Category Archives: winter

Catch of the Day: Trout in Ham Recipe


I don’t know what pushed us to go ice fishing few week-ends ago, but it wasn’t a common sense. But it made a good story, so I guess it was worth it anyways. Although very cold, the morning was bright and shiny and promised all kind of fun nature adventures. Doggy, the house astrologer was giving us her blessings…
When we arrived at Phillipsburg, it was minus thirty in Celsius, windy (which translates into minus forty five with the wind chill factor) and unbelievably humid because the day before was much warmer. The man on duty at Activités Plein Air with lobster-red face and neck briefly explained the rules of serious ice fishing and handed us a can of worms (greeting bonus for the ice fishing newcomers). ‘Go check your place and tell me when you’re ready,’ he said chewing cigarette roach and waving to the few cabins (cabane à pêche) available, so we could take a pic before parting with Canadian $75.00. ‘Is it biting well?’ – we inquired. ‘Keeps us pas mal busy, he replied. Perhaps he was talking about his liver, I don’t know. He had a breath of the United Distillery although it was just little past the afternoon. I realized we didn’t bring any alcohol, just a six-pack of Blanche de Chambly, which sounded more like a joke in this weather condition. What were we thinking? This kind of adventure calls for some hard alcohol, like the 120-proof Jamaican rum that can curl your nose hair just by looking at it. I also realized I should have put three pairs of pants instead of two, brought snow goggles, covered the rest of my face with Vaseline and wrapped the rest of my body in extra wool and feathers…
It was around half-mile to get to the nearest free cabin walking over the frozen lake. By the time we did with our back packs and fishing gear, I couldn’t take pictures anymore because my fingers went numb. So felt my camera – the buttons froze and were not working. The shack was empty, dark and cold: we had to go back to buy and bring some fire wood to start warming it up. The neighbor within few meters flung his cabin door open to take a loud steamy piss disregarding us as if we were some kind of uninvolved bystanders stoned as much as him by that point of the day. He then gulped some moonshine from a plastic water bottle and vanished back into his cabin. Although many shacks have been already rented, we’ve seen no fish caught around and heard no screams of excitement. Everything was dead silent, steamy cold and wild.
In less than 15 minutes I felt like I’ve been ice fishing for a century. I might even have taken this image a hundred years ago in Gilford, Ontario, except I absolutely wouldn’t want to be that person…
The landscape reminded me of ‘The Red Tent’ vintage movie my parents used to make me watch as a toddler for like thousand times because they liked it and thought it was a ‘masterpiece tragedy’. Sean Connery played Roald Amundsen, Claudia Cardinale was a hot nurse Valeria. Most of the time (script) all was lost; the characters would suffer from the situation, relationships and excruciating cold. Everyone’s face was covered with icicles. Everything went epic bad to the score of eternal Enio Morricone…
‘I think we have just screwed our day. The fish is not biting. Most of my blood circulation has shut down… And our phone is dead…. What other signs do we need to stop before it’s too late? It feels to me like this kind of adventure can only give pneumonia or a prostate whatever… What if we freeze to death, or worse, drift into the ocean on break-away sea ice floes like those 220 Latvian anglers? I should have SKYPEd with my Mom this morning.’
‘Just for today, I wish I had a giant beard like Hans Langseth to keep me warm. I could wrap it around my neck and shoulders and protect myself better from the Arctic cold and hard-blowing flurries’, the idea crossed my mind while we soldiered back to the station at the sunset empty-handed. The landscape was breathtaking though…
‘I thought the catch would happen fast and easy like that Finnish angler promised in his blog. ‘Next time may be you should check the real Canadian website for more information on local conditions,’ suggested honey-bunny. Oh well. That was our tribute to cold.We did catch one fish – a small pregnant perch, which we released:
I enlarged it on purpose (like they do with many things) to compare with the Finnish angler (bottom right image is a Finnish pike):
I was happy to be back to Montreal safe and sound. We passed by Costco and I bought a pack of freshly caught trout with one single wish in my head: ‘Summer, come back to me!’.
The wish manifested later in the form of Trucha Con Jamón dish – my favorite Spanish way (originating from Navarra region) to cook trout wrapped in cured ham. Crisp ham and fish skin, juicy tender fish fillet inside, contrasting exotic flavors. It guarantees to bring the sunshine back to your plate rain or shine! Next time in February, Costco will be as far as I can go for my winter catch of the day adventure, I swear.
Naturally, this recipe can be done with other wrap-able fresh fish, or even better, fish fillet. Pickerel, cod, haddock, rockfish or bass fillets would be my best bets; lean salmon would be OK  (as long as the piece is not too greasy).
Equally, some versions of Trucha Con Jamón are done with the ham going inside the cavity of the fish instead of the outside. The most known is the one called Truca a la Riohana. Still heavenly tasty!
Quick note: TOTALLY OPTIONAL – often I de-bone the fish (which is easy in case of the fresh trout) for the comfort of consumption, but it’s really not necessary if you’re OK with fish bones (although it does give you a hint that you can do the same with any pair of fish fillets – sounds to me like a great idea for a restaurant menu):
Another quick note/disclaimer: although it makes quite a stretch from the classic recipe, thinly sliced fresh pork belly makes a great riff on this dish for both, to stuff or to wrap it in:
Some words on side courses:
– Excellent with simple green peas and some other steamed or sautéed veggies extra, like zucchini, broccoli, sprouts, etc.;
– Out of this world with the side course of warm sautéed leeks and carrots  and/or olive salad; 
– Festive with Waldorf;
– Light and easy with simple green watercress salad;
– Groovie with classic potato salad,
and many more…
Enjoy!
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TROUT WRAPPED IN CURED HAM (Trucha Con Jamón)
Yields: 1 to 2 portions depending on the trout size or your appetite. Multiply the ingredients accordingly.
Ingredients:
1 small to medium size fresh trout, gutted and cleaned (deboned if necessary)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 wedge of lemon to sprinkle (optional)
1 slice of bacon/lard, cut in cubes (optional)
1 small red bell pepper, diced (optional)
2-3 pieces of cured ham (Serrano, Proscuitto, etc.) thinly sliced
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Ingredients:
Season the trout with salt and pepper, sprinkle with lemon inside out and set aside.
Heat the skillet to medium high, add bacon and fry it for 2-3 minutes. Add red bell pepper to the skillet and continue frying for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer to the plate and let cool. Keep the liquid bacon fat leftover in the skillet for the next step.
Pat-dry trout with paper towels and stuff the cavity with bacon-red pepper mix.  Wrap the trout with cured ham making sure the cavity with the stuffing is well closed.
Re-heat the same skillet to medium high. Add olive oil and warm it through. Place the trout wrapped in ham carefully into the skillet. Cook on each side for 5-7 minutes, lowering the heat a bit if necessary to make sure the fish is cooked through. Enjoy with some light vegetable side dish!
TROUT STUFFED WITH HAM (Trucha a la Riohana)
Yields: 1 to 2 portions depending on the trout size or your appetite. Multiply the ingredients accordingly.
Ingredients:
1 small to medium size fresh trout, gutted and cleaned (deboned if wish be)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2-3 pieces of cured ham (Serrano, Proscuitto, etc.) thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Instructions:
Season the trout with salt and pepper. Pat dry the trout with paper towel. Stuff the cavity with ham.  Heat the same skillet to medium high. Add olive oil and warm it through. Place the trout carefully into the skillet. Cook on each side for 5+ minutes, lowering the heat a bit if necessary to make sure the fish is cooked through. Enjoy with some light vegetable side dish!

