Is Fruit Cake just for the holidays?


I received an email a number of weeks back, asking if I would be interested in writing a follow-up blog about fruit cake. Back in 2013, I had written a post about the history of Fruit cake, and what I felt might be some good wine pairings. That post was seen by the owners of Jane Parker Fruit Cakes. They offered to send me a fruit cake if I would write an honest opinion of their cakes and share some pairing ideas. A few weeks later, I received a fruit cake in the mail, along with a few small sample packs. This got the ideas flowing, the following is the results of those ideas.

First, let me say that I am one of those that appreciates good fruit cake. The Jane Parker Classic light fruit cake I received was dense, moist, and packed with raisins glace cherries, glace pineapple, and topped with pecans. There was a large ratio of fruit to cake. This wasn’t an overly spiced cake. I would say it had a slight amount of nutmeg.

 In an effort to be unbiased in my review of the Jane Parker fruit cake, I invited four couples to join my wife and me for a Charcuterie platter and numerous wines. The idea was to let everyone experiment with different meats, cheeses and wines, then formulate their own opinion on what works. I also wanted to break the stereotype of fruit cake only being for the holidays (so why not add it to a charcuterie plate?). I sliced half of the fruit cake and added it to my charcuterie plate. We had about a dozen wines to try, and everyone had numerous wine glasses, to try multiple pairings at a time.

The wines I included, were based on my suggestions from my previous blog about fruit cake. They included: German Spatlese Riesling, Alsace Gewurztraminer, Dry Rose Sparkling wine, Beaujolais from Brouilly (gamay), Italian Dolcetto, Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel (very “jammy”), French Muscat de St Jean, and Tawny Port. Our guests brought some additional wines and a Lambic beer: German Liebfraumilch, California Grenache, and Framboise Lambic, plus additional Rieslings from California and Germany.

 The Charcuterie plate included: 4 cheeses (Wensleydale, Ridder, Smokin Goat, and Mascarpone), 3 meats (Iberico ham, Sweet Sopressata, and Genoa Salami). For our vegetarian guests, I included vegan pepperoni, vegan smoked chorizo, and a tomato & basil Pâté. We also had four different types of crackers and cheese sticks, dried and fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, quince paste, fig jam, apple calvados jam, cheese stuffed sweet peppers, as well as mustard and aioli.

Out of the ten people attending the tasting, three of us had food industry backgrounds, and three admitted to not really liking fruit cake, and shared the typical jokes about fruit cake. By the end of the night, everyone agreed that the Jane Parker fruit cake was very good, and agreed that it can be a versatile addition to any gathering, if paired properly. Two comments at the end of the night were, “send more cake, we need to do more experimentation” and “this made a fruit cake believer out of me!”

So, what worked?

I had originally planned the charcuterie plate with items I thought would work with the fruit cake. The sweetness of the cake should work with salty, so the Iberico ham, and Wensleydale cheese were expected to work….and they did. But it was the items that were unexpected that really got everyone exploring. The surprise of the night was fruit cake paired with the sweet sopressata (sweet vs salty) and probably the best pairing of the night was fruit cake with Ridder cheese and German Riesling (everything just came together on this one). I had thought the tomato and basil pate might work with the fruit cake, and it should have, but the pate needed more salt. In hindsight, I could have added some finishing salt to the pate. The Iberico ham worked perfectly with the fruit cake, and even better when a slight spread of mascarpone cheese was added.

At the very end, I served the Jane Parker fruit cake by itself, and we tried some wine pairings. We found some that were very good. Riesling was the all-around favorite, but Moscato, Liebfraumilch and the Framboise Lambic beer were also excellent pairings. The Gewurztraminer was interesting, as it pulled out the nutmeg flavors in the fruit cake. The Old Vine Zinfandel had just enough fruitiness to work with the cherries and raisins in the fruit cake. Two wines that didn’t work at all with the fruit cake were the Sparkling Rose and the Tawny Port (maybe with a darker style, or chocolate fruit cake). When serving sweet items, always try to keep our beverage slightly sweeter.


Lastly, we discussed other ideas for using fruit cake during the year (and not just the holidays). Ideas included toasted fruit cake with cream cheese, deep fried fruit cake, and my personal favorite is to use it as a stuffing, by cutting it into chunks to be added to a stuffing/side dish for Pork or Duck.

My unbiased opinion...Jane Parker makes a really nice fruit cake that reminds me of cakes I had as a kid. Fruit cake can be incorporated into a dinner party, wine tasting, or any event, as long as you include items that will pair with the sweetness of the fruit cake.

