I have a confession to make: as a cook, I am much more a savory guy than a sweet guy. The origins of this may be my taste -- I lack a significant "sweet tooth" -- but I suspect innate talent (or lack of it) is part of the picture. Expect great things from me for appetizers and main courses. Expect "pretty good" for dessert.
Not that I'm happy about this. Listening to great comments about my Hamachi-Stuffed Smoked Salmon with Light Gingered Mayonnaise, or my Five-Hour Crispy Roast Duck with Dirty Rice, I want more: I want praise for the dessert course. I feel like a great major-league pitcher post-game in the locker room: He has just thrown a two-hit shutout, but wants to discuss the scratch single he had in the eighth inning.
So I learned to bunt. Effectively.
About 20 years ago, I developed the basic formula for a really easy fruit salad that never fails to score with guests. Seriously. Even if their scorecards are keeping track of a major-league game. Oh, when they ask me about dessert, and I say "fruit salad" -- I can see the shadows of disappointment rolling across their faces. "What??" they seem to be saying. "You didn't make us a puff-pastry tart with frangipane and crème anglaise?" Nope. I made ya a fruit salad.
However -- once they taste it, they flip. For this is just about the best fruit salad they've ever had. Or I've ever had!
The secrets are few. Select super-high quality fruit, about six different kinds that create a beautiful color contrast. Cut them in varied ways: rounds of kiwi, half strawberries, small whole blueberries, chunks of nectarine, etc. And then, the coup de grâce:
Create a juice for them that includes sugar, lemon juice... and Grand Marnier! This latter touch moves the whole creation from a diner down the street in the U.S. to an elegant restaurant in Paris. I have never seen one ingredient make such a difference: As the distilled orange flavors ricochet around your mouth, you are simultaneously climbing the ladder to heavenly sophistication.
I make my fruit salad for dessert at all kinds of dinner parties year-round: more apples in the winter, more melon in early fall, etc. But this is my favorite season for fruit salad, right now, as the berries of spring are bursting out everywhere.
And baseball is newly back!
Here's my formula for the magnificent ooze:
After you've gathered, washed and sliced your fruit -- about three cups of sliced, chopped, or whole little fruits for four people -- place the fruit in a large bowl. Sprinkle it evenly with four to six tablespoons of sugar (it may be indulgent, but I usually go for the six). Drizzle one-quarter of a cup of lemon juice over the sugar. Toss lightly with your hands. Then, drizzle three to four tablespoons of Grand Marnier over the salad, and toss again. I'm all for four tablespoons -- but the beautiful thing is that you can adjust this to your own taste. Usually, before I serve the fruit salad, I make last-minute tweaks: a little more lemon? A little more sugar? A little more Grand Marnier?
Place in wide, shallow soup bowls (like the kind of bowl you use for pasta), distribute liquid evenly among the four plates, and serve, garnished with a sprig of mint.
The important thing is that each dinner gets some ooze in his or her plate...
Ooze at twelve o'clock
And that each diner gets a large spoon to scoop up the ooze if he or she chooses.
And that you set the tone by consuming the fruit salad as if it's the most delicious thing on earth. Which it almost is.
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