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Dessert: A confession ...

The (now closed) thread one what foods we don't like that everyone else does got me thinking.

And I started thinking that I don't consider "dessert" chow.

Which is not the same thing as saying I don't like dessert or don't have a sweet tooth sometimes. I like chocalate and I like pie -- I like cake and cookies.

But I would never choose a restaurant because of their desserts, never try a new restaurant because of their dessert reputation.

I've never tried a bakery cupcake and have no interest in the fad. I don't know what red velvet is -- at least I don't think I do.

Left to my own devices, I really never order dessert. Sometimes the wife will want something and I'll take a bite.

I'd rather have more dinner than dinner and dessert if I "have room."

Not sure why this is. My dad, when I was a kid, had limited interest in dessert. He'd head back to the kitchen for leftovers, before he'd snack on dessert. Even today he'll eat a little ice cream after dinner, but he doesn't all the time.

At home, if there are cookies in the house, I might eat a few while watching tv or reading, but I hardly ever buy them when I'm shopping. (An exception: I went through an Uncle Eddie's Vegan Cookie phase and ate them by the bagful.) The most likely time for me to want dessert is after eating something spicy during the meal.

But the frequency of my desiring sweets is not as much the issue (the craving comes and goes) so much as I don't care too much about the quality of the sweets I eat. Store bought chocalate chip cookies suit me fine. And it's not as if I can't tell the difference -- I know when I'm eating a quality baked good, for example -- it's just not a big deal to me.

Not sure if I'm asking a question, making a statment or seeing if anyone else feels like I do. Just wanted to get if off my chest.

And I guess I'm curious to know if there are others who love great chow, but who are really not at all particular when it comes to desserts, others who equate chow with "food" and not "snacks."

(That last remark is telling to me, as I wrote it without thinking. From somewhere inside me, I consider desserts "a snack" and everything else "food" with all the positives and negatives attached to those comments. Thanks for listening.)

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  1. We rarely have dessert. My Dh grew up with having it every night. His mother has a huge sweet tooth sucar craving. My family rarely had it, just on special occasions. It never got to be a habit with me and my Dh has never complained.

    1. I'm in this camp. Sometimes in Philadelphia (where my DH and I live) they run specials for three course fixed price meals. They just never appeal to me or feel like a good value b/c I would never have dessert anyway. I can count on one hand the number of times my husband and I have ordered dessert out, and we have been dining out together for 7 years. In fact one time we were out for sushi, and our server asked my husband if he would like dessert -- he said yes, I'd like a california roll.

      1. I believe most people fall into one of two categories. Either savory or sweet. There are many people who have little interest in desserts and unless offered to them, doesn't even cross their minds to eat them.

        Then, there are people like me. I truely enjoy a well prepared meal, but ooohhh, when it comes to dessert...Well, let's just say, necessary does not describe the desire.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chocolate chick

          I kind of agree. Not that everyone can't appreciate or even love both, but visceral cravings seem to coalesce in one direction or the other. The cravings I get are for salty, savory carbs; at restaurants, I'd way rather have another app or a side than dessert. I'll always read the dessert menu for fun, but rarely am I moved to order something off of it. If I am it usually involves nuts.

        2. I'd rather have dessert at tea time--say 3 or 4:00 in the afternoon. It's then that I have a relatively empty stomach, and appetite, and need a pick-me-up.

          After a heavy or rich meal, I don't think I can appreciate a great dessert. I'm too full, and sensory overload prohibits full enjoyment.

          Two or more hours after an evening meal, if it's not too late, is my ideal time if having dessert after dinner. Otherwise, tea time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: toodie jane

            I adore dessert... but I almost never have it right after dinner - I can't appreciate it when I'm already full! My ideal time for dessert eating, like Toodie's, is either three o'clock in the afternoon when I want a pick-me-up, or two to three hours after I eat my dinner.

            (and apols for posting to such an ancient thread - I have no idea why it appeared in my browser as a 'new' message when it's three years old!)

          2. Wow. To me this is a foreign concept - no desire for dessert? You can take or leave chocolate chip cookies? Even freshly out of the oven, still warm and gooey, just barely falling apart? To me, it is a neccessary part of life.

