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The View from Here: Recipes for entertaining, without the chocolate

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In one of those classic chicken-egg debates, a group of UC-Davis and UC-San Diego researchers are saying that depression may be linked to eating chocolate. I'll leave the debate over which is the cause and which the effect to the scientists, but on the off chance that chocolate does spur sad days, I thought it only fitting to explore some non-cocoa-based alternatives for spring/summertime entertaining.

(Or snacking. And let's be honest, it'll probably be the latter a bit more often than the former.)

Rhubarb Strawberry Crunch: I did take this one to a dinner party the other day, and it was a smashing success. I should note, though, that I took a few liberties with the recipe. I added cinnamon, nutmeg and some orange peel to the filling, and the topping seemed too flour-heavy for my taste, so I used equal parts flour, brown sugar and oats along with the butter. Your mileage may vary, but using about a third again as much of the dry ingredients as the butter made this crunch a hit for me.

Angel Food Cake: If you like angel food cake but have never bothered to make one from scratch, do yourself a favor and give this recipe a try. Served with fresh berries and whipped cream, it's a relatively light but fantastically indulgent-tasting dessert. (And if you're willing to risk the chocolate blues, I'd also recommend melting some nice artisan chocolate – Dagoba's Roseberry bar works wonderfully – with some cream to make a delicious, interesting sauce to serve over the top.)

Maple Cream Sauce: The peach crisp recipe this one is paired with wasn't my absolute favorite – the topping was lacking something for me – but the sauce is heavenly. You don't even need to use heavy whipping cream; I substituted light cream and was more than happy with the results – especially when I drizzled it over some fresh, sliced strawberries.

Orange-Cardamom Date Bars: I haven't actually tried this one yet, but its ingredient list automatically put it on my must-try list. No-bake bars are always welcome when temperatures begin to rise, and cardamom is one of those ingredients that always piques my interest. Of course, the experimenter in me can't help wondering how it would turn out if I substituted figs for the dates. Perhaps two batches are in order...

Lavender: OK, so this isn't a recipe; consider it a suggestion for creativity. I'm infamous for putting lavender into any and all dishes, and I have to say I'm always pleased with the results. I made marshmallows for the first time the other day and couldn't stop myself from throwing some dried lavender to steep in the sugar syrup. The result? Heavenly. I've put the herb in creams, brownies, cupcakes, bread – yes, even savory dishes, all with generally positive reviews. (OK, yes, just generally; I confess there have been some haters. Perhaps, like cilantro, lavender just isn’t for everyone.)

Lemony Fresh Herb Coolers: Once the hot weather really hits, a refreshing, out-of-the-ordinary drink like this one is often more tempting than a super-sweet dessert, which is probably why I've had my eye on this recipe for at least a year now, just looking for the right opportunity to stock up on fresh herbs and give it a shot. If you're short on herbs, even an ordinary fresh lemonade or slightly more complex virgin mojito (fresh mint, lime juice, club soda, sugar/sugar syrup) can feel positively dessert-like on a perfect summer day.

Blackberry Hand Pies: Like many Epicurious.com recipes, this one is made to seem more complex than it really is; all-purpose flour works fine (though I can't comment on the difference using the semolina it calls for, given I've never felt the need to try it out). I was wary of using a Golden Delicious, since they taste rather bland to me, but did and was so glad for it; the flavor of the cooked filling is superb.

(Side note: I only had butter-flavored Crisco when I made this recipe, so I made my pie crust with that and absolutely loved the results. I don't know that I'd love it in a traditional pie, but folded around that blackberry goodness, the butter flavor was perfect.)

Blood Orange and Chocolate Trifle: I'm throwing caution to the wind on this one, partly because there's so little chocolate involved and partly because this dessert is so, so good. This was another dinner-party hit, so I can attest to its popular appeal. I didn't even bother subbing anything for the alcohol; the juice from the oranges was more than enough liquid to make this trifle a winner. Just make sure you get good-quality ricotta (Italian delis are usually a safe bet; I used some from Whole Foods and was sufficiently impressed with it) and a nice dark chocolate.