Posts Tagged With: dates

gluten-free experiments, part two: fruity nutty cocoa bites, cranberry coconut almond muffins, and a bonus recipe: peach & tomato gazpacho!

I know the title of this post promises an overflow of information, so I’m going to try to keep the hemming and hawing to a minimum and get quickly to the recipes!

The reason I’m sharing so many at once here is because in the last two weeks, I made two more batches of gluten-free goodies to share with my Red Clay buddies, and then I made some peach and tomato gazpacho (both vegan and gluten-free) to bring to the end-of-institute potluck dinner on Tuesday. All this food was for the same audience of eaters, so I decided to put it all in the same blog post, too, for easy sharing. 🙂

For my third-ever gluten-free experiment last Monday, I decided I wanted to make some of those no-bake fruit-and-nut balls that I’ve seen around the blogosphere/interwebs. I looked at a few recipes to get an idea of the proportions, then (of course) winged it based on what I actually had in the cupboard. In the end, these chewy little bites ended up being rich, a little sweet and a little salty, and overall pretty darn tasty!

worried about sticking, I used little paper mini-muffin cups to transport
these safely (probably unnecessary, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt)

What’s in it:

  • 6 dates, pitted
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened shredded coconut

Step-by-step:

  • Blend all of the ingredients except for the coconut in a food processor until you have a thick mixture, almost like cookie dough.
  • Put the coconut in a shallow dish.
  • Use your hands or a cookie scoop to pick up about 1-2 teaspoons of the mixture at a time; roll and press your scoop of dough into a tightly packed ball. (Warning: your hands will get sticky!)
  • Roll the ball in the dried coconut.
  • Repeat until you run out of stuff! 🙂

For me, this made about 3 dozen little bites, which was perfect for sharing with a group. Though I’ll admit, I probably ate a little more than my fair share. 🙂

Next up was my attempt at gluten-free muffins for this Monday, which I adapted from a recipe on the Gluten Free in Boulder site (with minor changes, as always, because I didn’t have blueberries or quite enough cornmeal.)

stacked upside down because, well, why not?

What’s in it:

  • 2/3 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup dried, unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1-1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup honey (I would reduce this to 1/4 cup next time)
  • 2-1/2 cups milk (I would reduce this to 1 1/2 cups next time)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups dried cranberries

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F and prepare two 12-cup muffin pans. (I would recommend using liners as I didn’t and my muffins were a little too sticky!)
  • In a food processor, blend together the almonds, coconut, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt until you have a coarse meal that looks kind of like sand.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and honey.
  • Add the dry ingredients from the food processor and whisk until combined. If you follow the original recipe like I did, your batter will be pretty soupy, which was kind of hard to work with and made for a fragile muffin–so if I make these again, I’ll adjust the recipe.
  • Pour about 1/4 cup of the batter into each of 24 muffin cups. Top each muffin with dried cranberries.
  • Bake for about 25-30 minutes. (After the original recipe’s recommended 15, my muffins were nowhere near done!)
  • Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before (carefully) removing them to a wire rack to reach room temperature.

Like I said, these muffins were very delicate when they came out of the oven, I think because the batter was just too wet, so I would reduce the liquid as noted above. And I also thought they were a little too sweet, so for my personal tastes, I would reduce the honey, too. Still, made following the directions posted here, these sweet and nutty little cakes were a big hit with my classmates.

and the last leftover muffin was pretty tasty
warmed up and topped with some vanilla ice cream

The last thing I made for my Red Clay friends was for our potluck on Tuesday evening. Since it’s been so dang hot here in Georgia, and since it’s the perfect time of year for peaches (free from Earth Fare!) and fresh local tomatoes…

tomato or not tomato, that is the question….

…I decided to resurrect one of my favorite soups from last summer, a cool and refreshing peach and tomato gazpacho from Epicurious. Besides doubling the recipe, here are the changes I made:

  • I used dried tarragon instead of fresh (so, 1 teaspoon dried in place of 1 tablespoon fresh)
  • I used rice wine vinegar in place of the white wine vinegar
  • I doubled the ice and skipped the water
  • I didn’t strain it at the end (and straining wasn’t really necessary anyway!)

I think last year I might have also added a dollop of Greek yogurt to this, but this time I wanted to make it vegan. And since I pretty much stuck to the original recipe, I won’t re-type it up here. But I will show you how lovely it was!

mental note: parsley looks pretty on this soup, but it’s not the best flavor
combination….more tarragon or maybe some mint would have been better!

This stuff got polished off at the party, but I did save just a little bit for Micah and me to enjoy with dinner later in the week.

