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 Twenty: Rainier Cherries

Each year, when cherries arrive, I revisit a quest to craft a very particular cocktail: a Whiskey Cherry Coke. Cherry cola feels like the quintessential summer soda, and whiskey cokes are a favorite highball in our house. Combining the two was a natural fit, but I wanted to go beyond just mixing Cherry Coke with Jack Daniels, and come up with a recipe using real cherries. Little did I know how hard this would be.

Over the years, I’ve attempted numerous tactics to get the right level of cherry flavor and sweetness into my whiskey cokes. Initially, I muddled some whole cherries at the bottom of the glass. This barely imparted any flavor to the drink, and the sweetness in particular was lacking. Cherry cola has both a distinct cherry flavor and a bit more sweetness than regular cola, so it was imperative to have a very sweet cherry flavor. Next I tried muddling a combination of fresh cherries and maraschinos. This was closer, but maraschino cherries kind of gross me out. I’ve asked bars that have toschi cherries to attempt make me one, but those have a distinct flavor that did not fully meld with the cola.

For this week’s attempt, I’m using Rainer cherries from Joe Gotelli & Sons, a fruit grower in Lodi, CA. Rainers are the sweetest cherries that I could find at the market. They have golden flesh, and their skins are a mix of gold and pink. My previous experiments convinced me of two things: Muddling cherries does not concentrate their flavor enough and the proper sweetness requires an additional ingredient—namely sugar. The obvious move was the make a cherry simple syrup.

I pitted and halved two cups of cherries. Then threw them in a food processor and puréed them as evenly as possible.

Halved and Pitted

I poured the cherry purée into a saucepan and added 1/4 cup of water and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Then heated it very slowly over a low flame.

Purée with Sugar

Stirring frequently, I let the mix cook for about 30 minutes just below a simmer. The red color deepened and it became thicker as the liquid boiled off. As it cooked, I added 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water because it seems to elevate syrups and 2 ounces of delicious Cherry Heering to give the syrup a touch of boozy cherry flavor.

2 Ounces Cherry Heering

Once I liked the consistency, I let the syrup cool a bit, before straining it into a bottle. The resulting syrup still has some fine cherry flesh in it, but most of the solids have been strained out.

Straining the Syrup

To make the drink, I combined 1 ounce of the syrup with 1 1/2 ounces Jack Daniels. I stirred these up to mix them, then filled the glass with Coke (about 4 ounces) and floated a whole cherry on top.

Whiskey Cherry Coke

I still feel like the cherry sweetness could be pushed a bit further, and this was definitely a bit labor intensive to make a few drinks, but I do think this is the closest I’ve come to my ideal Whiskey Cherry Coke. It’ll definitely do for this summer.

View all the pictures here.

52 Foods Week Thirteen: Grapefruit

Is there anything better than 85° weather in March? The sun came out this week and had us lounging outside most waking hours. Davis’ Picnic in the Park, which kicked off two weeks ago, finally had proper weather, and we were so busy enjoying the warmth that I almost forgot to find this week’s food. Fortunately, with minutes to spare, I came across a stack of grapefruits that looked promising.

I really have never understood eating grapefruit. In my mind, citrus should be sweet, and covering fruit in sugar to make it so seems like an indulgence ill-suited for breakfast. All the same, I’ve come to realize that the properties I dislike in grapefruit as a food—bitterness and astringency—make it a complex and rewarding ingredient in cocktails.

When the sun comes out, I long for nothing more than a swimming pool and a refreshing drink. I am happy to lie poolside for hours on end, with an occasional dip to cool off. While Davis has an abundance of pools, few to which we have access have opened yet. I wanted to come up with a cocktail that reminded me of the poolside experience.

Cocktail Time

To capture a sunny day at the pool, I reached for ingredients that each evoke a sensory experience from a day spent swimming and sunning. Grapefruit provides the astringent dryness of chlorine on the skin.

Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice

Meanwhile, mint conjures the bracing feeling of jumping into cool water.

Freshly Picked Mint Leaves

Using slightly sweet, gold rum as a base, I mixed 2 parts rum with 1 part freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Then, in a cocktail shaker, I muddled mint leaves with a bit of sugar and a few dashes peach bitters.

Muddle Mint, Sugar and Peach Bitters

I shook all the ingredients with plenty of ice to get it nice and cold. When it came time to strain the cocktail, I poured it into a salt-rimmed glass; a reminder of the most ubiquitous flavor of a hot day at the pool: a line of sweat on the upper lip.

Strain into Salt-Rimmed Cocktail Glass

The finished cocktail was light and refreshing, with a great balance between salty, bitter and sweet, a pleasing companion to a hot day. Unprompted, my wife said it tasted almost chlorinated, in a good way. Mission accomplished.

The Pool Deck Cocktail:

2 oz. gold rum
1 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
6-8 mint leaves
1/2 tsp. sugar or 2:1 simple syrup
2 dashes peach bitters
Salt for rim of glass
1 sprig of mint for garnish

Dip edge of cocktail glass in grapefruit juice then salt to completely cover rim.