In Juniper Spirit: Ham in Pastry Crust (Jambon en Croute) Recipe

“All right, all right, I’ll give you a break for now, but we’ll have a serious conversation in January,” I promised my protruding belly’s mirror reflection a week ago.  Christmas is about tradition and comfort food, so it’s OK to feel or look a little pudgy…  Soon I will have all the time needed to martyr myself with celery and quinoa salad and the ideas of how to “look great in a minivan,” I thought to myself later that day, buying a naughty chunk of a Christmas ham to cook for the family dinner…
And what a dinner it was!  Even our most ferocious calorie-count members admired it. Not only that centerpiece ham expressed and celebrated Quebec’s oldest Christmas tradition, it tasted better, than ever and not just because of the wine was on a table. One secret ingredient made that magic. It was neither the ham itself, nor a crust, but a little crushed juniper berry I added to the mustard rub in between.  It infused the ham and crust with the touch of piney Christmas spirit and balanced the flavors wonderfully.
Earlier in fall we had to cut some old juniper skyrockets in our yard and I foraged an impressive quantity of juniper berries. Not that I didn’t know anything about juniper berry as a spice: it turns vodka into gin, improves the fermentation process of sauerkraut, and makes a great concoction for a hot bath…

However, that would pretty much limit my knowledge of its use. Seeing that quantity of unbelievably fragrant freshly foraged juniper berries was kind of a revelation to me. I wanted to know what else can be done with them and start experimenting right away.

