Date, bacon, blue cheese and crispy olives: Californian memories and a promise broken

On New Year’s Day this year I cooked a special three course meal for The Husband and I.  Special because first of all, it was just the two of us and we were (and still are) both a long way from our loved ones and second because it was the first day of a new year and it’s just right and proper to ring in the change in some way.  The three courses were as follows:

Starter: Dates stuffed with stilton and wrapped in bacon and crispy fried olives with a spicy yoghurt dip

Main: Roast chicken with green beans, butter, balsamic and almonds and tartiflette

Pudding: Salted caramel chocolate tart

I said ‘This is brilliant!  Why don’t I, once a month, cook us up a delicious three course meal, just for the two of us.  It’ll give me a chance to practice starters and puddings for all the dinner parties we’ll have this year.  Yeah it’ll be great……’  Since then this fantastic three course meal has happened zero times.  And we’ve hosted a ‘dinner party’ the grand total of once.  I had such high hopes.  But as happens all too often, I forgot about my promise, life took over and now it’s October.  2016 had been a year of immense highs and seemingly desperate lows.

One of those highs was our honeymoon to California.  Our trip started, rather unfortunately, with us sitting behind another couple also on their honeymoon.  The difference between them and us was that they told everyone.  So we had to watch as they got lots of free stuff and gushed about their wonderful glowing newly wed status and all the fantastic newly wed things they were going to do on their honeymoon while we sat behind desperately trying to get some decent sleep.

Nonetheless, we had an absolutely amazing time.  During the three weeks we had a few days in San Francisco, we visited the Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks, we visited Monterey, Carmel and Santa Cruz and we had a fantastic week staying with friends in Napa who generously opened up their home to us.  We were spoiled with the warmest welcome you can imagine, amazing food and a landscape we couldn’t get enough of.  The food (and the wine!) really were something else.

I had my birthday while we were there.  In the afternoon, after browsing the shops and trying some wine, we sat outside enjoying cocktails and nibbles at Sam’s Social Club, Calistoga.  It was a lovely relaxing afternoon.  Chatting and enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun.  We did a pot luck with the nibbles and it was there I had my first taste of dates stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in bacon.  It was a perfect marriage: sweet date, salty bacon and the sharp tang of blue cheese completely took me by surprise and I’m afraid I greedily had more than my fair share. Oh look! There’s one left, does anybody want it? No? Ok, I’ll have it then.

In the evening we went to The Goose and Gander in St Helena.  I had crispy olives with pistachios, a gigantic beef burger with bone marrow and when we got back, we had the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had, made by our wonderful host.  I was very touched.  In the pictures of that night there I am all dressed up for my birthday, glowing because a few days earlier I got seriously sunburnt cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, with this buffoon (The Husband) pulling faces sat next to me.  There may also be an end of the night blurry selfie shot taken outside in the gloom.

These tasty morsels are still available on their respective menus but it’s not so easy for us to pop by to enjoy a drink and some nibbles.  My New Year’s Day meal was an attempt to recreate the magic of California and remember those fun times.  We hope to go back but in the meantime here is my recipe for the dates and you can find the crispy olives recipe either here or in Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon

(Recipe adapted from Ultimate Appetizer Ideabook by Keira and Cole Stipovich)

Makes as many as you want

Lightly grill as many rashers of streaky bacon as you have dates until the fat starts to run and they are just starting to go brown at the edges.  Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly.  You don’t want the rashers too well done.  Destone the dates if they’ve not already had them removed.  Push as much blue cheese as you can fit into the space left by the stone then wrap with a piece of bacon.  Place the dates with the bacon seam side down on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.  Bake at 200°C for 10 minutes until warmed through.  Take care not to over cook otherwise the cheese will melt right out.  Secure with a cocktail stick and eat while still warm.


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