Pining for Pineapple

There is always the problem of what to bring as a hostess gift when you've been invited to share a yontif meal with friends. A Waterford vase with flowers is obviously too over the top, and a book, while nice, is problematic in that my taste (murder mystery eclectic and veering toward who lopped off Colonel Mustard's head in the library) is probably not what's on your "must-read" list.

A bottle of good wine is better, but I always want to bring something a little extra, so I add fruit to the mix. My favorite is a pineapple. In fact, in tropical climates, pineapples are a symbol of home hospitality, and are often given as housewarming gifts, holiday gifts, get-well gifts or just about any other special occasion where a small token would be appropriate.

There are three basic types of pineapple: the smooth cayenne (the most popular and readily available); the red Spanish; and the sugar loaf. All are loaded with fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese.

Pineapples are also full of omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene. You should look for large fruits and let them sit at room temperature for a few days before using them. This isn't to ripen them (they don't ripen any further after they are picked), but rather, to allow it to soften and become juicer. But don't let them sit too long, as they can start to ferment and rot rather quickly.

Color doesn't matter; the best pineapples are firm, plump and have a sweet obvious pineapple aroma. The one test I like best is to pick up the pineapple and smell the bottom of it. If it smells like fresh pineapple, it's ready; if it has no smell, it's not; and if it smells like wine or has a slightly overblown odor, then it may have already started to spoil.

Here's another way to tell: When the top leaves start to fall off, the fruit is ready to be eaten.

While some may opt for getting a pre-cut pineapple from the store, the best way to enjoy your pineapple is to cut it just before you want to use it. There are two schools of thought regarding the process of peeling: You can peel, then cut it; or cut it, then peel.

In my opinion, neither is better; it is truly a matter of personal choice. Regardless of which way you choose to peel it, you need to cut off the leafy crown (unless you're planning on using the shell with the crown as a decoration). Know that there will be some waste, as the skin is difficult to remove without cutting away some of the fruit.

Tips for Cutting:

· Chop off the crown of the pineapple about a 1/2 -inch below the crown.

· Cut off about 1/2 -inch off the bottom.

· Flip the pineapple over in a bowl, and let it sit for about 10 minutes to let the juices flow through the fruit before cutting.

· Cut pineapple into quarters.

· Cut out center core of each quarter.

· Cut away skin of pineapple.

· Slice quarters into chunks or slices.

The pineapple is so versatile that the fruit can be eaten as is or topped with yogurt; broiled and topped with brown sugar and nuts; used as an ingredient in a salad dressing or marinade; adorn the main course; or serve as dessert, like the classic pineapple upside-down cake.

Note: If fresh pineapple is too pricey or not readily available, you can use the canned, in its own juice, for these recipes.


Cucumber-Pineapple Salad


2 seedless cucumbers, coarsely chopped
1 onion red, diced fine
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsps. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. chili sauce
2 Tbsps. mint fresh, chopped (optional)

Cut cucumber lengthwise in quarters. Slice each quarter into 1/4-inch slices. Peel pineapple and cut into quarters. Remove core. Cut each quarter in half and slice into 1/2 -inch slices.

Combine the cucumber, pineapple, onion and parsley leaves in a bowl.

In another bowl, combine the lemon juice, soy sauce, sugar and chili sauce. Pour over the salad and toss together.

Serve on a platter.

Serves 6 to 8.


Pineapple Salad With Honey Dressing


2-3 cups bite-size pineapple chunks
2-3 cups bite-size cantaloupe chunks
1-2 cups seedless grapes
2 cups strawberries, sliced
1 cup blackberries, blueberries or raspberries

Dressing Ingredients:

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. prepared dry mustard
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup rice-wine or apple-cider vinegar
1 cup oil
1 tsp. onion, grated
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds

In a large bowl, combine the fruit and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate.

In a blender, combine the sugar, mustard, paprika, salt, honey, lemon juice and vinegar. Blend until combined, then slowly add the oil while the blender is on.

Pour the dressing into a bowl, and add the onion, celery seed and poppy seeds. Mix to combine, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon dressing over the fruit and toss to combine.

Serves 6 to 8.


Pineapple Tarts With Pineapple-Coconut Ice-Cream


1 fresh pineapple
6 Tbsps. butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsps. water
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (from 17.3-oz. package)

Topping Ingredients:

1 tsp. butter
2 Tbsps. sugar
1 tsp. mint, finely chopped
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 cup mango, diced
1 cup pineapple chunks (reserved from whole pineapple)
1 carton (14 oz.) Häagen-Dazs Pineapple-Coconut Ice-Cream

Cut the whole pineapple into 1-inch slices. Core the centers from each slice to create rings. Set aside four whole rings, cut up remaining rings into small 1/4-inch chunks. Measure 1 cup of chunks for relish garnish; set aside. (Any remaining pineapple may be used as desired.)

Heat oven to 425°.

In 10-inch skillet, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil; then add pineapple rings and chunks.

Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until fruit is a light golden-brown. Remove from heat.

Place the pineapple rings in a 13×9-inch pan, leaving space between each ring. Pour the brown-sugar mixture over pineapple.

Unfold pastry, cut into four equal squares (a pastry-cutter may be used to create decorative edge). Pierce pastry all over with fork. Place pastry squares over each ring in pan. Bake at 425° for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pastry is golden-brown. Cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add remaining relish ingredients; gently stir until sugar is melted and fruit is just warmed. Remove from heat.

To Serve: Remove each pastry from pan, inverting onto serving plates. Place spoonful of relish on top of each tart and top with 1 large scoop of ice-cream.

Serve slightly warm.

Serves 4.


Pineapple-Orange Freeze


1 orange peeled and sectioned
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1 banana
11/2 cups orange juice
1 cup ice

In a blender, combine the ice and juice; blend until slushy.

Add the banana, orange and pineapple. Blend until smooth.

Makes 2 servings.


Upside-Down Pineapple Cupcakes


1 pineapple cut into chunks, drained (save the juice)
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup margarine, melted
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Batter Ingredients:

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup reserved pineapple juice or water
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spray a nonstick muffin pan with vegetable spray.

Place the pineapple chunks on paper towels to drain well.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and melted margarine.

Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin pan cups. Arrange the pineapple chunks decoratively on top of the sugar mixture, but only just cover the bottom. Don't put too much pineapple in each one. Set the pan aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the margarine, sugar, cinnamon and pineapple juice or water, beating for 2 minutes until smooth. Beat in the egg until combined, then add the flour and baking powder. Mix to combine.

Spoon batter over the fruit in each muffin cup, filling 3/4 full.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the pan for 5 minutes, then place a wire rack on top of the muffin pan and invert.

Let pan stay on top of the cupcakes for about 15 seconds to make sure that they release from the pan. Remove pan; let cool completely on the rack.

Makes 1 dozen.



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