Monday, December 16, 2013

Believing in Miracles

At this time of year, most of us are pretty stressed with holiday preparations, and working to get that one last project finished before we celebrate with family and friends.  Push into the season news of a friend's husband who is ill with cancer, or the joy of a cousin's wife giving birth to a healthy baby girl, and we don't know whether to laugh or cry. Psychologists say this is one of the most trying times of the year for people; we deal with a lot of happy and sad.  We miss those who aren't with us, and we celebrate with those who are still here.
For me, I look for the little miracles that happen everyday.  Many would argue with me that they aren't really "miracles" in the true sense of the word, but I would say anytime we can see something as a gift, it's a miracle.  It could be the parking space right in front of Whole Foods, or it could be the amazing report a friend with brain cancer got from her doctors at Duke last week. If I couldn't look for the miracle, then I would lose hope, and for me, believing that there is hope is a huge part of who I am. 
No matter what your faith journey, the miracle of each day is a gift.  Make it count, make it matter, and make sure to tell those you love that they matter.  When I spoke with my friend whose husband has cancer, I told her "I don't know what to say"---me, a writer, with nothing to say.  What I did say was that I love them, and what I am doing is praying for them.  The miracle for them is that they are surrounded by the best medical care and friends who care deeply for them, that gives me hope.
As you celebrate the New Year, remember that miracles are all around you, you just have to take the time to look for them.  Take time to inhale, and look around and find the little miracles that happen to us each day.  Whether it's the wonder of a child seeing the lights of the tree, or the company of good friends, make the most of the time you have and count each minute as a gift.

Webster defines a miracle as: a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Changing My Mind

Growing up, my family would always receive fruitcake from friends, relatives or my Dad's business colleagues.  Stuffed with green and red candied fruits, that tasted like sugar balls, there was nothing redeeming about that fruitcake that could be used as a doorstop it was so heavy.  For years I had a pin that said, "friends don't give friends fruitcake", and I truly believed it.  The fruitcake has been the butt of jokes, just like the ugly Christmas sweater.
Just trying to figure out what is in it is intriguing

Pretty gross
My pals at Specialty Produce thought it would be a great idea to offer a mix of fruits and nuts, along with a recipe for fruitcake to their customers for the holidays.  Always game for a challenge, and since I don't like fruitcake it was going to have to pass the acid test here at Chez Phillips. I read tons of recipes, culling the ones that had candied "green fruit" and citron, because they would take away from the flavor of the cake and the recognizable fruits.  I love dark rum, but many people soak these cakes in so much rum, so you never really taste the cake, all you can discern is rum, so I decided that Amaretto was going to be my liqueur of choice, and then found a great sour cream pound cake that you add fruits and nuts to.  
I was still not convinced, but the proof was in the eating, and this cake is good---even this fruitcake hater was nibbling it while it was still warm.  Then I took it to Specialty Produce, and there wasn't a crumb left (love when that happens) 
So I'm changing my mind, this is a fruitcake you will want to make and to eat.  Make sure to buy the dried fruits and nuts at a market that has them in bins (they are fresher), or if you are in San Diego, stop by Specialty, they have this mix all ready for you with a cute recipe card (you don't even have to make it--give it as a gift!) and you'll be on your way to great fruitcake.

Specialty Produce Amaretto Fruitcake
Makes three 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 loaves
Feel free to substitute your favorite liqueur (Grand Marnier, Limoncello) dark rum or brandy for the Amaretto.
5 cups dried fruits (use an assortment:  pineapple, apricots, dried peaches, dried pears, dried apples, dried sweet cherries, and golden raisins are all good choices)
1/2 to 3/4 cup Amaretto di Saronno
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 large eggs
1/4 cup Amaretto di Saronno
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups sour cream           
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1.       In a mixing bowl, stir together the dried fruits and 1/2 cup of the Amaretto, and stir to coat the fruit.  If the fruit is very dry (read that as old) you may need another 1/4 cup of Amaretto for the fruit to absorb the liqueur.  Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours for the fruit to absorb the liqueur. 
2.       Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and coat the inside of three 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray. 
3.       In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, salt and nutmeg.  Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until fluffy.  Beat in the Amaretto. 
4.       Add half of the flour to the mixture alternately with the sour cream, beating well after each addition.  Continue to add the flour and sour cream, and then add the fruits, and the nuts.  

