Soon after Ted and I moved to Boston's South End in 1980, we met a woman who lived on Fort Hill, a middle class, not-yet-gentrified enclave of brick row houses in the midst of the low-income, mostly black and Hispanic Roxbury neighborhood. She invited us to dinner, and we had a lovely evening. Then, we called a taxi to pick us up. Our host laughed, and said no cabs would come to her neighborhood at that time of night. She was right, as it turned out, and we waited an uncomfortably long hour-plus until one finally arrived. Fortunately, our awkward exit isn't all I remember about that night; I remember the apple tart she made for dessert. This is it, a bare-bones, apple-lover's, no-gooey-pastry-cream tart best made with crisp apples (and equally delicious made with sweet pears). If you've spent any time here in The Perfect Pantry, you know I don't bake. In fact, I'm a bake-o-phobe. So, when I tell you this pretty tart is super quick and easy, believe me. You can do it.
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Sometimes, you simply cannot put a bowl of ice cream on the table and call it dessert. Don't ask me why not, because ice cream always does it for me, but when you have to step up your game -- your future mother-in-law is coming to pass judgment, or you're celebrating the promotion that finally came through -- throw together these easy fruit and Nutella puff pastry tartlets with pastry from the freezer, and any fruit you have on hand (bananas, peaches and pears would be just as good as the kiwi and strawberry I used here). If you don't have fruit, top the layer of Nutella with ice cream. If you have fruit and ice cream, well, who am I to stop you?
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The International House of Rhode Island welcomes visitors from all around the world: students, business people, and tourists. They offer language classes, housing resources, and events designed to foster international understanding and friendship. Could they do that without food? Of course not! Every week people come together for potluck lunches, and every month the House hosts dinners based on the cuisine of a different part of the world. I interviewed some of the volunteers and staff at The International House five years ago, and they gave me a copy of their cookbook. Titled Pragerway, the book honors Irving and Ruth Prager, the kind of dedicated long-time volunteers every nonprofit dreams about. This chocolate dump cake is Irving Prager's recipe. It's a true dump: everything goes into the bowl, gets a rapid stir, into the pan, and bake. No sifting, no creaming, no separating. No KitchenAid.
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Most food writers learn how to cook, and then they learn how to write. Not me: I began interviewing people who cook, and I learned how to make their food by watching and cooking with them. For one of my first newspaper articles, I met Gloria Belknap, a French-trained chef who ran a bed-and-breakfast inn in Boston's South End. Her lucky guests enjoyed posh accommodations and an even more spectacular breakfast, including a version of this clafoutis (pronounced cla-foo-TEE). It's just as popular for dessert as it is for breakfast or brunch, and you can use any seasonal fruit or a combination of whatever you find at the market or farmstand. Like a souffle, clafoutis puffs up when it bakes, and collapses in the center as it cools. I always serve it right from the pan, with a bit of powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Any leftovers can go into the refrigerator, available for easy nibbling or afternoon snacks.
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One of my favorite places to shop for discounted (and sometimes slightly hurt) kitchenware, the local TJ Maxx received a shipment of Bundt pans a few months back, and though I'm not much of a baker, I couldn't resist buying one of every shape in the store. Bundts are perfect for making coffee cake, which gets its name from the way it's often served (with coffee or tea), not because it's made of coffee, but this cake actually has a bit of espresso in the filling. Every ingredient comes straight from the pantry, and the batter comes together in minutes. All you need is a stash of Bundt pans, and now you know where to find them.
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