(KERI) My daughter has taken to rolling her eyes at me, her dad, her family. She’s ten. Isn’t it too early? I don’t think paybacks start now. I’m just not quite ready. I have to take a class on ‘How to Deal with Daughter Sass’ first.
So when Marina recently woke up on the sass side of the bed and asked me, ‘Mom, seriously, why is everything about food with you?’ I had to stop, I had to do a quick check. I’m obsessed, yes, but had I gone too far? Had I lost perspective? I really and seriously pondered this. But here’s the news I came to quickly and repeatedly in my contemplations: Cooking is how I convey love. Baking and stirring and chopping and presenting food is how I say ‘I care…a whooooole lot.’ I said so to Sister Sass, with passion and pride. There might have been a small eye roll, but she didn’t argue. She simply said, ‘Yay, okay. Whatevs.’
It’s true that Sister Sass asked this during the heat of the holiday season, when we were baking up a storm. All of the sass, dough rolling and sweet yummy decorating has me thinking about the meaning…err...the impact…of giving someone a gift. It’s actually quite intimate isn’t it? If we’re doing this right, we’re giving thought and real care in choosing, packaging and delivering said gift so that it conveys the right message, the right intent to its recipient.
I’m remembering gifts I’ve received that have truly taken residence in my life: a present that, each time I think of it, has me smiling about its giver and the moment it changed hands to become mine. With that hand-over comes not just the ripping of paper and the glee over a new toy, but a sentiment: You simultaneously reflect the receiver…who they are and what they like…while giving him or her a little piece of yourself. See? Quite special…if we’re doing this right.
Think about those goodies that have made an impact on your life. Those you gave and those you received. Who did it come from/go to? What makes it so special? Why?
See?! It’s good stuff….if we’re doing it right.
Some of the most treasured gifts I’ve received haven’t been shiny or expensive. They’ve been edible. I remember those gifts…from Marianne. From Jessica.
It will come as no surprise to know that Two Bites loves to give the gift of food (or foodie things) to those we love. Each year, we bake trays and trays of cookies for our family, friends, teachers and neighbors. A few of these cookies make their way to the tray each and every year, but many are carefully curated and different than the year before. It depends: Who is it for? What do they like? What flavors and textures scream their name? How best can we say ‘we really like you…we care a whoooooole lot?’
This holiday season, we had Marina’s teachers in mind. They do so much, not just for Marina but for each student. They are very special. We love them. We wanted to give them a gift that said so.
We looked at baking books and blogs and thought about those teachers. Then we came upon a fabulous idea: Homemade Nutella. Better than Nutella, it was deemed by Bon Appetit. Who could argue with this? Pair it with a mini orange pound cake and it was a perfect gift for our teachers.
Who knew chocolate hazelnut spread was so easy?
Toast those luscious nuts. Don’t skimp on this step – get a good brown on them. Dump the hazels in a clean dishtowel and give them a good massage to remove as many of the skins as you can. Note: some just won’t come off and that is perfectly fine.
Process the toasted hazels with a handful of sugar. This is the base of total deliciousness. The aroma of this alone will have you wanting to horde this dish for yourself. But don’t. This is a gift, remember?
Melt a full pound of dark chocolate over a double boiler until silky smooth. Then add some butter. Oh, the decadence.
All that’s left to do is to introduce Chocolate to Cream and Hazelnut Paste. I saw you stick your finger in that bowl.
We poured our spread into tiny 4-ounce jars for extra goodness. And cuteness. Box it up with a suitable companion (homemade pound cake – here’s another great one – or maybe these awesome graham crackers) and you’ve got yourself a gift worth giving any time of the year. A reflection of both you and that lucky duck on the receiving end.
This stuff not only put smiles on those teacher’s faces, but it quelled the sass from Sister. When it all came together – with love – in a perfectly presented gift, I’m fairly certain it clicked for Ten Year Old Girl. She smiled. Big. It felt good. Food is part of her and who she is, just like me. And I’ll bet one day, Marina will be cooking and stirring and chopping and mixing. All for someone(s) who she loves very much.
Homemade Nutella (Chocolate Hazelnut Spread)
Slightly adjusted from this Bon Appetit recipe
2 cups (heaping) hazelnuts, preferably skinned (about 10 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chips or block that has been coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Spread out nuts on a rimmed baking sheet or in an ovenproof skillet. Roast, shaking sheet once for even toasting, until nicely brown and the skins crack, about 13-15 minutes. Let cool completely.
Scrape hazelnuts into a clean dishtowel and massage them to remove the skins.
Grind toasted hazelnuts together with sugar in a food processor until an almost-smooth, buttery paste forms, about 1 minute. We like a tiny bit of texture, but you’ll decide if you want to process the nuts and sugar longer.
Put chocolate in a medium metal or glass bowl and set it over a large saucepan of simmering water. Stir often until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over the saucepan and add butter. Whisk until completely incorporated. Still off the heat, whisk in cream and salt, then hazelnut paste. Mix thoroughly.
Pour spread into jars, dividing equally. Let cool with jar tops off. The spread will thicken and become soft and peanut butter-like as it cools. Screw on lids and refrigerate for at least an hour.
DO AHEAD: Spread can be made up to 4 weeks ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours to soften before eating. The spread can stand at room temperature up to 4 days.