Sunday, December 17, 2017

End-of-year giving + sublime black pepper-crème fraîche buttercream-topped brownie cake

Always game for a dense, terrific chocolate dessert, I brought this recipe over from a Donna Hay issue, to bake with my friend Jill a few weeks ago. After making a few tweaks it was out of this world, and prompted many hands raised online for "recipe please!"

Scroll down for the recipe.....


Each year I like to share a variety of inspired goods to live more beautifully, holistically, and functionally. This year's gift guide is more an outline for giving well into the New Year.

Over and over again in 2017 my heart has burst or broken.
The women's march.
The travel ban protests.
Drilling in the Arctic.
The go-ahead for Pebble Mine in Alaska.
Needless lives lost from an increasingly militarized police.
The #metoo outpouring.
Reducing and auctioning off of our Public Lands.
Innumerable wildfires, floods, droughts, and earthquakes.
Alabama winning for all Americans.

We can all do more to fight for good, for war-torn or climate refugees, for Nature and all her beloved creatures. Instead of turning away and feeling overwhelmed, I am connecting to Nature and humanity more, and in ways where I feel a real contribution. I've assembled a few organizations or causes I support here - ranging from responsibly caught wild salmon, to animal rescue in the most recent wave of California wildfires - as well as a few creature essentials - since eating well is a must while fighting the good fight.

1. The Minos Moka pot is my go-to for a daily brew. This solid stainless stovetop pot produces a lush, intensely flavorful coffee in just a few minutes, and I absolutely love it. I've arranged a promotional rate of 15% off any of the items in their catalogue if you want one for yourself. Use this code, good for one month: XMASMOKA.

2. Sea Legacy, founded by National Geographic photographers Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen. This pair travels the far corners of the world (and in a new campaign called "turning the tide," are inviting us to come with them) to document what is happening in our climate breakdown, and educate at-large on why exactly we need to protect ocean ecosystems. Giving options include beautiful printed art, as well as giving directly.

3. Food52, a community resource for all things delicious, as well as timeless, stylish, functional goods. I have a running list of objects to incorporate into my projects and love that they support American artisans.

4. Susie's Senior Dogs, an advocacy group for older dogs which I discovered through Instagram. Post-after-post of older dogs just waiting for humans to love unconditionally have provided me much laughter, some tears, and definitely a place in my heart for these incredible pooches. This sweet boy is Tupac and has stolen my heart with that gaze... One day I am going to adopt a senior dog and give them all the comfort and love they can handle.

5. Everyday Refugees is another group I discovered via Instagram. Through poignant, heart-wrenching images a squalid purgatory is revealed, where innocent children play and their families wait out days in hopes for a better life. See for yourself and give what you can to mitigate their time spent in these conditions.

6. Sonic Sea is an incredibly beautiful film which draws focus to the vast noise pollution in our seas. Which might hit you like "huh...." except for the fact that all large marine mammals such as right, humpback, and other whales, orcas, porpoises, and more, all use the sound carried by their songs to communicate the enormous distances they travel. When they cannot hear one another, they go silent, then become distraught, then they stop breeding and eventually, go extinct. Yes it is very dismaying, but there are many solutions to this problem! Gather a few friends and watch the film together. I promise it will be cathartic.

7. Humane Society of Ventura County is a shelter which has rescued and received countless animals through the most recent outbreak of wildfires. They are caring for a large number of horses, goats, and other livestock, as well as dogs, cats and birds. If you are in the region and can volunteer, amazing! If you are not nearby but would like to help, they have a Thomas Fire animal rescue fund to which you can donate, here.

8. Plastic Free Foodie 'Zine is a collection of colorful & delicious recipes contributed from over 60 Instagram food stars - there is a delicious chicory, spiced nut, and persimmon salad by yours truly - and produced by my colleague Christine Wong. After watching another cathartic film, A Plastic Ocean, she was moved to get people thinking more about single-use plastics so pervasive in our everyday lives. Where does all that stuff go, anyway?? The film is another stunning, beautifully produced insight to what's-going-on-in-the-world. All proceeds from this e-magazine fund the campaign to raise awareness, with the hope that we will shift our buying choices. Opt for reusables and natural materials in lieu of plastic, rigorously recycle, and make less waste in general.

