Treats Week: MacGyver Balls

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I would like to officially take credit for turning “MacGyver” into a verb.  It was about ten years ago, I think.  Since then, I’ve used it pretty much all the time.  And now it seems to be entering the general lexicon.  So that’s a win for me I think.  Or for whoever actually coined the term.  MacGyver, if you’re not aware, was a fantastic show from the late eighties about a dude who could save the world by solving science and physics problems with what he had at hand.  The joke is that he can defuse a nuclear bomb using only a paperclip.  And he probably did.  Macgyver was one of my heroes when I was a child.  I tend to “macgyver” a lot of things around our house, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.  It’s another form of “half-assed halfassery,” which is also a coinage of mine.  Anyway, I’ve heard it being used as a verb on TV now so I would like to take the credit while I can.  Although if you also invented the word then good on you too!

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Well, today I’m taking the term into the kitchen.  There’s a certain round chocolate confection of which I’m sure we’re all aware.  It comes wrapped in gold paper and commercials for it usually involve swanky parties of well-dressed demigods surrounding a pyramid made of the little shiny balls.  While what I’ve made below isn’t quite the version you can buy in the store, I think it’s a pretty decently-macgyvered version of the same.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Take 2 1/2 cups hazelnuts (filberts) and spread them on a baking sheet.

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Toast in your oven, shaking a couple times, for about 10 minutes, or until the skins start to blacken and bubble. Remove the nuts from the oven and plop in the centre of a clean tea towel.  Wrap the towel around the nuts and allow them to steam for a few minutes.

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Then rub the towel briskly over the nuts to remove the skins and allow the nuts to cool completely. If you don’t get all the skins off, don’t worry about it.

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When they are completely cool, pour them into a food processor to crush them into small pieces.

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Take about 3 cups Nutella (or store-brand alternative).  I am using the name brand because other versions are hard to get here in St. John’s and, well, it’s made by the company who makes the bon-bons I’m sort-of copying so I figure I’m on the right track, right?  Anyway, the jar contains approximately 3 cups of the stuff, so I’m going with that.  Scoop all that out into a bowl.

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Pour in 4 cups crisped rice cereal (AKA Rice Crispies) and mix those into the Nutella, making sure to get it all evenly combined without breaking too many of the rice bits.  In the real thing, there’s a ball of soft chocolate in the middle with a crunchy shell around it, but this is my version.

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If you wanted to be authentic you could make little spheres of frozen Nutella and roll them in the cereal. But that sounds hard.

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Take a spoon and start scooping balls of chocolate rice onto a sheet of waxed paper.  When you’ve got them all scooped, pop them in the freezer for an hour or two.  Mine I froze overnight.

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In the meantime, chop up 20 ounces dark chocolate and melt it in a double boiler or heat safe bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water.

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Allow the melted chocolate to cool to almost room temperature.  You want it cool enough it won’t melt the frozen Nutella balls, but not too cool that you can’t work with it.

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Spear a frozen Nutella ball with a skewer and dip it into the cooled chocolate.

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Roll the ball in the crushed hazelnuts until completely covered and lay on a sheet of waxed paper to cool completely and harden.

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The recipe above makes exactly 48 golf ball sized MacGuyver balls, so I’m sure you can use any fraction of this to make a smaller amount.

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Hazelnut Dacquoise

Dacquoise

Do you know what a dacquoise is?  If you don’t, that’s okay.  I didn’t either until I made this recipe.  Seems it’s a layered dessert made with flavoured meringue alternating with some form of creamy goodness.  You can’t really beat that.  And the best part?  This fancy schmancy dessert is gluten free!

Dacquoise

And to be honest, despite the fact that it looks a wee bit finicky, this thing is pretty easy.  No harder than baking a cake, I’d say.  I wanted to find a fitting use for those beautiful blue fresh eggs that Miss Awesome gave me, so I thought this would work out.  And I actually pulled the recipe itself from the Get Crackin’ website.  So if the egg farmers think it’s good, it must be good.

So let’s begin.

Separate 4 egg whites from their yolks and bring them to room temperature.  Keep the yolks — we have a recipe for those in the next post.

Dacquoise

Take a narrow bowl and chuck it in the freezer, along with your beater.  We’re going to use this to whip cream later on.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Pour 1 cup shelled hazelnuts onto a baking sheet.  If you want to call them filberts, you can go ahead.  To me “filbert” sounds like a euphemism for a bodily function, or another name for giving someone a raspberry.  Hazelnuts it is.

