These Poolish Games

I remember hearing Jewel sing “These Foolish Games” on the television at some point in high school. My dad was in the room and said “who’s the hottie?” I glared at him in teenage consternation and pointed out that, um, she wasn’t at all hot, and she had really snaggly teeth, and married men who are my dad shouldn’t be looking at girls who are not my mother, and by the way, GROSS. He shrugged in disagreement, and then I noticed that Jewel was very clearly not wearing a bra under her chiffon-y shirt. Her nippity-naps were totally visible. It was at that moment that I realized that it didn’t matter WHAT you looked like, or if you had all of your teeth, or if you had a face like Bebop from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons—all that was required to be “hot” to a regular guy was setting your titties free underneath a shirt.

I promptly tattled to my mom that dad was being a lech.

Not that I’m judging Jewel’s looks or anything. So if there are any of you who are going to be like “OMG, she’s such a talented musician” or “She’s so gorgeous, where do you get off criticizing her” or “She lived in a VAN without a TOILET, let alone orthodontia,” you can stick it up your butts right now. Because this post isn’t even ABOUT Jewel. Nor is it about These Foolish Games. It was merely a play on words, so that I could introduce you to a lovely way to make bread. So…there.

The POOLISH is basically a loose pre-ferment used in bread-baking. This means, essentially, that you make a sludge of flour, water, and yeast and allow it to sit for 8-48 hours so that the yeast can get all crunk and start getting old men to buy it cases of Keystone Light, and inviting its friends over and breaking its mom’s antiques and generally having a messy, belch-intensive party up in the flour and water.

In baking a regular loaf of bread without a pre-ferment, your yeast don’t have enough time to get fully rowdy. The party, at that point, gets about as fun and freewheeling as a chess club tournament. Then you bake it and end the fun altogether. Less fun=less flavor. So when you want to have that distinctive, sour-ish taste or big, sexy air pockets that you get in baguettes, ciabatta, or focaccia…well, you’re going to want to make a poolish.

This recipe for Oven-Fried Bread is based on a ratio given to me by my delightful German chef-instructor at school, and when I baked the focaccia variation of it there it worked like gangbusters. So let’s hope I have similar success in making it here and teaching it to you. You WILL need a scale that is capable of measuring grams, so I apologize if this is outside your realm of access. If it is, you can do some basic math conversions and make it some other way, but it’ll be difficult to do the yeast on any larger increment.

Okay, so the basic ratio is as follows:

100% flour
80% water
2.5% salt
.07% yeast

This breaks down to:

1000 g flour (I use bread flour)
800 g water (room temperature)
25 g salt (kosher or sea–not iodized)
7 g yeast (active dry)

To make your poolish, stir together:
400 g flour
400 g water
3.5 g yeast

Allow it to sit for at least 8, but up to 48 hours (covered)

The salt doesn’t go in until you’re making the final dough because salt can kill yeast, meaning you won’t get any pre-fermentation at all.

After your poolish has partied like a rockstar, it’ll look like this–

Those bubbles? Good things. They mean your yeast is ready to finish the job, and has gotten a damned good head start on the bread-making process.

Now you need to put your poolish in a stand mixer that is fitted with the dough hook attachment. Add the rest of your ingredients in this order:

All of your poolish
3.5 g yeast
400 g water
600 g flour
25 g salt

See how the salt is still separated from the yeast? Now turn your mixer on low speed for a minute to combine the ingredients, then medium speed for an additional few minutes to get your dough smooth and elastic, but not too structured. Your dough will be looser than you’re accustomed to seeing, but don’t be alarmed. This is the right consistency for focaccia, or for ciabatta, or for oven-fried bread. It should be stiffer than a cake batter, but looser than a bread dough.

Now rest your dough, covered, until it doubles in size. A warm-ish, semi-humid environment works best. Cooler environments will make it take a lot longer, and hot environments (over 100 F) can kill the yeast and ruin the dough entirely. Is that what you want? Dead dough? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Once your dough has doubled in size, it’s clear that your dough is getting ideas above its station. The only way to solve this is to oil your hand up and punch it down to size. When it’s been punched down, cover it again and leave it in a semi-warm place to rise once more. You want it to double again.

