Nutella Day: February’s Holiday of Happiness

World Nutella Day 2013

Our Nutella Day loot: Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint cookies, Drunken Devil’s Food Espresso Cupcakes with Nutella frosting and Nutella Banana Bread.

It’s official. I have a new favorite holiday. Forget soon-to-be-wilted flowers, overpriced “romantic” dinners or pre-fabricated heart-shaped chocolates. This holiday is frill-free, 100 percent authentic and celebrates the one love who is by my side no matter which country I happen to be gallivanting off in. Therefore, from here until eternity, my February celebration of amor will take place on February 5th, World Nutella Day.

My unwavering (and slightly obsessive) love for Nutella was kindled 2010, between two golden Maria cookies. If peanut butter’s soulmate is jelly, then Nutella’s media naranja is Marias, those lightly honeyed biscuit-like creations that waver mid-way between cookie and cracker and were undoubtably put on this earth to squish together into heaping Nutella sandwiches.

Before I dive into describing (with recipes of course!) our Nutella-filled delectables, I must first quell any notions that the perfection that is Nutella can be substituted for any of the array of it’s “chocolate-hazelnut spread” impostors. Here in Galicia, there are many who claim that the Spanish version of Nutella, called “Nocilla,” is actually better than it’s Italian original. False. Whereas Nutella captures the perfect balance between the sweet richness of chocolate and the smooth creaminess of hazelnut, Nocilla punches you in the tongue with a mouthful of bitter chocolate doused in sugar and bearing only traces of the deep flavors of roasted hazelnuts. Splurge for the original, buy true Nutella.

Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint Cookies

Happiness is devouring one these beauties fresh out of the oven, when the Nutella topping is ever-so melty and the chocolatey centers are ever-so gooey.

When the internet joyously informed me that five years ago a group of geniuses had created a day to savor and celebrate this godly gift to man, I immediately began the hunt for the most scrumptious recipes to pay a proper tribute to my favorite midnight (and midday and midmorning) snack.

The first contestant was a recipe I’ve been dying to recreate ever since my boss at ABC brought in a baggie of these little bites of bliss two years ago. When I first bit into The Washington Post’s Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints my tongue was immediately engulfed in the rich bitterness of dark chocolate cocoa, followed by the smooth nuttiness of the Nutella topping. With one bite they replaced 21 years of love for Quaker’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and became my new favorite cookie. And that was before I tasted them in their warm, gooey, melty straight-out-of-the-oven state. (Recipe below)

Espresso Nutella Cupcakes

The subtle coffee flavor in these cupcakes melds magnificently with their purely Nutella frosting!

Our next Nutella-day discovery comes from the oh-so-appropriately titled blog “FuckYesNutella” where Kassandra and I discovered “Drunken Devil’s Food Espresso Cupcakes with Nutella Filling.” While deliciously combining my two loves (Nutella and coffee) this recipe also allowed us to add some Galician flare to our Nutella Day celebration: some locally-made coffee liquor (a scrumptious product that Galicia is known for). These are the first completely from scratch cupcakes I’ve ever attempted and (with Kassandra’s help) they turned out mar-vel-ous! Thanks to my mom for her perfectly-timed package containing the festive cupcake holders and heart decorators! Get the Recipe here.

Nutella Banana Bread

Y.U.M. Nutella Banana-y goodness makes for an ideal breakfast.

The final addition to our Nutella Day celebration was our attempt at an alternative to the serious richness of our first two desserts: Nutella Banana Bread. After all, next to Maria cookies, bananas are Nutella’s best sidekick. The best part about this bread (besides how positively tasty it is) is the awesome art project it allowed me to create in the pan. Half the batter is a chestnut brown from the Nutella while the other half is golden from the bananas. The two halves are swirled together, dollop by dollop, to make this totally tasty breakfast bread! Get the recipe here.

