- Dried Fruit - When a recipe calls for raisins, nuts or chocolate chips, you can substitute all or a portion with any dried fruit, such as dates, prunes (okay--dried plums now, aren't they?), apricots, cranberries, cherries. Dried fruit is also wonderful combined with nuts for a quick and healthy snack.
- Dark Chocolate - Okay, maybe this isn't a kitchen tip per se. Now I love chocolate in all of its incarnations, but when I'm having a can't-ignore-it chocolate craving, I reach for the dark stuff. And with my current issue with diabetes, chocolate and I--well, we have an illicit love. It's wrong, I know, but sometimes it cannot be ignored. And sugar free chocolates don't always fit the bill--I am a chocolate snob after all. And that's when I reach for a small piece of dark chocolate--the darker the better. It fulfills the craving with only one piece. And then I don't have to eat an entire bag of Lindor Truffles, which jack my sugar up like there's no tomorrow. And we can't have that, can we?
- Dessert - No dinner party would be complete without serving dessert, and everyone knows that when going to all the trouble of planning and preparing a meal, the dessert is the piece de resistance. There are many ways you can rise to this added challenge without making yourself crazy. Here are a few ideas:
Paula Deen's Pineapple Upside Down Biscuits - super easy and oh, so delicious, these little biscuits have pleased many of my guests, either for dessert or just a snack with coffee. Pop into the oven just as dinner begins, excuse yourself for the timer 15 minutes later, and let cool until ready to serve.
Any doctored cake mix from a box - I know, I know. Perhaps this is too close to Sandra Lee's plan for entertaining, but in all reality, who doesn't keep boxed cake mixes around the house? Hmm? I do. And there are any number of ways your can use one to make a yummy cake taste like it's homemade, but this is my personal favorite: substitute coconut milk for water, add 1 cup of shredded coconut (I like unsweetened) and 1 tablespoon coconut rum before baking, cool, then glaze with a confectioner's sugar-water glaze (a little added coconut rum in the glaze is nice for adults) and dust with lightly toasted shredded coconut. Delicious--and it fools everyone.
Ice cream is always a great dessert, and comes sugar- and fat-free for those guests with dietary restrictions. I like to serve ice cream in small bowls with a homemade warm topping. And here's where you take the plain and make it your own. How about a drained can of pineapple warmed in a saucepan with a little brown sugar and nutmeg? Or sliced pears sauteed in butter with a handful of dried cranberries and a grating of fresh ginger?
And at the risk of being labelled a grotty pantry-food junkie, I've discovered a quick n' dirty apple crumble in the crock pot that is TO DIE FOR. And this is WAY sugar-heavy, so not for anyone who is diabetic or otherwise watches their sugar intake. Combine 1 box of spice cake mix with 1/2 cup regular-cooking oats, 1 stick of melted butter and a 1-inch piece of freshly grated ginger. Dump three cans of apple pie filling (you could cut this to two and then add freshly sliced apples to thin the super-sweetness of the canned filling, if desired) into the crock pot and top evenly with prepared cake mix. Set to high for four hours and then to low or even off during dinner, depending on your crock pot. Serve hot with vanilla bean ice cream. People will drool over this for weeks. If they don't go into a sugar coma, that is.