Good-bye farmers, good-bye broccoli, good-bye green beans.

Sticky green beans

Back in November I wrote a post about the final week of the local farmer’s market: about the gift of free broccoli from my favorite stand, the last green beans of the season, the hand-lettered cardboard sign that said “SUPER TENDER.” You would have kissed your rutabagas and wiped away tears after reading that entry…had I remembered to post it. Oh well.

I’m swamped with a personal project this winter, but I wanted to revive this photo to share the recipe for Chinese Restaurant Style Green Beans, from Fine Cooking magazine’s food blog, The Kitchen Sink. The butter browns and adds rich flavor to the beans while the honey thickens into a sweet goo. Think garlic attack, but in a good way. Think sticky chicken wings rich with honey and soy sauce, but with green beans. The chewy, sweet, and salty aspects of this dish satisfy me on their own, but if you insist on other food with your veggies, this would go well with anything from Chinese food to a nice steak and potato.

Sticky Green Beans

Adapted from here

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The return of fruitcake, fruitcrack.

Oops. I did it again.

Before I get into another fruitcake story, a reminder that Menu For Hope ends this Friday and we’ve already raised $44,000. Or rather, we’ve only raised $44,000. We can do better! Go! Go and bid right now! Just don’t go and bid on what I bid on because I wanna win.

White FruitcakeSo it turns out that Korean-Americans like my fruitcake. A lot. Had I known that, I might not have offered it because I was kind of hoping I could keep it all for myself. My mom reports that they polished off the fruitcake before they made much of a dent in the pile of four different cookies I’d baked. Rumor has it that my aunt even took seconds. She never takes seconds.

The remnants of my original cake are still aging in my crisper drawer. What’s pictured here and what the Korean fruitcake theives ate is a second version baked strictly according to Steingarten’s original recipe this time. It uses for fruit a pound of candied cherries, a pound of candied pineapple, and a pound of golden raisins, and I used the required lemon extract instead of vanilla. It’s not as delicious as my first attempt but still great. The benefit of this version is that it’s much easier to slice because the cake doesn’t form a heavy crust. The problem is that the crust is where you get that thing where your eyeballs roll into the back of your head. I also found all the cherries too sharply sweet for my taste, though I liked the color that they added. In the end, I think the best cake is something between the two.

FRUITCAKE, FRUITCRACK, #2
Adapted from The Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten
Makes 2 large loaves, ideal for triceps presses
May also make 2 large loaves for gifts and one mini-loaf for personal consumption

The recipe reflects a compromise between flavor and ease of slicing. I still prefer the baking method in the first long-baked version, but I’ll use this one in the future to give as gifts—now that I know it’s popular—because it’s much easier to slice and still delicious. Besides, just how delicious should gift fruitcake be? People might break into your house and force you to bake fruitcake at gunpoint. For my own cravings, I plan to put some of the batter into a mini-loaf pan and bake it until well-browned like the first version, then age it and eat it without bothering to slice it. It’s just as good in rabidly torn off chunks as it in slices.

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Fruitcake, fruitcrack.

I like fruitcake, but not just any fruitcake, no, I only like—

Wait, what am I saying? I like all fruitcake. All fruitcake. If you ever wonder who buys those stale cakes at the grocery store every year, that would be me. If you spit out fruitcake because of the artificially-colored cherries and scream, “Who the [bad word] eats this [bad word]?!” the answer is me. If you don’t know what to do with the box of lead weight that your Aunt Marge sent you this week, send it to me. Cheap fruitcake, dense fruitcake, light fruitcake, boozy fruitcake, mass-produced fruitcake, homemade fruitcake, it doesn’t matter; I’ve made it, I’ve bought it, I’ve inherited it, and I’ve eaten it all. Heck, I even love colored candied fruit, and I’m sorry, but I’m not going to apologize for it.

