PLUM GOODIES FOR THE SWEET TABLE!

 

PLUM GOODIES

Plum Goodies B copyFigs and prunes seldom get the respect they deserve, but when they’re combined with walnuts and formed into delicious, bite-sized nibbles, they command much more than just respect. They get a blast of loving attention with smiles. Serving these at small gatherings as little after-lunch confections, I noticed guests reaching for seconds and thirds.

These little tidbits not only become desirable confections on the dessert tray, but they also make healthful treats to include in school kids’ lunchboxes or a between-meal snacks for little ones who need a healthful energy boost during the day.

They’re great keepers, too! Just pile them into a plastic container with a cover and set them aside on the countertop so they’re convenient for frequent nibbling—especially for the little ones.

For holiday parties, we tend to pull out all the stop. After all, the holidays come only once a year and we just have to go all out and prepare a fun sweet table loaded with everything from cookies and bars to truffles and confections. Be sure to add these little two-bite treats to your repertoire of collected recipe favorites. They might just become new favorites.

I made a batch of these for our own pleasure and put a heaping mound of them on a dish when a neighborhood friend came over with a loaf of his delicious sourdough bread. With enthusiasm, he popped one into his mouth and nodded with a smile of approval. As we sat at the table with our foodie friend and chatted about recipes, we noticed he kept reaching for another Plum Goodie, and another, and another. When he took the last one, he looked at me in wonder and asked, “Did I just eat the whole plate of these?”

Of course, my husband and I just giggled. It was the best testimonial I have ever encountered.

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They disappeared so quickly I didn’t have the chance to plate them. That means I have to get to work and bake up another batch — soon! I love that this recipe makes a hearty quantity of about 40 little squares.

Because these tasty confections are so unique, they would even make a lovely homemade hostess gift to bring when visiting friends during the holiday season. Consider these as a delicious holiday gift for Grandma, who doesn’t need another scarf or pair of slippers but  loves to nibble on sweet treats.

Dried fruits are a holiday bonus, providing pleasant diversity from the limited variety of fresh fruits like apples, pears, and oranges available during the winter season. To vary this recipe, try replacing the prunes with dried apricots or peaches. Both would offer delightful flavor paired with the definitive flavor of the sesame seeds that cover both the top and bottom of these treats.

PLUM GOODIES

 Yield: about 40 one-inch squares

10 ounces dried calmyrna or golden figs, trimmed and snipped in half

1 1/4 cups pitted prunes

12 pitted dates, snipped in half

3/4 cup water

2 3-inch cinnamon sticks

2 to 3 whole star anise

 

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons organic sugar

1 or 2 tablespoons water, as needed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

3 cups walnuts

 

3/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Combine the figs, prunes, dates, water, cinnamon sticks, and star anise in a 2 to 3-quart Plum Goodies A copysaucepan. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and steam for 10 minutes.

Discard the cinnamon sticks and anise and transfer the mixture to a food processor, including any liquid remaining in the pan. Add the sugar, water, lemon juice, and ground cinnamon and process until smooth and completely pureed. The mixture will be very thick.

Spoon the mixture into a medium bowl and add the walnuts. Mix well with a large spoon to incorporate the walnuts evenly throughout the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and have ready two large rimmed baking sheets. Cut 2 pieces of parchment to fit the baking sheets. Place one piece of parchment directly on the countertop, and set the other aside.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the sesame seeds into the center of the parchment and spread them evenly over a 6-inch diameter.

Carefully drop small spoonfuls of the walnut-fig mixture to cover the sesame seeds, and flatten the mixture with the back of a spoon, spreading it out to create a rectangle about 11 inches by 14 inches. Sprinkle the next 1/3 of the remaining sesame seeds over the top, pressing them down with the back of a spoon or your fingers. Sprinkle tiny bits of the remaining sesame seeds over sparsely covered areas, and set the remaining seeds aside.

Lift the parchment with the sesame-covered slab and place it into one baking sheet. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove from the oven and place the remaining piece of parchment over the top. Cover with the remaining baking sheet and invert the pans.

Remove the top piece of parchment and discard it. Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds over the uncovered areas. Press them into the surface, and bake 30 minutes longer.

Remove and cool the walnut-figgy slab. Using a flatware knife, cut the slab into 1-inch squares. Place the squares onto a large platter and leave them at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours to firm and dry slightly.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Covered in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature, the Walnut and Figgy Bites will keep for up to 2 months. For longer storage, put the confections in heavy-duty zip-lock bags and freeze for up to 6 months.

 

 

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WARM, SWEET, AND SPICY PUNCH FOR HAPPY HOLIDAY TOASTING

Latin-Twist-cover-300Authors' photo

 

As a food blogger, my aim is to share those tasty bites and sips I think you will find as delightful as I do. I recently had the pleasure of meeting two exceptional authors and food bloggers at a presentation at Melissa’s Produce in Los Angeles (Melissas.com). Vianney Rodriguez and Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack teamed up to create a true thirst-quencher, Latin Twist, a gorgeous book filled with 97 traditional cocktail recipes from 18 Latin countries plus Spain.

At Melissa’s I was sampling five delicious “mocktails,” that is, the cocktails without alcohol. After tasting Ponche Navideno, I was enthralled with the flavors imparted by the exceptional combination of fruits, some familiar and some exotic. Not only did this festive beverage taste great, but it also emitted irresistibly sweet, spicy, and fruity aromas throughout the room. This was a recipe I knew I must share.

Don’t let the 20 servings discourage you from making this wonderfully satisfying punch. If you’re not serving a large group, you’ll have plenty for a cozy gathering of celebrants to enjoy seconds and thirds. You’ll need a large stockpot, about an 8- to 10-quart size.

PONCHE NAVIDENO

Ponche Navideno(Mexican Christmas Fruit Punch)

 Ponche Navideño is a hot punch served with or without alcohol during the holiday season and most generally during Las Posadas. On those chilly nights this fragrant infusion warms you from the inside out. The intoxicating aroma and perfumed air in your home will certainly entice your guests to give the drink a try. After that, they’re hooked. Brandy or tequila can be added, making it Ponche con Piquete (punch with a sting).

Makes 20 servingsCinnamon sticks

16 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

8 whole cloves

5 long tamarind pods, husk removed, and seededTamarind pods

1/2 pound tejocotes or crab apples, left whole

6 large guavas, peeled and cut into large bite-size chunks

2 red apples (of your choice), peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks

1 pear (of your choice), peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks

2 (4-inch) sugarcane sticks, peeled and cut into small chunks

1 cup pitted prunespiloncillo

1/2 cup dark raisins

1 orange, sliced

8 ounces piloncillo, chopped, or 1 cup dark brown sugar

1 ounce brandy or tequila per cup (optional)

Directions:

Ponche NavidenoPlace the water, cinnamon sticks, cloves, tamarind pods, and tejocotes or crab apples in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. After it starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the tejocotes are soft.

Remove the tejocotes or crab apples from the pot with a slotted spoon, peel, remove hard ends, cut in half, and deseed. Return them to the pot.

Add the guavas, apples, pear, sugarcane, prunes, raisins, orange slices, and piloncillo. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring gently. Discard cinnamon sticks and cloves.

To serve, ladle into coffee cups or mugs, making sure each cup gets some chunks of fruit. If desired, add 1 ounce of brandy or tequila to each cup.

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The two charming authors generously shared another warm, fruit-filled punch recipe from from Latin Twist that’s typically enjoyed at Christmas. Ponche de Frutas is similar to Ponche Navideno but has a few additional exotic flavors such as coconut, plantain, and a hint of ginger. Both can be sipped and thoroughly enjoyed with or without alcohol.

PONCHE DE FRUTAS

Makes 15 servings

16 cups waterhandful allspice berries

3 cinnamon sticks

4 whole allspice

1-inch piece fresh ginger

5 whole cloves

2 (8-ounce) bags dried fruit mix

1 pineapple, husked, cored, and diced

1/2 medium papaya, diced

4 red apples, diced

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup prunesplantains

1/2 cup raisins

3 plantains, diced

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark rum (optional)

In a large pot, bring the water to a boil with the cinnamon sticks, allspice, ginger, and cloves.

Add dried fruit mix, pineapple, papaya, apples, and coconut. Follow with prunes, raisins, plantains, and sugar. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring gently. When the fruit is cooked and sugar dissolved, remove from the heat and pour in the rum (if using).

Serve hot with some of the diced fruit.

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.

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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.