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.

Chicken & Pear Bundles

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Thanksgiving represents many things to me. I have wonderful memories of growing up on the farm and all the hustle and bustle of harvest time before winter came. Of watching the Autumn landscape transforming into a beautiful tapestry of reds, gold and yellows.

As the fall comes in, the days grow shorter and the mornings darker, we start to reflect on the year we have had with its inevitable highs and lows. The Autumn season gives us a little bit of extra time to make the most of what we have left in the year before the ‘grand finale’. It is so important to just take the time to be grateful and appreciate the blessings we are fortunate to have in our lives and make every day count.

Since turkey is usually our Christmas meal, I’m making some chicken breast with pears and Gorgonzola cheese ‘bundled’ in puff pastry for our Thanksgiving dinner today.

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Chicken & Pear Bundles
Instructions
Raspberry Coulis
  1. In a small bowl, combine coulis ingredients well & set aside.
Chicken & Filling
  1. Peel, core & chop pear. Chop walnuts & crumble cheese. Slice breasts in about 1/4-inch thickness; sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  2. On parchment paper, roll thawed puff pastry to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut 4 circles large enough to fit custard cups & have extra on top to gather & tie. Using the custard cup only as a form, place a circle of pastry in each. Line the pastry with thin sliced chicken breast, then sprinkle some walnuts & cheese in the bottom. Add some pear pieces, cheese, more walnuts. Top with another piece of chicken, cut to fit. Bring sides of pastry together in the center on top, pinch then tie with a chive green if you wish.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a cup, beat together egg wash. Lift bundles out of custard cups & place on baking sheet. Lightly brush egg wash over each bundle. Bake about 30-40 minutes or until pastry is puffed & golden & chicken is done (I sliced into one of the bundles just enough to see if the chicken was cooked).
  4. Slightly warm coulis in microwave & pour some on the serving platter. Carefully lay bundles on top & garnish with fresh herbs if you wish.

Honey Mustard Chicken Legs

Honey mustard is one of those condiments you either really like or you hate it. I recall when one of my nephews was just about ‘knee high to a grasshopper’, he just LOVED it.

When he would dip that little KFC chicken nugget in some honey mustard, I think his eyes actually glazed over as he inhaled that flavor. It was just so incredibly cute to watch.

Combining honey with mustard brings out flavors not readily apparent in a straight honey. These two ingredients, when combined, flavor a variety of otherwise bland dishes such as chicken and pork. It’s often used in salad dressings, sandwich spreads, meat or veggie dips, ham glaze etc.

There seem to be many versions due to the fact that there are multiple types of honey and mustard. Although it is very often combined with mayo, I prefer it without. If you like this flavor, these ‘legs’ are for you!

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Honey Mustard Chicken Legs
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Cuisine American
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together mustard, honey & olive oil. Add a pinch of salt & pepper to taste. In a baking dish, place the chicken pieces, skin side up. Pour mustard/honey mixture over all & place sprigs of rosemary between them.
  3. Bake about 45 minutes or until cooked. Remove from oven & serve.

Spiced Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce

Over forty years ago I tasted my first ‘poached pear’. We were having a beautiful dinner at my sister Loretta’s house. It was a special occasion and she had made poached pears for dessert. They were so elegant and wonderful tasting, I can remember it clearly to this day.

What’s not to love about this match made in culinary heaven. The pears are fruity and light, while the chocolate sauce gives a touch of indulgence not to mention the little surprise tucked in the center.

There is really no set answer to the question of ‘how many ways can you poach a pear’. Of course, the classic way would be in red or white wine, which certainly has eye appeal. But, besides wine, there is always cider, bold and flavorful beers or ales and even espresso.

I decided to go with pear juice, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla and honey. I think the look is gorgeous not to mention the wonderful flavor.

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Spiced Poached Pears with Chocolate Sauce
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Course dessert
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Instructions
Pears
  1. Core & peel pears, leaving stems intact. In a small saucepan, combine juice, cinnamon sticks, star anise, honey & vanilla. Add pears; bring to a simmer. Cook, turning pears occasionally, until easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, but not falling apart. The length of time will depend on the ripeness of pears. Remove pears from liquid using a slotted spoon & transfer to a large bowl; drain well.
Filling
  1. In a small dish, combine walnuts, powdered sugar & milk; set aside.
Chocolate Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, combine chocolate, heavy cream & butter. Turn heat to low & melt chocolate, stirring until smooth.
To Serve
  1. Spoon nut mixture into pear cavities. Place on dessert plates; drizzle with chocolate sauce. Serve with ice cream. Garnish with a spring of fresh mint if you wish.

