Curious Appetite

Chocolate

Chocolate BEET Nutella-Inspired Ganache CAKE.

Eat your vegetables—-for dessert! Yes, for real. Carrot cake, zucchini bread, now chocolate beet cake! Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables and here in the Puget Sound we are lucky to have them almost year round. Although in the fall & winter-like months, their bulbs tend to be bulkier which makes them easier to prepare into casseroles, roasts and soups. The beet has a looooong history, some believe it’s cultivation dates back to the 2nd millennium B.C.! Nowadays they are commercially produced for table sugar and there is even a hot controversy involving the little beet and the unstoppable GMO. Since about 1/2 of all our sugar in America comes from beets, (un)naturally the powers involved with mutating American Farmland have figured out how to capitalize on this rich sugar bulb now with a Roundup Ready GE Sugar Beet. Although the USDA has approved of this uncertain science experiment, you don’t have to. You can make this delicious moist buttery nutty chocolate cake with local organic beets found at Puget Sound Farmer’s Markets (or any local natural grocer/co-op) grown with love by Rents Due Ranch or Ralph’s Greenhouse and save yourself the mystery genes. This cake can be made even more local with Stone Buhr’s Washington White Flour (locally produced and small batch milled by Shepard’s Grain), farmstead eggs and fresh butter from the farmer’s market (or local co-op or natural grocer).

The Nutella-inspired ganache is easier than cake. Not only are beets in season and local, but so are hazelnuts! I just roasted these in the oven with a little bit of sugar until the skins popped off then beet them to a pulp in a coffee grinder then added to the chocolate ganache pot. So simple yet luscious! See for yourself!

Here is what you will need:

Dry ingredients in one bowl:

1 cup of flour (I used Shepherd’s Grain WA flour, its local and affordable!)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp cocoa or cacao

Wet ingredients:

5 eggs, separated

variation: 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites (or 3/4 cup liquid egg whites)

1 cup of sugar

Chocolate cake base:

1 cup of beet puree’ (made with 2 medium bulk beets or 1 large bulk beet)

8 tbsp butter, or one short stick

1/4 cup espresso, instant (for ease) or 1/4 hot water

1 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the Sunspire Fairtrade chips from PCC Natural Markets, less than $5 a bag!)

Chocolate-“Nutella” Ganache

1/2 cup skinned ground hazelnuts, dry roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of sugar

1/2 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp sweet Marsala or whatever sweet wine you have around

This cake has a lot of little tasks so here is how I suggest you break it down: Beets—>Ganache—> Hazelnut roasting—-> Cake batter prep—->Oven @ 325* for 40 minutes = voila’!

Beets: scrub your beet(s) and start boiling them skin on. It will take about 1/2 hour for the beets to full boil to softness and make the skin just slip off under cool water. When beets are boiled and skinned, cut into chunks and puree them in a food processor or blender.

Roasted hazelnuts, for ganache and cake topping:

Put the hazelnuts in a thin oven-safe pan and sprinkle some sugar on. Set temperature to 350* in a toaster oven or oven making sure to give them a shake and roll around every few minutes. Roast time total should be about 15 minutes. They will be ready when you see skins starting to pop off and brown. Let these cool wrapped in the middle of a clean towel.  In the towel, try to rub off all the skins. Reserve half  for the actual cake topping. The other half once skinned and cooled, pulverized in a coffee grinder. Pour into ganache when ready. Turn over down to 325* for cake baking temperature.

How to make the ganache:  add chocolate chips and heavy cream to a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Add in the Marsala or sweet wine. Whisk till this gets a bit thick then take off the heat and allow to cool. You may now mix in the pulverized hazelnut “meal”.

After ganache is made and beets are still boiling…

Chocolate cake base (the wet ingredients): melt 1/2 cup of chocolate in a small saucepan on very low heat and make sure to stir and scrap. Add espresso or hot water once chocolate is mostly melted. Cut butter into chunks and let it melt in careful not to stir too much. Fold in egg yolks and mix until uniform. And lastly, fold in beet puree’.

Now with an electric mixer, whip egg whites until stiff and frothy. Add in the sugar slowly and stir in with a spatula. Now you can fold in the egg white mixture with the chocolate mixture and have your self a chocolate base.

Dry Cake mix: In a dry bowl, sift flour with baking powder and cocoa powder.

