Warm Brie & Date Bites

At the first sign of frost and chill, I begin dreaming of kitchen comforts.  I begin to categorize in my head all of the delicious things I will prepare, and the perfect gloaming light in which I will photograph them.  Stews, braises, puddings, cakes, savory lamb shanks cooked under the most perfect crust with just the slightest untidy boil-over {meant to look homemade and charming, just shy of a mess} flash behind my eyes, like the world’s best slide show.  I will tap the perfectly worn, turn of the century board from my vast selection of props, slide a piece of irish linen {just so} at the perfect angle and pose my dish as if it were Gigi Hadid on Capri.

That is always the plan.  Bless my heart for having such a great imagination.

The reality is this.  I’m dreaming of kitchen comforts, but I would gladly toss them aside for a kitchen cleaner.  I’m positioning our meals between bottle feeding goats and mucking out chicken coops.  I own beautiful dishes and linens and worn boards, but find myself opting for those pieces that are within reach in my tiny kitchen.  And when I say in reach, I am being literal.

When we have company, I channel my imaginative moments.  I {she said sheepishly} create a scene. A “why yes, we always have cocktails and warm truffled marcona almonds on the deck.  Here, please stave the chill with one of these throws we keep tucked behind the bar for moments like this”scene.  Maybe I don’t go that far…but I go pretty far.  Why I do it, is not up for discussion.  But how I do it is.

I keep it simple; putting together things that can hit more than one note, and can be mostly prepared in advance.
These warm brie & date bites are a wonderful treat that pairs well with champagne, bourbon neat, or mulled cider.

Warm Brie & Date Bites
10 mini brie rounds {i have found them at trader joes}
puff pastry; defrosted and chilled
10 large dried dates; pits removed
maldon salt {or your favorite sea salt}

Slice the top off each brie round (it is best if they are cold for this step).  Prepare a sheet pan by lining with parchment paper or a silpat.   Using a cookie cutter, cut 10 rounds from the puff pastry that are only slightly larger than the brie. Using a knife, cut strips of puff pastry as wide as the brie bites are high. Using a pastry brush, one at a time,  brush the 1 round and  1 strip with water.  Place the brie on top of the round then wrap with the strip, making sure the ends meet or slightly overlap.  Cup the brie in your hand to make sure the bottom is attached to the strip.  Leave the open top exposed {the end without rind should be facing up}.  Butterfly the pitted date and place, gooey side down, on top of the brie.  Continue with remaining brie rounds.  Place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.
At this point you can cover and keep in the refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 400F.  Space the bites with at least 1″ between them and bake until golden brown.  Depending on your oven, this could be 15 minutes or it could be 30 minutes. Start checking on them at 15 minutes.  When the pastry is puffed and golden brown, remove from oven.  While still warm, drizzle with honey and sprinkle a bit of sea salt on each one. Serve warm or room temperature.

Hot Cross Scones {with rum soaked dates and toasted pecans}

Come Easter, I yearn for all the delicious delights from both my childhood, and my travels. Whilst (see how I did that?) living in London, the hot cross bun craze eluded me. I participated, but was never that enthusiastic about the taste. They however, are fun to make, and do signal the last days of the Lenten season…which is joy in and of itself. In the tradition of Good Friday must eats (if you are not fasting today), I give you Hot Cross Scones. Instead of raisins, they have rum soaked dates and toasted pecans. You’re welcome.

These, like hot cross buns, are meant to be shared “Half for you and half for me, between us two goodwill shall be” While the “diddy” intimates sharing a single bun, this recipe makes about a dozen scones. I don’t think anyone would balk at the notion that 6 a piece is fair share.

Hot Cross Scones {with dates and pecans}
for the scones
1/2 cup dried dates: chopped into raisin size pieces
1/2 cup spiced rum
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
4 Tsp baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter–cold and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup toasted pecans–chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream–cold
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

for the icing
1/3 cup powdered sugar
pinch ground ginger
1 tsp +/- heavy cream

to make scones
Heat the spiced rum over low heat, and pour over the chopped dates. Let sit for no less than 10 minutes and up to an hour. Drain well. In a large bowl whisk together the whole wheat and all purpose flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or your hands cut the butter into the flour mixture. Do not overwork. Toss the drained dates and pecans in. Give them a quick stir to coat with flour. Whisk the cream, egg and vanilla together and add all at once to the flour mixture. Using your hands gently mix together. When the dough has just come together, place onto a lightly floured surface and shape, by hand or with a roller, into a 3/4″ round. sprinkle a bit of flour on top, if sticky, and cut out with 3″ round cutter. Place on lined sheet pan. Using the back of a knife, swept in flour, make a cross indentation in the top. Brush with egg wash or the remains of your egg/cream mixture. Bake at 400F for about 15 minutes. Ice when cooled.

to make the icing
Place powdered sugar in a small bowl, whisk in ground ginger. Add cream 1 tsp at a time until the mixture is thin enough to pipe, but not too thin. You don’t want a runny icing. Pipe with a pastry bag.

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


Winter Harvest Salad

These past few days Mike has been ill with the flu, Which means, I get to eat what I like. And I like butternut squash and arugula.

Winter Harvest Salad
roasted butternut squash–roasted with olive oil and sea salt
cooked puy lentils (i buy mine at trader joes)
goat cheese
roasted and salted almonds–chopped

Yogurt Date Dressing
2 pitted dates soaked in boiling water-just to cover
2 Tbs plain non-fat greek yogurt
1 Tbs cider vinegar
splash balsamic vinegar
2-3 Tbs olive oil
4 roasted garlic cloves
(i roast a head of garlic along with the butternut squash)
1 tsp or more of lemon juice
For the Dressing
Place all ingredients, including water from dates, in a blender and whirl until smooth. You may need more or less olive oil…depending on your specific taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use to dress salad.