Medjool dates and my cream cheese pastry (or frozen puffs; even pizza)
Coarsely chop room-temperature Medjool dates (about a pound).
Simmer the dates in a half cup of Asbach Uralt cognac for just a few minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with just a little salt.
Remove the dates with a slotted spoon. Mash with a potato masher. Add a half cup of figgy jus from your marinating jar to the cognac pot. Simmer. Reduce by half. The reduction should be a sticky gooey spread. Add the date mash back to the pot. Stir.
Using my recipe for cream cheese pastry, while still hot, top the flaky baked pastry, cut into two-inch squares and using a spoon of the date mash and top with a piece of room temperature blue cheese. Drizzle a small spoon of my wonderful tomato butter over the blue cheese. Serve right away at room temperature.
ALTERNATE: You can also serve the cognac figgy date mash on a rectangle bed of frozen puff pastry (follow package baking directions). Egg wash the edges of the rectangle. When the pastry puffs, this tasty treat is ready to eat. Drizzle with just a little of your favourite red pepper jelly, warmed in a skillet or even cold from the fridge.
Or, you can prepare mini frozen puff rounds and then fill the warm or room temperature pastries with the date mash. Use a pastry ring to cut.
Another idea: Paste the cognac date mash in a thick layer, add a few candied walnuts and chop a few candied orange rinds from your citrus sugar jar onto my Stollen dough. And continue that recipe, instead of using the Christmas fruit mix.
For a wildly wonderful treat, you can even top homemade pizza with the date mash. Spread the mash on the pizza dough, instead of tomato sauce base, and bake as usual.
Fresh from the oven, drop generous bits of room temperature Brie over the pizza. Lots of Brie. Spritz with a little figgy jus. Grind fresh cracked peppercorns and sprinkle on a little salt.
Add crispy fried half-inch pieces of bacon on top. Chop a bosc pear and sprinkle a few of your favourite nuts on top. Candied walnuts are wonderful. Drizzle with just a little of the bacon fat and cut the pizza in pie-shape wedges.
Make plenty. Your unusual gourmet pizza will be a hit.
Now for the dinner-table special treat:
Medjool dates and maple syrup pork chop cream
Marinate a centre cut thick pork chop on the bone, for just a few minutes, in just a little oil, a sprinkle of nutmeg, pepper and a little garlic salt on both sides, and paint both sides with a little Dijon mustard. Sprinkle with salt just when ready to pan fry. Use a rubber scraper to wipe the marinating plate liquid into the skillet.
Melt butter in a hot stainless-steel skillet. There’s already enough oil on the chop that will mix with the hot butter. Set the timer for three minutes. Sear the pork chop, turn down the heat, reset the timer for three minutes and sear the other side. Check doneness. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chop.
Tent the skillet with foil, then move the skillet to a turned-off burner and re-check for doneness. The chop should be just cooked. Be careful not to overcook. Remember the chop will continue to cook in its own heat while resting, tented. Remove from the skillet to a plate to rest, tented.
Deglaze the pan with Asbach Uralt brandy and reduce, scraping the stuck-on pork chop bits.
Slice the chop in thin slices on the diagonal when ready to serve.
Spoon a little puddle of Medjool date maple syrup cream sauce (see instructions below) on a serving plate. Arrange the sliced pork chop off to one side. Dress with fresh leaves of basil, sage and or tarragon and fresh chopped parsley. And if you like, decorate the plate with candied citrus rinds from your pantry citrus sugar jar and a few candied kumquats or mandarin orange slices.
To make the Medjool date maple syrup cream sauce: Every kitchen should have a mini-processor. They cost about $20 in housewares departments in such stores as Canadian Tire. They are worth every penny and don’t require much storage space.
Grind six or eight Medjool fresh sweet dates. A big sweet lump will form. Push out the date lump into the still hot butter oil pan juices and deglazing liquid. Mash with a fork, stirring constantly over low heat. Drizzle three tablespoons of maple syrup over the mashed dates. Keep the skillet hot on minimum heat so the dates don’t burn. Sprinkle a little salt.
Note: You could substitute three tablespoons of figgy jus from your marinating jar for the maple syrup.
Now you can make this sauce as plain or fancy as you like. It stores well in a covered glass container in the fridge. If preparing a plain sauce, add a cup or more half and half cream and increase heat to incorporate the bubbly hot cream with the mashed dates, stirring constantly. A most beautiful sauce will happen right before your eyes. If it gets too thick, add more cream and incorporate well.
If you want to dress up the sauce, sauté finely chopped onions in butter and add to the sauce. You could add chopped fresh tomatoes, and/or chopped sautéed bell peppers.
As a side, offer a wide flat soup bowl of al dente, your choice of pasta noodles. Fresh homemade pasta is wonderful. Top the pasta with the hot fresh Medjool maple syrup cream sauce, grate fresh peppercorns and sprinkle with shards or grated Sartori BellaVitori Raspberry Cheese.
Beyond yum. A most unusual combination of flavours. The result is a sweet savoury sauce that can be used on many dishes. (Take into consideration that Medjool dates are very sweet).
A Caesar salad is a nice pairing if you wish to add a salad on a side plate.
Make a bruschetta with toasted slices of black-olive bread, topped with coarsely chopped brandy marinated black mission figs, a little chopped oil packed sun-dried tomatoes and chopped green, red pepper-stuffed Manzanilla olives. Sprinkle with your favourite nuts. Top with grated mozzarella cheese or gobs of Celebrity label Canadian goat cheese (even my marinated goat cheese pucks) and pop under the broiler for just seconds. Drizzle with a little of the Medjool date maple syrup cream sauce.
Flash un kas
This fantastic recipe makes about eight dozen bite-size delights. If this sounds like too many, cut the recipe in half. I did that the first time I made them and boy, was I sorry. I hardly got to eat any. They just disappeared. They can be filled with nearly anything that strikes your fancy. I made some with liverwurst and others with lobster paste and creamed crab.
Work together two cups of flour and a half-pound of cream cheese. Chill thoroughly overnight. Take pieces of the dough and roll them very thin, quickly, on a floured board. Preheat the oven when you cut out the dough.
Cut with a round cookie cutter or small glass and fill with the mixture of your choice. Fold in half, close and bake at 400 F for about 10 minutes.
Reheat for serving or make them ahead and bake just before guests arrive. Flash un kas can be frozen.
ALTERNATE: Fresh King crab, claw meat, chopped mashed macerated, marinated in Asbach Uralt brandy, black mission figs, cream cheese, pinch of mustard.
© From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks | Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience