Classic Fruitcake

Classic fruitcake

Fruitcake. You either love it or hate it. I am betting that most people who hate it have only had bad boozy doorstops filled with nasty candied fruit in unnatural colors. I know that I was never much of a fruit cake lover until I discovered this recipe. Several years ago I saw an episode of Good Eats on the Food Network and Alton Brown opened my eyes to what fruitcake can and should be, a moist and spicy cake made with only dried fruit and nuts.

I have also reached a point in my life where buying Christmas presents for family is reserved for the nieces and nephew. So what to do for the sisters, in-laws, parents and grandparents? Bake. Cookies, biscotti and fruitcakes are their presents. If you want to gift fruitcake, this recipe makes 6 mini loaves or one large loaf (to keep for yourself!). I usually make these the weekend after Thanksgiving to allow plenty of time for them for them to mature in the refrigerator. They really benefit from a 4-6 week rest before serving. Not that that stops my husband from begging for a slice the minute they come out of the oven.

Homemade fruitcakes can also suffer from an overabundance of brandy which can turn some people off. If you like a strong, boozy taste to your fruitcake feel free to baste the finished product with straight-up brandy or rum. However, if you prefer a lighter touch, basting with a rum simple syrup is the way to go. Why rum and not brandy? Well, it is just personal preference, I like rum (a lot!) and would rather use it than brandy. The advantage of the simple syrup is that it really allows the taste of the cake to shine while keeping it moist and adding just a hint of rum flavor. By all means, use what you like and make it as strong as you like. After all, it is your fruitcake. So stir up a batch the weekend after Thanksgiving and try not to snitch any cake until Christmas. If you make it for gifts, they will be very much appreciated and may even convert a few fruitcake haters into beggars.

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Italian Marinated Vegetable Salad

IMG_6668You know that feeling, right?  You go to the store and see the marinated vegetables sitting in the olive bar and think how awesome it would be to have some of those.  You start remembering the antipasti you’ve had at that great little family run Italian restaurant.  So you give in to temptation and buy a pint or a quart along with some olives and maybe a little prosciutto from the deli.  Once at home, you assemble a beautiful plate of food and then wind up completely disappointed with your first bite of vegetable salad when it is too oily, isn’t tart enough and has no flavor.

The solution to drab, tasteless grocery store offerings is to make your own marinated vegetables.  This is a super easy recipe but does require a little time for prepping the vegetables and allowing them to cool to room temperature in the brine.  Once made, however, the salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  This also makes alot, and I do mean lots and lots of marinated veggies.  It will easily serve 10-12 people as a side dish and makes a great addition to a picnic or to a pot-luck table.  Feel free to use whatever vegetables you like and to leave out the one’s that you can’t stand.  You can also cut the recipe in half to make a more reasonable amount for a small family gathering.

Buon appetito!

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Gingered Chickpea and Chicken Curry

IMG_6872Yum!  Homemade curry is a wonderful thing, fresh and fragrant.  Lately I’ve been able to convert my curry indifferent husband into a curry loving husband with dishes like this.  Such is the power of good home cooking.  Chocked full of ginger, this spicy dish will make your taste buds sing.  The recipe calls for 3 cups of cooked chickpeas which is approximately equal to 2 (15-ounce) cans, drained and rinsed or 1 cup of dried chickpeas.  You don’t need to pre-soak dried chickpeas either, they cook up fine without bothering.  Just put 1 cup of dried chickpeas into a saucepan, add lots of water and some salt.  Bring to a boil,  turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  Easy, peasy.

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Madhur Jaffrey’s Garam Masala


Garam masala is an amazing spice mix.  It is not meant to be cooked with but is stirred in to a curry at the end of cooking or used as a finishing garnish.  You can buy a commercially made garam masala if you don’t want to buy all of these whole spices.  However, if you happen to have these sitting around the spice cupboard you will be greatly rewarded by making your own.  There are so many different ways to make garam masala and every Indian cook has their own combination of these and other spices.  What I like about this one is it’s simplicity, not too many flavors competing for attention.   The most time consuming part of this is removing all the cardamom seeds from the pods.  They do open up easily if you lightly press on them with a meat mallet or the side of a chef’s knife.  And this is a great way to use up all of those nutmeg pieces that are just too small to grate on a microplane. Continue reading

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies


For years I have been a back of the bag chocolate chip cookie maker.  The Toll House recipe never fails and always pleases, especially when family comes to town with the little ones in tow.  A few weeks ago my husband asked me to make cookies for his office.  They were hosting Senator Jeff Sessions for a few hours and did not want to feed him grocery store cookies.  So I decided to bake chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, the two most red, white and blue American cookies I could think of.  I started digging around and looking at an alternative to the Toll House cookie and wound up looking at a recipe on  The recipe itself is pretty standard, however in the comments, is where I found the goldmine.  One person suggested using cream of tartar to get the wrinkled edges.  I use that in my snickerdoodles and love the look.  Another reviewer stated that she used mostly brown sugar to get them chewy.  It was then that my wheels started turning and Senator Sessions was going to be my cookie guinea pig.  Brave, huh?  They turned out so good that I now have a new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I hope you enjoy them as much as the Senator and my husband’s co-workers.

