Posts Tagged ‘dates’

Toddler peeling onions.

Bee focusing on peeling onions. She managed to remove the outer skins.

I always knew I would enjoy motherhood. I felt it would give me the opportunity to do more of some of the things I love, cooking and baking in particular. While it’s taken 18+ months to get to this point — I didn’t necessarily expect to get there sooner — I’m totally loving it: cooking a fresh, interesting and tasty dinner on most nights; trying out new recipes; transforming ideas onto the plate; eating good food! I’m in a real sweet spot, and Bee is playing along.

A good part of our afternoons are spent cooking, and some mornings we bake together. She may spend some time with me at the counter, helping me or playing with food scraps or, her favourite, water. Or she may cook in her own mini kitchen, where I see her imitate what she sees me doing. Or she may simply occupy herself otherwise, checking in with me every so often. The process takes longer, with frequent pauses for various reasons, but the food gets on the table.

Although I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not spending the time playing with Bee, I figure she is seeing a good example of home cooking and learning some valuable skills. Over time, I should be able to involve her more and more.

Toddler making muffins.

Bee stirring (and tasting, of course) the wet ingredients for muffins.

Just the other day we tried a new muffin recipe together. It’s been a long time since I got excited about a muffin recipe (probably not since I came up with the date and cranberry muffins with oatmeal streusel topping), but these banana carrot muffins are stellar!

I’m always searching for recipes with low/no sugar or tweaking them to reduce the amount of sugar. Too often recipes have too much sugar, which is not only bad for us but also, in my opinion, masks the other flavours. This recipe gets just the right amount of sweetness from bananas, dates and a touch of maple syrup, and includes a lot of healthy ingredients. I can’t get enough of them, and Bee is a fan too. Another sweet spot!

Banana carrot muffins.

Recipe: Banana Carrot Muffins

This recipe is adapted from Dr. Weil’s Carrot-Banana Muffin recipe. I made a combination of mini and regular size muffins; the recipe made 24 mini muffins and 9 regular-size muffins. 

2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup old fashioned oats
2/3 cup ground almonds/almond meal
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp each cinnamon, cardamom, ginger
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped pitted dates
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

3 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
2 medium carrots, finely grated

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line/grease 12 regular size muffin cups (or combination of mini and regular-size muffin cups).

In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Combine all wet ingredients in a second bowl. The chopped dates will tend to stick together. With your fingers separate them once they are in the flour mixture; coating each piece with the flour mixture will prevent them from sticking together.

Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Bake 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean. (Mini muffins will be done sooner, in approx. 25 minutes.)

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Sticky Cranoffee Pudding (Cranberry-Date Upside-Down Cake)Some ideas take a long time to mature.

I started experimenting with the idea of an apple-cranberry upside-down cake two years ago. I was intent on this fall flavour combination and tried several variations.

None turned out the way I wanted. Either the cake wasn’t right or the caramelly cranberry bottom/top didn’t work out.

That cranberry season passed.

Last fall I was busy with a new little person in my life. No time for testing recipes.

Another cranberry season passed. But the idea didn’t go away.

In the meantime, I discovered a flavour combination that quickly became a favourite: dates and cranberries. The other day I was flipping through one of my cookbooks, when the recipe for sticky toffee pudding caught my eye.

And then it hit me: forget about apples and cranberries!

Sticky toffee pudding is made with dates and is served with a gooey toffee sauce. Make it like an upside-down cake with cranberries, the sauce becomes part of the cake and the cranberries add a tart twist to the cake’s deep flavour.

Recipe: Sticky Cranoffee Pudding (Cranberry-Date Upside-Down Cake)

The cake recipe is an adaptation of Marion Kane’s Ultimate Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe, while the caramel is borrowed from my tarte tatin recipe. I used a pie plate with an 8-inch bottom, but you could also use a normal cake pan (not a spring-form; the caramel will leak out).

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Date purée:
1 cup roughly chopped dates
1/2 cup water
1 tsp instant espresso powder or 2 tbsp strong coffee

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups cranberries (or enough to make a layer in the bottom of your baking dish), picked over, washed and dried
Date purée (see ingredients above)
Whipping cream, for serving

Butter baking dish.

Make caramel. Pour sugar, then water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Let cook until it turns amber.

Amber sugar for making caramel. Remove from heat at this stage.

You want the sugar to be this colour before adding the butter and the cream.

[Yes, that means DON’T TOUCH! Resist every urge to swirl or stir the contents of the saucepan – this will prevent the sugar from sticking to and drying out on the sides – and just let the heat do the work. The process may take up to 30 minutes or more. Watch carefully once the sugar starts changing colour, it darkens fast.]

Once the sugar is amber, remove from heat. Immediately whisk in butter and cream. [Expect a lot of frothing and steaming, as the cooler butter and cream hit the sugar. Just keep whisking.] Whisk until completely incorporated and smooth. Pour into buttered baking dish.

Make date purée (you could start this while the sugar is cooking). Place chopped dates, water and coffee in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook until dates are soft. Blend mixture with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350° F .

Caramel and cranberries in baking dishMake cake. Place cranberries on caramel in bottom of baking dish.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, cream butter until light. Add brown sugar and continue beating until well incorporated. Beat in egg and vanilla.

Mix in flour mixture alternately with the date purée, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour batter over caramel and cranberries. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean and cake is springy to touch.

Remove from oven and invert immediately onto serving plate. [Choose a large enough plate, preferably with a small rim, since the caramel will flow around the cake.]

Serve with whipped cream.

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Date and Cranberry Muffin with Oatmeal Streusel ToppingI’m a fan of date squares, but often I find them too sweet. When I tried the cranberry-date squares from 3 Tarts, a bakery in my neighbourhood, I thought “what a smart combination!”

