Chocolate Truffle Marzipan Cream cake

Cake has always been my favorite treat. There’s something about the layers of cake and icing that just makes me happy. Cupcakes will do in a pinch but they’re just no substitute for a layer cake.

Chocolate truffle marzipan cream cake

I know I usually write about making healthy foods on this blog, but certain times of year call for celebrations and a gentle relaxation of food rules. In my house this usually means that I’m using “real” sugar instead of maple syrup or palm/coconut sugar.

I almost always bake with almond flour, no matter what sweetener I choose. Since almonds are high in protein they are a good balance to “real” sugar.

I have been making versions of this cake for years with hazelnut flour but this cake is made with almond flour instead. I also increased the number of eggs from past iterations and ended up with a cake that is both light and moist. This cake is gluten free but it is not one of those “good for a gluten free” type of cakes–it’s just plain good, and you’ll never miss the gluten.

My husband loves chocolate covered marzipan, and with his first taste of this cake he exclaimed “this tastes just like those chocolate covered marzipan bars!”

There are 3 components to this cake–the cake layers, the chocolate truffle filling and the whipped cream icing. I recommend making the layers at least 1 day before you’d like to serve the cake–it will make it easier to ice and spreads the workload out so it doesn’t feel like too much to do it all together.

The cake uses whipped egg whites to create lightness. The technique is to stir in about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the batter to “loosen” it and make it more fluid. Then you carefully fold in the remaining egg whites, taking care not to break up the bubbles too much. This procedure is delicate but don’t be afraid–it’s not hard, it just requires some care and attention.

Chocolate truffle marzipan cream cake

For the cake:

12 oz Almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
7 egg whites
7 egg yolks
1 whole egg
170g sugar (approx. 5/8 cup)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 2-9″ round cake pans (o.k. to use almond flour here)

Combine almond flour and baking powder and set aside.

With clean whisks beat the 7 egg whites until stiff peaks form.

In a large bowl beat 7 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, sugar, almond and vanilla extracts. Beat until well combined. Add almond flour mixture and stir to combine well. This batter will be quite thick.

With a rubber/silicone spatula stir in 1/3 of the egg whites into the almond flour mixture to “loosen” this stiff batter. Once incorporated, very gently fold in the remaining egg whites until just mixed. Do not overmix!

Divide cake batter into the two prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Refrigerate or freeze overnight before assembling the cake.

For the chocolate truffle filling:

8 oz dark chocolate (chips or chopped up chocolate bars)
1/2 cp heavy cream
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract

Gently warm cream in the top of a double boiler. Stir in chocolate chips and continue stirring until all are melted. Stir in vanilla extract.

You should have a smooth, shiny mixture.

Let the truffle mixture cool a bit, then spread on top of the bottom layer of your cake. Let it continue to cool a bit on top of the cake, then add the second cake layer on top.

Return the cake to the fridge to let truffles set up.

While this is happening make the whipped cream frosting

Vanilla bean whipped cream

*Before preparing whipped cream put the bowl and the beaters or whisk into the freezer to chill–this will make it easier to whip the cream and create a more structurally sound product to ice your cake in.

1/2 pint whipping cream
3-4 tbsp powdered sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in pre-chilled bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.

Spread on tops and sides of cake.

Future garden wish list

After a solid year of house hunting we finally found just what we were looking for in Somerville. We moved in January of this year, right in the middle of that terrible cold we experienced this year in New England, when none of us could imagine a time when we it would be warm enough to garden.Poppies

Our new house is blessed with a tiny city yard, both in the back and the front. A well-established rose bush, a forsythia, and 2 smaller rose bushes make up the only planting in evidence anywhere in the yards.

Rather than plunge into any big gardening decisions I’ve decided to spend the year studying the light and soil conditions and to compile a gardening wish list. As I bike or walk around my new neighborhood I am trying to observe what my neighbors have found success with and see if it might work for my unique conditions.

The picture at the top of this post is of poppies, which are popping up all over town right now.

peony bud

Ive also been wondering about peonies, pictured to the left as buds. The blossoms are beautiful, and it seems like a hearty plant for our region.

Iris

I am also hoping to plant some irises.

I am looking forward to a summer of checking out all of the neighborhood gardens!

