Orange-Blossom Stuffed Dates

Orange-Blossom Stuffed Dates

With gift-giving season around the corner, I’m sure the pressure to find something ‘perfect’ for everyone on your list without breaking the bank is on your mind. Hello Black Friday shopping!!! But as I’ve gotten older, I seem to have lost the pleasure in giving & receiving store bought gifts; I mean, doesn’t everybody have enough ‘stuff’ already? In the last 2-3 years, unless I find something that I am pretty certain the recipient will love. I would rather give flowers or home-made edibles or even an experience (movie/dinner/museum out together) than another candle/bowl/you-name-it item that’s pretty but will probably be re-gifted or sit in the basement. This drives my family crazy!! Gift-giving occasions are a pain-in-the-*** for them because they really need to think about it :)). For me, it’s not how much the gift is worth in $$ but how much thought went into it. Along these lines, when I had a certain (ahem!) milestone birthday a few years ago, I was treated to a fantastic trip to Morocco – one of my ‘places to visit before I die’. What an experience!!! The scenic beauty, the people, the food, the history & culture is definitely one I will never forget. I will do a small post on our trip soon and share photos, but I wanted to share this recipe for yummy Stuffed Dates that we were offered with mint tea in some of the places we stayed. While it probably isn’t authentic Moroccan, my recipe below has blended several recipes I’ve come across, with a touch of Indian. Hope you enjoy it.

You can find Orange-Blossom water in any International or Middle Eastern grocery store for around $2-$3. If it is not readily available, you may substitute Rosewater (more readily available at any of the above or Indian grocers). Please read the bottom of this post for how to make Rosewater flavored stuffed dates.

Orange-Blossom Stuffed Dates

Orange-Blossom Stuffed Dates

Orange-Blossom Stuffed Dates

(About 25-30 dates)

  • 3/4 cup almonds
  • 1 cup fine confectioners sugar
  • 1/3 cup shelled pistachios
  • 25-30 (soft) dates – NOT the dry dehydrated ones
  • 2-3 tsp + 1 Tbsp orange-blossom water
  • zest of one orange (Optional)
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (approx. 1 large orange)
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • pinch of cardamom powder

1) Boil 2 cups of water in a small bowl and remove from stove. Drop the almonds in the hot water and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

2) In another small saucepan, bring the orange juice, honey, 1 Tbsp orange-blossom water, orange zest (if using) & cardamom to boil on medium heat, then simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool completely.

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(Oops – didn’t realize how messy the saucepan looks 😦 )

3) Meanwhile, toast the pistachio nuts in a pan on medium-low heat, stirring constantly to avoid browning – about 3-4 minutes. Pour into a wide plate in a single layer to cool completely.

4) Now drain the almonds and pinch between your thumb & forefinger to remove the skin – it should slide off easily. (Check this video if you’ve never blanched almonds before.) Drain well and cool completely on a plate.

5) Gently slit the dates down one side and remove the pit – do not cut all the way through into halves. Set aside on a flat plate. (I buy pitted dates from Costco).

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6) Coarsely chop the pistachios in a small food processor jar and set aside in a bowl.

7) In the same jar, combine the blanched almonds, powdered sugar and 1 tsp of blossom water and process till the almonds are ground fine. You may need to add another teaspoon or two of blossom water to help the mixture come together like a ball, but add only as needed or the paste will become too sticky. (I needed 3 tsp). Do not over-process.

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8) Take teaspoons full of almond paste and roll into small logs the size of the dates, keeping them slightly fatter in the center. (Keep the paste covered with plastic wrap or it will dry out.)

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9) Stuff all the dates with the almonds and gently press into shape with your fingers. Set aside on the flat plate.

10) Brush the dates generously with the orange-honey mixture and let it sit for 20-30 minutes to soak up the juices. (You can wrap the plate in plastic wrap and refrigerate at this point for a day or two.)

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11) Before serving, brush with the dates with the remaining syrup. Lift each date, and holding upside down, gently roll in the chopped pistachios and place on serving platter. Top with orange zest (optional) and serve at room temperature.

FOR ROSEWATER SUBSTITUTE:

1) Process the almonds, sugar and rose syrup to form a paste (step 7 above).

2) Roll into logs & stuff the dates with the paste.

3) Make the syrup with 1/4 cup water + 1-2 Tbsp honey + 1 Tbsp rosewater (step 2 above). Skip the cardamom is you feel it will overpower the delicate rose taste.

4) Brush the stuffed dates with the cooled syrup, roll in chopped pistachios and serve at room temperature.

5) If you serve each date in an edible rose petal, it should make for a spectacular presentation. Alternately, arrange some dry edible rose buds in the serving platter for some wow factor.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

Last weekend, I attended a Cast Party for a dance I did at our local Indian association event. While the piece itself was small, it was so much fun going to practices, picking out outfits, and dressing up for the ‘big show’. The entire segment involved almost 70 people – men, women & kids. A lot of kids!!

