Shavuot

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

Sometimes I think life is a bunch of holidays with not much in between. Except for the entire month of January.

I suppose that's a good thing, because holidays are happy and celebratory.

Also, there's the food. Except for Yom Kippur, every holiday has food. And even when it comes to Yom Kippur, there's the break-the-fast when it's all over and the break-the-fast is all about food. 

As far as holidays go, at this point of the year, we've just finished Thanksgiving. So what’s next up?

Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a really delicious holiday. Lots of fried stuff like latkes and doughnuts.

It's also a dairy holiday because of the story of Judith, which you can read about it here

For our family, in honor of Judith, I make lots of dairy items in addition to the usual potato latkes and doughnuts. I have served cheese latkes and potato latkes with a yogurt based sauce laced with lemongrass. And also Potato Galette with Caramelized Onions and Cheese and Almond Crusted Winter Squash and Noodle Kugel (actually that one’s a favorite). 

Desserts? Maybe Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie (you can use regular lemons) or Baked Goat Cheese with Honey Sauce and Cranberries. Maybe even cheesecake. Or some fabulous cheesecake cookies!

And also these stuffed dates! Easy to make, not too sweet (no added sugar), these little morsels are perfect for the holiday. If you don't want to use almonds for garnish, crushed, toasted coconut will do nicely.

Btw, these make a nice tidbit for New Year’s, either as hors d’oeuvre or late night snack. 

 

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

  • 12 medjool dates

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces)

  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel

  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 tablespoons crushed toasted almonds (or pistachios or crushed, toasted coconut)

Cut the dates through the center, but not all the way through to the bottom. Remove the pit and spread the date slightly to form a hollow for filling. Mix the cream cheese, yogurt, orange peel and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth and soft. Fill the dates with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the nuts.

Makes 12 

Ricotta Tart with Lemon and Coconut

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Cheesecake? Wonderful! 

But how about cheese pie? Tart?

For Shavuot.

Or anytime at all!

This recipe started with a nut streusel top but I needed something nut-free, so substituted shredded coconut. You can change that to chopped almonds if you prefer.

You need to start ahead on this one so that the cheese can drain and become dry-ish. This gives the filling a tender texture and also helps assure the crust won't get too soggy too soon.

Ricotta Tart

For the filling:

  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

For the crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/4 pound butter, melted

To make the filling:

Place the ricotta cheese in a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, to drain as much liquid as possible from the cheese. Pace the drained cheese in a food processor bowl. Add the eggs, honey, citrus peel and cinnamon and process until the ingredients are well blended and smooth. Set aside while you make the crust.

To make the crust:

Place the flour in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, salt and citrus peel. Pour in the melted butter and mix the ingredients to form a soft dough. Press the dough onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Prick the dough with the tines of a fork. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the dough with aluminum foil and weight it down with pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and weights, turn the oven heat down to 375 degrees and bake the crust for another 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Spoon the filling in baked crust and sprinkle the coconut over top. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crispy looking and the center is set. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings

Orange and Vanilla Scented Cheese Stuffed Dates

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Sometimes I think life is a bunch of holidays with not much in between, except for the entire month of January.

I suppose that's a good thing, because holidays are happy and celebratory. Also, there's the food. Except for Yom Kippur, every holiday has food. And even when it comes to Yom Kippur, there's the break-the-fast when it's all over and the break-the-fast is all about food. 

As far as holidays go, at this point of the year, we've just finished Thanksgiving. Next up? Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a really delicious holiday. Lots of fried stuff like latkes and doughnuts.

It's also a dairy holiday because of the story of Judith. You can read all about it here

So for me, in honor of Judith, in addition to the usual potato latkes and doughnuts, I have served cheese latkes and potato latkes with a yogurt based sauce laced with lemongrassPotato Galette with Caramelized Onions and Cheese has been on my Hanukkah menu and also Almond Crusted Winter Squash and Noodle Kugel

Desserts? I could go with Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie (you can use regular lemons) or maybe Baked Goat Cheese with Honey Sauce and Cranberries. Maybe even cheesecake. Or some fabulous cheesecake cookies!

And also these stuffed dates! Easy to make, not too sweet (no added sugar), these little morsels are perfect for the holiday. If you don't want to use almonds for garnish, crushed, toasted coconut will do nicely.

 

ORANGE-VANILLA SCENTED CHEESE STUFFED DATES

  • 12 medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons crushed toasted almonds (or pistachios or crushed, toasted coconut)

Cut the dates through the center, but not all the way through to the bottom. Remove the pit and spread the date slightly to form a hollow for filling. Mix the cram cheese, yogurt, orange peel and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth and soft. Fill the dates with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the nuts.

