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LESS SUGAR PUMPKIN BREAD

If you buy a small (16 ounces) can of pumpkin, that is just enough to make one pumpkin pie. But if you buy the big can of pumpkin because it’s cheaper, you might still only make one pie, and then you have half a can of pumpkin left over. You will put it in a dish in the fridge and intend to make it into muffins or pancakes, or you might put it in the freezer and intend to make a pie out of it, and we all know how that winds up, right?   Recently I threw out an unmarked frozen glob in the freezer which I realized about a week later was frozen pumpkin puree from God knows when.

I have been making pumpkin puddings – which is pumpkin pie filling baked without a crust – because it’s way easier than pie, and far fewer calories and less fat, and that works out very well, except when there’s half a can of pumpkin left over.  To that end, I thought pumpkin bread would be a good solution.

I found a Bobby Flay recipe at Epicurious for Pumpkin Bread, and I adapted it a little bit, primarily by cutting the sugar way down, but this is still plenty sweet. If you have leftover baked sweet potato or winter squash like Acorn or Butternut, use those in place of the pumpkin. This would be an excellent bread to serve thinly sliced with coffee or tea. It also toasts very well the next day.

LESS SUGAR PUMPKIN BREAD

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 – 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your bread)
  • 1 16-ounce can pumpkin puree or half of one 29-ounce can (NOT canned “pumpkin pie filling”)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously grease (I use vegetable oil) and flour a glass loaf pan.*

[To grease and flour a pan: take about 1 tablespoon oil, Crisco, or other fat, and smear it around the inside of your pan, being sure to get up on the sides and in the corners. {I don’t recommend butter for this because butter is not entirely fat, and the fat-less portions will not coat a pan – leaving places where batter will stick.} Then toss in a generous tablespoon of flour and tilt the pan around to get all of the greased areas covered with flour. You might need a little more flour. Pour out any big excess of flour.)

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan and add the raisins and dates. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes, then drain thoroughly and set aside. This will remove any sulfur (used to keep dried fruit soft; it can cause allergic reactions and is unbelievably nasty if it seeps into the rest of the bread) and also soften and plump the dried fruit. (if you have more time, steep the rinsed fruit in hot tea or hot orange juice.)

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Combine softened butter, oil, and sugar, and cream with a wooden spoon until sugar is fully incorporated. Stir in the pumpkin, then add eggs, one at a time, until combined.

Add the flour, salt, and spices.

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Mix to completely incorporate dry ingredients. Mix in dates and raisins.

Scrape into greased and floured loaf pan. It will be a little soft and gooey and pudding-like, but don’t worry.

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Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool 15 minutes. Loosen around the loaf with a knife. Place a cooling rack on top of the bread, hold the pan and the rack, and flip it upside down to release the bread.

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While it is tempting to slice it right away, it will crumble if you do so. Let it cool at least 15 minutes and it will slice much more evenly.

Serve as is, or with softened butter or cream cheese. Let cool completely before wrapping for longer storage. A brown paper bag is really better than plastic wrap – the bread won’t sweat and get ugly and moldy.

Variations:

  • Add powdered or diced candied ginger.
  • Add up to 1 cup toasted chopped nuts.
  • Substitute brown sugar or turbinado sugar for all or part of the sugar.
  • Use all unbleached flour, OR all whole wheat flour.
  • * To use a metal loaf pan: preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake as above.
  • If you don’t want to use the raisins and dates, increase sugar to 1 cup. But you will find that if you soften the fruit in hot water as above, that it simply seems to melt into the bread rather than stay intact like odd little lumps. Also, golden raisins (sometimes called white raisins) are much more tender than black raisins.

 

 

WALDORF: NOT JUST SALAD

WALDORF: NOT JUST SALAD

Years ago I read a rather sweet story, possibly in one of my old cooking magazines, written by an elderly man about his one experience at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

He was an army private during WWII, on leave at home in New York one Christmas. He wanted to propose in a spectacularly romantic fashion to his girl (this was before flash mobs and YouTube) but was on a limited budget. So he wrote to the maitre d’ at the Waldorf Astoria. He explained that he would like to take his girl there for dinner on New Year’s Eve and propose to her at midnight, and told the maitre d’ his budget. I don’t remember now what the budget was, but it was low. Very low for the Waldorf-Astoria, but he didn’t know that.

Eventually he got a note back from the Waldorf-Astoria saying there was a table reserved for two on New Year’s Eve. He and his girl dressed in their finest and arrived at the hotel and were escorted to their table. They were presented with a hand-watercolored paper menu outlining what they would be served: consomme, breast of chicken, baked potato, vegetables.

The two lovebirds enjoyed their dinner. Afterwords, at a word from the maitre d’, the house band struck up their song, and they stepped onto the dance floor – where the young man proposed.

