Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Not Your Great-Grandma's Fruitcake!

I know I said I'd share some recipes from my Virginia Beach adventure last year, and I will, but I have to jump into the present because this is just so good!

This is courtesy of my studio mate Sarah Wells Rolland, who made these lovely little fruitcakes for holiday gifts. I just got mine and had a sliver with my mid-morning coffee, and I know I'm going to savor every single bite! And since I'm not willing to share the actual treat, I thought it'd be nice to share the recipe.

Sarah said she learned about this recipe from our other studio mate Karen Dubois, and I'm sure she heard about it from somewhere too. Good recipes have a way of getting around, and like all recipes I love, this one is completely open to interpretation, so you can use the fruits and nuts you like best - a bunch or just a few. Enjoy!

Dried Fruit and Nut Loaf

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 cups coarsely chopped walnuts (can also use pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds)
1/2 cup dried cherries and/or cranberries
½ cup dried blueberries
2 cups dates and figs, pits removed and cut into quarters
1/2 cup dried apricots cut into quarters
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F and place the rack in the center of the oven. 

Butter, or spray with a vegetable oil spray, a 9 x 5 inch (23 x 12 cm) (8 cup) loaf pan, and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the brown sugar, walnuts, and dried fruits. Use your fingers to make sure that all the fruits and nuts have been coated with the flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, beat (with a wire whisk or an electric hand mixer) the eggs and vanilla until light colored and thick (this will take several minutes). Add the egg mixture to the fruit and nut mixture and mix until all the fruit and nut pieces are coated with the batter. Spread into the prepared pan, pressing to even it out.

Bake for about 60 to 75 minutes, or until the batter is golden brown and has pulled away from the sides of the pan. (If you find the loaf over browning, cover with aluminum foil.) Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. 

When cool, lift the loaf from the pan. Wrap in a single layer of cheesecloth and place in a plastic bag (if making small loaves, wrap individually and bag separately or two per bag). Using a turkey baster, suck up some of the brandy and moisten both top and bottom of wrapped loaves while in the plastic. Seal well and re-moisten again over the next 2-3 days (1/4 cup should cover all mini loaves or one larger loaf, 2nd and 3rd moistening will take less).

This loaf is best after being stored for a couple of days. Will keep for about 2 weeks at room temperature or for a couple of months in the refrigerator. Cut into small slices with a sharp knife.

Makes one - 9 x 5 inch (20 x 13 cm) loaf.
For small loaves cook for 55 minutes

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hello January!

Well this little blog may yet be the best example of just what a whirlwind the end of 2014 was for me. I popped in to share a new lovely blog I just discovered (Pepper and Salt - linked on the blog roll on the right), but maybe a brief re-cap of the past several months, and then we'll move ahead into the new year!

It seems I left the blog just as I left for a most wonderful, three-week adventure of cooking by the ocean. I was at Sandbridge Beach, VA, feeding three consecutive 'camps' of people studying hammered dulcimer. In short, my good friend Laurie M., herself a mighty fine hammered dulcimer player and attendee at the camp, asked me if I was interested when the chef who had been doing the job had to decline because of a schedule conflict. Stepping away from the studio for three weeks, not to mention three weeks during busy season, is not a light decision. The logical answer would have been 'of course not, but thank you', but three weeks cooking at the beach sounded like too much of a good thing to pass up, and it was the absolute best working vacation. Ever. Besides, it was a lot of fun telling people I was off to cook for the hammered dulcimer camp. You know, as one does... If it weren't for my extremely fabulous studio and Collective-mates, it never would have happened. They are the BEST.

So three weeks of this:

my morning routine: coffee and a nice walk on the beach at sunrise
It never got old, this...

And of this:

Sunday night is Crab Night!
Baked fish and Grilled chips
I really thought I'd have plenty of time to document and record here all my stellar recipes and local finds, but I was kept busy enough that I was happy to make some scribbles in my notebook at the end of the night before crashing. And yes, that was one of the reasons it was so much fun! I'll put some recipes up under separate posts (this is already long enough!).

You will find a recipe for this Gluten Free Strawberry Corn Cake on my Crazy Green Studios website food blog:

Looks and tastes like summer!

My days: a meditation at the beach with a cup of coffee at sunrise, followed by a nice walk down the beach. 

Only three days of rain in three weeks. Sigh.
Back to the house for breakfast and to share the menu plan with the 'campers', then check the fridge and cupboard stock and head off for groceries. This could take anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on where I went and how much shopping was happening. The upside to having just one regular fridge for my 'stock' and one for the campers to keep breakfast, lunch and snacks on hand was that I had to shop every day. I love shopping fresh every day! The closest grocery store was about 6 miles, but of course one shops and compares, and some days I hit the Farmers Market or drove out to the Whole Foods or hit the other local grocers. Happily, the 'good' fish place was the closest as well as the best, so I was a regular face at Bonney & Sons, and they always had just what I needed! Even more happy, I found a wonderful farm stand on the way into town, and that also became a daily stop. Cromwells Produce had veggies so fresh, one time I asked the young proprietress if there was more kale, and she went outside and cut more for me! All that, and a very cute mascot:

Ruckus - happy greeter at Cromwells Produce.
After shopping, it was back to the house, where on lucky days I'd find campers or spouses on hand to help me bring the 8-12 bags of groceries upstairs to the kitchen. By then lunch would be just starting or finishing, so after lunch (and another assessment of the fridge and cupboard), I'd start prep for the happy hour snacks and dinner. I'd often have help from some of the camper spouses/family, which always made it more fun and a lot easier (cooking for about 28 each night), and I think we all made a stellar team of choppers, washers, grillers and general helpers!

some of my volunteer helper army
Happy Hour would include an array of nibbles before dinner, and I was able to share some local (to me) love with the campers thanks to the very generous Roots Hummus, who made sure that no camper went hungry for hummus!

new hummus fans across the country and around the world!
After dinner, I enjoyed a tremendous perk of having the campers clean up the kitchen while I watched (just to make sure I knew where things were going). By then, it's a 12 hour day or so, and a few quick notes in the book are about all I had steam for, but what a blast!!

After three weeks, it was a very fond farewell and back to the life of a potter who just loves to cook. I had a lot of curious questions from folks wondering if I was changing careers again. Not at all - I am a very happy full time potter, and a lucky one who gets to spend a lovely three week vacation cooking for a very receptive crowd at the beach. I'm already looking forward to joining my camper friends again later this fall!

the reward: happy diners tucking into a delicious meal!