Monday, December 19, 2011

Fruit Cake and Gingerbread House

Happy New Year to all my friends and family.  May you be blessed in the coming year!

Fruit Cake for the holidays!

Oh how I adore fruit cake; the rich flavors and the years of history and tradition surrounding this tasty treat! There are some interesting facts about the history of fruit cakes.  My favorite is the 'Butter Letter', written by Pope Innocent VIII.

The earliest recipe from ancient Rome lists pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into barley mash. In the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added.
Fruitcakes soon proliferated all over Europe. Recipes varied greatly in different countries throughout the ages, depending on the available ingredients as well as (in some instances) church regulations forbidding the use of butter, regarding the observance of fast. Pope Innocent VIII (1432–1492) finally granted the use of butter, in a written permission known as the 'Butter Letter' or Butterbrief in 1490, giving permission to Saxony to use milk and butter in the North German Stollen fruitcakes.[1]
Starting in the 16th century, sugar from the American Colonies (and the discovery that high concentrations of sugar could preserve fruits) created an excess of candied fruit, thus making fruitcakes more affordable and popular.[2] SOURCE Wikipedia

What a wonderful piece of history! 

I was so inspired to make this delicious fruit cake after Christy from Tools for the Kitchen posted it in my Christmas Cookie Exchange-Linky Party, that I had make one of my own.

This is truly a delicious fruit cake! My mother made it right before Christmas and since then she has eaten every bite…she just couldn't help herself! I made the recipe right before I left for Christmas shopping last week. I wasn't able to be home for the last part of cooking so left the cake in the oven on timer for 30 minutes. It was beautiful when I got home but a bit dry…duh! Never fear…I used about half a bottle of Cointreau to soak the thing and wow, it is delicious! I've been nibbling on it ever since. I can’t wait to see how it tastes in two weeks but you never know, I may not be able to wait!! The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
A few years ago while working for a dear friend and owner of Andreas Gourmet Market in Sanibel Florida, I had what I now call the AAFCE; An Amazing Fruit Cake Experience! Andrea was born in Sardinia and a lover of all things delicious and decadent! He was such a pleasure to work with as he shared his love for life and food with abandon. 

One early morning, two days before Christmas Andrea stopped by to share some holiday cheer with the employees…he popped open a bottle of Dom Perignon and instructed me to thinly slice a 55 year old fruitcake, handcrafted  by monks from Italy. At $100 dollars for 5 ounces, you can imagine I was hungry with anticipation. We sipped our champagne together and ate the spicy, sweat cake. The combination of the aged fruit with the bubbly was extraordinary.   I could never have imagined how delicious a 55 year old piece of cake would taste not to mention, the Dom!! It was one of the most memorable moments in my life and a mouthful of Christmas spirit!

I'll note any changes I made due to dry climate and altitude throughout the recipe

Fruit Cake
From the Tools for the Kitchen and the Kitchen of Judy Haftl Naujalis

6 eggs

2 sticks salted butter

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 ½ cups flour, plus 1 tsp

1 TBS vanilla extract

½ pound pecan halves

1 lb red candied cherries

½ lb green candied cherries omitted

½ lb candied pineapple tidbits

½ lb golden raisins

½ cup cognac or brandy (optional) 1-1/2 cups Cointreau

Yield: makes one 10” by 3” cake ring.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a spring-form cake pan with shortening. Line it with parchment or waxed paper and grease it again.
  2. Cover the raisins with water in a small saucepan and bring them to a boil. Remove from heat and allow them to cool. Drain the raisins and spread them over paper towels to dry thoroughly. Place the raisins in a bowl and sprinkle them with a teaspoon of flour. Toss to coat them with the flour.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar with a stand mixer. Blend in the eggs, flour, and vanilla. Select a few pieces of each fruit and a few pecans and reserve them. Add the remaining candied fruit and pecans to the batter and stir them in by hand.
  4. Take the reserved fruit and pecan pieces and arrange them evenly in the bottom of the baking pan. Pour the cake batter over the fruit and pecans.
  5. Cover the pan with foil and bake for one hour at 350°. After one hour, reduce the heat to 300° and remove the foil. Continue baking for two more hours. (cooked mine for 1 hour covered, 30 minutes uncovered )

Remove the fruit cake from the pan immediately after taking the cake out of the oven and remove the paper, too. Allow the fruit cake to cool.