Chicken Salad in Braided Bread Bowls

Salad season is upon us! Salads very often are misunderstood … an afterthought. A salad can be an amazing meal of various flavors and textures.

Funny how trends always have a way of coming back. You probably remember those unique bread bowl salads from the 90’s. They were huge, filled with all kinds of ‘goodies’ and loads of salad dressing. They looked so pretty, like having a dinner table decoration you could eat.

When you think about it, bread bowls can be and have been, used in a variety of ways. During the colder months for hearty soups and stews and in the spring or summer for salads, dips etc. A bread bowl moves the meal from humdrum to unique. Of course, whether you use a solid or a weaved bowl will dictate your filling.

I’ve always thought main course salads, especially during the summer months, were great. No turning on the oven (unless you make a bread bowl), easy to prepare, gorgeous to look at and a fabulous taste. Main course salad can have anything in it you like, there is no wrong way to make one.

To keep it simple today, I’m making my bread bowls from refrigerated pizza dough. The salad turned out to be a bit more time consuming but well worth it.

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Chicken Salad in Braided Bread Bowls
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
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Instructions
Braided Bread Bowl
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside Spray the outside of a medium-sized metal bowl generously with cooking spray or wrap with foil. Unroll pizza dough & slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips.
  2. On a work surface covered with parchment paper, lay out pizza dough strips so they sit about 3/4-inch apart. Beginning in the center of the strips, weave the second half of the pizza strips in and out to create a basket base. Make sure to reserve a few strips for the braid at the top of your bread bowl.
  3. Using the parchment paper, gently flip the weaved bread dough over the inverted prepared metal bowl on the lined baking sheet. Take the remaining dough strips, braid them together, then drape along the bottom to give a nice design on the top of your basket. Repeat with 2 pizza crust dough for the second basket. Brush the entire surface of the baskets with melted butter.
  4. Bake for 18-23 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven & cool completely before gently removing bread bowls from the metal bowls.
Salad
  1. Whisk together dressing/marinade ingredients. Pour half the marinade into a shallow dish to marinade chicken fillets for 2 hours at least. Refrigerate other half of marinade to use as dressing.
  2. In a non-stick skillet, heat a teaspoon of oil & grill chicken fillets on each side until golden, crispy & cooked through. Once chicken is grilled, set aside to cool. Wipe pan with a paper towel; drizzle with another teaspoon of oil & fry bacon until crisp. Blot on paper towel after frying & crumble.
  3. Slice chicken into strips & prepare other vegetables. Make a 'nest' of torn Romaine in bread bowl. Arrange other ingredients on top. Whisk 2 Tbsp of water into remaining reserved dressing/marinade & drizzle over salad. Top with crumbled bacon & season with salt & cracked pepper to taste.

Angel Cake Roll w/ Lemon Cream & Balsamic Strawberries

Angel Food cake is definitely a nostalgic dessert for many of us. I have always been intrigued by the experience of nostalgia, an emotion defined as, ‘a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time’.

Growing up on a farm where chickens and eggs were part of the equation, angel food cake with fresh fruit was a special summertime treat.

The crown jewel of cakes when it comes to a light, and fluffy texture. Butter-less, oil-less and yolk-less, this cake is a fat-free marvel ( of course, don’t mention the sugar calories, if that matters ).

I recall my mother’s angel food cake, amazingly tall and light as a feather. It had its own special pan and was always cooled, precariously balanced upside down on the kitchen counter.

It seems that the earliest print evidence for commercial angel food cake MIX was around 1942. The brand was called EZY Angel Cake Mix produced by a company called Blair Inc. from Atchison, Kansas in the USA. In 1949 a full page ad promoting this product stated:

‘all you have to do is add water … For ease in preparation, the ingredients have been divided into two separate plastic bags. One contains the mix of egg whites, flavoring slice, salt and sugar; the other contains the special flour mixture. Contents of the first bag, with the addition of water, are beaten to the proper stiffness and the contents of the second bag are then folded into the mixture. The batter is poured into a tube pan and baked in a hot oven. It’s just that simple! Results have proven to be uniform in all cases, enabling anyone to make an angel food cake of such airy, snowy goodness that it delights the most particular tastes. The mix comes in two sizes — a large 14-egg package and a medium sized 8-egg package. Once you have tried it, you won’t want to be without it. Your family will love it…”.