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Orange & Thyme Marinated Olives


Bring a taste of Spain to your next pot luck or dinner party.  This tapas recipe is fast and easy.  It literally takes no more than 10 minutes to put together.  However, it really needs some time to marinate, at least 12 hours but 24 would be so much better.  Use whatever olives you prefer: mixed, all green, kalamata or whatever floats your boat.  It is amazing how good olives can taste after a nice long bath in citrus, garlic and thyme. ¡Buen provecho!

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Buttermilk Corn Muffins


Over the weekend we had what will most likely be out last blast of winter.  The chilly, windy weather was the perfect excuse to get out the slow cooker and make a big pot of chili.  My husband prefers to eat saltines with his chili, however, I much prefer cornbread.  For just the two of us a batch of cornbread is usually too much food, and cornbread is one of those things that just never tastes as good the next day.  The perfect answer is to make corn muffins.  This recipe can be cut in half to make 6 muffins or made as is for 12 muffins.  I really like to put a pickled jalapeño slice on top of each muffin.  Not only does it make it look nice, but the piquant flavor enhances the tang of the buttermilk.  Plus, I like spicy food.  If jalapeños are not your thing leave them off, the corn muffins will still be awesome.

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Carolina-Style Slow Cooked Pulled Pork


Good pulled pork is darn near a religious experience in the American South.  To make truly authentic pulled pork you need a smoker and lots and lots of time.  Not to worry if you can’t be bothered to tend a smoker or you can’t have one where you live, there is an easy solution.  All you need is a slow cooker or a large oven safe pot with a lid.  If you have neither of these and you are desperate for a taste of pork heaven, you can always cook it in large baking dish tightly covered with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

The rub recipe is an all-purpose one that I also use on chicken.  Feel free to substitute your favorite rub.  I am by no means an expert on Carolina-style barbeque sauce so I found a recipe by Tyler Florence on the Food Network’s website which garnered good reviews.  The sauce is very tangy with a spicy, mustardy taste.  It is completely different from the ketchup based barbeque sauces that are more popular elsewhere in the U.S.  I found it to be a great accompaniment to the pork and more that a little addictive.

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Oatmeal Spice Cake


I must confess, I am not a huge fan of cake unless it is homemade.  And by homemade, I mean from scratch and not from a box.  Bakery cakes (especially those from grocery stores) are way too sweet and box cakes taste artificial.  When I do bake a cake I tend to make bundt cakes.  However, once in a while I do really like a frosted cake and one that can be baked in a 9-x13-inch pan is even better.  The best reason is that you don’t have to worry about removing it from the pan in one piece.  Just cool, frost, cut in pieces and serve.  Easy peasy and oh so delicious.  Although, if you are feeling ambitious you can bake this cake in two 9-inch round cake pans for 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out the cake rounds to cool until room temperature.  You will also need to double the amount of frosting.

This cake is lightly spiced and has a wonderful nubby texture from the oats.  Don’t wait for a special occasion to enjoy this cake.

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Costa Rican Chicken and Black Bean Soup


Black bean soup is one of my favorite comfort foods and I am always on the lookout for different ways to prepare it.  While researching recipes I ran across this one several years ago on what was recipezaar (now  The combination of Caribbean spices and a little heat from cayenne make for a flavor combination that is out of this world.  I decided to make the soup a more filling meal by adding a protein.  Frozen chicken breasts are an ingredient that we usually have on hand, but boneless, skinless chicken thighs or the shredded meat off of a store bought rotisserie chicken would also work.

I really like to use dried beans when I have the time as they are so tasty, especially when cooked with a few flavor enhancing ingredients like bay leaves and ham hocks.  One advantage to dried black beans over other types of beans is their small size.  Because of this they don’t need to be soaked overnight.  One disadvantage to cooking dried black beans is that they can turn a rather unappetizing shade of gray.  By adding a tiny amount of baking soda to the cooking liquid you can keep them mostly black.  No matter what you do though some of the color will leach out.     If you are time crunched, substituting 4 (15-ounce) cans of drained and rinsed black beans will make the soup much quicker to get on the table.

A squeeze of lime juice across your bowl of soup is a must as this little bit of acidity really allows the flavors to shine.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro.  Serve with a salad and a Red Stripe or Caribe lager for a complete meal.

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