The Memorial Day Picnic! We went to Crandall Park among the trees and the picnic was already set up. I have no idea who was behind it, but I do remember that the Marines had a hand in everything. There were hot dogs on the grill, but you could also put one on a stick and cook it yourself. I must have had three just like that. There potato chips, and Fritos, and potato salad and cakes and cookies and pies and every kind of drink imaginable. There were games and contests, some for the kids and some for the adults. There was a softball game where I shouted for my dad when he came to bat. He hit the ball but it was a fly ball to center field. Even as an 8 year old, I knew that was an easy out. I got bored with that game and waded in the pond with some friends looking for polliwogs.
The picnic lasted all day, and at night all the kids had sparklers to play with and to try to burn down the forest. Never happened but we tried. There were bonfires all over and the best time ever for everyone. I’d played and fought and ran and won ribbons and eaten till I couldn’t swallow another bite or drink another drop. Then went home and slept like the dead until the next morning.
That was the best Memorial Day I can remember. And though the Marines were there, and I knew several of them and played with their kids at school and in the scouts, not a mention was made of remembering the fallen or memorializing their sacrifice. It was a day of fun and food and sun.
Then some days later, not very long, there was another gathering, a much more somber one. We were in a cemetery. I knew that because I could see the gravestones. But at the time, I didn’t know why we were there. Then I noticed a family friend, David B. with his mom and sister, all dressed in black, standing by the man who was leading the gathering. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but David’s mom was crying silent tears, dabbing them away with a handkerchief, and David looked grim. I started to ask my mom what was going on, but she shh-ed me so I fell silent.
I’ll never forget that 21 gun salute. I knew what that meant. You can’t grow up in a military family without knowing that.
David B faded from my life after that. It happens with military families. Either your dad gets transferred or your friend’s dad gets transferred. I was 8 and the most important thing in my life was surviving a day at school so I could go play. And candy. Candy was pretty important, too.
But I did puzzle out what Memorial Day was supposed to be about.
Then I lost it over the years. It became about the grill and burgers and friends and family and summer.
One year, when I was in my very late teens or early twenties, on Memorial weekend, I was driving around town on errands of one kind or another and I happened to pass the large cemetery in town. And there was a small American flag on every single grave site. I never knew they did this. It made a stunning impact, particularly since it was unexpected, and understated.
I was on my way to a friend’s house, and I mentioned to him and his mom about seeing the flags. They were both excited to see it, so we drove over. I didn’t know until then that his father was buried there. They weren’t interested in seeing grave at that moment, but to take in the big picture. It was the desert and there’s almost always a breeze blowing and the flags were stirring and making quite a display.
I remembered what Memorial Day is about. I haven’t forgotten since. I saw an item on my FB timeline from my hometown newspaper that the flags will be up again this year, just as they have been every year.
So, have a good time this weekend, and celebrate summer, and sun, and eat and drink. Lord knows, I’m gonna. But also remember those who didn’t make it home.
This picture reminded me of my friend David B. We were just about that age.
It’s the first big three day weekend of the summer coming up this weekend. Memorial Day holds a lot of special memories for me that I’ll be going into in the next post, but for this post I wanted to talk about menus for the big day.
For many people, it means getting out of town, to the beach or the mountains or the hiking trails. For just as many others, it means a family barbeque, whether that family is blood or chosen. In most cases, it means a weekend long celebration of food, drink, and good times. I’ve spent very happy Memorial weekends by myself, enjoying whatever I had on hand. And I’ve spent very happy Memorial weekends with crowds of friends and family with more food and drink than an army could eat.
It typically boils down to the same foods. Burgers and dogs, potato salad, chips and dip, and whatever anyone is drinking. Everywhere I’ve ever lived, it’s always been the same.
So this year, I’ve searched through the internet and found some unusual but familiar food items for the weekend. Spoiler Alert! I did not come up with these recipes in my own mind. I do not own them. They are the genius work of other chefs whose names I do not know.
First, the drink. Watermelon Lemonade.
This is easy peasy. Take a small ripe watermelon and cut out all the fruit, leaving the rind and pith (the white stuff) behind. Cut into one inch cubes and remove as many seeds as possible. Put the cubes in a blender or food processor, working in batches if necessary. Pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, mashing the pulp to extract as much juice as possible. Pour the juice into plastic ice cube trays (must be plastic, not metal or silicon) and freeze solid. Make lemonade in any way you choose (I have a great recipe for homemade lemonade in post # 285.) Chill the lemonade and just before serving put some frozen watermelon cubes in the lemonade. If you’ve made enough cubes, you can also put them in the glasses you’re serving the lemonade in.
