Fruitcake For Foodies: It Exists Thanks To Laurie Colwin

[This is kind of a #tbt kind of post. I last made this cake TEN YEARS ago. Yikes.]

Apparently it is that time of year that everyone loves to make fun of fruitcake. Here’s my take: commercially-made fruitcakes can and often do suffer from all the problems that all commercially-made foodstuffs do, namely cheap ingredients and way too much sugar.

Take things to the next level, by making your own, OR by using a variant far more friendly to adults who like things a little tipsy, and now you’re talking. This Jamaican Black Cake is a long-running experiment by the awesome food writer Laurie Colwin, who wrote about it in her book, “Home Cooking“. She died in 1992, but remains an influence for many cooks and writers alike. Countless foodies and food blogs have delved into their own attempts over the years, like thekitchn, Saveur, and more. There was a “bake-along“. And over at the New York Times they simply featured a nice homage to Laurie and mentioned the cake.

I made this cake – cakes, actually – 10 years ago back when I actually baked, and it was received by family and friends.

Did they like it? Well, basically… it’s hard to say. This kind of an onslaught of deep flavor with bitter tones is a food best enjoyed by folks described as “adventurous eaters”. That, I am. That, many of my relatives were not. They sampled gamely and might have kind of liked it, but then went right back to the marshmallow fluff fudge.

I still consider it a success. Let me know if you make it (or ever have) and how it turned out. I should make it again because dang was it intense. And I LOVE intense.

Jamaican Black Cake (aka Fruity-Booze Cake): adapted from Laurie Colwin

Here is my modified recipe, with a warning – the whole process takes 3 distinct steps, the first of which must be started at least 2 weeks ahead of time.

STEP 1 (10 minutes):
Take 2-3lbs of dried fruits, any mixture you’d like of raisins – dates – figs – prunes – candied/glazed items – candied citrus peel. Steep them in a mixture of heavy & fruity boozes such as port, rum, bourbon, et cetera in a LARGE GLASS container. Plastic may stain, metal may do bad things. My vat contained rum and port (what I had on hand). Allow this to steep for a minimum of several weeks, up to a year or more. For future cakes, go ahead and double the amounts and start your batch for next year now!

STEP 2 (2 hours, give or take): can be started up to a week before you make the cake(s).

Making BLACK SUGAR is an amazing process in patience and home chemistry. Take 2 cups of brown sugar and put it in a heavy bottomed pan. Melt this over low-med heat. For the longest time it will seem like nothing is happening except that the grainy-ness of the brown sugar gets a little moist. DO NOT add water. Just keep stirring it so the bottom doesn’t burn, and after about 30 minutes Magical Transformation #1 will occur – the whole mass will liquefy at the same time. Once it does that you will have a caramel tan colored goo. Keep stiring and watching that until it gets darker….. and darker…. and darker….

If you walk away for a few minutes, you might come back to a fascinating sight:
Magical Transformation #2

Magical Transformation #2

Magical Transformation #2

…black lava-like bubbles in your tan sludge. Stir them back in and keep things going. Eventually the mixture will get VERY dark, almost black:

Almost black sugar goo.

Almost black sugar goo.

….and your kitchen will smell like, well, burnt sugar. Its not unpleasant, especially if you like complex verging on bitter flavors (coffee, for example). Keep letting it darken as long as you dare. When it is a hair’s breadth away from being officially burnt, heat up 1 cup of water to boiling, remove the pan from the heat, and pour the water in. Congratulations, you have just made black syrup. Allow it to cool, then store in glass in the fridge until you are ready for

STEP 3 (the cake(s); 2 hours including baking time):

1 cup Packed brown sugar
1/2 lb butter (salted), room temp
6 eggs
2 cups cake flour
2t baking powder
1t each of nutmeg and cinnamon
1/2t each of cloves and cardamom

Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the eggs one by one. Fold in the soused fruits, and half to all of the black syrup (until batter is as dark as you want it to be). Then fold in the flour mix, and pour into 2 well-lubed AND parchment-lined cake pans, or small loaf pans (note the brown color of mine; I could have added more of the black syrup):

Black cake batter in little pans

Bake about 90+ minutes at 325, until a toothpick comes out moist – not wet, but not totally clean, as the cake should be very moist. When they come out of the oven sprinkle the tops with dark rum, allow to cool, and then keep in an airtight container (or double layer of foil, or plastic, etc) until ready for consumption or gifting. Every few days, drizzle with more rum if they look a little dry. Cakes will keep at least a month and are better a few weeks after baking, though I’ve heard its tradition to keep one of the batch until next year (whoa).

Whew. Now, get cracking on your soused fruits for next year! 🙂

Perfect Paleo Thanksgiving 2013

baby-meme-paleo-dinnerPaleo for Thanksgiving? WTF?

Based on the last few years of my own pre-, quasi- and now full- paleo** cooking, I thought I’d share a list of my absolute favorite recipes that work for that glorious Thanksgiving turkey spread. Most, if not all, of them are completely normal. You’d be hard pressed to have dinner attendees complain that these dishes are weird or healthy or out of the ordinary.

