OM Ali – Egyptian Bread Pudding

The dessert name of Om Ali, means ‘Ali’s mother’, has its own story. To make a long story short, not wanting to bore you with the detailed war history of Om Ali ….. Ali’s mother, was a powerful feminist of the 13th century Egypt. Her husband tried to cheat on her so she kills him and celebrates with distributing Om Ali dessert declaring her son Ali as successor. As ever, food is a much more than just the act of cooking and eating. Food is culture, history and the stories of a given people and time.

You could think of Om Ali as the Egyptian cousin of bread pudding. Same idea of soaking some type of bread with milk or cream and sugar, then baking it in the oven. Om Ali skips the eggs though, which makes it lighter in texture, looser and milkier as opposed to custardy. Instead of bread, it is traditionally made with baked puff pastry, phyllo or Egyptian flat bread combined with milk and nuts.

Om Ali has become a well loved and celebrated dessert all over the Middle East, being served at many big celebrations and events.

Instead of using the traditional nuts, raisins and coconut, I’m using the ‘Sahale Snack Mix’ which has a very similar blend in my Om Ali pudding.

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OM Ali - Egyptian Bread Pudding
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Instructions
  1. Allow puff pastry to thaw before using. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the puff pastry into squares & poke holes in each using a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed & golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
  2. In a saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, spices & whipped topping powder. Allow to come to a gentle simmer; add the vanilla & heavy cream. Remove from heat.
  3. Break the puff pastry into pieces & place half of them in either individual ramekins or an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle each with some of your fruit/nut blend, reserving a bit for topping. Cover with the other half of the pastry pieces.
  4. Slowly add the milk mixture, one ladle at a time until the milk mixture fully covers the puff pastry. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, you'll notice that the puff pastry absorbs some of the milk. Add milk again until it covers the puff pastry.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F. then place under the broiler if you wish, for a couple of minutes to get a golden top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes
  • When baking is 90% done, sprinkle the rest of the fruit/nut mixture on top so they don't burn & taste bitter. It gives a nice eye appeal.

Pearl Couscous Pudding w/ Poached Fruit

While names may be confusing, if you have never tried ‘pearl couscous’, you should. Because of its size and shape, Israeli couscous is sometimes marketed as pearl couscous. Yet in Israel, it goes by neither of these names … its called ‘ptitim’ which roughly translates to ‘little crumbles’. To make it even a bit more confusing … although it is called couscous, technically its not but more like a pasta.

Unlike the finely grained North African couscous made of semolina, Israeli couscous has larger granules, resembling tiny pearls. They are made from a paste of moistened, finely ground, hard wheat flour which is forced through a machine to make round pellets and then toasted dry in ovens. The toasting process seals in the starch to prevent the ‘pearls‘ from falling apart when later cooked in liquid. It also gives the pasta a bit of a nutty taste.

Whatever name you prefer, it is a tasty alternative to rice or pasta. Not only will it serve as a base for vegetable and herb packed salads, it can be stirred with stock to make creamy risottos or use it as a replacement for tapioca or rice in dessert puddings. Its even good just as a side dish tossed with oil or butter, lemon and fresh herbs.

I was able to buy just a small amount at the bulk store so I could make this pudding. The poached fruit makes such a nice topping for it as well.

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Pearl Couscous Pudding w/ Poached Fruit
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Poached Strawberries & Rhubarb
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Poached Strawberries & Rhubarb
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Instructions
Pudding
  1. In a saucepan, combine coconut oil with cardamom spice over medium-low heat. Add couscous & toast, stirring occasionally, just until the couscous has turned a light golden brown.
  2. Add coconut milk, making sure to get all the fat from the can, along with the sugar & salt. The pan should be hot enough that the coconut milk will bubble up & fizz a little then add vanilla.
  3. Bring mixture to a simmer then turn the heat down to low & cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. After 5 minutes turn off the heat, cover & allow to sit for 5 minutes then remove the lid & stir. Pudding thickens as it cools.
Poached Fruit
  1. In a large saucepan, place water & sugar over high heat & stir until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low & add strawberries & rhubarb. Simmer for 10 minutes or until fruits are softened but still retain their shape. Cool.
Assembly
  1. Serve pudding at room temperature otherwise it becomes a solid mass when cold. If it's too thick you can stir in a bit more coconut milk to help thin it out, adding a tablespoon or so at a time until you have the desired consistency. Divide pudding between serving dishes & top with poached fruit to serve.

