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Time for dessert? Fire up that grill (3 mouth-watering recipes!)

Noelle Carter

By Noelle Carter Los Angeles Times/(TNS)

Published Sept. 2, 2015

 Time for dessert? Fire up that grill (3 mouth-watering recipes!)
The last place you want to be on a perfect summer day is in a hot kitchen, especially if you're entertaining. Which is why the grill gets so much love this time of year.

We grill burgers. We grill steaks. We grill chicken, fish, ribs and even vegetables. (We have to please the vegetarian friends and note: a little color actually accentuates your meat on the plate.) Maybe we've even gone so far as to grill some salad — because grilled romaine is a thing, and it's very, very good. Somehow, primal fire can improve everything, even our cooking skills. But what about dessert?

Honey, do us all a favor and throw those pound cake slices on the grill already.

Grilled desserts go way beyond the s'mores of your childhood, though those still rock and can serve as inspiration. You can grill almost anything, and cake is a great place to start. Take a firm cake — pound cake, angel food — give the slices a quick baptism in spray oil and throw them on the rack. They'll pick up nice grill marks in a minute or two, and you'll certainly entertain the guests. The real treat is when you bite into the dessert. The flames toast the sugars at the edges of the cake, caramelizing them in the most seductive of ways.

Serve the cake topped with a scoop of ice cream and grilled peaches — yes, you can grill fruit too. (Notice a pattern here?) A few minutes over the fire gives a caramelized nuttiness to the fruit, and there's almost no work involved. Drizzle some whiskey caramel sauce — go ahead, gild the lily.

Then plan a dinner with grilled polenta as dessert. Sure, you may be more familiar with warm polenta, served light and fluffy. But let it set up like spackle in a baking dish, then cut it into wedges. You can do this a day or two in advance so you have no prep to worry about when it's time to impress. Grill the wedges — again, a minute or two — then serve them topped with a spoonful of mascarpone cheese, a handful of fresh blueberries and a drizzle of dark maple syrup. Your guests will find it revelatory. You don't need to tell them it came together in minutes.

Have that one picky eater in the group? The one who measures self-worth by the calorie? You've got this. Grill some watermelon. Seriously.

If you've never tried grilled watermelon, it's pretty amazing. Cut thick wedges from a watermelon (seedless — this isn't meant to be sadistic), brush them with a little olive oil and grill the wedges until lightly toasted with defined grill marks on each side. Somehow the grilling enhances the flavors, concentrating them while muting the sweetness and adding a little smokiness. Top the whole thing with a dollop of Greek yogurt, fresh lime juice, mint and a drizzle of honey. You're welcome.

GRILLED WATERMELON WITH MINT, LIME, HONEY AND YOGURT

15 minutes

SERVES 4-6

  • 4-6 thick slices seedless watermelon

  • Olive oil

  • 2 limes, juice and zest

  • Honey

  • Leaves from 1 bunch fresh mint, thinly sliced

  • Plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style

1 Heat a grill over medium high heat until hot. Brush each of the watermelon slices on both sides with olive oil. Grill the slices until barely softened with defined grill marks, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.

2 Place 1 slice on each serving plate. Drizzle over a little lime juice and honey, then top with a dollop of yogurt. Sprinkle over a little lime zest and mint leaves. Serve immediately.

GRILLED POLENTA WITH MAPLE AND FRESH BLUEBERRIES

45 minutes, plus chilling time.

SERVES 6-8

For the polenta:

  • 1 quart water

  • 1 cup coarse or medium cornmeal

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 3 tablespoons butter

1 In a small pot, bring the water to a simmer. Slowly add in the cornmeal, whisking to avoid any lumps. Whisk in the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is softened and fluffy, 20-30 minutes (timing will vary depending on grind and brand). The polenta should be very thick, but if it dries too much before it is softened, whisk in additional water as needed.

2 When the polenta is ready, whisk in the butter. Remove from heat. Spread and smooth the polenta into a plastic wrap-lined and greased baking dish or pan, so the polenta is approximately 3/4-inch thick. Loosely cover and refrigerate until cold and firm. The polenta can be made up to two days in advance.

For the grilled polenta with maple and fresh berries:

  • Prepared polenta, cut into wedges or desired shapes

  • Spray oil

  • 2 cups mascarpone cheese

  • 1 pint blueberries

  • Dark maple syrup

1 Heat a grill over medium heat until hot. Spray the polenta wedges with oil on both sides. Grill the wedges until lightly toasted with defined grill marks, about 2 minutes on each side; be careful when rotating and flipping the polenta, as it will be very delicate. Remove from heat.

2 To serve, place 1 to 2 wedges on each serving plate. Top with a dollop of mascarpone and a handful of fresh berries. Drizzle over maple syrup and serve immediately.

GRILLED POUNDCAKE WITH PEACHES AND WHISKEY CARAMEL SAUCE

50 minutes.

SERVES 6-8

For the caramel sauce:

  • cup whiskey 1 1/3 cups sugar

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1 teaspoon corn syrup

  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 Pour the whiskey into a small saute pan, and place the pan over medium-high heat. Gently and carefully tilt the pan over the flame to flambé the alcohol (the alcohol will catch fire). Immediately remove from heat and let the flame continue to burn; the flame will self-extinguish when the alcohol is burned out of the whiskey. Set the whiskey aside.

2 In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup, stirring until the sugar has the consistency of wet sand. Place the saucepan over high heat and cook until the sugar dissolves and begins to boil. Do not stir the sugar, as this may cause it to seize.

3 While the sugar is cooking, combine the cream, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Keep an eye on the sugar while you're heating the cream to keep it from scorching. Cook until the butter melts, stirring it into the cream. When the mixture has come to a simmer, remove from heat.

4 Continue to cook the sugar until it darkens to a rich caramel color, 7-10 minutes — the sugar will darken quickly and noticeably and will smell faintly nutty. Swirl the pan as the sugar darkens to judge the true color of the caramel (the sugar may darken in patches if there are hot spots on the stove). Watch carefully, as the sugar can easily overcook at this point and burn.

5 As soon as the color is a rich caramel, remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the cream mixture in a slow, steady stream. The sugar will bubble and steam as the cream is added; be careful as both the mixture and steam are very hot. Carefully stir in the whiskey and vanilla.

6 Stir the caramel until it stops bubbling, then remove to a heatproof container until needed. This makes about 2 1/2 cups sauce.

For the grilled poundcake with peaches and whiskey caramel sauce:

  • 1 pound cake, cut into thick slices

  • Spray oil

  • 4 to 6 ripe peaches

  • 1 pint butter pecan or vanilla ice cream

  • Whiskey caramel sauce

1 Heat a grill over medium heat until hot. Spray the pound cake slices on both sides with spray oil. Grill the slices on both sides until the slices are warm and toasted with defined grill marks, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.

2 Halve the peaches, discarding the pits. Spray the cut halves with spray oil. Grill the cut sides until lightly softened with defined grill marks, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

3 To serve, place a toasted slice of pound cake on each plate, and top with 1 to 2 peach halves and a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle over the whiskey caramel sauce and serve immediately.

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