The Cook's Adventures in Wine


"Dry Gewürztraminer"
Gewürztraminer, 2006
Claiborne & Churchill

"Chocolate Beet Cake"

"Well goodness!" I said to the tall oh-so-young man in front of me. "You don't have to sound so surprised when you say that!"

He just smiled as he handed me my fresh washed cake pan. I really couldn't look stern. That note scribbled on a paper bag, saying simply "Chocolate Beet Cake", would have made a brave man hesitate.

I just smiled as I took back my pan. Everyone who knows me knows I will feed anyone who comes within arm's reach. So when our local CDF station emptied of the regulars, out battling some 1000+ forest fires burning in the state, and the local volunteers stepped right up to man it, I couldn't help but take them some goodies. With a sigh of disappointment I watched the trucks pull out as I pulled in. There was not much to do but to abandon the cake next to their abandoned dinner, leaving with it my cryptic note.

I returned the next day to claim my pan and my accolades and was greeted with this young man and his exclamation "Wow, that was a great cake!". Said with the tone of someone who had clearly expected a cake something less then "great".

I could hardly fault the poor child. I myself was a bit dubious when the idea was first introduced to my mind. A friend at my dinner table one night mentioned he had had a thing called "Chocolate Beet Cake" at a local eatery. Its virtues, he insisted, were to numerous to iterate, and had I ever heard of it?

I had not. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am an alien from another planet totally unlike earth. A fact evidenced by my totally and completely lukewarm opinion of chocolate. Somehow the idea of adding beets to the mix didn't seem likely to yield any improvement.

But, no challenge, subtle or not so, can go unanswered in my kitchen. Soon I was typing "Chocolate beet cake" into and was rewarded with no less then six recipes. Hmm, people really eat this? Well, ok, I'll give it a shot. I picked one, adjusted for my ingredients and preferences - and ended up with the best chocolate cake this not-a-chocoholic has ever had.

I used to be of the opinion that Carrot Cake was beyond competition for being positively absolutely the best way to eat your vegetables. Carrot Cake suddenly had competition. If (as they say) it is healthy to eat brightly colored vegetables, beets have to win above all else save perhaps blackberries. This cake boasts a full two cups of raw shredded beets. It hits the table a deep reddish brown and if I put a cream cheese frosting on it, it makes a great bright red line along the border. It is moist from the shredded beets, rich with coco butter and has a slightly spicy flavor hard to identify.

Perhaps my cake would have gone un-tested by our local lads (and a few lasses too) were it not for one man there who had already had my beet cake. He offered to deal with the entire offending sounding thing himself, but his enthusiasm for the task was enough to induce the other members to give it at least a little taste and by the time they got done little tasting, there was nothing left.

Its reputation spread and when my turn to host our neighborhood ladies Tea came around, there was no question as to the cake that would be served. Of course, that would be Tea, Sonoma county style. Meaning a token pot of hot water and a bottle of wine.

I had quite agonized over the wine. Both the beets and the chocolate are flavors not to be trifled with. It should have been an easy choice, something red, bright red, with fruity flavors and a hint of spice. But two of my guests did not like red wine and truly no matter how much I like a paring, even if all the world agrees with my choice, someone not liking the wine is not liking the wine.

My first thought for a white was a Gewürztraminer. In fact I had a sense that it might be the perfect bold spicy flavor to go with the bold spicy cake. I was resisting a sweet wine but none the less, for lacking a better thought, I found myself at the local grocer between the tall racks of varietal wines standing in front of the Gewürztraminer section. My eye was drawn to the word "dry" connected to the word Gewürztraminer. A "specialty" of the winery, "flag ship wine" the sign even said. Claiborne & Churchill. Hmmm. I wasn't familiar with the winery. Out of San Luis Obispo. Well, no wonder, I am prone, like many in this part of the state, to hardly think of that part of the state as the same state. It is, however, technically part of California (sort of) and it did solve my internal struggles nicely, so I decided I could forgive them the location. "Alsatian Style". I guess that means dry?

Gewürztraminer is decidedly not bland and few are lukewarm on the topic and perhaps those who like it only like the very sweet? Well, there is always that token pot of hot water.

Hugs go all around as friends arrive and we get right down to important business. In a flurry of smiles and chatter I take a cork puller to the bottle and the ladies pass around maybe-not-so-little pieces of cake.

That very distinctive Gewürztraminer fragrance spreads around the table as soon as the cork is pulled and positively fills the space with scent when I start pouring. The wine gets points right out of the bottle; truly looking great in the glasses. It has a pretty pale yellow color, and leaves just a scattering of tiny bubbles. I swirl it around the glass, a part of wine tasting I truly adore and put my face in the giant red-wine glasses I had chosen. I breathe deep of the scent. Gewürztraminer could well be the best smelling wine there is. Ok now, taste the wine first or the cake first . . . ah . . . ah . . . wine. Definitely wine. It surprises me a little at first, even knowing it is dry somehow I still was expecting it to be sweet. It isn't. Nice and dry. I like this. I can totally get behind the idea of a dry Gewürztraminer. Every bit of the flowery fruity spicy combination I look for in the varietal, and only the slightest bit sour. Sometimes I think people use the word "floral" when describing wine because they like the sound of it. But this wine has a clear and distinct flavor of flowers. I take another sip and a bite of cake. Ooh. That worked! The fruity spicy hard to identify flavor in the cake hits the same note as the wine, and the chocolate and the Gewürztraminer are a well known good marriage.

I seriously like this wine. It definitely goes on the "buy again" list, San Luis Obispo or no.


Chocolate Beet Cake

· 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
· 1 1/4 cups white sugar
· 10 oz (1 1/2 cup) semi sweet chocolate chips
· 2 teaspoons baking powder
· 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
· 1 1/3 cups milk
· 1/4 cup butter
· 3 eggs
· 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
· 2 cups beets, peeled and shredded

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and soda.

3. Put milk, butter, and chocolate chips in a pot and warm until butter and chips are very soft. (If it is hot, allow to cool before adding to cake) Stir to blend slightly.

4. Mix shredded beets and eggs.

5. Mix about 1/3 of dry mixture with beet mixture. Then mix in 1/3 of the warm milk mixture. Alternate dry and wet in 1/3rds untill all is blended.

6. pour batter into cake pan.

7. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out clean.