Update: check Todd and Diane's Part 1 here. Amazing!
One of the first things I did when I got back from Asheville, NC was to email Jael and Dan Rattigan from The Chocolate Lounge and
We were in NC to discover the Foodtopian Society of Asheville and we all fell in love with the pair, the minute we walked into their shop. Proof? We told Dodie (Super Mistress of Organization - Tourism Office PR Manager) that we had to take Brian, Todd and Diane there as soon as they'd arrive. Great chocolates, cakes, great photo opps, etc...Yeah, truth is we wanted more. More chocolate, more cookies and more of Jael and Dan. A couple of us even went back a third time and will have a post up soon.
Even though I have spent the last week being wined and dined by the wonderful chefs and artisans of Asheville, I did work very hard (smile and beg a lot primarily) to get you some of the dessert recipes I enjoyed on the trip. As a chef, I know it is no small gesture to part with one and I greatly thank the chefs who shared their creations with me and now you. This is one more example of the generosity of the artisan food crafters we have encountered.
As Diane mentioned one day, these people, restaurant owners, chefs, farmers, cheese makers, bakers, never talk about themselves. They talk about their crop, their product, how it evolved and how they evolved with it, not the other way around. They listened, they laughed, they patiently answered our questions, shared their knowledge and passion. We all took home different views and feelings from this trip I am sure, except one common trait uniting food professionals and food bloggers: we are passionate about food. We are all very tuned in to all of this so I think it was a pretty easy group to talk to but I know that they would have said and done the same for newbies to the concept of locally grown foods.
But who are these fellow food bloggers I keep mentionning? Let me tell you, I felt I had been a little sign that read "for good Kharma" when meeting them last week. Each of us had a little/lot of something to share and discover and oh my! Can we talk! And eat! And photograph! I have certainly made new friends, fell in love with the world again but dang country for being so wide! France is as big as Texas - a trip cross country is done in half a day! Yep, until I find a better way and until we meet again, I'll just keep on reading their blogs.
From left to right: Alison at The Humble Gourmand, Brian from The Food Geek, Tami from Running With Tweezers, Diane from White on Rice Couple, Jaden from Steamy Kitchen and Todd from White On Rice Couple. Truly, honestly, amazingly, funny, smart, down to earth, talented and all around good people to be with. (And no, I am not saying that just because I can't remember certain moments where lots of wine was poured and realised there might be video to remind me why.) On a side note, Tami works as a food stylist and you can guess that we were glued to her stories and experiences. Looking forward to taking her up on her offer to see her in action!
As soon as we had checked in at the hotel, we were off for a little walking tour of Asheville complete with a few gourmet samples and later on dinner. It hit me as we sat down at The Laughing Seed for a tasting of locally brewed beer that I was among hardcore food bloggers like me: listening with both ears, shooting with both eyes (one on the camera, one checking out the aesthetics around), all senses working like mad to capture it all. Having been to Asheville before, I can vouch that The Laughing Seed's popularity is justified: great food, great kitchen staff, fresh ingredients and minimal fuss. Love this place and I was so happy to go back!
Top left photo courtesy of Alison at The Humble Gourmand.
A little walk through Grove Arcade revealed more than just a "little walk": indoor fresh markets, specialty cheeses and honeys, cute little shops of all sorts. And then we entered Jael and Dan's shop. We could have stayed there for hours. They are genuinely good artisan chocolatiers. Conversation flowed, questions arised and were patiently answered. They are so passionate and knowledgeable about their truffles making, very easy to listen to and get inspired by. Especially when Dan kept passing the chocolate covered roasted hazelnuts around. And they have coffees, amazing hot chocolates and a plethora of baked goods too! More on that with the Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake recipe.
Left picture courtesy of Alison from The Humble Gourmand.
We had dinner reservation at Zambra and we kind of reluctantly left The Chocolate Lounge. Little did we know what awaited us at this tappas restaurant. The decor is as luscious as the food and at the same time comfortable and never intimidating, much like the plates that Executive Chef Adam Bannasch and his staff prepared. Jaden recognized right off the bat that portions would have to be somewhat downsized or we wouldn't be able to make it through this 8 course meal. Me? You can't ask me that question at the beginning of a meal! Of course I am going to say "bring it on!". Even with a small downsizing we still ended up rolling out of the restaurant in a certain food haze (or was it the sangria?). Content. Fresh, local and innovative food. Everything well balanced and perfectly executed. And that dessert! Most tasty fruit soup paired with an outstanding basil ice cream. Perfect balance of sugar and herb. Adam, anytime you feel like coming this side of Southern, I'd be happy to take you around our own restaurant gems!
