Back to Work with Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

??????????????????????????????? Monday was my first day back to work in 6 weeks. I have to admit 2 things: 1) the 6 weeks of recovery really went by pretty quickly (and I am so very, very thankful that my recovery was so easy) and 2) I sort of had to force myself to go to work Monday morning.  During my time off I really, really began to realize how much I am over this job.  I’m bored.  I don’t feel like I’m growing professionally.  And I’m ready for a new challenge.  I’ve been studying sign language in the hopes that maybe I can make a career switch and be a para educator (a sort of teacher’s aide) in our local school district for deaf students.  I know right now I am not the qualified candidate they are looking for, but I hope I can convince the hiring committee to take a chance on me, let me immerse myself with deaf students and be forced to use it on a daily basis so that I can become fluent in ASL.  I mean, really, what better way to learn a foreign language than to immerse yourself in the language and culture?  We shall see how this goes…

Since I got the go-ahead from my doc to resume all normal activities, I have gone on 1 trail run and been to the gym 3 times.  My trail run was last Wednesday, about an hour after I left my doctor’s office.  Even though it was slooooooow (true runners probably would not call what I did ‘running’) it felt fantastic.  Friday I went to the gym and lifted weights.  I was so weak, which, though expected was frustrating, but it felt great to not be on that damned treadmill!  I was pretty sore the next day (arms and thighs, not my incision!), but in a good way.  Then Sunday I went to Zumba and my core strengthening class.  I took it easy in both classes, lowered my intensity and didn’t overexert myself (though I couldn’t lift my arms after doing exercises with the resistance band–that thing is killer!).  By tonight’s Zumba class I felt completely recovered and picked up the intensity.  I love that in Zumba I can just let it all out and get my crazy dance on because no one’s looking and there is always someone else who doesn’t know all the choreography, either.  Dance like no one is watching, right?  I definitely felt a little winded about halfway through the class, but I worked up a good sweat and I know it won’t take long to get my stamina back to full strength…I just have to be patient.  And keep going to the gym.  And trail running.

To celebrate my return to normal life, and reward myself–you know, just because…I made some homemade chocolate hazelnut spread.  You are probably most familiar with this on the grocery shelf as Nutella.  I haven’t bought Nutella in years for one reason: it contains palm oil.  I wrote about my palm oil boycott last year, so I will spare the repeat soap box. With all the food blogs on the Internet, there are literally dozens of recipes for making your own Nutella substitute.  I have probably half a dozen chocolate hazelnut spread recipes on my computer, and I chose the simplest one with the fewest number of ingredients.  I accidentally modified it because I added twice as much cocoa as the recipe called for, but I like it this way, so I’m keeping the modification.  This recipe is a winner, so I might as well just delete the other recipes because I will probably never make them. ??????????????????????????????? Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (makes about 1 1/2 pints)

2 cups whole raw hazelnuts (if you have roasted, skinned hazelnuts use those and save yourself a step!)

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup vegetable or nut oil

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

To remove the skins from the hazelnuts, place them on a cookie sheet and roast them in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.  Stir the nuts and roast for another 4-5 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool (you will hear the skins crackling–it’s kind of a neat sound).  When the hazelnuts are cool to the touch, place them in a clean dish towel and gather up the corners.  Roll the hazelnuts around inside the towel to loosen the skins.  Not all of them will come off, but that’s okay. Place the hazelnuts in a food processor.  Process the hazelnuts for 1 minute.  At this point, any skins left on may fly up and stick to the sides of your bowl via static cling (at least that happened to me).  Use your finger or a spatula to scrape the skins off the bowl and discard them.

Continue processing the hazelnuts until the oils come out–you are making hazelnut butter.  This might take a few minutes.  You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice to make sure you get all the hazelnuts ground.  You might not be able to make the hazelnut butter completely smooth, so keep processing until you reach a consistency you like (mine was still slightly gritty).  Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.  Use a spatula to scrap the sides of the bowl and the bottom to make sure all the ingredients get incorporated into the spread evenly.

Transfer the hazelnut spread to a clean jar or other air tight container.  It will be very soft and spreadable at room temperature, but will harden up in the refrigerator.   Lick the spatula clean or use graham crackers or shortbread cookies to clean up any leftover spread in the food processor bowl.  All of my recipes say this will store in the fridge for up to 2 months, but who are they kidding??  I’ll be lucky if this lasts a few days in my fridge.

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