Last summer, my mother (a.k.a., the original “Cultured Cook”!) and I headed west across the mitten of Michigan to attend one of the nation’s top culinary events, the Epicurean Classic. We got to see and occasionally sample everything from organic, Michigan-grown white tea to an array of top-notch estate olive oils. Plenty of chefs, cookbook authors, restauranteurs, food writers, and food personalities were on hand to showcase their areas of expertise. One of those was Ari Weinzweig, co-owner of Zingerman’s and one of the most entertaining and informative food writers you’ll ever read. (Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating is exactly that: an education in the “peripheral” foods that don’t get enough attention, like vinegars, rice in all its varieties, and Swiss mountain cheeses.)
Ari is absolutely bent on bacon and loves to talk about it. That’s what his contribution to the Epicurean was, actually, and that’s when I became aware of the complexities of good bacon — namely, what the good stuff is, how to find it, and what to do with it. Top-notch bacon, as it turns out, not only tastes better and is far better for you in terms of nutrient density, it’s also a whole lot less messy, because whereas cheap bacon has been injected with brine to give it the taste it’s missing due to its factory origins, good-quality bacon is full of flavor; it’s cured and left alone, not injected afterwards. That means there’s no water-based liquid in there waiting to explode into steam and splat all over your stove or oven when you heat it. Good bacon, in short, comes from pigs raised on real farms, not miserably smashed into factory “farms.” (If you don’t live near an old-fashioned hog farmer, try brands like Niman Ranch, Applegate Farms, Caw Caw Creek, Wellshire Farm, or Yorkshire Farms.)
In the spirit of embracing great bacon, then, here’s a to-die-for recipe that was inspired by a recent lunch at Mind Body Spirits, a true Qualitarian restaurant in Metro Detroit. You only need three things: bacon, dates, and blue cheese. Just make sure you use the best bacon (and blue cheese) you can get your hands on!
Date-Stuffed Bacon with Blue Cheese
These bacon parcels are so richly satisfying that you only need two or three strips of bacon (and therefore two or three dates) per person.
12 strips top-notch bacon (see above notes)
Blue cheese, preferably from grass-fed cows
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Line a cookie/baking sheet with aluminum foil, then lay out bacon strips on the foil in neat lines. Cover with another sheet of aluminum foil and then bake for about 15 minutes. Note that this time will vary depending on the thickness of your bacon — thinner bacon may cook in 10 minutes, while very thick bacon could take up to 20. The trick is to check on it when you start to smell the bacon cooking. If the opaque fat has begun to turn translucent and the edges are starting to wave, the bacon is ready to be stuffed and then returned to the oven for the final cooking. (What you don’t want to do is fully cook it, because once the strips have gone crispy, you won’t be able to bend them.)
Using a small, sharp knife, cut dates in half. Stuff with blue cheese (about a small teaspoonful) and then gently press the date halves back together to seal them. Wrap a strip of precooked bacon around each date and pin in place with a toothpick. Return to oven, lightly cover the skewered parcels with aluminum foil, and bake for about 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 5 minutes to crisp the parcels. The bacon will be nicely browned; you may also see some cheese bubbling out from between the dates.
Remove and serve immediately.
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