A PANFORTE TO DAZZLE CHOCOLATE LOVERS!

Chocolate Panforte

Panforte

CHOCOLATE PANFORTE

For those unfamiliar with this very special holiday treat, panforte is a divinely rich confection packed with dried fruits, nuts, and spices, baked in a 7-or 8-inch slab, and coated with confectioner’s sugar. The traditional Italian recipe contains glazed fruits, but I much prefer the sweet, tangy flavor dried fruits contribute to the recipe. When chocolate and lots of spice is added to the mixture, each bite becomes pure nirvana, delivering a delicious melt-in-the-mouth medley of fruit, nut, spice, and chocolate flavors all at once. In other words, all those heavenly flavors and textures you could possibly desire in a holiday candy.

This recipe is ideal for plan-ahead kitchen wizards who love to make their cookies and confections well-ahead of the holiday and freeze or refrigerate them. Then, when they need them, they can easily reach into the fridge or freezer and the muss and fuss is well behind.

Chocolate PanforteDuring the autumn season, I make several batches of panforte, wrap them in double layers of plastic wrap, and tuck them into the fridge. Knowing I’ll be entertaining and going to several parties during the holiday season, my early prep serves me quite well.

A homemade panforte also makes an fabulous gift that can be safely shipped to friends and family across the country without spoilage. Once they taste, the lucky recipients will send you messages filled with OMGs!

Panforte

Entertaining at home during the holidays, I like to serve the panforte as an extra treat. Several hours before dessert time, I remove the panforte from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for best flavor. Then, I unwrap a slab and put it on a colorful plate garnished with real or plastic holly. If the panforte is the only dessert, I’ll cut it into thin wedges like a pie. When serving it along with other desserts, I cut it into bite-size pieces, about 1-inch square. Because it’s quite rich, a little goes a long way.

Panforte makes an impressive homemade gift. Before gifting, tie a holiday ribbon over the plastic wrap, make a large bow, and present the panforte with a happy holiday wish. I like to add a touch of holly to the wrapping–it does such a great job of conveying the holiday message and makes an attractive addition to the presentation.

Here’s the process: Line the pie pans with parchment. Roast the nuts. Cut the fruits, Combine the fruits. Add spices and nuts. Make syrup and add to mixture. Spoon and press into parchment-lined pans. Bake. Cool. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Ready to wrap.

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

 

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteCHOCOLATE PANFORTE

Yield: four 8-inch round slabs

Panforte

2 cups pecansChocolate Panforte

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried dried apricots, diced (i used Melissa’s)

1 cup flour (oat, all purpose, or whole wheat pastry flour)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Melissa’s from melissas.com)

Zest of 1 lemon or orange

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmegChocolate Panforte

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Chocolate Syrup

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup agave nectar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into several pieces

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready 2 large rimmed baking sheets and four 8-inch pie pans or cake pans lined with enough parchment to drape generously over the sides. Place 2 pans on each baking sheet. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on one of the baking sheets and toast them in the oven for 9 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a large platter to cool and turn off the oven.

In an extra large bowl, combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and pepper.

When the nuts are cool, add them to the bowl and mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the sugar and agave nectar in a 2 to 3-quart saucepan and mix well. Put the chocolate in a bowl and place it near the stove-top. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 225 degrees F., approximately 5 minutes. This can happen very quickly. Do not stir during the boiling.

Turn off the heat as soon as the mixture reaches 225 degrees F. and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring until the chocolate is completely melted.

Pour the chocolate syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients completely. The mixture quickly becomes quite stiff and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a metal spoon to distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, a heaping spoonful at a time, packing it down before adding another. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely for several hours before removing the panforte slabs from the pans.

Then, carefully, remove the parchment from each slab and dust each heavily with the powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat them completely.

TO SERVE THE PANFORTE, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into very thin wedges or into 1-inch pieces. If not serving right away, double-wrap each panforte in plastic wrap. The panforte will keep for a month or two at room temperature or for 1 year in the refrigerator.

Panforte

TASTE THE OMG PIE OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON!

Apricot Date Hazelnut Sticky Pie 1APRICOT, DATE, AND HAZELNUT STICKY PIE

Everyone has a favorite dessert they love to serve guests at a festive holiday meal. For some, it’s good, old-fashioned apple pie with plenty of cinnamon, for others it a rich, crunchy pecan pie. Some cling to cheesecake, while others just love a moist, two-layer dark chocolate cake topped with chocolate frosting.

