I grew up in one of those neighborhoods that now must seem alien to many. We had a lot of kids in the neighborhood, quite a few my own age and we all pretty much ran free with little or no oversight. In the summertime, for instance, it was not strange to leave home after breakfast only to return in time for dinner without ever checking in during the day. Sure, you might run home for lunch but given all the kids and all the houses, it was easy to snag lunch somewhere.
As for dinner, our family ate late. Dinner was never earlier than 7:30 PM and was often later, given my dad worked long hours. Also, no matter what time Dad came home, he and Mom had a cocktail before dinner. This was one of two special times Mom and Dad took each day to be alone and enjoy one another. It was their time to connect, something I’ve always appreciated about them as a couple. (The other time was having coffee together early in the morning.) Personally, I didn’t mind a late dinner. A food fanatic even then, I realized the benefit of eating late. I could snag an invite to dinner at a friend’s house at a more regular hour, then head on home for dinner #2.
Sometimes life is good.
Around the time I was 10, a new family moved to the neighborhood, The Tuckers. There were two children, Marcus and Robin. (Robin was great, too! But, you know, we were ten, she was a few years younger, and a girl.) Marcus was my age and a great guy. He immediately was a big part of the gang running around the neighborhood. We all learned quickly that the Tuckers ate dinner at 6 PM religiously every night. Unlike some of us, in the Tucker household it was a rule that the family sat down together every night, no matter what. Even if we kids were in the middle of, say, a very important game of baseball or hide and seek, Marcus would run home exactly at 6, eat dinner, then soon after run back out to continue to play in the twilight of the evening.
I snagged a lot of 6 PM meals at the Tuckers. Marcus’ mom was a wonderful woman with a beautiful smile and an incredibly infectious laugh. She was also a terrific cook. While I had many a great dinner at their house, the first one remains vivid in my memory for a very specific reason.
A step back: as I’ve mentioned before, my mom was a marvelous cook. Like most cooks, myself included, she generally cooked what she liked to eat. Thankfully, she loved good food, which meant we consistently had amazing meals. Mom was not a fan of sweets, however. So we rarely, if ever, had dessert. Only on special occasions, like a birthday, would she make a dessert. At the age of ten, as far as I knew, this was the norm.
The first night I dined at The Tuckers for 6 PM dinner, Mrs. Tucker served a terrific meal of salad, pot roast, potatoes with gravy and vegetables. Yum. I was in heaven. As the plates were cleared, I started to stand up, ready to run outside to play some more before heading home for dinner #2. I was halted, however, when she brought to the table Grasshopper Pie.
If you’ve never had a grasshopper pie, you are missing out. It’s a luscious, creamy uber sweet pie colored a gorgeous green as it is made with Creme De Menthe. Usually made with a chocolate cookie crust, it also can be topped with crumbled oreos and whipped cream.
When Mrs. Tucker approached with the pie, I thought to myself, Wow, did I luck out! Asked to dinner on a special night! But she sat the pie down with little fanfare and picked up a knife.
Confused, I asked, “Whose birthday is it??”
Mrs. Tucker looked up at me as she started to cut the pie. “Birthday? No one’s birthday.”
“Oh!… Um, then what’s the special occasion?”
“Special occasion? There’s no special occasion.”
More confusion. “Then why are you having dessert?”
The entire family looked at me like I was a space alien.
Finally, Marcus said, ‘”We have dessert every night.”
Long pregnant theatrical pause. Then, sotto voce:
“We have dessert. Every night?”
Dr. Tucker chimed in. “We have dessert -“
I was standing at this point.
It was when Mrs. Tucker asked, “Doesn’t your family have dessert every night?” that I flew from the table, without even one bite of my favorite pie. While I lived only a couple of blocks from the Tuckers, it’s safe to say I pretty much teleported home, I went so fast.
During the teleportation, over and over I kept hearing “Doesn’t your family have dessert every night?” It was clear from her intonation that ‘dessert every night’ was the general social norm. I was truly the alien species here. Clearly I’d been duped for a long time and it was time to make things right.
Flying in the back door, I arrived in the kitchen, breathless, where Mom was busying making dinner #2.
“Why don’t we eat dessert every night??”
Perhaps only devout Calvin and Hobbes fans can truly understand the intense level of self-righteous indignation.
Few things were as galling to me as a child as a perceived injustice. This ranked very high.
“The Tuckers have dessert every night! Everyone has dessert every night! We’re supposed to have dessert, every night!… What’s the hell’s going on??”
After a rather sharp ‘You better watch your tone, mister” came the explanation from Mom that she didn’t much like sweets. “If I have a wonderful dinner,” she explained, “I’d much rather go to sleep with the taste and memory of the actual meal rather than mess that up with the taste of some dessert.”
Some dessert. SOME DESSERT?
I’m sure by this point you can imagine the severity of my rejoinder and the equally severe punishment that quickly followed.