It was a fun experiment, and one of our guests texted me the next morning saying. “We can’t stop remarking how much we enjoyed last night! Thank you so much for a remarkable evening”. Mission complete!

Now we need to try this again with other Jane Parker cakes.

France Trip - The Foods of France

This is a continuation of my blog posts about a three-week trip to France for the entire review, check out these previous blog posts: Week One, Week Two, Week Three

Some general food observations about France first:
  1. The Boulangerie – The French love their famous puffy, melting in your mouth croissants straight from the oven. But the Pain au Chocolat was a daily choice for me. Strong coffee versus café americano (watered down). I found their coffee to be strong, but much less acidic as typical American coffee.
  2. Generally, the north uses more dairy (milk, butter and cheese) whereas the south uses more olive oil. South is a more Mediterranean diet (more fish, tomatoes and other nightshade vegetable). More goat cheeses, lots of olive oil. Rosé wine in the warm months. South-East France: Not surprisingly, foods revolving around olives, olive oil and herbs, tomatoes and garlic are popular in this region, in common with nearby neighbors Italy, Basque country of Spain and North Africa.
  3. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day, and longer than what we take to eat in the US. Many shops close for two hours during lunch.
  4. The most prevalent food we found (available in the big cities, and the small countryside villages) was...Pizza. Fresh food everywhere.

Our first taste of any French food was at a local bakery, in Paris, called Yannick Martin. Our hotel room wasn’t ready, and we had been flying all night. So, our first taste of food in France was a Pain au Chocolat, followed by a cheese plate and wine in the lobby of our hotel, as the wait for a room was drawn out.

Our first encounter with a sidewalk café was in the Montmarte area. We had lunch at a sidewalk café called Au Cadet de Gascogne. I had a ham and swiss baguette (served with hard boiled eggs). 

That evening, the hotel was offering a free drink that they called “The Green Beast” (made with Absinthe, lemon, cucumber and water). Dinner at L’Imperial BBZ. My wife had a warm goat cheese salad, and I had the salmon tartare, along with a carafe of Provence Rose.

Salmon Tartare
A couple times, we grabbed a quick bite at McDonald’s McCafe, which is loaded with fresh pastries and coffee. They take their café business seriously. It is a completely different section of the restaurant. While the regular restaurants are automated (you place an order on an electronic kiosk) the café portion is personal service. The display cases were filled with croissants, macrons, cookies, pastries. I think American McDonalds could learn something from their French franchises!

When we went wine tasting in the countryside, some of the tasting rooms at the Chateau offered freshly made lunches. One stop was the small Château de Nitray. where they served a rustic lunch of grilled chicken, tomatoes and potatoes along with their wine tasting (Sauvignon Blanc, Rose and Cot). All wines were about 7 euros a bottle.

When we traveled to Nice, in Southern France, the front desk person at our hotel was Italian, and he gave us his recommendation for his favorite Italian restaurants in the area. We walked a couple blocks from the hotel to the Villa D’Este. Ordered a bottle of Valpolicella. My wife had a margherita pizza and I had the grilled prawn (which was the whole prawn and not de-veined). The cobblestone streets were packed with outdoor café seating, and tons of choices for places to eat.

The next day, we had dinner at Lu Fran Calin. Authentic Nicoise food. I had the local specialty, Daube (a beef stew on gnocchi). The restaurants that offer authentic local food have the label "Cuisine Nissarde". This is awarded to restaurateurs who work to promote the cuisine of Nice by committing to respecting the recipes, the quality of the products and raw materials used.

The next section of our trip was on a river cruise for a week, so most of the meals were served onboard the ship. The typical buffet breakfast consisted of eggs (not cooked well, usually on the wet side), fruit, fresh baguette with jam, pastries (croissants, Pain au chocolat) very thin bacon, cold cuts, baked beans (I’m assuming this is for the English tourists), yogurt (usually pretty runny, and served in glass jars), cheese, café, fruit juices. The dinners were all four course meals. You could order individual items, or go with their regional menu for the day (which is what we usually did). Meals were made with fresh local ingredients, and paired with wines from the general area.