In fact, the biggest difference in a paleo friendly Thanksgiving dinner is in the handful of dishes that can simply be omitted (if everyone is on board) or not eaten by those afflicted by caveman food preferences (if you still have lots of bread eaters at the table).

**Note that ‘Paleo’ is just a limp word in lieu of a perfect and egalitarian way to describe this lifestyle and way of eating. Some folks use “ancestral eating“, some use “primal“, some just like to say “real food“. Some are “nutrient seekers“, some are “grandma cuisine“, some are “unprocessed“. Here’s my definition of the food choices this entails instead of a single term:

Well-raised meat, sustainable seafood, and organic produce are all wonderful for the human body, with raw nuts and dairy and fermented foods on occasion and rare encounters with refined sweeteners or alcohol. Any processing is best done by YOU, by hand.

That’s the gist; I hope it makes things at least a little less muddied.

Now, let’s have some gosh darned recipes, shall we?

2012-11-22 18.35.54

  1. Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Maple Bourbon Glaze. Yow. This is a HUGE winner. The sauce is rather involved but is worth it in the end. You almost want to just drink it instead of port after the meal. Eesh.
  2. Brussels Sprouts and Bacon. Classic, from a reliably awesome magazine (Saveur). You kind of can’t mess this one up. Just don’t burn the bacon. Drizzle with optional balsamic at the end for extra awesome.
  3. Cran-cherry Sauce for tart sweet tastiness. This one’s from a genuine paleo blogger with an awesome list of recipes for year round cooking, and an iPad app that I would own in a heartbeat if I owned anything non-Android. 🙂
  4. DID YOU THINK I’D FORGET THE BIRD? Nope, this is Russ Parson’s famous Judy Bird. The dry-brine is stupid easy, not messy, and almost foolproof. Can you beat that?
  5. Pumpkin Maple Coconut Custard. I’m either making this or the next dessert and inhaling the whole damn thing.
  6. Bruleed Bourbon Maple Pumpkin Pie. With or without the crust – who cares when there’s BRULEE happening? Oh yeah, here’s another one with no crust to omit. Hah!
  7. Dry Fried Green Beans. Chinese style because when it comes to pan frying, they know what the heck they’re doing.
  8. Cauliflower with 4 Other Delicious Things (sage, brown butter, pears, hazelnuts). I might sub chestnuts for hazelnuts because TIS the season!
  9. Broccoli with Raisin Vinaigrette. It’s almost like that horridly delicious salad we had in the Midwest. Well, not really. But, raisins!

2012-11-22 18.40.57I could go on and on. There are things like wild rice with pecans (oh-so native!) or things even more native to my current home like chiles and squash and corn for stuffing. The recipes are out there.
2012-11-22 18.36.59

Just know that you don’t have to have that stupid-sweet marshmallow sweet potato dish or the green beans with canned soup and canned onion rings in order to have a “real” Thanksgiving dinner.

To have a REAL Thanksgiving dinner, here are the things you need: family and/or friends at a table, and food on that table. Got those? Good. Have a Kitteh:

thanksgiving-because-kitteh

Green Smoothie in 2 Steps

Green Smoothies are, technically, easy and fast for any day/morning/whatever. There are two main steps you need to know:

  1. Add greens.
  2. Add secondary flavor &  liquid.

The rest is just details and nuances. Your blender is somewhat important especially if your GREENS are relatively fibrous veggies, like leafy greens. A good ‘regular’ blender or my favorite stick blender can handle spinach or cucumber. BUT. For things like parsley, kale, raw ginger root, and the like, you’ll need serious firepower to obliterate that stuff. Like, a Vitamix. Or any of those other fancy blenders that they demo at Costco.

Ok, here we go. Step ONE: add greens! Yes, that is a WHOLE bunch of flat-leaf Italian parsley. Trust me, it’s freakin’ good for you.

Green Smoothie 1a

Oops. First, we should take off the bottom stems and tag. Hee.

Green Smoothie 1b

Ok, now we need to add at least a little extra flavor, because just pure parsley might be a bit on the uber-healthy side for most folks. A banana is a good option, frozen or not (as is a green apple for extra green-ness):

Green Smoothie 2a

At this point, add a little water to help things along. A half-cup should do it. And then, always add salt. It brings out the flavor of ANY food. Add a pinch or a grind or whatever you know to be your preference:

Green Smoothie 2b

Start blending! It might take a little while to get absorbed down into the blades of obliterative death, especially if you are not using the blender’s “pusher” tool, as I am not:

Green Smoothie 2c

Success! All of the junk is twirling around merrily, on low power. After 20 seconds of that, it’s time to consider more speed.

Green Smoothie 2d

HIGH power! This is the speed at which if you blend for more than a minute or two, it will warm up and eventually turn into steaming soup. Yes, really. So don’t go too crazy, and feel the side of the pitcher to make sure it’s not getting warm.

Green Smoothie 2e

After about 30 seconds of cell-wall destruction, you are ready to pour:

Green Smoothie DONE

Enjoy your ridiculously healthy drink. I sometimes add a splash of cider vinegar afterwards, for a little extra digestive goodness.

