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!
Medjool Date & Apple Flans
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.
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.
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
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.
Bake until nice & golden, about 35 minutes. Cool slightly. Whip cream with sugar, cinnamon & vanilla until stiff & serve on warm flans.
Do you recall the Monte Cristo sandwiches of ‘yesteryear’? There was a time when you could find this sandwich on most restaurant lunch menus across North America. Basically, its ham and cheese sandwiched between two pieces of french toast, smothered in egg batter, deep fried, sprinkled with powdered sugar and dipped in a side of jelly. It’s where salty meets sweet and savory.
It’s believed that the Monte Cristo evolved from the French sandwich called ‘Croque Monsieur‘. The original grilled cheese sandwich consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter.
This sandwich, although delicious, is neither health or diet food but sometimes its fun to just enjoy these kind of things in moderation, of course.
This ‘lasagna‘ turned out to be real tasty. It kind of puts a new spin on an old classic. Instead of french toast, the ham and cheese are layered in between a baked cauliflower mixture that resembles slices of bread or lasagna noodles. Serve with cauliflower sauce or a sauce of your own choice.
Cauliflower Monte Cristo Lasagna
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tablespoon of salt & lemon juice. Cut cauliflower into florets, add to boiling mixture & cook until they are soft. Drain cooked cauliflower & roughly crush them into 'mush'. Add breadcrumbs, Parmesan, egg, garlic, Italian herbs, salt & pepper; mix well.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Press cauliflower mixture on baking sheet into a 9 x 9-inch square. Bake for about 15 minutes or until crispy. Remove from oven, cut cauliflower into 3 strips. In a buttered baking dish place the first strip. Cover with half of each of the ham & cheese slices. Put another strip of cauliflower on it & top with the rest of the ham & cheese slices. Place the third strip of cauliflower on top & sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Adjust oven temperature to 350 F. & bake 'lasagna' for about 30 minutes.
Add butter to a blender or food processor. Cook cauliflower according to package instructions. Using a slotted spoon, drain off any excess water, transfer to blender. Add the vegetable broth, Parmesan, garlic, milk, salt & pepper. Process until a very smooth consistency is reached. Serve warm over Monte Cristo lasagna.
Even though we are almost at the end of fall, there is still time to embrace those summer zucchini. I realize using zucchini instead of lasagna noodles is not a new idea but definitely a natural substitution. Lasagna, in any form, has to be up there on our list of comfort foods. Their saucy, cheesy and you have endless possibilities with fillings.
Thinly sliced zucchini stands in for the noodles and the three cheeses give this vegetarian lasagna plenty of richness, but for an even more substantial dish, I added some cooked and crumbled Asiago sausage.
It certainly has wonderful eye appeal but even more important, the flavor was amazing. Asiago/Red Pepper sausage is made in-store by Save-On Foods in our city. It has become my ultimate favorite in fresh sausage to use.
Zucchini Lasagna Roll-Ups with Asiago Sausage
Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a sheet pan with 1 Tbsp oil; set aside. Slice zucchini into 1/8-inch thick slices. Lay zucchini slices on prepared baking sheet & roast for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven & cool for 5 minutes before handling. Leave oven on for baking casserole.
In a saucepan, crumble-fry sausage; remove & drain on paper towel. In a bowl, beat egg & combine with ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, salt & pepper.
In a 9 X 13-inch baking dish, spread some marinara sauce on the bottom. Assemble zucchini roll-ups by laying the zucchini strips on a flat work surface. Divide filling between strips & spread. Sprinkle each strip with a bit of mozzarella cheese. Roll up & place in casserole dish. Drizzle remaining sauce on rolls & sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese.
Bake, uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is melted & bubbly.
A while back, I was speaking with my neighbor, Meg, who told me about an ancient grain I had never known about. It is called Teff. This word originates from the Amharic word ‘teffa’ which means ‘lost’ due to the small size of the grain. An annual bunch grass native to the central highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It can survive both wet and dry climates, high temperatures and bright light as well as not being subject to as many plant diseases as other cereal grains. It’s high nutritional value and reliable cultivation have made it Ethiopia’s most important grain crop. Teff’s size makes it convenient because it doesn’t take a large volume of teff seed to plant a field.