For me, the OMG dessert of the season (actually, there are several) is this awesome creation I assembled and served several years ago. Everyone loved it–said it was a keeper, their favorite dessert, the best dessert they ever tasted, couldn’t get enough of it, etc.! Reviews don’t get much better than that! So, naturally, I kept it and am excited about sharing it.

Something new I can add to the list of compliments is that this dessert won 1st place in a dessert contest at Melissas.com. Actually, it was a 3-way tie for 1st place and I was one of the top three.

Sticky Pie side

For that even when I needed 30 servings, I doubled the recipe and prepared it in a 9 x 13-inch pan. I pressed only one recipe of the crust  mixture into the bottom of the pan.

Sticky Pie close up 2

So what’s the big deal–why all the fuss? It’s just simply a great tasting pie with an exceptionally appealing texture and encompasses all the good stuff the holiday season has to offer.

And, really, any time you join together dried fruit, like raisins, dates, cranberries, and apricots, you’ve combined the seductive elements of an exceptional sweet treat. But, then, mingle the merry makings of those four fruits with the crunchy, roasted, chunky nuts, spice them up, bind them with a magical medley of sweeteners, and voila!–a stunning pie for the festive holiday!

The pleasantly chewy texture of the pie is reminiscent of nougat, so be sure to use a firm, serrated knife to cut into servings. You’ll need to apply a little muscle when cutting into the pie because of its very firm, and rather sticky nature. It’s quite sweet and rich, so thin slices are best–and that makes the dessert go a little farther.

I’ve actually gotten 12 serving from this pie for several reasons. First, after a large meal, the guests are too full for big servings. Second, because the pie is super sweet, small servings are very satisfying. And, third, so many people are watching the waistlines, they’re happy to be served a small piece.

It’s also the perfect make-ahead dessert that keeps well in the refrigerator for up to five days. This is one dessert that’s a dinner host’s dream because there’s no last minute fuss and everyone loves it. For the best results, bring the pie to room temperature before serving.

For best results, make the pie a day or two ahead, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it. Then, bring the pie to room temperature several hours before serving. Refrigerating the pie adds a touch of needed moisture, while bringing it to room temperature makes it easier to cut.

 Apricot Date Hazelnut Sticky Pie pieceAPRICOT, DATE, AND HAZELNUT STICKY PIE

 Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie; 8 to 12 servings

1 recipe Oatmeal Crumb Crust (recipe below)

1 1/2 cups blanched hazelnuts (See How to Blanch Hazelnuts)Apricot, Date, and Hazelnut Sticky Pie 2

3/4 cup toasted pecans (I used Melissa’s pecans)

 

1 cup golden raisins (I used Melissa’s)

3/4 cup diced dates

2/3 cup diced dried apricots (I used Melissa’s)

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Melissa’s)

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon minced orange or lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon salt

 

1 cup brown rice syrup

1/4 cup organic sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup tapioca flour

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 teaspoon maple extract

 

Prepare the Oatmeal Crumb Crust and set aside.

To make the filling, pour the blanched hazelnuts into a heavy-duty ziplock bag, place the bag on a cutting board, and use a hammer to gently break the nuts into coarse pieces. Transfer the hazelnuts to a large bowl. Break the pecans into pieces and add them to the hazelnuts.

Add the raisins, dates, apricots, cranberries, cinnamon, orange zest, and salt to the nuts and toss well to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the brown rice syrup, organic sugar, and maple syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the tapioca flour and stir well with a wooden spoon until the flour is completely incorporated. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the tapioca flour to absorb some of the moisture.

Bring the syrup mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir the lime juice and maple extract into the syrup mixture and mix well.

Pour the syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and stir and mix thoroughly to coat all the ingredients. (The mixture will be very thick and sticky, and combining it completely will likely take the place of your daily workout.)

Spoon the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool for 4 to 6 hours to set completely. To store, cover the pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring the pie to room temperature before serving.

Oatmeal Crumb Crust

 Yield: Makes 1 (9-inch) pie crust

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

3/4 cup walnuts

4 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons organic sugar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

Pour the oats into a food processor. Pulse 15 to 20 times. Add the walnuts, oil, sugar, syrup, lemon juice, and salt. Process until the mixture becomes a fine, crumbly meal and holds together when pinched. Scrape down the workbowl as needed. If needed, add 1 tablespoon of water to help the mixture hold together.