Fruitcake, Fruitcrack, windowpaneIt comes down to being human. Something instinctively draws me to fruitcake like honey draws a bear. A bite of fruitcake makes every cell holler with gratified desire. This, the body knows, is the ultimate sustenance. Fruitcake is among the densest caloric foods without being pure fat or pure sugar. My brother took the remains of a brandy-soaked fruitcake I made one year and saved it to eat before and after he ran a marathon. He understood its value. I eat it because it’s delicious. I know many (in the U.S., at least) don’t think so, or that many people only like homemade aged fruitcakes or Christmas puddings, but I like them all. So yeah, blame people like me for propping up the day-glo fruitcake industry.

This reckless lack of discrimination among fruitcakes eventually came to an end. I remember it like it was yesterday. Actually it was last week, on December 8, with a recipe I’d been saving called “Smith Family White Fruitcake” from Jeffrey Steingarten’s delightful The Man Who Ate Everything. I wanted to make it because of Steingarten’s loving descriptions of the cake’s “frolicsome mosaic of yellows, reds, and greens.” Then he said you were supposed to refrigerate the cakes “before cutting them into thin slices while they are still cold.” I just can’t resist sexy talk like that. On December 7, I baked the recipe with modifications. On December 8, despite the instructions to let it age at least three days in the fridge, I shaved off a slice because it smelled so so so good.

Fruitcake, FruitcrackThings instantly changed. I still like all fruitcake, but now I love only this one. By all objective standards, I messed up the cake because I changed the recipe too much. I chose to soak the dried fruit ahead of time and substituted some of them. Instead of two loaf pans, the batter went into one extra long 16-cup pan. Knowing the large pan would take longer to bake, I baked it at 275 instead of 300 to avoid the dark crust that Steingarten warned is a “fatal flaw”. After two hours of baking, it didn’t look done, so I added another hour or two. By the end, the long low temperature had created a thick firm crust around the cake. This fatal flaw was…so not.

I would try to describe it, but every time I come up with an adjective I come up with another, then another: buttery, glorious, chewy, moist, heady. No one flavor dominates—you can’t even taste the raisins, which is good because I don’t really like raisins. This is a living fruitcake. It’s not the same from day to day, week to week. That thick crust starts out like a nutty crispy caramel fruitcake cookie encasing a soft fruitcake center. I couldn’t stop eating it. After four days, the whole thing became fudge-like and sweeter. I couldn’t stop eating that either. I can’t wait to see what it’s like by Christmas, when it will probably sprout wings and ascend to heaven, taking me with it where I’ll dance through fields of fruitcake flowers and sleep on fruitcake beds with fruitcake pillows. I can’t even wait to see what it’s like right now, but I’ve triple-wrapped it and sealed the package with multiple layers of packing tape because I COULDN’T STOP EATING IT AND VISIONS OF FRUITCAKE DANCED IN MY HEAD.

God help me, I want to make another one following the directions exactly this time just to compare, but what I really want is an excuse to rip off that packing tape and eat the rest of the first cake because, after all, I’m going to make more! But that would be wrong and make me so very, very fat. Besides, I can’t imagine anything better than the way I made it, mistakes and everything. So here’s my version. If the original turns out better, I’ll post an update, but I’m not counting on trying it again this year because my scale has threatened to pack its bags.

FRUITCAKE, FRUITCRACK
Adapted from The Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten
Makes two large loaves, ideal for bicep curls

The original recipe is “white” because it uses no spices or dark fruit, just a pound of golden raisins and about a pound each of candied cherries and candied pineapple in assorted colors. My cake used some darker fruit and so was more brown than white. Personally, I think candied fruit is what makes this cake so fantastic, but any fruit should be fine as long as you have three pounds of it, more or less. The ingredients I’ve listed are simply what I had on hand and are not set in stone. Despite the cake’s denseness, the caramelized flavor and the citrus touches make this a relatively light fruitcake that I suspect would not benefit from spices, alcohol, or even brown sugar, but it’s your fruitcake now, do what you will.

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