I’m always hyper-aware of the FIRSTS of any new year, hoping that these choices will somehow set a good tone for a new year. The first music I listened to was Renee Fleming singing the glorious “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss, and my first beverage consumed in 2010 was a delightful Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, enjoyed on my roof exactly at midnight while watching the fireworks display over Central Park. And I must share the first new recipe I tried this year, for I know you are going to love this Winter Fruit Salad.
This is not your ordinary fruit salad, with random bits of chopped-up fruit indiscriminately thrown together. Instead, this is a beautiful bowlful of thin slices of crisp pears and tart apples mingling with dried apricots and figs, bathed in a fragrant syrup perfumed with vanilla bean, fresh ginger and star anise. I am so happy I stumbled across this recipe last week on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, and I know I will be recreating this many times this winter.
I knew that we’d have much to discuss this New Year’s Day, so I made a ton of food to see us through the day. We devoured a baked egg custard with Gruyere and chives, as well as nearly two pounds of Niman Ranch bacon. Coffee and champagne were both plentiful, and I baked two kinds of scones in addition to gluten-free blueberry muffins. I also made an enormous bowl of this Winter Fruit Salad, knowing that this refreshing bowl of fruit would see us through a long afternoon of celebrating the year gone by as well as brainstorming for the upcoming year.
You have to love the brunch that begins at 11 a.m. and continues on till 7:30 pm, long after the sun has gone down! I’m extremely thankful for our decade of New Year’s Day brunches together as there is power in naming your dreams out loud, especially to a supportive team of friends to whom you can be accountable. One of my dreams years ago was to find a way to share my love for cooking and writing, something I talked about at many a New Year's Day brunch, and Kitchen Fiddler has definitely been a realization of those twin passions. And what better way to celebrate than by enjoying soul-satisfying food with dear friends? HAPPY NEW YEAR!
One Year Ago: Cranberry Ginger Pecan Muffins
WINTER FRUIT SALAD
Adapted slightly from a recipe by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen
I’ve tweaked the recipe just a bit by adding fresh ginger to the syrup and equalizing the ratio of apples to pears. I’ve also increased the quantity of dried fruits, simply because I think the apricots and figs taste fabulous after luxuriating in vanilla-star anise-ginger syrup and I wanted to have more of them. The fresh pomegranate seeds are optional, though I think they add a welcome crunch and a splash of vivid color to the finished dish.
4 cups water
¾ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
3 star anise
a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 lemon, peel carefully removed with a vegetable peeler in long strips, and juice reserved
1 cup dried Turkish apricots, cut in half
1 cup dried figs, stems removed and cut in quarters
2 firm Granny Smith apples
2 firm Bosc pears
Seeds from half a pomegranate (optional)
Combine the 4 cups water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with a knife into the saucepan and add the whole bean itself. Add the star anise, ginger slices and the lemon peel. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool for 5 minutes and then stir in the dried apricots and figs. Let the mixture cool completely while you prepare the rest of the fruit.
Peel and core the apples and pears. Cut into thin lengthwise slices and add to a large mixing bowl. Toss the apple and pear slices with the reserved lemon juice to prevent it from discoloring.
When the dried fruit-in-syrup mixture has cooled, pour it over the apples and pears. Cover with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge overnight.
When you are ready to serve it, transfer the fruit with a slotted spoon to a serving dish. Remove the vanilla bean and star anise, but you can leave the ginger and lemon slices in if you like. Scatter the pomegranate seeds over the fruit salad and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
(I actually found an abandoned box of 2010 glasses on a bench in the middle of Broadway on New Year's Eve! We were wondering all year long about the design of the New Year's glasses, now that there wouldn't be two 0s in the middle of the year anymore. Who knew that bubble letters would provide such an excellent solution?!)