Spoon the mixture into a 9 or 10-inch pie pan and press it firmly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan with your fingers. Press on the edges to firm.

Sticky Pie Melissa's

 

A COMPOTE THAT MAKES SWEET MEMORIES!

Pear Walnut Compote/Choco WafersPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Holiday meals, whether at home or at my grandmother’s, always concluded with a small bowl of stewed dried fruits cooked until soft and perfectly sweetened and pleasantly laced with cinnamon. It certainly wasn’t a fancy dessert, and it’s  probably one of the most unpretentious desserts one can offer guests at the end of a special celebration. Yet, the memories continue to bring sweet thoughts. When I close my eyes, I can almost taste those dried prunes, apricots, pears, and raisins and remember fondly the definitive spicy aroma of cinnamon that made me appreciate this simple homespun dessert.

Because the compote was sweet and generously spiced with cinnamon, I remembered this dessert fondly and as a kid, I always looked forward to it. It became one of those tiny little treasures I knew Grandma would bring to the table without fail.

I thought it might be lovely to pass on those memories to others with a compote that’s just as easy to make, but with something special in addition that would elevate it to become a truly elegant treat. So I began with fresh pears and fresh cranberries rather than dried and spiced it with just enough cinnamon to add that nostalgic holiday aroma. But it was still just a simple compote. What else could I do to make it really zing?

Vegan Holidays lowresVoila! Homemade Choco-Wafers turned this delicious, unpretentious compote into an elegant, alluring dessert with a built-in convenience factor. These delicious little wafers can be made several days ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. They actually keep well for up to three months in the fridge. I might also mention this is one of the delicious holiday desserts in my Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook!

The compote can be prepared two days ahead and tucked into the fridge until dessert time. But, to make this dessert extra special and give your guests that pampered feeling, bring it to room temperature on serving day and gently warm it at 350 degrees F. for about 10 to 15 minutes just before serving.

At serving time, spoon the compote into little dessert dishes and tuck two Homemade Choco-Wafers into the dish so they stand tall. Sometimes I place the wafers on the sides and sometimes in the center. Maybe you’ll come up with an even more dramatic way of presenting this dessert–there’s plenty of room for creativity!

Pear & Walnut Compote:Choco Wafers2 copyPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Yield: about 6 servings

Choco-Wafers

1 cup walnutsPear Walnut Compote/Choco Wafers

1 cup pitted dates, snipped in half

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons golden raisins

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Compote

2 fresh Anjou or Bosc pears, cored, quartered, and sliced

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/3 cup black raisins

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons coarsely ground toasted, walnut, almonds, or hazelnuts, for garnish

  1. TO MAKE THE CHOCO-WAFERS, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 17 1/2 x 12 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Put all the wafer ingredients in a food processor. Process until all the ingredients are well incorporated, the nuts are broken down to a fine, but slightly textured meal, and the mixture reaches a very thick, finely mashed, firm consistency, stopping occasionally to scrape down the workbowl.
  3. Spoon the wafer mixture into the prepared baking sheet and use the back of the spoon to form it into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle approximately 8 inches by 9 inches.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the wafer is set and almost dry to the touch but still soft. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. It will firm as it cools. When cool, cut into 2 or 3-inch squares and set aside until ready to serve or put the squares in a ziplock bag and refrigerate.
  5. TO MAKE THE COMPOTE, combine the pears, cranberries, brown sugar, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, and water in a 3 or 4-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately, decrease the heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes, or until the pears are softened.
  6. To thicken the juice in the pan, combine the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water in a small cup or bowl and stir until smooth. Stir the paste into the simmering compote a little at a time, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, or until thickened to desired consistency.
  7. To serve, spoon the compote into small dessert dishes and garnish each with the walnuts, if desired. Tuck 2 wafers into the center or sides of the compote.

ENJOY SOME VEGAN HEAVEN WITH A SIP OF CREAMY NOG!

 CHEF AJ’S HOLIDAY NOG Single nogAfter experiencing excellent health on a vegan diet for over 36 years, Chef AJ began developing delicious vegan and raw desserts for local Los Angeles restaurants. When people began asking for her recipes, she answered the call by teaching vegan cooking classes with a focus on from-scratch, low fat, no salt, no sugar, and no refined flour recipes.

UnprocessedChef AJ’s healthy cooking classes developed into the sensational Healthy Taste of LA (HTLA) all-day programs featuring well-known speakers like Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Michael Greger, and Dr. Neal Barnard along with cooking demonstrations by nationally known chefs: Eric Tucker from Millennium, Ann Gentry of Real Food Daily, Eric LeChasseur and Sanae Suzuki from Seed Kitchen, and many more.

