Clutter and Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney.

Today's weather is hopeless. The sky is the same color at 3 PM as it was at 7 AM, and the wind, rain, tiny bits of hail, and thunder have reminded me constantly all day that it is Spring at long last - even if there will be no playing around outside today to confirm it. Knowing that tonight's dinner would be made up of leftovers, I decided this rainy day was as good a time as any to go through some recipe clutter.

The last time I sat down with a stack of recipes to attempt organization with was before the Boy-O was born into the world. I remember, because the idea of not going to work was still new, and I sat quietly at my kitchen table for an entire 8 hours editing and paring down, going through magazines and stowing only the things I knew I would make. My ruthlessness was shocking, and very difficult for me, but I did clear stacks of paper and nicely arrange everything first into page protectors and then on into 3-ring binders.

As I started this bright idea early this morning, I immediately noticed that my cooking life has changed dramatically in the past 4 years. Home life is no longer new, the once new idea of extra time is now habitually on my side. My older self despises collecting anything new and shutters at the thought of (although I feel like I still have plenty of it) clutter. Looking over the loose pages of things to categorize and file I realized that I cook differently than I used to. I may plan something around what I have a taste for once in a week, but I rarely follow recipes anymore, preferring instead to see what needs using up and then throwing something together.

That isn't to say that little pictures or the many pages of things I looked through today don't spark my interests. I've let all of my magazine subscriptions expire, mostly just because I know it's difficult for me to pare down, not because I don't enjoy them. I do miss things in print, in my real hands. I do not miss stacks of pages that start taking over my kitchen, making me feel harried and stressed out.

In the midst of a paper pile, I found several Everyday Food pages - remnants of a subscription I got (for super cheap) 2 years ago. I would have had no recollection of this date chutney, but I count it fortuitously to my advantage that it chose to resurface just before Easter since it is recommended to be eaten atop chicken, pork loin, or ham. Given my predisposition to lacto-ferment almost anything that strikes my fancy lately, I decided to give this condiment the same treatment. I tasted it prior to packing it up into the jar, and let me tell you, the Easter Ham that will be on the table at my Parents house this weekend never seemed so far away. I have a pretty good suspicion that this will be tremendous on sandwiches as well.

I had exactly 8 oz. of dates to use up, and modified the recipe to approximate what I thought would just about fill a pint canning jar. (I used weights, since I find it impossible to accurately measure dates in a measuring cup, but you can pretty much use any amount and come up with something tasty.) My pint jar was shy of the top about 2 inches, and I could increase things a bit more for the next go around. Make this as spicy as you like, I left it on the somewhat mild side, figuring that I can amp up my heat with candied jalapenos - something I add to almost anything I eat. Don't let the lacto-fermenting stop you from making this, either... just omit the whey and add more vinegar and eat within 3 weeks as Everyday Food suggests.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney (adapted from Everyday Food)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 chile de arbol
  • 1 t. brown mustard seed
  • 6 oz. dates, chopped
  • 1 oz. raisins, chopped (I used dark Thompson raisins, but you could use golden raisins as suggested in the original recipe)
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste (about 1/2 t.)
  • 1/2 c. (plus extra if needed) water
  • 1 T. cider vinegar (like Braggs)
  • 1 1/2 T. whey
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat along with the minced garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add onion and arbol chile and saute until onion just softens and begins to turn color, about 4 minutes.

Add the mustard seed, saute about 1 minute until the seeds start to pop.

Add the dates, raisins, salt, cayenne, water and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and keep at a simmer for about 5-10 minutes to evaporate most of the water and soften the dates. (I kept the pan covered for about half of the time.) Add additional water as needed so that the chutney maintains the consistency that you prefer, a bit on the thick side was how I liked it.

Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Add whey, and stir to combine. Add additional water to adjust consistency, and taste for final seasoning. Pack into a clean pint jar, and seal tightly. Let sit at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

The finished chutney tasted amazing... actually figgy and bacony. I assume this was because I used the garlic and onion, but really, I was surprised. The spiciness of the cayenne (and maybe that lone chile de arbol) was fleeting against the sweet dates and raisins. I can't wait a few days to try it again, but I will (unlike the last time, when I polished off the Nigella-Like Salsa within three days). I have a feeling it will age well, and will top off a ham sandwich like nobody's business.