5.       Divide the batter evenly between the three pans and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until golden brown, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. 
6.       Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in their pans for 10 minutes. 
7.       Remove from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.  Brush with additional liqueur if desired, wrap tightly and store at room temperature for 1 week.  Serve thinly sliced. 
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

I think this fruitcake would be delicious toasted on Christmas morning and slathered with mascarpone or cinnamon butter. 

The poor maligned fruitcake; if the commercial makers of fruitcakes would just use quality ingredients, we'd all love fruitcake.  I hope you'll try this one, it's changed my mind!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gifts From Your Kitchen

All dressed up and ready to go; wrap and ribbon from Costco

I love making homemade goodies for friends and family; this year my pals at Specialty Produce challenged me with the idea of developing a fruitcake that people would want to make and they would make up a "kit" of the dried fruits to sell with the Farmer's Market Box as an add-on with the recipe. 
Today I tried out the panettone recipe which was fun to make, and a no-brainer.  It does need a long slow rise in the refrigerator, so I made the dough last night, then let it do its thing overnight.  The best part, I've got 3 beautiful panetonne, I can give away as gifts. Truth be told, they will go to Specialty tomorrow morning for a taste test before we go live!  But I will be making this for gifts this holiday season; there is something very satisfying about making your own breads, and I urge you to try this one, it's simple, and the results are delicious.

Specialty Produce Holiday Panettone
Makes three 1 1/2 pound loaves

An Italian tradition at holiday time, panettone needs a long cool rise in your fridge before baking, but it’s easily put together the night before baking. The dough can be refrigerated for 5 days, or frozen for about 3 weeks before baking. Serve panettone toasted for breakfast, or use it for French toast or bread pudding. 

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
2 packages (3 tablespoons) dry active yeast
1/2 cup honey (see Cook’s Note 1)
8 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) melted and cooled
2 teaspoons lemon extract (see note 2)
2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (see note 2)
7 cups all-purpose flour plus more for shaping
2 cups mixed dried fruits (dried pineapple, golden raisins, dry cranberries, dried apricots, mixed fruit---leave out prunes, they don’t work as well) If the fruits are large like the pineapple, chop them finely so you will have little bits studded throughout the dough.
1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
Raw sugar for sprinkling over top

1.       In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend together the yeast, honey, eggs, melted butter, extracts and zest with the water. Add the flour and dried fruit, and mix until the dough begins to come together. The dough will be loose, but will firm up when chilled. (DON’T TRY USING IT WITHOUT THE RISE IN THE FRIDGE)
2.       Cover loosely with a towel and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and flattens on top, about 2 hours---it may actually reach the sides of the bowl, and spill over, so be ready!

3.       Cover with plastic wrap cutting a few vent holes in the plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours—24 hours is optimum—or up to 5 days. Freeze in 1 pound portions (about the side of a large grapefruit) airtight for up to 3 weeks. Thaw the dough for 24 hours in the refrigerator before using.  

4.       When ready to bake, coat the interior of the panettone baker with non-stick cooking spray (I use Baker’s Joy—it’s terrific for everything)  

Great News sells these bakers
 5.       Dust the surface of the dough with flour, and divide the dough into three large grapefruit-like pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds each) Dust the piece with a little flour and shape into a ball stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom on all four sides, rotating a quarter turn as you go. Place the ball in the pan, seam side down. Spray the top of the loaf with non-stick cooking spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise again for about 2 hours.  

6.       Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the panettone with egg wash and sprinkle with the sugar. Bake in the center of the oven for one hour until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. The baking time with depend on the baking pan used (see cooks’ note 3)
7.       Cool completely before serving. 

Cook’s Note 1:   I used the San Diego Honey Company’s Rancho Santa Fe honey
Cook’s Note 2:  You can change this up and use 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (no zest) or sub. in orange extract and zest.
Cook’s Note 3:  6-inch Paper panettone bakers can be found at Great News, here in San Diego, but you can use an ovenproof  charlotte mold, a brioche mold, or you can line a 1-pound coffee cake with parchment paper and bake a high-domed loaf. King Arthur Flour also sells the paper bakers. (
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

So I urge you to order your Farmer's Market Box and this add on by midnight on Sunday.