Now comes the sticky-icky, nasty, messy part. I’m so sorry to foist this responsibility onto your unsuspecting shoulders, but somebody is going to have to shape that sticky mass of dough, and it’s going to have to be you, sister…or brother. This is how you should set yourself up for success in taming your sticky beast–

–Get 2 or 3 standard pie tins
–Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil in each tin
–Oil your hands up like you’re about to…um…well, this is awkward. Oil ’em up really well, and keep a little dish with some extra oil next to you.
–Pull out 1/2 or 1/3 (depending on how many pie tins you’re using and how many loaves you want) of your dough with your oiled hands.
–In a semi-fluid motion, tuck the edges of the dough underneath, over and over, until you have a smooth round of dough in your hands. Immediately slap it down in an oiled pie tin. It should look like this–

–Repeat with your other dough/pie tins
–Rub a small amount of olive oil over the top of each loaf so they’re shiny.
–At this point, for real focaccia, you’ll want to press dimples into each loaf (gently but firmly) with your fingertips. This will create the typical focaccia thickness and appearance. But I like to let them puff up for making sandwiches. Call me a rebel. And maybe I forgot to put the dimples in until after they baked, and this is my last ditch attempt to save my own ass by pretending I set out to make a different bread entirely. You’ll never know, will you.

Wash your hands, wash your face, wash your friends, and preheat your oven to 450 F.

While your oven is preheating, your dough will be spreading out and filling your pie tins a little better. It’s at this point that you can adorn your bread with things. Not heavy things, mind you, but delicious things. Some freshly cracked pepper and sea salt, perhaps. Roasted cloves of garlic and sea salt? Rosemary and sea salt? Olives? The focaccia is your oyster, just don’t go crazy and weigh it down with heavy things, or you’ll have a flat mess.

And for God’s sake, don’t use iodized table salt for any of this. Or really for anything ever, in my humbug opinion.

After your oven beeps to let you know it’s preheated, wait another 10 minutes to make sure it’s good and hot throughout. Then put your pie tins on the middle rack. Now throw a few ice cubes on the floor of your oven and shut the door quickly. This sounds preposterous, I know, but trust me. The ice cubes will sizzle up immediately and provide a tiny bit of steam to help your bread to crust-up nicely and turn golden. Ideally, you’d be using a deck oven, but none of us have those in our homes. After you’ve thrown the ice on the floor, leave the door tightly shut for the next 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, you can check on your bread. You’re going for a rich golden color, almost like fried food. Technically, the action of the olive oil in a hot oven kind if IS frying the outside of your bread, so that makes sense. Delicious sense. Thus the name “Oven-Fried Bread.”

When your bread is golden and glorious, remove it from the oven, turn it out of the tin using a thick kitchen towel to protect your hand, and put it on a rack to cool. Believe me when I tell you this is difficult. It smells like heaven, you’ve been waiting basically all day, and you’re HUNGRY, dammit. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you cut into bread before it’s had a chance to cool a bit, it’ll collapse and you’ll lose all the moisture and also possibly a kitten somewhere will cry. At the very least, there will be a delightful German chef who would disapprove of your actions.

You don’t have to wait until it’s COLD, though. Just until it’s a medium amount of warm. Then cut it up, by all means. Slicing it horizontally will yield you a great bun for a muffaletta sammich. Slicing it into wedges will make a great bread for sopping up tomato sauce. Tearing off great hunks, dipping them into good olive oil, and slapping them directly into your drooling mouth is also acceptable and encouraged. After all, you’ve got extra loaves if you need them later.

This takes all day, sure. But it also gives you great, gaping holes of free time to go out, run errands, play with your dog, take a jog, or start a career in show business. In the end, you’ll have loaves that are beautiful and delicious and perfect for sharing. And if you’re worried that you, too, forgot to put dimples in your loaves. If you’re worried your guests will notice. If you’re worried that they’ll criticize you. Well, just “forget” to wear a bra while you’re serving your bread. Nothing like some free-range jumblies to fix a multitude of sins.