Muddle mint leaves, sugar and peach bitters in cocktail shaker until sugar is dissolved. Add rum and grapefruit juice and shake vigorously over ice. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into salt-rimmed glass, stopping just below salt line. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

The Pool Deck Cocktail

Take a look at all the photos here.

52 Foods Week Eight: Lemons

Update: Per Henry’s suggestion in the comments, cooking the lemon low and slow results in even better caramelizing.

I was a little under the weather this week, which put a damper on my enthusiasm for cooking and especially coming up with new ideas. Fortunately, there is one thing I enjoy when I have a cold—a nice hot toddy—that includes lemons, which our generous neighbors have plenty of, and are willing to share.

Neighborhood Lemons Happy to Share

I didn’t feel it would be right to just make a hot toddy and call the week good, since that would really only entail squeezing a lemon wedge over a cup of hot whiskey, honey and water. I tried to think of something to up the ante, and finally found inspiration in an old memory from college. One night while making mulled wine, a Russian friend showed us a way to eat lemon slices as a snack. She sliced a thin round, covered it in sugar and popped it straight into her mouth, rind and all. We may have been a touch skeptical at first, but we quickly became converts. I figured that I could cover a lemon slice in sugar this way, then caramelize it before adding it to a hot toddy for both a burst of lemon and sweetness.

I sliced a few 1/4 inch thick rounds from a nice fresh lemon. It’s really amazing how good a fresh lemon smells—entirely more fragrant and rich than one that has been sitting in the store. I removed the seeds from each slice, then set them aside to prepare the sugar.

1/4" Slices

Rather than covering the lemons in just sugar, I decided to mix in some other spices that I like in a toddy, so that they would cook with the sugar and lemons. I chose allspice and cinnamon, but you could use anything you like. I didn’t measure, just tasted the mix a few times until it had the right balance. If I had to guess, I’d say it was about 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of allspice and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.

Sugar, Allspice and Cinnamon

I dredged each lemon slice in the sugar until they were well coated, then placed them in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. The sugar and juices melted out of the lemons and began to smell slightly of marshmallow after about a minute and a half. I flipped the slices and continued to cook them for about another minute, then removed them and placed them on a cooling rack with paper towels underneath it. I also immediately ran the pan under water to rinse out the melted sugar, which would have been hell to clean if it had cooled.

Place on Rack to Cool

As the lemons cooled, I sprinkled more of the sugar mixture over them, flipping them once to coat each side.

Sprinkle with Sugar Mix

They took about 10 minutes to cool, which is plenty of time to heat a pot of water, and place whiskey and honey in a mug. I skewered each lemon with a small bamboo skewer and balanced it over the mug, then poured the hot water over the lemon and into the whiskey and honey. Once served, the lemon slice should be slid into the drink to flavor it more and to use as a stir stick.

Skewer Lemon and Place Over Mug

Caramelized Lemon Hot Toddy:

2 oz. Bourbon
1 tsp. Honey
1 Caramelized Lemon Round
6 oz. Boiling Water

Mix bourbon and honey in a mug. Place skewered lemon round over drink and pour boiling water over lemon into mug. Steep lemon and use to stir drink occasionally.

Caramelized Lemon Hot Toddy

More photos of the caramelized lemon process are here.

52 Foods Week Two: Oranges

Story time: Every summer growing up, our family would pile into an often comically overstuffed car and drive 5 hours North of the Bay Area for Feather River Camp. The final 45 minutes of the drive were awesome: A tight, winding road cut into the sides of the Sierra Nevada mountains with multiple bridges that seemed to soar over the rocky river below. The four hours before this were pretty dull. One of my favorite diversions during the interminable drive was passing the many orchards. I loved to watch the perfect grids of fruit trees converge into straight lines then scatter back into a wall of leaves as we passed them at 60 MPH. It’s an effect that can still distract me on long drives.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the orchards I marveled at as a child belonged to Sparks Ranch, in Winters, from whom I recently acquired 10 pounds of oranges.


I love oranges, and especially fresh squeezed orange juice. It’s one of the few citrus drinks I enjoy. Similarly, about the only cocktail I’ll order that’s made with citrus is the Blood and Sand, a classic cocktail made with scotch, sweet vermouth, orange juice and cherry brandy. Most recipes call for equal parts of all the ingredients, but I prefer mine heavier on the scotch and lighter on the cherry brandy

The Blood and Sand is great, but I wanted to come up with something new, so I set to work tossing 3/4 ounces of orange juice into a cocktail shaker with a vast conspiracy of ingredients before arriving at this lovely thing. Since one of my favorite things about ordering a Blood and Sand is the way it conjures Camus’ L’Étranger, and since it contains the French apéritif Lillet, and since this cocktail is basically a Blood and Sand with a couple of ingredients out of place I’m calling it L’Étranger. See how I did that?


1.5 oz. London Dry Gin
3/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
3/4 oz. Fresh Orange Juice
1 tsp. Cherry Heering

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

L'Étranger Cocktail