Brion has always loved angel food. I was thinking since his birthday is getting close, it was a good time to make some in a cake roll style with lemon filling and balsamic strawberries. If you feel like trying this recipe, its your choice to either use a mix or do it from scratch. I’m sure it will be great either way.

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Angel Cake Roll w/ Lemon Cream & Balsamic Strawberries
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
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Ingredients
Angel Food Cake Roll
Lemon Cream Filling
Balsamic Strawberries
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Angel Food Cake Roll
Lemon Cream Filling
Balsamic Strawberries
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Instructions
Angel Cake Roll
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 15 X 10-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper, set aside. Crack the eggs & separate the whites into a mixing bowl. Set whites aside to warm to room temperature.
  2. Measure flour, cornstarch & 1 cup powdered sugar carefully into a large bowl. Whisk together; SIFT the flour mixture into another large bowl then SIFT mixture back into first bowl and then again into the second bowl ( you are sifting the mixture 3 times ). Set aside.
  3. Whip the egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar & salt; continue whipping on high speed until soft peaks form. While continuing to whip on medium-high speed, add the 1/2 cup powdered sugar slowly - about 2 Tbsp at a time - until fully incorporated. Increase the speed to high & whip until hard peaks form, adding the extracts as it whips.
  4. Using a wire whisk, fold the flour mixture into the whipped egg whites about 1/4 cup at a time, making sure to fold very gently & slowly, so as not to deflate the egg whites. This is a critical step, so take your time.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan & smooth out top carefully. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in center. Cool cake for 5 minutes in pan; turn out onto a dish towel dusted with powdered sugar. Carefully peel off parchment paper, cool for 1 minute & cut off crisp edges of cake. Starting at narrow end, roll up cake & towel together. Place seam side down, on a wire rack & cool for 5 minutes.
Lemon Cream Filling
  1. WHILE CAKE IS BAKING, combine the pudding mix & milk together in a bowl. Chill to set up for 20 minutes. In another bowl, beat together cream cheese & lemon zest until smooth. Stir in the 'set' pudding & chill again until cake is ready to fill.
Balsamic Strawberries
  1. Slice the strawberries & place in a bowl. Add balsamic vinegar, extract (or Chambord liqueur), honey & salt. Combine & set aside.
Assembly & Serving
  1. Carefully unroll cake & spread the filling over entire cake. Again roll up as tight as you can; place on a piece of plastic wrap & roll up tightly. At this point you can either place your cake roll in the freezer overnight or chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours before cutting & serving. Top with some balsamic strawberries.
Recipe Notes
  • If time is short, prepare a one-step angel food cake mix instead of the 'scratch' cake.

Beef Burgers with Apricot/ Pistachio Chutney

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—

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Beef Burgers with Apricot/ Pistachio Chutney
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Instructions
Chutney
  1. 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.
Burgers
  1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the burgers. Shape into 4 patties & refrigerate.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Serve on warmed or toasted ciabatta buns. Top each burger with a mushroom cap, a generous spoonful of chutney & some cucumber slices.

Balsamic Glazed Fig & Pork Kabobs

Thirty or more years ago, balsamic vinegar was relatively unknown outside of Italy. Due to our exposure to gourmet food magazines, television cooking shows and celebrity chefs, there is hardly a household without a bottle in its pantry these days.

Balsamic vinegar actually derives its name from the word ‘balm’, which refers to an aromatic resin or odor, as well as a substance that soothes, relieves and heals.

For hundreds of years, wealthy Italian families have made balsamic vinegar for their own consumption, nurturing their supplies over the years. Passed on from generation to generation, gifting small amounts to treasured friends and honored guests and perhaps even bequeathing some to a daughter as part of her ‘dowry’. Balsamic vinegar came to be considered a symbol of peace.

In about 1980, the popularity of balsamic vinegar soared due to Italian chefs discovering how intense flavors complemented modern Mediterranean cuisine. Local families couldn’t gear up production to meet the new demand. New producers developed imitation versions, consequently many of us have yet to taste truly authentic balsamic vinegar or ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’, as its known in Italian.

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Balsamic Glazed Fig & Pork Kabobs
Instructions
  1. Cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Combine next seven ingredients; place pork cubes in a plastic bag. Toss to coat well; refrigerate until ready to grill. In a small dish, make a glaze by whisking together vinegar, honey, mustard & oil. Set aside.
  2. On water-soaked wooden skewers, thread pork cubes & figs. Grill, covered, on a greased rack over medium-high direct heat, turning occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. During last half of grilling, brush cooked surfaces frequently with glaze.
  3. Let skewers stand 5 minutes; add a tomato to each. Transfer to serving platter & sprinkle lightly with Gorgonzola & basil. Serve some of your Blueberry & Blackberry Rustic Tart for dessert.