To find more information about HTLA visit http://www.chefajshealthykitchen.com

This busy chef travels across the country speaking and doing cooking demonstrations to promote the health benefits of a plant-based diet. She is also known for the zesty, short video presentations she does with Julieanna Hever, RD–The Chef and the Dietitian. AJ’s cookbook Unprocessed created with Glen Merzer features many of the recipes she formulated to teach her cooking classes.

 CHEF AJ’S HOLIDAY NOGchefaj2

Chef AJ shares her ultra thick, rich, and creamy nog that makes the ideal welcome beverage for a holiday gathering. This delicious nog is also decadent enough to be served as dessert or as an accompaniment to dessert. Make it ahead and refrigerate it until ready to serve. Then, just before serving, give the nog a brief whirl in the blender to make it pleasantly airy.

Yield: 4 1/2 cups or 6 to 8 servings

3 cups almond milk

1 cup cashewsSingle nog

3/4 cup pitted dates, snipped in half

1 tablespoon alcohol-free vanilla

3/4 teaspoon rum extract

Ground nutmeg for garnish

6 to 8 three-inch cinnamon sticks

Mix in blender. Pour into serving cups and sprinkle a dash of nutmeg into each cup. Finish with a cinnamon stick in each cup. Put the nog-filled cups on an attractive tray and serve.

HOMEMADE WITH LOVE!

WINTER FRUIT BUTTER & SPICED PLUM BUTTERS

Nothing is quite as special as a homemade gift that’s irresistibly delicious, versatile, Plum Butt gifthealthful, and, best of all, made with that extra pinch of love! Here are two easy-as-pie fruit butter recipes that come together quickly and don’t require the fuss and extra time that canning involves. Refrigerated, the fruit butters keep for up to three months without losing their great flavors.

 

Plum Butt Gift 2In winter, dried fruits lend such versatility. Imagine turning a clump of dried fruits into naturally sweet fruit butters you can spoon into little decorated jars and give as thoughtful gifts during the holidays. And how wonderful it is to be the lucky recipient of such a special gift.

Those who celebrate Kwanzaa place Kwanzaa Plum Buttstrong emphasis on giving homemade gifts. Wrapped in Kwanzaa colors–red, green, and black, either of these recipes make an ideal gift during the week of the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26 to January 1. Wrap the jars in blue fabric and ribbon for Hanukkah gifting.

Fruit butters also make delicious spreads on morning toast, pita crisps, or crackers. But Winter Fruit Butterthat’s not all–use the spreads in place of jelly to make the best P B & J you ever ate!

Here’s another easy and quick idea that can perk up a humdrum breakfast:

Put a few dollops of fruit butter on top of your morning oatmeal or hot cereal, sprinkle some nuts on top, and enjoy that little touch of something different for breakfast.

When I make oatmeal for breakfast, I usually make a fruit salad with whatever fruits are in season to put on top. Then I sprinkle raisins and nuts over the fruit. One day I decided to present something a little different and brought a bowl of fruit butter to the table. That small idea became a great idea, and received an instant thumbs up.

W Frut Butt w:toastThis is the recipe that began my fruit butter adventures:

WINTER FRUIT BUTTER

 Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups dried apple slices

18 pitted dates

12 pitted prunes

1 1/2 cups water, divided

  1. Combine the apples, dates, and prunes and 1 cup of the water in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and steam for 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer fruits to a food processor and add the remaining 1/2 cup water. Process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl and use immediately or chill and use later.
  3. When ready for gifting, spoon the fruit butter into two 8- to 10-ounce jars, cover, and tie them with bright holiday ribbons.

Notes:

If you want sweeter fruit butter, add 2 or more dates to the processor.

If you prefer a softer fruit butter, add 1 or more tablespoons of water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. The fruit butter will thicken as it chills.

************************************

As I experimented with enhancements to the basic fruit butter recipe, I became aware that it really didn’t take more that just a few spices to heighten the flavor.

Spiced Plum ButterThis thick, fruity butter with a subtle hint of exotic spices takes off where apple butter is left behind. With more depth of flavor and more robust volume than apple butter, this treat makes a thoughtful holiday gift prepared with loving hands and given from the heart. Spoon the fruit butter into attractive jars, tie them with bright ribbons, and they’re ready to make someone special very happy.

