Let Me Eat Nutella

Last Friday the world celebrated Nutella – that ooey gooey chocolate hazelnut spread that with one lick has you hooked for life. For World Nutella Day I was honored with a rare firsthand experience in the kitchen of Joan’s on Third. I received a special lesson in the making of one of Joan’s favorite recipes- mouth watering Nutella poundcake. The whole kitchen had a warm vanilla fragrance. Jar after beautiful jar of Nutella in front of me, it was hard not to steal a taste. Joan’s on Third offers Nutella poundcake ($1.95) throughout the week. Come on the right day and you can find it fresh out of the oven and wrapped in individual slices.

It all starts with the butter and sugar.

Then the pure vanilla extract and eggs.

Once the wet ingredients are combined, add the flour.

Take the mix and create alternating layers of Nutella and batter.

The end result is poundcake with a warm honeyed glow throughout. The Nutella glistens through folds of plump cake. The exact recipe remains Joan’s secret, but my time in the kitchen inspired me to make my own Nutella creation.

Since I have a known affinity for cake so I decided to make Nutella cupcakes. I used a vanilla cake base with a hint of almond extract and mixed Nutella throughout the cake batter. The result was a buttery marble cupcake w
ith subtle nutty undertones. I was pleasantly surprised to find a thick dollop of Nutella at the bottom of each cupcake. For added richness I frosted some of the cupcakes with more Nutella. Add toasted hazelnuts for a nice crunch. On its own, frosted, with nuts, anyway you have this cupcake, the flavor is impossible to forget.

I got bit by the Nutella bug and now I’m nutty for Nutella.

Vanilla cake (Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking)

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup white sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

zest of 1 large lemon

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter and sugar. Next, mix in eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, lemon zest and milk.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix with electric mixer on low speed. Scrape down sides of bowl periodically to
make sure all ingredients are fully combined. Mix for 3-5 minutes, batter will be slightly lumpy.

Fill lined muffin cups 2/3 full. Alternate layers of cake batter and Nutella. Take a tooth pick and stir up mixed batter. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Sweets For Your Sweet

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. What are you getting your sweetheart?

SWEETS FOR THE SOUL

Sweets for the Soul is a gem in Atwater Village. Small and sweet, it houses the best brownie creations you will find in Los Angeles. The selection ranges from the basic Brownie Bliss and Blondie squares to Hotter Shots and Truman Capote brownie hearts. What better way to say I love you than with a brownie heart?

The Hotter Shot is Valrhona Venezuelan dark chocolate spiced with cayenne pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. This bite-sized morsel instantly captivates with the rich depth of its dark chocolate. The hidden heat bursts at the end of the bite. It is all together sweet, spicy, subtle and explosive.

The Truman Capote is a Valrhona cocoa base with white chocolate chips. Even this seemingly simply combination is anything but plain. There is a complexity of flavors unmatched by any other brownie I have had. The white chocolate chips undulate through the assertive dark chocolaty essence. Each blissful bite is exuberant.

At $2.50 – $3.75 per brownie, these handcrafted confections my seem pricey, but after one bite the value of the product is apparent. Throw your budget to the wind – this is an indulgence worth splurging on.

Sweets For The Soul 3169 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90039 11am-7pm Tues & Wed; 11am-10pm Thurs-Sat 11am-5pm Sunday



Love Birds with Wild Mushroom Polenta Hearts

February is Battle Mushroom, part of the monthly food fight “Beet n’ Squash You” hosted by Mel of Gourmet Fury and Leela of She Simmers.

Shiitake

Maitake

Cremini


Many people think about mushrooms in the same way they think about Valentine’s Day: they view this flavorful fungus with disdain and annoyance. I am among those who love both mushrooms and Valentine’s Day. With mushrooms I choose to look beyond the dirt-coated exterior to find the rich earthy flavor below. The same goes for Valentine’s Day. I look beyond the crass commercialization of this day and prefer to view it as a pure celebration of love. Diamonds and flowers aside, it can be a nice excuse to simply remember the romance of a first kiss.

Keeping those themes in mind I have created a simple meal to share with the one you love. Wild Mushroom Polenta Hearts are rich and comforting. The creamy polenta marries well with the unabashed flavors of the Shiitake, Maitake, and Cremini mushrooms. Add freshly grated Parmigiano to accentuate the savory notes of the mushrooms.

I paired these polenta hearts with a perfectly roasted chicken brightly seasoned with lemon and herbs. The chicken had a crisp skin with moist and tender meat below. The Wild Mushroom Polenta Hearts and roasted chicken were simply beautiful together. I finished the dish with spiced honey and crushed fried sage for added depth.

