Date nut bars

Religion and BeliefPassover

Arleen Kerman always looks forward to cooking -- and cooking and cooking -- for Passover. And sweets hold a special place in her heart.

Kerman, 70, has had a lifelong special connection with food and cooking. Her grandfather, Jake Kodner, was one of the first kosher butchers in St. Louis.

"My mother was an excellent cook," she adds. "She'd make Cornish hens for 24 people at the drop of a hat."

The food portion of Kerman's own career included cake decorating, catering and consulting -- with 16 years as the business manager for the Center of Creative Arts squeezed in between. Her signature dish is banana bread: "There are never less than 10 or 15 in my freezer," she says.

When Passover arrives, Kerman draws from a collection of dozens of recipes she's collected or developed over the years.

One of her favorites is Date Nut Bars, based on a recipe given to her more than 40 years ago.

"I got it from a neighbor," Kerman recalls. "She was from Hawaii, and she got care packages with tons of dates in them. She gave me the recipe, and I converted it (for Passover)."

Kerman can date that particular recipe, so to speak, because she remembers living next to that neighbor just after she married her husband, Jack, 43 years ago.

Throughout the year, Kerman's cooking is a big draw at the conservative synagogue where she and Jack belong.

"When they know she cooks for synagogue, everyone comes!" Jack says.

Passover date nut bars

Servings: 27 bars

For crust:
1 cup matzo cake meal
1/4 cup ground walnuts
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

For filling and garnish:
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons matzo cake meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
8 ounces chopped dates
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch-square pan with nonstick spray.

2. Make the crust. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, blend 1 cup cake meal, walnuts, 1/3 cup granulated sugar and butter until fine crumbs form. Pack into the bottom of the prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are light brown.

3. Make the filling: Beat brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla until well combined. Add 2 tablespoons cake meal, baking powder and salt and mix lightly. Stir in nuts and dates.

4. Pour filling over the hot crust. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until a cake-tester comes out clean.

5. Cool for 20 minutes, then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into 3-by-1-inch bars.

Per bar: 375 calories; 15g fat; 3.5g saturated fat; 150mg cholesterol; 7g protein; 54g carbohydrate; 44g sugar; 2g fiber; 80mg sodium; 40mg calcium.

--Recipe from Arleen Kerman

A note about passover ingredients
• Jews observing the Passover holiday, which begins sundown March 25, may not cook with regular flour, yeast or a variety of other ingredients.

• Unleavened matzo substitutes for regular bread throughout the week that the holiday is observed. Many families also avoid rice, corn, beans and other foods.

• Home bakers can buy matzo meal, which has a texture like cracker crumbs, and matzo cake meal, which is as fine as all-purpose flour.

These products and many other kosher-for-Passover foods are sold at many supermarkets and specialty kosher stores.

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