Thursday, December 27, 2012

The DIY Fruitcake Kit

It’s not that I hate fruitcake. It’s just that this poor cake has suffered so much ostracism through the years, I figured what’s one more day? Because when I got an assignment to create a holiday card for my company to give to its clients, my mind made a beeline straight for that lowly, ostracized confection. 

I started thinking outside the card and came up with an idea for an anti-fruitcake that would give people the parts of a fruitcake that they actually like—the booze, nuts and holiday-free dried fruits. Voilá: the DIY Fruitcake Kit. No baking required. Concept and copy by yours truly; designed by the talented Diana Martinez.  

A mini bottle of brandy and individual pack of trail mix were accompanied by a poem, DIY directions and nutritional info. 

It was originally supposed to go to about 75 clients, but word of it kept spreading throughout my company and it turned into 300. 

“Twas the night ‘fore the holiday and all through the kitchen
Fruitcakes were bakin’ that weren’t all that bitchin’
So we fashioned this version that might come in handy
With a handful of trail mix and shot of cheap brandy

One executive didn’t want to use the word, “bitchin’” for her clients and asked me at the 11th hour for alternate copy. After my prima donna instinct subsided, I realized I love a good rhyme challenge. So in a few minutes I gave her this version:

Twas the night ‘fore the holiday and all through the kitchen
A fruitcake was bakin’ we knew you’d be ditchin’
So we fashioned this version that might come in handy
With a handful of trail mix and shot of cheap brandy

All's well that ends well. So long, 2012.

Have a fruitful New Year, everyone!
—Lentil Breakdown

Related Link:
Girl’s Fruitcake Memory, Interrupted

Monday, November 5, 2012

Right-to-Know Calabacitas Tacos

“Pardon me,” he said. “But what exactly are calabacitas? If I’m going to eat them, I have a right to know.”

Calabacitas or ‘little squash’ is a stew-ish dish with zucchini, corn, tomatoes and green chilis," I said. 

“I see,” he said. “Is the sweet corn in your stew-ish dish non-GMO?”

“Does Monsanto like million dollar bills?” I said with duh on my face.

"Is the masa harina in your handcrafted tacos non-GMO corn?"

“You talkin' to me?" I said. “You talkin' to me?"

"What about the zucchini? Some squash seeds are genetically modified too," he said.

“Boyfriend, my seeds are cleaner than a virgin’s panty drawer.

"Wow, that's clean!" he said. "It's TMI, but clean."

"Well with all those pesticides, GMO “food” isn't clean. And without labeling, it’s not enough information

"Damn right!" he said with uppity exuberance.

“Here, try one of these righteous calabacitas tacos,” I said.

"Mmmm. These are righteous! Do I have a right to read the recipe?"

Like I said before, I’m all about transparency.”


4 medium organic zucchinis, sliced
2 medium organic tomatoes, chopped
1 ear organic corn, shucked
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 roasted poblano chile (Anaheim or Hatch is fine)
1 – 2 tsp olive oil
½ tsp coriander seeds, crushed
½ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp salt (add more to taste)
pepper to taste
chopped cilantro
crumbled cotija or feta cheese (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes with the cumin and coriander seeds; then add the garlic for another minute. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, corn and cumin powder and cook for about 15 - 20 minutes over medium heat. Then add the roasted chile, salt and pepper and cook until soft for about 10 more minutes.

Serve in tacos with chopped cilantro and crumbled cheese.

Homemade Tacos
1 package of Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina (see package for recipe)

Lentil’s Breakdown

  • About 85% of corn produced in the U.S. is genetically modified with a built-in pesticide. An inserted gene from soil bacteria called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) secretes the insect-killing Bt toxin so that a bug’s stomach will explode when it eats it.
  • A new peer-reviewed study links GMO corn to mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage and other serious illnesses.
  • Avoid buying sweet corn (on the cob) at Walmart since they agreed to sell Monsanto's Bt sweet corn that is not labeled; Whole Foods and Trader Joe's pledged not to sell or use it.
  • Over 24,000 acres of zucchini and crookneck squash are genetically modified in the U.S. to resist a plant virus. Certified organic seed varieties by definition are GMO-free. The Organic Seed Alliance maintains a list of organic seed companies.
  • Most masa harina that you’ll find in Latin markets like Maseca is genetically modified, but Bob's Red Mill does not use GMOs in their corn products (I wrote them an email to verify, and they kindly responded back). 
Related Links:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I wrote this guest post for October Unprocessed, where blogger Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules challenges thousands of people to give up processed food for an entire month. So after this excerpt, please head over to Andrew's terrific blog to read the whole post.