Take the dry mix and now add it to the wet chocolate beet and electric mix until a batter forms. Don’t be alarmed, this batter will seem pretty runny but it will bake very dense and moist, you’ll see…:)

Take 2 9in cake pans and butter it up or as I did, coat pans with a coconut oil spray. Fill each pan about 3/4 full or even a little more, just be careful not to fill it to the rim. Bake for 40 minutes at 325* (no peeking and no over baking!)

After 40 minutes, take out and allow to cool. Once cool, remove from cake pan and spread ganache on top. Take the reserve hazelnuts, cut them in half and top away!

This cake will be a hit for the holiday festivities this year. Its deep, its rich and best of all it utilizes what’s in season and local. The thick chocolaty flavor exploding hazelnut puts the panache in this ganache!  If you really want to splurge, I recommend pairing this cake with a dessert wine like Banyuls or a Tawny Port. Cheers!

In the kitchen: my turn, making dessert.

I started this blog mainly because I have a lot of opinions about eating out. I also enjoy cooking, experimenting and baking. I found that a cooking/baking blog could be a tad time-consuming. But now, I just have to talk a little about my cooking style and share a recipe for something I made.

I usually don’t follow recipes to the grit unless it involves baking. and even then I try to sneak cardamon and extra butter in where I can. I can’t be bothered.  As a result of being so defiant to guideline, I usually have a fair number of uh-ohs and shoulda couldas. And then there are sometimes when recipes are completely wack and I must damage control, as in the case with one of my favorite “cook”-books: The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose.

Don’t let the name scare you, raw food is a cuisine. Its one of the few defining food genres unique to American Gastronomy, if there is such a thing. American Gastronomy, and most other western cultures for that matter, have much borrowing going on. No matter how local and seasonal, a sorrel sauce is french and always will be. Raw Food cuisine is unique to all the supplement popping, psuedo-science yoga enthusiasts of the Whole Foods Market demographic in the most yuppy new-agey quarters of America.

The idea behind “raw food” is that we tax our “enzyme factories” eating “dead” (cooked) food, where as if we ate more raw food, the enzymes are kept intact and our bodies don’t have to produce them unnecessarily for digestion and not to mention being able to retain all the phytonutrients that are possibly being depleted by cooking.

I don’t know if I buy all this, but I will say that from time to time, it sure as hell tastes good:

This, my friends, is what I call raw: Chocolate Cardamom Cream Pie in a Cinnamon Pecan “Crust”.

This is 100% raw, vegan, soy and gluten free. even the spices were raw. I crushed the cardamom seeds and pulverized the cinnamon sticks. And you’ll never guess what went in this mock pie.

Give up? Can’t figure out how a pie could have such a creamy filling without tofu or dairy? Cant understand how a crust could be made without graham crackers, butter or flour?

Okay okay, but you’re not going to believe this. 🙂 The cream was made out of avocado, raw cacao powder, raw agave, crushed cardamom and bourbon vanilla. Yes I said avocado. Avocado, if you haven’t noticed, is a great blank canvas. Meaning that on its own it’s pretty useless (unless you add {truffle} salt) but it does hold and bring out whatever flavors are added to it. Try it! The crust was made out of pecans, cold-processed coconut oil, dates, ground almonds, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg. That’s it.

Here’s my “recipe” that should fill a normal sized pie-ware. I suggest making the pie crust 1st.

Pecan-Date Pie Crust

12-18 dates, pitted (depending on the date size)

3/4 – 1 cup of pecans

1/4 cup of almond meal/flour

2 tablespoons of cold-processed extra virgin coconut oil (I like the Artisana brand)

1/4 cup fresh almond milk, or the stuff in the tetrapack if you absolutely must.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves.

So this recipe was adapted from The Raw Food Detox Diet, but I changed it. The original asked for only 6 dates and 1/2 cup of pecans. That’s impossibly short! There is no way that would have fit into a pie pan! So I added more of those 2 ingredients and then improved a couple other that I believed would help give the impression of a crumbly cookie buttery crust: Almond meal and coconut oil. What you want to do with this is to give a preliminary chop to the dates. Then add all the listed ingredients in a food processor (with the largest blade attachment) and process until you have a crumbly mix. It’s okay to have clumps. The prelim. date dice should help eliminate most of the chunkadge.

