52 Foods Week Fifty Two: Barhi Dates

Two years ago, we escaped rainy Portland to celebrate New Year’s Eve in sunny Palm Springs. As I mentioned earlier this year, our trip involved a stop at Shields Date Garden, where we sampled many a date, including the wonderfully sweet Barhi. Barhis are small and round, with a slightly parchment-like skin surrounding extremely sweet flesh. They are also quite fragile, easily crushed into a discolored mush. As with the Deglet Noors, I was able to get a package of Barhis from Leja Farms via Siegfried Dates at the Davis Farmers Market. I knew immediately that I would use these for date milkshakes, an Indio, CA specialty I’d been longing to recreate.

The date milkshakes we had at Shields used a special mix of dates, date sugar, and (as I recall) date ice cream. Lacking both the know-how and the variety of date products to follow in their footsteps, I improvised a recipe, looking to date complementing flavors of vanilla and bourbon to elevate my shake.

I began by pitting and chopping a cup of dates and covering them with four ounces of Maker’s Mark bourbon. I chose Maker’s Mark for its sweetness. Other wheated bourbons would work, too, but I think a rye heavy bourbon would add a discordant spiciness.

Soaking in Bourbon

I put four or five scoops of vanilla ice cream into a blender along with four ounces of whole milk. I added the whiskey and dates, then fired up the blender.

Add Dates and Bourbon

The shakes were looking too thin, so I added a few more scoops of ice cream and blended some more.

A Little More Ice Cream

After the second round of ice cream, the shakes blended up nicely. They poured a little thinner than my ideal, but still had some good ice cream chunks. The dates, unfortunately, mostly sank to the bottom and required regular stirring while drinking. The bourbon was very pronounced, but the shake was still smooth, creamy, and datey.

Barhi and Boubon Shakes

In the future, I would probably forgo the milk entirely, since the bourbon provides plenty of liquid, and the alcohol causes the ice cream to melt faster anyway. I would also macerate the dates in the bourbon for a day in advance, and maybe try to work a little date sugar into the mix to bring the date flavor to the fore. More photos of the date shake process are here.

This is the last Fifty Two Foods post, and fittingly I’m writing it on the last day of the year. Thanks for reading. I hope that some of these posts either introduced you to a new food or a new cooking idea. I count seven foods I hadn’t heard of before I wrote about them, and around half the weeks featured things I’d never cooked before. I’ve also realized that without bacon and its cousins, I would have a very hard time coming up with meals. I hope your 2012 is filled with good food; I know mine will be.

52 Foods Week Fifty One: Guinea Fowl

Back in January, I shared the delicious chicken we got from Cache Creek Meat Company. Since then I’ve frequently stopped by their table for both simple and exotic animals, only to be turned away because they were sold out. Seeking to remedy this before the year ended, I leapt out of bed and went straight to the Farmers’ Market, a few weeks ago, getting there in time to have my pick of beasts. As luck would have it, they were flush with species, and I had my choice of chicken, duck, guinea fowl, and rabbit. Having just stocked the freezer with our CSA share, I could not bring home every animal that I would have enjoyed. I went with the one option I’d never had before: the guinea fowl.

A small, sartorially varied beast, the guinea fowl has a nice balance of dark and light meat, with a slim breast and long legs. Mine—the largest available—was nearly two pounds of bird. I consulted the Silver Spoon for ideas, and settled on a plan involving bacon, herbs, and a pot full of persimmons, potatoes, and onions.

Fowl with Stuffings

I began by cutting in half a few slices of Llano Seco’s wonderfully thick cut bacon. I placed two pieces in the bird’s cavity, along with sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Then I draped a few more pieces of bacon over the guinea fowl’s breast.

Gird with Bacon

I pinned the bacon with some skewers, then trimmed the ends to allow for easy browning of the bird.

Trim Skewers

I brushed our large Le Creuset with oil and did my best to brown the bird allover. Meanwhile, I chopped the onions, persimmons, and potatoes that would cook with it.

Browning the Bird

Once the bird was as well browned as I could manage in the deep pot, I threw in the onions and cooked them until they were translucent.

Sautéing Onions

I returned the bird to the pot, and surrounded it with the onions, persimmons, and potatoes. I’ve seriously embraced persimmons this year, enjoying them both raw and roasted. I particularly enjoy them cooked along with meat in a large pot, with or without potatoes.

Bird in Pot with Onions, Persimmons, and Potatoes

I covered the pot, and put it in the oven at 325°F. After 40 minutes, I removed the bacon from the sides of the bird and the cavity, then left it to cook longer with the lid off. At this point, the bird was still quite pale, but cooking with the lid removed would allow it to darken and let the skin crisp up a little.

After 45 Minutes, Remove Bacon

I sliced the bacon into lardons, and finished them in a pan on the stovetop. After another 15 minutes, the guinea fowl was done, and I removed it from the oven and the pot and let it rest.

Cook Another 15 for Color

I tossed the lardons into the pot with the vegetables, stirred them together, and scooped them into a serving bowl with a slotted spoon. Before disposing of the liquid in the pot, I drizzled a little back on top of the vegetables. Then I carved up the guinea fowl.

Carved Bird and Vegetables

The guinea fowl was very moist and tender. While the light meat was about the color I expected, the legs were impressively dark, even a little ruddy. They were also a little sinewy, but quite tasty, and the breast was succulent, needing just a little salt and carrying a bit of flavor from the bacon. The roast potatoes and persimmons were a good complement—a wonderful mix of sweetness from the fruit and saltiness from the bacon. This was a fun bird to buy and cook.

Guinea Fowl for Serving

All the photos are here.