I was standing with my clipboard at the farmers’ market when she walked by.

“Would you like to sign an initiative to get labeling for genetically modified food on the California ballot in November?” I said.

“No,” she said firmly. 

“Don’t you want to know what’s in your food?” I asked.

“We don’t need to know everything.” 

I paused, in holy crap mode.

“But what if I want to know?” I said.

“They tell us too much already,” she announced.

I could see her reasoning-impaired mind was made up, and like they told us in signature gathering training, when someone is not going to budge, just move on. So like a good volunteer, I let her go.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hatch Chile Art Class 101

Apply colors and fire up the kiln.

Add black until they're charred, blistered and soft.

Let sweat for 20 minutes.

When cool, strip away the outer layer of paint.

Stand back and admire your work.

Build mixed media installation by arranging them in flat rows between sheets of wax paper. Place in container and freeze.

Lentil's Breakdown

  • Orange or red Hatch chiles are riper than green ones.
  • You can roast chiles on an outdoor grill, broiler, grill pan, or roast over an open flame on the stove.
  • I prefer to let the warm chiles sweat in a paper bag rather than plastic, so the toxins from the hot plastic don’t leach into the chiles.
  • For a good tutorial, see How to Roast Hatch Chiles at Shockingly Delicious (but use paper bag).
  • Hatch chiles from New Mexico are available from Melissa’s Produce.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Right-To-Know Blueberry Blue Cornmeal Scones

“Did you use non-GMO cornmeal in these scones?" he asked.

“Does Paula Deen put bacon in her cupcakes?" I said, with duh on my face. "Did you know that 85% of corn in the U.S. is genetically modified? But blue corn is still the way nature designed it—not by some guy in a lab coat."

“Well how am I supposed to know if a package of cornmeal has GMO corn when the label doesn't tell me?" he asked. "Don't I have a right to know what's in my food?”

"Damn right!" I said.

“Here, have one of these righteous blue cornmeal scones full of fresh blueberries, lemon zest, buttermilk and GMO-free love,” I said.

“Mmmm. These are righteous!" he said. "Do I have a right to read the recipe?"

“Hey, I'm all about transparency.”

Blueberry Blue Cornmeal Scones

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup blue cornmeal1

1/4 cup cane sugar2

2 tsp. baking powder3

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

5 TBSP organic salted butter4

1 tsp. (heaping) grated lemon zest

2/3 cup organic buttermilk4

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1 tsp. vanilla

Please see my Breakdown below the directions.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add lemon zest. Make well in center of mixture; add buttermilk, berries, and vanilla. Stir just until moistened.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Quickly knead dough by folding and pressing gently 10 to 12 strokes or until nearly smooth. Pat or lightly roll dough into 9–12 balls.*

Using a large spoon, drop dough into 9-12 mounds on a large, ungreased baking sheet, leaving 1" between mounds.

Bake in a 400˚ F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden. Remove scones from baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature. They will last several days.

* If you’d prefer scone wedges, pat or lightly roll dough into an 8-inch circle on an ungreased baking sheet. Cut into 8 wedges, cutting only about halfway through to score.

Lentil’s Breakdown

1 I got this blue cornmeal from Talon de Gato Farm at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, but you can find Arrowhead Mills or Bob’s Red Mill locally. If you want to use yellow cornmeal, make sure it’s organic since organic standards do not allow GMO seeds.

According to Web MD, blue corn is healthier since it’s 20% higher in protein than white corn and contains less starch. The blue color comes from anthocyanins in the corn, which are the same healthy compounds found in berries and red wine.

2 The sugar beet, used to make white granulated sugar, is one of the five main GMO crops in the U.S., and 95% of it is GMO. To avoid this, buy cane sugar, made from sugarcane. Unless it says ‘organic’ or ‘cane,’ it’s almost certainly GMO.

3 Most baking powder has corn starch in it which is GMO, but Rumford uses non-GMO corn.

4 Dairy products may not directly contain GMOs, but if they're not organic, then the animals subsist on a diet of GMO corn.

GMOs have not been tested on humans for long-term health results and have been linked to infertility, serious allergies, weight gain and organ damage in lab animals.

Find out more about California Right to Know Prop 37, volunteer for the campaign or donate to ensure that we win in November.

Related Links:

How to be a Bad-Ass Anti-GMO Activist

Non-GMO Project

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travel Bite: American Empire Abroad

Prague, Czech Republic

Not to be outdone by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, American emperor Ray Kroc brought his arches to Europe, poised for a hostile takeover of the old world.

