Happy Endings

I entertain quite a bit during the summer months and while I might enjoy pouring over menu options and looking for new ways to take advantage of grilling, I usually opt for a simple dessert. Rather than make a single dessert that might take up a lot of time and not suit all of my guests, I try to appeal to everyone's tastes by putting out a decorative and delicious dessert platter when the meal's over.

Dessert platters have no particular hard and fast rules to them. In fact, they can range from simple plates of fresh fruit and wedges of tangy cheeses to more elaborate trays of homemade pastries and cookies. The key to a good dessert platter is offering a combination of treats that caters to a wide audience while being complimentary to one another. A classic example is a fruit and cheese platter. By choosing at least three types of seasonal fresh fruit and three cheeses of varying textures, flavors and colors, you can present a beautiful platter that's likely to have a little something for everyone at the table.

Speaking of tables, I usually forego them when it comes to dessert. Instead, I like to choose a central location and place one or more dessert platters, chilled dessert wines and glasses, and coffee and all its accompaniments there. Then I invite my guests to help themselves and settle where they may. Some people fill there plates and gravitate towards the backyard and the garden. Others settle into comfortable chairs in the livingroom. Still others hover about in the kitchen making small talk and investigating my collection of kitchen "toys". By freeing everyone from the table, I give them permission to find a spot that's comfortable.

If I'm hosting a more formal gathering, I might put out a combination of purchased pastries and thawed goodies from my freezer. (You do have a few of your favorite cookies, bars and other treats packed away in there, don't you?) I also like making sure that I have flavored syrups and creamers on hand for those guests that enjoy a flavored coffee with their sweets. You might even want to have whipped cream around for that!

By offering what I lovingly refer to as "little nibbles", no one has to feel like they just don't have room for dessert. How many people can seriously contend that they don't have room for one of the season's most beautiful strawberries? And, because they can feel like dessert is a real social event rather than a "finish what's on your plate before you leave the table" situation, they can feel free to nibble as little or as much as they'd like.

Here's a quick list of some of my favorite items for dessert platters. Mix and match them as you like to suit your guests' tastes.

  • Fresh fruit -- some favorites include strawberries, melon, pineapple and kiwi
  • Chocolate -- try to find one or two bite treats to offer such as truffles or turtles
  • Cheese -- offer 3-6 varieties, any more and you've got a cheese tasting event
  • Cookies -- I like to offer one fruity variety, one chocolate variety and another simple shortbread or sugar cookie
  • Pastries -- try an international twist by offering baklava and cannolis with a variety of international coffees
  • Nuts -- I like to offer spiced or sweetened almonds, pecans and hazelnuts, but choose any of your favorites

Summer just begs for this kind of noshing here and there while admiring a fresh bunch of roses from the garden or talking about the handiest kitchen gadgets or listening to quite music while watching the sun set. It encourages movement, conversation and the pleasure that can only be gotten by enjoying good food and good company. Have a great summer!

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