dessert for the dessert-challenged

Desserts are not my specialty. Whenever I am asked to bring one to a gathering or dinner, my heart chokes on a beat a little. My favorite go-to recipe for dessert has been apple crisp or, *gasp*, boxed lemon meringue pie with a homemade cardboard crust and wilted meringue. I do brownies and the occasional cookie – but that’s about it. I admit it –  I’m a dessert disaster waiting to happen to a friendly neighborhood gathering near you.

Add the fact that Alex and I, as well as most of our friends are trying to eat healthier – less sugar, less fat and less dessert in general and you have a first-class dessert emergency.  I need something sweet and satisfying that isn’t going to kill anyone – this removes ooey-gooey brownies from the line-up  and boxed lemon pie with my special crust (which unfortunately may prove to be slightly deadly on its own).

Well, I found an answer that is going to set me up for a while and keep me in good graces for many friendly dinners to come.

Fruit Cobbler. It’s ridiculously easy, quick to make up and doesn’t have enough sugar to throw one of Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas into a coma (heaven forbid). I made it the other night to bring to a friend’s house and it was quickly consumed – always a good sign – and there were enough pleasant noises being made to satisfy my wonderings about its success.

Suddenly Fruit Cobbler

makes enough to serve a dessert-crazed crowd of 10 or so.

for the fruit:

3 – 8ounce cans of peaches (I bought the kind that is packed in 100% juice with no added sugar)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/3 cup honey or maple syrup

for the cobble:

2 cups flour (you can use whole wheat or white or a mixture of both)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 Tablespoons butter

1 cup milk and 1/2 cup plain yogurt

I know, “You’re using CANNED fruit?”

Yes I am, because this dessert is a balance between *easy* and *healthy*. This recipe was developed in desperate times for desperate situations. It’s a weapon, folks. I’ll tell you what, popping open a couple of cans of sugar-free fruit just about ended the war on time-crunches.

Alright then – on to business. Lightly grease a 13×9 inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Open the cans of fruit and gently pour them – juice and all – into a bowl. I say ‘gently’ because I recklessly dumped them in and was showered in fruit juice. Yum.

Next, add your spices and honey or maple syrup and stir it all together. This gets poured into the baking dish and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into pieces and mix with a fork, pastry blender or your fingers so that it gets blended into the flour mix. This is always my favorite part for some reason, I love cutting in butter! Your flour mix will end up the consistency of slightly damp sand, holding together when squeezed, but falling apart as soon as you tap it. Pour in the milk and yogurt and stir it all together. You should have something akin to a very thick batter. This is going to be spooned onto the fruit, creating the biscuit top.

It’s baking time! Put that lovely dish in the oven and set the timer for 20-25 minutes. Depending on your oven, it might take a little more or less than that. It’s done when the biscuit crust is well-browned and cracked in the middle, showing just a bit of its fluffy inside. You can serve it warm, in bowls with a bit of the fruit ‘syrup’ spooned over top and a dollop of whipped cream, or it is just as tasty cool.

So – I guess if you invite us for dinner and ask me to bring dessert you know what you’ll get, but that’s ok because it tastes good and until I get my dessert-making down, believe me – you won’t miss the surprise!

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company for dinner

“Company for dinner? What flavor? Will they go well with a white sauce?”

I hope he goes well with a white sauce, because that’s what we are having when Max comes this Thursday for dinner. fettucine Alfredo with chicken, broccoli and crusty bread purchased from the local grocery store bakery. It will be served with a leafy mixed greens salad and homemade lemon-aide.

