When I think about what inspired me to put a little more time and effort into my kitchen skills, the things that come to mind are my surprise successes – things that turned out more impressive than I expected, and were memorable and yummy – or things that went poorly that pushed me to try again to fix my mistakes. Three dishes specifically come to mind: bacon wrapped dates, Irish car bomb cupcakes, and (pretty messed up) lemon bars.
The bacon wrapped dates are as good a place to start as any. The first time I made them was during my inaugural Dubai adventure in the summer of 2010. We were new here. Bacon was doing its thang back in the States, invading menus everywhere and finding its way into everything from mac ‘n cheese to ice cream sandwiches. I had only recently discovered the crispy, gooey, salty, sweet nuggets of deliciousness known as bacon wrapped dates. I missed them.
I realized I was sitting on a gold mine of delicious and inexpensive local dates in the Arabian Peninsula – the Sheik’s dates, I was told! – and they came in almost every form you could imagine. Date syrup. Date jam. Date oil. Dates stuffed with pecans and candied orange peel. While all these things taste pretty darn good, the dates were really missing their secret lover: bacon.
The Middle East has a bit of a bacon problem. It’s not halal (Muslim version of kosher), yadda yadda yadda, they don’t eat it. Or serve it. It’s a bit of a conundrum, then, how many things around here are called bacon that AREN’T BACON. If you don’t want to eat bacon, don’t eat bacon. But don’t parade beef bacon and turkey ham around on menus and pretend it’s ok.
Are you feeling concerned for me yet regarding my lack of bacon access?
There is a way. There’s a secret section of the grocery store for people like me. Sinners. Outlaws. Hoodlums. It’s rather un-secret, actually. But it is way in the back. In large letters it reads “Non-Muslims Only”, much like that part of the old video store you weren’t supposed to see unless you were over 18. And that section is just chock full of pork products. Stuff I don’t even understand.
There’s something about hiding things away like that that makes you want it more, don’t you think? The lack of real bacon everywhere else made me a bit indignant. I will eat real bacon, dammit! I will proudly walk into the meat locker of shame to get it if I have to! America!
Old Oscar Mayer himself, apparently “America’s Favorite Bacon”, is right there in the mix. I have a terrible picture to prove it. (Didn’t I give the disclaimer about it not always being pretty?)
What could be better than combining the Sheik’s dates with Oscar Mayer? So rebellious. So forbidden. And yet, imagine the lack of confidence in my own cooking skills at the time…I only made FOUR! What a shortsighted fool!
I was absolutely shocked at how well they turned out. Obviously I ate them all before the man got home from work. But because sometimes the best part of cooking is sharing your successful creation with others, I quickly made another batch to prove to him how delicious this combination truly is. He was skeptical, but he agreed. Which is probably why we are getting married.
You can be certain that the next time I made these little bites of heaven, I made a batch about ten times the size and confidently served them to a happy group of friends. I went out on a limb and tried something, it turned out amazing, and thereby I was inspired to do more of it: more trying, more experimenting, more cooking. And of course, more sinning of the bacon variety.
I’m willing to bet your popularity stock goes up when you show up at your next party with a platter of bacon wrapped goodness. A solid basic recipe to start with is this one from Popsugar Food.
Cook it Pretty notes: The most labor intensive part of this is pitting the dates. You’ll get a rhythm down after you do a few, but having a friend and a glass of wine helps. The bacon handling can be a little icky. Use kitchen shears to cut the bacon to an appropriate size, get a little greasy, then get over it. Your reward is coming.