Ground into flour, teff is used to make the traditional bread called ‘injera’, a sourdough risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture similar to a crepe. It can also be found in many gluten-free options of pancakes, breads, cereals, pie crusts, cookies and other snacks.
Meg had given me a package of ‘authentic‘ teff flour so I was anxious to try it. I noticed a great looking recipe for seeded teff rolls on the computer so I was all set. To compliment the teff rolls I made some shrimp burgers w/ avocado aioli. Nice meal!
Shrimp Burgers on Seeded Teff Buns
Seeded Teff Buns
In a small bowl, whisk together water, yeast, honey, oil & vinegar. Let stand 3-5 minutes or until yeast is dissolved & beginning to proof.
In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add yeast mixture to dry ingredients & mix on low speed until combined. Add in egg whites. Once combined, mix on high speed for 3-5 minutes.
Grease a 9-10 inch round baking pan. Scoop the batter into pan (with a spring release scoop) making about 6 buns. Place rolls right next to each other. Cover & let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven; cool slightly.
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for shrimp burgers. Form into 4 patties & set on a plate with squares of wax paper between them. Put in fridge until ready to cook.
In a small bowl, Combine all ingredients for avocado aioli until smooth. Cover & set in fridge until ready to use.
In a large skillet, add 3 Tbsp oil & turn heat to medium-high. Gently place shrimp burgers on skillet & cook 3 minutes until golden, flip & cook another 3 minutes.
On each of the sliced, warm teff buns, place a shrimp burger with a generous dollop of avocado aioli. Don't hesitate to add some lettuce & tomato slices if you wish.
It’s that wonderful time of year when there is an abundance of fresh fruit available so why not make the most of it?! Peaches are a favorite of mine, not only because of their great taste but they have such versatility in their uses. Just for something different today, I want to take the peach idea in a whole different direction. These beautiful, old fashioned pastries were very popular in the 1980’s. They are known for their unique look that resembles a fresh peach with a flavor that is delicately sweet and buttery. Traditionally served at Italian wedding showers, Pesche (or peach), are now served at any celebration and may be found throughout many countries in Europe.
Peach cookies are two cookie domes, carved on the inside and paired together to hold a dollop of custard. Once assembled, they are dipped in Alchermes, a crimson colored liqueur infused with a blend of anise flowers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, jasmine, mace, nutmeg, orange peel, sugar and vanilla. These ingredients are stepped in alcohol, which is then flavored with rose water. Alchermes gives these pastries a vibrant pink hue and a unique, light alcohol flavor that combines custard and cookie beautifully. To further enhance the peach resemblance, they are rolled in a sanding sugar.
Alchermes is a very ancient liqueur of Arabic origin. It’s main feature is an unmistakable scarlet color, which was originally acquired by adding ‘kermes’, a scale insect that eat oak trees. Modern alchermes liqueurs no longer use the kermes insect. Alchermes was created in the Frati’ Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy.
These peach cookies are an impressive dessert, perfect for special summer occasions. You can use any filling you choose such as a pastry cream, lemon curd, limoncello or just plain nutella spread. Since it is almost impossible to find the alchermes liqueur in Canada, I’ve listed a few substitutes that can be used instead.
Peach Cookies or Pesche
In a small bowl, combine filling ingredients; stir in reserved crumbs. Spoon into center holes of cookies & press together to form a peach.
In a shallow bowl, combine lemon & peach gelatin powder. Place package of strawberry gelatin in another bowl. Place sugar in a third bowl.
Working with one cookie at a time, spritz cookie with a bit of water. Dip in lemon mixture, then in strawberry gelatin & then in sugar. Spritz with additional water & add more gelatin as needed to create desired 'peach blush' effect. Place on a wire rack to dry for an hour. Attach mint leaves to top of each cookie with additional preserves. Store in refrigerator.
