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AndyTalk: Dates and Easy Hors d'Oeuvre

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Would you like a couple of crowd-pleasing recipes with less than five ingredients each suitable for New Year's Eve or Christmas? Think dates, which happen to be the closest thing to candy that grows on tree. Despite their inherently high sugar content dates aren't just for baking and sweets. They can be made into simple hors d'oeuvre. Pair the date's sweetness with something spicy, or something salty, and you've got an irresistible party food that's easy to make.

I like to stuff dates and then bake them. The heat in the oven does something wonderful to a date. All the natural sugar caramelizes in a way that makes an oven-roasted date irresistibly tasty. When I make stuffed dates in class I like to ask students what they'd think if I poured white granulated sugar on top of vanilla pudding and offered it for dessert. They'd think that I was crazy. But, if I aim a blowtorch at the sugar the pudding is suddenly Crème Brûlée and they're all over it. The oven does to the sugar in the date what the blowtorch (or broiler) does to the sugar on top of the pudding. The ultimate result is caramelized and addictive.

Medjool dates are the variety I like best - for stuffing or just for eating. Medjools are big, at least for dates, and they're particularly juicy. Juicy dates don't dry out in the oven, and bigger dates are easier to stuff. I don't buy pitted dates. Dates tend to be packed tightly, so the small chamber where the pit used to be is gone. It's easier to cut a slit and remove the pit which leaves a well-defined albeit small space where I can put the stuffing.

Because the space for stuffing is small I opt for ingredients that have bold flavors. Chorizo sausage and blue cheese are my two favorites. The spices in the chorizo offer a nice yin to the dates' sweet yang. For Chorizo Stuffed Dates I cook the sausage first, and add some breadcrumbs as a binder.

Gorgonzola cheese, like many blue cheeses, is both creamy and salty. These flavors provide a culinary one-two punch when combined with a date. A Gorgonzola-stuffed date has a lot in common with a salted caramel. It's sweet and savory at the same time. On top of that the date and cheese combine two kinds of creamy into a single mouthwatering experience.

Celebrating the holidays is mostly about quality time with friends and family. Serving good hors d'oeuvre is just one way to bring that quality home.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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