Which is how the idea of using them in the rub came first and I made this little ham back in September. WHOA! It worked better than I expected.  I’m usually not a big fan of ham, reserving it to special occasions only, but this one came out really outstanding.

What a complex yet subtle flavor touch to the roasted ham in crust! It made me think of Christmas right away and so I reserved this recipe and juniper berries (both dried and frozen) for the winter holidays, and here I’m sharing it with you today.

I also researched extensively about the juniper berries and came up with this list of

What You Can Do with Juniper Berries in Your Kitchen:

  • Make spirits and bitters: primarily gin by adding juniper berries to vodka along with bunch of other botanicals (this DIY Gin recipe works great for me)
  • Infuse vinegars (bruise the berries and use this easy method): vinegars bring out the citrus element of the berries 
  • Infuse hot drinks: teas, tisanes, mulled wine, etc. with the enhanced piney juniper berries flavor (have also great medicinal effect on upset stomach, urinary tract infections, bloating, heartburn, etc.)
  • Infuse desserts, fillings, gels, creams and frostings 
  • Infuse salt or sugar
  • Use in brines for: brisket, turkey, pork, chicken or fish as flavor enhancer 
  • Add to game or venison stews and terrines (wild boar, hare, deer, etc.), as well as pork
  • Add to dressings and vinaigrette: works well with olive oil, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, horseradish, mustard, mayonnaise, ginger and garlic
  • Add to sauces and gravies: i.e. Madeira, White wine, Cranberry sauce, etc. and/or thickening dripping liquids into sauces
  • Flavor cabbage stews (German, Polish style Bigos, etc.) along with allspice berries and peppercorns
  • Use in fermenting veggies (sauerkraut, pickles, etc.):  works as stabilizer, adds crunch and flavor
  • Add to bird/meat stuffing 
  • Rub in curing meats (along with other spices) to make pancetta, pastrami, smoked meat, ham, game, etc.
  •  Add to stocks and soups included in bouquet garni: adds nutty-woodsy notes of flavor
  • Add to pasta, potato, couscous or polenta water
  • Recycle leftovers jams into glaze by mixing them with water/syrup infused with juniper berries.

Juniper berries are not exactly berries, but the tiny pine cones of the shrub that are so tightly clenched they look like blue-purple berries. They have strong tart, coniferous flavor with a hint of citrus and very small amount is used in particular recipes. If you remember, in one of the episodes of the fantastic comedy Bedazzled (with Brendan Frazer and Elizabeth Hurley) the major character is explaining at some point that the word `Gin’ is short for the French genievre or the Dutch jenever, both of which mean juniper, the main flavor in gin. Juniper berries have been used since ancient times and were especially popular in Greece, Rome and Egypt as medical remedy, to flavor dishes, or be used for spiritual rituals (some have been even found in the tomb of King Tut).

Back to our Christmas ham: this is a wonderful, festive, traditional Quebec recipe for frugal (and beyond) holidays. It keeps the meat juicy, yet well done. The juniper berries not only add flavor, but work as a natural anti-bloating agent. The juniper-mustard flavored pastry crust helps the dish taste and look elegant and exquisite.

Simply put: it’s a super easy, convenient and impressive centerpiece dish on a budget for many occasions. I do hope you will try it and like it and get back to me with your comments.

Final note: juniper berries are not hard to find on-line or in whole food/organic stores and only a small quantity is used in the recipe. The initial recipe however didn’t have juniper berries in it, so if you can’t get a hold of juniper berries, feel free to substitute with a tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds or dried tarragon.  

Happy Holidays and Enjoy Your Cooking!