Once you have a mix, press into the pie pan (preferably one of those glass types). Now this is going to get sticky, but just have fun. Pretend like you’re playing with play-dough again but this time you will smell cinnamony sweet and not play-doughy 🙂 Once you have pressed the pie crust into the pan, set it in the freezer to harden while you make the pie filling. But only let it sit in the freezer for as long as it takes to make the filling.

Chocolate Avocado Filling (this can be eaten as a pudding too!)

6 Avocados (small)

1/3 cup of Agave (I ended up added closer to 1/2 cup because I have a wicked sweet tooth, so sweeten to your liking)

6-8 tablespoons of cacao powder, depending if you are going for a “milk” or “dark” chocolate feel.

6 pods (shelled) of cardamom, crushed in a mortar and pestle.

A dash of cinnamon

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or hand mixer until smooth, lookout for unblended avocado chunks. They are sneaky. Again, I improved this recipe. The one in the rawbook said to use only 1/2 of an avocado, 6 dates and 2 tablespoons of cacao. To make 2 cups?? Impossible! And! who wants chunks of dates in a cream pie filling?! So I added more avocado, cacao, slipped in agave and cardamom. Best decision to go against the recipe grain.

Now that you have the chocolate “pudding”/pie filling, take out the pie crust from the freezer and pour it on in there! Use a spoon to smooth out the wrinkles and decorate with sliced strawberries, edible flowers or whatever tickles your fancy!

Take lots of pictures before you dive into this because it will get a little disheveled. Enjoy!

Nettletown

One morning, as I was restlessly slept-in, I was feeling spontaneous and felt compelled to venture out for brunch. I urbanspoon’d “brunch” and found this “Nettletown.” I thought, what a peculiar name. It seems that Nettles have become a culinary trend in the Pacific Northwest, i.e. nettle papparadelle, nettled sausage, nettle gratin. Nettles are medicinal as they are delicious. They are amazing towards combating allergies. And amazing in curing the experimental palate.

I was quite surprised to see this place tucked next to subway in the seemingly convenience strip of Eastlake. I walked in, and was covered by colors, mural-inspired decor, and a counter lined of eccentric sweets. Dark chocolate covered noodle haystacks to mexican chocolate (sliced) coconut bars.  They were delicately arranged and gastronomically full of beauty. And the best part? COST. $1.60 for that chocolatey coconut blissy bar that I enjoyed much with some full-bodied organic coffee that was served in a cute modestly sized Japanese-like styled light blue ceramic mug, and as I waited for my baked truffled sunchoke eggs to arrive.

Menu items seem baked and/or cooked to order (allow 20 minutes for this special): and I was impressed by all of the choices. Simplicity, yet complexity. Traditional, yet experimental. There was something truly special about the vibe inside. It really seemed like a little hole in the wall that no one knew about, and that would only be exposed by Anthony Bourdain. I found that to be completely false once I stumbled upon the latest Eater Heat Map http://m.eater.com/archives/2010/12/29/the-eater-seattle-heat-map-where-to-eat-right-now.php

I feel like homey little hole in the wall joints that you can fill up on precious gourmet comfort meals for less than ten bucks is a rarity in Seattle, unless you hit up the I.D., Beacon Hill, White Center, or maybe Korean joints along HWY 99. Usually, so-called “foodie” and well-ranked venues like Springhill (bless your hearts and please forgive me for the following profiling:)  are in high-profiled spaces with seemingly high-profiled snooty clientele. And that with coffee and tip and maybe a slice of brioche will let you escape for those ten $mackers.

The point IS…these baked eggies were creamy, truffly (of the black variety) and had semi-firm savory sunchokes baked in with a creamy cheese crust. The green spinach salad was a great way to polish off the palate and still leave the truffle lingering and mingling with the olivey vinaigrette.

As I lurked through the website, I discovered the owner’s inspirations come from her Swiss and Chinese roots. TOTALLY made sense, after I was confounded by the melange of modern European Ikea-eske ideas of Elk-Balls and Swiss Knoepfli (swiss spaetzle) yet Asian style-comfort foods like 5-spiced Berkshire pork ribs buried in wild mushroom noodle soup.

I am so bewildered by this place, not only for the way you can get sweet unpretentious treats for under $2, its small yet bursting  selection of brunch items, the fact that its hard to spot along Eastlake ave and sits right next to a franchise that is belittling the gastronomic integrity of America, and the fact that they actually utilize a CSA farm/produce box  scheme to provide its whole food ingredients.

So, my question is, how good is a lemongrass elk meatball?