Dacquoise

Toast the hazelnuts for 8 minutes, shaking the pan gently about halfway through, until the skins start to split and darken. Tip the hazelnuts out onto a clean tea towel.  Lower your oven temperature to 325°F so you can bake the meringue once it’s ready.

Dacquoise

Wrap your toasty warm nuts up in the towel and rub the nuts vigorously in the towel.  Yes, I know it seems weird.  Just do it. There, you see?  Now you’ve taken off the skins — well, most of them.

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And now you can remove your nuts and leave the skin bits behind.

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Chuck the hazelnuts in a food processor with 1/4 cup granulated sugar for about 10 seconds or until they’re partially chopped.

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Haul out 2 tablespoons of the hazelnut/sugar mix and save that for garnish later on.  Continue to process the nuts and the sugar until the nuts are finely chopped, and set that aside for a while.

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Line two rectangular baking sheets with parchment paper.  On each sheet of paper, draw two 4″x8″ rectangles.

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Flip the paper over so the pencil marks are on the bottom.  But you should still be able to see them.

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Now let’s work on the eggs.  With an electric mixer, beat your egg whites until they’re frothy.  Then add 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

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Slowly add in 3/4 cup granulated sugar, a little bit at a time, and continue to beat until all the sugar is incorporated and you have reached the stiff peak stage.  This is when the meringue is glossy and white, with no distinguishable air bubbles, and the peaks created by your beater can stand up under their own weight.

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Gently fold in the finely chopped hazelnuts and sugar.

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Spread the meringue on the baking sheets so it fills each of the four rectangles and smooth the tops as much as possible.  Bake in your 325-degree oven for 25 minutes, until they are crisp on the outside and golden on the edges.  Let them cool on the pans.

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While the meringue is baking, you can make your ganache filling.

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Chop 5oz dark chocolate and plop it in a heatproof bowl set over barely simmering water, or the top of a double boiler.  Add in 1/3 cup whipping cream and cook, stirring, until the chocolate is melted completely and the mixture is smooth and glossy.  Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

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Take your bowl and beater out of the freezer and pour 1 cup whipping cream into the bowl.  Look how nice and frosty that beater is.

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Whip it into a frenzy.

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Gently fold in the melted chocolate until it’s fully combined.

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When the meringue is cool to the touch, gently peel it off the parchment paper. Set one rectangle on a serving dish and slather with your newly made ganache.

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Add another layer of meringue and repeat the process. alternating layers until you get to the top, which should end with a ganache layer.

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Take your reserved chopped hazelnuts and sugar and sprinkle them over the top.

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Refrigerate your confection for at least 30 minutes to set, or overnight.  Just remember that the longer you keep it, the softer the meringue is going to get. Also, if I were to make this again, I would use slightly more ganache, maybe a cup and a half — I had trouble getting it to spread over the length of the rectangles, and I like to be generous.

Dacquoise

Slice like a loaf of bread and serve it up.  Crispy, chewy meringue and sweet, silky ganache … my two favourite things!

Dacquoise

Monolithic Date Squares

The Pie and I spent several long hot days in the kitchen, doing the prep-work for my brother’s wedding celebration.  One of the confections we produced were some rich, tall date squares.

Interesting fact for you: date squares are a Canadian invention.  I kid you not.  If you look up date squares in some of the older cookbooks you’ll find it under “matrimonial date squares”.  If anyone knows the reason for this, I’d love to hear it.

As a bit of a preparation for this, zest an orange.

While you’re at it get the juice from it as well.

And take 1/4 cup of hazelnuts and pulse them in a food processor until you have some lovely crumbs.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Now you start with the filling.

In a saucepan, stir together 2 cups water with 1 package (375g) pitted dates, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and the juice from your orange, about 4 tablespoons.  Let that stand for about 30 minutes.

Afterwards, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, stirring often, until it’s thickened.  This will take about ten minutes.  And when it bubbles it will more resemble swamp goo than anything else.  Let it cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 1/4 cups flour, and 1 cup packed brown sugar.

Cut in 1 cup cold cubed butter.  Keep going until the mixture is in coarse crumbs.

Press half (or slightly more than half) the oat mixture evenly into an 8-inch (2L) square pan lined with parchment paper.

Spread the mixture with your date goo.

Add the hazelnuts to your remaining oat mixture and toss well.

