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Saturday Night Improv

November 29, 2010

Date with dates

Emboldened by my Martha Stewart recipe adjustments of last weekend, I played mixmaster in the kitchen again Saturday night. Drawn to some plump Medjool dates at the downtown farmers market that morning, I bought two pounds … back home, I cruised around epicurious.com, finally settling on two recipes: an apple tart and a kumquat chutney (links at end of post). Both recipes included dates, as well as spicy, wintry flavors that sounded delicious. But, reading through the recipes in preparation for my shopping trip, I decided the tart’s crust sounded overly complicated … so, I discarded it. Instead, I’d use the crust recipe of my favorite summer crostata. It’s not only scrumptious, but has great texture with the inclusion of coarse polenta. That settled, I hit the grocery store … where I found that kumquats were not available. I queried the produce guy as to where I might find some and he said Trader Joe’s across the parking lot would have some. After purchasing everything else, we headed to TJ’s and they were devoid of kumquats too! Their produce gal looked at me like I was nutty when I asked if she knew where I could buy the elusive citrus, so I turned to leave, thinking I’d have to come up with another recipe … that’s when I noticed little cardboard crates of tiny seedless clementines. They were slightly larger than kumquats, had very thin skins like kumquats, and were seedless (unlike kumquats), so I decided to give them a shot in the chutney …

Warmly spiced

First up: The tart. To begin, I went through the easy crust-making process, setting the finished dough in the fridge to chill the required amount of time. The filling of the tart included small Granny Smith apples (16 of them!), so there was a bit of peeling and coring that needed to be done. Prep finished, I combined the apples with honey, butter and cardamom, and sauteéd them until the edges were browned slightly. Tasting the filling, I was happy that the Grannys were still pleasantly tart. The dough was chilled now, and I rolled out two circles … using the technique described in the recipe, I pressed chopped walnuts into the crust. Spooning the filling onto the dough, I add the prescribed Medjool date slices on top and folded the crust loosely to enclose it all. Using an egg wash, I brushed the folds and sprinkled the crust with turbinado sugar. After baking for 50 minutes, the crust was golden brown and the apples got a little more brown on the edges. After cooling (almost) completely on a rack, Paul and I shared a small slice and we agreed: It was great! The crust was crunchy from both the polenta and nuts, and the apples retained their integrity, enhanced by the cardamom and honey …

Great with cheese

The chutney: This recipe required some chopping too; shallots, crystallized ginger, dates and clementines all had to be prepped. Added to the simmering filling, vinegar, orange zest, red pepper flakes and cloves bring spicy elements to the mix. Because the subbed-in clementines were sweeter than tart kumquats, I added the freshly squeezed juice from a Mexican lime (a neighbor had given us a bag of them from her tree). The mixture takes no time to cook and soon I’m adding the finishing touch of chopped cilantro. Allowed to cool completely, the chutney thickened nicely. Taste test: Hmmm, I think next time I’ll up the heat with the inclusion of some fresh jalapeños, and add more acid. I think chutneys should be really bold and this one’s a bit tepid, maybe it was the clementines. I try some on a cracker with a super sharp cheddar and I love it, however. It’s sweet, slightly tart and warm with the cloves and dates, and I can’t wait to serve it with some roast chicken. I love following recipes, after all they’ve been tested by far better cooks than myself. But that doesn’t mean a little improv — sensible, well-considered improv — couldn’t yield a new fave. Every time I cook or bake, I automatically double the recipe. That way I can keep one for Paul and myself and give the other away to a friend or family member — or take to work to share with colleagues. It’s double the work but fun.

Click these links to see the recipes I used for the tart:
Substituted crust recipe
Tart recipe

Click this link for the chutney recipe: Kumquat-Ginger Chutney

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