I don’t remember now what the bill was, or if it was comped by the Waldorf-Astoria, or how that was worked out. She said yes and that was the important part. It was only years later that the young man realized that his budget could not ever have covered the cost of the dinner, and that he had been given a great gift courtesy of the Waldorf-Astoria.

So I told you all that to get around to this.

I’m always a little surprised when people tell me they have never heard of Waldorf Salad. My mother always made it at Christmas and Thanksgiving. We never had it any other time, and I don’t know why not because it’s easy to make and goes with a lot of other foods. And I never think to make it except for a holiday dinner. It is credited to Oscar of the Waldorf  but actually was made elsewhere before he got credit. No matter.

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WALDORF SALAD

  • fresh crisp apples, preferably with pretty peel color
  • fresh crisp celery, preferably not stringy
  • walnuts
  • mayonnaise

This isn’t even a recipe: Chop apples, celery, and walnuts. Mix together with mayonnaise. Refrigerate until serving time. Proportions are up to you.

This can be varied in 58948594 ways. Grapes are a good addition, and so is avocado. Try sour cream instead of mayonnaise. Olives, chopped chicken, capers, oranges, cucumber, a spoonful of horseradish, yogurt, whipped cream….

This keeps well several days in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET POTATO SOUP

SWEET POTATO SOUP

After many years, I finally learned which is a sweet potato and which is a yam. There are a lot of botanical differences that don’t matter much to me, but at least I know now: the orange-y fleshed ones are yams. The pale fleshed ones are sweet potatoes.

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Photo from thekitchn.com

Sweet potatoes and/or yams are wildly nutritious and are at their best in the fall and winter. My husband loves them and I have been looking for good ways to prepare them – I am not a fan of the marshmallow-gunk-topped ones.  Despite what Alton Brown says, roasting is the best way to cook them. It takes time but they turn out wonderfully sweet.

I came across a recipe for Sweet Potato Bisque in Anna Thomas’s Love Soup cookbook.  Her version included a celery root, which I did not have on hand and didn’t feel like driving to buy. I figured some regular old celery would work just fine. I made some other adaptations and simplified her recipe.  I much prefer yams over sweet potatoes but Yam Soup just doesn’t have that certain cachet, so Sweet Potato Soup it is.

SWEET POTATO SOUP

  • 2 large yams
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • broth of your choice (vegetable, chicken, mix of water and white wine, whatever)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • cayenne
  • salt and pepper

Wash the yams, stab them all over with the point of a knife, and put them on a piece of aluminum foil on the rack of the oven. Turn the oven temperature to 350 and cook the yams until they are tender (give them a squeeze with a mitt-protected hand) and oozing caramelized juices (this is why you use foil). Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle them without burning yourself.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onion is lightly browned and caramelized. After about 20 minutes, add the sage and thyme and let them cook with the onions another 10 minutes or so.

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Peel the yams and cut into slices. Put them in a large-ish pot with about 4 cups water or broth and the chopped celery. Bring to a simmer and let cook slowly about 20-30 minutes.

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Add the onions to the yams and cook them together another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let them cool a bit, then puree them in batches in a blender or food processor. You will probably need more broth to puree the yams.

Return pureed soup to soup pot. Add a good sprinkle of cayenne and more broth if needed to make it the consistency you like. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning.

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Serve as is, or stir in some cream/half and half. Garnish with some toasted sliced almonds or some salsa/Sriracha.

This makes about 2 quarts.

HOMEMADE CINNAMON ROLLS: EASIER THAN YOU THINK

HOMEMADE CINNAMON ROLLS: EASIER THAN YOU THINK

My husband was badgering me to make cinnamon rolls and actually, that sounded like a pretty good idea. But I have tried recipes that did not turn out well before, so I was reluctant to put the time and effort in for nothing. Finally I put my trust in  Jane and Michael Stern’s Coast-to-Coast Cookbook: Real American Food and tried Mary’s Cafe Cinnamon Rolls recipe (Mary’s Cafe in Casey, Iowa). They were sublime. I substituted butter for lard, but otherwise I pretty much followed the recipe.

MARY’S CAFE CINNAMON ROLLS

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Scald the milk with the butter, salt, and sugar. (That means heat them together until bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Stir occasionally so the sugar dissolves and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. ) Let cool to tepid, then mix in the egg and vanilla.

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  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup 110-degree water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Proof the yeast in the water and sugar.

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Measure three cups flour into a bowl. (I used half unbleached and half whole wheat, but use all unbleached if you like.) Pour in the yeast mixture, then the milk mixture, and stir to form a soft, sticky dough.

Scrape dough out onto a floured board and knead about ten minutes, adding flour as necessary. A dough scraper could be helpful here.

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Wash the bowl, dry it, and oil it with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil all over the inside. Plop the kneaded dough into the bowl, turn it over so it is coated with oil, and cover with a double layer of plastic wrap.