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Other Festive Recipes for Holidays:
Two years ago:  Crispy Cod Croquettes
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JUNIPER INFUSED HAM IN PASTRY CRUST (JAMBON EN CROUTE)
For Ham in Crust:
3 pounds (1.5 kg) smoked ham, boneless, fully cooked
1 bouquet garni with 6-8 juniper berries added
3 tbsp (45 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tbsp yellow mustard grains, crushed
1 tbsp juniper berries (about 8-10 berries), freshly crushed
1 pound (450 g) puff pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tbsp (30 mL) water for brushing the dough
For Madeira Sauce Infused with Juniper Berries:
3 tbs (45 mL) unsalted butter
½ cup (125 mL) shallot, minced
½ cup (125 mL) Madeira or Port wine
1 cup (250 mL) brown veal or beef stock
¼ cup (60 mL) 35% cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 juniper berries for infusion
Instructions:
Cover smoked ham with cold water in a big pot, add bouquet garni and bring to boil. Simmer the smoked ham for an hour and half to two hours to remove some salt. Let cool.
Drain the liquid and pat dry the ham carefully. Mix the Dijon, crushed mustard and juniper seeds in a small bowl.  Rub the ham with mustard-juniper mixture all over.  
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Roll out the puff pastry into a sheet/s about ¾ in (1.5 cm) thick and transfer to the baking sheet. Place ham in the center of the dough sheet and wrap the ham with the dough completely. Add patches of dough when necessary to make sure all ham is well-covered for the juices not to drain out.
Mix the egg yolk with water and brush the pastry from all sides. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and puffed. Remove ham from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes for the juices to set before carving. Cut the ham with the knife long enough to cut the entire length of it. Serve with Madeira sauce, mashed potatoes, rice or fresh pasta.
Madeira Sauce with Juniper Berries:
Melt butter in a saucepan. Add chopped shallots and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add Madeira (or Port) and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Add brown veal or beef stock. Add cream and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper.  Add 4-5 juniper berries for infusion and set aside covered for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce from juniper berries before serving.
Adapted from: « Le cochon à son meilleur » by Philippe Mollé, Les Éditions de l’Homme, March, 1996

Doggy Dreams of Christmas: Hip Pet Bed DIY and Easy Dog Biscuits Recipe


There are 101 reasons to begin the Christmas prep odyssey with a little pet project. Our ‘old soul’ doggie is giving us so much unconditional love every day, there’s almost no more need to stencil ‘’Relax, You’re Home’’ on the walls anymore. And yet, let’s be honest, most of the times we are so much smitten by the Christmas frenzy, we barely have time to buy our pet an (often rancid) commercial treat or a stupid stuffed reindeer antlers with sparks (that would never light up, but everyone would be too busy to notice).

And so the doggy dreams that one Christmas it would be different and there will be home-made cookies and a new comfy bed, and the antlers will fly into the garbage…

This year wouldn’t probably be any different for her if I wouldn’t have had a ‘déjà vu’ experience when shopping for a pet food at Target last weekend.  This moment has led to a new gorgeous pet bed light bulb DIY project and these succulent treats our doggie can’t get enough of. Both are super-fun to make alone or with kids.

It’s Saturday morning; I’m at the Target’s pet section screening the shelves for weight control IAMS food.  My peripheral vision suddenly spots a HUGE (70%) special on hot Boots & Barkley pet duvets of a very refreshing contemporary design (as opposed to kitsch, granny or poop-looking designs we usually find in pet sections – I always wonder what kind of people design the dog beds and covers): at least 5-6 varieties in small, medium, large and ex-large sizes. One of them has this rare whimsical Christmas-y print of doggie treats on it.

In a flash, I remember: a year ago I was passing by this duvet thinking: ’It’s a pity I just bought that dreary checkered pet bed in Costco (because of the BUDGET (always that word) – but this one looks so much more festive and elegant, not to mention the colors would be perfect fit for our lady doggie…’ Then, of course, the thought was swept away by hundreds of other thoughts until now that I saw this print again for almost free. I just can’t pass by it. I buy the extra-large pet bed cover along with leak-proof undercover, both, for less than $10. No matching pet beds are left in stock, and so I bring these covers home thinking that eventually I will find a bed to fit them on (What am I thinking? It’s an almost impossible mission).

