30 November 2014

Crunchy Nutella

It might look like ordinary Nutella, but this jar has a secret ingredient - CRUNCH!

I've eaten peanut butter and Nutella for years, like most other people I reckon. One thing that has always surprised me is that we take it for granted that peanut butter is crunchy and that Nutella is smooth, but I've always thought there should be a crunchy version of Nutella too. So...

  • Nutella (duh)
  • Whole hazelnuts (duh again)
  • oven at 160°C
  • Mezzaluna knife for chopping
  • Patience

I bought the smallest jar of Nutella for the experiment. I also bought whole hazelnuts, because the only other way to buy them was as a powder, ground up, presumably as a flour substitute or for hazelnut meringues. The only problem with the hazelnuts was the skin on them (under the shell) and I was faced with the prospect of the long, laborious process of peeling the skins off. Fortunately, we live in the internet age and I swiftly found My Baking Addiction where good information is given.

One thing I would advise if you'd like to follow my lead is to make sure your pan has higher sides than normal or that you just use a bigger pan than would seem necessary since the bicarb bubbles up a *lot*. Anyway, after three or so minutes, the skins are easy to remove just by rubbing with your thumb. It's still messy and somewhat laborious, but I reckon this would be a good step to confide to kids, if you have them (or can borrow a neighbour's?).

Peeled and roasted hazelnuts
The knife I used (gingerly) to chop
The next step is to roast the peeled hazelnuts. I left them in the oven at about 160°C for about 15 minutes, but just keep checking - I waited until a lovely smell was coming from the oven. Take them out and let them cool for a bit, then chop them into small bits. This step is also fastidious and pretty much needs to be done manually. My experiments with an electric shopper thingy made too much powder rather than the little nibs you want so I chopped and sorted.

If you are only doing a small jar to test like me, I reckon I used about 20 hazelnuts chopped up and the nice thing is that there's enough space in the jar above the Nutella that you can tip them in and mix. However, today I decided to do a 630g jar and for the bits to be more evenly distributed through the paste, I emptied about half the jar out, added nuts and mixed, added some more back, added nuts and mixed, and so on until all the Nutella was back in the jar. If the hazelnuts are still slightly warm this is actually easier to do since their warmth melts the Nutella a little. Anyway, I guess I added about 60-75 nuts to this jar, a few more relatively than the original tester.

The resulting crunchy Nutella has a pleasingly sophisticated flavour from the roasting of the hazelnuts and I will be examining whether I can send a jar to friends in the US in the post office tomorrow - more awkward since forcibly you need to unseal the jar to mix everything together and security forces might imagine you'd put anthrax or something equally unpleasant in.

12 November 2014

Iain (M) Banks reread


 When Iain died suddenly last year (09-Jun-13) I decided that I was going to reread his complete canon to pay my respects in a way that I could, so aside from reading Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson and all the reading on the web I have to do, I haven't read anything else.

Here's his bibliography with notes on what I've read so far:
  • 1984 – The Wasp Factory (still one of his finest non-SF books and a joy to read again 5/5)
  • 1985 – Walking on Glass (Fantastic again, Iain pretty much assured I'd read all his books with this one 5/5))
  • 1986 – The Bridge (Not my favourite by any stretch, misses the humour of the first two 2/5)
  • 1987 – Espedair Street (Back to brilliant 5/5)
  • 1987 – Consider Phlebas (The first Culture novel and a solid start 3/5)
  • 1988 – The Player of Games (An excellent book, fits in beautifully with the long trip idea (reminds me of Louis Wu) 5/5)
  • 1989 – Canal Dreams (Didn't enjoy this one so much 2/5)
  • 1990 – Use of Weapons (Great story with interesting narrative device with Zakalwe and Sma 4/5)
  • 1991  The State of the Art (Some great short stories set in the culture and one more mainstream 4/5)
  • 1992 – The Crow Road (A great conspiracy story 4/5)
  • 1993 – Complicity (Another great conspiracy 4/5)
  • 1993 – Against a Dark Background (non-Culture SF, with a great MacGuffin - the lazy gun! 5/5)
  • 1994 – Feersum Endjinn (the only story I didn't finish on my reread. It takes too much time to "translate" DNF)
  • 1995 – Whit (A great story with debunking of cult religion 4/5)
  • 1996 – Excession (A great book with the protagonists being ships rather than humans or aliens making the dialogues a little strange 4/5)
  • 1997 – A Song of Stone (A good if somewhat dour tale of pre-industrial war 3/5)
  • 1998 – Inversions (excellent crypto-Culture book masquerading as court intrigue in a medieval setting 4/5)
  • 1999 – The Business (Splendid. I kinda wish it gave more clues to the denouement so the reader (well, this reader anyway) could have a better idea of what was going on, but excellent otherwise 4/5)
  • 2000 – Look to Windward (Very enjoyable. Nice mystery and great characters as always. The device of using wormholes is a great idea - kind of... 4/5)
  • 2002 – Dead Air (Brilliant and the chapter where Ken is being interviewed by Mr. Merrial kept me reading, even though it was already four in the morning 5/5)
  • 2004 – The Algebraist (Superb. Lovely to have a step away from the Culture - into a universe where the Culture wouldn't even be possible because of AIs being illegal! - and into an intrigue that is deliciously played out with aliens that really are, rather than being people in a different costume with ridges in their noses... 5/5)
  • 2007 – The Steep Approach to Garbadale (good, but feels drawn out and the central "mystery" surrounding Alban and Sophie's relationship was clear to me from the start, so didn't feel shocking. 3/5)
  • 2008 – Matter (Excellent, although the mix of High Involved and the medieval Sursamen seems a little to easy at times, but I love the idea of the Shellworlds. The ending is as high octane as anything he ever wrote and definite Hollywood material 5/5 - written 150801)
  • 2009 – Transition (Loved the many worlds and the method of travelling between them. I read the book over too long a period meaning that sometimes I lost the character I was reading, but Bisquitine's mad monologue was always a gas - 5/5 written 150913, but finished 150830)
  • 2010 – Surface Detail (Superb, possibly one of my favourite Culture novels, and certainly my favourite ship avatar in Demeisen. The idea of intagliation is superb, although the book isn't content with one excellent idea, it also presents the idea of manufactured hells. It does get a little confusing at times switching between perspectives without even a chapter break. Still, it gets a resounding 5/5 written 151004)
  • 2012 – Stonemouth (Iain Banks paints a fantastic picture of Scotland, I always wish to be his protagonist - here Stewart Gilmour. This story is very well-layered and paced, with the opening of his fiance getting him out of toun before her brothers kill him leaving you wondering what the heck is going on. A great read 5/5 written 151024)
  • 2012 – The Hydrogen Sonata (Big and sprawling with some superb ideas, but running the risk of too many characters overwhelming these central idea of what happens when a society decided to sublime - it might almost have been enough to purely concentrate on that aspect of the book.As usual, the ships and their avatars are the most interesting though the mysterious QiRia who might have lived for more than ten thousand years is excellent. A fine read to go out on for people who only read M. 4/5 - written 151123)
  • 2013 – The Quarry (Perhaps not his greatest book. The supporting characters are too-sketchily drawn and there's too much filler. 3/5 151205
So, that's it. I've reread (or read for the first time for The Quarry) all of Iain (M.) Banks' many books over the course of just over a year.  I am completely dismayed that there will never be another after The Quarry and that that book is, understandably, not as polished as his others. I will no doubt continue to read and reread my favourites for years to come. Thank you Iain, wherever you are.