Soaking Fruit Cake with Cognac or Brandy

Place a lint-free cloth on top of a large piece of aluminum foil. Place the fruit cake on the cloth and fold the corners over it so that the cake is enveloped in the cloth. Pour half of the cognac or brandy evenly over the cloth. Carefully flip the cake over and pour the other half over the other side of the cloth to saturate the cloth. Fold the aluminum foil over the cake to seal in the liquor. Wrap the aluminum foil covered cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for two weeks.

My youngest daughter designed a lovely gingerbread house this year and I wanted to share her culinary efforts.  That's her in the front yard!!

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Mental Chew-Guest Post

Today is very special day for me as I'll be featuring a guest post written by my friend Val Curtis, owner of the delicious and fascinating blog, Mental Chew.  Val has an incredible life story filled with diversity.  Her passion for her family and their health through food, is evident in every line and photo of her fascinating blog. 

I became acquainted with Val through voiceBoks... A safe and comfortable meeting place for hundreds of mommy bloggers!

Welcome Val!

Q: Tell us about yourself.

I grew up "behind the Orange Curtain" of the OC and now I have been living life on an island in the Pacific Northwest for the last 14 years. Over the years, different avenues have allowed me to wear many hats, (Preschool teacher, SCUBA field researcher, marine biology camp instructor, legal secretary, grad student, tech geek, live aboard, middle school science teacher) however; now I am blessed to be a Stay at Home Mom. said with pride and a sense of thanks.

Growing up, I was removed from my food and now I am in it. Gardening and buying local meats are how we are creating meals these days. I am not afraid of butter, but margarine makes me cringe. I am mindful of how much sugar we use, and refuse to open a packet of anything identified as a sweetener. I believe in healthy meals, real desserts and giving in to rib-sticking goodness occasionally (although those are the most fun to write about!). Meal planning starts with produce in our house and at least two days a week, we have veggie-only meals. My blog, Mental Chew, is about appreciating seasonal gardening, food and fun for my island-style family. In addition, my camera is frequently in front of my face, so I have a little fun posting pics there as well. Overall, I am concerned about what is happening to our food source and through my writing, I hope to inspire moms and dads to get their kids outside, make great food from scratch with their families and get their hands in the dirt.

Q: How did Mental Chew get started?

When I found out I was pregnant with my son in 2006, my whole view on what I was eating completely shifted. It is a tremendous responsibility to think that every item that passes through your lips effects someone else directly. In addition, just before my pregnancy, I traveled to Costa Rica and to Peru where I gained a tremendous respect for the effect our food can have on our global environment.

So, I began to read and watch documentaries about where our food comes from and how it is being treated.

Thus began our journey to start our own garden. My husband was sucked into my vortex of research and seed purchasing and now he even claims to enjoy it. Love.

Along the way we have become a family of four. I am no longer a middle school math and science teacher. I am a mom. I am a mom who is striving to do the best for my kids and this blog is a record of my gardening and dietary journey with them. For them.

A friend commented that "I seem to 'have it so together'" and that life was a "bed of roses" here. I use this blog to share my silver linings. Some days they are so abundant, I could post 20 times. Some days, or stretches of days, I have to force myself to sit down and find them.

I am a taskmaster with two kids under five. Not a great combo. Today I aim to complete my thoughts.

Mental Chew is really about taking a little time to think before we eat. Convenience now doesn't lead to anything worth saving in the long term. As a result, I am trying to make conscious decisions for my family about what keeps their bellies, minds and hearts healthy and happy. Did I mention that this can only happen after I have had a good, strong cup of coffee.

Q: Where did your love for gardening and food start?