In our attempt to share Nutella Day joy, Kassandra and I baked about 6 dozen cookies, two dozen cupcakes and one heaping loaf of bread to spread around our small town of Sarria. The cookies that survived to be baked (holy Nutella the dough is delicious) disappeared almost instantly in our respective teacher’s lounges. The cupcakes were devoured largely by friends and the bread was nabbed for breakfasts and for one friend who claimed it was her favorite Nutella Day offering. Without a doubt, though, it was the cookies that took the cake, forcing me to attempt to translate the American recipe into Spanish. Here it is, in both English and Spanish!

Salty Chocolate Nutella Tumbprints 

(courtesy of The Washington Post)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) flour
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (3.2 ounces) natural unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at a very soft room temperature (see headnote)
  • 1 1/3 cups (9.3 ounces) sugar, plus 1 cup for finishing the cookies
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Nutella (or slightly more)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a small bowl.

Combine the butter and 1 1/3 cups of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat for about 2 minutes on low speed, until fluffy, then add the egg yolks, cream and vanilla extract; beat on low speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated.

Place the remaining cup of sugar in a shallow bowl.

Scoop 30 to 35 heaping tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheets. Shape each mound of dough into a ball, then roll it in the remaining sugar to coat evenly. I prefer to dip only the tops of the cookies in the sugar. Space the balls 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, then use your thumb to make an indentation in the top of each cookie, gently flattening the cookies a bit as you work.

Bake one sheet at a time for 10 minutes or until the edges are just set; the tops of the cookies will be soft. I baked mine for 8 minutes and they turned out perfect! Just the right level of softness and no dry edges. (If the indentations have lost definition, press the centers again immediately after you remove the cookies from the oven.) Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool. Pipe or spoon the Nutella into the center of each cookie while the cookies are still slightly warm. If you place a small dollop the cookie first and let it melt just slightly, it spreads much easier and you’ll turn out with more beautiful cookies!

Serve or store once the Nutella centers have slightly set.

Makes 30 to 35 cookies.

Galletas de Chocolate con Nutella 

Ingredientes

  • 2 tazas (250 g) de harina
  • 1 taza y 1 cuchara grande (135 g) de cacao en polvo sin azúcar
  • 2 cucharas (pequeños) de sal
  • 225g de mantequilla sin sal
  • 110 g  de azúcar mas 1 taza para espolvorear por encima de las galletas
  • 2 yemas
  • 2 cucharas grandes de nata
  • 2 cucharas grandes de vainilla
  • 1 taza de Nutella

Preparación

 Precalentar el horno a 180ºC

Mezclar la harina, cacao y sal en un bol.

En un otro bol, mezclar la mantequilla y el azúcar con una batidora de mano o una batidora de pie equipada con un batidor plano. Añadir las yemas, nata y vainilla y mezclar bien.

Añadir la mezcla con harina poco a poco a la mezcla con mantequilla. Mezclar bien con una cuchara.

Poner la azúcar en un plato. Hacer pequeños montoncitos de cucharadas de la mezcla y pasar la parte superior por azúcar. Ponerlos en bandejas para hornear forradas y hacer un impresión del pulgar encima de la galleta.

Hornear durante 8 minutos. Dejar enfriar un pocito. Saque una pequeña cantidad de Nutella dentro de el impresión del pulgar cuando las galletas están un poco caliente.

Disfrútalos!

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A Mountain of Shrimp Croquetas

Shrimp Croquetas

“Croquetas de Mariscos” or Seafood croquettes

In my perpetual desire to perfect (or rather obtain) Spanish cooking skills, I decided to whip up a batch of shrimp-filled croquetas. I blame my delightfully friendly neighbor Carlos for this decision.

Still beaming after arriving home from a fantastic English class in which my pupil gave me a full-blown tortilla cooking lesson last week, my doorbell rang (a rare and startling experience). Carlos, remembering a conversation we had weeks ago about my love for cooking, had brought one of his Galician cookbooks for me to borrow. The treasure was made even more exciting by the cluster of yellow post-it notes sticking out of the top of the book, marking his favorite recipes. To say I was excited about Carlos’ delivery would be a bit of an understatement.

