Fruitful endeavor

Cooking 101

August 01, 2007|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Reporter

August has arrived, and in Baltimore that means many of us want to avoid cooking entirely. But we still want to eat, of course, and we might even want to entertain.

One solution is to make something pretty out of material that's cool, readily available and at its peak: fresh fruit. Baltimore International College chef instructor Ben Simpkins showed us how to make a centerpiece for the picnic table with a few basic supplies.

You'll need wooden skewers that can be cut into various lengths, toothpicks, a sharp paring knife, and some leaf and flower-shaped cookie cutters. Simpkins' fruit basket requires a small watermelon, a papaya, a honeydew melon, some fresh cantaloupe and pineapple, several strawberries and some red grapes.

Begin by cutting off the top of the watermelon and scooping out the fruit. Start at the back of the basket, using long skewers to create taller fruit flowers in the back, then make the skewers progressively shorter as you move forward. This will hide the skewers and the toothpicks you'll use to anchor the fruit.

The pineapple and cantaloupe are the easiest: Just cut flower shapes from large pieces of melon and anchor a watermelon ball or half a grape in the middle with a toothpick to form the center.

You can assemble the basket the night before your picnic. Wrap it with damp towels, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Outside, keep it fresh by spraying it with a sugar-and-water solution every 30 minutes -- and don't let it sit out more than three hours.

kate.shatzkin@baltsun.com

THE TECHNIQUE

1. Cut from the middle of the papaya toward the narrow end, stopping an inch or so before the end and cutting back toward the middle to form irregular triangles all the way around the fruit.

2. Carefully pull apart the papaya to make flowers. Along the petals, make cuts to separate the peel and fruit part of the way down. Mount on a long skewer at an angle, without letting skewer come all the way through.

3. Holding a strawberry by the stem, make four notches to form a square around the end of the fruit without slicing all the way through, then pull apart slightly to form petals. Make cuts to form a second set of petals around the first.

4. Cut a thick section of honeydew melon and peel, then use a leaf-shaped cookie cutter to cut out pieces along the natural curve of the melon. Use a sharp paring knife to carve a piece from the center of each "leaf."

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