Next morning I have the light bulb moment: I will recycle the old pillows instead of tossing them and will stuff the new covers with them!

I take a pair of scissors: cut a few old pillows, take the stuffing out (I’m talking about the polyester pillow form and/or micro beads, not duvet or cotton); fill the new waterproof undercover bag with them, zip and finish with my heart- throb quirky two-sided cover. Viola, no stitching, sweating or spending… Just RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE and my new designer print pet bed is ready in 5 minutes.  Isn’t it awesome? Plus, you can control the thickness (making it really luxurious). 

All you need to make this cool, comfy and good looking pet bed are:

          two pet bed duvets (undercover and the top plush ‘n print) cover, both washable ($10);
          one to three old pillows polyester stuffing  in foam or pellets;
          pair of scissors

A power of three (speedy, recycled, on the budget) makes us hungry to start the day. The doggie crashes happily into her new nook. OH, she glows in this bed, dreaming about the obvious…  

We are off to make our Sunday brunch B&B (bacon and beans) holiday staple and declare the holidays begun.  While cooking bacon, another great pet idea comes by: use bacon drippings to make holiday pet biscuits (along with, naturally, some healthier ingredients including: rolled oats, peanut butter, flax seed oil for that shiny coat, etc.).  Later at night we improvise with baking ingredients and deliver these aromatic treats within an hour or so.  


We proudly take the first bite ourselves. Biscuits taste pretty good and crunchy, and can easily pass for the Medieval times luxurious treat. Which means laby’s gonna be happy. As a matter of fact, she is already here banging her giant tail off the wall in anticipation.

While I’m busy taking these pictures, she comes by quietly, pretending she is a ghost, grabs one biscuit from a side (hopefully unnoticed) and trots to the other side of the kitchen drooling like a rabid beast. Then her eyes close; her head stretches up to keep the drool; the crunch breaks the silence and the treat disappears in a split second. After, she retires peacefully next to her new alcove as if nothing happened.

Needless to say, that’s a NO-GO we usually don’t practice. We both know that despite her Mona Lisa smile and heavy tail wagging, she is doomed for the ‘Denver’s’ moment:

Followed, naturally, by a ‘doggie now deserves another one’ in about one hour.

And that’s it for today. The Target special is still on (and NO, they didn’t pay me to write this column) in Montreal area (and most probably the rest of Canada) if you liked this DIY idea. 

MAKE YOUR PET KIDS LITTLE HAPPIER THIS CHRISTMAS!
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OATS PEANUT BUTTER FLAX & BACON PET BISCUITS
Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling out)
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/3 cups of water
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp flax seed oil
½ cup bacon drippings at room temperature
½ tsp salt
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix flour and rolled oats in a big bowl. Pour one cup of water and mix well to blend. Add peanut butter, honey, flax seed oil and bacon drippings and mix well. Add the rest of the water gradually.  Spread ½ of flour on a rolling surface, work the dough adding more flour if necessary and roll it into ¼ inch thick sheet. Cut the desired cookie shapes with a cookie cutter.  Transfer cookies to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45-50 minutes.  Let cool. Store biscuits in cookie jar or plastic container for up to 3 weeks.

No Bake Herbed Nut & Cheese Snowballs Recipe

It is official: the fall themes are over, the wreaths are being changed to Christmas and the Black Friday specials just zoomed themselves in. Christmas prep has just stepped into our house with these cute little coconut herb cheese balls appetizer to greet our friends in a jiffy and finally celebrate the end of the Black Friday expenses. I really needed some purifying after a long day of unnecessary shopping, so combining Boursin cheese 50/50 with minced parsley (great anti-inflammatory and tonic)) and adding some minced garlic sounded like a good idea. If you can’t find Boursin, a mix of cottage and cream cheese (in a traditional Georgian way, with addition of garlic, parsley and walnuts); or any other soft cheese of your choice (goat, sheep, etc.) make great alternatives. Tasty, light and totally unwinding, these little balls are easy, fast and delectable treat for any party (specifically, tapas party, yay!).