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Put the bowl in a warm-not-hot place for about an hour. It should be doubled.

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Punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured board. Roll it into a rectangle about 1/4″ thick. If it looks more like a map of Minnesota than a rectangle, that’s okay. Do the best you can.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and distribute over the rectangle. Then sprinkle with 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your cinnamon rolls) and about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon. If you like raisins, nuts, dates, etc., feel free to add them before rolling the dough up.

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Now, starting from the side away from you, roll up the dough. You will need to work on one place, then another, rather than try to roll the whole thing up like a rug.

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Using a sharp knife, cut the roll in half, then each half in half, and those halves in half again until you have cinnamon rolls.

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You can oil a cookie sheet, though I like to line the sheet with parchment paper (cleanup is easier). Carefully transfer the rolls to the cookie sheet.

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At this point you can cover them with a towel and let rise, or you can cover them with plastic wrap and a towel, and put them in the refrigerator to bake later. If you put them in the fridge, take them out about two hours before you want to bake them. Let them rise until puffy.

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Preheat oven to 325. Bake rolls about 20 to 25 minutes. Check the bottoms to make sure they don’t burn.

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Combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons softened butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 3 to 4 tablespoons milk to make a frosting.(It may look hopeless at first, but trust me, this will all work out – just keep mixing.) Frost rolls while they are still warm.

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Remove from cookie sheet. Eat right away or let cool and freeze.

SWEET POTATO SWIRL PIE

SWEET POTATO SWIRL PIE

So some friends did something really, really, REALLY nice for us. Since we cannot ever repay them for their gesture, we invited them over for a homemade Mexican dinner. Homemade chips and homemade salsa, chicken-avocado enchiladas, chile rellanos, pinto beans.  I needed a dessert that was both special and would go well with Mexican.

I thought perhaps a sweet potato pie would be good, but then thought about a pineapple cheesecake I once had after a very hot Mexican meal – the perfect antidote. That lead to thoughts of a sweet potato cheesecake. Eventually I found this recipe. I adapted this a bit.

I didn’t want to buy a box of gingersnaps for the crust, and minced nuts get stuck in my husband’s braces, so I went with a regular pie crust. I don’t like the title “Marbled” – it doesn’t sound right when applied to a dessert. Swirl sounded better.

What I used was technically a yam, but there’s something awkward about “Yam Swirl Pie.” It sounds like a bar band. You don’t have to cook a sweet potato – you could use a 1-pound can (drained), or a 1-pound can of pumpkin. Or use leftover butternut squash, acorn squash, etc. And I used low-fat cream cheese.

This would make a good Thanksgiving or Christmas dessert.

SWEET POTATO SWIRL PIE

  • 1 16-ounce sweet potato or yam
  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet you like your pie
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 9-inch pie crust, unbaked

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Cook the sweet potato (or suggestions as above). I washed the potato, stabbed it all over with a knife, then microwaved it until cooked (about 7 minutes). When it cools enough to handle, peel and mash it thoroughly.

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Combine cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla, and beat with electric mixer until completely smooth. If it seems grainy, beat until the sugar is dissolved (this can be a problem if you use organic sugar, which doesn’t seem to dissolve as easily as plain white granulated sugar).

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Now remove about 1 cup of the cream cheese mixture and set it aside.

Mix the mashed sweet potato into the remaining cream cheese mixture along with the spices.

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Again, beat until lump-free and smooth.

Now, pour about half of the reserved cream cheese mixture and half of the sweet potato mixture into the pie crust.

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And swirl with a knife:

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Repeat the layers and again swirl with a knife.

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Bake at 350 until filling is still slightly jiggly but mostly set,  about 30 to 45 minutes, and remove to a rack to cool. If you won’t be serving within a couple of hours, put the cooled pie in the refrigerator.

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As you can see the edges of the pie crust completely flopped over in a couple of places. If anyone criticizes you, tell them that’s how you know the pie is homemade and not mass-produced.

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A few suggestions and variations:

I think it’s important here to not attempt to swirl the two components together too much. Leave definite areas for each filling type.

Sweeten with pure maple syrup instead of sugar.

Add sufficient spice to the sweet potato filling to really pump up the flavor. Or consider substituting almond extract for the vanilla, or use some of both.

You could add a good hit of rum or brandy (or other compatible booze) to one of the fillings.

And some sweetened whipped cream would not be amiss here to top it.

 

 

 

 

ROASTED POTATOES AND CAULIFLOWER ON THE GRILL

Posted on
ROASTED POTATOES AND CAULIFLOWER ON THE GRILL

After I retired – blessed retirement – I spent about the first six months getting up at the crack of noon and cooking myself an actual real breakfast. I suppose this was to make up for all the hurried breakfasts, the non-breakfasts, the eating in the car of so many years.

