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!

taco salad, in parts

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I would like to introduce you to my taco salad.

I brought this to the community potluck Alex and I went to last Sunday evening, and I must ask – is it bad if you eat nearly all of your own dish at a potluck? It’s not like we didn’t eat anything else, I tried a fantastic curry and some delicious Teriyaki chicken, but I do think that Alex and I could have taken the bowl to our own little section of the table and had a romantic dinner for two with no problem.

So what’s in it? Everything in the vegetable family that was hiding in the fridge as well as canned corn and black beans went into the salsa part. For the salad part, I used chopped Romaine lettuce mixed with early Spring greens, and for the meat part (which you can’t see in the picture) I used some ground beef, black beans, garlic and cocoa. Yum.

The Salsa Part

1-2 large tomatoes, chopped

1/2 red onion, diced finely

1/2 orange, red or yellow pepper, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/2 can of corn

1/2 can black beans- rinsed very, very well

2 Tblsp lemon, or lime juice

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

some black pepper

 fresh cilantro, chopped

All of these ingredients get mixed together in a bowl on their own and are left to marinade while the rest of the salad is being rustled up. It would be even better made a day in advance. Fresh Cilantro is absolutely marvelous in salsa of any sort, but I use it all I can in other dishes as well- it has such a brisk, fresh flavor and is so good for you!

The Meat Part

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 onion, diced finely

1 clove garlic, minced or grated

salt & pepper

1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 can black beans

Lay a little olive oil down in a frying pan and fry up the garlic and onion. After that is pretty well cooked, add the ground beef with a little water if it starts to stick. Once the beef is nearly cooked, add the beans, your salt and pepper and the cocoa, stir well and let it all cook together for several minutes. I partially grew up in an apartment complex where most of my neighbors were from Mexico and Puerto Rico. When my family moved there, I had never really had Mexican food before, but I got the chance to eat some truly authentic Mexican cuisine handmade by the little Spanish grandmas who lived across the way from us. Come to find out, they don’t use Ortega seasoning packets in their cooking- at all – nor do they use a lot of bright red taco sauces or bottled salsas. They told my mom that real tacos- authentic style – don’t use ground beef overcome with taco seasoning. They use tender, shredded beef seasoned with nothing more than fresh garlic and salt. Sometimes, cocoa is added to chilis and such, and vegetables or herbs might be added to bring in different flavors, but Mexican chefs don’t use taco seasoning. I’ve never really been tempted to buy it since.

I find the cocoa seasoned beef brings a nice depth to the brightness of the fresh veggies and salad, it’s good and dark and contrary to some people’s immediate conclusion- it does *not* taste like milk chocolate covered beef. Yuck.

The salad part (which we talked about before) is placed in a bowl, followed by the salsa part. The salsa has now made itself a nice little light sauce that will trickle down onto the salad and be a dressing. I brought the meat separately so that people could opt out of it if they so chose. If you desire, shredded cheese on the top would be perfect, maybe a dollop of sour cream. Delish!

It’s striking, altogether rather healthy and tastes wonderful. You might just eat the whole bowl yourself.