Makes 12 

Spinach Gnocchi for Break-the-Fast

We never have a traditional smoked fish break-the-fast because one of my daughters is allergic to fish. Instead, we have a vegetarian-dairy feast. My friend Susan brings her famous, not-to-be-missed kugel. Another friend brings dessert, although I usually also make rugelach

The rest is up to me. For years I've served Mujadarah, either made with brown rice or bulgur wheat. Other usuals are Spinach Pie, a tomato salad of some sort, egg salad and hummus.

But this year I'm not doing the Spinach Pie.

No particular reason other than it's time for a change.

But not a huge change.

I decided to make Spinach Gnocchi. It's already in the freezer, ready-to-bake.

Spinach Gnocchi

  • 2 10-ounce packages thawed, frozen chopped spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Butter a baking dish. Squeeze the spinach to extract as much liquid as possible. Place the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Add the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes. Spoon the spinach mixture into a large bowl and let cool slightly. Add the ricotta cheese and mix thoroughly. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs, the 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly to blend the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. With floured hands, shape the spinach mixture into balls about 1-1/2-inches in diameter. Gently drop the balls into the water. Keep the water at a simmer. Cook for 6-7 minutes or until the balls rise to the top and look fluffy. Lift the balls with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to dry slightly. Place the balls in the buttered baking dish. Drizzle them with melted butter and the 1/2-cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 18 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly crisped.

Makes 24

 

Blueberry Yogurt Pie

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When life gives you blueberries you make pie. Also crisp, cake, muffins, jam, soup, tea bread.

The possibilities are awesome.

So recently, when I had lots of extra blueberries hanging around I decided to make cream pie. Sort of. There's no cream in it. This dessert actually began with an old recipe of my Mom's. Her version was made with dairy sour cream. I used plain (non-fat) yogurt. Hers had raspberries, mine was to be blueberries, which are sweeter than raspberries so I cut down on the sugar.

It is still mighty sweet! Enough to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth. But also cool, creamy and refreshing and nice for anytime you want a rich dairy dessert.

Blueberry Yogurt Pie

Crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chilled shortening
  • milk (about 3 tablespoons) orange juice, or water

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Work the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the ingredients resemble crumbs (use your hands, a pastry blender or the pulse feature of a food processor). Add the liquid and gather the pastry into a soft ball of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it stand at least 30 minutes. Roll the dough on a floured pastry board and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. 

Filling:

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. Beat the eggs and sugar in a mixer set at medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until thick, well blended and pale yellow. Add the cooled melted butter and yogurt and mix briefly to blend them into the batter. Add the flour, orange peel and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Place the blueberries inside the unbaked pie crust. Pour the batter over the berries. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and the filling set.

 Makes 8 servings

 

 

 

Eggplant, Mashed Potato and Portobello Gratin

Whenever I need a meatless or dairy meal -- for a meatless Monday (or any other day of the week when I am not in the mood for meat), or for during the Nine Days, or a Yom Kippur Break-the-Fast, or during Passover -- this is one of the recipes I turn to. It's filling enough for dinner (served with a salad) yet not heavy.

Another benefit? Set it up ahead and bake just before you need it.

I change the recipe occasionally, because -- why not! This dish is versatile. Sometimes I use zucchini instead of or together with eggplant. Sometimes I add feta cheese or a layer of cooked kale or spinach or some cooked carrots. But basically this is it.

 

Eggplant, Mashed Potato and Portobello gratin

  • 2 large Yukon gold potatoes
  • 3/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 large eggs
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 medium eggplant (or 2 medium zucchini)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large Portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven broiler or outdoor grill. Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks and cook them in simmering water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and mash them in the pot. Stir in 1/2 cup of Swiss cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and the eggs. Season lightly with salt and pepper. While the potatoes are cooking, trim the ends from the eggplant. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Brush both sides with the olive oil. Broil or grill the eggplant for 2-3 minutes per side or until softened and lightly browned. Place half the eggplant slices in a rectangular baking dish. Cover with the mashed potatoes. Layer the remaining eggplant on top. Slice the mushroom caps about 1/4-inch thick and place them on top of the eggplant. Slice the tomatoes and place them over the mushrooms. Scatter the basil and parsley on top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook for 45 minutes or until crispy and lightly browned on top.

Makes 8-10 servings

 

Herbed Feta Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes and Olives

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A few weeks ago I took a quickie trip to Berlin with my daughter. We took a stroll through the Turkish outdoor market, where I saw someone selling a gorgeous hunk of feta cheese, scattered with sundried tomatoes and olives, seasoned with herbs and sprinkled with a drizzle of olive oil.

I noted the ingredients and took a photo. 

