The “F” Word

Just when you thought it was safe to open up your home to visitors once again, now that the tinsel dust and artificial pine scent has settled, I’ve come to ruin your day. More of a curse than a gift, it’s a dubious “treat” that has gained (and quite frankly earned) little respect over centuries of unsavory history. Not to be rude or anything, but it’s time that I dropped the F-bomb.

Fruitcake. Pardon my language.

Yes, I know, head for the hills and don’t accept packages from strangers; I’m offering you a genuine fruitcake, of all things! Trust me, I’ve been a very vocal naysayer of this brick-like food substance, never having seen the benefit to preserving mysteriously colored fruits in a metric ton of sugar before binding them all up into an impenetrable, flavorless batter. Better employed as entertaining projectiles than food stuffs, I would gladly get out there on the field with all the other unlucky fruitcake recipients as well. But, not with this new spin on the concept.

Rummaging through a pantry overstuffed with odd ingredients, I discovered an abundance of so-called “superfoods” that had no clear destination, and little use outside of random nibbles. Instead of simply frittering them away through impulse snacking, such special ingredients deserved a greater end. Baked up into a lighter cake than the traditional take, the crumb stays impossibly moist and does indeed only get better with age. Enhanced with the complex, caramel nuances of coconut sugar, volumes of flavor can shine through without the sticky veil of syrupy sweetness. Kombucha, with its very faintly alcoholic buzz, takes the place of harder liquor or rum here, so even teetotalers can indulge with abandon.

Of course, consider the exact superfruits and nuts listed here merely suggestions. As long as you throw in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of dried mix-ins in addition to the pomegranate arils, your cake will be golden… Literally, once baked.

Super-Fruitcake

1/2 Cup Fresh Pomegranate Arils
1/2 Cup Goji Berries
1/2 Cup Dried Mulberries
1/4 Cup Dried Goldenberries
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Cup Kombucha, Divided
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 (3.5-Ounce) Packet Frozen Acai Puree, Thawed (or Applesauce, in a Pinch)

Confectioner’s Sugar, To Serve (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 6-inch round, 3-inch high cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the pomegranate arils, all of the dried superfruits, walnuts and cacao nibs. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, and zest, tossing to coat all of the goodies.

Remove 2 tablespoons of the kombucha and set aside for later. Separately, whisk together the remaining kombucha, coconut oil, coconut sugar, molasses, and acai puree until fairly smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are fine, especially since it’s a fairly coarse mixture to begin with.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs clinging to the sides. Immediately pour the reserved kombucha evenly over the hot cake so that it can soak in as it cools. After cooling completely, the cake sit covered at room temperature, for at least 24 hours for the best results.

If you’d like a little pinch of additional sweetness, top with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar right before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

The Last Last-Minute Gift

Browse around the web for five minutes or more and you’ll undoubtedly run across at least a dozen “last-minute gift guides,” all touting effortless tokens for the people you forgot you should care about. Heartwarming stuff to consider right before Christmas, isn’t it? Since Chanukah has been long over for weeks now, it’s strange to watch it all unfold from the sidelines, without getting swept up in the madness as I usually do each year.

Of course, I do still have one suggestion here at the eleventh hour, but I’ll level with you: This post is more for my benefit, but you might just enjoy the results, too. Why sit on this fabulous candy recipe for another full calendar cycle, holding it back through the austere days of the New Year while everyone suffers a collective sugar hangover? While your sweet tooth is still in gear, set aside a few extra minutes for this simple yet transcendent treat. I had merely wanted to play around with the gold-tinted crystals of Zulka sugar that the company had been kind enough to send my way, but the toffee that came of my kitchen capers was anything but ordinary.

My dad, a man who knows his way around all things candy and an avowed sugar-supporter if I ever did meet one, claimed that this was some of the best toffee he ever had. No small compliment coming from such a knowledgeable source! So, if you find even one inch of space remaining on your cookie plate, in your candy baskets, or simply in your stomach, take that last-minute before the holidays all blow over to make yourself a batch. If one crisp, golden, nutty morsel of toffee is the last sugary taste on your lips for the rest of 2013, it would leave you with a sweet memory of the season indeed.

Golden Macadamia Toffee

1 Cup Toasted, Lightly Chopped Macadamia Nuts
2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Zulka Sugar
1 Tablespoon Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle the macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips as evenly over the bottom as possible. Set aside.

Combine the margarine, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within, because the more you spread it around with your spatula, the more you’ll smear the melting white chocolate. Don’t worry if it doesn’t reach all the way to the edges of the pan.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

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Traditional Takeout

As young children across the country feverishly unwrap mounds of tinsel-clad packages, parents tending a huge roast with all the fixings for dinner, an entirely different tradition marks my Christmas day. The classic Jewish Christmas, otherwise known as seeing a movie and getting Chinese food takeout, seems to be growing in popularity. Who knew it was even a thing 5, 10 years ago? Suddenly everyone knows about this once obscure and occasionally controversial plan. In fact, quite a few families that still lovingly string up Christmas trees and sing carols every year also join in on the fun, too. It’s the ultimate secular holiday that everyone can enjoy.

Options may be limited for fellow meatless eaters, but no matter how many times I get plain old broccoli and tofu, it just never gets old. Maybe the MSG makes it particularly addictive, but there are few things quite as satisfying as the instant gratification of savory, salty brown sauce smothering cubes of crispy fried bean curd and tender green florets. Venturing to recreate this endlessly versatile sauce, suddenly the sky is the limit for protein alternatives. As an extra-special treat this year, a rare package of Konjac-based vegan shrimp remained on ice, tucked away in the back of the freezer for just such an opportunity.

Disarmingly similar in coloring and surprisingly bouncy, their chewy texture was disconcertingly similar to actual seafood, according to the omnivores at the table. They imparted relatively little flavor though, for better or for worse, so while novel, I think I’d still prefer my tofu standby. Next time, I’ll gladly fire up the oil and toss in a few cubes instead, although you can’t go too far wrong with a solid brown sauce.

“Shrimp” and Broccoli

1/2 Pound (1 Package) Frozen Vegan Shrimp, or 1 Pound Fried Tofu
1 Pound Fresh Broccoli, Cut into Florets

Brown Sauce:

1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
3 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Tablespoon Fresh Ginger, Grated
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
1/3 Cup Mirin
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

Sesame Seeds, to Garnish (Optional)
Cooked White Rice, to Serve

Thaw out the frozen shrimp if using, or prepare your tofu. Place the broccoli florets in a microwave-safe dish with a splash of water, and steam for 2 – 4 minutes, until fork-tender. Drain and blanch in ice water to stop the cooking and keep the broccoli bright green. Set aside.

To prepare the brown sauce, begin by heating the sesame oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the garlic and ginger, and cook briefly, until aromatic. Meanwhile, whisk together all of the remaining ingredient in a separate bowl, being sure to beat out any clumps of starch so that the mixture is completely smooth. Carefully pour the liquids into the hot pan, standing away from the stove in case of any splashback. Whisk gently as the sauce comes up to temperature, until it reaches a full boil and has visible thickened. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool for a minute or two.

Place the broccoli and shrimp (or tofu) in a large bowl, and toss with a sizable dollop of brown sauce. There will likely be extra sauce, so apply it sparingly. Continue drizzling in sauce until the goodies are coated to your liking. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with a light sprinkling of sesame seeds. Enjoy with a mound of hot rice, and have a very Happy Holiday!

Serves 3 – 4

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