            When I go out for a nice meal I will *always* order dessert, sometimes making the selection before the main course. I scan dessert menus even when I am not having dessert, just to feast my imagination. I will make a special trip to Netty's just to get that warm delectible chocolate almond bread pudding.

            It just never entered my mind that there are people out there who just don't care for dessert. I just figured those who didn't indulge were just on a diet!

            6 Replies
            1. re: Micako

              That's what I find so interesting.

              It's not that I don't care for dessert -- I'd probably love that pudding.

              I just don't care about it that much.

              What got me thinking about it was all the posts about the cupcake places on the LA board. I don't doubt I'd like the cupcakes at some of these places, but the last thing I'd think about doing is going someplace just to try them.

              I'd drive across town for a fish taco or that perfect order of chili fries and I dream about sushi places I can't afford to go to.

              But dessert-y places? No real interest.

              1. re: PaulF

                Yep, I'm totally with you and understand your OP, PaulF. Take Micako's cookie example—would they smell and look good? Of course. But would I absolutely have to have one if I weren't actually really hungry? No, as others are saying here too. Compare to, I dunno, hot bubbling spinach-artichoke dip coming out of that oven with some sort of hot fresh herbed flatbread. Then you can forget it, no matter how full I am, I'm all over it.

              2. re: Micako

                Stick a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of me? Ehh. I might have one if someone pushes me to, but there is no burning desire.

                Now, stick a hot fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza in front of me? Forget it. I cannot resist.

                Some people just don't have a big sweet tooth.

                1. re: DanielleM

                  I'm with you. My mother always made chocolate chip cookies and apparently I became bored with them. It's not that I hate them, but I can definitely leave them alone. I don't have much of a sweet tooth even though I love to bake.

                  Salty things tempt me more. I worked in a restaurant where they roasted ducks and pulled the meat off the bones to use in a stirfry -- thus when they came out of the oven with that crisp skin that would get thrown out I could never resist pulling off some for a snack.

                  Sarah C

                  1. re: kittyfood

                    Oh, how could they have thrown that out?

                2. re: Micako

                  I am the same way, for me the meal isn't complete without dessert and coffee. Frequently I will at the dessert menu first sometimes even choose my other courses based on it. And on more than one occassion I have ordered 3 desserts (two to eat at the restaurant and one to take home).

                  Dessert doesn't have to be a gooey chocolate concoction or a creamy creme brulee. If offered I usually go for a nice cheese plate which in my opioion is more "savory" than "sweet".

                3. Totally with you. I usuall finish my meal then snack on leftovers and bread in the house. When I go out to dinner with others and everyone orders dessert, I fight the urge to order another appetizer. I'll only eat cookies, cakes, etc when they are around the house, but I never buy them nor am I ever really tempted to eat them even when they are in the house.

                  1. I like dessert more than you seem to, but still, if I am limited to two courses (something I try and do fairly often these days to save $ and calories), my choice would definitely be both savory; appetizer and main course. I certainly won't speculate on the dessert menu before ordering the rest of my meal. In particular, cakes and cookies have to be very, very exceptional before I will go out of my way to eat them, nor am I a huge chocolate fan. Hubby is the one who craves chocolate in my family...

                    I do like dessert wines, however, probably my favorite way to end a good meal, and I do find it hard to pass up is house-made, premium ice cream. But then, I could eat ice cream for breakfast too! :-)

                    1. I like something sweet after a meal, but just a mouthful. I'll have a tablespoon of ice cream or a small cookie. My husband says I lack capacity. If I have a large meal, I can't have dessert, it would make me uncomfortable. I never eat dessert in restaurants because the main course portions are so large and rich.

                      OTOH if I haven't eaten for a while I can eat dessert in place of dinner! I love Whole Foods' muffins which are about the size of a child's head. After stuffing myself on one of these, it's a while before I can think of eating normal meals.

                      I don't know where this places me on the scale of dessert eaters. I guess I want it all, just in smallish amounts.

                      1. More on this subject --

                        As I think more about it, it isn't just the sweet vs. the savory.

                        It's the substance of "food" versus the emptiness of "dessert."

                        There's something about the solidness of a main course and the lack of solidness of dessert.

                        I can't emphasize enough that I like the taste of dessert. I just don't have much interest in it.