When I moved to San Juan Island the type of food, the quality of food and the community aspect of food created a shift for me. Potlucks were 2-3 times a week during the summer. Fresh caught salmon, oysters, crab, scallops, lingcod, prawns, homemade breads, salads and sides from personal gardens, friends who were like family gathering around fire pits with great wine, laughter. It was addictive and why my "summer stay" in '97 turned into a permanent move.

Cooking is something my husband and I love to do together and I have fallen into a group of friends who are all amazing cooks. They all fuel the fire for sure.

Before kids, we were wine, coffee, beer and food snobs. Now we are more frugal with our spending, but I definitely do not think our palates are suffering. Some of our favorite recipes like, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Enchilada Soup and Butternut Squash Risotto are not our everyday meals, however, they do pop in frequently because we love the incredibly vibrant flavors they bring to our table.

Q: Do you think photos are important within blog posts?

I believe that we are drawn to visuals over text. It is why we use icons on our computer desktops and why my students would scan a page on a website and think the answer wasn't there (because the question wasn't about one of the graphics). One of my greatest pet peeves on blogs is when authors use graphics and do not credit their source when it is not one of their own originals. Perhaps this strikes a chord with me because I shoot all of my own photos and I have quite a few posts I never published because the photos I took were not worth posting.

When it comes to writing about food and gardening, a picture can be a wonderful expression of what my words cannot bring to the screen. When it comes to my kids, there are moments that my words could never do justice. There is a moment, a feeling, an image.

Q: What advice would you give to a frustrated gardener?

Think of each year as an experiment. You try something out, there may be success or failure, a combination or surprising outcomes. Whether the weather, a mold, a raccoon or Towhee throw a wrench into your "plan", it is all part of the experiment. You learn, you alter.

I would also advise to start small, have some success and then build on your successes. Herbs and lettuce will grow. Start there.

Q: How do you stay motivated and driven?

Blogging is my mental release as a stay at home mom. It is where I can complete my thoughts and complete a task. My days are filled with 100s of incomplete tasks and with blogging I click on "Publish" and I am done!

Gardening is an important past time for our family. It starts in the winter when all of our seed catalogs come in and we decide what we are going to grow and when. This is followed by planting starts and tending them, readying the soil, new projects and eventually our spring planting. Then it is all about tending, harvesting and preserving until October. Watching my kids pick peas off the vine for their snacks and strawberries for their pancakes is incredible motivation. Knowing where their food comes from and what was or was not used to promote its growth is reason enough.

I do fear I am raising veggie snobs though. My 4 year old turns his nose up to "less than fresh" produce.

This year was a tough one in the garden; it turns out an infant can be fairly distracting. We ended up finishing the summer and fall using a CSA program through a local farm and we were treated to amazing produce that was inspiring in so many ways. This summer I also learned to appreciate moments that my children unintentionally and intentionally create just for me and the garden has given them a place for unhampered personal expression.
September, October and November found our counters filled with apples, apples and more apples. I felt a little like Forrest Gump trying to find endless ways to use them up. The following recipe was inspired by the abundance, perhaps how the best recipes come into being. The following is the recipe, but click here for the story of the “Apple Thief”, perhaps one of my favorite posts.

Browned Butter Apple Bread

Yield: 2 - 9x4 loaves


        2 cups organic whole wheat flour
        2 cups organic all-purpose flour
        1/4 cup flax seed
        2 teaspoons baking powder
        2 teaspoons baking soda
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        2 tablespoons organic cinnamon
        1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted organic butter, at room temperature, divided
        1 cup granulated organic sugar
        1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
        2 large organic brown eggs
        1 cup organic yogurt
        1 cup organic sour cream
        4 cups of organic apples, peeled, cored and diced **
1) Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease 2- 9x4 bread pans.

==Helpful Hint==
To peel, core and dice your apples try the following:
1) Cut off the top and bottom of your apples.
2) Peel using a potato peeler.
3) Use OXO Apple Corer and Divider to chop into slices
4) Dice slices into bite size pieces.

