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Eating Well: Yummy summer desserts sure to be real crowd-pleasers

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No particular theme this week - just a potpourri of some of my favorite "sweet" recipes, not only amazingly easy to toss together but also delightfully delicious to serve whether you are entertaining on the patio or having a more formal get-together with family or friends.

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Apples from home orchards should be plentiful soon. The "Apple Crunch" recipe is one of the best I've encountered. What sets it apart is the clear filling that smothers the apples as they bake, with the gooey texture permeating the oatmeal crumb topping.

The "Nieman Marcus Bars" are as decadently rich as the name implies, but don't let that keep you away from baking them; they take only a few minutes to prepare and are so-o-o worth the effort.

Paula Dean is a Food Network favorite of mine and all of her recipes featured on the show are available gratis online. Again, what attracts me to her offerings are ease of preparation, and this decadent Éclair Cake is no exception. I served it to guests a few weeks ago and it received rave reviews. I've already stocked the ingredients to make it again soon.

"Bread Pudding" is also an old family stand-by. This is my sister Phyllis' favorite recipe and one I whip up often when I'm in a quandary as to what to serve for dessert. Dress it up with a little caramel sauce and real whip cream (or good old Cool Whip) and you'll make fans of guests not previously enamored by the concoction. The secret to this recipe is in the brown sugar. Most bread pudding recipes call for white sugar.

I could go on and on, but I have one more I'll offer and save the rest for another time. Its title is "Cream Puff Dessert" but I've also heard it referred to as "Moon Cake" because of the crust texture, which bubbles and puffs when it bakes and cools to resemble a rocky surface. This recipe fills a large jelly roll pan so it's a wonderful choice when you need to accommodate a larger group. You could also be adventurous and substitute any type of pudding flavors you like, but it is truly awesome using the vanilla.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy baking.

Apple Crunch

1 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Press half of crumb mixture into 9 x 9 inch pan. Cover with five cups of apples.

Combine:

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/2 cup water

1 tsp. vanilla

Cook until clear. Pour over apples. Top with remaining crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped topping.

Nieman Marcus Bars

Crust:

1 box Betty Crocker Butter Pecan Cake Mix

1 stick melted butter

Mix together and pour into a 9x13 pan sprayed with Pam.

Filling:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 stick melted butter

2 eggs

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Mix well. Pour over cake mix and sprinkle with once cup chopped pecans. Bake at 300 degrees for one hour or longer depending upon heat of oven. Just make sure it is set up in the middle when you do a touch test.

Éclair Cake

1 (1-pound) box graham crackers

2 (3 1/4 ounce) boxes instant French vanilla pudding

3 1/2 cups milk

1 (8-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed

Frosting

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup cocoa

3 tbsp. butter, softened

3 tbsp. milk

2 tsp. light corn syrup

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Butter the bottom of a 9x13 inch pan. Line with whole graham crackers. In bowl of an electric mixer, mix pudding on high speed for two minutes. Fold in whipped topping. Pour half the pudding mixture over graham crackers. Place another layer of graham crackers on top of pudding layer. Pour over remaining half of pudding mixture and cover with another layer of graham crackers.

For frosting, blend together sugar and cocoa. Add butter and milk, mixing well. Add corn syrup and vanilla. Stir until creamy. Cover top of last layer of graham crackers with frosting and refrigerate for 24 hours. Yummy.

Bread Pudding

2 1/4 cups milk

2 slightly beaten eggs

2 cups bread cubes

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup raisins

Hand mix all together in bowl. Pour into greased 8x8 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve warm with caramel sauce and whipped cream, with fresh sweet cream or with ice cream.

Cream Puff Dessert

1 cup water

1 cup flour

1/2 cup margarine

4 eggs

Heat water and margarine to a boil. Add flour and stir vigorously until it forms a ball. Remove from heat and add eggs one at a time. Beat well. Spread in greased jelly roll pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. (Press to remove air bubbles as it bakes.)

Prepare two packages instant vanilla pudding with 3 1/2 cups milk. Beat 8 ounces cream cheese into pudding. Spread on crust. Top with 8 ounces of Cool Whip. Refrigerate. Dribble Hershey's chocolate syrup on top just before serving.

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