It looked so delicious that the moment I saw this cheese thing I knew I had to make it at home.

I did.

It is as good as I thought it would be. I served it to guests last weekend.

They raved.

Here's the recipe. 

Herbed Feta Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes and Olives

  • 1/2 pound feta cheese
  • 3 sundried tomatoes in oil
  • 8-10 imported black pitted olives
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Cut the feta cheese into thick slices and place on a serving dish. Chop the sundried tomatoes and scatter them over the cheese. Scatter the olives around the cheese and dish. Scatter the parsley over the ingredients and sprinkle with the oregano and some Aleppo pepper to taste. Drizzle the olive oil on top.

Makes 8-10 servings

 

Potato Cheese and Spinach Kugel

Tell me Shavuot is coming and my first thought is cheesecake.

Of course. Cheesecake the dish most associated with the holiday. I love it. Make all kinds. Some plain. Some spiced. Some covered with fruit. Some with chocolate.

On the other hand you can't just eat cheesecake. 

Shavuot is generally a dairy holiday.

I love dairy.

Especially if there is a potato involved.

Like in this kugel, which is a wonder all by itself. But also good with salad, other dairy dishes or served with sunnyside eggs on top.

Perfect dish for the holiday.

 

Potato Cheese and Spinach Kugel

  • 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • 8-10 ounces fresh spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 6 large eggs
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup panko crumbs
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish. Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks and boil them in lightly salted water for about 15 minutes or until tender. Let cool and chop into small pieces. Place the potatoes in a bowl. While the potatoes are cooking, wash and dry the spinach and chop it coarsely. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes or until softened. Add the spinach and cook for 2-3 minutes or until wilted (if there is liquid in the pan, raise the heat and cook until it evaporates, or drain using a strainer). Add the spinach mixture, the feta cheese and dill to the potatoes and mix gently to distribute the ingredients evenly. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in 3 tablespoons of the melted butter and pour over the potato mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently mix the ingredients. Place the mixture inside the greased baking dish. In a small bowl, mix the panko, the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter and the Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over the ingredients. Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot and crispy.

Makes 8-10 servings

 

 

Cheese and Vegetable Kugel

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When my kids were young and still living at home, I made kugel a lot. My daughters were not terribly anti-vegetable, but I realized that pairing veggies and noodles would make it even easier to have more vegetables at our meals.

Also, it is a good way to use leftovers -- the recipe below is extremely versatile. Add cut up cooked green beans or asparagus, corn kernels, peas. Like that.

This kugel is filling enough for dinner. Also yummy with a sunny-side egg or two on top of each serving for a meatless (Monday) dinner. And a wonderful choice for dairy-fest Shavuot.

Veggie Kugel

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 10-12 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 bunch spinach or kale, washed and dried, coarsely cut
  • 2 medium carrots, shredded
  • 12 ounces medium-wide egg noodles
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup grated Swiss cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • paprika

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9”x9” baking dish. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for another 1-2 minutes or until it has wilted (kale may take a minute or so longer). Add the carrots and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside. Cook the noodles according to package directions, drain and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, the cooked vegetables, eggs, sour cream and 3/4 cup of the Swiss cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir to mix ingredients well. Place in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining Swiss cheese, Parmesan cheese and paprika. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is crispy and brown.

Makes 6-8 servings

 

Banana Marble Cake

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Whenever my mother had leftover sour cream that was still safe to eat but had been hanging around the fridge for too long for it to taste fresh, she would use it to bake something. Like her marble cake. 

That cake was a simple wonder. Tender, vaguely sweet, with just enough melted chocolate swirling through the vanilla crumb. Rarely frosted, we ate it like coffee cake, just as is.

I've made that cake many times, and for the same reasons. Leftover sour cream (I also use leftover plain Greek yogurt when I have some). I've made it the original way and with coconut oil in place of shortening. 

Recently I had sour cream and yogurt leftover, the not exactly new kind.

I also had bananas left over. I always have bananas left over. I usually make banana bread with the leftover bananas.

So I took a cue from my mother and decided to bake marble cake. Using bananas.

So good.

Banana Marble Cake

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream or plain Greek yogurt 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a (10-inch) 8-cup bundt pan. Melt the chocolate and set it aside. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda together in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the sugar and eggs for 2-3 minutes or until well blended. Add the vanilla extract and vegetable oil and beat for 1-2 minutes or until thoroughly blended. Add the bananas and sour cream and beat them in. Add the flour mixture and beat for 1-2 minutes or until the batter is well blended. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Pour in half the melted chocolate and swirl it into the batter using a knife or wooden spoon. Repeat with the remaining batter and melted chocolate. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove to a cake rack to cool completely.

Makes one bread, serving 12-16