It seems I'm all about lacto-fermenting the condiments lately. Two days ago, I turned some leftover ancho chile sauce that I made for enchiladas into a chile ketchup of sorts - adding lots of toasted, re-hydrated guajillo and arbol chiles and some ketchupy spices... I have another day or so to wait before tasting it again, and I'll try and add some additional spice and maybe some vinegar then. So far, the deep brick red of it has not persuaded me to open the jar and taste it - though it's not without considerable restraint on my part.

It seems I don't get voraciously hungry until Summer - and understandably so. I'm much more active, the foods available are fresh and readily growing thus more appealing. Meanwhile, I'm eating through the stores of last year, mainly my freezer, and adding scoops of insanely appealing lacto-ferment stuff to almost every meal. Days like this remind me to be thankful: the ground will wake up and warm up, and maybe I'll be a better gardener this year than last. With the last of the organization on the table, I should be better mannered now that I, generally speaking, do not add any more to the pile. I can only hope to remain so well-behaved.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney on Punk   Domestics

It's Not Too Late for a Very Important Date...

I think dates are some of my favorites in the vast world of dried fruit. While figs are charming, there are seeds to contend with. While raisins are workhorses, especially when soaked to proper plumpness in either liquor or boiling water, they can err on the side of sweet. Dates, however, are perfectly palatable in sweetness and texture when properly stored. In either sweet or savory application, there is no better candidate for versatility either. Tagines with lamb and dates are perfection in my mind, and these cookies that I'm about to share with you are now officially on the Food Obsessions list in the sweet category.

One of my favorite new blogs is innBrooklyn, which is a design/food/green living/technology/knitting blog run by Noerah and Talia. They began late in December, and have a number of good ideas - and all of it makes for a unique experience each time you visit. I couldn't wait to try these Date Biscuits that were posted on Jan. 30th, but I made myself wait judiciously until the very last piece of my chocolate cake was gone. For those of you keeping track, I actually kept a chocolate cake on my counter for 8 days. Boy-O and I were the only eaters, and though it wasn't my favorite recipe, it got the job done in the dessert department.

Now this will tell you something, since normally, I would have made the date biscuits anyway and then tried not to eat two desserts simultaneously. I'm well on the road to reducing my consumption by just simply making less food. This is hard for me! I love to bake especially, and to not turn on my oven is excruciatingly hard. But not only did the day finally come that my cake was gone, in true innBrooklyn green living fashion, I didn't even need to turn on my oven to make these amazing "cookies".

This recipe melts butter stovetop, and adds the remaining ingredients without heat involved: a no-bake method. I'll let you look over at the link for the proper recipe, but will note that it calls for British Marie Biscuits, which you may be able to find in a specialty foods store, but are very closely related to Maria cookies, which are widely available in the Hispanic food section of many stores. I weighed a package on my digital scale, and removed just one cookie to get the 200 grams called for in the recipe. Bet you can guess where that one went...

At this point, I'd have to say that SOMEone NEEDS to make a pie filling based on this date/butter/cocoa powder filling! My first choice would be none other than Gina, the Goddess of Pie. If the GOP can't find a way to turn this recipe into the most delicious pie ever made, I'd be surprised. The only other alteration I made to the recipe was to let the date mixture cook just slightly after I added the egg to make sure it got hot enough, since I melted my butter at a pretty low temperature. After adding the hot mixture to the Maria cookies, I found it near impossible to stop "sampling", hence my dreams of a forthcoming pie.

We had pretty snow globe snow most of the day yesterday, and as I used the remaining afternoon light to photograph these roly morsels, I thought how perfect to make such snowy looking things on a day like this. Promptly after photography, the eating ensued. Bite sized things are always hard to resist, and these are deservedly no exception. Boy-O loved them, and I had to be a good example and not eat them all in one sitting. My confession is that they are probably almost half gone, and that just thinking about them makes me want to go and sneak another. But like I said to Lo earlier, they can be nearly be construed as healthy, what with all of the fiber packed in there svelte, round selves, so why not?