This is not only a recipe for a delicious meal, it is a recipe for instant seduction.

Wild Mushroom Polenta:

1 cup polenta

4 cups water

1/2 cup cremini

1/2 cup maitake

1/4 cup shitake

1/2 cup Parmigiano

In a heavy sauce pan bring water to a boil. Once water is boiling slowly stream in polenta. Create a vortex in the water with your whisk before you begin pouring in polenta. Whisk constantly for 3 – 5 minutes until polenta begins to thicken. Once polenta thickens low simmer for another 30 minutes stirring frequently.

Meanwhile saute mushrooms with 3 tablespoons of butter until they become golden brown.

When the polenta is ready, mix in the mushrooms and Parmigiano. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Evenly spread polenta onto a lined sheet pan. Let cool. Once cooled cover the polenta wit
h plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator over night or for an hour to cool.

Use a heart cookie cutter to create polenta hearts. Before serving sear polenta hearts in a non-stick skillet over high heat. Use a little butter to get a nice, crisp brown edge to your polenta. Let the polenta sear, untouched for 2 -4 minutes per side.

* I purchased a roasted chicken from Joan’s on Third. It is easy to prepare a roasted chicken, but for a quick and delicious weeknight meal Joan’s on Third offers daily hot dinner items available after 4pm. Why not let someone do the cooking for you!

Joan’s on Third

8350 West Third Street

Los Angeles, CA 90048

Things To Do In Denver Before You Die: D Bar

photo courtesy of Dbardesserts.com

After my lovely experience at Nomelie Cupcakes, I began a culinary conversation with Nomelie’s owner through Twitter. She is as sweet as her cupcakes and gave me more than a few fantastic recommendations on the best eats in Denver. Per her advice, R and I headed to D Bar in the Uptown area of Denver where we were joined by our friend Neil.

D Bar is a restaurant devoted to desserts. Upon arrival it was very clear that D Bar was the place to be on a Saturday night. Every Saturday night chef and owner Keegan Gerhard can be found behind the bar preparing his sweet masterpieces right before your eyes. Inside D Bar the lighting is dim, the room is packed, and the energy is electric. After a long wait in the cramped heated doorway of the restaurant we were finally seated. The prime seating is along the L shaped bar – this is where all of the action can be experienced first-hand. We sat along the counter facing the window, which turned out to be a comfortable spot with the windows serving as mirrors to the bar behind us.

D Bar offers a well-stocked wine and beer list. We started our meal with my favorite wine: Layer Cake Primitivo. Layer Cake is a well-balanced and jammy wine that lends itself well to both sweet and savory dishes. It was the perfect accompaniment to our food.

We ordered four desserts to try to get the full spectrum of D Bar’s offerings. The desserts $8-$10 each. The Palmond is an almond cake with a caramelized pears and almond ice milk. The cake was dry and crumbly with a crisp almost pasty almond layer on the top. The pears were soft with a deep rich flavor. The almond ice milk was a light and cool compliment to the caramel tones of the pear. While this was a pear dish I would eat again, I did not enjoy the mild and dry flavors of the cake.

I have a special place in my heart for donuts. When donuts are on the dessert menu at a restaurant it is often hard for me to pass them up, so I was sure to order D Bar’s Brioche Cinnamon Sugar Donuts. The order comes with three fluffy, sweet brioche donuts dusted in cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla dipping sauce with a chocolate swirl. When the donuts were dipped in the subtle combination of vanilla and chocolate, it added a sweet gossamer casing that enhanced an otherwise average donut.

After watching waffle after delicious waffle pass by, we had to order the Warm! Mit Waffles. This is an ice cream sandwich unlike any other. Let go of your preconceived notions of ice cream sandwiches because this dessert is nothing like its predecessors. Vanilla bean ice cream is packaged between two warm rock sugar waffles that are adorned with a three-cherry compote and amaretto cream. The waffles were ideal: a gentle, firm exterior that gives way to a warm, doughy bite. The cherry compote added a pleasant tartness that paired harmoniously with the other sugary flavors.

Our final dessert was not on the menu, it was the night’s special: Baked Alaska. I’ve often heard of this fabled dish, but I’ve never seen it on a menu. This was my favorite dish of the evening. This Baked Alaska consisted of a tart shell filled with coconut ice cream covered by a baked meringue. All of this was lying atop slices of pineapple, which were brushed with a vanilla bean caramel sauce. Each dense mouthful was permeated with vanilla bean. The pineapple was sweet with no hint of tartness. The meringue top was baked to perfection with toasted edges and a gooey, spongy bite.

I have an unyielding penchant for sweets and D Bar satisfied my proclivity. Whenever I am in Denver I will be sure to make a stop at D Bar.

