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Valentine’s, shmalentines. If he loves you, you better not let him get away with a lousy bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates once a year. I’m saying “HE” as I have a “HE”. Your SHE is to express her love for you just as spontaneously and uncontrollably as my HE. And he does. Jason doesn’t buy me flowers for any specific occasions. He shows up at the threshold of our home with a fragrant bomb of fresh flowers whenever I reach the darkest depth of despair. (In other words, I’m feeling low.)
We also have established a versatile set of I-love-yous: for Good Morning and Good Bye; Thank you, Baby, I-love-you; on the phone: I’ll talk to you later, I-love-you; when experiencing sudden ebb of chest-expanding feelings unrelated to moon phases: I LOVE YOU! And last but not least, at night, after wishing each other sweet dreams back and forth three times and in 2 languages, he whispers into my ear with a perfect Polish accent: KOCHAM CIE [pronounced: koh-hahm tchyeh, more or less].
Love has settled like dust in every corner of our house. It oozes out of every steaming pot of food I make, it comforts our bare feet as we walk on our vacuumed carpets, it forgives the dances in the nude, it folds loads of laundry, and it tries really hard to ignore the soundtrack of cheerful and very confident farts in the background after one of those healthy meals. Love is always in the AIR. How timely for Sade to release a brand new album after close to a decade!
See, we don’t really feel the need to exchange Valentine’s cards. We both feel loved twentyfourseven on any given calendar day. It just so happened that we spent the Valentine’s Day this year in one of the most romantic destinations in the US – Napa Valley.
Jason was summoned to San Francisco for work this past weekend, and I simply tagged along. There was no Valentine’s Day plotting involved, no romance a’la carte.
As he was done with his duties on Sunday, we rented a car and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge heading north to visit both Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
It seems as the time stops up north. The Sun and Earth are still happily married and continue to bear their offspring across the golden fields and rolling hills. We stood on the side of a road and witnessed their bond, inhaled the love heavily sprayed in the air by ubiquitous blooming flowers, heard the birds exchange their KOCHAM CIE’s in their own tongue, and we were silent.
Now, do you still need a Valentine’s card? Or maybe that’s just us. I did, however, make a FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE for my coworkers, with a drizzle of RASPBERRY SAUCE. Oh, heavens! Chocolate and fresh raspberries together truly is a marriage made in heaven, or in the garden if you must. The sweet but tart flavor of the sauce strikes against the depth of the chocolate comfort, thus sending a ticklish shiver down one’s spine. If there is food with orgasmic qualities, this dessert certainly represents that group honorably.
Let me walk you through the few steps the cake requires. If you are organized, you will have made the cake and cleaned up the kitchen within one short hour. I use only organic ingredients. If they are not easily available in your area, at least choose the best quality items. It is worth it.
– 5 egg yolks
– 5 egg whites
– 1 stick of butter
– 5 oz semi-sweet chocolate
– 1/2 cup raw cane sugar
– 1/2 tsp instant coffee
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt
– 1/2 tsp cardamom
– 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Draw a 9” circle on a sheet of parchment paper and cut it out. Spray the bottom of a 9” round baking sheet with a non-stick spray, place the parchment paper in, and spray once again on its surface. Put aside. Preheat your oven to 325°.
In a double boiler melt together chocolate and butter; then add coffee, cardamom, and vanilla, mix well and don’t let it boil. As soon as the mixture is liquid and coherent, take it off the heat and let it cool until the rest of your cake components are ready.
In a large bowl beat together egg whites, using a hand-held mixer, and slowly add half of your sugar and salt. When the egg whites create soft peaks, they’re done. In a separate, smaller bowl beat the egg yolks together with the remaining sugar until they form a creamy and tick cream, and sugar is mostly dissolved.
Gently combine the egg yolks and the egg whites together, and slowly start adding your melted chocolate mixture in the eggs. Using a spatula gently fold everything together until it is a coherent chocolaty mass. Do not stir. Do not violently mix it. Simply fold all the elements together, patiently, with love, in one direction. It may take you about 5 minutes.
When the mixture is ready, pour it into the prepared baking pan and put in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes and then remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
It’s best when chilled overnight in a refrigerator and served either with fresh strawberries or my RASPBERRY SAUCE:
Thaw out a bag of frozen raspberries, place them in a small saucepan and add 3-4 tbsp of raw cane sugar (depending on the size of the package). Mix with a wooden spoon, throw in a few springs of fresh mint and let it simmer together for 10-15 minutes. About 5 minutes before it’s finished ad a few drizzles of good balsamic vinegar (1-1.5 tbsp) and mix again. When done, pour the raspberries with all the juices through a sieve to remove all seeds and obtain a perfectly smooth and silky RASPBERRY SAUCE.
