With aisles in department stores decked out in paper hearts, factory-made chocolate, and plastic lace for well over a month, it has been difficult to ignore the noisy approach of Valentine’s Day. There seems to be two schools of thought on the tinfoil-wrapped candy holiday. There are the detractors who loudly decry its seeming commercialization of love. They gripe about the compulsion to make token purchases; reservations for table d’hote meals at fine dining restaurants, boxes of mass-produced truffles with artificial fruit centers, and gift-wrapped bouquets of flowers. There are the supporters who look upon Valentine’s as an opportunity to indulge a loved one in something romantic; maybe a meal or other treat. Neither contrived nor clichéd, they observe Valentine’s more as a celebration of togetherness than as an expression of being together.
Valentine’s treats tend to be sweet. When it comes to things sweet, many people have childhood memories of a chocolate spread. Of course, I refer to Nutella, the branded chocolate hazelnut product by Ferrero that originated in Italy.
Recently, controversy emerged about Nutella being marketed as “part of a healthy breakfast.” Bear in mind, Ferrero is a multinational company. Nutella, destined for the North American market, is produced in North America. It differs from Nutella produced for the European market.
My wife and I don’t have Nutella-for-breakfast memories. She, being allergic to hazelnuts and cacao, remembers fried rice and dumplings. Me, I remember runny scrambled eggs and toast, sometimes with margarine or jam.
My being allergic to peanuts, I never partook of the peanut butter and jelly tradition either. I adore cashew butter and jam sandwiches now. So, I decided to fashion my own chocolate nut spread and gussy it up for Valentine’s.
Coincidentally, our friends at Sandbanks Winery in Prince Edward County (PEC) released their cassis aperitif, “Love,” at the LCBO ($14.95/375 mL) last Saturday. To support the release, I figured what we came up with should also pair well with Love. That is, besides entering Sandbanks’ promotional “#Loveshot” contest, which our wine blogger Claire explained in her most recent post.
For Love’s Ottawa launch, Sandbanks’ John Squair invited Chef Robin Bowen (@chefrobinbowen) of Shallows Bar and Grill at the Southway Inn (2431 Bank Street) to prepare a creative food pairing. Bowen consulted with Claire on his idea. He served something savoury.
[Ontario lamb (cooked medium), foie aioli, double-smoked bacon with a touch of maple, caramel confit onions, and bosc pear pickle (pickled with champagne vinegar and honey)]
For Love’s Toronto launch, Squair worked with another friend to foodiePrints, Joel Solish (@foodie411). Solish brought on board talented chef Rossy Earle (@PanCanCooks), who was recently featured by Ottawa expat Alexa Clark for Canadian Beef. Restaurant chef, sometimes caterer, and confectioner (there is a bottle of her hot sauce in our fridge), Earle paired Love with Panamanian-inspired bites:
Yuca fries with Diablo’s Fuego Ketchup, Shrimp al Ajillo, Roasted Pork & Smoked Pineapple Diabla’s Kiss relish, [and] Corn Cups filled with homemade Chorizo & cheese.
I’m not nearly as creative. Neither am I nearly as skilled in the kitchen.
I stuck with debunking the myth that Nutella needs to be purchased.
Milk Chocolate Almond Nutella Mousse with a Touch of Banana
[Adapted from David Lebovitz’ Homemade Nutella]
What You’ll Need:
- 160 g of roasted but unsalted nuts (almonds or hazelnuts)
- 40 g of dried banana chips (preferably unsweetened)
- 400 g skim milk
- 60 g skim milk powder
- 3 tbsp (40 g) of honey (or agave)
- pinch of salt
- 170 g semisweet chocolate
- 140 g milk chocolate (we just went with those red foil-wrapped hearts)
Why is this recipe measured by mass? There are 2 reasons. Firstly, chocolate and dried fruit rarely come in volume measurable forms. Secondly, this recipe produces about 3 cups of “Nutella.” Should you need more (or less), mass-based recipes scale very easily. Also, digital scales are readily available and inexpensive. $10 will get you something convenient.
- If you purchased raw nuts for your “Nutella,” roast them in an oven preheated to 350 F for a couple minutes until they start to brown. Remove, cool until handle-able, and skin (if so desired)
- Add the nuts and dried banana chips to a blender and pulse repeatedly until everything is pulverized.
- If your chocolate came in bars or blocks and not small chips, you will have to shave or chop the chocolate to facilitate its melting.
- Heat a pot of water on a burner set to medium to boiling.
- Find a metal bowl that will fit over the pot, but whose bottom does not touch the water.
- Reduce the heat of the to medium-low.
- Using another burner set to medium or medium-low, warm the milk in a sauce pan with the milk powder, honey, and salt until the mixture reaches the “scalding point” (180 F). That is, until it just begins to boil. If you haven’t a probe thermometer, I suggest you buy one. Like a digital scale, they are readily available, inexpensive, and extremely handy.
- Remove the pan from the burner and set it aside.
- Place the chocolate in the metal bowl. Set the bowl over the simmering water, and melt the chocolate down. Take care not to overheat the chocolate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. We find when the chocolate is a tad more than half melted, residual heat will melt the rest. Else, simply place the bowl back on the boiling water to give it a bit more heat.
- Pour and scrape the chocolate mixture into the blender with the ground up nuts and banana chips.
- Pulse until everything is incorporated.
- Add the milk, which should still be warm.
- Blend until smooth. The mixture will appear very runny.
- Quickly transfer the mixture into jars. The mixture will thicken and set quickly.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
Optionally, you could run the mixture through a sieve to remove any leftover bits of nuts, but I actually prefer my “Nutella” slightly textured.
Why the banana chips? They flavour the “Nutella”, banana working well with the chocolate. Ever split open a banana peel, slip in some chocolate chips, wrap everything in paper towel, and nuke it? No? You should try it!
What You’ll Need:
- 1 cup of whipping cream (chilled)
- 1 tsp powdered unflavoured gelatin
- 1 tbsp of cold water
- 2 tbsp of icing sugar
- 1 cup of homemade “Nutella”
- Place the gelatin in a microwave safe container.
- Add water to it and let the gelatin hydrate. This would be called “proofing” were the gelatin yeast.
- Place your cream in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the icing sugar.
- Attach the whisk attachment.
- Whip the cream until it begins to thicken.
- Meanwhile, microwave the hydrated gelatine on 5 second bursts until it melts.
- Let the liquified gelatin cool slightly.
- Pour the gelatine into the cream mixture while the mixer is whisking.
- Whip the cream until stiff.
- Place the “Nutella” into a large metal bowl.
- Divide the whipped cream into three portions.
- Gently fold the whipped cream into the “Nutella.”
Anyone can serve mousse as is. Why not toast up some waffles and sandwich some mousse in between them. Top with powdered sugar and you’ve something reminiscent of a Hong Kong street food.
The difference? The Hong Kong street waffle is filled with peanut butter and condensed milk.
Now, my thoughts on Valentine’s aren’t entirely charitable. However, the holiday doesn’t have to be an empty one. Sweep your sweetie off his or her feet. Do it despite Valentine’s Day. Make them a card. Take them out to dinner. Or, as Kelly Serjeantson of Hintonbrew suggests, cozy it up with a glass of red wine and “something fantastic bubbling on the stove top.”
Finish with something chocolate. Open a bottle of something cassis?
Or, don’t and serve “Nutella” mousse waffles for breakfast and create new memories.
Tags: #indulgePEC, chocolate, featured, nutella, Sandbanks, Valentine's Day