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

For many years, I had planned on making candy-melt Monarch butterflies that I had seen in a cake decorating book, but never got around to it. I figured it might be a good technique to use for fall cupcake decorations. Considering that there would be dozens of kids at the party, my reasoning was that no matter how the end result would be, the kids would devour them. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly these decorations came together. I made the candy leaves one afternoon, and baked and decorated the cupcakes the day of the event. It’s easy enough that the kids can help – my 10 year old did. Suffice to say that the first of three boxes of cupcakes was emptied out even before dinner was served!

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

ITEMS NEEDED:

  • Candy Melts in colors of choice
  • Design printed on paper
  • Wax paper for piping candy
  • Cookie Sheets
  • Piping bag with fine tip [OR] sturdy ziplock bags
  • Toothpick (to fill in small spots)
  • Metal spatula [OR] wide knife to lift the candy leaves

STEPS:

1) Make copies or free-hand sketch the design you want onto white paper.

2) Place on a flat, moveable surface (like a cookie sheet or sturdy chopping board) and top with wax paper. Once in position, tape down into place.

3) In a small bowl, microwave a handful of Candy Melts according to package directions till completely melted and runny.

4) Pour into the piping bag / ziplock bag (make a tiny snip at the corner for the candy to flow) and using a slow and steady hand, pipe over the designs.

5) Allow to harden – about 10 minutes.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

As you can see in the picture above, I used a piping bag. The tray on top has the full outline piped in. The one on the bottom has only the ‘veins’ piped in. You will see below how these give two different effects.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

6) In another small bowl, melt a handful of leaf color candy melt chips and pour into another bag. Pipe over the leaf designs and make sure to fill in the entire design. Go over the back of the ‘veins’ and make sure that all areas are covered.

(While you do not want clumps of candy, don’t worry about being super neat. In the finished stage, this will be the bottom of the leaf and will not show. Of course, if you plan on making the leaves stand up where both front and back will be visible, then take the time to smooth out the candy. Work in small batches to keep it flowing easily.)

7) Set the finished cookie trays aside to harden – about 30 minutes (depending on how thick you spread the candy). Alternately, stick them in the fridge or freezer for about 10 minutes to harden up faster.

8) When set, gently slip a spatula under the candy leaf – it should slide right out – and place on top of your completely cooled and frosted cake.

Cupcakes with Candy LeavesCupcakes with Candy Leaves

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HERSHEY’S KISSES ACORNS:

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

ITEMS NEEDED:

  • Nutter Butter Bites (Peanut Butter Sandwich Mini Cookies)
  • Double number of Hershey’s Kisses (unwrapped)
  • Mini chocolate chips
  • Few Candy Melts to use like glue

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

1) Split the mini cookies and remove the filling (above). Lay them all in a plate, right side down. (Alternately, you can just use the cookies whole without splitting them up.)

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

2) Melt a few Candy Melts and pour into bag for piping (or use the leftover bag from the candy leaves). Place a small dot on a few cookies.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

3) Quickly place the Kisses on top of the cookie and press down gently. Work in small batches, and make sure the candy melts do not ooze out from under the Kisses. Do not disturb them for about 10-15 minutes, till firm.

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

4) Now flip the cookies right side up and dab with another small dot of candy melt. Quickly top with a mini chocolate chip and press down gently. Set on plate to harden completely – another 10-15 minutes. (The chips might slide away from the center if the candy melt is too runny. Make sure to move it back to place as it cools.)

Cupcakes with Candy Leaves

I used box cake mix & frosting – Yellow cake (my favorite!), Devil’s Food, Caramel Apple Frosting, Cinnamon Bun frosting, and plain chocolate frosting. I made a total of 4 boxes, and about 75 cupcakes.

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

Here’s a dessert that I’ve made dozens of times and it has always brought rave reviews. Thanks to my aunt Uma for the recipe. Super easy to whip together, Mango Pudding can be made a day or two ahead, and will keep refrigerated for a couple days if covered tightly. This is a great dish to take for pot-luck meals as it travels well; no sloshing and spilling on your party outfit :)).

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

Mango Pudding

(Makes 35 1/3-cup servings; approx 12 cups total)

  • 3 cups water
  • 3 packets unflavored gelatin
  • 8 oz plain cream cheese (softened)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (30 oz) mango pulp can – [available at most Indian grocers]
  • 8 oz Cool Whip (thawed)
  • saffron, cardamom powder, almonds/pistachio to garnish (optional)

Mango Pudding

1) Boil 3 cups water on the stove and stir well to completely dissolve 3 packets gelatin in it. Cool till luke warm – about 10 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a large round bowl (at least 4 quart/4 liter capacity), add the cream cheese and beat with a hand blender till smooth.

Mango Pudding

(Yes, I know the photo shows cream cheese & sugar together. You could do that too :).)

3) Add the sugar and blend with the cream cheese till light and fluffy, and well incorporated.

4) Add the mango pulp and CoolWhip – a little at a time – and beat well till no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides if necessary and mix well with the sugar-cheese mixture.

Mango Pudding Mango Pudding

5) Now slowly add the cooled gelatin in batches and make sure to thoroughly mix it with the rest of the ingredients. This step is important for the entire dish to set.

Mango Pudding

6) Pour into a 3-quart serving dish or into individual serving cups and chill till set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

7) Garnish with more Cool Whip, chopped nuts or saffron before serving.

TIPS: Do not use hot gelatin water as the rest of the ingredients will change consistency. Make sure to add a little pulp at a time while beating or else the cream cheese will ‘ball’ and leave lumps. Mix the gelatin well with the rest of the ingredients for consistent consistency. If bubbles form while transferring into a serving dish, they will set and look weird (in my opinion – but then, I’m finicky like that!) Pour gently or spoon the mixture into your serving dish and shake out the bubbles if you see them. Garnish only after the pudding has set.

While this looks like a lot of steps, it is surprisingly easy to make and is totally worth the effort. Hope you enjoy this pudding, and leave some feedback on how it turns out.

Cocktail Papadums & Carrot Salad

Cocktail Papadums & Carrot Salad

As promised – here is the next easy appetizer idea. Most Indians will be familiar with some version of this carrot salad. You can add in seeded & finely chopped tomatoes, or sprouted mung beans. I have just added a small twist to how it’s served. Cocktail Papadums (mini papads) are available at most Indian grocery stores. If not, you can use tortilla chips / scoops.

These papads and the salad can be made ahead of time and assembled just before serving. Hope this helps make your entertaining easier :)).

Cocktail Papadums & Carrot Salad

Cocktail Papadums & Carrot Salad

(serves 4-6)

  • 1/2 packet cocktail papadums (fried and drained)
  • 2 large carrots (peeled & grated)
  • 1 small red onion (finely chopped)
  • 1-2 green chillies (finely chopped)
  • 2-3 Tbsp cilantro (finely chopped)
  • salt to taste
  • lemon juice to taste
  • 1 medium tomato (seeded & finely diced) – optional
  • 1/2 cup sprouted mung beans – optional

This recipe is more a guide than an actual measurement:

1) Fry cocktail papadums and drain on paper towels. Store in a paper towel lined air tight container for up to 2 days. (If you cannot find mini papadums/papads,  I suppose you could get away with tortilla chips/scoops.)

2) In a bowl, mix together the grated carrots, onion, green chillies and mung beans (if using). Refrigerate till ready to serve.

3) Just before serving, add the salt, lemon juice & tomato and gently mix with a fork. (Remember that tomatoes will release moisture and make the carrot mix soggy after a while. I generally avoid it if I expect the mix to sit for a while.)

4) Serve in a bowl on a plate with the papads. Guests can fix their own bite size snack.

Cocktail Papadums

Growing up, this was something we occasionally had as Sunday breakfast to give my mom a break from cooking. We slathered our bread with ghee and toasted it on the griddle till it was golden and crunchy, and topped it with this spicy carrot salad. I still enjoy this salad, but without the bread!

Vegan Zucchini & Corn Cutlets

Vegan Zucchini Corn Cutlets

Is everybody getting ready for the holiday madness? For many years, I felt like I was short changing my kids and family if our holidays didn’t involve hand made stuff, decorating, cleaning and cooking like a maniac, and entertaining over the 6+ weeks starting mid-November. It’s so easy to get caught up in the picture perfect version of the holidays that is sold to us by retailers and media, that we forget it took a large paid team of people to come up with what we see in ads. 2 years ago, I decided that I would not do anything that my kids didn’t really care about. Surprisingly, they were fine with not putting up a tree (second time in 15 years; the first was when we lived overseas for a year)!! That December, we travelled to Jamaica for a gloriously relaxing vacation, took naps, read books, watched movies and played Scrabble. Not a single wreath/christmas decoration came out of the box. We did do some casual entertaining (as in easy meals, or order in Chinese or pizza) with small groups, and were actually able to sit down and enjoy company. It was an eye-opener for me. I wasn’t a yelling nagging lunatic with a whisk in one hand and a dusting rag in the other!! (Atleast, I think I wasn’t one. My family may differ 🙂 but they have to agree that I toned it down a couple notches.) We did put up our tree last year, and baked, entertained, shopped, etc. but I didn’t stress about how perfect everything had to be. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I’m trying to walk down the same path again this year.

What I want to say here is that while we may not be able to completely give up everything, the holidays are about appreciating our loved ones and making the time to connect with them. If you can effortlessly whip up a 7 course meal and still smile, hats off to you. But most of us need a stash of easy and quick tricks in our bag to tide the next few weeks. In the coming days, my plan is to post recipes of what I am making in my own home. I assure you that they will be easy, healthy (somewhat :)), elegant, and mostly make-ahead. After all, the hosts need to enjoy the party too.

The recipe below is just a guide for making these cutlets. Since zucchini has a neutral taste, you can add any seasoning of choice: green chillies & chopped mint; sriracha & fish sauce; chopped dill & feta cheese; etc. I have used basil & oregano as I wanted to empty them out. It is crucial to squeeze out the water from the zucchini, and to add a binding agent to hold the mix together. (I might try adding mashed black beans instead of the potato next time.) The flour & starch / bread crumbs aid in absorbing any left over moisture, and may not be necessary if you have had enough time to drain the vegetable.

I have made these cutlets a day or two before my party and heated in a toaster oven, and they tasted just as good as fresh. If you plan on reheating, place them on a rack after cooking so they cool without sitting in steam. Cool completely and store in a paper towel lined air tight box in the refrigerator. I sometimes make these and serve as after-school snacks and my 10-year old will eat 4-5 without complaint.

Vegan Zucchini – Corn Cutlets

(Makes about 24)

  • 2 lbs zucchini
  • 1 cup roasted corn ( I buy the frozen bag but you can roast at home if you like)
  • 1 Tbsp garlic (paste or minced or powder)
  • 1 Tbsp dry red chili flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp dry basil (crush between palms before adding)
  • 1 Tbsp dry oregano (crush between palms before adding)
  • 1 medium boiled, peeled & mashed potato [or] 1 egg**
  • 1 cup bread crumbs [or] 1/2 cup all-purpose flour + 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • salt to taste
  • Oil for griddle

1) Set a colander in a plate or bowl,and grate zucchini into it using the fine side of the grater.

2) Toss with 1 tsp salt and set aside for 15 minutes. This will make the vegetable release a lot of moisture and drain into the lining plate/bowl.

3) Meanwhile, in another large bowl, mix the corn, garlic, chili flakes, basil, oregano & potato.

4) After 15 minutes, squeeze out the grated zucchini and add to the corn mixture. Adjust salt and spices, and chill for another 15 minutes (optional – this will help to set the mixture and make for easier shaping. Also, this will release any additional water in the zucchini, and you can control the amount of bread crumbs added).

5) Alternately, you may skip the chilling, and add the bread crumbs (or all-purpose flour & cornstarch) and mix well.

6) Heat a griddle on medium and add 2 Tbsp oil to it.

7) Shape 2-3 Tbsp of the mixture into balls and flatten into patties. Cook the patties on medium-high for about 3 minutes per side until golden brown.

8) Serve with dipping sauce of your choice – ketchup, ranch, sriracha, cilantro-mint-green chili chutney, etc.

*** Vegans might want to try flax egg as a binding agent. Please let me know how it turns out if you do.

Guilt free Chia Seed – Pumpkin Pie Filling

Guilt Free Chia Seed - Pumpkin Pie Filling

Halloween seems to herald in the start of unhealthy eating. By the time we’re done sneaking our favorites from the kids candy stash, Thanksgiving comes around, and the holiday parties begin. If you like pie like I do, then this season is like walking in a land mine! I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest from Forks Over Knives and LOVE it. Surprisingly, my 10-year old has been enjoying it too as much as I do. You can have it for breakfast, snack or any time you get a craving for something sweet. Made with whole foods, and put together in minutes – what’s not to love about this Pumpkin Pie Filling?

Guilt Free Chia Seed - Pumpkin Pie Filling

Guilt Free Chia Seed – Pumpkin Pie Filling

(Serves 4-6)

(Adapted from Forks Over Knives)

  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1 cup water
  • 12-15 pitted dates
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 (15 oz) can pumpkin (NOT pie filling)
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds***
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

1) Add the chia seeds to your blender and make it into a powder. Pour into a large bowl and set aside.

2) Add the almonds, water & dates to the blender jar and puree. (Alternately, use 1 cup of almond milk & dates).

3) Add the banana, pumpkin, vanilla & spice, and blend well.

4) If your blender is powerful, add in the chia and give it a whirl till well mixed. Add a few more tablespoons of milk or water if necessary. Otherwise, pour the liquid from the blender over the chia powder and mix well.

5) Pour into 4-6 serving dishes and chill covered for a few hours (it’s fine to eat right away too). Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.

6) My teen loves his pie crust, so I poured some into individual ready crusts for portion control.

*** If you prefer the texture of whole chia seeds, skip step 1 and mix with the pumpkin filling. This method requires several hours to set – it will not be ready to eat as soon as it is assembled.