Years and years ago my brother-in-law brought me a swank little fruitcake, all packaged and primped and wrapped up, all the way from London to my not-so-tony walk-up apartment in Manhattan's Upper West Side. I opened it up, fully expecting my fussy palate to become enthralled at the first bite of fancy cake, but no amount of passport stamps, customs forms, and British spelling ("coloUr"!!!) could make me choke the vile thing down.
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Here at last is a cake that doesn't require weeks or months of preparation, nor a napkin to politely spit the unsavory bite out into.
Most of my childhood memories center around food and one of the earliest involves Fig Newtons. Before my brother had the audacity to be born on my fourth birthday, I was a painfully shy only child. So when my aunt and cousin drove in from out of town for a visit, I felt slightly terrified. My cousin was a bone fide Big Kid who could ride a bike and stuff. Don't those Big Kids pick on the Little Ones? I didn't plan on sticking around to find out.
In her introduction to this recipe (originally titled Polenta Shortcake with Raisins, Dried Figs, and Pine Nuts) Italian cuisine high priestess Marcella Hazan writes that James Beard was overcome by this dessert when he traveled to Venice long, long ago. "He was fascinated by this local specialty, whose nuts and dried fruits are redolent of imperial Venice's trading days with the Near East," she wrote.
Christmas is a relatively new experience for me as a Jewish New Yorker, but my wife's family holiday celebrations have formed my idea of the Christmas meal: sweet, meaty, and overly indulgent. This dried fruit stuffed pork loin fulfilled on those three requirements—the juicy piece of meat was nothing but savory-sweet goodness.
My daily breakfast of yogurt and granola is (almost) as important to me as my morning coffee. Baking up a batch every couple of weeks is another nice ritual. It's really easy, and unlike the store-bought alternative, you can create exactly the balance of fruit, nuts, grains, sweetness, and richness you want. This slideshow will show you the basics of granola-making, with some ideas for a classic version, as well as a more decadent closer-to-candy recipe (with chocolate chips!) and a savory twist with fennel seeds.
This week, I've saved Nancy Harmon Jenkins' luscious recipe for Turkish apricots stuffed with sweet, thick yogurt for last. Dried apricots are softened in Sauternes (a French dessert wine), stuffed with sweet labneh (strained yogurt), and sprinkled with crushed pistachios.