Nantucket bay scallops with almonds and lemon

I have been exploring the seafood of New England, which is so different from that of my native Louisiana, and have recently discovered Nantucket Bay scallops.

scallop

I’m certainly not an expert on these scallops, but what I do know is that they are small, sweet, rare and more expensive than regular scallops. They have a small window of availability, and I lucked out in getting some today at the last Central Square farmer’s market of the year.

I found this great recipe for Nantucket Bay scallops with almonds and orange at Yankee Magazine, but I lacked orange juice and chicken stock. What to do?

I modified the recipe to use about 1/2 cup of sherry, a few tablespoons of lemon juice and honey (plus a little water) to create a different version of the recipe from Yankee Magazine. It came out delicious, and was as easy as any scallop recipe I’ve made.

Nantucket Bay scallops with almonds and sherry

1 lb. of scallops
1/2 cp. almond meal
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small chopped onion or large shallot
1/2 cp parsley
1/2 cp sliced almonds
1/2 cp sherry or white wine
1/3 cp water
3 tbsp lemon juice
1.5-2 tsp honey

1. Wash, dry and salt scallops. Dredge in almond meal.

2. Heat large frying pan and add butter and olive oil. Add scallops to hot oil and spread out in a single layer. Cook for roughly 2-2.5 minutes, trying to turn them once if possible to create a nice seared crust.

3. Remove scallops to a bowl or plate and set aside. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil to the frying pan along with onions,d

4. Add sherry/white wine, water, lemon juice and honey. This will allow you to deglaze the pan. Make sure to scrape up anything that is stuck to the pan–that’s where the flavor is! Cook until liquid is reduced by at least 1/2.

5. Turn off the fire and return scallops to the pan. Toss to coat with the sauce.

Bon Appetit!

Photo from: “Argopecten irradian” from Bermuda at the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano

Purslane

Local farmers’ markets are in full swing here in Boston and I couldn’t be happier. Every year the farmers bring new and interesting produce to the market giving adventurous eaters plenty of great things to try.

Purslane

Purslane

Purslane has turned up in my local markets (Central Square and Davis Square), and I love it. In America we’ve treated purslane (also known as Portulaca) as a weed. Other cultures have recognized it as a remarkably healthy vegetable that just happens to grow like a weed!

Purslane is loaded with all of the nutrients you expect to find in a leafy green vegetable: vitamin A is present in large quantities, as well as vitamin C and multiple B vitamins. It contains a decent amount of minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium.

The truly exciting nutrient in purslane is Omega 3 fatty acids. Purslane has a large serving of ALA, which is usually found only in fish, flax, hemp seeds and chia seeds.

So, how do you prepare it? What does it taste like?

Like most foods that contain omega 3s, heat is the enemy. Purslane is delicious raw, either as a stand-alone salad or mixed in with other salad greens. It has a nutty/lemony flavor with a great crunch when you have it raw.

It’s also nice quickly stir-fried. It’s great stirred in to scrambled eggs. Saute an onion first, then briefly saute the purslane before adding your scrambled eggs to the pan. Serve with salsa and maybe corn tortillas.

Germophobic about the subway? Relax, it’s not as bad as you thought.

The New York Times recently posted this article about a study done in NYC’s subway system. The goal was to discover if subway air was any more germ-filled than in any other place. The answer seems to be no!

So, while you still need to watch out for anyone coughlng or sneezing on public transportation, and you still should _not_ touch your face (eyes, nose, mouth) while you’re out anywhere, you don’t have to worry that the subway is any grosser than any other public space.

Healthy diet + all-natural facials = glowing skin

My work as an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist has completely changed my understanding of healthy. Food is medicine in the Chinese way of thinking, and you have to put the right medicine in to be well in your body.

Kimball Fruit farm at the Central Square market

Fresh veggies at Central Square farmer’s market

No matter what your constitutional needs, switching to a diet of minimally processed foods is going to make you feel better. You’ll eat lots of fruits, veggies, protein and actual whole grains. I know you can’t be perfect every day–shoot for 80% unprocessed and 20% whatever you want (well, within reason. . .). The goal is to avoid as many added chemicals as possible (the unpronounceable ingredients on processed foods, which appear in a shocking number of products).

Fixing your diet is an important part of having radiant, healthy skin.  A healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies is high in antioxidants, which makes your skin glow!