9. The Pollinator Project is a simple way to help bees thrive: plant non-GMO seed packets wherever you can, enjoy the beautiful wildflower blooms, extend the range of butterflies and honeybees, who are an intrinsic presence in maintaining the diversity of our food.

10. Driftersfish for wild Alaskan salmon, a husband-wife duo who care about responsibly caught fish, so that we can rely on these incredible animals for our sustenance for decades to come. I visited them in Cordova this year and was struck by so many nuances: the use of different fishing nets based on the character - and color - of the water throughout the season; the recognition of indigenous fishing rights region-to-region; differing species of salmon throughout the season, and even witnessing the salmon for myself as they met their final path. (photos coming soon....!) You can order fresh or smoked fish at their store, and once you've feasted on their collection, discover which is your favorite.

11. Jessie Lazar makes thoughtful, functional ceramics, perfect for your every day. She is a native New Yorker - lucky for me, because that meant I could make a studio trip to drool over her collection in person! She is part of a large community of ceramic artists I cannot live without. Their beautiful works literally frame the food I produce and further the "handmade" quality I so prize on-set. Holding one of her bowls or mugs feels great, and makes the daily activity of eating special. One of her mugs is part of a special giveaway I am currently hosting on Instagram. Check it out!

Would love to hear your thoughts on any or all. Thanks for reading and finding your way to contribute!


Black pepper-crème fraîche buttercream-topped brownie cake - adapted from Donna Hay
serves 10-15

for the cake
1 c AP flour, sifted
225g unsalted butter, chopped
400g 60-70% dark, bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 pasture-raised eggs
1/2 c organic cane sugar
1/2 c light brown sugar
1 tsp Aleppo pepper
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt

for the frosting
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c crème fraîche, room temperature
3/4 c confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp freshly cracked pepper
3 tbsp smoked whisky - I used a home-infused Lapsang souchong spirit, which turns out quite similar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a springform pan with parchment, fasten the collar, and butter all sides.

Place butter and chocolate into a double boiler placed over low heat and melt, undisturbed. Stir together to incorporate and set aside to cool slightly.

Place eggs, sugars, and vanilla in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously for a few minutes, or until frothy. In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients: flour, pepper, and salt.

Pour chocolate mixture into egg mixture and whisk to combine. Add flour mixture and stir until incorporated. Pour into lined springform pan and bake for 40 minutes or until just a couple crumbs cling to a skewer when inserted into the center. It should look fudgy. Allow to cool completely in the tin, set on a wire rack.

Place the butter, crème fraîche, confectioner's sugar, and cocoa in a large bowl. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat for 5 minutes or until fluffy and pale. If the frosting curdles, run a hairdryer around the periphery of the bowl as you beat to raise the overall temperature and reincorporate until silky. Add the black pepper and whisky/infused spirit and beat to combine. Taste and add more pepper or crème fraîche as needed. (the pepper serves as an accent, not an overall flavor) Use an offset spatula to spread over the cooled cake and cut into wedges to serve.

Jill and I fed it to our husbands, who groaned with delight between forkfuls. It was brought to a dinner party, where everyone enthusiastically nodded with approval. I fed the remaining slices to my parents visiting from out of town, to similar delight. If you make this cake, I want to hear about it!


One more thing - my book Kid Chef is a national best-seller! If you're contemplating what to get a foodie friend or kid, it makes a great gift. Any home cook who hasn't attended culinary school will learn something from the thorough explanations and break-down of processes throughout. Each recipe is truly good eating - no gimmicks or dumbed-down food, something for everyone's ability and taste. Links to purchase your copy in the sidebar at the top ^^^, as well as here, through Powell's independent books.

Happiest of holidays to you all!!