Oh, and the bread kicks ass regardless, just so you know.

Horse and Buggy

Simple living. Plain dress. Aversion to modern conveniences. All words that decidedly do not describe me at all. iPhones, short shorts, and speaking LONG before being spoken to…those are a little more “me.” Which is why it may surprise you to find out that I hail from Amish country. Pennsylvania Dutch–that’s me. Or, at least, that’s part of me. The other part is Nordic Viking, which seems to be my prevailing genetic line. Pillaging? Plundering? Wearing horned helmets and drinking mead from flagons? Hellz yeah.

My extended family still lives amongst the Amish, though, and pretty much every vacation I took as a child landed me smack-dab in the middle of Amish farmland. Which didn’t suck because Amish children are incredibly cute in their stern little overalls and severe hats, and also because Amish food rocks your face off. Their candy comes in paper bags and has comical flavors like “horehound” and “teaberry.” Their desserts are filled with apples and custards and thick, gooey goodness. They like their krauts and their relishes, and they’ll not say no to a biscuit. Who wouldn’t get behind that? I ask you?

Also, they ride around in horse and buggies. I LOVE horse and buggies, and love the respect with which they always seemed to treat their animals and their farmland. Pollution? No way. Pesticides? Nope. Factory farming? Not on your life. They treat the land and its bounty with reverence that probably explains why their food is so delicious and homey, and also why they’ll probably outlast the rest of us on this planet. All warm and cozy in their gorgeous quilts, eating shoofly pie and canning pickles.

One of the side effects of growing up around these influences is that I have a healthy craving for their vittles. And why, when it’s chilly outside and I want comforting things in my belly, I go immediately to PA Dutch food. The stuff that Grandma used to make. Well…some of it.

Because Grandma used to alternate between making delicious, garden-fresh tomato sauces and beautiful homemade mac and cheese and apple crisp and chicken pot pie and rivel soup, and making mean tricks for children. Like “pigs in a blanket,” which were actually some kind of cabbage roll. Do you know what it’s like to be a young child and be told you were getting pigs in a blanket for dinner? Exciting, right? I mean, hot dogs in biscuits—what could be more fun? And then, when you’re sitting at the table, hiding your grubby hands under your legs in hopes that nobody will notice, somebody comes out with cooked cabbage? Tiny citizens revolt!

On nights like those, I’d tell the grown ups that I was going out to catch fireflies, and instead would sneak around my Grandpa’s incredible garden, sucking the teensy drops of nectar from honeysuckles for nourishment. Also, if I waited until the grownups had had a few “health drinks” on the front porch, I could sneak into the bread box and spirit away a few slices of raisin bread. And I’d wash the raisin bread down with birch beer, which was another PA luxury that we didn’t have in Colorado. Oh, and lard-fried potato chips. Hmm….I wonder if I could get those delivered here…

Answer: Yes, we can. I know, because we just DID. You can order the Grandma Utz’s lard chips on the Utz website. Score one for the big guy!

Okay, but back to the point at hand, which is that I have several chickens in my freezer that need to be used, and I have a craving for PA Dutch food. And that means chicken pot pie. And it means a phone call to my momma for the recipe.

Make no mistake–this isn’t chicken pot pie as you know it. Amish chicken pot pie is a whole different animal. It’s a thick, rich stock with vegetables and boiled, pastry-like, thick, square noodles. It’s damned good, and you’ll thank me for posting this if you give it a try. And if you’re a vegetarian, just make a rich vegetable stock and kick it old school. You don’t need to eat meat to enjoy this. Oh, and I’d omit the salt pork, too. I just have a lot of cubed salt pork in my freezer.

Step One–A lecture about stock

One of the important parts of this pot pie is that you need to have a pretty large amount of really rich, flavorful, full-bodied stock. You can accomplish this several ways, and not one of those ways involves using pre-made, undoctored stock. A good stock will turn into jello when you refrigerate it. That’s because it’s chock full of the collagen that comes from simmering real meat bones for long enough to extract said collagen. That collagen is responsible for the rich mouthfeel and flavor that you get from a good, homemade chicken soup.