What you put on your skin matters as much as what you put into your body. We know that you absorb all kinds of things through your skin, including chemicals (nicotine and estrogen patches? Stick on birth control patches? I could go on).  We know that most commercially prepared skin care products are full of the same sort of unpronounceable chemicals you try to avoid in your diet.

So, why not make your own skin care products?  You don’t need to make all of your products–all-natural products do exist–but it’s not too much work to make some things of your own.  Many are easy to whip up right on the spot.

One way I enjoy passing cold winter nights here in Boston is to give myself a natural facial (preferably followed by a hot bath, when I have the time).

Calendula

I follow Rosemary Gladstar‘s 5 step program: 1. Scrub, 2. Steam, 3. masque, 4. tone, 5. moisturize. Rosemary includes a great selection of skin care recipes in her book, Herbs for Natural Beauty.

I keep a variety of herbs on hand, and I know that you might not, but it’s easy enough to visit your local herb shop (if you’re lucky enough to have one), or order a few things on the internet.  I order my herbs from MountainRoseHerbs.com, which sells herbs in small quantities, making it easier to experiment. They carry an extensive selection of organic herbs and oils, giving you to option of making your skin products that much better!

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately:

1. Scrub–2 tsp honey mixed with 2 tsp ground nuts (almonds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, etc).

You can grind nuts and seeds in an electric coffee grinder (I recommend buying a dedicated grinder for herbs and nuts–you will ruin your coffee if you do them in the same machine!).

2. Herbal facial steam: in a large pot (soup pot?) boil a handful or two of herbs that you have on hand (tea bags are just fine!): Calendula, Rose, Lavendar, Chamomile and Mint are all excellent and gentle options (I like a combination of them all). Boil them for 2-3 minutes, keeping the pot covered until you are ready to use it (the essence of the herbs is in the steam, and you want all of it to go into your skin!).  I recommend setting the pot on a low coffee table, tent a bath towel over your head and sit on the couch so you can steam for 5-10 minutes (longer is supposed to be better).  It should be hot under your “tent”, and if it’s too much, you should let some air in to cool the steam.

3. Masque: Betonite clay and whole milk yogurt, cream or calendula hydrosol. (start with 1 tsp clay and 2 tsp liquid, and adjust until spreadable but not runny)

Betonite clay is a mineral-rich clay that is appropriate for most skin types.  It’s action is to gently and throughly pull all the dirt out of your skin.

I love using fatty milk products–the lactic acid gently exfoliates while the milk fat moisturizes.

This masque doesn’t smell very good, but it’s great for your skin. The least messy way to remove it is in a shower or bath.

4. Tone: spray on Calendula or Rose hydrosol

Toning helps close your pores back up after the steaming and cleansing masque.  If your pores stay open, it’s easier for dirt to make it’s way back in.

5. Moisturize

I like to make my own lotion. Most of us use lotion every day, so it seems like the most important product to make. I make mine with organic oils and organic true hydrosols.  I haven’t seem many products that boast such an ingredient list.

Making lotion takes some finesse, but it’s extremely satisfying when you succeed. I hope to post instructions soon.  I highly recommend Rosemary’s excellent Herbs for Natural Beauty, where you will find clear instructions and an excellent lotion recipe to get you started.

 

Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) photograph by AudreyJM529 under creative commons licence.

Happy New Year!

I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. I kind of feel you should try to do all that stuff all the time anyway. My patients often ask for recommendations for cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and more, but I haven’t had a convenient way to make that available. That’s why my to-do list has included “create an Amazon storefront” for a long time.

Great Way Boutique

So, with the help of my husband, we spent an hour or two on New Year’s Day creating a boutique at Amazon. (OK, full disclosure: he did all the work setting it up as I was cooking dinner, shouting out book titles.) You can get to it by following the Great Way Boutique link at the top of this Great Way Weekly blog or on the sidebar of the Great Way Wellness main website.

The boutique will feature the books, tools and other items I use to make a healthy, happy home. I’ll update it frequently, so check back now and then for exciting new recommendations for books, kitchen gear, and more!

So, even though it wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, it’s nice to check this off of my to-do list. I hope you find it useful.

Four Cookbooks That Helped Me Survive the Holidays

During the holidays we all become obsessed with food. But if you’re vegetarian or have special dietary needs, this can make the season stressful. But it doesn’t have to. Here are a few cookbooks that help me make it through:

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food

Exactly what it says: everything vegetarian. This book is a must-have for any serious vegetarian.