But more on that in my next post. 🙂

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muffins for Monday – 4.30.12 – pears galore!

Pears are tricky.

Like bananas, pears are at their best for a very specific window of time. Try to eat one before it’s ready, and your teeth and tongue will fight a losing battle against that tart, hard rock of a fruit.

Let your unyielding pear sit out on your counter for a few days to mellow, and mellow it will. If you catch that pear at the peak of its ripening, you’ll be rewarded with bite after juicy bite of pear perfection. Your hands and face will be rendered a moist mess with every nibble of that soft, sweet fruit, and you’ll gnaw away every little scrap of pear until all you have left in your hands is a sticky, skinny core.

Let that perfectly ripe pear sit out on your counter for a few more days, and….well, you’ll have a mess.

My pear problem started three weeks ago when the Athens Earth Fare emailed me a coupon for one free pound of organic red Bartlett pears with a five dollar purchase. I printed two, one for me and one for Micah, and our regular grocery trip later that week earned us two free pounds of rock-hard pears.

Another week passed, and those babies were perfect. I took some to school the next week, which made for a delicious (albeit sticky) addition to my lunchbox.

And then we were out of town all last weekend for Jessica’s wedding, so the last four pears sat on our kitchen counter for about a week longer than they really should’ve.

When we came home, one moldy pear got a one-way ticket to our compost pile. The other three were pretty mushy–too soft to pack in a lunchbox, or slice for a snack, or bake into a pie–but not quite rotten yet.

What to do with too-far-gone fruit? Make muffins, of course! (Good timing, too, since we were about to eat our last two crumbly granola bars. :))

pears + dates + oats + pecans + a touch of cinnamon = mmmm…..

What’s in it: 

  • For the muffins: 
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1 cup rolled oats
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 3 overripe pears, mashed
    • 3 dates, pitted and finely chopped
    • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (I actually used 5 egg whites that I had leftover from making pastry cream)
  • For the topping:
    • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
    • 3-4 tablespoons rolled oats (I tackled mine with the mini-chopper, just to make them a little finer)
    • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and get a 12-cup muffin pan ready with cooking spray or paper liners.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 1 cup oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
  • Add the pears, dates, and eggs. Stir until just combined.
  • Divide the batter among your 12 muffin cups.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the pecans, oats, and brown sugar for your topping.
  • Sprinkle the topping evenly over the muffins. You’ll probably have enough to pretty much completely cover each muffin. (At this point, I also lightly pressed the topping into the batter to hopefully prevent it from all falling off.)
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, then let cool.
  • Enjoy!

Not only are they extra moist and juicy from all that fruit, but because I mashed the pears instead of pureeing them, the muffins also have some nice chunks of fruit inside them. The cinnamon and dates give these sweet treats a warm, cozy flavor, and the oats and nuts in the topping are nice and toasty and crunchy.

This is definitely one of my favorite batches of muffins so far!

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date night dinner – 4.7.12 – stuffed dates, beef stew over polenta, and a third wheel

Before I came along, Micah and his best friend Eric were pretty much inseparable. They played tennis and video games together, ate together, and even occasionally slept on Micah’s futon together. Purely platonic, I assure you, but these guys are close.

Eric met his wife Jinny in the summer of 2006, the same summer Micah met me, so the four of us have shared many a double date. But sometimes, one of us won’t be around to hang out, so 75% of our foursome ends up on a three-person date night.

Jinny had to work last Saturday evening, so you could say Eric was the third wheel for our date night dinner. But I’d like to counter that when Micah and Eric get together, their bromance wields a power so strong that I am most definitely the spare somebody in the room. And this doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, because who am I to stand in the way of true love? 🙂

Plus, the meal we were planning for that particular dinner was going to make plenty more than we could eat anyway, so why not share the bounty with a good friend?

sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy, yummy

Our pre-dinner snackie: celery and manchego stuffed dates, inspired by a dish at one of our favorite fancy restaurants, The National. We can’t really afford to eat at this upscale eatery as often as we’d like, but when I found some nice looking dates at Daily Groceries, and then we spotted some manchego in the cheese case at Shiraz last weekend, we knew we had to try to replicate our favorite National appetizer.

What’s in it:

  • 8 pitted dates
  • about 1.5-2 ounces. aged manchego cheese (you could sub sharp white cheddar with good results)
  • 1 small stalk of celery
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • smoked paprika, salt, and pepper for sprinkling

Step-by-step:

  • Slice the dates almost in half lengthwise so that they’re still attached on one side (kind of like you would a hoagie roll for a submarine sandwich).
  • Cut the cheese into 8 sticks that are about the same length as your dates and about 1/4″ thick.
  • Cut the celery into 8 sticks about the same size as the cheese.
  • Stuff each date with a piece of celery and a piece of cheese.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with smoked paprika (a little goes a long way), salt, and black pepper.

