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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Are your guests still sleeping? Do you have friends coming for brunch today? Is your menu all set for New Year's morning? In the time it takes to pull ingredients off the pantry shelf, and peel and chop one single apple (or pear, if that's what you have on hand), you can make this quick and easy coffee cake. All it takes is a bowl or two, a whisk, a few things from the pantry, one piece of fruit, and less than ten minutes of work. Plan-ahead types can bake ahead and freeze this cake, right in its pan.
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