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Frugal living tip #40. October 6, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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3 comments

Silence Dogood here. I can’t believe we have just 12 more weeks of Frugal Living Tips to go in 2009! You all will have to let us know if you want us to continue with a Frugal Living Tip each week in 2010.

Anyway, this week’s tip is about dessert. In my family, desserts were reserved for birthdays and holidays, and then they were amazing things. The concept of eating dessert every night is astounding to me. (For one thing, how could anybody have room?!) But now that our friend Ben and I live in Pennsylvania, we’re surrounded by the dessert-loving Pennsylvania Dutch, who traditionally might have dessert with every meal, including breakfast. (The infamous shoo-fly pie was apparently a breakfast tradition back when the area was mostly agrarian and hearty meals were the order of the day.)

In today’s more sedentary society, desserts tend to be costly, both in terms of calories and ingredients, even if you forego the ready-made option and make them yourself. So how can you satisfy that sweet tooth without blowing your grocery budget and/or gaining 10,000 pounds?

My first thought was to suggest ending your supper with fresh fruit—grapes, cherries, melon slices, mango, a ripe peach, what have you, perhaps with cheese in the Continental tradition. But decadent as this sounds to me, it’s hardly Moose Tracks ice cream and/or brownies.

My next thought was to recommend the Wise Dieter Way: Make or buy the most decadent dessert imaginable, the dessert of your dreams, then eat one—count it, one—bite. But guess what, talk about a self-indulgent waste of money! Yow. It’s one thing if you’re all splitting a dessert and you take exactly one bite and let everyone else finish it off. But if you have an entire helping and eat one bite, then what? Unless you eat one bite every night for the next two weeks, you’re still wasting money. And let’s just say that I’d be willing to bet that by the second night that luscious dessert will already be losing most if not all of its charm. Yuck!

Then there’s the “have one tiny square of dark chocolate after your meal because it’s good for you” school. Just this morning, I read yet another endorsement of the “one tiny square of dark chocolate” as a health promoter. Okay, fine. But we’re talking about one tiny square, folks, the size of one of those chocolate mints they bring you in restaurants to send you into sugar shock so you won’t go into sticker shock when you see the size of the bill. Is that going to be enough? What happened to that big, fat slice of red velvet cake or that handful of double chocolate-chip cookies?!

So okay, let’s tackle dessert head-on here. What’s really satisfying and economical? (And please don’t anybody even think about mentioning those horrid Rice Krispy squares. God help us!) Here are some options:

* Baked apples. You’re right, I’m back to the fruit thing. But baking an apple turns it into a luscious, caramel-drenched, decadent treat that would satisfy anybody’s sweet tooth. To make them, core tart apples like Granny Smiths. Pour about 1/2 inch of cider, apple juice, or water in the bottom of a baking dish and set the apples in the dish. Fill the cored part of each apple with a pat of salted butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar. Add more butter and brown sugar to the cider/apple juice/water around the apples. Sprinkle ground cinnamon over the apples, then bake them for an hour at 350 degrees F. They will be unbelievably rich and decadent!

* Grilled or baked peaches. When peaches are cheap and in season, you can bake them or simply halve, pit and grill them just long enough to heat them and produce grill marks on the underside. You can serve them as is or brush them with marmalade, red currant jelly, or Balsamic vinegar. (If you bake them, you can brush the marmalade, jelly, or balsamic vinegar over each cut-side-up half before running the baking dish in the oven. Again, bake just long enough to heat through; check at 20 and then 30 minutes at 350 degrees.)

* Grilled grapes. My friend Delilah turned me on to this delicious way to prepare grapes. Grill seedless grapes—preferably red or purple—just five minutes, which caramelizes the flesh. Serve warm with Brie. Yum! 

* Grilled bananas. Okay, okay, this is the last fruit dessert… I think. Halve bananas lengthwise, still in their skins, and grill face down just long enough to heat and produce grill marks. (The skins keep the bananas from falling apart during grilling.) Remove the skins and serve two halves per person with a sprinkling of almond or pecan pieces and a splash of maple syrup. Or go for it and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

* Rice pudding. Rice pudding has two things going for it: It’s cheap, and it’s classic comfort food, especially when served warm. See our earlier post, “A rice pudding roundup,” for six diverse recipes for both white and brown rice pudding.

* Bread pudding. Made from leftover stale bread, bread pudding may have been the original frugal dessert. Some people love it, some people (including yours truly) hate it, but it’s definitely worth checking out.     

* Cinnamon toast. Don’t diss the potential of beloved childhood favorites to transform themselves into frugal but delicious desserts. Suppose, for example, you take slices of bread and cut them into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Then you smear them with salted butter, sugar, and cinnamon, and run them under the broiler just long enough to melt the topping. Fabulous! Ditto for dessert waffles. Top them with cherry preserves, seedless black raspberry or blackberry jam, or maple syrup, and a dab of whipped cream, and you have a dessert fit for any family meal.

* Angel food cake. Our family always got to pick their own cakes for their birthdays, and I always chose angel food cake. These days, the idea od beating 9 to 16 egg whites (depending on your recipe) and going on from there is a bit much.  But ready-made angel food cakes are one of the most affordable (and low-cal) desserts in any grocery store. When I want something luscious but trouble-free, I’ll often slice up an angel food cake and top it with some combination of seasonal fruits: strawberries, for example, or peaches and blueberries or red raspberries. Then I’ll top each fruit-covered slice with whipped cream. Mmmmmm!!!    

* Pound cake. A delicious slice of my coffee pound cake would satisfy anybody’s dessert cravings. (See my post “The best coffee pound cake” for the recipe.) It’s not only easy and affordable to make, it keeps well, so you can enjoy a slice every day until you’ve eaten it all without fear of its going stale on you.

* Milkshakes. If you simply must have ice cream, mixing it with milk makes it (and your budget) stretch further. But only if you serve up those milkshakes in normal-sized glasses rather than huge fountain-size vases, I mean, glasses.

* Meringues. Made with egg whites, sugar, and a dash of vanilla, meringues are both decadent and cheap. And they’re so easy to make! Whip 7 egg whites stiff, adding 1 1/2 cups sugar a teaspoon at a time as you’re whipping the whites. Finally fold in a teaspoon (or two) of vanilla and 3/4 cup sugar. Spoon cream-puff-sized blobs onto an aluminum-foil-lined baking sheet and bake in a slow oven (225 degrees F) for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the outside turns a lovely light pinkish-tan. Unlike storebought meringues, these will be crunchy on the outside and soft and succulent on the inside. I love to eat them as is, but you can also bash in the tops and fill them with fruit and/or whipped cream or ice cream. And please, don’t waste the yolks! Give some to your dog as a special, coat-glossing treat, and add the rest to your next batch of scrambled eggs or French toast batter.   

* Berries. You’re right, I’m back to fruit. But I don’t know of a single dessert more delicious than ripe berries in season. My all-time fave is black raspberries, but black cherries, red raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are also in the running. The key to both savoring them and getting them affordably is to buy them in season (assuming you don’t grow your own; then they’re free!), and only then. It makes them so special you’ll find yourself longing for that fragrance, taste and texture all year. Then, once you have them, enjoy them in a bowl with a little milk or cream, or display them on a salad plate with a handful or almonds or pecans and that famous little square of dark chocolate. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and enjoy!

What are your favorite frugal desserts? I think confirmed chocoholics could especially use a few good suggestions here!

          ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

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