After reading through every recipe in the book twice — three or four times for those flagged by Carlos’ yellow stickies — I chose to embark on my cooking adventure with a receta for Croquetas de Marisco, or seafood croquettes. Seeing as shrimp is the only type of Spanish seafood I have any idea how to work with (what exactly does one do with an entire squid or a whole eel?) I plopped a 500g bag of frozen gambas in my reusable grocery bag and hoped for the best.

The recipe, like all things Spanish, seemed easy. First you cook the shrimp and onions, then make a bechamel sauce with flour and milk. Toss it all together, roll it into logs and fry it! Que facil! Except, like all seemingly-easy Spanish recipes, this behemoth of an undertaking only became clear after I was elbow-deep in milky flour.

Three-Pot Shuffle

Warming milk, sautéing onions and melting butter for bechamel.

Croquetas are without question one of my favorite Spanish tapas. They were a staple of tapas menus in Sevilla, but are more of a rare gem up here in Galicia. They come in all types, the most common being jamón and the most delicious being spinach-filled. I went for shrimp croquetas because that was the only croqueta in Carlos’ cook book, which I was eager to use. Having no idea how my favorite fried treat was actually made, or even what the filing consisted of, I did my homework before getting my ingredients out. I credit the awesome mujer’s YouTube video for saving my croquetas from what I’m sure would have been total ruin. 

I embarked on this cooking adventure around 2 p.m. after chopping up a cabbage salad to accompany my less-than-healthy main dish.

Croqueta Assembly Line

Spoon out the “pasta,” bathe in egg, roll in breadcrumbs y viola! Croquetas!

In five minutes my onions were golden, my garlic was toasted and my shrimp was sauteed. In typical me fashion, I was compelled to use casi every pot, bowl, spoon and knife in the entire kitchen to realize my croqueta dream, so it was with three pots sizzling on the stove that I began the bechamel/pasta dough that would become the center of my croquette. In a frenzy of semi-panic I over-floured my croqueta insides and in my hesitation to put nutmeg (with I associate only with pumpkin pie) in a savory dish (as the recipe called for) I seriously under-spiced my dough.

One hour of furious slicing and stirring later, I was standing in front of a enorme heap of shrimpy dough. Then the rolling, dipping and flouring began. While I only made half of the original recipe (which claims to be enough for 6 people) I ended up with FIFTY croquetas. I always knew Spanish portion sizes were generous, but 16 croquettes per person for a side dish?? Que loco. 

I fried up half of my bounty and stashed the other 25 in the freezer for another day. Sitting down to devour my first authentically Spanish dish with more than three ingredients, I felt remarkably accomplished. And while my croquetas were a bit dry and seriously under-shrimped, no croquette has ever tasted better.

If you have two hours to spare, here’s the tried and tweaked recipe for these super scrumptious Spanish croquetas. I’ve amended the recipe to include with the improvements I’ll make on my second attempt.

Croquetas de Marisco

The finished product!

Croquetas de Mariscos

400g (about 2 cups) shrimppeeled, de-tailed and de-veined and chopped into tiny pieces

250g (a scant 2 cups) flour

2 liters (a generous 2 quarts) milk

1 onion, finely diced

150g (11 tablespoons) butter

2 eggs

2 teaspoons nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups plain breadcrumbs

2 cups sunflower oil

First, cook the shrimp in a skillet with a teaspoon of butter and about 1/4 cup water. Set aside. Sautee the onion with about 2 tablespoons butter until nearly transparent. While the onions are cooking, start warming the milk in one pot and melt the remaining butter in another medium-large pot. Add the nutmeg, salt and flour to the melted butter, stirring continuously over medium-low heat. Add the onions, keep stirring. Add the milk and stir, stir, stir! Never stop stirring (as the sweet YouTube mujer says).

After about 10-15 minutes the water/flour mixture should start to form a dough. It gets thick and sticky, kind of like bread dough. At that point, add the shrimp, keep stirring for another 5 minutes. Transfer this “pasta” mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until cook enough to touch.