Moroccan Spiced Fruit Bread

Today, March 28th is the birth date of my mother. Her imprint on my life was huge and I will forever miss her. I read an article recently which I would like to share with you today. It read:

‘I’ve met two kinds of strong women. The first kind is snippy, closed off and only too happy to point out when something isn’t up to their standards. The second kind is like a majestic tree with roots firmly planted and arms open wide. They plant and nurture the seeds of the future and parts of them are passed on through the generations’. My mother was definitely the second type of woman.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to post today, my mind drifted to the recipe archive that lives in my head, eventually making its way to the yeast breads. This is an area my mother had mastered down to a science.

Bread is such a staple food in the diet of most populations and will have featured heavily in most people’s childhoods. This explains why it is one of those smells that evokes such strong memories, particularly of family, childhood and comfort.

I love yeast breads that have spices and dried fruits in them. I recall a combination I had used in another way sometime back so I decided to see if I could make it work in my bread today.

WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF OUR BEAUTIFUL MOTHER!

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Moroccan Spiced Fruit Bread
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Fruit
Sweet Dough
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Sweet Dough
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Instructions
Fruit
  1. In a small bowl, combine fruit, juice & spices. Set aside to marinate.
Sweet Dough
  1. In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, combining after each addition. Once all flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
  3. Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Allow to rest for at least one hour, in a draft-free place until doubled in volume.
  4. Punch dough down & place on a lightly floured surface. With your hand, pat & shape the dough into a rectangle 14 X 12-inches in size & about 1/2-inch thick. Using a ruler & a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 5 strips. Cut each strip into diamonds about 2-inches long. With a pastry brush, lightly butter tops of 'diamonds' as well as the bottom & sides of a bundt pan with the melted butter.
Assembly
  1. Arrange a layer of diamonds side by side in a ring on the bottom of the bundt pan. Divide fruit mixture in half & sprinkle half over diamonds in pan. Repeat with another layer of buttered diamonds & sprinkle with remaining fruit. Top with last buttered diamonds, arranging each successive layer so that it fits over the spaces left in the previous ring.
  2. Don't concern that the diamonds do not fill all the available space; as they rise & bake they will expand. Cover bundt pan with plastic wrap & a tea towel & allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in volume.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake bread for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. To test for doneness, turn bread out & rap the bottom sharply with your knuckles. The bread should sound hollow; if it doesn't, return it to the pan & bake for 5-10 minutes longer. When baked, turn out on a wire rack to cool slightly.
Drizzle
  1. In a small bowl, beat together drizzle ingredients until smooth, adding only enough milk to make preferred drizzle consistency. Spread or drizzle over warm fruit bread & sprinkle with reserved orange zest.

Medjool Date & Apple Flans

There are so many culinary uses for Medjool dates, in both sweet and savory dishes, whether served hot or cold. Often called the king of dates, not only because they are quite expensive but are highly treasured for their size and rich, intensely sweet flesh.

These special fruits are pricey because their cultivation is incredibly labor-intensive. In order to ensure quality and yield, Medjool date palms need to be hand pollinated, pruned, protected and hand picked. While growing, the date bunches are wrapped in bags to prevent the birds from snacking on them and to keep them from falling on the ground.

Dates are usually left to dry on the tree before being harvested, which accounts for their wrinkly appearance. This places them in a peculiar category of being both dried and fresh. Different types of dates have different textures that fall into three categories: soft (like Medjool); semi-soft, which are chewy and are pitted before packaging to dry a little more; and dry, which are often sun-dried after harvest and sold chopped.

Dates can be paired with lamb or chicken and spiced with Middle Eastern flavors or added to dried apricots, cranberries and toasted walnuts in rice or couscous accompaniments. Their caramel-like flavor adds a hint of the exotic to whatever you choose to use them in.

We had some extra apples I needed to do something with. The thought of pairing them with some Medjool dates and walnuts …. Yum!