As you can see, we were off to a pretty good start! We went back to The Chocolate Lounge with Brian, Diane and Todd the next day. Within a few minutes we were sitting with some tasty French press coffee and one of the best slices of cheesecakes I have ever had. I am not just saying that. I am not one to like fruit and chocolate, especially berries and chocolate, and I am not the best advocate of cheesecakes in the world. But this? This is something I would want to eat everyday. This Mousse of Strawberry Cheesecake not just "strawberry cheesecake". Run. To. Make. It.
I leave you with this fine introduction and recipe they wrote while I prepare part 2 of this trip. Trust me it gets even better!
Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake, from Jael and Dan Rattigan.
The best time of year to enjoy this cake is when strawberries are in season, so it can be garnished with fresh berries. however, you’ll see that the puree is made from frozen berries (because the freezing and subsequent thawing releases the juice from the berry’s cells which were ruptured in the freezing process), so enjoy any time of year, and try the same recipe with a seasonal, locally-available fruit of your choosing!
Other ingredient notes: choose ingredients with the same care and attention you would use to pick a babysitter for your kid. dessert is serious business! we use all organic dairy, free-range local eggs, organic sugar, and a highly aromatic vanilla extract. as for chocolate: the ganache topping only uses 4 ounces, so get a couple bars of something you would enjoy nibbling, preferably with a fruit-forward bouquet to complement your berries!
10 oz. frozen strawberries
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups whole raw almonds
2 oz soft unsalted butter
3 T sugar
¼ t salt
1 lb. cream cheese, room temp
1 cup (7.5 oz.) sugar
3 large eggs, room temp
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
12 oz sour cream, room temp
2/3 cup strawberry puree
4 oz. chocolate (50-55% cacao mass is best), finely chopped
4 ½ oz. cream
½ large egg (beat 1 egg, weigh it, and use half)
Prepare the strawberries:
Thaw strawberries and strain out the juice completely (reserve pulp, should be about 5 oz). Place juice in a small saucepan and, at a simmer, cook down to a third of original volume. (you should start with about 5-6 oz, and end with 2 oz.) Add sugar to reduction and stir to dissolve. Mix juice and pulp together with lemon juice.
blend in food processor or with immersion blender.
Prepare the crust:
Preheat oven to 400F and position a rack in the center.
Pulverize almonds, sugar, and salt in food processor until crumbly. Add butter and pulse to combine. Press into bottom and sides of 9” springform pan (2.5” tall)
bake 15-20 min, or until deep golden brown. Set aside to cool while you make the cheesecake.
Prepare the cheesecake:
Turn the oven down to 350F.
Beat cream cheese and sugar until very smooth (3 min) in a stand mixer at medium speed using the whisk attachment.(yes you read right. It gives the cake that mousse quality). Add eggs, 1 at a time, scraping bowl and beating after each just until smooth. Add vanilla & salt and beat until incorporated. Beat in sour cream. Beat in strawberry puree. Wrap the pan with the crust in a double layer of aluminum foil.
Pour batter into crust. Place in water bath (hot water) in a larger oven proof pan
bake 45-55 min.
5-10 min before cheesecake is done, make ganache topping:
Boil cream. Pour over chocolate and let sit a minute. Whisk gently until chocolate is melted and smooth. Gently whisk in egg. Spread over hot cheesecake (careful, and don’t pour it all in one place as cheesecake is fragile). Smooth out the top. Bake 12-15 more minutes until ganache is set along the sides. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack, with a large mixing bowl over the pan (to cool slowly). When it reaches room temp, refrigerate. Chill 8 hours before unmolding. To unmold, run a thin blade knife around the cake pan sides. Remove springform. Gently slide cake onto serving plate. Store covered in refrigerator.
it’s easier to cut the cake if you heat the knife. run it under very hot water, then dry it. Slice!