Our taste buds suitably tickled, it was time for the main event: a beef, carrot, and sweet potato stew that had simmered all afternoon, served over creamy polenta:

Warm and hearty, perfect for sharing with the one you love (and his best friend).

This was one of those magic one-dish concoctions where I winged it and hoped for the best, and it didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty freaking amazing, maybe even better as leftovers for lunch later in the week.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound beef stew meat (you could probably also use this recipe to make a delicious pot roast or short ribs)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • zest from one lemon, one lime, and one orange
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl or plate.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned.
  • Return the beef  to the pot (plus any delicious juices that might have dripped from it). Immediately add the red wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits.
  • Add everything else! Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • At this point, you could simmer the stew on the stove at low heat OR stick it in a 300°F oven for several hours until the beef and veggies are tender.
  • We wanted our stew to be thicker than this turned out, so Micah used a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and vegetables into a covered serving dish, left the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven, and reduced the sauce until it was nice and thick, more like a gravy. Then we stirred it back into the dish of meat and veggies.
  • Serve over your favorite starch–polenta, grits, rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, gnocchi….gotta love those carbs!–and top with some chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Enjoy with the rest of that bottle of red wine!

This will come out seasoned kind of like a good pot of chili, dark and smoky from the chipotle and coffee and cocoa, but brightened up by the tomatoes and citrus zest. The beef was falling-apart-moist and juicy, and the carrots and sweet potatoes were sweet and tender.

Next time you end up being the third wheel, share a meal like this with the sweethearts and I guarantee you’ll all be feeling the love. 🙂

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lazy brunch – 4.7.12 – oatmeal with apples, dates, and pecans

I wasn’t a big fan of cereal for breakfast when I was a kid. Partly because my mom only bought the very plain varieties, and partly because I was such a slow eater that I refused to put milk on my cereal lest it become a soggy, sodden mess. So I would snack on dry Cheerios or Kix like they were potato chips, but I didn’t usually eat them for breakfast.

My childhood morning meal of choice? Oatmeal, of the instant-from-a-packet variety. And for some reason, Mom didn’t insist on buying plain oatmeal. Instead, she either bought the variety pack (which inevitably included a few packets of unflavored oats), or she would buy whole boxes of my very favorite flavor, maple brown sugar. Mammaw would microwave me a bowl of this stuff just about every morning before school, from kindergarten until sometime in middle school (which I think is when I discovered how much I love bagels).

I remember the first time I tried real oatmeal: slow simmered on the stove…thick with big, fat rolled oats instead of the quick-cooking variety…lightly seasoned with butter, a pinch of salt, and just a touch of sugar. That old-fangled oatmeal was substantial and creamy, and it didn’t taste like maple or brown sugar, and I had to chew because the oats actually had some texture.

It kind of grossed me out.

But as I grew up, I somehow figured out along the way that this was how oats were supposed to feel and taste. Now, I prefer my oatmeal made from real whole grains, and it’s been a while since I revisited the done-in-two-minutes-oats of my youth. While old-fashioned oatmeal takes a lot longer to cook, it might be just about the most satisfying thing to warm up with on a crisp spring morning.

So when I rose well before Micah last Saturday and decided to wake him with breakfast in bed, and it was a little cool in the house, and we had an apple and some dates and pecans in the kitchen just begging to be cooked…well, how could I resist?

Don't you feel warm and cozy already?

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • 2 dates, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

Step-by-step:

  • In a small saucepan, bring the oats, milk, water, and salt to a low simmer. This will cook for about 20 minutes until it’s nice and thick and creamy.
  • In a small skillet, melt the butter on medium heat.
  • Add the pecans and cook until lightly toasted.
  • Add the apples, dates, maple syrup, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a thick glaze.
  • Stir half of the cinnamon into the pot of oatmeal and half of it into the skillet of fruit.
  • Divide the oatmeal into two bowls and top with the fruit and nut mixture, or go ahead mix the fruit and nuts into the oatmeal before serving.

How did it turn out? The oatmeal was thick, creamy, and just a touch salty (exactly how I like it), while the apples and dates added just the right amount of sweetness. The best bites were the ones with some crunchy toasted pecan, and when I make this again, I’ll probably add more nuts.

What’s your favorite oatmeal add-in?

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