During the river cruise, we would stop along the Rhone at villages and spend a portion of the day exploring the towns and soaking in the local culture. We found great bread shops (with fantastic olive bread). One of the highlights was a lunch at La Table de Sorgues, for wine tasting and lunch. A typical two-hour French lunch. Opened with a taste of 2018 Chateau Aqueria Lirac (very refreshing and floral with a certain minerality), paired with a couple small appetizers, as well as a scallop dish. Next was a 2013 Clos de T Ventous, paired with perfectly roasted lamb and red pepper tart. This was followed by a cheese course of goat, sheep and cow mile cheeses. Lastly a dessert course that consisted of an éclair filled with a raspberry crème and fruit.

Valrhona Chocolate
Another highlight was stopping at the Valrhona Chocolate factory on the east end of Tain Hermitage. It is considered the finest chocolate in all of Europe, and used by all the top chefs.

Other side trips included a cheese tasting at Les Halles Grand Hôtel-Dieu, in Lyon as well as a cider tasting along with a smoked fish pate. at the Halle de la martineire, and a stop at the Boulangerie du Palais, to taste pink praline cakes, which are made with caramelized almonds. 

Our last big excursion of the River Cruise was a day trip to the Macon/Beaujolais area, where we visited a Goat Cheese factory: Chevrerie La Trufiere, in the village of Lys. Cheese and wine tasting Wines were presented by the winemaker: Christophe Perrin, of Domain Christophe Perrin. He presented five wines, which were served with different aged goat cheeses. The next stop was at the truffle farm at Les Cos Piguet, in Saône-et-Loire. The owner (Oliver Devevre), and his 15-year-old dog (Chinook) gave a black truffle digging demonstration beneath the hazelnut trees. He grows nine different types of truffles in numerous locations. This time of year, the truffles were dried out. The season is really in the fall. After, we went to his house for lunch and wine pairing. Lunch included homemade ratatouille, beef stew, couscous, bread, cheese and chocolate mousse. The wines were presented by Kerrie de Boissieu. Her and her husband’s winery is Chateau de Lavernette. She is an American, and happened to be studying for her Master of Wine with Brandon Sparks-Gillis (of Dragonette Cellars). The 2016 St Amour “le chatelet” was outstanding.

After the River Cruise, we were back on our own, and this is when the food got really fun! 

Back in Lyon, we walked to the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Unfortunately, most of the market stalls were already closed. We stopped at Beillevaire Cheese shop and Bellota Bellota Charcuterie. We did buy some macrons at Seve. The raspberry was a favorite. There is nothing like these in the United States. They just taste better in France.

After checking out Yelp for reviews of authentic Lyonnaise cuisine, we stopped for dinner at Fiston Bouchon. We started with a carafe of Rose. I ordered the Menu Lyonnais, which included Salade Lyonnaise, Andouillette (a traditional pork sausage) in a mustard sauce and dessert of a praline tart. 

Another dinner was at Le Gourmand de Saint Jean. Once again, I had the Menu Lyonnaise, which included a goat cheese and apple salad, and a main course of quenelles. Dessert was profiteroles. If you have never had quenelles, it is something you have to try. This was one of my favorite dishes on the entire trip. It is made with creamed white fish, and shaped like a sausage. Wonderfully smooth, light, fluffy and tasty!

In Dijon, we had to stop at the mustard shops. There are two in old town Dijon: Edmund Fallot and Maille.

Dijon Sampler
Dinner in Dijon was at Temps Des Ducs. where I ordered the Dijon sampler plate which included (in the photo from left to right): Fromage de terroir, boeuf bourguignon, chair de grenouille en creme parsille (frogs legs),Oeufs en meurette, Nage d'escargots, jambon-persille.

While touring the vineyards and tasting rooms along the Cote d’Noir we had lunch and wine tasting at Trapet Pere et Fils, in Gevrey-Chambertin. This is a nice hidden spot, that only locals know about. This day, we were the only ones there. This was an expensive lunch and tasting. The five-course lunch included five wines from Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils. Lunch included a large Gougère, Dijon Jambon Persillé (ham in parsleyed aspic), Beef Bourguignon with crushed potatoes, and assortment of Goat cheese (from the farm and mountain cheese), Organic bread and a dessert.

All the towns had wonderful fresh market places, where fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat and bread were available. The shopping carts were small hand held baskets, so most locals bought just enough for one or two days. Fresh is the key emphasis here.

The market in Dijon
Any trip to France has to include food, and you don’t have to go to the Michelin star rated restaurants to experience France. The most we ever paid for a meal was the lunch in the Cote d’Noir at 140 euros for both of us. Most dinners were around 60 to 80 euros for two, and the larger lunches were less. Breakfasts (Le petit-déjeuner) were simple. 

I could live this lifestyle!