SPICED PLUM BUTTER

Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

20 pitted prunes (about 7 1/2 ounces)

20 pitted dates (about 6 ounces)

15 dried apricots or Turkish apricots (about 3 1/2 ounces)

1 1/4 cups water

2 sticks cinnamon

2 star anise or 3 whole black peppercorns

2 whole allspice berries

2 whole cloves

  1. Combine the prunes, dates, apricots, water, and cinnamon sticks in a 2-quart saucepan. Wrap the star anise, allspice berries, and cloves in a small piece of cheesecloth, tie it securely with string, and bury it in the bottom of the saucepan.
  2. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and steam for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the spices and cinnamon sticks and transfer the fruits and any remaining liquid to the food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. Spoon the fruit butter into two 8- to 10-ounce jars and set aside to cool at room temperature. Cover the jars, label them, and chill. Refrigerated the plum butter will keep for up to 3 months.
  4. When the plum butter is ready for gifting, create a colorful wrapping with cloth or paper and tie with bright ribbons.

Notes:

If you plan on making a double batch, you don’t need to double the spices. They will hold up well and still deliver great flavor.

If you have a spice bag, use it in place of the cheesecloth. Alternatively, put the spices into a tea ball and place it at the bottom of the saucepan.

 

 

Fruity Oat Bulldogs–the Cutest Little Muffins!

 FRUITY OAT BULLDOGS

Fruilty Oat BulldodgsNot really a typical muffin—not at all a cupcake—neither a scone nor a brownie. In my effort to create a delicious, honestly healthy, and easy-to-make gluten-free breakfast or brunch treat, this little creation sprung from the oven and found its way onto my dish. It was yummy and because of its stubby, compact nature, it reminded me of a little bulldog. Though it’s a strange name for a muffin-like goody, bulldog it is! Aside from the awesome flavor and delightfully dense texture, these treats are a snap to assemble–a bowl and a processor does the job and cleanup is almost instant!

Loaded with spices, made without flour, and sweetened only with dates, these unique muffin-like cakes have many additional guilt-free features: no added fats like margarine or oil, plenty of soluble fiber from old-fashioned rolled oats, and crunchy, chopped hazelnuts or almonds to help lower cholesterol. One recipe will make two lucky people on your gift list the recipients of a half-dozen Bulldogs each. To spread the joy even further, follow the suggestion below to create four dozen adorable little mini muffins and package them in small gift boxes tied with holiday ribbons.

Fruity Bulldogs parchmentIf you decide to make the bulldogs ahead of the holidays and want to freeze them for your own family, put them into heavy-duty ziplock bags and tuck them into the freezer for up to three months. To warm them for breakfast or brunch, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Take the bulldogs right from the freezer, put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and warm for 17 to 20 minutes.

Releasing the Perfect Muffin

I’ve made many a muffin that either sticks to the metal muffin tins or doesn’t come out clean from the parchment baking cups. But I’ve found perfection in silicone baking pans–and they don’t even need to be oiled. They come in several shapes for other baking needs like loaf pans and cake pans. The secret is adjusting the baking times to the silicone pans and allowing the muffins to cool completely before removing them from the pan.

FRUITY OAT BULLDOGS

Yield: 1 dozen

2 3/4 cups old fashioned rolled oatsBuldog Muffin

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

3/4 cup almonds or hazelnuts

 

1 1/2 cups pitted dates, snipped in half

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

 

1 cup mashed bananas

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mild vinegar (rice, cider, or distilled vinegar)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon caramel extract

1 1/4 cups vanilla or regular soymilk

 

Garnish

12 whole almonds

12 dates, cut in half

Fruity Bullldogs for BreakfastPreheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line 2 six-section muffin tins with baking cups. Alternatively, use an ungreased, 12-section silicone muffin pan. Place the muffin pans on a large rimmed baking sheet for easy handling.

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, cloves, and salt and mix well.
  2. Put the almonds in a heavy-duty plastic bag and use a hammer or a 1-pound can to chop them coarsely. Add the chopped almonds to the bowl.
  3. Create a coarse date puree by putting the dates into the food processor. With the machine running, drizzle in the water. Pulse and process until the dates are coarsely pureed.
  4. Add the mashed bananas, vinegar, vanilla extract, and caramel extract to the date puree. With the machine running, slowly pour in the soymilk and process briefly, just until the ingredients are well incorporated.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Fill the muffin pans using the entire batter. They will be slightly overfull.
  6. To garnish, poke 1 almond into the center of each muffin and push 2 date halves into each muffin next to the almond. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before removing from the pans.

