Holiday fruitcake bars inspired by David Lebovitz

Easy Recipe for Fruitcake Bars with Walnuts and Dates
with Thanks to David Lebovitz

As always, I drag my feet when I think about Christmas baking. It isn’t the baking part, it’s the Christmas part — it’s hard to get into the holiday spirit when balmy breezes are wafting through the coconut palms and we are talking about going to the beach this afternoon.

David Lebovitz takes beautiful photos, and his recipes turn out as good as they look. A photo of his Fruitcake Bars motivated me to start baking (and he was inspired by someone else’s recipe, and of course, I too made changes to the recipe).

While stirring the fruit and nuts into the batter, I saw that there would not be enough batter to coat all the nut and fruit pieces to my liking. So I quickly mixed up the same amount of batter ingredients again, thereby doubling the batter. I wanted more cake between the pieces of fruit and nut. It helps to cut the sweetness. And cake is nice. But I didn’t double the brown sugar, as dried fruits are so sweet. I also made a few other changes, like doubling the vanilla and baking powder, the latter to compensate for using whole wheat flour, which is heavier.

I always like to see dates in fruitcake, but the other fruit called for can be whatever you have on hand. I used cranberries, candied ginger and a dried fruit mixture. You can also use dried apricots, golden raisins or pineapple. Just don’t use candied fruits. They have been cooked in sugar syrup and, in addition to having extra sugar, they don’t have as intense a fruit flavor as dried fruit. I also spooned warm rum over the bars when they came out of the oven. All fruitcakes need rum or brandy to complete the flavor.

Holiday Fruitcake Bars

  • 3/4 cup flour (optional 50% white flour, 50% wheat flour)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (1/2 teaspoon if using 50% wheat flour)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted, quartered dates
  • 1 cup dried fruit of your choice, chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons warm rum or brandy (optional)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180C.).
  2. Line an 8″ square baking pan with one piece of foil that is long enough so that the overlap serves as handles on opposite sides of the pan to help lift the bars out when done. Butter or oil the foil.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  4. Beat eggs, vanilla and sugar and mix with dry ingredients.
  5. Stir in dried fruit and nuts.
  6. Spread mixture in prepared pan, smoothing top.
  7. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until top is slightly brown.
  8. Upon removal from the oven, brush 3-4 tablespoons of warm rum or brandy over bars. Cool in the pan 10 minutes.
  9. Use foil overlap to carefully lift out of pan and set on a cake rack to cool. When cool, cut into bars and store in an airtight container.

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Cooking in an Open Air Kitchen

This photo takes the meaning of cooking in an open air kitchen to a new level. It was taken when we were putting a new roof on our house, either in ’03 or ’04.

Construction in Mexico can be simple — brick walls, roof of tiles — and we have a simple house. We had removed all the roof tiles to have a “real” roof put on. You can see the blue sky overhead and the green of bamboo outside the kitchen. I see I had on a hat and sunglasses. And I see a level, wrench and bucket in the foreground.

I still remember what I made for dinner — Pinto Bean Enfrijoladas from the May 2003 Bon Appetit issue. I topped it with Avocado and Tomatillo Salsa. I have a notation in the magazine that I cooked black beans with two toasted avocado leaves instead of using the canned pinto beans called for in the recipe.

We were so hungry and it was so good. I’ll have to make it again in homage to our new roof.

Open air kitchen

Pescado a la Veracruzana with Golden Rice

A Classic Mexican Recipe

Red snapper is the fish most often called for in Huachinango a la Veracruzana — whole red snapper prepared in the style of Vera Cruz, a tropical, steamy port city on the Gulf of Mexico. But using red snapper for this dish is not as easy as it used to be. For one, red snapper populations are at very low levels in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic Ocean due to overfishing. Secondly, here in Mexico plate-sized red snapper is very popular on restaurant menus. A fish of that size has not reached maturity, and therefore has not had the opportunity to reproduce, further endangering the population.

It would be a shame not to make this dish because of the plight of red snapper, but there are other options. Any firm, white-fleshed fish fillet would be perfectly fine prepared veracruzana style. Tilapia, Pacific halibut, and Pacific cod are sustainable options.  The need is greater than ever for us as consumers and residents of this fragile planet to shop responsibly. Monterey Bay Aquarium maintains a web page to help us select sustainable and healthy fish. Check it out.

Huachinango a la Veracruzana is a delicious dish full of Mexican flavors — tomatoes, chile, cilantro, lime, garlic, onion, and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens, not to be confused with Greek oregano, Origanum vulgare), which all come together for a full-bodied sauce served with the fish.  Traditionally, whole fish is broiled or baked, but I have simplified the recipe by using fillets that are cooked in the sauce on top of the stove. And I have changed the name to Pescado a la Veracruzana, as any type of white fish can be used.

Pescado a la Veracruzana        serves 2 – 4

  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, medium dice
  • 1 bell pepper (green, red or yellow), medium dice or julienned
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh chile pepper, such as jalapeño or serrano, or pickled jalapeño, or to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tomatoes, large dice
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 8 green olives, pitted and halved
  • 1 scant tablespoon capers
  • 1 lb. fish fillets (about 4 fillets)
  • chopped cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat, add oil and cook onion for one minute. Add bell pepper and chile pepper and cook one minute longer. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, oregano, bay leaf, salt and water and simmer one minute more.
  2. Stir in capers and green olives. Make slight indentations in the tomato mixture and place a fillet in each indentation.
  3. Cover the pan with a lid and cook at a low simmer until fish is cooked through. The timing depends on the thickness of the fillets. Generally, cook fish 10 minutes for each one inch of thickness of the fillet.

Golden Rice

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup long grain white, jasmine or basmati rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups less 2 tablespoons boiling water
  1. Cook rice in olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring, until the grains start to turn a slight golden color. Add turmeric and salt.
  2. Pour in boiling water (careful, it will steam and spatter), cover pan, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes. At the end of  15 minutes, turn off heat but don’t lift lid. Let rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, fluff with a fork and serve. Turmeric is not necessary, but it gives a golden color, providing a colorful backdrop for Pescado a la Veracruzana.