Those squares became the inspiration for these muffins. The dates give them a rich flavour (and minimize the sugar required) while the cranberries offer a pleasantly tart contrast to the dates’ natural sweetness. The oatmeal streusel topping provides some nice crunchy texture.

My mouth is watering as I write this. Time for a muffin!

Recipe: Date and Cranberry Muffins with Oatmeal Streusel Topping

1 1/2 cups flour (I use 3/4 cup regular spelt flour and 3/4 cup whole spelt flour)
1/2 cup oatmeal (large flake/old-fashioned kind)
1/4 cup ground flax seed
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup diced dates (raisin-sized dice)
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)

1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup brown sugar (loosely packed)
1/2 cup date puree (see ingredients below)
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Date Puree:
1 cup whole pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 cup water

Oatmeal Streusel Topping:
1 cup oatmeal (large flake/old-fashioned kind)
1/4 brown sugar
1/4 flour
2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line/grease 12 muffin cups.

Date Puree: Combine chopped dates and water in a saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat until dates are softened. Puree with an immersion blender, a food processor or food mill. Should yield 1/2 cup (no worries if it’s a little more or a little less).

Oatmeal Streusel Topping: Mix oatmeal, brown sugar and flour in a bowl. Add butter and, with your hands, rub all ingredients together until combined. Set aside.

Muffins: In a bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Combine all dry ingredients (except for cranberries) in a second bowl. The chopped dates will tend to stick together. With your fingers separate them once they are in the flour mixture; coating each piece with the flour mixture will prevent them from sticking together.  Add cranberries and toss to combine and coat the cranberries with flour.

Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Cover each muffin with some of the streusel topping, pressing it lightly into the batter. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

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Date-filled oat cakes - a healthy and delicious snack!The Harvest Loaf Bakery used to make Cape Breton oat cakes and a date-filled version. They were one of my favourite treats. About a year ago, they disappeared from the shelves. A couple of weekends ago, I finally asked if the bakery still made them and was disappointed to discover that it doesn’t anymore. Unfortunately the baker with the recipe left and it was unable to reproduce it faithfully.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to try to make them in my own kitchen. It was this recently tweeted recipe that finally encouraged me to make them. The blog post talks about how the recipe was demonstrated at the South Arm Community Centre in Richmond, B.C.. This was my neighbourhood community centre when I was growing up; I went to playschool and brownies there. What a coincidence!

After comparing  several oat cake recipes, I made three different batches in the last couple of weeks – brown sugar vs. white sugar, variations on the date filling, more butter vs. less butter, hand mixed vs. food processor – and had them taste-tested by several people. The only thing I didn’t try is to make them with shortening; I’m just not a fan.

Below is my favourite version. It has less butter than any of the recipes to which I referred. The dough may seem a bit crumbly, but it rolls out fine. The lemon in the filling brightens it and makes it a touch less sweet.

Recipe: (Wannabe) Cape Breton Oat Cakes with Date Filling

I admit, I’ve never been to Cape Breton. No clue if this recipe is authentic, hence the “wannabe” status!

1 1/2 cups roughly chopped dates
1 cup water
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp lemon juice

2 cups flour (I used spelt flour)
2 cups oatmeal (I used old-fashioned rolled oats)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp each ground ginger, cinnamon and cardamon
1 cup butter
1/3 cup cold water

Prepare date filling. Place dates and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat until dates are soft and water is reduced by half. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender. Mix in lemon zest and lemon juice. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking soda and spices. Cut in the butter. Rub mixture between fingers until it resembles a coarse meal. Add enough water to moisten and gather dough into a ball.

[Blending in the butter is much easier with a food processor. I processed together all dough ingredients except for the oatmeal and water to prevent the oatmeal from being ground too fine. Once the flour and butter resembled a coarse meal, I mixed in the oatmeal with a couple of pulses, then added the water. Finally, I brought the dough together with a quick knead on the counter.]

Making date-filled oat cakes. The rolled out dough with date filling, ready to fold.Work with a third of the dough at a time. Roll out thinly (approx. 1/8″) into a long, skinny rectangle. Spoon date filling onto the middle of one half of the rectangle. Wet edges with a bit of water. Fold other half over and gently but firmly seal the edges. Cut into squares/bars and place on baking sheet.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

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I never knew my husband was such a fan of Halloween. Maybe it’s because we spent several years living abroad where there was no Halloween. Since we moved to Ottawa though, the collection of Halloween decorations has grown slowly and David gets quite excited about handing out treats to the neighbourhood kids. He’s also the official pumpkin carver.

Happy pumpkin

One of David's pumpkin creations!

This year he carved four pumpkins, one big one and three small ones. The small pumpkins were actually pie pumpkins and we still had two whole ones left. I steamed them, then pureed and froze the flesh, save for a 1/2 cup which I used to make these pleasantly warming and delicately flavourful muffins. Perfect for this time of year!

Recipe: Spiced Pumpkin-Date Muffins

Adapted from a recipe in A Taste of Canada: A Culinary Journey.

1 egg
½ cup milk
1/3 cup yoghurt
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup pureed pumpkin

2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ cup ground flax seed*
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
2/3 cup chopped dates (12 dates) + 2 dates sliced lengthwise into 5 pieces each (for “pretty”  topping)
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line/grease 10 muffin cups.

In a bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Combine all dry ingredients in a second bowl. The chopped dates will tend to stick together. With your fingers separate them once they are in the flour mixture; coating each piece with the flour mixture will prevent them from sticking together.  Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Decorate with a piece of date. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.

*If you leave out the ground flax seed, then reduce the yoghurt to a ¼ cup.

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