Orange Poppy Seed Bread

There are always a few recipes that stay with us as fond memories from our childhood. This recipe is most certainly one I carried with me after I left home. It was a favorite of my mother’s, who would bake it for family gatherings, or simply because one of her children requested it. I loved to cut a slice from the middle, which was richly laden with the orange glaze drizzled atop the loaf. I so enjoyed the tiny bites of poppy seeds, exploding under my teeth while I savored every bite. I am a huge fan of marzipan, and really anything flavored with almond, so perhaps that’s why this bread has appealed so greatly to me throughout my life. You could substitute lemon in place of the orange juice and zest called for in the recipe, if you prefer. This bread is fantastic served at brunch, afternoon coffee, or as a light dessert post dinner. It also makes a lovely gift. Perhaps this recipe will become a favorite of your family, just as it did in mine.

3 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. oil (canola, safflower, or vegetable, preferably organic)
1 1/2 c. whole milk, room temperature
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
zest of one orange
3-4 tsp. pure almond extract

For the Glaze:
1 orange, juiced
1/4 c. granulated or powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Grease and flour two 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5″ loaf pans. Set aside and preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl; whisk to remove any clumps. Combine the eggs, and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the oil, sugar, almond extract, and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate between adding the dry ingredients and milk to the egg mixture. Pour the prepared batter into the loaf pans and bake in the oven on the middle rack of the oven for about 1- 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick, inserted into the middle of the loaf removes cleanly.

Allow the loaves to cool for about 10 minutes on a wire cooling rack before attempting to remove them from the pan. If they do not remove easily, run a sharp knife around the edges of the loaves. Meanwhile, prepare the orange glaze in a small butter warming pan. Add all the ingredients and allow the sugar to completely dissolve into the juice. Place the wire cooling rack over a baking tray, and pour the glaze over both loaves. You may want to poke a few holes into the tops of the loaves so more glaze penetrates into the center. Some glaze will accumulate in the baking tray. Simply remove the wire rack and pour the remaining glaze back into the butter warmer and re-pour the contents over both loaves again. Once the loaves have cooled slightly, you can eat a slice (or two!) immediately, or once the loaves are completely cool, you can wrap them in plastic or aluminum foil. This bread freezes nicely, but I have not yet ever had a loaf left over to store in the freezer!

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A Cranberry Dressing Worthy of Praise

Cranberry dressing is almost always a staple on the Thanksgiving menu. There’s something about the tartness of cranberries that compliments turkey, or any other meat you might be serving, as well. However, it’s been my life-long experience that cranberry dressings are not all equally created. I’ve had some spectacular dressings, and, well, some not so fabulous versions, like the few times my grandmother served the gelatinous canned cranberry, simply sliced in rings. Need I say more?

A few years ago, my father began to make a version of cranberry dressing, which was delicious. It incorporates orange juice and zest, which is the perfect balance to the tangy cranberries. The original recipe calls for chopped pecans, but I have used other nut varieties, such as hazelnuts and walnuts, with equally great results.

This recipe requires very little effort or time, which is another reason why it makes for a fantastic addition to the Thanksgiving menu. You can make this dressing the day before your event, as it requires at least a two-hour chill. However, if you prefer, you could always warm it slightly before serving. Either warm or chilled, I think you may just adopt this version into your yearly menu. As always, happy eating, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Yield: 2 cups

2 oranges, juiced (about 1/2 c.)
zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
8 oz. fresh cranberries
1/2 c. raisins, or golden raisins
1/4-1/2 c. chopped pecans (or hazelnuts)

In a medium saucepan, combine the orange juice, zest, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Cook and stir over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cranberries and raisins. Bring to a low boil. Allow to cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the cranberries begin to pop. Remove from heat. Stir in pecans. Cover and chill for at least two hours.

Cashew, Date, & Coconut Balls

A friend of mine recently turned me on to Lärabars; a bar I had glanced at numerous times while waiting in the cashier’s line, but never bothered to try. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to try these gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO bars with minimal pure ingredients, then by all means, please do! (Most of my local supermarkets carry this brand, but I know for a fact that both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry these simple bars of goodness throughout the U.S., and hopefully, somewhere close to you.) I was blown away when I inquired of my friend regarding the ingredients in the bar, and found, to my utter amazement, only two ingredients listed. I kept re-reading the contents, searching for added salt, sugar, or that ever-present, soy lecithin. I kept thinking to myself, “How could this be?” But there it was, clearly written, “dates, cashews.” And nothing else. I opened the package, took a quick glance, and chewed off a small bite. Delicious!

I immediately began scheming a plan to recreate this bar at home. Luckily, I had some fresh dates in the refrigerator, as well as a bag of raw cashews (a favorite snack of both my kids). I got out my food processor and started to grind away. In my haste, I forgot to use my logical brain, which I have a tendency to do when I’m excited about making something, and I placed the dates into the processor first. Big mistake! Dates are extremely sticky and don’t allow the blades of the food processor to move correctly, which could lead to motor damage if left going for too long. So, my advice to you, readers, is to chop the cashews first and then add the dates.

I kept adding cashews until I got a good ratio of nuts to dates.  I peered down into the processor, assessing the glop I had just created, all the while thinking how much I didn’t want to try and scrape out all this lovely stickiness onto a pan and then have to cut into bars. Thus, I thought of forming my concoction into small balls and rolling them in some dried coconut. Behold….a ball of goodness, which is easy to make, healthy for you and your family, and most importantly, delicious!

Your palate may be different than mine, so experiment. You may want more or less of either ingredient. And you may just want to experiment with other ingredients, such as peanuts. I store these little delicacies in the refrigerator, since they do have raw cashews, but since they seem to be consumed entirely in a couple of days, refrigeration is most likely not necessary. This recipe is perfect for dinner guests, who may be vegan, as a light dessert, or even to give as homemade gifts. But for whatever reason you decide to make this recipe, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Yield: 50 balls

30 fresh dates (about 1 lb), pitted
2 c. raw cashews
1/2 c. dried, shredded coconut

Process the nuts; remove half of the nuts and set aside in a bowl. With the other half of the nuts remaining in the processor, add half (appx 15) of the dates; process together until the dates have fully incorporated. Remove this batch and set aside in another bowl. Add the rest of the nuts and dates; repeat. Combine the two halves together in a large bowl. Remove small chunks of the dough and roll into small balls with your hands. Roll the balls in a plate of coconut. And that’s it! No baking required!

Granola/Nut Bars

 These bars are a staple in my house, and they might just become in yours too! The best part about these bars is not that they’re extremely healthy and delicious, which is a rarity in and of itself, but they’re ridiculously easy to make. Plus they are perfect for on-your-way-out-the-door-didn’t-have-time-for-breakfast bars, or to slip into your child’s backpack for a snack. You can, as the title implies, make them into granola bars, but if you choose, they can be made solely of different types of nuts. In my haste, one day, I completely forgot to add the granola, and the nut-only bars were just as tasty. You can use whatever nuts and dried fruits you fancy, or have laying around the house. If you are unable to purchase raw nuts, substitute unsalted roasted nuts. And if you are not accustomed to eating raw nuts, maybe it’s time. Nuts retain more of their nutritional value and contain less saturated fat when in their raw state. As a former roasted nut eater, I totally get why people love roasted nuts: they taste good! But once myself and my children got accustomed to raw nuts, there was no turning back….. 

Preheat the oven to 250° F

1 14fl-oz can sweetened condensed milk (preferably organic)

2 ½ cups oats (not instant)

1 cup dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, mango, apricot, etc)

1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional, but very yummy addition)

1 cup mixed seeds, preferably raw (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)

1 cup preferably raw nuts (almond, cashew, hazelnut, peanut)

**If you choose to omit the granola, simply add 1 cup more of both seeds and nuts to your mix.

 Preheat the oven to 250° F

Oil or butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan

Warm the condensed milk slowly, over low heat. Meanwhile, mix all the other ingredients together in a large bowl

Add the warm condensed milk to your nut mix, using a rubber spatula to fold and distribute through

Spread the mixture into the oiled/buttered pan and press down with the spatula to make the surface even.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes-1 hour.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Cut into squares and allow to cool for another 5 minutes

Gently remove the squares from the pan with a spatula and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.

(I have left the bars to cool completely inside the pan after cutting, but they become rather difficult to remove once that happens. I think it’s better to gently remove them when they’re still a bit warm.)