Sugar Poached Dates

The late summer heat has me dreaming of all things Moorish; exotic spices, grassy mint tea, souks with dark corners shrouded in silk -thread canopies, and gorgeous sweets like these. fresh dates have a pleasant albeit astringent taste. The longer they sit on your counter, the softer and sweeter they become. But, they are meant to be eaten as is. Dried dates are sweet and chewy and are great fodder for nuts, cheese and other salty bits. These fresh dates are really best left plain or poached to soft submission. The process is lengthy, but I promise the reward is a pot full of golden amber fruit, stuffed with nuts, in a pool of rich treacle heady with spice.

Sugar Poached Dates
this recipe takes 2 days to complete

Step One
100 fresh dates–peeled
water to cover
3 Tbs orange blossom water
parchment paper
100 non-pareil almonds
Place the dates in a pot large enough to hold the dates and water enough water to cover. You will want the water to come about 1 1/2 inches higher than the top of the dates. Add the orange blossom water. Cut the parchment paper to a round that will fit just inside of the pot, and then cut a small 1/2″ circle out of the middle of it. Place it on top of the water and simmer the dates, about an hour, until they are soft but not gushy. the parchment paper will keep the dates submerged in the water. drain and let cool–discard parchment. Using a small knife cut a slit in the date and remove the pit. do not cut completely in half, just enough to remove the pit. Replace the pit with an almond, and close the date around it.

Step Two
3″ lemon peel-pith removed
3″ orange peel-pith removed
1 cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods–lightly crushed
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 vanilla bean
3 Tbs honey
1 Tbs orange blossom water
3 cups water
3 cups sugar
Place all ingredients in a heavy pot. Cook to dissolve the sugar. Add back dates and simmer on low for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 12 hours or overnight-covered–once cooled, place in the refrigerator.

Step Three
Remove the dates from the syrup once again, reserving and measuring syrup. Add enough water to make 5 cups. However much water you added, add an equal amount of sugar. (example, if you needed to add 1 cup of water to equal 5 cups total syrup, then also add 1 cup of sugar). Stir
add back the dates and simmer, very gently, until the syrup is very thick and dates are a nice amber color. This may take 1 to 2 hours. Do not just let it boil away–keep a good eye on it. The syrup should not get any more dense than corn syrup.

Serve as is or sprinkle grated pistachio nuts and dress with gold leaf. Place a few over a bowl of plain yogurt or serve with a simple lemon tea cake. I can’t help but think these would make a delicious amuse bouche before a colorful Moroccan meal of cumin and carrot soup, lamb tagine and lemon couscous


Eggplant Verde

Our family, adults and children alike, gather each August for a beach vacation. Without fail, as predictable as the tides, each of us slides into our expected role as if we never left it. It is instinctual. Although we are all competent cooks,
I am easily coaxed into cooking big family dinners. The kitchen is where I do my best work and my siblings lovingly recognize it. My sister-in-law, anxious to learn new things, was my willing sous chef. I am happy to report that she successfully duplicated this at a dinner party of her own. I love this recipe for its simplicity. It can be served cool or room temperature; artfully showcasing the beauty of eggplant.

Eggplant Verde

1 large eggplant–cut into 1/4″ thick slices
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
3 Tbs finely chopped coriander
2 garlic cloves–finely chopped and smashed to a paste
generous pinch crushed red pepper (more or less to taste)
generous pinch kosher salt (more or less to taste)
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/2 -3/4 cup good olive oil
2 oz chevre

Layer the eggplant between paper towels to dry at least 4 hours but as long as overnight. Put the parsley, coriander, garlic, red pepper, and lemon juice in a bowl. Add enough olive oil to make a loose dressing.

Cook the Eggplant
Heat a skillet (it does not have to be non-stick) over medium heat. Let it get warm before placing slices of the eggplant directly on it. do not add oil, butter or spray. The eggplant will not stick. Watch it carefully and cook until it is lightly browned and softened. I tend to pay attention and flip each one 4 or 5 times before it is fully cooked through. Cook in batches and arrange the warm pieces on your serving platter. As each layer is placed on your platter…place a bit of dressing on each piece..use the back of a spoon to spread it. Do not saturate, you only want a tasting, not a drowning. Sprinkle a bit of salt on each layer as you go. Once you have cooked and layered all of the eggplant, sprinkle the chevre evenly over the top. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This can be made a full day in advance. I like to take it out of the refrigerator about a half of an hour before serving.
The leftover dressing is wonderful on steaks, chicken and shrimp..or just to dip your bread in.
While there is little chance of leftover eggplant, it is wonderful added it to sandwiches and morning omelets.

