Coconut Lime Torte, Three Ways

The five-pound bags of almond and coconut flour that I purchased recently have been taunting me mercilessly since their arrival. The giant blue and white striped bags have spent the past two weeks sitting in the middle of the coffee table waiting for me to turn them into something lovely. It's been a tough several days, though, and I admit that I've spent most of my evenings battling a case of Holly Golightly's "Mean Reds" that left me kind of teary-eyed and unmotivated to do little else but read recipes and watch movies. And so the bag has sat; frangipane tarts and financier officially on hold.

Until Wednesday. A evening dash to the grocery store to pick up a few staples proved to be just the thing to push me out of the slump. I arrived home, arms loaded down with the weight of my reusable grocery bags when I heard the phone ring. I dove into my purse to find my phone, knocking over a bag of produce in the process. Out rolled a calvacade of artichokes and asparagus followed by a few frisky limes. The limes rolled out across the table in the direction of the flour, where they stopped right at the bag; kelly green rind kissing the bulging bag of almonds. I looked it while I talked, my brain already racing ahead. Within minutes I was in the kitchen grating and mixing and humming the lime in da coconut song that my friend Lindsay used to drive me crazy with in college.

The end result was lovely: a moist, green-flecked cake with subtle hints of lime and coconut. Putting the lime and the coconut together did, in fact, make me feel better! The first night I ate the cake straight, a warm slice right out of the oven. The next day I had a slice for breakfast that tasted even better as the flavors had been given a chance to meld together.

That evening, I stopped by the bodega to pick up some some paper towels when I saw a whole bag of star anise on sale for a dollar. I snatched this up and decided to get creative. In a small saucepot, I mixed half a cup each of coconut milk and cream, and simmered with a few anise stars. I sweetened the cream and poured it over a generous slice of cake. Incredible! The anise brought out the warm, tropical flavors of the cake making for a delicious dessert.

This morning I decided to try the now slightly-stale cake (stale because I was lazy and didn't wrap it properly last night) as French toast! I beat one whole egg with a bit of cream and some cold star anise tea, and soaked the slices before frying in butter. I topped with a drizzle of anise-simmered syrup. Wow! It smelled so good that I didn't have the patience to photograph it properly, so I just dug in.

Coconut Lime Torte

2 cups almond meal
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flour
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about two limes)
Rind of 1 whole (unwaxed) lime
1 cup sugar or equivalent substitute
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
6 medium eggs
1/2 cup olive oil

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons water

1.Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9" round or springform pan.

2. Combine the nuts, rind, sugar (or substitute), salt, and baking powder in an electric mixer or food processor and pulse a few times until any lumps are broken up.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the oil and lime juice. Continue to mix at high speed for a couple minutes to work some air into the batter--it should grow in size a bit.

4. Pour into a greased springform pan and place in the oven. The baking time will vary depending on your oven and the humidity in the environment. Start checking it about 30 minutes into baking. It will be ready when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. When ready to glaze, mix the powdered sugar, water, and lime juice together until smooth. Drizzle all over the cake and allow to set. Serve immediately after glazing.

Additional Serving Suggestions:

**Serve day-old cake in "cream" puddle of 1/2 cup coconut milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream simmered for a couple minutes with 4 star anise and 2 teaspoons of sugar.

**Serve slightly stale cake as French toast using a batter of 1 whole egg, 3 tablespoons of heavy cream, and 3 tablespoons of cold-brewed tea (I used leftover black leaf & star anise tea, but feel free to get creative!). Soak a slice in the batter on each side and fry in 1 tablespoon of butter. Serve with warm syrup (simmer with star anise, if desired).

Italian Lessons: Three-Meat Meatloaf Arrabiata

Sergio was short. Handsome, but very short. I didn’t notice this at first, however, as when I met him I was sitting down. By the time I stood up and realized my mistake, it was already too late.

I was at a private club called Lochness located just a few blocks from my Florentine flat. Private clubs are common in Italy, where the "members only" policy allows the bar owners to skirt one (or a dozen) of those complicated Italian government regulations. The term is used casually in this city, though, and I was able to offer un sorriso (a smile) in lieu of the 3 Euro membership fee. I still have my card in my wallet; a green laminated rectangle featuring a cartoonlike image of the famous monster inviting me to “get messy with Nessy.”