The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook

Almond flour is the secret to making amazing and tasty gluten free treats.

La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life

More than just a cookbook, this guide shows you an entire lifestyle of great living and great eating.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

This book has lots of special holiday treats.

Buche de noel

Growing up in francophone New Orleans exposed me to a fair amount of French culinary traditions. One that has always intrigued me is the French christmas cake, the “Buche de Noel,” a sponge cake roll decorated to look like a log. It is usually iced in a chocolate butter cream, and filled either with more chocolate or perhaps a coffee buttercream, and might include decorations like meringue mushrooms.

Buche_de_Noel_2009_by_PetitPlat

I’ve never made this cake before because it seems complicated (or at least more involved than your standard cake). But, I think this is the year!

I’m excited to try this recipe over at Cake and Commerce. It’s gluten free, but not made entirely of starch as some other GF recipes out there. It uses buckwheat flour, one of my favorite GF flours. I think this will be the perfect Christmas Eve activity. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some good pictures to post here. I wonder if I can make shiitake-shaped merengue mushrooms. . .

Photo is CC Licensed from petitplat.deviantart.com.

It’s cold season again. . .

As we move into the colder months we become vulnerable to colds. While it’s true what they say, “there’s no cure for the common cold,” Chinese medicine offers some help to prevent it in it’s early stages.

ginger-74265_640

In Chinese medicine, a cold is an invasion of wind, what we call an “outside pernicious influence,” or an “OPI.” We are more vulnerable to wind invasions when the weather is changing from one season to the next. Energetically season transitions are considered windy times. As we move from warm weather to cool our body’s energy must make the journey from the surface, where’s it’s helped us sweat and cool down all summer, to the core where it becomes a furnace to keep us warm in the winter. This transition makes us more vulnerable–think about the unexpectedly cold day early on in the season. You probably feel colder than you think you should because your qi is still at the surface, not stoking your furnace.

So, what can you do about these things that you don’t have any control over? Chinese medicine gives us a few helpful tools:

1. Wear a scarf. Wind enters your body through the neck (think about the stiff neck/headache you get at the onset of a cold). Keeping your neck covered can help keep that door shut to OPIs.

2. Dress for the weather, not for the time of year. Dressing warmly on an unexpected cold day early in the season can help you protect you as your qi makes that journey from the surface to the furnace.

3. Eat immune boosting Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms as frequently as possible. Fresh shiitake and maitake can be expensive and hard to come by, but dried mushrooms are always available and much more affordable. You can rehydrate dried mushrooms by soaking them in hot water, then using them as you would fresh mushrooms. Use the soaking liquid in soups and stews. Add dried mushrooms to home-made vegetable stock.

If you do feel like a cold is taking hold, catching it in the early stages can help you prevent it from becoming a problem.

1. As soon as you feel like you might be coming down with something, make yourself sweat. I prefer a passive sweat–sit in a sauna, take a hot bath or shower–but if you’re not feeling too tired, a gentle workout can be o.k. When you sweat, it forces the OPI out of your system. Also, heating up the body tells the immune system to turn on to do battle with invaders.

If you’re like me and have some home-made ginseng tincture at home, you can add some to you’re hot bath for an extra immune system boost. This is an extravagant use of an expensive herb, but if you have it, it’s a nice addition. You can also boil dried ginseng root to make a decoction and add that to your tub.

2. Make tea with fresh ginger root. Fresh ginger can help release the exterior and make you sweat. Slice about 1 inch of ginger root into roughly quarter-sized coins. Boil for 20 minutes in about 2 cups of water. Drink this tea with some honey. It should taste spicy and potent. If it doesn’t, add more ginger and a little more water and boil it again. You can get a really good sweat going by drinking this tea while you’re sitting in your hot bath.

3. Take Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling. These are two of our most basic cold-fighting formulas, and are generally safe for you to take on your own. I feel that no one should self-medicate with herbs–you should _always_ consult a trained herbalist–but these two formulas are well tolerated and increasingly available at natural food stores. Yin Qiao can sometimes cause loose stool, depending on your constitution, but it shouldn’t be a huge problem, and is a trade off for keeping a cold at bay.

4. See your acupuncturist. If it’s early stages, we can help kick the cold out of your system. If it’s taken root and you’re sick, a treatment can help you feel better faster.

Public domain image of ginger root from here.