I make mine by saving chicken bones in a plastic bag in the freezer. When I’ve got a good number of them saved from various meals (not chewed on bones, obviously), I simmer them in water for 4-6 hours, with carrots, onions, celery, and bay leaves until the bones are soft enough to crush with plastic tongs. Then I strain and save the stock. It turns into a firm gel in the fridge. When it comes time to make a good soup, I use this stock and it turns out perfectly.

Another method is for you to simmer a whole chicken until the chicken is cooked. Then pull the meat off, set it aside, and continue to simmer the bones with the veg and herbs until the bones are soft. You can simmer the chicken IN commercial stock for an even deeper flavor when you do it this way (since you have fewer bones, thereby less flavor).

Never, EVER salt your stock until you’re cooking the final product with it. Otherwise, when it reduces or is added to other foods, it can end up making everything taste overly salty. Good stock doesn’t taste salted, just rich and chickeny (or whatever other kind of meaty).

For this recipe, you need AT LEAST 6 cups of good stock. Make it one of the above ways.

So now that you’ve got your chicken stock put together, and you’ve strained it well, and you’ve set aside some diced chicken (either from making the stock or from something else if you’re using only bones to make the stock), you’re basically ready to go. But there is a special piece of equipment you need now, according to my mother. A Dutch oven.

No, I don’t mean that old school frat boy move. I mean (also as my mother put it) “a heavy-bottomed pot.” The Dutch love heavy bottomed things. This is a great explanation for the size of my butt. And the size of my mom’s butt. And the size of my sister’s butt. And the size of all of my cousins’ butts. Actually, if you ever see a thin white girl with a big ol’ bubble butt, chances are she’s related to me. And also chances are that she’ll make a good vessel for simmering pot pie noodles.

So you now have a Dutch oven (or heavy-bottomed pot) filled up with 6-8 C of good, rich stock, right? It should go about halfway up the sides of the pot, or a touch more. You want enough room for the noodles to simmer around.

The Recipe–This is what my mom sent me, verbatim, in regards to a recipe:
Chicken pot pie pastry:

3 cups flour (doesn’t need to be sifted)
1 large egg
1 T shortening (Grandma used lard)
1/2 cup water or more as needed

mix first three ingredients and then add a little water at a time until it reaches a nice consistency. Roll out 1/3 at a time to about 1/8 inch thickness – they will expand in the broth. Cut into about 2 inch squares and allow to dry for 20-30 minutes before dropping into the broth.

Grandma put carrots, potatoes, celery, parsley, salt and pepper in her broth, along with the chicken of course. Not a lot of other seasonings – no poultry seasoning, sage, etc. That’s fancy folk stuff. Love you. Momma

A couple of things I gleaned from this were a) I should be using lard to make my noodles and b) despite living in Colorado for the better part of 30 years, it is NOT HARD to get my mom to roll on back to her PA Dutch roots. Calling me a fancy folk. Pshaw.

Now the recipe as I’m going to write it:

Amish Chicken Pot Pie

6-8 C good chicken broth
1.5 C chicken meat, diced or shredded
.5 C onions, diced
.5 C carrots, peeled and diced
1 C potatoes, peeled and diced
.25 C parsley, chopped
3 C flour
1 large egg
1 T shortening or lard
.5 C cold water (more as needed)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring stock to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed pot. Taste it and add salt and pepper as needed. Add potatoes, onions, and carrots and cook until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a food processor or mixing bowl, whisk flour with a pinch of salt. Cut in shortening or lard until small pebbles are interspersed throughout the flour. Stir in the egg, then add water as necessary to make a dry but cohesive dough.

Roll out dough using a rolling pin or a pasta roller to about 1/8″ thick. Cut with a pizza cutter or pastry wheel to make 1×1″ squares.

My Grandma uses a fluted pastry wheel to cut these, and does so precisely. I couldn’t find my fluted pastry wheel, and I had to rush my cutting because my husband was starving to death

Allow to dry for 20-30 minutes.

