NAUGHTY LITTLE NIBBLES MAKES US HAPPY!

CHOCOLATE FIREBALLS and TAHINI PEANUT CONFECTIONS

Homemade fruit and nut confections are often considered non-glamorous and too homespun by some. True, they may not be perfectly shaped and are a bit out of round, but let’s look from a different point of view. By others, they’re beloved, delicious, and most appreciated because they’ve been lovingly hand-made by someone whose desire is to bring a tasty little treat to the table or to offer as a sweet gift.

I’ve made two happily concocted confections to share on this blog–Chocolate Fireballs and Tahini Peanut Confections. Each one is vastly different from the other, yet they pair well together.

First, the Chocolate Fireballs: Most people find chocolate a total charmer. It’s no wonder–chocolate has compelling flavor that hits the tongue and totally wins you over. I say, “Go ahead–devour the chocolate!” These little treats contain no sugar, yet they’re deliciously sweet with nothing more than the earthy gifts of Mother Nature.

A little heads-up: These babies contain cayenne within the confections and also in the coating. I would judge the heat level to be between mildly spiced to just a tad more–not at the medium level, though. But, since everyone has a different spice tolerance, I thought it would be helpful to prepare you for a delightful little touch of heat and provide a little warning to those with sensitive taste buds.

If you know your guests enjoy spicy foods, say nothing and let the touch of spice be a pleasant surprise. You can enjoy watching them light up when that tiny blast of heat hits those little receivers on the tongue.

One day, when unexpected relatives dropped in for a visit, I reached into the freezer for these treats and arranged them on a dessert platter lined with a doily. Unwilling to wait for them to defrost, the cousins snapped them up and devoured them with gusto. That defining moment revealed that the confections were just as enjoyable eaten at room temperature or taken directly from the freezer. These tasty nibbles also make ideal gifts for the grandparents on your holiday list.

CHOCOLATE FIREBALLS

Yield: about 25 one-inch confections

Confections

1 1/2 cups whole almonds

1 1/2 cups walnuts

3 cups pitted dates, snipped in half

5 tablespoons raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon caramel extract

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

5 to 6 tablespoons water

Coating

6 tablespoons almond meal

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3 tablespoons organic sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

TO MAKE THE CONFECTIONS, put the almonds and walnuts in the food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground but still retain a little texture. If you prefer a confection with a little crunch, process briefly so the nuts still retain their crunchy nature. Process a little longer for a smoother texture. Transfer the nuts to a large bowl.

Put the dates, cacao powder, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, caramel extract, pepper, and cayenne in the food processor. Add 5 tablespoons of the water and pulse and process until the ingredients are smooth and creamy or lightly textured as desired.

Pour the date mixture into the bowl with the nuts and use your hands to thoroughly combine the ingredients. If the mixture seems too stiff, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of water and mix well to incorporate it completely. Set aside for 5 minutes.

TO MAKE THE COATING, combine the Coating ingredients in a separate bowl. Using your hands, roll the confection mixture into 1-inch balls or small logs, then, roll them in the coating, covering them completely.

Put the confections in a covered container. If using within a week or two, store the confections in the refrigerator. For longer storage, put them in the freezer. Frozen, the confections will keep for up to 3 months.

There are several ways to enjoy the confections. Some people enjoy them right from the freezer. Others prefer them partially defrosted, about 10 minutes out of the freezer. They’re also delicious served completely defrosted.

Notes:

When preparing this recipe, be sure to snip the dates in half with a kitchen scissors to avoid date pits that might damage the food processor.

 

 

Cocoa Powder vs. Raw Cacao

Most supermarkets sell unsweetened cocoa powder, while natural food markets sell both unsweetened cocoa powder and raw cacao powder. Between them there’s a world of difference.

Unsweetened cocoa powder has shed all or most of its natural fat content, leaving only a minute amount of its natural cocoa butter intact. Raw cacao powder is considerably more expensive, but some cooks consider it worth the extra price. Because it still contains its natural cocoa butter (the magical fat that boosts the flavor of the chocolate), raw cacao delivers richer flavor with more depth.

The two points to consider when deciding which chocolate to buy for baking or confections are flavor and fat content. If you’re aiming for lower fat foods, stick to the unsweetened cocoa powder. If the fat content is not a consideration, go for the more intense flavor and choose the raw cacao powder.

Caramel Extract: Caramel extract is not available in grocery stores. I order it online from J.R. Watkins – https://www.jrwatkins.com

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TAHINI PEANUT CONFECTIONS

If you’re invited to dinner or a holiday party, bring some of these confections along as a hostess gift and watch the recipients beam with joy. With their captivating sesame flavor and date-sweetened goodness, these little tidbits make outstanding holiday gifts. Prepare these well ahead and keep them frozen so you can be ready when the festive season comes along. The act of giving is reward itself, but you’ll receive extra gratitude when you present these treats in an attractive jar or box attractively wrapped in their holiday best.

My hubby is a happy camper when he can reach into the freezer any time year-round and pluck a sweet frozen treat from the plastic container I attempt to keep filled. He claims they taste better when frozen–personally, I think he just doesn’t want to wait the ten or fifteen minutes for them to reach room temperature.

Yield: 45 to 50 confections

2 cups firmly packed pitted dates, snipped in half

1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

1/2 cup tahini

2 to 6 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon caramel extract

Coating

1 cup natural or toasted sesame seeds

TO MAKE THE CONFECTIONS, combine the dates, peanuts, tahini, water, and caramel extract in the food processor and pulse and process until well blended. Longer processing will create a smoother confection. If you prefer a chunkier confection, you can control the texture by shorter processing and stopping the machine frequently to check the results.

Form the mixture into balls, using about one teaspoon for each confection. Roll, squeeze, and use your fingers to form the mixture into balls or ovals.

TO COAT THE CONFECTIONS, put the sesame seeds in a small, deep bowl and roll each ball in the seeds, coating it completely.

IF PLANNING AHEAD FOR GIFTING, put the finished confections in a covered container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to thaw the confections completely before wrapping them for gifting.

TO SERVE THE CONFECTIONS AT HOME for your own family or guests, line an attractive dish with a doily, arrange the confections on the dish, and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. They’re delicious eaten at room temperature, chilled, or even frozen.

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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.