Max is one of Alex’s high-school pals and the second of his ‘single’ friends to come for dinner. He’s an ice climber and a lacrosse coach. Oh my. Will he like pasta? Does he like broccoli -or will we have another Orange Pepper Incident on our hands? **The first fellow we had over, a hilarious and lanky 21-year-old who went through the police academy with Alex, was horrified at the lovely orange pepper slices I used to garnish the salad and very dramatically picked them all out. He soon forgave me, however, and after he got used to the idea that Alex was now permanently attached to this pepper-obsessed female, he seemed to even think that the whole marriage thing wasn’t a half-bad idea after all. By the end of the evening we were trying to set him up with available young women…. to be continued.**

Max will be the first person to eat at our place since we’ve acquired serving dishes and utensils- I am very excited to test them out on him.

Company Coming Chicken and Broccoli  Alfredo Sauce

2 chicken breasts, skinned, boned and cubed

1 medium-sized crown of broccoli cut into bite-sized florets

2 cups whole milk (I supposed you should use 1 cup of cream,

but I never have any, so I use creamy milk and cook it for a while so that it gets thick….)

1/2 cup white wine

salt and pepper

1 clove garlic, sliced

2 Tbsp flour (I used this to help thicken the sauce, if you’re using cream you won’t need it.)

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

olive oil for frying

I must say right now that I have utterly and unabashedly stolen the *method* of making this from that creative culinary genius, Sheri (of Sheri’s Diner fame…). She so effortlessly mixes up these incredibly gorgeous dishes while she visits with me, and I am studying her every move, memorizing the methods because once you have the method- you can mix and match your own flavors and come up with something entirely different. True? True. That, and I am fascinated by the idea of cooking with wine. The first time I tried it, I somehow curdled the milk and made a horrible mess. Horrible Mess.

Olive oil- in a big frying pan. Here I will repeat the saying that my mama (the first and foremost culinary expert in my life) taught me, “Hot pan, cool oil- Food Won’t Stick.” Get your pan hot, then add your oil. It works, believe me. Add the sliced garlic and let it swim around and scent the oil. It should brown, then be scooped out so that it doesn’t burn while you cook the chicken. Don’t worry, it isn’t being just used and then discarded, it can be added again later- I’ll tell you when it’s safe….

Now the chicken can go in. I like my cubes to be bite-sized; of all things, I deplore large chunks of *things*, I have a compulsion to have everything in small enough pieces to be eaten nicely. Nicely. I know, weird- we’ll move on. At this point I season the chicken with my salt and lots of pepper (Alex loves pepper, and I am learning to love it too. I find I can admire the spice much more when it is freshly ground, it’s completely different from the dry ashes contained in most table-top shakers) and stir it so that it cooks evenly. When it is just about done, add the broccoli florets.

Now, a word about broccoli- who can *not* like a food that comes in ‘florets’? Honestly, a floret of broccoli, when it has been tastefully cooked is just about the best vegetable there is. I like broccoli cooked just until it ‘wakes up’. You will know exactly what I mean if you watch closely the next time you cook some. It goes into the pot looking dark green and almost waxy, then after a couple of minutes of being steamed or sautéed, suddenly the color comes alive and intensifies, electrifies, the broccoli is still crisp and the flavor is very -real. I feel bad for people who have only ever had broccoli that has died in the pan as avocado green mush, then buried in a Velveeta cheese-food grave. I used to like my broccoli cooked like this, with cheese. Oh my. Thank God I wasn’t given up on. Anyway. The broccoli goes into the pot with the chicken to be briefly sautéed, until it’s woken up. Then, brighten it with the wine (very much like you would splash your face with cold water upon waking) and add the garlic back in if you’ve saved it (remember, I asked you to earlier?). This is going to be a fragrant and enticing moment, enjoy it. I was absolutely hypnotized.

This is going to cook for just a minute or two. At this point, I add the cheese and then the flour and stir them in well. Next comes the milk/cream. All of this is allowed to simmer while the finishing touches are being made to the meal. I wouldn’t let it cook for too long lest you destroy the broccoli….

Please, I beg you, if you forget the bread or serve it with frozen butter, undercook the noodles, cut the chicken into big, inedible hunks or even burn the garlic- just Don’t Destroy The Broccoli. Please.

Thank you. We all will thank you….