Fruitcake for Those Who Don’t Like It

December 1st, 2016

tinky-and-jan-laughweb

Earlier this week my sister-in-law Leigh and I made fruitcake. We weren’t precisely enjoying the fruitcake weather of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” (I wrote at length about that story when I shared the recipe for my late mother’s signature fruitcake.) The air was warm and humid rather than cool and crisp.

Nevertheless, we wanted to get a head start on our holiday baking. Fruitcake requires advance preparation so if one wants to have it for Christmas one should start working on it in late November.

Of course we made my mother’s fruitcake—and talked about her. The image at the top of this blog (and the top of this post) shows Taffy and me several years back working on fruitcake. She loved the annual tradition of preparing it, and continuing that tradition lets Leigh and me honor her and remember her in a fun, constructive way.

We also made the fruitcake recipe below. This wasn’t Taffy’s favorite fruitcake, but it is most definitely mine. Long ago Taffy copied it from a newspaper. It was originally NOT aged with additional Grand Marnier; that was our family’s addition. The cake can be eaten right after baking, but like many of us it gets better with age and booze.

This is fruitcake for non-fruitcake lovers. It has no sticky weird fruits, just golden raisins and pecans. And it emerges from the oven with a lovely golden color. The cake is VERY rich, as you’ll see in the recipe. Our family calls it “Delicious Death” in tribute to a cake made in Agatha Christie’s novel A Murder Is Announced.

In this mystery, set shortly after World War II, Delicious Death is a household favorite, prepared by the strange but talented cook who works at the scene of the first murder. Its abundance of butter and eggs are particularly welcome after the rationing the English have endured during and after the war.

If you find this cake too big and too rich, break it up. As you can see from the picture below (taken while the cakes were cooling), Leigh and I made half a recipe. This yielded four small cakes and one small loaf—perfect for gift giving. They took about 1-3/4 hours to bake.

Happy holiday baking from our home to yours!

cooling-cakeseb

Delicious Death

Ingredients:

1 pound golden raisins
1 pound pecans, chopped
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound butter (4 sticks) at room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or Cointreau, plus additional liqueur as needed

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Butter and flour the inside of a 10-inch, 12-cup tube pan or bundt pan (or butter and flour a number of smaller pans, and adjust your cooking time accordingly).

In a large bowl, combine the raisins and the pecans. Sprinkle the flour and salt over them, and toss the mixture with your hands until blended. Set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the sugar. Cream the mixture well; then add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating constantly. Blend the baking soda and the warm water, and beat them into the batter. Beat in the Grand Marnier. Pour this batter over the nut mixture, and blend it in with your hands (which will smell WONDERFUL from the Grand Marnier!).

After thoroughly washing your beater and bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff, and fold them into the rest of the batter with your hands. Continue folding until you can no longer see the whites.

Spoon and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 2 to 2-1/4 hours, or until the cake is puffed above the pan and nicely browned on top. (If the cake starts to brown on top too soon, cover it with aluminum foil.) Remove the cake from the pan after about 15 minutes. Tapping the bottom of the cake pan with a heavy knife will help loosen it.

When the cake has cooled, wrap it in cheesecloth, and sprinkle Grand Marnier on it to moisten it. Wrap it in foil, place it in a plastic storage bag, and hide it until you wish to use it—ideally for about 10 days. (It will keep longer, but you may have to re-douse it and refrigerate it after a month or so.) Makes 1 10-inch cake.

murder1web

Cranberry Shrub

November 7th, 2016

shrubmadeupweb

November greetings! Naturally, I’m already thinking about Thanksgiving.

Years ago I made what I called cranberry vinegar—basically, my usual strawberry vinegar with cranberries (I had to heat the vinegar a bit in order to get the cranberries to start blending with it). It was fabulous in salad dressings, and a friend loved mixing it with soda water as a drink.

Unfortunately, it gelled within a day or two; the pectin in the cranberries just couldn’t restrain itself.

So—here’s another version, from the book Colonial Spirits by Steven Grasse (2016, Abrams Books, recipe used with permission).

I have to admit that mine was a LITTLE tastier; both the cranberry and the sugar flavors came across more strongly.

But this one won’t gel up on you! It will beautify your Thanksgiving table and give your guests a refreshing beverage. I made it on my final fall appearance on Mass Appeal last week, along with my favorite key-lime pie, adding a little cranberry sauce to make the pie more seasonal.more-of-zee-pieweb

The Shrub

Ingredients:

3 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups water

Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the berries pop and become tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, and cool slightly. Working in batches, puree the cranberry mixture in a food processor. Don’t over-process the mixture.

Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth-lined sieve and strain, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.

Store the shrub in a airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Makes about 1 quart.