This appetizer was inspired by the flurry of birds swooping in unison we’ve spotted today while going shopping.  We were driving by the Richelieu river, doomed to freeze within hours, when suddenly flocks of white birds (I believe they were seagulls, although they looked like white ducks) were appearing ‘en masse’ simultaneously from East and West directions. Naturally, our aerial avian obsession pushed us to find the parking right away.

The birds landed on the rocks in the middle of the river in a peaceful and undetermined magic action and were loudly discussing what to do next. How come they were so late to leave South? Were they disrupted by the I-phones and other human electronics interfering with natural birds’ migration?

Few minutes after the clouds of ducks were arriving in queues peppering the sky over the same spot, all trying to scour some mini spots left in the water to take a break.  The scenery felt like both, a great blessing and a Hitchcock thriller at the same time – certainly powerful… Ready to go into the darkness of the sky an hour later all birds, were chatting loudly about their next survival step… How do they do that? I don’t know, but for sure it’s a very inspiring act of courage…

And here we are sharing more pictures of our great spotting…

Back home we fixed these little cheese balls within 5 minutes (plus 15 minutes in a freezer to cool), and shared the stories of birds and (mostly unnecessary shopping experiences).

All you need is to add a big bunch of minced parsley, a minced clove of garlic (optional), and then roll it in any chopped nuts or seeds of your choice.

Our choice was obviously coconut flakes, although we also tried black and white sesame as well as poppy seeds. All of them tasted heavenly. Definitely, this recipe is a keeper for the holidays…

Specifically wonderful with oatmeal crackers or bagel thins, but you can have them with anything else imaginable.  
Happy Holidays Countdown to You All!
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CHEESE COCONUT HERB BALLS APPETIZER
Ingredients:
1 5 oz package of Boursin cheese (or cream cheese, or cottage cheese mixed with sour cream)
1 bunch of parsley, minced
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
1 pinch of ground white pepper
1 handful of walnuts, chopped (optional)
pinch of sea or Hymalayan salt
1 cup flaked coconut (or any other crushed nut or seed of your choice), for rolling
Instructions:
Combine the cheese, parsley, garlic, white pepper and walnuts with fork in a bowl. Refrigerate for one+ hour. Roll the cheese mixture into small balls and then roll the balls into the shredded coconut or nuts or seeds of your choice (poppy, sesame, etc.). Serve on the tooth pics with the side of crackers or bagel thins.  

Three D Chocolate Cake Recipe


This one-of-a-kind chocolate cake is great for any or no occasion at all. We whisked this DDD (decadent, delicious, disappearing) cake last week-end as a part of a surprise Happy Birthday salute. Well, it was a DOUBLE surprise, both in taste and the secret major ingredient of it which nobody could guess: the BEETROOT. Really?  Abso-xx-lutely.  Hmmm, how can the chocolate cake be decadent and delicious if its major ingredient is beet? And yet, the sweet-savory taste of beets marries dark chocolate happily making this cake deep and unbelievably moist. I promise, your guests will be asking what is in that cake besides chocolate first thing.
This velvety rich, mildly dense, slightly fudgey and delicate-crumbled cake is both rustic and elegant and guarantees to make the most vivid sweet food memories.  Few decades ago using beets in chocolate cake might have been considered downright shocking, but with today’s baking taking a scientific direction it totally makes sense as a second major ingredient, providing healthy and colorful starch and fiber while still letting the chocolate shine through the cake’s earthiness.
Health and fashion-wise,  this Chocolate, Almond and Beetroot Cake (to be exact with its name) ticks multiple WOW boxes, including: ‘trendy’, ‘no flour’, ‘no butter’, ‘no grain’, ‘gluten-free’,’ paleo’, ‘ kids friendly’, and more.  So, yes, DECADENT, DELICIOUS and fast DISAPPEARING cake. Unfortunately, the latter adjective is not just used in a figurative sense.  According to the news, the most wanted food of Gods is imperiled by droughts and diseases and the future of the proverbial cocoa seed doesn’t seem so bright.  I therefore suggest you schedule your next chocolate baking session while it’s still available and/or affordable…
Not to mention, how nicely it juxtaposes with today’s gloomy and foggy weather…
The recipe didn’t fall on our lap, we’ve made an extensive research trying to find/compile it and balancing the demand (birthday person’s love for chocolate) and the supply (our personal choice to skip the flour and butter from the cake and replace them with leaner and healthier nuts and edible fiber).  We’ve casted avocados, carrots, pumpkin and zucchini as possible combinations with dark chocolate, but to no avail of something extraordinary in our archives. We then reached out for several modern baking guru suggestions (Anna Olson, Nigel Slater, Martha Stewart, Jamie Oliver, David Leibovitz, Aran Goyoaga) and the beets quickly surfaced from their recent books, shows and Internet recipes. The beets in chocolate cakes are mostly appreciated for adding the moistness and caramel flavor touch (while the beets themselves being completely disguised in the cake to absolutely no way you can tell them apart from chocolate). These facts got us hooked. We couldn’t wait to experiment with them and chocolate!
The recipe became a cross of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Chocolate & Beetroot Cake’ recipe with ground almonds (no flour or butter in it, just like we wanted), and beetroot ingredient being baked in advance (like in Anna Olson’s recipe).  Quick note: most of the recipes stipulated that the beet should be baked, so we decided to skip raw beets and use the cooked ones (although may be next time we will dare to use them raw – we just didn’t want to take a chance this time).  As for the icing we’ve selected Martha Stewart’s ganache recipe (thusly, adding some butter and cream to what otherwise was supposed to be just a melted chocolate drizzle). 
This recipe is not complicated:  we found it simple and relatively fast to prepare (guess what, it’s coming from the Jamie’s Garden Project with Kids series, so, clearly, you can engage your kids into play when making it for more fun).
For the chocolate ganache glaze, place the chocolate in a bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan until simmering, then pour over chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add butter, Cognac or rum, if using, and mix until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Pour glaze over chocolate cake.
As for the swaps I used 50/50 golden and red beets. I assume you can replace them with raw zucchini or pumpkin (excess water squeezed out). Ground almonds can swap with ground hazelnuts, walnuts, pecan or macadamia. The crowning glory of the chocolate ganache coating can swap with just melted chocolate drizzle and/or powder sugar dusting, and/or fresh berries, like raspberries. The chocolate and cocoa are, naturally, irreplaceable for now. So far, and Ummm, for the next XXX years?  
Finally, one last note: according to Jamie Oliver, measuring the ingredients is ‘a key to the success of this cake, so please use the scale to exact the amounts.
Have fun and indulge your senses!
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NO-FLOUR CHOCOLATE ALMOND & BEETROOT CAKE 

For the Cake:

Olive oil to grease the baking pan
Flour (regular or gluten-free if necessary) for dusting the form
10.5 oz (300 g) quality dark (bittersweet)chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
9 oz (250g) baked beet root, peeled and coarsely grated
4 large eggs
5.3 oz (150 g) caster (powder) sugar
1 1/5 cup (120 g) ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp quality cocoa powder
For the Glaze (Ganache) (optional):
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
½ cup heave cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp Cognac or rum (optional)
Berries, for serving
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 20cm cake spring form with olive oil. Cut a circle of parchment paper, size of the bottom of the tin, to line the base. Dust the sides of the tin lightly with flour, then tap the tin to get rid of any excess.
Break 7oz (200g) of the chocolate up into small pieces and add to a heatproof bowl over the barely simmering water to melt.
Place the grated beetroot into a big bowl.
Separate the eggs, placing the whites into a separate large mixing bowl and adding the yolks to the beetroot, then wash your hands.
Stir the sugar, almonds, baking powder, cocoa powder and melted chocolate into the beetroot and mix together well.
Whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks.
Use a flexible spatula to fold a quarter of the egg whites into the beetroot mixture to loosen, then, once combined, fold the rest, but try not to over mix.
Add the mixture to the prepared cake tin and spread out evenly using a spatula.
Bake in the hot oven for 50 minutes, or until risen and cooked through. Check with the cocktail stick if it comes out clean the cake is cooked. If slightly sticky it needs to cook for a bit longer.
Allow the cake to cook slightly. Open the spring form and carefully move the cake to a wire rack to cool completely.  Discard the parchment paper.
When ready to serve, melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle over the cake, or glaze it with chocolate ganache (see instructions above).
Serve with fresh berries, yogurt, ice cream or whipped cream if desired.
Adapted from Chocolate & Beetroot Cake by Jamie Oliver, jamieoliver.com 2014