Notes:

The date puree measures 1 cup.

For a touch more spice, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.

Suggestion:

Turn your one-dozen muffins into four dozen of the cutest little mini muffins you’ve ever seen by baking them in mini muffin pans. Baked in metal mini pans, the muffins will be done in about 12 to 16 minutes. The silicone mini muffin pans make slightly larger minis and will bake in about 15 to 18 minutes.

To prepare well ahead of the holidays, put the baked mini muffins on metal or plastic dishes or trays and put them, uncovered, into the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the muffins to a heavy-duty plastic bag and seal tightly. Defrost the muffins before packaging them for gift giving.

Vegan Porcupine For Dessert. Yum!

Polenta PorcupinePOLENTA PORCUPINE PIE

I’ve only encountered polenta in a savory form, usually served as a side dish. But I often wondered if it would be possible to turn it into a delicious, gluten-free dessert. And with the wonderful array of freshly dried fruits available throughout the season, I began to ponder how I could incorporate the two ideas–polenta and dried fruits.

Well, the best way to bring an idea into fruition is to just plunge in when the opportunity of time and need arises, and indeed it did.

When a friend invited me for dinner and asked me to bring dessert, she created that perfect momentum for a wildly  new experiment. I decided to make the dessert polenta with the dried fruits I had on hand. For color, I tossed in some carrots that I shredded on the coarse side of the grater. And for texture, I thought pine nuts might be a nice contribution.

To sweeten this little gem I prepared a simple date paste in the food processor. And to make the polenta a little more like a holiday dessert, I added cinnamon, cardamom, and a touch of cloves.

Porcupine moldAfter combining all the ingredients, I pressed the mixture into a large, shallow jello mold about 10 inches in diameter and spread it to the edges to avoid any holes and air spaces. Then I chilled it in the fridge and began to think about how I would garnish it. At that point, the porcupine idea hadn’t occurred.

Shortly before leaving for my friend’s house, I unmolded the polenta onto a huge platter that would fit the mold. I stared at it for a few minutes, pondering some sort of topping to bring it to life. And then that magic aha bell went off and I reached for the almonds.

I poked in a few of the almonds–it didn’t look like much, so I kept going until it took on that finished appearance. Don’t ask how I knew it was finished–I think we kitchen elves just know when something looks pleasing to the eye. The final touch was a flower or two from the garden and then, it was done!

It was a delicious surprise that also looked wonderfully enticing. When my friend asked what to call this dessert, I hesitated only a moment–and out popped the amusing name. Because of the bounty of fruits, small servings make this dessert go a long way. I cut the “pie” into thin wedges and on that day I squeezed 16 servings out of it.

Polenta PorcupinePOLENTA PORCUPINE PIE

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Fruit Mix

1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded

3/4 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup black raisins

1/3 cup diced dried Turkish apricots

1/4 cup pine nuts

Date Paste

2 cups pitted dates, snipped in half and lightly packed

1/2 cup water

Polenta

4 cups water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarse whole grain cornmeal

 

1/2 cup whole almonds

  1. Line a large, shallow mold, about 9 to 11 inches in diameter, or a 2-quart ring mold with plastic wrap large enough to drape over the sides and set aside.
  2. To make the fruit mix, combine the carrots, golden and black raisins, apricots, and pine nuts in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. TO MAKE THE DATE PASTE, put the dates in a food processor. With the machine running, add the water and process until smooth. Stop the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the workbowl. Measure 1 cup of the date paste and set it aside for the recipe. Save the remainder for another use.
  4. TO MAKE THE POLENTA, put the water, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and salt in a 4-quart saucepan. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  5. Add the cornmeal and return the mixture to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add the reserved date paste and mix well with a wooden spoon to incorporate it thoroughly. The mixture will become very thick.
  7. Add the fruit mixture a little at a time, stirring continuously, until well mixed.
  8. Working quickly, spoon the mixture into the prepared mold and spread it to the edges. Let cool completely and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
  9. Before serving, invert the polenta mixture onto a large platter and remove the plastic wrap. Poke the tips of the almonds into the top surface, gently pressing them in just enough to secure them.

Note:

Commercially packaged pitted dates, may contain one or two date pits that have evaded the pitting machinery. To avoid damaging the food processor blade, use a kitchen scissors to snip the dates in half before adding them to the processor. The date paste makes about 1 1/3 cups.