Blueberry Perogies

Perogies are of virtually untraceable Central or Eastern European origin although speculation has it the recipe could have been brought from the Far East.

Thinking beyond potatoes and cheddar — who knew that perogies could be filled with fruit?! Although the most traditional fruit filling is plum, many fruits will work. Summer perogies are often filled with apricots, sweet or sour cherries and apples. At Christmas, sweet poppy seed filling is a popular choice. This simple food turns into a wonderful dessert when served with orange sauce, lemon curd, a basic chocolate ganache or even a raspberry or strawberry coulis.

I realize we are not quite into summer yet but blueberries are great anytime. What makes berries so attractive as a filling is their size and texture. Perogies need only a short time to cook – a few minutes each in water than in the frying pan so the berries will break down sufficiently in this amount of time.

While savory perogies are often fried, baked or even deep fried after being boiled, most fruit perogies are served without frying, lending a delicate texture to the more delicate flavor of the fruit.

Since I wanted to serve these blueberry perogies as a compliment to our roasted bratwurst and veggies, we preferred them slightly fried and topped with a sweet/savory balsamic blueberry sauce. It made a great combo!

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Blueberry Perogies
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Balsamic Wild Blueberry Sauce
Blueberry Filling for Perogies
Perogy Dough
Servings
Ingredients
Balsamic Wild Blueberry Sauce
Blueberry Filling for Perogies
Perogy Dough
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Instructions
Balsamic Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, place blueberries, garlic & honey; stir until mixture begins to boil & thicken. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Bring sauce to a boil & allow to reduce slightly to become the consistency of honey. Set aside, keeping warm until ready to serve.
Blueberry Filling
  1. Wash & dry blueberries; set aside. In a small dish, combine cornstarch & sugar; set aside.
Perogy Dough
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour & salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, sour cream & oil until well mixed. Add liquid ingredients to dry mixture & gently combine. Before the dough is completely mixed, transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough 7 or 8 times to form a soft ball. Do NOT over-work dough.
  2. Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 3 1/2-inch cutter, cut circles out of the dough or if you prefer to just cut same size pieces from dough ball. Stretch each to a 'perogy' size. Place about 1 tablespoon of berries on each round of dough. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the sugar/cornstarch mixture over berries. Moisten the edge of each dough circle with a little water & fold the dough over filling. Pinch the edges firmly to create a tight seal.
  3. Place perogies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper while preparing them. Keep covered with a slightly moist towel until ready to cook.
  4. Fill a large pot with about 8 cups of water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt (+ 1 tsp oil if you wish), cover & bring to a boil. Cook perogies in batches. Stir gently until perogies float, cook about 2-3 minutes. Do not over cook or dough will be tough.
  5. Serve perogies with warm balsamic wild blueberry sauce.

Kumquat Oatmeal Bread

This fruited bread is unlike any other oatmeal bread. It has the sweet tartness of kumquats, healthy oatmeal and flax, dried fruit, nuts, honey and applesauce all in one loaf.

Oatmeal bread is very nostalgic for me. Although it wasn’t one of the breads in my mother’s weekly rotation, when she did make it, it was heavenly. I’m not sure if her recipe was one she had developed or if it came from another source.

Often when it comes to choosing a recipe, we find inspiration on the packaging of our basic pantry staples. One of the most iconic brands to feature recipes like this was Quaker Oats. Their first recipe for oatmeal bread appeared in 1886. It made two loaves of sandwich bread. Somewhere along the way, they kicked it up a notch, featuring a ‘fruited oatmeal bread’ recipe.

This kumquat oatmeal bread uses baking powder as opposed to yeast for anyone with a yeast intolerance. I think you will agree, it has an amazing flavor if you get a chance to make some.

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Kumquat Oatmeal Bread
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American, European
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Course Brunch, dessert
Cuisine American, European
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 X 5-inch loaf pan & set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, flax meal & oats. Add kumquat puree, honey, applesauce, eggs, vanilla, nuts & fruit. Pour into greased loaf pan.
  3. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes; don't over bake. Cool in pan for 5 minutes on cooling rack. Loosen around edges; remove from pan & cool a bit more.