2) Add 3 tablespoons of butter over high heat in a skillet until just brown and then add diced apples for 2 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
When it is brown, you are finished. DON'T BURN YOUR BUTTAH!

3) Mix together the dry ingredients (flours, flax seed, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon) and set aside.
4) In a mixer bowl, mix the remaining butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy.
5) Add the egg and beat until completely mixed. Add yogurt and sour cream and mix until smooth.
6) Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix on slow for 2 minutes.
7) Fold in the apple chunks.
8) Divide the batter evenly among the prepared bread pans.
9) Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar on top.
10) Bake for 20 minutes. Lower heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean.
11) Cool the loaves for 5 minutes in the pans, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

** Apples are the number one item on the Dirty Dozen list. Buy organic or know your source.

All photos were taken by Val Curtis for Mental Chew. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google Plus, Pinterest and several sites, including VoiceBoks, for moms who blog.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Santa Hot Chocolate 2011

I'm re-posting this recipe to send good cheer to all my faithful readers this Christmas Season! Surprisingly, this post has been my most visited over the past year.

SANTA HOT CHOCOLATE with Cinnamon Cream

This recipe is highly classified!! Be is the REAL DEAL!

Santa Hot Chocolate 2011

Santa Hot Chocolate 2010

During the Christmas Season my family enjoys a rich and diverse set of Holiday traditions and almost all of them involve food! Santa Hot Chocolate is at the top of the list!

This perfect cup of sipping chocolate is served to Santa by his beautiful wife Mrs. Clause, right before he heads out on his sleigh Christmas Eve. Pumped high with adrenaline and coco flavanols, Santa sets out into the night to deliver toys to good little girls and boys.

Santa Hot Chocolate is filled with magic and can turn any Grinch into a cuddly teddy bear!

Now you might ask how I came by this classified recipe....

On a strict diet of candy canes and hot chocolate, there was one tiny elf willing to give up the recipe just to get a Big Mac, biggie sized meal with a giant cup of Coke! It's not pretty, but everyone has their price!!

To begin, there's a certain etiquette that must be followed when drinking Santa Hot Chocolate.  Then and only then, will the magic happen.

Santa has a very special mug from which he drinks this magical concoction. His body is accustom to the heavy dose of Christmas Spirit held in each mug, so he is able to drink large quantities in just one sitting.   On the other hand, mere mortals such as ourselves must take the chocolaty richness in smaller doses.

The first requirement is that you must have the correct size cup and saucer.  Nothing more than a 4 ounce cup and a matching saucer. will do. 

Above, you'll see my youngest daughters set of sipping cups. Both of my daughters received her own set of sipping cups to carry this magical tradition onto the next generations.  A time honored right of passage in our family.

Secondly, only a cinnamon stick or candy cane may be used to stir the chocolate, that's where the magic begins...

Lastly, never gulp or "shoot" the chocolate!!  It can be very dangerous to someone not accustom to the REAL DEAL!! Sip the chocolate like a fine aged brandy and linger in the moment of Christmas cheer!


2 cups table cream (1/2 & 1/2)
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I use Dove but any good brand will suffice)
1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
2 sticks cinnamon or 1 teaspoon ground (extra for garnish)
pinch sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a heavy sauce pan heat table cream and 1 cup whipping cream on medium heat, bring to a simmer, do not boil.  Stir in 1/2 cup sugar until dissolved, add the cocoa powder and whisk until mixed thoroughly, add the chocolate chips and stir until melted, add salt and 2 cinnamon sticks and simmer for 5 minutes.

Cinnamon Cream

Using remaining 1/2 cup heavy whip cream, blend with a hand mixer until whipped into soft peaks, add 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon, vanilla and stir

Serve chocolate in sipping cups with a cinnamon or peppermint stick for stirring, add a small dollop of cinnamon cream and grate fresh cinnamon over the top...

Finally, be prepared for a magical experience!!

♥I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year♥
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Soft Sugar Cookies-The Quest Continues

My husband arrived home last night after a week away on business in the midst of the worst snow storm of the season.  He was scheduled to arrive on a late evening flight into Denver International Airport and I was his ride home. 