Pile the remaining mixture on top of the date goo and press it down lightly.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown on top, and let it cool before cutting into squares.

If you keep it covered it will last for weeks.  You can also freeze the squares before baking, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Garbage Soup with Squash, Spinach, Beans and Barley

Don’t let the name of this soup turn you off: it’s just a moniker my mother applied to any soup she made out of what was left in our refrigerator.

This week I had leftover spaghetti squash from my earlier experiment, as well as leftover cavatappi pasta from our spaghetti night.  What to do . . . ?

The nice thing about soups is they’re dead easy.  I filled a large pot with water and set it to boil.  I added a few heaping spoonfuls of Knorr Vegetable Stock (I use the powder instead of the liquid because I usually can’t use a whole carton before it goes bad and I don’t like to waste it).

Let the soup simmer for a couple of hours on medium-low.

I peeled and chopped a large parsnip and a small turnip (actually a rootabega but who’s checking?) and chucked them in the pot, together with a handful of pearl barley and about a cup of dried white beans.  I also added about a cup’s worth of frozen spinach to the mix, as well as the leftover squash and pasta.  There was already a significant amount of basil in the pesto that was on the squash (as well as the hazelnuts and parmesan cheese), so I didn’t add any other herbs to the mix.  When we eat it we usually add salt and pepper to suit our individual tastes.

Once I got the soup boiling, stirring often, I turned it down to a simmer, medium low, for about two hours, until the beans were cooked and the rootabega was tender.

We ate it hot with tabouleh sandwiches, and it was great.

My dad got me these bowls for Christmas. I am Big Al.

I let the rest of it cool and ladled it into yogurt containers for storage.  I find the yogurt container is a good standard measure for freezing, as it contains about two full servings.

Yogurt containers are a good size for two servings.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Herbs

me: have you ever made anything with spaghetti squash before?

Cait: since i don’t know what you’re talking about, no

Cait: i think it looks so much like spaghetti that i’d be disappointed when it didn’t taste like spaghetti

me: it tastes like squash

Cait: of course it tastes like squash it’s a freaking squash

The card from my magic book.

The mysterious and elusive spaghetti squash.

I have always been intrigued about the physical properties of spaghetti squash, although until the other day I had never tried it.  We found a squash sale at Sobeys and decided to give it a whirl.  I wrangled up a recipe I had been keeping for yonks out of my magic book of recipes, and I went at it.

The recipe called for 4lbs of spaghetti squash.  My scale only goes up to 500g so I had to give it my best estimate.  It was supposed to serve 4, so I did some mental math and came up with two squash about the size of my feet (while this may not be a standard measurement for you, it works pretty well for me).

I may need a bigger scale.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise.  The recipe said nothing to me about removing the seeds and stringy bits so I left them in and I regretted it later.  I would recommend digging those suckers out with a grapefruit spoon or serrated knife.

Cut side up.

Brush the open squash halves with olive oil, then sprinkle with brown sugar, coarse salt, and ground pepper.

Cut side down. Don't worry about spraying the pan - the oil on the squash is enough.

Flip the squash halves face down on a rimmed baking sheet and chuck them in the oven at 400°F for 45 minutes.  Cool them, in the pan and on a rack, for 10 minutes after that.

Using a table fork, dig out the contents of the squash in stringy little bits – it really is amazing how much this resembles spaghetti – and put the contents in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of roasted chopped hazelnuts (fun fact: also known as filberts), 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped herbs (the recipe called for fresh cilantro, but I only had a tiny bit of frozen stuff, so I mixed it with some frozen pesto I had made and that was that).  I can assume that you would use any herb you had on hand, really.

Hazelnuts, Pesto, and Parmesan Cheese - my three favourite things.
The leftover squash shells.
Fork the crap out of that thing.

Toss and serve immediately.

I actually wasn’t too happy with this recipe.  The first negative was, of course, the left-in seeds, which, had they been properly roasted like pumpkin seeds, would have been awesome, but because they were still pretty raw, were actually kind of nasty.  I also didn’t feel that the hazelnuts added anything special to this recipe.  Next time, I would go with slivered almonds or pecan bits, for a milder, sweeter taste.  The pesto was excellent of course, but that’s because I have mad skills.  The leftovers were better the next day, but I think I will just chuck the remainder in some sort of minestrone and be done with it.  Recipe to follow, I guess.

Toss and serve.