Vienna, Austria

Kroc conquered the Austro-Hungarian Empire by craftily diverting its people into his territory.

Budapest, Hungary

An American King arrived and had the Hungary masses eating out of his hands with the promise of supersizing.

Istanbul, Turkey

An American Colonel incited a poultry war on the Ottoman Empire by introducing his chicken to Turkey. A truce was finally reached, resulting in the "Finger-lickin’ Good Piece Treaty."

(I took these photos on sundry trips abroad.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Bi-curious, Two-timing Almond Cake Affair

I’m going to come right out and say it: I swing both ways. Think of it as my experimental kitchen years, if you must, but I like to get it on with Butter and Olive Oil. My girl Olive and I have a healthy relationship. I spend lots of quality time with her. But sometimes I sneak out and get a little Butter on the side. Salty and dangerous, he drives me wild. Please don’t tell him this, but lately, I’ve also been getting it on with his brother, Unsalted. I really didn’t want to be a two-timer, but the experts told me to. They said for true fulfillment, I needed Unsalted. Frankly, I find him a bore. Who are they to tell me who I can love? If they told me to get it on with Crisco, I’d tell them to go to hell. That would be like hooking up with Charles Manson—if he were hydrogenated. Just because I’m bi-curious, it doesn’t mean I’m a trollop. Telling me to two-time on Salted? Pastry chefs, recipe writers and baking bloggers: please leave my love life out of your callous directives.

You say that Salted will make my cake too salty, but I say phooey. If you think I lack the culinary savoir faire to appreciate the subtle nuances between the two, au contraire. You’re forgetting that 1) I have an Extra Sensory Palate, and 2) I just used two French words in one sentence—that rhyme, no less. I even did a two-way with the brothers to prove my point. I made David’s Almond Cake for two birthday parties. And both of them were real pleasers.

Sure, Unsalted satisfied when we did the deed, but then I was stuck with him the next morning and forced to have him naked on my toast. There’s no intimacy with Unsalted because you can’t even tell he’s there. Like a mirage, I see him, but I don’t taste him. Why have him when you could be with his more exciting brother? And don’t tell me to simply salt my toast. That would be gauche. I might as well open a bag of Doritos and have those alongside my eggs. Do I really need them both around? How do you think that makes Olive Oil feel? Three’s a crowd.

When I made the cake with Salted, I simply used a little bit less salt than was called for. I wasn’t even that scientific about it. I just used my eyeballs. That’s what they’re there for. And not one person at the party stood up and accused me of straying from said callous directives. In fact, in between moans, they asked who had made the incredibly sublime almond cake with the pitch-perfect apportionment of salt. And along with their oohing and ahhhing ovation, they demanded the recipe on the spot.

So I am not buying into your Unsalted butter authoritarianism that made me stray from my love, Salted. Martha Stewart, Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz and Joy the Baker: you’re not the boss of me.

Almond Cake from David Lebovitz
(In his words, slightly abridged; my notes in red)

One 9-inch or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake

Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere

This cake is best made in the food processor. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and let the mixer run until the almond paste is finely broken up. There’s a few notes at the end of the recipe, including some almond paste tips and suggestions.

I dialed down the butter from the original recipe, which had two more ounces (55g), for a total of 10 ounces (280g) since some feel the cake was a bit heavier and too-buttery with all that butter in it. But if you do wish to go that route, I’d be interested in knowing what you think. (No! It’s got plenty! Do I look like Ina Garten?)

1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar

8 ounces (225g) almond paste (I used a 7 oz. tube of Odense)

3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour

1 cup (8 ounces, 225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed (or salted and use a tad less salt)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

6 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC). Grease a 9- or 10-inch (23-25 cm) cake or spring form pan with butter (I used a 9-inch spring form), dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper. (See Note, below.)

2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup (35g) of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup (105g) of flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. (You may wish to open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.)

After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled. Don’t worry; it’ll come back together after the next step.

6. Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix. (You can also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in, which ensures the dry ingredients get incorporated evenly and you don’t overbeat it.)

7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center.

8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.

Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve. (Tip: Warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.)

Storage: This cake will keep for four days at room temperature, well-wrapped. It can also be frozen for up to two months.

Note: For this cake, I used a 9-inch cake pan, whose sides are 2 inches (5cm) high. Some readers noted that the batter rose higher than their pan, although I’ve made this cake well over a hundred times and have not had that problem. So use a standard size cake pan whose sides are at least that high, not a layer cake pan, which is shallower.

Related Links:

A Plum Amaretti-Crisp Quandary

Cream Cheese Brownies (by David Lebovitz)

Strawberry Rhubarb Galette