I live in the Rocky Mountains so I knew the the drive down the pass was going to be a real nail bitter.  I left home at 7 PM for my husbands 9 PM flight. It's a good thing I did!  The snow was blowing sideways creating 2 foot drifts across the road, the ground was a sheet of ice, not to mention, extremely poor visibility! 

I tuned the radio to the weather station just as the report was being delivered. The announcer said, "There's a chain law in effect for all high profile vehicles for highway 285 corridor!  Be advised that the worst of the storm is located between Morrison Road and Bailey Colorado.  We advise all motorists not to drive, if at all possible!"  

It was not comforting to know I was headed right smack dab between the two locations mentioned and I didn't have a choice "not to drive" if my husband was going to make it home from the airport.   So, I said a little prayer and headed down the pass.

The good news... I'm an excellent driver and my Acura MDX is the bomb in the snow!  I made it to the airport just in time to greet my husband, white knuckles and all!  The snow had stopped falling for the ride home and we pulled into the driveway about midnight!  Whew!

After our icy ordeal last night, my husband opted to take my car to work this morning leaving me stranded at home. You see, his car is front wheel drive and a disaster in the snow.  Being stranded at home isn't  a bad thing. However, my husband requested that I bake him some sugar cookies today and I have no butter or milk in the house!  

You were thinking I wasn't going to get to the recipe, right?  Here's where it all ties together.  

I've decided not to let this unfortunate turn of events, keep me from my quest to find the perfect sugar cookie recipe for my...

Click Picture to link your recipe!!

Despite my lack of ingredients, I decided to forge ahead with what I had in the refrigerator. The recipe is from a web site call Group Recipes.

I'm searching for a "soft" sugar cookie recipe so I decided to experimented with the size, shape and thickness of the dough to see if it would make a difference in the texture of the cookie.

The pressed cookie was formed from a tablespoon of batter rolled into a ball and gently press down with my fingers before baking. The balls were also formed by using a tablespoon of dough but left on the baking sheet in ball form. I also rolled some dough to 1/4 inch thickness and used a cookie cutter to form shapes. The cooking time varied from 18 minutes for the ball cookies, to 8 minutes for the rolled cookies.

I'm please to say that you don't have to have exactly what a recipe calls for to achieve a great end result. The pressed cookies were soft with just a little crunch on the bottom and edges; just how I like them! The ball cookies were soft and puffy in the middle with a delicate moist texture. Surprisingly, the cutouts, although crisp, turned out light and tender with amazing flavor.

I'll note my substitutions to the original recipe in red.

3/4 Cup
butter flavored shortening
sub: 3/4 cup non flavored Crisco shortening
1 Cup white sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
sub: 1 Tablespoon heavy whipping cream
1 Teaspoon
vanilla extract
2 1/2 Cups all purpose flour
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1 Teaspoon salt
added: 1 Tablespoon Buttermilk Powder to enhance/replace butter flavor

In a large bowl, cream together: shortening and white sugar until smooth

Beat in eggs one at a time

Stir in milk and vanilla

Combine with flour, baking powder and salt, stir into the creamed mixture. (sift dry ingredients for best result)

Cover & chill for at least an hour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. I reduced heat to 350 on convection oven setting

Lightly grease cookie sheet or use parchment paper

Roll out dough to 1/4 thickness on lightly floured surface

Cut desired shapes

Place cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart on cookie sheet

Bake 6 to 8 minutes - do not wait for them to brown ... take them out with a very slight browning underneath or no brown at all

Let cookies rest on cookie sheet for 2 minutes

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Soft Sugar Cookies and Louisiana Pecan Balls

2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
food coloring

In a medium mixing bowl combine whipping cream (1-2 tablespoons at a time) until desired consistancy.

This may very well be the perfect Sugar Cookie Recipe!!

I also decided to make a batch of Santa Hot Chocolate to go with these delicious cookies.  This is a magical and highly classified recipe...shhh, click... Santa Hot Chocolate for the recipe.

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