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Medjool Date & Apple Flans
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Instructions
Pastry
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, & salt. Cut in white & yellow Crisco shortening. In a dish, whisk together water, egg & apple cider vinegar. Make a well in flour mixture & pour all wet ingredients in it. Combine just until pastry pulls away from the bowl.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry; cut out eight 6-inch pastry circles. They should fit nicely into the mini flan pans that measure about 4 1/2-inches in diameter & are 3/4-inch in height. Once you have the pastry you need for the shells, form the remaining pastry in a 'tube' shape. Set the pastry shells in the fridge while you prepare the filling. FREEZE THE TUBE OF PASTRY. This you will use to GRATE on top of the flans for the top crust.
Filling
  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add prepared apples & saute until they start to soften, about 10 minutes. Add spices & honey, combine & cook 1 minute. Take off heat & allow to cool to lukewarm.
Assembly & Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove mini flan shells from refrigerator & place on a baking sheet. Spoon some apple mixture in the bottom of each shell. Top each with a portion of the dates & walnuts, then evenly divide the remaining apple mixture between them. Remove the frozen 'tube' of pastry from freezer & grate (on a cheese grater). Sprinkle over mini flans.
  2. Bake until nice & golden, about 35 minutes. Cool slightly. Whip cream with sugar, cinnamon & vanilla until stiff & serve on warm flans.

Cardamom Fruit Cakes with Rum Sauce

No other spice more completely captures the essence of the exotic. Cardamom’s complex flavor is difficult to describe. There’s nothing subtle about cardamom, so when used in all but sparing amounts it will dominate whatever its paired with. Used properly, it elevates sweet and savory dishes, adding layers of flavor. 

A versatile spice, in that it can be used in everything from desserts to main courses. Relatively expensive, coming in after saffron and pure vanilla, but well worth the expense.

Today, I’m back to ‘recipe development’. My plan is to create some tender, little orange cakes and topping them with a fruit and spice mixture reminiscent of flavors from Morocco.


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Cardamom Fruit Cakes with Rum Sauce

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Instructions
Fruit Topping Mixture
  1. In a small bowl, combine dates, apricots, raisins, apple & remaining orange juice & zest from cake ingredients. Season with cardamom & mace; mix well. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter 6 custard baking cups. Divide fruit between them; covering bottom & pressing a bit up the sides. Set aside.

Cake
  1. In a small bowl, beat together eggs & sugar until thick; gradually beat in oil. In a small dish, combine flour, baking powder & salt. Stir flour into egg/sugar mixture, then add orange juice. Combine well then add zest & vanilla.

  2. Pour the batter over fruit in custard cups, dividing it evenly between them. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done with a toothpick. Allow the cakes to cool for about 5 minutes, then invert onto a rack to finish cooling. When ready to serve, place on individual dessert plates & drizzle with warm rum sauce.

Rum Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter. Combine sugar & cornstarch; stir into melted butter. Slowly pour in milk, stirring frequently until mixture begins to lightly boil. Continue cooking until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & stir in rum extract. Serve warm.

Papaya-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Basmati Rice

Something that was quite apparent to Brion and I when we visited Cuba last year, was that pork and chicken were their favorite meats. It is said that Cuban food reflects the Cuban spirit. A hearty appetite for sweetness and the richness of life, respect for tradition and spiced with a spark of adventure. Although papaya is native to the tropical areas of Mexico as well as Central and South America, it is now cultivated in most countries having a tropical climate. The fruit goes by several names such as pawpaw, papaye (French), fruta bomba or lechosa (Spanish).

It is unclear as to how rice became central to Cuban cuisine, but for a Cuban, a meal without rice is simply not complete. Basmati rice is a unique strain of rice often associated with Asian and Indian cuisine as it originated in India. Characterized by its light nutty flavor and floral aroma, Basmati makes a good choice to pair with fish or chicken dishes. When cooked it retains its individual, non-sticky grains which allow sauces to coat well. Both brown and white varieties are available but brown will give a much deeper flavor.

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Papaya-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Basmati Rice
Instructions
Chicken & Rice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Using the tip of a sharp boning knife, cut a pocket in each chicken breast through a 2-inch slit in the side. Place papaya slices into each chicken breast & sprinkle with cinnamon. Dip each breast into melted butter then into cracker crumbs.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken breasts in skillet & brown about 5 minutes on each side. Place browned breasts on baking sheet.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes, then flip over & continue to bake until chicken is no longer pink in center about 20 minutes more. Meanwhile, bring rice & water to a boil in a saucepan. Cover; simmer until rice is tender & liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.
Pineapple Sauce
  1. In skillet that was used to brown chicken, melt 1 Tbsp butter scraping up any brown bits. Stir in orange juice, pineapple, brown sugar & all spices. Reduce to medium & simmer until reduced, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low & continue to simmer until sauce is thickened. Serve the chicken breasts over rice with pineapple sauce spooned over top.

Tropical Papaya Scones with Vanilla Glaze

Scones were originally made from oats and shaped into a large round called a ‘bannock’. Each round was scored into four to six triangles and cooked on a griddle either over an open fire or on top of the stove.

A scone is not a cupcake. Making scones is like stirring together biscuits. A simple mixture of flour, salt, baking powder and/or soda, milk or sour cream, butter and sometimes eggs. Scones are the perfect blank canvas and can be flavored to taste and loaded with add-ons.

Many times, scones have been perceived as dry and boring. The classic scone is crusty on the outside and biscuit textured within. A cakey super moist texture should not be expected in a scone.

We found this dried fruit scone was excellent eaten slightly warm. The cardamom spice really enhanced the flavor of the papaya fruit in them. I used the flour/oatmeal combo, as I most often do because of the the nice texture and taste it gives. The glaze is optional as it kind of goes against the basics of a scone but what the heck!

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Tropical Papaya Scones with Vanilla Glaze
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Papaya Scones
Vanilla Glaze
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Papaya Scones
Vanilla Glaze
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Instructions
Papaya Scones
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor, pulse oatmeal for a few seconds then add next 5 ingredients & pulse a few more seconds. Add butter; whirl ONLY until mixture resembles coarse crumbs then place in a large bowl. Stir in chopped fruit.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, milk & vanilla. Add to dry mixture blending only until JUST incorporated. Scoop onto baking sheet & bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly.
Vanilla Glaze
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together glaze ingredients until smooth. With a small spoon, drizzle glaze over scones.

Turkish-Style Stuffed Apricots

The majority of dried apricots available on the market come from Turkey. What sets them apart from others, is the way they are dried. Generally, Turkish apricots are dried whole, then pitted, resulting in a plumper, thicker fruit then apricots that are pitted before drying.

A velvety sweetness emerges from the golden orange disks, grown on the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast. Apricots are a relative of the peach with an ancient linage that reaches back to China.

These incredibly easy little hors d ouvers, evoke images of the vibrant colorful markets we saw when we visited the country of Morocco. The dried apricots are soaked, candied, stuffed with Greek yogurt and garnished with a unique glazed medley of pistachios, almonds, cherries, pomegranate-flavored apples, a touch of lemon and a dash of pepper. This all comes together to make a perfect, lightly sweet/spicy, one-bite treat with the help of a package of ‘Sahale Snacks’. Gourmet in minutes!

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Turkish-Style Stuffed Apricots
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Instructions
  1. Soak the apricots in water overnight. In a small saucepan, combine apricots with their soaking water & sugar; bring to a simmer & cook for about 10 minutes. The syrup should thicken slightly; remove from heat & allow to cool. Once cooled, drain off any excess syrup.
  2. Slice apricots lengthwise 3/4 of the way through. Place about 1 tsp of yogurt in side of each one then press a glazed pistachio or almond into the yogurt. Repeat with the rest of the apricots & serve with the remaining glazed nut & fruit mixture on the side.

Rhubarb/Rose Turkish Delight & Rhubarb Cream Cheese Truffles

Anyone following my blog is well aware of my love for rhubarb. I think I’ve tried to use it in every capacity possible. Well, get ready for my next adventure — rhubarb Turkish delight! I refrain from eating a lot of chocolate bars, not that I don’t enjoy them, but seriously –. In Canada, the Nestle company sells a chocolate bar called ‘Big Turk’ for which Turkish delight forms the basic foundation. Of course, I love it!

Just a bit of food history background on the subject first. The Turkish name for the sweet comes from the Arabic rahat-ul hulkum which means ‘soothe or heal the throat’. This was abbreviated to rahat lokum and then lokum. The name ‘Turkish Delight’ was coined in the 18th century to make it easier to pronounce. As an improvement on the original recipe of honey or molasses, a mixture of water, flour, cornstarch and refined beet sugar were used to make a firm, chewy jelly.

Little has changed in the last 240 years. Although there are more than 24 different flavors, the biggest seller that still remains is a plain jelly studded with pistachios. Traditional Middle Eastern flavors include rose-pistachio, orange-blossom walnut, mint and rose-lemon.