D Bar
1475 E. 17th Ave.
Denver, Co 80218
(303) 861 – 4710

Things To Do In Denver Before You Die: Nomelie Cupcakes

I have a contagious passion for cake. On my recent visit to Denver, it was evident that R and his mom had caught my affliction. On our second day in this winter wonderland we discovered the cupcake shop of our dreams.

Tucked away in the sleepy town of Parker, just outside of Denver, is Nomelie Cupcakes. It is your quintessential cupcakery, pink and precious. Warm smells of sugar and sweetness greeted us along with vibrant and welcoming smiles from the staff.

Nomelie Cupcakes is a family owned bakery. They make their cupcakes on site in small batches baked fresh daily. They have a small rotating selection of cupcakes. On our visit they offered Vanilla Love, Chocolate Love, Coconut Dream, and Salty n’ Sweet. We got three of each!

Under a carapace of fluffy frosting, delicately sprinkled with translucent flakes of salt, lies the best cupcake I have ever had. A bold statement I know, but no doubt once you’ve enjoyed a Salty n’ Sweet cupcake from Nomelie Cupcakes you will agree. It might just be the best thing on earth!

The Salty n’ Sweet is a moist chocolate cake with salted caramel baked inside. The burnt sugar of the caramel is visible through tiny glistening caverns in the chocolate cake. The caramel creates a buttery, slightly sticky bite. It is prudently frosted with a caramel frosting that has an almost airy consistency. This cupcake from top to bottom is dessert heaven.

It is just sweet enough, without being tooth-achingly sweet. The salt is a perfect compliment to each bite. I have a penchant for caramel so this was the ideal cupcake for me. If I close my eyes I can still taste the rich filling, fluffy frosting, and chocolaty essence.

Nomelie Cupcakes
19751 E Main Street R5
Parker, CO 80138
** If you are planning a trip to Denver I suggest picking up an Eat/Shop guide, it is an invaluable resource. Or email me theletmeeatcake@gmail.com **

Things To Do In Denver Before You Die : Smash Burger

It has become a winter tradition to visit Denver with R. I generally meet him after the holidays just before the New Year. Unlike Los Angeles, Denver is a true winter wonderland. The cold biting weather, the snowy ground, the clear skies, and the mountains all around, let’s just say we’re not in LA anymore. It is the perfect mini break from the hectic pace of the city and the holidays. If you haven’t been to Denver before it is a beautiful city with bountiful gastronomic pleasures.

Since I have been back in LA, I haven’t stopped thinking about all of the memorable meals I enjoyed while in Denver. When I left I was satiated and eager for my next visit. Here is some of what I enjoyed.

I am not a regular patron of chain restaurants. I tend to prefer the mom and pop cafes, or the charm of a restaurant that only has one location. However, when I was in Denver a few weeks back, it was a chain restaurant, of all things, that stole my heart!

Known as the hometown of Chipotle, Denver is a city that is not lacking in chain eateries. My favorite of their local chains was Smash Burger. This is a restaurant the guide books are not going to direct you to, but you want to be sure not to miss.

Smash Burger is a burger joint with a modern feel. What sets a Smash Burger apart from other burgers is the plump, crisp, perfectly cooked beef. Not all patties are created equal; some are too thick, or too seasoned or just dry hard disks of meat, but Smash Burger is not any of these things.

I ordered the BBQ Bacon and Cheese. It had thin crunchy fried onions, thick slabs of apple wood smoked bacon, tangy BBQ sauce and the perfect beef patty. The flavors blended together collapsing with each bite. The bun was nicely buttered and grilled. It had a soft exterior with perfectly toasted edges. At $6 a burger, Smash Burger is the ultimate burger. A burger so good you ingest it in 30 seconds and then beg for more.

Smash Burger

S. Parker Rd & Yale Ave

2630 S Parker Road

Aurora, Colorado 80014

720-213-0012

Open 10am-10pm Daily


** If you are planning a trip to Denver I suggest picking up an Eat/Shop guide, it is an invaluable resource. Or email me theletmeeatcake@gmail.com **


Ain’t Your Mama’s Slaw



I find myself walking around exclaiming “Battle Napa Cabbage!” with such excitement, an excitement I never thought I would have for a vegetable.

January is the month of Battle Napa Cabbage. The monthly “food fight” held by Mel (Gourmet Fury) and Leela (SheSimmers) has done exactly what it set out to do. In just two months time it has gotten me excited about vegetables and eager to cook with vegetables that are not part of my normal repertoire.