- Alchermes can be substituted for a peach liqueur or Chambord raspberry liqueur. For my peach cookies, I kept it simple & used a combination of jello powders to replicate the traditional idea.
CELEBRATING CANADA DAY!
Food and drink are almost as synonymous with Canada Day as the colors of red and white. More importantly this date celebrates the historical event in which Canada gained its independence from Great Britain in 1867.
On July 1st, from coast to coast, the country’s birthday is highlighted with colorful parades, concerts, carnivals, festivals and firework displays.
Barbecues are definitely the preferred choice of food event as summer entertaining is all about laid-back get together’s. Easy food prep is the name of the game!
For our Canada Day barbecue, it had to be special so here’s what developed—
Beef Burgers with Apricot/ Pistachio Chutney
In a skillet, saute shallots without browning. Add apricots, honey & apricot nectar. Simmer until liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool at room temperature, then stir in the pistachios & a dash of vinegar. Refrigerate.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the burgers. Shape into 4 patties & refrigerate.
Preheat the barbecue to high & when the grill is hot, place patties on the grill & sear on both sides, making sure not to turn them too soon. When burgers are well marked & can be lifted off the grill easily, remove them to another part of the barbecue where the heat has been reduced & let them finish cooking undisturbed.
While burgers are finishing, brush mushroom caps with oil & grill on both sides until done. Set them aside. Turn off one of the burners, place the burgers on that part of the grill & top each with a slice of cheese. Close the lid for a few minutes & cook over indirect heat until cheese is melted.
Serve on warmed or toasted ciabatta buns. Top each burger with a mushroom cap, a generous spoonful of chutney & some cucumber slices.
What to call it — an omelette, frittata or quiche? While this trinity of brunch egg dishes all contain eggs, the preparation methods vary. All are delicious but here’s what defines them.
The traditional French omelette contains eggs, a splash of water and a pinch of salt and pepper. The briskly whipped eggs are cooked in clarified butter then turned out of the pan when still a little custardy and unset. These (colorless) omelettes are rolled up like a business letter and served with only a few herbs. In North America, we seem to want to ‘clean out the fridge’ so to speak, adding just about anything and everything. This version is cooked until mostly dry on top and golden on the bottom. As a rule, they are folded over once, then served.
Frittatas are generally thicker than omelettes. The ingredients are mixed in, instead of sprinkled on. While started on the stove, sometimes they are finished under the broiler then served in slices like a pie.
Quiche, on the other hand, is a savory custard baked in a pastry crust or a potato crust. Quiche gets its richness from the addition of whole milk, half & half or even heavy cream. Just to add another twist to the mix — enter the ‘crustless quiche-omelette’.
This particular meal at our house, was one of those ‘clean out the fridge’ ideas that turned out absolutely wonderful. I had posted the salmon/dill scones on a blog a number of years ago. They made an ideal compliment for this meal.
Baked Avocado Bacon Omelette with Salmon/Dill Scones
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep pie plate with cooking spray.
In a skillet, saute bacon until cooked but not real crisp; dry on paper towel & crumble. Add onions, mushrooms & garlic to skillet, sauteing in bacon drippings until tender crisp. Chop tomato & 1 avocado. Grate cheese. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt & pepper. Add all prepared ingredients; gently stir.
Pour mixture into pie plate distributing evenly. Bake 35-40 minutes, rotating once half way through. Let omelette cool for 5 minutes. Top with remaining sliced avocado & serve.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners. In a bowl, mix together flour & baking powder. Add grated cheese, smoked salmon & dill. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk & oil.
Place half of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir well. Then add the rest of the wet ingredients & mix until completely combined. Spoon into paper liners until each is filled halfway, then place a heaping tsp of cream cheese in the middle of each scone. Divide the rest of the batter between the 8 cups.
Bake for 10 minutes, rotate pan & continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until scones are just browning on top & test done.