                        I dunno, I'm having a hard time writing this without sounding superior. I've deleted like five different analogies that all come off wrong or, worse, superior sounding.

                        I'll try again when I'm making more sense.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: PaulF

                          I think the "emptiness" of dessert is indicative of the abundance of lackluster desserts in the US. As Velma pointed out (below), I think it is a common practice that when people go out and order dessert, it is often very disappointing. Aqua W pointed out that dessert is often "generic." That is sad to me, as I am a pastry cook. It is of endless frustration to me that "great chefs" who are well respected by their peers and customers PUT SO LITTLE EMPHASIS on the importance of dessert! It's an afterthought! They have to have dessert on the menu because the dining public expects it. But in reality, only an average of 20% of customers order dessert. But if you have high standards for food, why not high standards for all of your food?

                          But I have hope that someday, chefs like Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter will not only say they respect the art and craft of the pastry cook as equal to that of the savory cook, they will mean it! So many hot side cooks have said to me that what I do is mysterious and magical. [Of course, what they do is somewhat magical to me. I am a great home cook, but I couldn't sear a foie to save my life!)

                          "Your buttercream is a miracle!" is one thing a (savory) chef used to say to me every time I had to make a cake. This one comment still means so much to me, not only because it was flattering and amusing, but also because it came from the executive sous chef and was an affirmation that what I did was as important and difficult as what any other cook did in the kitchen. You have no idea how rare that is in the culinary industry in the United States.

                          I'm not going to force dessert or pastry on anyone, but yes, I do think of it as "chow." And unless it is regarded as "chow" by most people (ideally all people, even if they don't prefer it), there will never be a demand for it to truly shine as a food art and craft. If you settle for mediocre desserts, that's what you'll continue to see at mid to high end dining restaurants. If the dessert is mediocre or the selection generic, be very vocal about it--to your server, the hostess/host, manager, etc. Until there is an consistent feedback for needed improvement, the status quo will not change.

                          I will mention that I had an interesting conversation about dessert with Michael and Ariane Batterberry last year. They were dismayed that dessert in the US was getting too theoretical, and that the art of making a simple dessert very well was getting lost. Ariane was particularly irked that desserts in the US have so much sugar in them that all you taste is sweet--not actual flavor of anything. She grabbed my arm and said, "tell your friends, get the word out there! Stop putting so much sugar in your pastries! Go back to basics! Make me a plum tart that tastes like plums, with a lovely, flakey crust! Somebody, make a dobos torte that is a dobos torte, not an 'interpretation' with peanut butter and bananas!" I think she hit the nail on the head.

                          So please don't write off dessert and pastry completely, even if you don't prefer it. If I can't have the respect and understanding from the Chowhounds, then my life's work as a cook is lost.

                          1. re: Non Cognomina

                            I'm such a huge dessert fan that I have been speechless on this topic. I'm sure there are many others who feel likewise. I almost always pick nice restarants based on the quality of their desserts. My eyes drop to the dessert portion of the menu first 9 times out of 10. I am already thinking about what pies to make for Thanksgiving. I'm still searching for the perfect birthday cake (dammit! These people wont let me make my own cake and it is criminal some of the cakes most bakeries sell!). If I have any chow credentials I place them squarely on my love of dessert.

                            All is not lost.

                            1. re: Non Cognomina

                              Your post has given me something to think about.

                              I think I've been clear to this point that I (wish we had italics) admire dessert and recognize the artistry in preparing them.

                              But I remain indifferent.

                              I've been thinking about it and I think there is something almost primal about it.

                              When I eat meat, protein, vegetables, vitamins I feel sustained. When I eat dessert, I don't experience that same primal sustenance.

                              I like, even love, the flavors sometimes. But I don't feel the life force. If anything, sweets leave me feeling empty sometimes, in the same way other foods leave me feeling sustained.

                              I'm not ususally this inarticulate.