I made country-fried potatoes, home-fried potatoes, pan-fried potatoes, hash browns, O’Brien potatoes, mashed potato patties, oven-fried potatoes, cooked on olive oil, cooked in bacon fat. Eventually I found that cubed potatoes that were boiled and then fried made the best home-fries. Then I found out there was an actual name for those – Brabant potatoes, which is somehow associated with New Orleans.

Then I started making them in the oven – oven Brabant fries? And those were really good for dinner. But when summer came along (you can go any time now, summer), turning the oven on was not an option. And that’s when we started barbecuing them.

So I had bought a cauliflower with nothing particular in mind for it – it was cheap – and thought that maybe the potatoes and cauliflower could be cooked on the grill together. They turned out really, really well.

Amounts are approximate. You could substitute (or add) Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Romanesco, etc. for the caulilfower. And other root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, etc. could be substituted for the potatoes.

ROASTED POTATOES AND CAULIFLOWER ON THE GRILL

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 6 Russet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • spices as you like them

Scrub the potatoes. Peel them if you want (though I wised up a few years ago and quit wasting time doing that) and cut into uniform size-and-shape pieces. Here I cut them lengthwise, then into half-moons.

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Remove the leaves and core from cauliflower, then break into flowerets. Cut the bigger flowerets into pieces so they are all about the same size. Leave them raw.

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Pour about 1/3 cup vegetable oil (safflower, sunflower, corn, generic mixed oil) into a foil baking dish about 13″ X 9″. Then pour in your choice of spices. If you have some pre-mixed barbecue rub spices, this is a great way to use them. Toss in about two fat tablespoons of mixed spices. Or try some garam masala for aloo gobi on the grill.  There are a million secret barbecue rub recipes that Google is just waiting to reveal to you. At the very least, just salt and pepper. Let the oil seep into the spices.

Drop all the potatoes into salted water, bring to a boil, and cook about 5 minutes, more or less. Test the pieces with a knife – if they are just barely tender, they’re done. Drain potatoes thoroughly, then mix the cooked potatoes and raw cauliflower into the seasoned oil. Use your hands for this to really get all the spices mixed with the vegetables.

Put the pan on the grill, temperature about 350 or medium or over indirect heat. Do not cover the pan with foil. Just put the lid down on the grill and let this cook about 15 minutes. Then use a spatula to turn the vegetables over.

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All told, they’ll take around 35-40 minutes to get browned and crispy.

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I am embarrassed to say that my husband and I ate nearly ALL of this in one sitting.

BARBECUING YOUR DINNER

Posted on
BARBECUING YOUR DINNER

It’s the end of July and the cotton is high as an elephant’s eye, if you had any cotton. I don’t. I do know it’s hot and it’s gonna be hotter, so that’s when we do a lot of barbecuing.

In attempts to not heat up the house, we’ve been experimenting with cooking non-meat items on the grill, and it’s been pretty successful so far. Here are a few of the items we’ve made.

CORN ON THE COB

I know, everyone and their grandmother does BBQ’d corn on the cob, but they do too much work. You do not need to soak it, remove the silks, wrap it in foil, or any of those other tricks. You can trim off the excess silks at the end and maybe remove the stalk at the other end (which requires a cleaver or chef’s knife). Put the corn right on the grill.

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Turn them every now and then, letting the husks get brown all over.

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After about 25 minutes on medium heat, remove the corn. Put it in some sort of container like a shoebox and wrap with towels, foil, or newspaper to keep warm. This will keep the corn hot for at least 45 minutes.

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GRILLED EGGPLANT

Slice up your eggplant, peeled or not.

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Brush slices with olive oil (which you can add some seasonings to if you like) and lay on the grill.

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Brush occasionally with more olive oil. Flip slices as they brown (do not try to force them if they stick – they’ll let go of the grill when they’re ready).

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Remove slices to a plate when they’re browned and tender.

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FRUIT COBBLER

Summer fruit makes the best pie, but the the oven turned to 425 for an hour when it’s 118 outside is too much to think about. But fruit cobbler is easy on the grill. We used disposable foil pans, which (as it turned out) can be washed and reused several times.

Choose the sweetest, juiciest fruit you can lay your hands on. Here we used peaches and strawberries.

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Pour a little liquid into the bottom of the pan – apple juice, peach nectar, something like that. Keep the added sugar to a minimum because it tends to scorch like crazy.

Mix up a cobbler topping, either from scratch or from a mix like Bisquik – or even (for convenience’s sake) whack open one of those refrigerator rolls of biscuits. Spoon/scrape/lay the dough on top of the fruit.

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Put the cobbler on the grill and close the lid. The temp should be around 350 or a medium fire.

Check about every 10 minutes.

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When the dough is firm and the fruit is bubbling, it’s done. It won’t get really brown like it does in a kitchen oven.

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Remove from grill and serve right away, or let cool.

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