Next, for the chips and dip, we’re going to consider Blue Cheese and Pecan Dip with Toasted Pita Chips.
Again, easy peasy. First, make the pita chips. Cut a round pita bread disk into quarters, then into eighths. The pull the two pieces apart. Cut as many chips as you think you’ll need. Then add more, just cuz. Melt some butter and brush over pita chips and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the chips lightly with a coarse salt. Toast in a hot oven, 375-425 degrees, until the chips are toasty brown and rigid. Remove and allow to cool. While the chips are cooling, using a food processor with the blade process 1/4 cup of shelled pecans for 10 seconds. Add six ounces of cream cheese and two tablespoons of blue cheese. Process until smooth, about a minute or so. Unplug the food processor, and being very careful, remove the blade. Use a rubber spatula to remove the mixture from the blade and from the processing bowl. Put it into the serving bowl. Stir about a quarter cup of blue cheese crumbles into the mixture. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over the top of the mixture and sprinkle with finely chopped pecans. Allow to chill and serve with the pita chips.
For the main course, it’s going to be Beer Can Burgers!
I saw a video a couple of days ago and thought, “Man! I’ve gotta try these!” I wish I could locate the video so I could give credit where it’s due. If the guy who created these reads this, I hope you know how impressed I am! You start by sautéing several different veggies separately. The video showed onions, mushrooms, and various peppers being cooked. Set those aside. Then take 1/2 pound of ground beef and shape it into a ball. Use a beer can (or other can of about the same size) and form a bowl shape. While the can is still in place, wrap two slices of raw bacon around the burger.
Remove the can and fill the “bowl” with the cooked vegetables. Get creative with this part and use any veggies or other fillings you like. Then top the bowl with chunks of cheese. Grill the burgers over indirect heat until well done. Remove from grill and allow to cool for a few minutes. Now, at this point you can eat them directly or you can be adventurous and smash it between the two pieces of a bun. But it takes a large mouth to get around it all. I can’t wait to try this!
Finally, we get to dessert and wait till you see what I found! Ever heard of a root beer float? Ever heard of it in a pie?
Here’s what you need:
- 8 oz whipped topping
- 3/4 cup root beer
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 package instant vanilla pudding
- one graham cracker pie crust
- maraschino cherries
Set aside and refrigerate 1/2 cup of the whipped topping. In a medium bowl, whip together the milk, pudding, and root beer for three minutes. Fold in half the remaining whipped topping then pour into pie shell. Spread remaining whipped topping over the top and chill at least 8 hours but it’s better overnight. When ready to serve, cut into slices, spoon a small dollop of whipped topping onto each slice, and place a cherry on top.
Totally different menu, but completely the same.
I’m one of the Disney generation. I can quote whole swatches of dialog from all the Disney classics, and I know the melodies and lyrics to every Disney song. And after a couple of glasses of wine, I’m not afraid to sing along with any Disney movie in the neighborhood. So what’s that got to do with baking day? There’s a scene in Mary Poppins where the mom has to run out to a meeting and children need someone to watch them since it’s Mary Poppin’s day off. She turns to one of the maids who refuses. She hasn’t done her brasses yet. When the mom suggests the cook, the maid says, “No for an ‘undred quid, ma’am. This ‘ere’s bakin’ day and you know how cook is!”
So it’s baking day in the homestead. I started at 7am making a batch of sandwich rolls. We love these rolls, and you can find the recipe here on the blog. Check the recipe list on the right. It’s not as hard as it sounds because I use the bread machine to make the dough, so once I put the ingredients in and switch the thing on, I can ignore it for an hour and a half. Then I shape the rolls, and ignore them for another 40-50 minutes as they rise. Since I use the oven as my proofing box, I can’t bake anything else until the bread is done which is why I start it early. Here’s what I ended up with.
Then I took a break and had some lunch with one of these wonderful fresh sandwich rolls. When they’re warm, and you put a thin slice of cheese in the middle of them, and the cheese loses its chill and barely starts to melt, it’s a wonderful sandwich. With a dill pickle on the side.
BUT, I did take some butter and eggs out of the fridge to reach room temperature because, guess what?
I was going to make something like a coffee cake, or a one pan cake, or maybe a lime cake? But when I saw this, I knew there was only one thing to do. So here we are.
I’m still baking cookies as I write this post, but I’m almost done.
And it turns out, it’s a low-energy day for me today so once the cookies are done and the kitchen is cleaned up, I may not bake anymore today. I may just hit the couch with my kindle and read.
Dinner tonight? It’s baking day so it makes sense that tonight is Homemade Pizza day!
What are you guys gonna have?