To form the croquetas, spoon out about 1.5 tablespoons of dough at a time and roll into a log shape. Beat the two eggs and bathe the logs in the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Repeat 50 times.

Fry the croquetas in hot oil (preferably, but not necessarily sunflower oil) until golden brown. Serve warm! I dipped mine in a bit of balsamic vinegar for a little extra kick! If you’d rather not eat only croquetas for a week, you can pop them in the freezer before frying them.

Tortilla: Spain’s PB&J

Tortilla: the Spanish Omelet

My second, studied attempt at Spanish tortilla-making.

Tortilla is to Spain what peanut butter and jelly is to America. Don’t know what to have for dinner? Tortilla. Need to pack a lunch? Tortilla on bread Looking for a mid-afternoon snack? Tortilla with toothpicks

It’s nearly impossible to find a tortilla-free tapas menu or Spanish madre who doesn’t have the perfect tortilla flip.

Thus in my attempt to learn how to cook Spanish food, the most logical starting point was the oh-so-typical Spanish omelet. The seemingly-simple recipe has only three ingredients (four, if you’re rebellious): potato, egg, salt and onion (because I am).  I have been assured by every Spaniard I’ve asked that, like all things in the Iberian Peninsula, making tortilla is muy facil. I’m beginning to think my basic Spanish classes failed to teach me the real definition of “facil” because this totally traditional dish is proving to be anything but easy to recreate.

My first attempt at cooking tortilla was more than two years ago, days after returning to America after studying in Sevilla for five months. I can’t remember the specific ratio of potato to egg that I used, or exactly how burnt the exterior was, but it will suffice to say it tasting nothing like the omelet my señora used to serve.

Tortilla-Making Attempt #1

Don’t be fooled by my shoddy photo skills, this puck of egg and potato is straight up burnt.

A year later, living in a group house in D.C. with a Spanish roommate, I attempted the facil three-ingredient dish again. THe second the Spaniard left the house, my solo tortillas lost their light and fluffiness, burned on the outside and were grossly runny on the inside. I blamed America’s must-be-refrigerated eggs.

After landing back en España this year, tortilla was item No. 1 on my list of homemade dinners. But despite the farm fresh eggs and grown-in-Galicia potatoes, my Spanish omelet was just as dry, black and bland as ever. I was convinced that making tortilla is just not in my blood. In order to successfully create this so-called facil dish, the chef had to be a full-blooded Spaniard.

On the verge of giving up all hope of ever cooking like a Spaniard (after all, if I can’t pull of the most staple of Spanish dishes, how could I ever attempt the delicious meatballs or heavenly croquettes?) Not ready to give up on my fantasy of freshly-cooked Spanish delicacies, I solicited the help of every Spaniard I knew for tortilla-making advice. A teacher at school swore it was all about the pan, so I bought a new, non-stick skillet. A friend insisted the key was low heat, so I vowed to never use a full flame again. The best advice came in the form of a demonstration one night while having cena at a friend’s house. We arrived just in time to witness a true Spanish madre in tortilla-making action. I was a tad bit excited.

Tortilla-Ready Potato

Mistake #1: The potato has to be thinly shaved, not diced.

Raw Tortilla Fixins

Mistake #2: The potato to egg ratio should be nearly even. Mine was always seriously skewed.

The tortilla master (a title worn by all Spaniards, in my opinion) walked me through each step.