Back to the rhubarb. Somewhere in my travels, I came across a recipe for rhubarb truffles that peeked my interest. After more research, I decided why not go right out on a limb and test my skills at making some rhubarb/rose Turkish delight. Actually, the end result was not bad. I have acquired a taste for the use of floral water in baking, Brion, not so much. It has to be used very sparingly or it becomes overpowering. I made three versions: Turkish delight plain or covered in white chocolate and a rhubarb truffle. A bit time consuming but a very unique flavor.

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Rhubarb/Rose Turkish Delights & Chocolates
Instructions
Rhubarb/Rose Turkish Delight
  1. In a saucepan, put 1 1/4 cups water with sugar, rhubarb & lemon juice. Cook over low heat , stirring until sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat a little; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; leave the rhubarb to infuse for 10 minutes, then pass through a sieve, reserving the juice & pulp separately (the pulp can be used in the truffles that follow).
  2. Line a baking dish with cling film (the size will depend on how thick you want your candy) & set aside. In a small dish, blend cornstarch with remaining 1/4 cup water until smooth. In a saucepan, add rhubarb juice, gelatin powder, dissolved cornstarch & heat gently, stirring until gelatin has dissolved, then bring to a rolling boil.
  3. Keep mixture at a steady rolling boil, stirring constantly, for about 12-14 minutes or until syrup reaches a soft ball stage. Cool slightly & then pour mixture into lined baking dish. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 12 hours or until the mixture is set; do not refrigerate.
  4. Once the jelly is set, cut into pieces. Combine 1 Tbsp cornstarch with 2 Tbsp powdered sugar in a bowl, then roll the jellies in this mixture to coat them. Keep jellies in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 3 days; do not refrigerate. If you want to dip some of your jellies as I did, I found using a mini ice cube tray as a mold was helpful. I just set the piece of jelly in each cup & poured the white chocolate over & around it. Can be frozen until needed.
Rhubarb Cream Cheese Truffles
  1. In a double boiler over medium heat, melt 55 grams of white chocolate chunks. Transfer to a bowl; add remaining ingredients EXCEPT milk chocolate & beat with an electric hand mixer until smooth. Cover & chill until solid enough to roll or scoop into balls.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt milk chocolate. drop balls of rhubarb/cream cheese mixture, one at a time, into milk chocolate to coat. Carefully remove onto parchment paper & allow to harden. Can be frozen as well until needed.
Recipe Notes
  • I also tried freezing the plain jellies without putting cornstarch/sugar mixture on them and it worked fine. They were actually nice tasting right out of the freezer.

Turkish Figs with Anise & Walnuts

We are definitely well on our way to the ‘holiday’ season. For some, there will be endless social events and family gatherings, all of which require those quintessential little bite-size  hors’d’ouvers. Being someone who loves to work with food, the Christmas season is like a blank canvas. Having spent a lifetime in the commercial food industry, I’m definitely no stranger to the endless hours of preparing these tasty little morsels. It gives you the ultimate presentation challenge when hundreds are required (as well as being tiring and a bit tedious at times).

One item that seems to always add a special note of elegance is the use of figs. Not for everyone, but for those who do enjoy them, they are irresistible. Figs can be eaten raw, grilled, poached or baked and can be paired with walnuts, honey, cheese, wine, citrus, cured meats and a variety of spices.

Turkey is the largest producer of figs in the world.  The Smyrna/Calimyrna figs arrived in California, USA. in the 18th century, along with a special breed of wasp once needed for fertilization. Today, the most widely grown types of figs, including  Black Mission, self-pollinate without any wasp labor.

The base of the fig plant’s flower, or soft pod, and little ‘seeds’ are the fruit’s structure and are all edible. Dried figs keep well without refrigeration and give you that concentrated, sweet flavor.

These ‘fast and fabulous’, three ingredient hors’d’ouvers are truly a must for all fig lovers!

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Turkish Figs with Anise & Walnuts
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Cut hard stem from the top of figs & discard. Slice figs in half horizontally & place sliced side up on a baking sheet. Using your finger, make a depression in the center of each. Place a 1/4 tsp of honey on each half & sprinkle with ground anise or seeds.
  3. Press a walnut halve into center of each fig the top with grated cheese. Bake until cheese melts & is bubbly, about 5 minutes. Serve.