Tony is all about food. His ongoing food events and special projects have been featured in the press. To learn more, you can view his gallery, read his blog, or simply contact him directly.

Archive for the ‘dates’ Tag

Ma’moul Cookies

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. My grandfather passed away last month and that took a lot of my blogging energy away from me. I knew I wanted to dedicate a post to him as he was as much a foodie as I am, but my words escaped me. In my failed attempts to write, I would stare blankly at my computer screen as memories of him streamed through my thoughts.

When I slept over my grandparent’s house as a kid, I would often hear my grandfather poke around in the kitchen, usually around dawn, well aware that my grandmother could sleep through anything. I, of course, would get up from bed to find him alone in the kitchen, happily stirring a hefty pot of homemade jam (his specialty) or preparing some sort of sweet treat without my grandmother there to convince him against it. When he noticed me watching he would let out big a smile, and allow me to stay and help so long as I didn’t wake up anyone else.

mise en place

Since I haven’t yet perfected my grandfather’s rose petal jam (مربة الورد), his claim to fame, I decided to make one of my favorite cookies I grew up eating called ma’moul (معمول). If you’re Arabic, these cookies need no introduction as they’re popular all around the Middle East, where they’re stuffed with either walnuts, pistachios, or pureed dates.

a stream of butter

The cookie itself tastes a lot like butter cookies, but these also have more of a crumbly, shortbread texture because of their semolina base.

the secret is in the mahlab: محلب

The secret ingredient that makes these cookies so special is called mahlab, which is an aromatic spice obtained by extracting the seed kernels from inside the cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry. It’s very popular in countries like Greece, Turkey and all around the Middle East.

note: Since I won’t be able to host this month’s A Taste of the Mediterranean, I want to give away some mahlab to three randomly chosen commenters on this post (by May 1st). If you’d like to share, I’d love to know how family plays a roll in your cooking since it is something I have given a lot of thought to this month. Thank you for your support and understanding.

finely ground mahlab

The mahlab gives these cookies a subtle nutty flavor that you won’t pick up on immediately, but you’ll certainly notice if it’s missing. Mahlab is also very popular in Turkey and Greece for flavoring egg-rich breads similar to challah in Jewish cuisine.

ma’moul in four steps

As with most Middle Eastern dishes, these cookies take some patience. If you don’t have Middle Eastern cookie molds laying around, you could use any circular molds, or you could even free-hand them like Kate from Aaplemint did. Anyway you form them, they’ll look beautiful and taste amazing.

miniature ma’moul (معمول)

Funnily enough, I wish I had a pair of pantyhose when I ventured to make these cookies. While visiting the Middle East last winter I learned that some women have a pair of clean pantyhose set aside that they use especially for removing these cookies from their mold. That way you don’t spray the mold with anti-stick spray or bruise your hand in the process, like I did.


yields approx 50-60 small cookies


  • 300 g fine semolina
  • 100 g fine semolina
  • 350 g pitted dates
  • 175 g unsalted butter + 1 tsp
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 3 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp mahlab, ground
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Combine the semolina, ground mahlab, and sugar. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour over the semolina mixture while hot. Rub the grains of semolina against your hands so that each grain is well coated with butter. Repeat this for 5-7 minutes. Cover and let sit over night.
  2. To make the filling, process the pitted dates with the remaining tbsp of melted butter and 1 tsp of orange blossom water in your food processor until it becomes a smooth paste.
  3. Mix the remaining orange blossom water with the semolina mixture and knead until it becomes a dough.
  4. Form each cookie with a mold or freehand as shown in the photo above (by hiding a ball of the date filling inside the dough).
  5. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.
  6. Cool the cookies on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish.

notes: Cream of Wheat (aka Farina) should be available at all major supermarkets. For these cookies I use the red box that says 2 1/2 minutes.


dedicated to my grandfather

Taking the Danish on a Middle Eastern Date

Special thanks to Kelly from Sass & Veracity and Ben from What’s Cooking? for hosting this month’s challenge!

Blue Logo

medjool dates
medjool dates

Growing up in a Middle Eastern home, dates were something my family always had around.  The medicinal properties that my grandmother claims this humble fruit holds are endless, but I was never one who needed any sort of convincing to eat these sweet, chewy nuggets.  I did find out, though, that there is archeological evidence of date cultivation since 4000 BC,  to which my grandmother simply responded with the Arabic equivalent of, “I told you so.”  I want to dedicate this entry to my grandmother because I drew inspiration for this challenge from her date-stuffed semolina cookies that I grew up eating.

mise en place
mise en place

I didn’t tweak the recipe for the pastry too much.  I used the zest of a lemon instead of an orange because I thought it would go better with the lemony undertone of the ground cardamom.  I also didn’t use vanilla beans because, let’s face it, even though I already graduated, I’m still living on a college student budget. 