                              1. re: PaulF

                                There is something nice about the occasional, unnecessary sweet treat. You won't feel sustained after eating dessert. Instead you should feel joyful in that almost child-like moment of satisfying a superfluous craving for something sweet. As a pastry chef I take joy in creating desserts worthy of ending a delicious feast, so that those who partake of the sweet treat can have a brief moment of completely satisfying their own desires rather than just those of what our body demands. Don't get me wrong, I am all for nutrition, healthy living and moderation. But sometimes it is pure bliss to throw that to the wind and bite into a creamy custard highlighted with the seasons' finest berries. (I'm not talking about jell-o pudding here)

                                1. re: PaulF

                                  i get you paul don't worry i, am like you too i even get the way you wish you could describe it better ;-)

                                2. re: Non Cognomina

                                  I will never give up on dessert completely (although it would thrill my doctor if I did)! Part of my problem though is that I've been spoiled by the desserts I've had in places like Austria and Germany. Some of them (not all certainly) are almost like delicate works of art. I still have dreams about a certain apfel strudel with cinnamon cream that I had for breakfast one day. Then you come back home and on the dessert menu you see "Cheesecake and chocolate lava cake" which you know came frozen on a tractor trailer instead of being made fresh in the kitchen. It is hard to come back to reality I guess!

                                  1. re: Velma

                                    You know, Velma, I totally understand about the disappointment experienced when one has had desserts and pastries in Europe like the strudel you described. I grew up with German and Austrian pastries, and when I realized that they are not readily available in the US I realized what I was supposed to do with my life--I am a patissier, a pastry cook.

                                    But still, after 8 years in the industry, even with all of the pastry programs in the US, and with more people travelling to Europe than I can remember, and Fine Dining restaurants more accessable in more cities in the US than ever before, pastry STILL isn't evolving in the US! I think customers are open to better pastries/desserts, but very few restaurants are owned by pastry chefs (Joseph's in NYC is one example). What kills me is that there are so many pastry chefs in the US who make excellent desserts and pastries. And they can't get jobs making those pastries because chef owners of restaurants don't want to hire another "chef." The result is restaurants selling desserts prepared offsite (frozen chocolate cake, cheesecake, etc.), or dessert menues that are "generic" and can be prepared by prep cooks.

                                    So here's where you CAN change pastry in the US. The next time you go out to eat, ask to see the dessert menu, AND ask who is the pastry chef. If you are told they have no pastry chef, ask WHY NOT?

                                  2. re: Non Cognomina

                                    Agree with you completely. I'm an amateur pastry chef, never skip dessert at a fine restaurant, and am nearly always disappointed. 90% of the focus seems to be on the architecture of dessert ... you could find a better-tasting dessert at a good diner most of the time. I'm always astounded that the understanding of texture contrast, flavor, appropriate richness, etc. seems to stop at the dessert course. Some really fresh wonderful fruit would be preferable to 95% of the desserts I've had in fancy restaurants.

                                    My own specialty is cookies, which are even more neglected than desserts. I'm always amused when people are impressed when I make biscotti :)

                                    IRL, I often feel that a good meal is incomplete without chocolate, and am almost never without it for this reason.

                                    1. re: Non Cognomina

                                      Another problem is that so few restaurants care about serving desserts at the right temperature - so many times have I been served cold chocolate cake ! I am serious about chocolate, and make a variety of chocolates cakes, all of which I serve at room temperature (to friends - I'm an amateur). A waiter once looked at me in horror when I asked him to nuke a piece of cold chocolate cake. A lady at my table wondered what the fuss was about, so I made her taste it before and after. She was amazed at the difference. BTW I make pretty good buttercream too, thanks to The Cake Bible.

                                    2. re: PaulF

                                      I totally get you, Paul. When I think about dessert, I love it. But I rarely think about it. I'm much more satisfied by a rich, lovely meal than a rich, lovely dessert. Yes, the dessert tastes wonderful, but it's still only one flavor to me: sweet. I think that's why I'll only ever have a few bites at a restaurant, and I will almost never order it, unless I'm being peer pressured (e.g. night out with the girls), and everyone will share.

                                      The only real exception to that is apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top of it. I crave that occasionally (I even need the savory in my desserts, apparently).

                                      I know there are many variations on the "sweet" theme, but I think that the one-note flavors typical of so many restaurant desserts aren't aided by the fact that so many of those desserts also seem to lack texture and complexity. My mouth gets tired very quickly of sweet soft food, bite after bite.