When potatoes are tender but not mushy, bring stock to a fast simmer and add pastry squares. Stir gently to ensure they don’t stick to one another. There are a LOT of pastry squares for the broth, so if it starts to look too crowded, you don’t have to use all of them. Cook for 5-7 minutes to tender, then stir in the chopped parsley. Taste one more time for seasoning and serve.

It ends up looking something like this:

Note: I cheated a bit and used a couple cubes of frozen Heritage turkey glace that I had leftover from Thanksgiving. That gave it a solid golden hue and a lip-smackingly assertive poultry flavor. God bless us, every one.

And little individual peach-blueberry crumbles for dessert, topped with scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream that I found in the back of the freezer after a ham fell on my foot. I was going to make apple crisp (know to my family as “apple crunchy wunchy woo”), but I didn’t have any apples other than the ones I’ve canned (go Amish or go home, is my motto), and those are a little too soft for apple crisp. Plus, using up some of the frozen peaches and blueberries meant that the next time I open the freezer, I’m less likely to have major pieces of meat fall on my extremities. Win-Win.

School’s out for EVAH

I’ve been a weak-ass poster over the last few weeks because I was back in school, and who wants to mise en place a whole new recipe and clean a whole new kitchen mess after spending all day doing it at school? Not this chick. I’m all down with cooking and occasionally cleaning up after myself, but cleaning an enormous kitchen makes me want to eat nothing but takeout for the rest of the day, every day.

Anyway, I’m all done now. The school’s vindictive, mentally-unstable secretary let me know I had graduated by shoving my diploma in my gym bag with my dirty running shoes while I was in the kitchen. Hooray for fanfare!

I’m back in my own kitchen, and already missing the hilarious chef instructors and the deck ovens and the kitchen manager. My own personal oven doesn’t seem to turn out the golden brown, gorgeous breads and crisp-crusted pizzas that used to fall out of that deck oven, but it makes a mean baked potato, dammit.

I’m trying to keep busy now, which presents its own unique set of challenges. I spent my first couple of days off catching up on some shopping (Costco carries cases of Red Bull AND 7 For All Mankind jeans at ridiculous discounts), and resting up for the Austin 1/2 marathon that we ran yesterday. Don’t know that there’s a point to getting a job for the four months that we have left in Texas, but I can’t just sit at home and watch my dog destroy plush toys for that long, either. Can’t shop for houses, because who knows where we’ll be assigned? Would go to the library and just read forever, but our library has about as many books as I do in our reading room. Underfunded libraries make me sad. I think it’s the side effect of being the daughter of a librarian in a town that values literacy.

So what’ll end up happening is that I’ll start doing some preliminary packing, using up the contents of our cupboards in new and exciting ways, and chasing my dog around the park. It’s actually pretty good news for my blog, since I have four months to use enough food to feed a family of four for six months. And much of it is wack-ass ingredients that I bought thinking “What??” Like the clear fluid filled with basil seeds that I found at Asia Mart that one time. Or the spelt flour I bought in the bulk section of a hippie store because I saw it and thought “he who spelt it, dealt it” would be a really funny spelling bee joke. Plus Choosy Beggar Tina sent me a cache of awesome Indo-Pakistani ingredients to play with, because she’s a total badass of culinary tricks. I am rich of cool ingredients.

Oh, and there are the fresh black truffles I preserved in butter and froze when I had a glut of them and couldn’t use them all up in time.

And two whole, frozen, spiral cut hams that I got because they were on clearance and were certified humane.


Good thing I’ve got a family to feed. I woke up on Saturday to the boys watching the original Transformers cartoons (I got Chris the boxed set for Christmas). Could you look at these fellas in their jammies and not want to make them a hearty, pre-marathon breakfast? So I did, and Chris and Willie watched the Constructicons become Devastator, and were rabidly excited.

These pancakes that are high in protein, packed with flavor, carb-balanced, and fun. I stole the recipe from, then added and subtracted some components to make it less like blatant theft.