Eat Carne Adovada in Honor of Mary Gonzales

Mary GonzalesOn Tuesday, September 17, 2013, Albuquerque lost a legend of local culinary genius: Mary Gonzales of Mary & Tito’s Cafe. Mary, originally from Santa Fe with Spanish ancestry, managed the restaurant she and her husband Tito founded in 1963, with the enthusiastic help of her daughters and cooks that have worked for her for over 30 years.

I had the honor of interviewing Mary in 2008 for an article about their recent James Beard American Classics award, an award they won three years in a row. She was also featured in an Edible article from 2010 about food treasures on North 4th Street. Here is Mary’s story, from my interview notes and my history with dining at Mary & Tito’s. Enjoy.

My first encounter with Mary was about 10 years ago after a tip from Jason Sheehan (the Alibi’s food writer at the time); I was enjoying some fabulous red chile as she perched in the corner of her dining room, ringing up checks and greeting regular customers with a huge smile and about six pounds of turquoise jewelry. She was your mind’s incarnation of a perfect New Mexican grandma, never a matriarch with too much time on her hands, just a gentle person with a smile for everyone.

Tito had just retired from the military and after two weeks of “unemployment” he couldn’t take it any more and decided to open a restaurant. Mary was working downtown at the court and he showed up one day to inform her of his decision. She was pretty dubious about the prospect.

I thought he was out of his mind to open a restaurant!

They opened first at 4th & Mountain with a 5 year lease before moving to the current location. For 10 years, Tito did all of the cooking with one dishwasher and one waitress; after a big expansion into a new building extra help was needed both in the kitchen as well as in the dining room. From the very beginning, Tito served up red chile by the bucket as well as something he called a Mexican Turnover – what we now know as a stuffed sopaipilla. For all I know, Tito freakin’ invented stuffed sopaipillas, right here in downtown Albuquerque, five decades ago.

In 1989 Tito passed, and Mary kept up the very popular business with the help of her daughter Antoinette and long time employees. They continue to make the red chile sauce just the way Tito taught them, from whole pods from Hatch, NM. Here’s how: the pods are washed, boiled until soft and then hit with some serious blender action. Into a huge stockpot the vital red slurry goes with a “tiny” amount of shortening and salt to season, then cooked for another half an hour. That’s it – you can make your own red chile in the style of Tito, but you will not get near the experience of actually eating in this comforting establishment that feels like home. Even Mary had little interest in non-local cuisine; while she like most folks she has a sweet tooth, when asked about her favorite non New Mexican food she was clear:

Really, all I want is chile, chile, chile.

Mary was beloved, and that’s a great thing. She WAS appreciated while she was still around, and I hope that she really understood how much people were in awe of her contribution to the Albuquerque food scene.

2013 is the 50 year anniversary of the start of Mary & Tito’s, five whole decades since Tito marched up to Mary and said, “I’m bored. I’m starting a restaurant.” We’ve all been rich with New Mexican spice ever since.

Yellow On Thursday Means You Are . . . Happy?

When I was growing up, there were all sorts of dubiously-sourced dictums on all things a kid did externally: the clothes you wore and when, the food you ate, the books you carried, your hair, your shoes, et cetera. But few were more curious than the grade school “rule” that if you wore yellow on Thursday, you were gay. Never mind that gay wasn’t even a concept many of us grokked (this was a Catholic school in the early 1980s).

It wouldn’t be until college that I interacted with my first openly gay friends and they were freaking awesome people. Geez, what *was* the big deal, anyway? The real answer is, not much. Just like what you wear on which day of the week means freaking nothing, other than that’s what you grabbed or was clean or felt good or whatever. (It does seem to be a midwestern thing – just Google for “yellow thursday gay” and there are several mentions of the legend.)

Tenacious Turmeric Tea

So it is on a Thursday that I paint my insides yellow with my newest edible addiction: creamy turmeric tea. I learned of it through Mark’s Daily Apple when doing a search on natural antibiotics while healing my infected leg wound. Turmeric seemed much more palatable to my friends than consuming buckets of raw garlic.

Thanks to Emperor Google, it looks like Mark tweaked the recipe to Primal specifications in 2011 from one created by Sanjay Gupta many years back, first visible on the web around 2001. Dr. Gupta’s featured almond milk (meh), while Mark’s gave the option for a richer route with coconut milk and added warming cayenne. I’ve tweaked further with pastured heavy cream, as most coconut milk leaves my gut bouncy.

Here it is, the recipe you’ve been waiting for – the first on this blog.

Tenacious Turmeric Tea (serves 1)

  • 1 Tbsp ginger juice (take several thumb-sized chunks of peeled ginger and blend with 1/2c water until liquified. strain through cheesecloth, discarding solids. keeps 2 weeks in fridge.)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp GOOD powdered turmeric – organic is best
  • 1-2 ounces heavy cream (grass-fed if available, Organic Valley if not)
  • 3-5 ounces water

Combine everything and gently warm until nice and steamy. Drink from your favorite mug. Then brush your teeth. 🙂