  1. First, wash, peel and thinly slice (not dice!) the potatoes
  2. Mince (not hack into rough chunks) the onion
  3. Fry the onion and potatoes in plenty of oil (olive is preferred, but not necessary)
  4. Use a strainer spoon to remove the lightly-browned onion and potato mixture in to a bowl (rather than emptying the pot into a pasta strainer)
  5. Scramble the same number of eggs as you have potatoes (potatoes should be smaller than your fist)
  6. Dump the golden mixture of potato and onion into the eggs and stir just enough to incorporate it all together
  7. Add a pinch of salt
  8. Heat a non-stick (VERY important that it’s non-stick!) skillet over medium-low heat with about a tablespoon of olive oil
  9. Pour the gloopy egg-potato mixture into the pan
  10. Add another pinch of salt
  11. Dance with the skillet (in other words, shake, spin, wiggle and scoot the pan so the omelet doesn’t stick)
  12. While the top still looks positively raw, but the bottom has just begun to firm into a solid mass amongst the wiggle-routine, press a plate over the top of the pan and flip the pan over, dumping the omelet raw-side down onto the plate
  13. Slide the now-almost-a-tortilla back onto the pan, runny side down
  14. Turn off the heat (it sounds crazy, I know. The thing is still half raw!)
  15. Let the tortilla firm up from the residual pan heat four about 3 minutes
  16. Slide the masterpiece out onto a plate and go about your sweet Spanish life, cuz Dios! wasn’t that easy?!?
Tortilla Masterpiece

Myriam showing off her mother’s perfect Spanish tortilla.

SIXTEEN steps. And she made it look SO easy! They say this is the easiest Spanish meal there is. I’m doomed.

But I’m also determined. So after returning from my (completely fabulous) Christmas vacation in the states, I set out to re-create the magic I witnessed in Myriam’s kitchen.

Step 1: Potatoes

I chose two small and one large-ish potatoes and meticulously peeled them.

Step 2: Chopping and Slicing

Second, I slivered the potatoes into thin pieces and minced the onion.

Step 3: Fry Time

Next, I dumped my cutting board handiwork into hot Extra Virgin Olive Oil until the potatoes and onion were soft and cooked through.

Step 4: The Ratio

With three eggs scrambled and waiting, I spooned the lightly browned potatoes and onion into a bowl.

Step 5: Skilleting

Lastly I slipped the concoction into my tortilla skillet, flipped the forming omelet way before my instincts told me it was cooked and hoped for the best.

Step 6: Devour

While it still wasn’t a perfect Spanish omelet (I forgot the salt and could’ve had a tad more potato) it was definitely passable!

Eating Octopus

Pulpo (Octopus) from the fair in Sarria

Pulpo, a Galician delicacy, is served on a wooden saucer, drenched in olive oil and sprinkled with hot pepper sauce and salt.

It is done. I have done it! Goal No. 1: eat pulpo, check.

Tasting octopus, the most typical of typical Galician dishes, has been at the top of my to-do list since stepping foot in this seafood wonderland nearly two months ago. With the Atlantic Ocean a mere 75 miles away, my little town of Sarria is brimming with Pulperias where the small wooden tables of most Galician restaurants have been replaced by long, communal picnic tables and the proper usage of forks and knives is disregarded in favor of toothpicks and fingers.

Despite my desire to partake in the cultural experience of octopus eating, I’ve been fretting over the best way to go about it. I didn’t want to randomly pick a pulperia for fear I’d choose a bad one and be turned off from tentacles forever. After weeks of fretting, the perfect opportunity arose: Sarria’s tri-monthly fair! The 6th, 20th and 27th of every month Sarria’s best pulperias trek up to the pinacle of the tallest hill surrounding the city (colloquially referred to as el parte arriba or “the high part”) and brew up massive cauldrons of purplish-pink octopus.

Half-Cooked Pulpo Bubbles in Massive Caldrons

Steaming purple water bubbles in massive copper caldrons where the octopus tentacles are cooked.

As fate would have it, the 6th of December was Constitution Day marking the 34th birthday of the Spanish Constitution and thus a school holiday. Kassandra and I strolled up to the fairgrounds around 2 p.m. to scout out the perfect octopus-tasting table.