To make a refreshing beverage, pour 2 ounces of shrub into a tall glass with ice. Top with 1 cup soda water, and stir to combine.

And now the videos:

Key-Lime Pie

Cranberry Shrub

Apple-Cranberry Crumble

October 31st, 2016

apple-cran-crumble-web

Regular readers may have noticed that I LOVE crumbles. I also love the fall combination of apples and cranberries. The textures of these fruits are complementary, and together in dishes like this one they perk up a dreary season (we have ALREADY had snow in western Massachusetts!) with color and flavor.

I highly recommend this dish for Thanksgiving—easier than pie, and definitely thanks-inducing.

But you can even eat it for Halloween! Happy Trick or Treating to all….

do-not-drinkweb

 

The Crumble

Ingredients:

3 cups apple slices
2 cups cranberries
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fruit in a 9-inch pie pan. (Make sure you have a cookie sheet under the pan; the fruit can get juicy in the oven!) Add the 4 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Toss if you can.

Combine the flour, oats, and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers. Add the brown sugar and mix again until crumbly.

Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the fruit, pressing down lightly. Bake until the crumble is golden brown and crisp (about 30 minutes more or less, depending on your oven). Serves 6 to 8. The crumble may be served warm or cold.

Here I make the crumble on Mass Appeal.

Soup Weather

October 24th, 2016
Trish Crapo, a fellow freelance writer, took this photo of me prepping the soup on "Mass Appeal" last week.

Trish Crapo, a fellow freelance writer, took this photo of me prepping the soup on “Mass Appeal” last week.

We are enjoying a roller-coaster of a fall here in New England. At first we thought there might be NO color, thanks to the very dry weather of the past few months. A couple of weeks ago the trees apparently got tired of being drab and started turning gorgeous shades of orange and yellow, along with just a little red.

The temperature has also vacillated. A couple of weeks ago we were routinely very cold. Last week suddenly Indian summer arrived. Over the weekend just as suddenly things turned raw and cold. I hope it doesn’t snow too soon—but I’m not sure that it won’t.

It’s now officially soup weather. I love soup in any weather, but somehow it seems most fitting when temperatures are plummeting. This simple blended soup is warm, hearty, spicy, and even healthy. All the vegetables are in season—at least here in New England.

Seeing cauliflower at a farm stand made me think of the wonderful spicy Indian cauliflower dish aloo gobi. My soup is loosely inspired by it. I’ve never seen aloo gobi that included carrots, but I had a ton of carrots from my farm share so in they went!

Thanks to my cousin Kate Corwin for coming up with the idea of using chopped cashews (following the Indian theme) as a garnish. The gang loved that addition when I made the soup on Mass Appeal last week.

soup-with-garnishesweb

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

1 small to medium (or 1/2 large) cauliflower
2 large carrots
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
olive oil as needed for roasting
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
curry powder to taste (if it is hot, use 1/2 teaspoon; if mild, at least 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon cumin seed
salt to taste
1 tablespoon honey
the juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more juice to taste
Greek yogurt for garnish (optional; even better if you put some chopped chives and parsley in it)
chopped roasted cashews for an additional garnish

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roughly chop the cauliflower, carrots, and onion. Toss those vegetables in a small amount of oil, and place them on a rimmed cookie sheet. Place the garlic cloves on a small sheet of aluminum foil, drizzle a little olive oil on top, and close the foil around the garlic. Place the covered garlic on the cookie sheet as well, and roast the vegetables for 1/2 hour, stirring and turning them after 15 minutes.

After removing the vegetables from the oven open the pouch of garlic and smash the cloves. Place all the vegetables in a 5-quart Dutch oven. Stir in the broth, curry powder, cumin, salt, and honey.

Bring the soup to a boil; then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer the soup for 1/2 hour. When it has finished cooking, blend it with an immersion blender. (You may also use a regular blender, but in that case blend it in very small batches and watch out for burning.) Just before serving stir in the lemon juice. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a few cashew pieces if you like. Serves 4 to 6.

Here is the video. For some reason there is a gap in the recording beginning 42 seconds in and lasting for almost 50 seconds. Feel free to fast forward during that section!

Tinky’s Curried Cauliflower Soup

“Living and Working with Your Entire Self”: Susie Chang

October 17th, 2016
Susie Chang (all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

Susie Chang
(all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

The voice coming out of the computer is upbeat, musical, and fun. “If you love to cook, if you love recipes, if you love eating, stick around. Anything could happen,” says Susie Chang near the beginning of the inaugural podcast of “The Level Teaspoon,” her informal and entertaining look at cookbooks and recipes.

Susie (her pen name is “T. Susan Chang”) lives in Leverett, Massachusetts, not too far from me. For many years she has reviewed cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR. She is also the author of the frank, charming food memoir A Spoonful of Promises.