Napa cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage, is a pale green (almost white) elongated cabbage with a mellow, nutty flavor. It has tightly clinging leaves that are crispy and creased. I found that the Napa cabbage was a great canvas for an array of ingredients.

Since it is the start of a new year – a time of resolutions and new beginnings – I thought it fitting to prepare a recipe that was healthy and light. Rather than preparing the Napa cabbage in a soup, stir- fry, or kimchi as it is typically found, I decided to use the cabbage in a slaw.

This is not your mama’s slaw. In thick wedges or large chunks, the Napa cabbage is coated with a tart dill mayonnaise. It is spiked with slivers of carrots and paper-thin rings of red onions. Crack some black pepper over the top and you are done. Serve it with a salty shaving of smoked salmon or accompany it with delicate Sardinian parchment bread and you have a healthy, light, and satisfying meal.

The slaw has a delicate creaminess. The crunch from the cabbage, the sweetness from the carrots, and subtle spice from the onions marry well together. This slaw is the embodiment of simplicity.


Ingredients:

1 Napa cabbage

1 carrot

1 red onion

Smoked salmon (less than ¼ pound)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dressing:

¾ cup mayonnaise (a great store bought will do, or make it from scratch)

Juice of ½ lemon (or more to taste, the dressing should be really tart!)

½ cup of chopped fresh dill

Take ¾ cup of mayonnaise and add fresh squeezed lemon juice and stir to combine. Add ½ cup of freshly chopped dill and combine. D
o not add salt! The salt will pull the moisture from the cabbage and make this slaw soggy. Who wants that?

Shred 1 carrot and shave ¼ of a red onion for garnish.

Pull the exterior leaves from the Napa cabbage and save for another use. Take the heart of the Napa cabbage and cut it into long wedges or thick chunks. Dress the Napa cabbage to taste. Add carrots, red onion, and pepper. Enjoy!

A Dosa or Two…

What is a dosa? A dosa is a South Indian crepe made from rice and lentils. It is typically filled with South Indian ingredients and served rolled almost like a burrito. In a city as ethnically diverse as Los Angeles, I was surprised to find myself unfamiliar with dosas. With an unyielding need to eat everything, my stomach and I were on a mission to find the Dosa Truck.

Dosa truck is owned and operated by Brooklyn born Leena Deneroff. While the menu focuses on dosas the truck also offers Masala fries, salads, and samosas. All dosas are priced at $6 each, a bit steep for food from a truck.

On my visit one dosa was not enough. Several dosas later I was full and happy.

The Mumbai Madness (Masala) dosa is filled with smashed curried Indian potatoes. The potatoes were tucked into the lean rolled crepe and it remained surprisingly crunchy top to bottom. The flavors were mild and creamy. With hints of fennel seeds sprinkled throughout, this dosa was crisp and light.

Sita’s Surprise is a dosa filled with sweet potato masala. This dosa was sweet and rich with a delightful buttery aftertaste. The rice lentil crepe was crispy yet soft and snugly sandwiched the potatoes. This was my favorite dosa.

The Shiva Shakti is a dosa comprised of 1/2 sweet potato and ½ malsala dosa. From end to end the flavors transitioned smoothly.

The Goa Goodness is a dosa filled with spinach, mushroom, and cheese. It was ooey-gooey good. The fresh spinach wilted slightly under the melted cheese with thick meaty slices of mushroom, the rice lentil crepe lending a subtle sweetness to the flavors.

Brahma’s Boon is a dosa filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and cheese. My least favorite of the dosas it was somehow too juicy and required the assistance of multiple napkins. The onions overpowered all other flavors and it felt uninspired. I could not find the South Indian influence in this dosa.

Dosas make a great lunch. They are crispy, light, quick and satisfying. On my next visit I will be sure to order the Slumdog rubbed with pesto and filled with paneer, spinach and masala potatoes, but for $6 a pop I will try to restrain myself to just one dosa.

Ringing in the New Year! Restaurants of 2009 Cafe Stella and Street

image credit: blog.wineenthusiast.com

A year of bacon, fat-fried everything, food trucks, cocktails, and breweries, 2009 in Los Angeles has been a great gastronomic year. Before we leave this year for the next I want to remember some of my favorites.

Café Stella

3932 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029

(323) 666-0265

Tucked behind Sunset Junction and hidden next to the Silverlake Cheese Store, Café Stella is a neighborhood gem. The dinner menu is French Bistro perfection.

This year Stella began serving breakfast. With a short menu of pancakes, pastries, and egg dishes, the breakfast at Café Stella is simple and classic.

Lemon ricotta pancakes are fluffy and light, with the lemon subtly folded between the silky granules of cheese ($10). Add a light rain of maple syrup and you are in breakfast heaven.