                                      1. re: Zool

                                        It depends, I remember having a couple of chocolate desserts with fleur de sel or caramel, and maybe some berry sauce. That's a dessert with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Quite a few Chinese snacks are sweet and salty, a common example being xian2 (=salty) jian1 bing, essentially fried sweet dough with five spice and salt. You'll see that in Thai desserts as well, as well as a salt/sugar/spice combination applied to fruits, and a hint of salt. Chillis are nearly standard flavouring for pineapple, at least in South East Asia. And a truffle ice cream would come with plenty of umami.

                                    3. i'm not a desert fan myself. as one other poster stated, i'd much rather (and often do) order another appetizer. i guess i just prefer salty over sweet.

                                      while i will eat them if my company does, i am not a particular fan of chocolate in any form, ice cream, pie, cake or cookies. not that i hate those things. i would rather just munch on saltines.

                                      i do have several exceptions to this, though, and they mostly occur at asian restaurants. if we're dining at a thai place, i will try to save room for mango & sticky rice. if we are at a chinese place, i have even been known to order fried bananas with sesame seeds as an entree. and if we are at a korean place, i'll even get the ice-cream-like stuff with the candy/gel coating over top that you eat with your fingers. i do not know what this is called, but it comes in bite-sized pieces of flavors like mango, green tea, and strawberry. don't know why, but i am also partial to white chocolate mousse with strawberries and mint. and i do enjoy a coconut milk gelato from carogiro, a gelateria.

                                      so i suppose when i sit down and think about it, i do like some sweets. just not in your typical "american as apple pie" sense. actually, just looking at apple pie or rich chocolate cake is quite disgusting to me. :)

                                      1. I love a "good" dessert but I can't tell you how many times I have ordered dessert only to be disappointed. It seems like all the effort is put into making them look attractive and taste is secondary. So, I am trying to learn to make my own, not very successfully yet though.

                                        1. Haha we probably won't make for good dining companions. I've been known to go solely to places just for desserts (usually in the case of progressive meals where I ate entrees somewhere else, and likely appetizers at a third venue.)

                                          But yea, lately I don't find myself ordering desserts only because it's always so generic. There's tiramisu and chocolate lava cake everywhere! (and most likely, they get it from a distributor since it's relatively non-perishable and has a high profit-margin w/o the need for a pastry chef) Which only makes me search harder for those really unique sweet places (or make a return trip to one I already like.)

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: AquaW

                                            AquaW... we can definitely be friends! I'm a dessert person all the way! My dad had a shirt when I was younger that said "Chocolate is my middle name!" so I guess I inherited my sweet tooth. I've wanted to go to San Francisco solely for the purpose of going to *that one* restaurant where my mom had the dessert sampler of 7 desserts or something like that! And I'm still kicking myself for not ordering that fantastic sounding dessert special at that one restaurant a year ago! ;-) Yeah, I'd say I'm obsessed!

                                            But, I completely agree with you... so often I am disappointed by the dessert options at restaurants which, I guess is why I *would* go out of my way for dessert. I've said it before, but I am really, really tired of seeing creme brulee and that damn molten chocolate cake on menus!! To me, dessert is such a fantastic opportunity to really get creative and wild because not that many people actually *do* order dessert. And, from this thread, I think the people that do order dessert are way more passionate than molten chocolate cake! Just my opinion, I guess. I will say though that I usually get dessert regardless of what it is if I'm eating in a semi-nice restaurant... I'm just a sucker for chocolate!

                                            1. re: Katie Nell

                                              Haha, fellow chocoholic here--- and I've actually found a few online vendors that do pretty wild and crazy chocolates -- Serendipty & Vosges www.serendipitychocolates.com & www.vosgeschocolates.com (both are pretty high-priced for what they are, but are a well worth it special occasion treat!)

                                          2. Since my favorite dessert tends to be third helpings of the mashed potatoes or mac'n'cheese, I guess I fall on the savory side of the question. If I do have a dessert, I usually prefer it somewhat separate from the meal: our eatin' posse often ends a Chinese or other Asian meal in the San Gabriel Valley with a run up towards Pasadena and a stop at a place called Twohey's for hot fudge sundaes or the like, maybe half an hour after eating entirely too much of the stir-fried whatever and the fish and the crab. And I do love to get some good pie or some ice cream just as a stand-alone snack; yesterday morning, at around 11, my wife and I had some time to kill and were close by Fosselman's, probably the best ice-cream store on the planet, and so that's what we had as a sort of brunch-dessert.

