CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There was a time when desserts were on the "never enjoy" list for a large population because of particular medical conditions, allergies and dietary concerns.Informed thinking, research and development of new products have come a long way. For instance, natural sugar has been shown to not be a totally contributing bugaboo in diabetic diets. It's how often and in what manner and packaging it's consumed.Sugar is most always in desserts, which contain empty calories and questionable nutrition. But sugar isn't the only food carbohydrate.And there are still carbs in food made with artificial sweeteners. I've seen carb counts on items made with the sugar substitutes that are only a couple points away from those with standard sugar. If you're an avid label reader, you have seen it for yourself. The more reduced the fat or calories, the higher the carbs and other nutrition numbers go. Eating has become a tradeoff.Portion size, occasional servings, careful selections and counting of food carbs on the plate better enable fitting a dessert into a meal. Sweets can once more find their way onto a fork or spoon. We don't have to have thrown all the tasteful babies out with the bathwater.One of today's desserts in this, the second half of my Decadent December chocolate columns, forgoes the cutlery in favor of being handheld. I don't ever remember eating a piece of fudge on a plate with a fork. Do you?Forks aside, it can be said, though, that most chocoholics could eat a hubcap if it were first dipped in chocolate.I originally tried the fudge recipe from a potluck church supper cookbook a few years ago as it was written. In that book, it was a highly regarded frosting for a brownie.However, later on I began seeing recipes that were made from the same ingredients, but labeled "fudge." I wonder which came first -- the frosting or the fudge.There is still sugar in the milk and the chips aren't sugar-free, but the fat-free property of the milk might help with calories down the line.I do know that standard, unaltered, regular creamy fudge is on the once-in-a-while list to be eaten. That would be a small square, though, not half the pan. Fudge to me is another way to say "holiday," so that's why the recipe today.The cheesecake started in Cooking Light magazine. I reduced the sugar and removed the crust, but if you want a crust, use regular or reduced-fat Oreo cookies (the cookie only, discarding the cream center).Don't bother with mixing crumbs and butter to make the crust; just cover the bottom of your pan with a layer of separated Oreo rounds, cutting additional cookies to fit.
Best wishes and happy chocolate to all for 2012!Classic Chocolate Fudge
Makes 20 squares.
1 14-ounce can fat-free sweetened condensed milk 3 cups dark chocolate chips 2 teaspoons vanilla 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
LINE 8-inch square dish with parchment (if you want to lift out the fudge for cutting); otherwise spray dish with butter-flavored cooking spray.
COMBINE milk and chips in heavy saucepan. Simmer on low, stirring until chips are melted and mixture smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and walnuts, if using.SPREAD in dish. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours until set.Nutrition information: Per square -- no walnuts: 180 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, zero milligrams cholesterol, 30 milligrams sodium, 29 grams carbohydrates, zero grams fiber, 3 grams protein.Chocolate CheesecakeMakes 16 servings.
2 tablespoons milk 1 1/2 ounces dark baking chocolate (not unsweetened) 20 ounces (2 1/2 eight-ounce blocks) 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened 1/4 cup cocoa powder 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 eggsHEAT milk and chocolate on stovetop or in microwave until chocolate is melted; set aside.BEAT cream cheese until fluffy; beat in cocoa, sugar and vanilla; beat in eggs one at a time; stir in melted chocolate.POUR mixture into greased 9-inch springform or regular 8- or 9-inch baking dish or pan. If you use a springform pan, cover the outside of the pan with foil, extending up over the pan sides to guard against the filling leaking.BAKE at 325° for 30 to 35 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely; run knife around edge of pan; cover and refrigerate until serving time.REMOVE springform pan sides and serve.Note: This can be baked in individual-serving ramekins or custard cups with the cooking time adjusted.Nutrition information: Per slice -- no crust: 110 calories, 45 calories from fat, 5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 40 milligrams cholesterol, 220 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates, less than 1 gram fiber, 7 grams protein.Reach Judy Grigoraci at email@example.com.