Ricotta-Orange Pancakes with Blueberries and cardamom

-4 large eggs, separated
-1.5 C ricotta
-1.5 T sugar
-1.5 T freshly grated orange zest
-a pinch of freshly grated cardamom
-.5 C blueberries (fresh or frozen)
-.5 C all-purpose flour
– pinch salt
-Preheat an oven to 200 F to keep the pancakes warm as you make ’em.
-Whisk together egg yolks, ricotta, sugar, cardamom and orange zest until combined.
-Stir frozen or fresh blueberries into flour, then stir both into the yolk mixture.
-With an electric mixer (or by hand if you’re a sadist), whisk egg whites with salt until stiff peaks form. Like so many things, these will go limp if you overbeat, so only go until stiff peaks form–not past.
-Whisk 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture. Then GENTLY fold in the rest of the egg whites. The idea here is to keep it very light and fluffy. It looks weird and breakfast-chum-like, but trust me.

-Heat an electric skillet (or frying pan, if you want) to a medium heat, and oil or butter lightly.
-Scoop the batter into rounds of your own desired size. You may need to spread the batter with the back of the scoop as you go, since it is very thick and tends to stay mounded up a bit. You want the layer to be about 1/2″ thick.
-Flip when bubbles start to come up. At this point, you’re just making pancakes the way you always do, but with thicker batter.
-Cook until golden brown on both sides, keep warm (covered) in the oven, then serve with WHATEVER YOU PLEASE.

I served ours with clotted cream and some absolutely GORGEOUS apricot syrup from Canada (courtesy of Tina). They were delicious. I made Chris an over-easy egg, because he’s really fond of runny yolks. I am NOT fond of runny yolks. Which means that when I (invariably) break one of his egg yolks, I just finish cooking that one over very hard for myself. It’s a good system.

Ricotta pancakes are infinitely fluffier and richer than regular pancakes. You have to try them for yourselves. And Organic Valley makes good ricotta for those of you who are trying to do organics or certified humane. If you’re not, then any old ricotta will do.

I used to hate ricotta, you know. I thought it was reminiscent of…well…I won’t say. Gross things. And I wouldn’t eat lasagna or ravioli or anything else. But then I tried it once with honey and cinnamon. It was delicious. Now I’ll eat it in pretty much any sweet application. I’m hoping to work my way up to savory apps. It’s just a super-mild, not-at-all-cheesy substance that’s packed with calcium and protein. Like cream cheese, sort of. If you can get past the way it looks, it’s a great thing to have around. I direct this paragraph mainly to my brother and sister, who won’t eat much of anything. I think we can probably blame our parents for our picky eating. But the majority of us are trying to get better about it. So give it a shot. I promise you’ll like it. Plus, here’s a picture where it looks like ice cream. Delicious, no?

The past few days have been vaguely chilly and a bit rainy. Then today was all of a sudden sunny, and my disposition skyrocketed temporarily. You see, the juxtaposition of cold and hot weather reminded me of home, and of those first few spring afternoons in Colorado. You mountain folk know the ones I mean—when it’s early May and there’s snow in patches on the ground, and you have to wear a winter jacket to work, but then happy hour rolls around and it’s sunny and warm and the BEST thing in the world to do at that moment is sit on a rooftop deck sipping Easy Street Wheat with a slice of orange and some good company, listening to the melting snow gurgle and drip in the gutters, and basking in the sun on your buzzed face. Those afternoons are, bar none, my absolute favorite times in any given year. May in Colorado is my favorite month in general. The cold makes you grateful for the heat. Whereas here…any hint of the sun is just a reminder that you’re about to be set aflame by oppressive summer heat at any given moment.

Still, it was nice. And I wore shorts and a sweatshirt, which made me gleefully happy. That’s another Colorado thing that I love and miss: the days where you wear long pants and a tee-shirt. Or shorts and a sweatshirt. Or snow pants and a sports bra (yep–happens all the time). I love mismatched summer and winter gear, and how the right combo keeps all of your bits appropriately warm and cool as necessary. Also, my husband thinks that snow beanies and pigtails are impossibly sexy, and I feel bad that I can’t provide that here. If I were to wear a snow beanie, people would think I’d undergone some kind of brain surgery and needed to keep the stitches from melanoma-tizing in the sun.