Her free podcast debuted on September 14. A new episode will be available every Wednesday on ITunes and other podcast venues (including its own site), where listeners can also hear back episodes. The podcast features cookbook reviews, cookbook highlights, and recipe-testing sessions with enthusiastic home cooks.

I spoke with Susie on the phone recently to talk about the genesis of “The Level Teaspoon.” She explained that she had come to realize that journalism had changed over the past couple of years.

“Cookbook reviews in print are something that people are less interested in,” she told me. “We use cookbooks in different ways. A lot of us will just Google recipes….

“I started thinking about how I would like to find out about cookbooks. I listen to an absolute ton of podcasts.”

She began to investigate the possibility of creating her own podcast. “I love doing radio. I always thought it would be nice to do more voice work, but I never could figure out how to do it,” she said.

“I spent a day looking into how people are managing to do podcasts, and I realized that it is possible to make a living running a podcast.”

The trick, she added, is that the podcaster has to build up thousands of listeners in order to attract a sponsor for his or her work.

She decided to take a chance, to invest her money in a good microphone and her time in creating a podcast she knew people would enjoy.

“I decided to give myself a few months to try and just see how it goes. I’m really, really hoping that I can make this work because I love doing it!” she asserted.

“I still get to write. I love writing. I always have. But there is something about the immediacy of sound to me that really goes with the immediacy of cooking. Cooking is a social activity.”

Susie is very proud of the sound effects she has begun to generate in her podcast. She found her theme music almost by accident.

“It happened the day I got my mike,” she recalled. “I’d been all worried about finding theme music. I had no idea how I was going to do it. I just happened to be working on my laptop across the street at the library and they were having their ‘Music on the Patio’ night. A couple of my neighbors are in the band.

“Anyway, I was just sitting there working and I thought, ‘Hey, that sounds pretty good!’ So I ran back across the street to my house and got the new mike, which I’d NEVER used before. And when they were all done I said, ‘What would it take for you guys to record just like 30 seconds of music for me?’ And they said, ‘Well, you want to call us tomorrow?’ And I said, ‘Well ACTUALLY, I happen to have a mike in my bag!’ And that’s how I got it.

“One take; you can hear talking and crickets and everything. I thought they did an amazing job.”

podcast-picweb

Susie’s favorite part of the podcast may be the segment in which she interviews “ordinary people,” including friends, about their experiences testing cookbook recipes.

“With cookbooks that’s the thing we never get to hear of, how [a recipe] ends up in somebody’s kitchen,” she told me. “It’s really hard to know from just looking what your experience with a cookbook is going to be like.”

She added that she enjoys being able to use the words of her many friends who love food and are articulate about it. “I just wanted their voices to be heard,” she said.

“Instead of being holed up in my office writing about these cookbooks, now I’m actually getting to see my friends, taste things with them, hear what they think.”

She looks forward to interviewing cookbook authors as well as friends as the podcasts develop. “The trick is that [the authors] can’t test their own recipes. They can talk about their book, but they will test a recipe from [someone else’s new] cookbook,” she explained.

At the moment it is taking Susie a full work week to prepare each podcast. “Thursday I write,” she noted. “By Friday I should be recording. I squeeze in interviews when I can.”

She edits on Monday, prepares online notes for the show on Tuesday, and gets ready to promote it when it hits the internet on Wednesday.

She also has to fit her other work into her week. “Plus I’ve still got kids,” she joked, referring to her 15-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. “And at some point I have to figure out what I’m testing for the next week.”

She expressed the hope that her husband and daughter will test recipes with her on the podcast soon. She portrayed young Zoe as an enthusiastic recipe tester.

The cookbooks just flood in [here],” said Susie. “I take the ones that are aimed toward kids. [Zoe] goes off with a pile of cookbooks and basically goes for broke. She just starts cooking.”

Susie loves cooking with her daughter, she told me. “I did not get to grow up cooking next to my mom and grandmother. I’m glad Zoe has the willingness and ability to do it.”

I asked Susie how many cookbooks she receives to review per year. “Oh, my God,” she exclaimed. “I usually tell people it’s 400 or 500. It probably is at least that. I try to keep it down to 1000 in the house.

“Luckily, I live across the street from the library. The Leverett library now has an extremely large collection of cookbooks!”

All in all, Susie is happy and hopeful with her life and her podcast, both of which promote the idea of food as a community. “I feel satisfied with work for the first time in a long time, even though there’s no money yet,” she said.

“At least this way, whatever I do, I’m responsible for it. I can reject it. I can accept it. And whatever comes out of it is mine…. It’s fun to be living and working with your entire self. That’s a gift.”

level-teaspoon-iconweb