I know it’s all supposed to be super healthy-healthy in here, and I’ve been selling you on the premise of keeping our culinary experience well balanced. It’s not that this time will be much different. It’s not that I want to spin you around and flip my whole belief system over night on you BUT: A GIRL NEEDS A CAKE sometimes, too. And today is the day.
I stick to my guns, however, even when I bake. I am on a quest to prove anyone who thinks that a sweet slice of a baked delight is bad for you WRONG. I’m feeling feisty today so don’t come too close, cuz I’ll fight for my right for one more bite (pun intended) and I WILL bite. Bam!
I propose my Almond-Meal Cake with Balsamic Reduction for the weekend. I found a recipe, tested it, tasted it, then tested it on Jason, adjusted it so it fits Agi’s criteria of health and Hallelujah! First of all, the original recipe called for corn meal. However what you are getting from me is an Almond-Meal Cake. Another “improvement” was substituting white flour for a whole-wheat kind. I also used organic butter (the only kind in my refrigerator) and cut down the amount used. Moreover, I chose raw cane sugar over the white processed crap and also reduced it by half. Finally, the eggs I used were organic and came from cage-free and happy chicks.
I’ll make a deal with you, a very sweet one. Along with the cake recipe I’ll share another DOLCE treat, a fruity kind, to keep it all BALANCED. And remember, you do not need to eat the whole cake all at once. That would not be healthy-healthy, not in the least. There’s nothing wrong, however, with a slice here and there to accompany your cup of coffee, or a decaf-skim-extra-hot-green-chai latte.
Enough talk. Roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty. For the ALMOND MEAL CAKE WITH MINT you need to combine dry ingredients first:
– 1/2 cup of fine ground almond meal
– 1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour
– a pinch of salt
– 1 tsp of cinnamon
– 1 tsp of baking powder (aluminum free)
Mix it all in a medium bowl.
Now the wet ingredients:
– 3/4 of a stick of butter (at room temperature)
– 3/4 cup of raw cane sugar
– 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl, add vanilla and mix again.
Next – eggs. Add 2 whole eggs into the wet mix and incorporate with the butter and sugar well. You need 4 more yolks (no whites) to add them separately while mixing each one first with the rest of the wet ingredients.
You’re almost done, but not quite. For that extra aroma add:
– 1 tbsp of lemon zest
– 1 tbsp of minced fresh mint (aha!)
– 1/2 a cup of light sour cream.
Mix all the wet ingredients together. Slowly add the dry mix into the wet mix in 3 batches, making sure to incorporate all elements well.
Pour the batter into a round baking pan, previously greased with butter and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake the cake for 35 – 45 minutes (depending on the size of your pan). The cake is done when you dip a toothpick in the middle of the cake and it comes out clean.
In a small pan, mix a 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar with a 1/2 cup (or less) cane sugar. Add a sprig or two of fresh mint. Mix well, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes. It will get thicker as it cools. While still hot, pour a teaspoon worth of the reduction over a slice of your cake. Open mouth. Stick out tongue. Pop a piece inside. Smash against the roof of your mouth. HEAVEN!
When you decide to conquer this recipe, I advise you to gather a few good people around and keep them close to your kitchen, just to ensure you don’t devour the entire desert on your own. It’s dangerous, it’s that good!
To satisfy your sweet tooth on all the other days, simply choose fresh fruit and turn the volume up. I’ll give you an example of one of my FRUIT SALADS. Just today I got fresh honeydew at the store and decided to turn it into an after-dinner desert. Since Jason’s parents are in town visiting their son and his woman (moi), I am making an extra effort. (More about that later.)
I cut the fruit in bite size chunks. Then I quartered a few strawberries. All went into a big bowl, topped with a handful of blueberries. (I loved the color combination. It really tickled my esthetic gene.) I sprinkled about a tablespoon of cane sugar over the fruit, added maybe a tablespoon of lemon juice and its zest, minced fresh mint, and topped it all with 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract. Mixed well, I packed in a closed container, and stored it in our refrigerator for a couple of hours.
The lemon juice and the sugar helps the fruit to release juice that will later mix with the other guys. It will coat the fruit chunks with a layer of ambrosial nectar. Mint will accent the flavor and also serve as decoration. It’s a MUST TRY desert. You’re in for a big surprise.
I’m out of here for today. We’re taking J’s folks to the wine country tomorrow for a little vino tasting. I better get my beauty sleep before the trip!