The baked eggs with spinach and goat cheese are meltingly soft and delicate ($10).

When it comes to the spud for breakfast, few restaurants get it right ($4). At Café Stella the crispy breakfast potatoes are just that – crispy, and wonderfully so. Oven roasted and lightly seasoned with a dash of fresh parsley, they have a crunchy skin that gives way to mealy snowiness.

Breakfast at Café Stella is quaint and complete.

Street

742 N. Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038


Already a dedicated and loyal Susan Fenniger fan, I was elated for the opening of Street, her first solo venture. A veritable round-the-world tour of street fare, the menu is stimulating yet approachable. From tea cakes and dumplings to salads, noodles, stews and curries, the small plates offer diners a chance to explore the world of savory, sweet, spicy, and tart. It is a gastronomic adventure to be sure.

Street offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but I highly suggest the outdoor. Giant street-scene murals painted along each of the four walls enclose you with only the open air above. A stone fire pit in the middle of the patio keeps guests warm. Intimate, isolated from its surroundings and employing a sleek Modernist design, it is a convivial place for a meal.

Instead of bread and butter, diners are greeted with cumin-scented millet puffs. These bite-sized puffs have the texture of rice crispy treats but the taste of a spice market. They are pleasing and surprising to the tongue.

Paani Puri – small crisp orbs filled with spiced potato, sprouts and chutneys – is an ideal start to a globe-trotting meal. The flavors of the Paani Puri become more pronounced when dipped in the accompanying yogurt cilantro water. Each orb is crunchy, light, and delightful.

The Korean Rice Salad is sadly no longer on the current menu. It was a cacophonous mix of firm rice, wilted greens, fresh carrots, kimchi, seaweed and tofu, crowned with a soft cooked egg. The contrast of fresh, crisp, bitter and spicy flavors was incredibly enjoyable – a nice play on the idea of what a salad should be.

The Ukrainian dumplings are filled with spinach and a light layer of salted, boiled and pan-fried cheese topped with a heaping spoonful of sour cream and lemon marmalade. An explosion of taste and texture, each dumpling is certainly more than a mouthful and packed with bite. The dough is chewy and the filling salty. Be sparing with the marmalade as it can overpower the other flavors.

The Lamb Kafta with white beans and grilled artichoke is gentle and mellow. It certainly does not stand out compared to the other menu offerings, but is still a hearty and pleasing entrée.

Street’s Kaya Toast has become the toast of the town. All of Los Angeles has been raving about this Singaporean delight. A sticky coconut jam is spread thick between two pieces of lightly toasted and buttered pieces of bread, which are then topped with an over-easy egg drizzled with dark soy sauce and a touch of grey salt. The egg is a quiet background flavor, offering relief from the rich and gooey coconut jam.

The name ‘Street’ lends itself well to the menu, a celebration of street food of the globe. Street offers a memorable dining experience that will surely continue well past 2010.

I look forward to the gastronomic pleasures 2010 is sure to bring. Happy New Year!

* for restaurant suggestions you can always email me theletmeeatcake@gmail.com

I Like to Spoon

With the continuing onslaught of gourmet food trucks to hit Los Angeles, Little Spoon Desserts is the first of its kind. It offers a rotating selection of sweet confections from cakes and tarts to cookies and bars.

On a recent night out I was excited to find Little Spoon Dessert truck parked right on Hollywood Blvd, so I had to stop for some dessert.

I took a cursory glance over the menu and was instantly taken by the Signature Cake. The Signature Cake is made up of layers of marble cake with mocha frosting and chocolate chips. I was sold!

The cake was moist and soft and while I’m not a fan of frosting, the mocha frosting was just right. It was slightly sweet and had a delicate whipped texture. The chocolate chips lent themselves well to this silky cake, adding just the bite it needed.

I also ordered their Assorted Mini Cupcakes, because I can never pass up mini anything. The mini cupcakes come in groups of three, with your choice of flavors. I chose the red velvet, the peanut butter, and the vanilla coconut. The cupcakes came in the cutest little box where the three fit snuggly together. The red velvet was classic and tasty. The peanut butter was rich and velvety. The coconut, however, was a bit dry and a little too sweet.

The Pumpkin Cheesecake was divine. It had a thick and smooth consistency and completely captured the flavors of the season, with slightly spicy warm tones. The cheesecake was firm with a delicate crumble from the graham cracker crust and kept me wanting more.

class=”Apple-style-span” style=”font-family:georgia;”>I wish I could have prolonged all the goodness for as long as possible, but I ate all of my desserts right in front of the truck. If you see this dessert treasure trove parked, make sure to stop and enjoy.