52 Food Week Fifty: Lamb Shank

As I mentioned last week, we recently signed up for a meat CSA that delivers a nice mix of beef, chicken, and lamb every month. Lamb shanks have so far been a regular inclusion, which delights me to no end, since they are one thing that I’m almost guaranteed to order if they’re available at a restaurant (unless there is rabbit, in which case Thumper usually wins). I had never made lamb shanks at home, but my hand was forced and it was time to attempt one of my favorite dishes.

I did some searching for a recipe that sounded like the Italian-ish preparation to which I’m partial. I finally happened upon an NPR article with a variation on an Alice Waters’ dish that looked both approachable and traditional. I figured that the doyenne of fresh, local cuisine would not lead me astray. I cut the recipe in half to accommodate our household of two and got cracking.

I began by trimming the excess fat and the membrane from the outside of the shanks. Next I rubbed them with salt and pepper, and browned them all over in a hot pan of olive oil.

Browned Lamb Shanks

Once they were browned, I poured off most of the oil, and tossed in some onion, carrot, rosemary, crushed red pepper, and a bay leaf.

Veggies and Spices

Once these were soft, I deglazed the pan with some white wine and a tomato, then put the lamb shanks back in, along with a cup of beef broth. I covered it and put it in the oven, set to 325°F.

Lamb Shanks Ready for Braising

After about two hours of cooking, I removed the lid to let the shanks brown for the final 20 minutes.

About Two Hours Later

Meanwhile, I mixed up a little gremolata of parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.


When the shanks were done, I removed them from the pan, then poured the vegetables into the food processor and puréed them. I then returned the purée to the pan, got it up to a nice simmer, and put the lamb shanks back in for a minute or two.

Shanks in the Sauce

We served the lamb shanks over couscous with the sauce and gremolata on top. This is a fantastic recipe for what I consider the most typical lamb shank preparation. The meat was extremely tender and falling off the bone. We didn’t even need knives. The gremolata adds a nice kick from the garlic and lemon zest. If you’ve got lamb shanks and you’re not sure what to do with them, this is it.

Lamb Shanks Are Served

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Forty Nine: Ground Beef

As promised, it’s time for burgers. Burgers may be my favorite meal. In Portland, I did a pretty good job of maintaining at least a burger a week habit, and before we moved to Davis, I made a bucket list that was largely driven by a desire for burgers I’d heard about but hadn’t had yet. Over the last couple years, I’ve tried to perfect my technique to deliver my ideal, medium-rare burger.

We recently joined a meat CSA called the Foragers. Each month we receive a mix of beef, lamb, and chicken. We invited a friend over, and busted out a one pound package of 85% lean ground beef. I’ve found that 1/3 pound burgers are the perfect size—meaty and filling, without being overwhelming. I generally prefer something closer to 75-80% lean beef, but I’m not too picky, as long as it isn’t very lean.


I divided the beef into equal portions and formed some thick patties.

Weighing Burgers

Then I pressed some salt and pepper into each side of the patties.

Salt and Pepper

I put some bacon grease in a cast iron skillet and sautéed some onions.

Onions in Bacon Grease

When the onions were done, I put the burgers in. I use a frequent flipping method, flipping every minute. As detailed by A Hamburger Today, this method helps retain moisture and reduce the ratio of overcooked to medium rare meat.

Burgers in the Skillet

I find that nine minutes is about the perfect cooking time for medium-rare. When they were done, I removed them to the buns. I like mayo and a bit of dijon on mine. I added a nice dollop of chèvre to the burger.

Chèvre on the Burger

Since tomatoes are very out-of-season, and persimmons are very in season, I added some sliced Fuyu persimmons.

Persimmons on Top

Finally, I added some butter leaf lettuce and the sautéed onions.

Onions and Lettuce

Everyone got to make the burger the way she liked it.

Everyone Is Ready

The goat cheese and persimmon were a killer combo, a little sweet and much better than a December tomato would have been. Though I enjoy a wide variety of cheeses on my burgers, I’ve found recently that soft cheeses, such as chèvre or bleu cheese, added after the burger is done cooking, are really doing it for me. All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Forty Eight: Ground Pork

I spent much of this week contemplating recipes for persimmons, a fruit I only first had last Monday, even going so far as a failed chutney attempt. While coming up empty on good persimmon ideas, I was inspired by our friend Tracy who put out a call for meatloaf recipes. It’s been years since I last made meatloaf, and with Jen and I both furiously working on finishing the school quarter, it seemed like a perfect comfort dish that would also yield a meal or two of leftovers. This week could have gone either of two directions, pork or beef, as I use both in equal proportions. I chose pork because I’m still hoping to showcase my burger skills before the year is out.

I picked up a half pound each of Llano Seco organic pork and Five Dot Ranch beef, both freshly ground by the Davis Co-Op.

Beef to the Left, Pork to the Right

I put the ground meat in a bowl and added about a cup of finely chopped onion, a chopped garlic clove and two ribs of celery.

Onion, Garlic and Celery

Next I added a bunch of bread crumbs and an egg.

Breadcrumbs and Egg

Finally, I spiced it with a teaspoon and a half of salt, a tablespoon of dijon mustard and ground black pepper all over the top.

Salt, Pepper and Dijon

Next came the fun part, getting into the bowl wrist deep and mixing it all together.

Playing with My Food

When it was all mixed together, I filled a loaf pan and covered it with foil. I placed it in an oven at 350° F for 30 minutes, after which I removed the foil and continued cooking it at 400&deg F; for another 30 minutes, until it had reached an internal temperature of 160° F.

We sliced it up and enjoyed it with baked potatoes. This meatloaf is super easy to make, and has a great meatloaf taste—lots of umami, just like meatloaf should be.


Photos here.