Black and White Cookies

My parents grew up in New York. Although we moved to California when i was a toddler, “new yorkness” remains in my dna. I won’t apologize for it. See? i warned you. My favorite goodies from the old neighborhood were tucked in a pink box and secured with twine. Wrapping not only sweets but stories of my mother as a young girl; a nickle in her pocket, walking to and from school in snow up hill–both ways, stopping at the local bakery to warm her toes and carefully choose an afternoon treat. Times have changed and so have bakeries. Fancy cupcakes, mini pies and low-carb muffins have edged out old fashion favorites like; slabs of coffee cake, sweet buns crullers and black & whites as big as your noggin. Thankfully, Nancy Baggett has a knock-out recipe for black and whites in her “The All American Cookie Book”. There is nothing I like more than presenting this New York favorite to my favorite New Yorker, my mom.

New York Black and Whites
recipe from Nancy Baggett

3 cups all-purpose white flour
Scant 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup (1 stick plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup white vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Scant 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1/3 cup sour cream
Quick Vanilla and Chocolate Fondants:
1/4 cup light corn syrup
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted after measuring, plus more if needed
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the sugar, butter, and shortening until well blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla, corn syrup, and lemon extract and beat until evenly incorporated. Beat in half of the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. On low speed, beat in the sour cream. Beat or stir in the remaining flour mixture, just until well blended and smooth. Let the dough stand to firm up for about 5 minutes.

Using a scan 1/4-cup measure of dough, shape into balls with lightly greased hands. Place on the baking sheets, spacing about 3 1/2 inches apart. Using your hand, press and pat the balls to about 3 1/4 inches in diameter.
i make mine mini..using a small ice cream scoop as my measurement

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven for 10 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned at the edges and the tops just spring back when lightly pressed in he centers. Reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks. Let stand until completely cooled.

For the Fondants:
In a medium, heavy saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water and the corn syrup just to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla until completely smooth. Place the chocolate in a small, deep bowl. Pour 2/3 cup of the hot vanilla fondant over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is partially melted. Pour another 1/2 cup of the vanilla fondant over the chocolate. Stirring constantly, thin the chocolate fondant to a fluid but not runny consistency by adding 3 to 4 teaspoons of hot water, a little at a time. Stir until the chocolate melts completely and the water is thoroughly incorporated.
Set the wire racks with the cookies over wax paper to catch drips. Using a small, wide-bladed spatula, spreader, or table knife, immediately ice half of each cookies with the chocolate fondant. (if the fondant stiffens as you work, thin it by thoroughly stirring in a few drops of hot water. If the fondant cools completely, rewarm it over low heat, stirring).
In necessary, adjust the consistency of the vanilla fondant by stirring in additional powdered sugar or hot water until fluid by not runny. Ice the second half of each cookies with the vanilla fondant. Let the cookies stand until the icing set, at least 2 hours and preferably 4 hours.
This recipe comes directly from Nancy Baggett’s All American Cookie Book; a book that has been in my library for about 10 years. I have not bee asked to endorse the book or any individual recipes by the author or publisher. This is simply a darn good recipe, one of many in this book

Lemon Cooler Cookies

Honestly, I’m not sure if i have actually tasted the original lemon cooler cookie. I do know that I wanted to try them. But alas, they were in a box, on a shelf, in the grocery store. Lest you forgot, we have established that my mom didn’t do “store bought”. Odds are I only remember these cookies by how my friends, with better brown bag lunches than mine, described them. Which is why I believe my version is a perfect impostor. It packs a lemony punch with a sweet sugar chaser.

Lemon Coolers

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter–room temp
2 cups powdered sugar-divided
2 heaping tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Stir together flour, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 cup powdered sugar until evenly mixed. Beat in lemon zest and lemon juice. slowly stir in the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Gather the dough and form into a flat ball. Divide dough into 4 pieces, rolling each into a log. The diameter of the log is to your own specifications, depending on your desired cookie size. My preference is about 2″ round. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. You may also freeze the log(s) at this time. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Remove the log from plastic wrap and slice in 1/4″ rounds. Tt is helpful to twist the log clockwise each time you cut, so as to avoid a flattened bottom. Place cookies 1″ apart on the cookie sheet and bake approximately 10-12 minutes. Cookies are done when they are just turning golden on the bottom. While cookies are baking, place the remaining 1 cup powdered sugar in a shallow bowl. As you remove the cookies from the oven, they will be too delicate to handle. Once they are cooled a bit (not fully cool, still slightly warm), carefully turn them in the powdered sugar, and place back onto same cookie sheet. The sugar will melt slightly and be a bit like frosting. Once the cookies are fully cooled, toss them in the powdered sugar a second time.