1, 2, 3, 4, repeat.
puff pastry dough folding

The recipe for the dough was great.  I loved that cardamom was already included in the recipe because I felt that it went well with my Middle Eastern theme.  

tiny specks of cardamom & butter
cardamom specks

This is a shot of the dough after four turns and I absolutely loved how you could see the specks of cardamom and the laminated butter running throughout.   

filling the danishes
filling the danishes

Of course, the braid part of the challenge flew right over my head and so I opted to make individual portions by cutting out disks using the rim of a small drinking glass.  This was not a great idea when it came around to eating the little things because I never felt guilty about having one more piece.  In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m munching on a piece and telling myself that a visit to the gym will be necessary tomorrow.

for the picky eaters who don’t want date-filling
strawberry topping

Since I know that dates might not be everyones cup of tea, I used the scraps to make star-shaped pastries with a strawberry jam center.  Because I know EXACTLY how it feels to be that kid unpacking the “weird food” during lunch while Timmy gets to build his Pizza Lunchables and enjoy his chewy chocolate chip cookies. Anyway, I digress.

strawberry stars
strawberry pastries

The star-shaped pieces tasted good, but I had my eyes set on the prize – the medjool date, Danish-inspired pastry.

Middle Eastern Inspired Date Danish
Date Danish

The secret to the date filling is to throw in a couple teaspoons of butter so that the filling doesn’t dry out in the oven.  Other than that, the filling is nothing more than pure dates that have been pulsed in the food processor.

Date-filled Danish

(yields approx. 12 servings)

Modified from Sherry Yard’s recipe


  • 1/2 tbsp. dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. whole milk, lukewarm
  • 35g. sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom, ground
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, chilled
  • 2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 250 g. flour + 40g.
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 10 medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Putting them all together

  1. Combine the milk, yeast, sugar, lemon zest, cardamom, vanilla and egg using a paddle attachment.
  2. Switch to a hook attachment and add the 250g. of flour and salt gradually and mix until a dough is formed. Combine 1 stick of butter with the remaining flour until just throughly combined.
  3. To make the filling, process the medjool dates with 1 tbsp. of butter until smooth and set aside.
  4. Roll out the dough into a long sheet and cover 2/3 of it with the butter mixture.  Fold so that you have alternating layers of butter and dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Repeat this process 4 times, making sure to refrigerate after each step.
  5. Roll out the dough one final time and cut out into small disks.  
  6. Top half the disks with a small amount of the date mixture and seal using the remaining disks.
  7. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: For a nice shiny golden brown finish, brush the top of each pastry with an egg wash (an egg with a tsp. of milk or water).


breakfast with friends
breakfast with friends

One of my best friends from high school, Yuliana, was visiting this weekend so I was happy to share the fruits of this challenge with her (and my roommates, of course). Raquel also went to high school with us and so we all had a fun weekend talking about how OLD we all are and how crazy it is that high school was so long ago.

Dating (à la gastronomique)

Restaurant Week is an epic, 7-day culinary affair that takes place in every fortunate metropolitan city from Los Angeles to New York. During this event an assortment the city’s finest, chic and most trendy restaurants offer a selection of their menu at an unreasonably low, fixed price.

I was in Washington D.C. this past summer when the gastronomic festivities began. Friends were contacted, reservations were made, and we immediately began eating our way through the seemingly endless list of fabulous restaurants.
If I had to play favorites, Mie N Yu, a small restaurant in the heart of Georgetown, wins my vote. Each dish was perfectly orchestrated from taste to presentation and offered sophisticated flavors in each bite. Many of the other restaurants, however, also had spectacular food; so, what sets Mie N Yu apart? Décor. It was absolutely stunning and perfectly complemented the entire dining experience. And if you visit, your experience would not be complete without a trip to their restroom, which has won numerous awards.
My favorite dish of theirs was an amuse-gueule that featured chorizo-stuffed medjool dates. The flavor profile was divine: the sweetness of the date was perfectly paired with the saltiness from the chorizo. Then the chef wrapped this heavenly concoction in crispy bacon and plated it over a bed of Spicy Moroccan Harissa Sauce.

Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates

Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates


  • 4 oz. chorizo (1/4 lb.)
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 1 medium shallot
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 20 medjool dates
  • 20 slices of bacon, center cut
  • 1 tsp. harissa paste
  • 3 roasted red bell peppers, drained

Putting them all together

  1. To make the sauce, process the harissa paste, the drained roasted red bell peppers and lemon juice. Slowly drizzle 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to create a light emulsion and add a pinch of salt for seasoning.
  2. Coat a large sauté pan with the remaining olive oil and set over medium-low heat. Slice the fennel and shallot thinly and sweat for 8-10 minutes, or until translucent (add the salt to help break down the veggies while cooking).
  3. Remove the wrapper from the chorizo and pulse in the food processor until it reaches a coarse ground consistency.
  4. Combine the fennel mixture and ground chorizo in a medium bowl and set aside to cool. In the mean time, pit the medjool dates and create a small nest for the chorizo filling.
  5. In a large baking sheet, par-bake (approx. 5-7 minutes in a 350 degree oven) the bacon in order to render some of its fat before wrapping. This can be done in advance and also allows the bacon to crisp up quicker when baking the second time.
  6. Stuff the pitted dates with the chorizo filling and individually wrap them with the par-baked bacon. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, or until crisp.
  7. Plate over a bed of the Roasted Red Pepper Harissa sauce and enjoy!

notes:: Inspired by DC restaurant, Mie N Yu. You can make the filling the day and par-cook the bacon the day before.