I sulked about this one for a long time. Why I had to suffer because of her bizarre predilection was beyond me.
Ironically, I’ve turned out much the same way as Mom. I will always choose savory over sweet. Put the most amazing dessert every created next to a bowl of chips and pico de gallo, and salt will still win over sweet 95% of the time.
That said, there are great occasions for dessert, whether for special occasion or for regular week night eating, so I am including two favorites here.
CHOCOLATE POTS DE CREME
Click below to get the recipes and more:
This is adapted from my friend Tiffiny’s recipe. Tiffiny is an amazing cook with whom I do Cookbook Night. (We have many other culinary adventures as well.) A funny story about these pots de creme. Tiffiny makes AMAZING desserts. One year for Easter, at a big dinner, I asked her to bring something really special. Expecting something big and beautiful and ostentatious, like one of her amazing cakes, I was a bit non-plussed when she showed up with something that looked so plain. I even grumped about it a little. Until we all sat down and tasted her dessert.
This is a pretty easy dessert, even if, like me, you are not a baker. The pay off is incredible. Serve it with the whipped cream I’ve included here and you will be the favorite cook among any and all of your friends.
Chocolate Pots De Creme
2 cups whipping cream
6 oz. chocolate, cut into bits (I like unsweetened here, to make it really intense and rich but feel free to use semi-sweet if that seems too strong. Scharfenberger is the best but get what you can.)
1/3 cup of sugar (C&H Baker’s Sugar works great)
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract ( or use vanilla bean paste)
– In a heavy saucepan or double boiler, combine the cream and chocolate and cook over medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.
– Whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the yolks one at a time. Finally, the vanilla.
– Strain the custard and pour into 6 1/2-cup ramekins. (I often do not strain the custard. It’s a pain in the ass. It will be slightly less creamy … you decide.)
– Place the ramekins in a large baking dish, a 9×13 works great. Pour water into the baking dish so that the water level is about 1/2 up the sides of the ramekins.
– Bake the custards at 350˚ about 30 minutes. Remove the custards and cool. When cool, chill the custards at least 2 hours before serving.
You can use all different sizes of ramekins, such as the demitasse cups pictured above. the smaller the ramekin, though, the shorter the cooking time. If they cook too long, they turn into cake. They still taste good but are nowhere near as decadent. You want to pull them out when they still wiggle a little bit when you gently shake the baking dish.
I like to add a little espresso to the mixture, to add a slight coffee taste. A touch of red chili can be fun, too, if you like that sort of thing.
BEST WHIPPED CREAM EVER
This is seriously the best whipping cream ever. Most people make whipped cream way too sweet. Or use Cool Whip… no no no no no. This is tangy and has a wonderful bite. It is so good at one Thanksgiving, surrounded by incredible desserts, my friend Chad ate only a bowl of the whipping cream. Then went back for seconds on the whipping cream. It’s that good.
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 T brown sugar
2 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. vanilla
Whip it all together. A food processor makes the best whipped cream imaginable. Try it once and you will never go back.
BEST BLUEBERRY COBBLER EVER
This recipe has been bouncing around for years and it is wonderful. And so easy. You throw everything in a cast iron skillet and voila! Best cobbler ever. Serve it with vanilla ice cream or the best whipped cream ever above. I sometimes make these in individual dishes as well.
1 stick butter (8 T)
4 cups blueberries
3/4 cup plus 2 T sugar
1 cup self rising flour (see note)
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
Preheat the over to 400 degrees.
Melt the butter in a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet. Add blueberries and 2 T of the sugar.
Stir gently and cook until just the berries begin to soften. Add a little water if it seems dry.
Meanwhile mix flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Add the milk and stir to make a batter. Spoon the batter onto the fruit. Drag a spatula through the mixture to make streaks. Don’t mix thoroughly.
Bake about 20 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and a knife inserted into the cobbler comes out clean.
33 thoughts on “Dessert”
I love your blog. I am a whip cream snob. I can’t wait to try your recipe. I also love blueberries and blueberry cobbler. I will try that one as well.
Thank you, Joan! Very much. Please let me know what you think when you try!
One of my boys fell prey to the two meal trick also. He loved eating at 6 across the street then again at 7:30 with us. Boys and their food…what can you do.
Joan, I confess I am still not beyond trying the same trick now !
“The entire family looked at me like I was a space alien.”
Thus began a lifetime of vowing to cook better than any damned alien.
GREAT entry as always, pal. And, as always when I finish a blog of yours, I have to go find something to eat.
LOL thanks, friend!