One of my favorite May afternoons was about a month and a half after Chris and I started dating. He had me get dressed early, and told me we were going on a surprise date. We ended up driving to Boulder, CO. After a day of hiking

This is a picture from our ACTUAL hike, unretouched, using a cheap camera

visiting the world’s most gorgeous kitchen gadget store, and drinking an Easy Street Wheat on a rooftop deck, we ended up heading to The Med for dinner. The Med is INCREDIBLE. It offers tapas, Italian, French, and whatever-fusion type food, and it blew my mind right out of my ear holes. I had some tapas, and then moved on to chicken saltimbocca. That was the first time I ate cooked spinach. It was fantastic. The iron and folate levels in my body will forever be grateful for this introduction. Turns out, cooked spinach doesn’t have to be disgusting (though it often is). I just drooled on the “H” key of my keyboard. I am a big fat fattie.

The item that most stood apart for me, however, was a $5 plate of bacon-wrapped dates in garlic sauce. Wrap your gray matter around that one. It’s chewy, luscious, sticky-sweet dates wrapped in thick, salty, crunchy bacon, then soaked in an acidic and super-garlicky vinaigrette. If I may be so bold as to IOU a reacharound to mother nature for the combination of sweet, smoky, salty, and tangy…Yeah, girl. It’s coming.

Anyway, I’ve been sporting lady-wood for the past three years for that single, simple, cheap dish. And last time we were back home it snowed on the night I wanted to go to Boulder, so there were no bacon-wrapped dates to be had. Son. Of. Bitch. Because I have a plan. I’m going to order a plate of them for EACH person at the table. That way I won’t have to be all food-aggressive like a street dog when people try to share. I assure you, dinner will be less pleasant for all of us when I’ve lodged a toothpick deep into the back of your hand.

So I used our tapas day at school to recreate (as best I could) the bacon-date lovemaking. And also to use the transglutaminase I got in the mail.

Transglutaminase is an enzyme that bonds protein to protein, basically. So you can use it to bond alternating layers of steak, bacon, steak, bacon, steak, bacon, etcetera into a single piece of meat. You’re not supposed to get it into your lungs or into open wounds. That’s all I know. I think it’s a naturally occurring enzyme, though, so you won’t grow flippers or anything if you eat it. Probably.

The bacon-wrapping of the dates was pretty simple. Take date. Pit date.
Roll date in bacon. Dust last inch of bacon with transglutaminase press it onto itself to seal, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap to allow the bond to form.

Cooking it was also pretty simple. I tried pan-frying. Chef suggested deep-frying. I agreed instantly because, dude. Deep-fried bacon? Duh.

A quick vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, parsley, garlic, olive oil, and salt kept the dates honest.

The end result was cool but semi-disappointing. First of all, the bacon stayed impermeably sealed to itself. It was like a single sleeve of bacon that had magically grown a date inside itself. Like the pears in the brandy bottles. But the dates were mealy and mushy on the inside, which is just an issue of ingredient quality control.

You know how sometimes you find some really babelicious guy in a bar, and he’s got great clothes and smells like expensive cologne, and has delicious hair and just the perfect amount of stubble on his chiseled face, and he’s really funny and seems too good to be true? And then you know how when you actually end up going to dinner with him it turns out that his mother still buys all of his clothes and he doesn’t have a job and he burps at the table and looks at the waitress’s (obviously on display) breasts and he lets you pick up the check? That’s a bad date. And it’s really easy to get bad dates, and hard to get good ones. This translates almost directly to the grocery world. Except that good grocery dates don’t smell like expensive cologne. Maybe the produce guy does, though.

I’m just saying, the quality and texture of your dates will make or break this dish. Actually, I should write the Med and ask them where they source their dates, and if possibly they have a back room I could live in instead of here. And if maybe they have a direct tap of Easy Street Wheat that flows into the back room, and a really big window facing the mountains so I can sun myself while I drink beer and feed myself bacon-wrapped dates. That’s not asking too much, is it?