                                            1. I'm odd I guess. I LOVE to bake. I love doing more and more difficult projects. I do crave sweets daily but....

                                              I would always choose savory over sweet. I cannot eat anything sweet without being 1/2-3/4s full of savory. I usually do not order dessert at restaurants. I guess because I am so full by then + it is never as good as I make at home.

                                              I totally get the lack of solidness of dessert that you talk about. Thats why I do not eat it on an empty stomach. I could not eat enough to make me full. With dessert I think what I love are the textures. Its hard to find the same range of textures in savory food.

                                              I think if I did not bake, I would rarely eat dessert.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Becca Porter

                                                Becca, we're practically twins! I'm exactly the same way: I love to bake and make desserts and have a solid reputation among friends and family for making sweets--BUT I don't eat them very often.

                                                I only order desserts in restaurants if they look truly special--something I won't or can't make at home, or haven't seen before. Then, I really get into them. (What I love to pig out on are appetizers, but that's a subject for another thread.)

                                                If the only desserts offered are the standards (chocolate cake, cheesecake, creme brule, ice cream), I'll pass. I like to make pies and things at home, but I usually eat them for breakfast instead of after dinner!

                                              2. About the time I was born, my older sisters had figured out that dessert was way more fun that dinner, so they would skimp on dinner and go face-first into dessert. So my mother simply quit making dessert, except for holidays and birthdays, and I thank her for it quite often. I grew up without regular desserts so it isn't something I expect after dinner.

                                                I also agree with the poster above who says that she's been disappointed many times by restaurant desserts. So often they expend their energy on presentation and forget to make the dessert just as tasty as an entree.

                                                While I tend to fall into the category of people who prefer savory things, on occasion I have been known to eat my weight in ice cream, and I think a good pie is a work of art.

                                                1. My girlfriend is like this. I think it has a lot to do with how you are raised -- either that or a sweet tooth is genetic. When going out to dinner, her whole family orders appetizers and entrees, but rarely dessert. She loves dessert, but she would take something savory if she had to choose. My family never orders appetizers, or almost never, because then we wouldn't have room for dessert. I would eat cupcakes at every meal if it wouldn't make me fat and sick.

                                                  1. I never order dessert. I recently had lunch at Jean-Georges with the family. The husband and kids all decided to have dessert, so I decided to go along. We each ordered something different. Lunch up to that point had been stunningly good, and I had no anticipation that dessert could be a match. Was I wrong! Each of the desserts was a perfect symphony of harmonic flavors, and each was emphatically different from the others. Will this experience change my mind about ordering dessert? No, unless I'm at J-G.

                                                    1. I used to love sweet breakfasts exclusively (pancakes, french toast, pastry) and always wanted dessert after dinner, especially a nice dinner out. 10-15 years ago all that changed and now I'm often only interested in looking at the dessert menu but not ordering from it. I also picked chocolate-based desserts about 95 percent of the time and now it's more like 10 percent. Maybe some hormonal shift took place.

                                                      1. Dessert is a finish to a good meal, whether at home or in a restaurant.

                                                        Since we hardly ever snack or eat between meals, never eat cookies out of a bag, we hold to the idea that a meal is not complete without a minimum of three courses, appetizer or salad, main course, and dessert of some kind. A meal should be balanced throughout the courses. Loading up on one part of a meal is not a way I prefer eating.

                                                        Fresh fruit or fruit dessert, ice cream or sorbet, or dessert wine and biscotti are nice every day. French style, salad and cheese after the main course work well too.

                                                        Special occasion desserts, and Sunday dinner desserts are just that, for special occasions.

                                                        Desserts in restaurants can be wonderful.

                                                        1. I think the dessert after the meal is a cultural preference. So many cultures do not eat sweets after a meal, and that may be something that lingers long after we're assimilated ...to a culture that eats anything whenever it wants.
                                                          "Desserts" heavy on the fruit are wonderful in the summer though. I bought two wonderful desserts from Whole foods last week-- blueberry panna cotta with lots of fresh whole blueberries and a cherry cobbler, both mostly fruit. They were great light dishes for summer dinners, if only they weren't so sweet.