I am afraid I still get that look on occasion…
Oh Tom…what a walk back in time! Your mom was a fabulous cook and always prepared the best appetizers. She was a wonderful hostess. I miss her. We had lots of good cooks in the family. But think about it…….wasn’t just about EVERYONE a good cook in Port Arthur? Some people had thinner gravy than others, but the seasonings were always spot on. I don’t know how anyone could grow up there and not be a fabulous cook. I could stir a roux before I could ride a two-wheeled bike. I think our tastebuds were cultivated at birth! It’s certainly not the prettiest place in the world, but the food was unparalleled. I still make runs to Nick’s Grocery to pick up the best Italian Sausage and Boudain.
Love your blog!
Brenda! You made my day. What a beautiful description, you bring me back as well. It’s so true, we were all so blessed to grow up with such good food and wonderful cooks. I talk about Maw-Maw’s roux all the time. And I was talking about Nick’s Boudain just the other day! Love to you, I miss you! And tell everyone hello. Thanks!
Tom, I’ll be sure to pass along your good wishes! I remember Maw-Maw making a roux and saying “I’ve gotta lock the door and take the phone off the hook.” How she didn’t have more burnt roux with 10 kids is beyond me! As a kid, the best part of making roux was to let it cool and cut it in squares like fudge, put it on a dessert plate and see who was the first person to sneak a bite!
I am on the floor! We never did that with the roux! That is hilarious! And made me throw up in my mouth a little LOL. Wow, that would be gruesome! What’s wonderful is that her roux was indeed as dark as fudge. I imagine your mom’s was as well!
whow, that looks delicious, and loved your story as a kid. I am sure I would of had the same reaction as a kid, but I love savory more too even though I make sweets on my show..LOL..xxoxo
I am still jonesing for another round of your sweets, ma’am! 🙂 Soon! Was great to see you Friday night!
I always compared my dad to Calvin but never you, hmmmm….
I had great fun whenever I visited my grandmother on Sundays. I would always ask, “did you see what that Calvin was up to today?” And my grandmother would always have a story ready about my father that rivaled the comic strip. A rare feat if you ask me. Grandma always had a wonderful dessert on hand for just such a story, peacan pie, peanut butter and jelly cake, fruit cake just to name a few. I know people always laugh when I say fruit cake is one of my favorite desserts but when made right and left to soakin peach liqueur from a cheese cloth it is one amazing cake. Dessert were for special occasions in my parents house too so I thought I was pretty special when served dessert at grandmas on a regular day.
Agreed on Fruitcake, Teresa! When done right… and that sure sounds terrific. And regarding calvin… I learned as an adult to temper that side of myself or no one would ever want to be around me. If I get fired up, it sure can come out, though…
Maybe it’s just something about eating at 6pm that requires dessert? We always had dessert at my house growing up and always ate at 6pm.
Sandra, it seems to be the norm for most people. Clearly, I was a deprived child 🙂
Oh, Tom – I’m roaring over here! We, too, ate late since my father made rounds at the hospitals before coming home. I can just imagine your ten-year old indignation after that 6:00 supper! I also agree with Brenda – PA seemed to breed good cooks! And oh, my, nothing like Nick’s Boudain (spell check keeps trying to make “boudoir” out of Boudain – hmmm!). Love the PA flashback and thinking about your mom. xx
I’d get that boudain sent to me if I could, damn is it good. I am glad Nick’s is still there! Glad you enjoyed, you are such a huge part of all that. And I know I raced right by your house from the Tucker’s on the way to my house!
I’ll be in PA around Christmas – I’ll bring some back for you on dry ice if you want!
I’d bear your children, Cat!
Awesome desserts. When I was a kid, jelly and custard was my favourite.
Jelly and custard? Explain! 🙂
Another great food blog, Tom! We always ate at 6 PM sharp, yet rarely had dessert. With 5 kids, I think my mom viewed dessert as a chore rather than a daily treat! As an adult, I rarely serve dessert unless guests are over for dinner or for a birthday or major holiday. We’d all be overweight if I made dessert daily!
As for sweet vs. salty, I wonder if the 40% less fat Cape Cod Chips I adore as a snack are better for me than a brownie? Probably not.
Thank you for the smile on a rather gray day!
Ha! Probably not. But we all need a vice, right?
You continue to impress both your cooking and your writing skills.
This totally reads like a Wonder Years Episode. You could have written the narration for that show.
Zach! You do me proud, thanks much!
I love you, Phyllis! I am your biggest fan, much appreciated 🙂
Reading and re-reading this account of your childhood has a big ol’ grin on my face. The indignation of a 10 year old is not to be underestimated. With your resources — even at a tender age — I can only imagine you were on the verge of dialing the department of family and child services.
Not only can you teleport, you can mind read. I too will be found embracing the appetizer and entree section of a buffet and only the sound of crickets are heard near the the desserts. It must be genetic. But what about the crossover section…the salty that dares to mingle with the sweet? Is it an abomination or a new frontier?
Grazie to you, Tom.
I was indeed on the war path for a while 🙂 Your question is a good one, though! I do love salty and sweet. Check the fall dinner for an ice cream I make: Salted Caramel. Wow, is it good: