Category Archives: Christmas

Hemingway Champagne & Cuban Rabbit Fricassee Recipe

With the whooping record of 3 million tourists this year and a hope for the end of the US embargo of 50 years, Cubans have something special to celebrate this New Year’s Eve. And while my festive rabbit stew (no need to advertise this light and savory Caribbean dish) is piping in the oven, I decided to drop a line to reflect on our most recent travel to Havana last summer and, particularly, the drink called Hemingway Champagne.


‘I drink to make other people more interesting,’ says the quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway. That’s quite an understatement from the celebrated writer known for his way around the women, best bars and drinks from Paris to Madrid, from Key West to Havana. A well-known fact: drinks, bars and people in them helped Hemingway to create his characters and add the depth and thrill to his prose. In a letter to poet MacLeish he explained that: ‘It’s good for us both to lay off the old liquor too; but by God it’s dull work doing it. I’d like to hunt and fish the rest of my life and be just drunk enough to sleep well every night… But instead I’ve got to write, and boil the liquor out to be able to write my best, and get my sensitivity back to be able to write where (I) have sort of burned it away in war. Hell of a job.’

I’m a big fan of Hemingway’s works, so when we went to Havana last summer my first move was to go in the footsteps of ‘Papa’.  Obviously, I’m talking about the historical bars with character, where Hemingway used to spend his afternoons to kick start his muse during those good 20 years of his Cuban residence. Let’s put some Buena Vista Club on and go for a little Havana Vieja journey.

We hit the streets of Havana on one excruciatingly hot summer day to see what’s up with Hemingway’s Caribbean drinking memorabilia in the old city.  The first stop was at recently re-opened Sloppy Joe’s seafood and cocktail bar featured in the movie Our Man in Havana, which reopened its doors in 2013 after being closed for 48 years. Hemingway used to hang out there with many other celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Nat King Cole, Ted Williams, Errol Flynn and Gary Cooper. Back in the 50s the bar was also a prototype of the not less famous Sloppy Joe’s in the Key West I featured in this post.

We stepped into the freshly painted sleek bar décor and ordered Cuban pork sandwiches with sweet potato fries and ‘Cuba Libre’ cocktail they offered to go with the sandwich (from ‘To Have and Have Not’).  I loved the freshly re-constructed Art Deco Miami-style flair about the area, the cleanness inside out and the fast service. Don’t forget, this place was a complete ruin for 48 years, so one should not under-estimate the effort of the Cuban government and of course the Cuban expats to reconstitute the place. Hopefully, one day it will completely return to its glory – it definitely has now a potential for that.    

Corner of Zulueta (252) e/Animas and Virtudes, Old Havana, Cuba

Armed with the few heavy calories we headed to find the El Floridita, almost two hundred years old fish and cocktail bar at the corner of Obispo and Monserrate streets, where Hemingway used to team up with the famous Cuban bartender Constante Ribailagua to create his Papa Doble Daiquiri and other signature drinks. 

After few minutes walk through the Park Central which felt like a century due to the heat and the crowds of hookers of all ages and persuasion chasing us (surprisingly, not to offer their services, but just to ask for a soap or a tooth brush: sadly, YES, that’s how desperate is current Cuban’s economy nowadays), we managed to find the El Floridita bar. 

The frozen daiquiri tasted good and refreshing indeed, although it was three times more expensive than at any other bar in Cuba (you’ve gotta pay premium for the name and I have no problem with that). The life size bronze statue of Hemingway was leaning over the bar to remind that it used to be his haunt. However, the place didn’t feel like IT and was too crowded with tourists to feel comfortable.
ADDRESS: El Floridita
Corner of Obispo (esq. 557) and Monserrate Streets
Hours: 11 AM till midnight 

Hemingway’s Photo via Wiki

Next: ‘My mojito in La Bodegita, my daiquiri in El Floridita’, and so we followed Hemingway’s tip to try the best Mojito in Havana at La Bodeguita del Medio. When we reached the place, it was packed with locals, tourists, artists and musicians all drenching in sweat (forget the conditioner – it’s too much of a luxury in most places in Havana). We had to literally elbow-fight to get through to the counter to have a speedy Mojito, which didn’t much differ from any other Mojito you pay eight-plus pesos in the rest of Habana Vieja.  The spirit of Papa was nowhere felt.  I must admit though, the place did have character with all the musicians, graffiti and surroundings (playing kids, puddles of urine, etc.) as opposed to two previous bars. Oddly enough though, it was so far my least favorite. 
ADDRESS: La Bodeguita del Medio
206 Calle Empedrado 206 (between Cuba and San Ignacio Streets), Old Havana, Cuba
Hours: Noon till midnight

Our final stop of the day was Hotel Ambos Mundos at the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes, where Hemingway spent seven years of his life in the 30ies. I was excited to see his room on the upper 5th floor, his typewriter and the views of the Old Havana and the harbor sea that inspired him daily. 

It was a bummer to see the sign ‘Hemingway’s room is closed for visitors’ next to the old elevators, of which the guards were very protective of. I was beginning to feel that the ‘lost generation’ term was actually quite literate. Hopeless to find any leftover of the spirit of Hemingway, we went through the hall with the walls covered with fading cheerless images of the writer and his life in Cuba. 

The uniform-dressed woman at the lobby desk had a major presence signifying that if we would like to find some trace of Hemingway, we’d rather go back home and read a book about him. We retreated to the empty bar in the lobby and just sat there with the gloom of disappointed kids waiting for the bartender to come… 

Catching our pointless glare, the bartender asked if we would like to try some Hemingway Champagne. We agreed. In a gesture of encouragement, he procured a bottle of absinthe from under the counter and poured some of it in the flutes. He then topped them with the iced champagne and handed us the milky mix right away. Our disappointment evanesced the minute we took a sip of that drink. ‘OMG, this is where he is,’ I realized suddenly – ‘HE IS the DRINK in this sweaty, ruined, wonderful Havana!’  
ADDRESS: Ambos Mundos Hotel /Bar

153 Calle Obispo, Old Havana, Cuba

And this is how we scored our ‘in the footsteps of Hemingway’s cocktails game’ that day. I must say it was a tough mix of alcohols. ‘You can’t handle it, little mama,’ was the last thought in my head (with the voice of Ron Burgundy (aka Will Ferrel) before I passed out in the hotel room that afternoon. Clearly, the ‘Death in the Afternoon’ (alternative name of this drink) is an acquired-taste type of the cocktail, at least in my case.  Ernest Hemingway created this drink further to his non-fiction ‘Death in the Afternoon’ about Spanish bullfighting and it was later published in the 1935 collection of celebrity cocktail recipes. His instructions were: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.” If you feel like trying it, I suggest you go for the legal absinthe alternative for this drink, Pernod, in the same proportion.

Tonight we’re going to drink simple but elegant Crémant d’Alsace. There will be no Hemingway Champagne. So why was I telling you all that? Definitely, not to encourage you drinking. Because it’s the New Year’s Eve, many are going to the most popular Caribbean destination; and it’s time to have fun, reflect on 2014 and celebrate the miraculous.  There will be an upscale Cuban dish on our table though: a wonderful one-pot rabbit fricassee full of Creole flavors and sunshine.  

Lean, healthy, light, highly aromatic: it makes you feel like dancing all night long – no wonder Cubans have the historic affinity for the rabbit dishes (from Batista to Castro). 
Note for Paleo and Gluten Free people: skip dusting the rabbit in flour and proceed with browning without it.

Happy New Year Everyone – Peace on Earth!

***

CUBAN STYLE RABBIT FRICASSEE

Yields : 6 servings
Ingredients :
1 (about 3 lbs) rabbit, cleaned and cut into pieces
3-4 tbsp flour
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp curry powder
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee
2-3 tbsp olive oil
6-8 strips of bacon cut in cubes
1 tbsp paprika
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
¼ tsp saffron powder (optional)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
2 ½ cups chicken stock or water
1 can (10 oz) diced tomatoes
¼ cup dry white wine
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
¼ cup capers, drained
1 cup raisins
¼ cup green pitted olives, whole or chopped
1 can (10 oz) green peas, drained
Salt and black pepper to taste
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Season the rabbit pieces generously with salt and pepper. Mix the flour with thyme and curry powder and cover the rabbit pieces with it (use the Ziploc bag if necessary to evenly distribute the flour mix). Heat the butter and olive oil in the deep skillet to medium high, place the rabbit pieces and brown on all sides for about 6-7 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to the Dutch oven.
Add the bacon to the skillet and brown on medium high for a few minutes. Distribute bacon pieces over the rabbit. Sprinkle with paprika.
Bring the skillet to the high heat. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, saffron and cumin to the skillet for 2-3 minutes mixing vigorously. Add diced tomatoes and wine, mix well. Add the onion-tomatoes mixture to the rabbit-bacon mix. Drizzle with lemon juice. Add bay leaf.  Pour the hot chicken stock or water over the rabbit and bring to boil.
Cover the casserole with foil and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 350F and continue baking for another 30 minutes.
In the meantime, cover the potatoes with cold water and bring to boil. Simmer for 3 minutes and drain the water. Set aside.
Remove the casserole from the oven, check the seasoning. Add parboiled potatoes, capers, raisins and olives. Cover with foil and return the casserole to the oven and cook for another 30 minutes.
Check the rabbit for tenderness: the meat should be starting to fall off the bone when it’s ready.  Stir in frozen green peas and return to the oven for 5-7 minutes uncovered.

Remove from the oven, check the seasoning and serve immediately.

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!

***
Other Festive Recipes for Holidays:
Two years ago:  Crispy Cod Croquettes
 ***
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!
***
***
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!
*** 
*** 
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