Friday, October 19, 2007

How to Salvage Two Bags of Aging Dates

This photo of a noisy neighbor's date tree reminded me of something I'd been meaning to make for a while.

I'm embarrassed to say this, but there were two bags of dates on the pantry shelf that I'd see out of the corner of my eye every time I passed by for the last year. Yes, the last year! So yesterday I pulled out some books from the shelf, looked in my files, and Googled the net for a recipe to use them up. Way back in the 90's I bought a series of soft-cover books put out by the California Culinary Academy, each one on a certain subject -- French, Italian, Meats, Breads -- not knowing at that time I'd actually go there in the near future for the full sixteen-month course. This very simple recipe for Food Processor Date Bars comes from the book Cookies. As the dates were a bit questionable in the texture department, I snipped them in halves and gave them a 15-minute soaking in very hot water, then drained them and proceeded with the recipe. These were a sure hit and I'll make them again. Not too sweet, even with the light coating of confectioners' sugar. They reminded me of a date bar square my mother used to make years ago. This recipe was made in an 8 x 8 square pan and yielded 16 servings. The original claims 24 squares, but I think that would be too "sensible" a size.
Food Processor Date Bars

from California Culinary Academy's Cookies

2 cups pitted dates
1 cup pecans
½ cup, each, flour and sugar
½ t baking powder
¼ cup firm butter, diced
1 egg
2 yolks
1 ½ t vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350; grease, flour 8” square pan.

2. Process dates, pecans, flour, sugar, baking powder, butter. Process using on-off pulses until dates and nuts are finely chopped.

3. Beat egg, yolks, vanilla to blend. Add mixture through feed tube with motor running all at once. Process until ingredients are well coated with egg mixture. Spread evenly in pan.

4. Bake until top is golden brown, 25 – 30 minutes. Let cool in pan on wire rack about 10 minutes. Cut into squares. Remove from pan, turn lightly in confectioners’ sugar to coat each bar on all sides.

Makes about 16 bars.

Joe's Quinoa Salad with side of Cold Avocado Soup

I've recently been using quinoa as a side dish and saw Joe's entry from a while back and decided to give it a try last night as our main course. Yummy! Quinoa is a totally delicious grain, packed with protein and other goodies. I used what was on hand, and sub'd a red delicious apple for the Granny Smith. Also, I added some sauteed sliced mushrooms. I had homemade chicken stock and used that instead of veggie stock. After dinner, Eddie and I were picking at the bottom of the pot, trying to get some of the tasty bits stuck to the bottom. By the way, I always make quinoa in the rice cooker. It's just too easy not to. Even sauteeing the aromatics works fine in the cooker. Halfway through I add the quinoa and give it a coating in the oil and toast it a few moments before adding the broth.

Thank you, Joe, for another great entry!

Hearty Quinoa with Sautéed Apples and Almonds

1 cup dry quinoa, well rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup finely diced carrot
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken broth)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups finely diced Granny Smith apple (used red delicious)
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted (used raw pistachios)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
(I added some sliced and lightly sauteed mushrooms)

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high. Stir in onion, carrot and garlic - sauté until the onion is tender and the carrots begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Pour in the broth, quinoa, salt and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork - cover to keep warm.

In a large skillet, heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat. Add apples and mushrooms; sauté until the apple and mushrooms begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Add apple, almonds, and pepper to quinoa mixture and gently toss to combine.

Should be 4 servings, but hey, we're normal adults, so it's just over 2 servings.

Served it with a mug of cold avocado soup. It's a no-brainer to throw together. No cooking. All that's needed is a blender. Didn't bother this time with the sour cream and fried tortilla strips.

Chilled Avocado Soup With Lime and Jalapeno

(Preparation 15 minutes)
3 limes
3 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1 garlic clove, chopped
Handful of parsley
1/2 – 1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus additional to taste
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Optional toppings:
1 large (8 inches) flour tortilla, cut into 2-by-1/4-inch strips
Sour cream, for garnish
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Squeeze the juice from 21/2 of the limes. Cut the remaining half lime into 4 wedges for the garnish.

In a blender combine 3 cups of ice water (a mixture of ice and water) with the lime juice, avocados, garlic, jalapeno and salt. Blend until smooth. Chill the soup until ready to serve.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or saute pan over a medium flame. Add the tortilla strips and fry until they are crunchy and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Drain the strips on paper towels and sprinkle them with salt.
Spoon the soup into bowls. Place a dollop of sour cream in the center of each bowl, then top with tortilla strips. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Makes 4 servings.