While taking a vuelta through the smattering of white awnings where locals were selling everything from winter socks to whole legs of jamónwe ran into our neighbor, Carlos, who apparently is a cheese maker! He greeted us from behind a table full of cheese wheels that were roughly the circumference of my head. In typical Galician style, many of the cheeses were mezclas of sheep, goat and cow milk. My favorite type, Vieja (old), was pure sheep milk aged for 14 months in an underground Bodega. The hard, white cheese was slightly softer than Parmesan and tasted surprisingly similar, but with an added tangy twinge to remind the eater that this block of cheese was 100 percent Spanish.

Carlos, a rather round Belgian man who details recipes with all the ferver as if they are ancient legends, recommended a tent tucked behind his cheese stand for our octopus almuerzo. 

Pulpo is served up in large tents.

Long wooden tables are nestled into the remains of an ancient stone room at one of the Sarrian Fair’s Pulpo tents.

The owner, an ever rounder and more boisterous Spaniard, was a friend of Carlos’ and led us the table closets to the heater. Guess we always look like cold Americans. A woman with fingers died purple from serving so much pulpo tossed half a loaf of bread, two well-worn glasses and a cold, unmarked bottle of wine in front of us and hurried off to dish up more wooden saucers of octopus.

The excited chatter of Spaniards sharing their favorite meal of the day filled the tent, which looked like it was perched atop ancient ruins. The dozen or so picnic tables were situated about 4 feet below the ground in what looked to be an old stone room. Stone columns spattered with bright green and orange moss supported a cave-like area to one side where another long table was squeezed under the stone overhang.

My half-ration of octopus tentacles arrived topped with pimiento picante, or hot pepper seasoning, and salt. The waitress doused it, or rather drenched it, in olive oil before scurrying off for more. Whereas most Spanish meals are eaten with the expert use of a fork and knife, pulpo  is devoured using only a toothpick. In fact, the only utensils I spotted were tiny spoons to stir sugar into the after-lunch coffee and small knives to cut bread loaves in half.

Thus, I speared my first centimeter-wide slice of octopus with my tiny toothpick and dug in. My first reaction was, “For octopus, this isn’t bad!” That was followed by the utter shock of spiciness. Spanish food is many things, but spicy is usually never one of them. I was pleasantly surprised!

A pimiento, sal y aciete covered bite of pulpo

Each bite of pulpo has two textures: the firm interior and the fatty exterior.

There are two distinct textures in each bite of pulpo. First is the delicious center section, which tastes like a firmer, denser scallop. Next is the outer portion which surrounds the scrumptious scallop-like center. This exterior tastes exactly like it looks: like a tentacle. The suction cups on the outside of the tentacle have a semi-chewy texture while the rest of the exterior area has a rather booger-like texture. After two or three bites, I snatched up the bread-cutting knife and stripped away the fatty-feeling outer portion, leaving only the firmer muscular center for my toothpicks to poke.

Kassandra, my roommate and supportive pulpo-partner, has a clutch piece of advice, which was passed down to her on her first octopus eating occasion. When eating octopus, only drink wine or milk. Apparently (and logically) water makes the sea creature expand in your stomach, causing a stomach ache. After hearing this I dashed back another gulp of my red wine, just in case.

Pulpo is definitely not a dish for daily consumption, but a month or so from now I could definitely sit down to another media racion. If you want to attempt the dish for yourself, here is a make-shift recipe crafted from a month of tales about eating octopus and a hefty-helping of advice from Carlos.

My reaction to eating octopus.

Verdict: Octopus, in moderation, is quite delish.

Galician Octopus

1/2 lb frozen octopus tentacles

1 cups olive oil

3 tsp salt

2 tsp pimiente picante (cayenne pepper would work)

First, defrost the octopus and wash it thoroughly. It must be frozen before it can be cooked in order to tenderize the meat and prevent it from being chewy. Boil enough water to fully submerge the octopus. Boil the octopus until tender, or until it is firm when poked with a fork, about 45 minutes. Drain the water and cut the tentacles into slices about 1 cm wide. It’s easiest to cut using kitchen scissors. Douse the slices with olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and hot pepper seasoning. Serve on a wooden platter and eat with toothpicks!