The night I’d met Sergio, I’d been stood up by my wonderful, albeit flaky, roommate who’d promised to meet me after running an errand. I quickly realized that errand had turned into a sleepover with the boy she was not-so-secretly shagging, and so I was left alone at the bar chatting with the cute barman who kept generously refilling my wine glass each time the owner looked away. He spoke Spanish and English, but I preferred to use my newly-acquired Italian to chat away about cooking school and living in the city. He convinced me to stay until closing and offered to drive me the few blocks home in his funny-looking little Italian car.

I met him at the bar again the next night(this time in flats)and again the following evening. But I was quickly starting to realize that the problem with dating the bartender is that he can never leave the bar. That, and the fact that a cute bartender fluent in English in study abroad-saturated Florence is never a good idea. After a week or two of copious text messaging and side-street kisses, I arrived a few minutes later than usual one night to find him kissing the neck of a willowy blonde who giggled as she loudly massacred the Italian language. Furious and humiliated, I shot him a look of death and quickly turned to head out the door. He darted past me, blocking my exit, and in a pleading ménage of languages explained that he was just "helping her with her Italian." I stared at him in stony silence, prompting him to ask me nervously:

Sei arrabiata??”

I laughed despite myself. Though it was a word I’d not yet officially learned, I recognized it from countless dinner menus back home. Arrabiata. I instantly understood the way my feelings at that moment mirrored the fiery, spicy red sauce.

“Si!!” I shouted angrily, as I pushed him out of the way and walked out the door.

That was the end of Sergio, but as it just so happened, arrabiata sauce was on the menu in my class the following week. It was then and still continues to be one of my favorites.
This very simple, spicy tomato sauce comes from Rome and is wonderful over pasta for a quick afternoon meal, but I think it is even better over a savory three-meat meatloaf made from pork, veal, and beef (feel free to replace ground Sergio, if you can find it).
You don’t have to be angry to serve this dish; it's a pretty great comfort dish no matter how you feel! But trust me when I say that when you’re mad at a man (or woman), there are few things more satisfying that pounding one’s hands into a large bowl of ground meat.

You can adjust the spice in this dish by adding more or less red pepper. I, as I'm sure you've guessed, like it hot...

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes with their juice*
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock

*Remember to use canned, not fresh. Tomatoes aren’t in season now so canned is going to taste much better.

1) Place a heavy saucepan over medium –high heat and add the olive oil. Sauté the minced garlic until it starts to turn golden, but not toasted.

2) Add the tomatoes (along with their juice), chicken stock, and pepper flakes to the garlic and reduce your heat slightly. Season with salt and pepper, and allow the tomatoes to cook down for about 30 minutes, until the sauce is thick. Lower the heat if it starts to boil—you want to keep it at a gentle simmer.

3) When the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have broken down. Turn off the heat and either serve over meat or pasta (or both) or allow to cool before refrigerating

Three-Meat Meatloaf
This is basically a giant meatball for the lazy. Instead of lots of little balls you just shape the meat and bake. The replacement of breadcrumbs with bran and flaxseed dramatically ups the fiber content and lowers the carbohydrates. How perfect is that?!

1/2 cup chicken or beef stock
1 diced medium-sized yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful of Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/3 cup course unprocessed bran
3 tablespoons ground flax seed
1 egg
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Extra Virgin olive oil

1) In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions until transluscent.
2) Add the garlic and cook until golden. Remove from heat and let cool
3) In a food processor, blend together the stock, cooked onions and garlic, parsley, red pepper, and salt.
4) In a separate large bowl, combine the three meats and knead until combined evenly.
5) Pour the stock mixture over the meat and combine well with your hands
6) Add the bran and flax seed and mix in well
7) In a separate bowl, beat the egg slightly and then pour over the meat mixture. Again knead until everything has been distributed evenly.
8) Turn the meat mixture onto a large roasting pan and mold into a loaf in the center, allowing room on all sides.
9) Bake at 450 degrees for approximately 35-40 minutes.
10) Raise the oven to broiler, and broil for an additional 3-5 minutes until the top is golden and develops a nice crust.
11) Remove from oven and let sit for ten minutes before slicing so as to not lose all the juices.

To serve, place a thick slice on a plate topped with a couple heaping tablespoons of the arrabiata sauce. Shave Pecorino cheese on top and garnish with more parsely if desired.
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