It’s that time of year again, when all we can think about is what we’re going to eat at the next barbecue, and how we’re going to avoid eating at the next barbecue.
Even if you can’t say no to that succulent steak or mile-high burger, you can mitigate the damages with a light, fruit-based dessert. Here are three ideas that don’t feel at all like they are punishing you for indulging.
These little treats deliver the amazing tangy richness of a fresh strawberry cheesecake with a lot less fat and sugar. They only take a few minutes to prepare and will wait happily in the fridge for a few hours so you don’t have to rush around at the last minute.
Look for large, uniform strawberries and have a few extra on hand in case you have leftover filling.
If you bought a vanilla bean in a weak moment, this is the time to use it. If you never have, don’t be intimidated by the long black pod. Cut it cleanly down the middle with a sharp knife then run the blade at an angle down the inside of the “skin” to collect the tiny jeweled seeds that deliver a magnificent punch of flavour. Don’t throw away the empty pod, though. Push it into a bottle of granulated sugar and in a week you have vanilla sugar to use in desserts or to add to your coffee. It lasts for months — just keep adding sugar to the container.
These are delicious without the graham crumbs but absolutely over the top with them.
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1 tsp. best quality vanilla (vanilla bean if possible)
1/3 cup icing sugar
16 to 20 large fresh strawberries
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Beat together cream cheese, vanilla and sugar. Cover tightly and allow to sit at room temperature for half an hour.
Cut the hull out of each strawberry, taking the hard white pith that’s attached with it. Cut the strawberry from top to bottom but don’t cut through the tip. Make a cut perpendicular to the first so you have a deep cross. Put the cream cheese mixture into a sturdy plastic bag and cut off the tip of one corner. Push the filling through the hole into the strawberries so the filling oozes out of the cut edges and up over the top.
Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar. Stir together until crumbly then dip each of the filled strawberries in the crumbs so they stick into the cream cheese mixture.
Place on a nice serving dish and chill until ready to serve.
Here’s the quickest and easiest dessert I know that still qualifies as dessert. It used to be impossible to get low-fat Greek yogurt, but now it seems to be everywhere. If you’ve never used orange flower water, it adds an amazing floral note that elevates this from a bowl of yogurt and fruit to an exotic taste treat. I’m seeing it in many grocery stores now in the import section. This amount makes six servings but can be stretched to eight in a pinch.
1 cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts
2 cups low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. liquid honey
1/2 tsp. orange flower water
4 large oranges
Toast pistachios in the oven or a dry frying pan just until fragrant — don’t let them scorch. Chop coarsely and set aside.
Stir together yogurt, honey and orange flower water. Peel oranges and with a sharp knife cut either side of each membrane to remove the sections. Squeeze the empty membranes over the yogurt mixture to get the juice that’s left behind. Gently fold orange sections into yogurt mixture.
Place a spoonful of the yogurt mixture into each parfait glass. Sprinkle on a few toasted pistachios. Repeat once or twice, depending on whether your dessert glasses are tall and skinny or short and bowl-shaped. Chill until ready to serve.
Use full-fat ricotta and regular pudding and this still isn’t an over-the-top dessert, but I would happily serve this after a barbecue or a sumptuous gourmet meal.
For a smoother texture, put the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined strainer in the fridge for a day or so to get rid of some of the liquid.
4 ripe mangoes
2 cups low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup prepared low-fat vanilla custard
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Peel mangoes and chop coarsely. Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth; set aside.
Process ricotta in the same food processor until perfectly smooth — it may take a few minutes, depending on the ricotta. Add custard and lemon juice and pulse until combined. Place in a large mixing bowl. Set aside 1/2 cup of the mango puree and fold the rest into the ricotta-custard mixture. Spoon into six or eight dessert glasses or custard cups and carefully top with the reserved mango puree. Refrigerate about two hours before serving.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.