Valentine’s Day Dates

I’m lucky enough to have a Valentine this February 14th. (Don’t hate me. I’ve been single for my fair share of Valentine’s Days!) We had hoped to spend the evening on the couch, watching the Westminster Dog Show.  But, he has a cold and I have homework, so that’s not going to happen.

I’m fine with this plan. I’ve long felt that Valentine’s Day is only a big deal when you don’t have a date.  So, for all my friends who find themselves in that circumstance, I offer my guaranteed, no-fail plan to have at least one date on Valentine’s day.

Ha! Bet you didn't see that one coming?

To get pretty much anywhere from Joshua Tree, we had to drive on the I-10, past the huge billboard for Hadley’s Date Orchard. When it was particularly hot (say, over 110?) and we had been particularly well behaved, my parents would sometimes let us stop for a date shake. I’m not sure we actually liked date shakes, but they were sweet and cold…and what desert kid is going to pass that up?

(Incidentally, Hadley’s is also very close to the Cabazon dinosaurs…one of Southern California’s coolest roadside attractions. I say that…but I’ve never actually seen them up close. When we were kids, we’d speed by on the highway, our noses pressed to the glass, begging my dad to stop. These days the view of the dinos have been marred by an A&W Root Beer shop and some other fast food joint, so some people might not even notice that they’re there.)

This is not my photo. Next time, I promise to stop and take my own. (And satisfy my long-standing curiosity as to what's inside the Brontosaurus and whether the T-Rex really did once have a slide down his back!)

There were always plastic tubs of dates lying around at holidays, but I’m not sure anyone actually ate them. I know I never did! Dates were something we baked with, especially for my grandmother’s Date Nut Chocolate Chip cake.

Last week I made not one, but two desserts with my dates. The first was for a Tuesday night “fish dinner” at Lee and Marsha’s. They asked me to bring dessert, and I’m not much of a baker. I’m also trying to get back on track with some sort of healthy eating. To the rescue?

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes!

These little bites of chocolate bliss are amazingly rich, incredibly moist, and fun conversation starters. Just think of all the puns! “Where do you find your dates?” “Do you have a favorite date?” “Can you introduce me to a good date?”

I found this recipe at Epicurious a few years ago, but never got around to trying it. I won’t repeat it here, because that would be stealing. (I’ve already stolen the dino photo, and I have a strict limit of one instance of internet-borrowing per post!) But, definitely check it out. The dates make these cupcakes moist and sweet, with very little fat and almost no added sugar. They clock in at 177 calories and 4 grams of fat for three. Believe me, three is all you’ll need. My favorite part of this recipe? It only makes 12 cupcakes, which makes it one of the few desserts-for-two (with leftovers) recipes I’ve come across. Well done, Epicurious!

But, on to the main event. My success with the Mini Chocolate cupcakes inspired me to try my grandmother’s Date Nut Chocolate Chip recipe. Two problems: First, my grandmother’s recipe requires Date Crystals. I remember many conversations when I was a kid about how difficult they were to find, and how essential they were to success. I didn’t have any Date Crystals. They seem to be a mail order item at this point.

Secondly, my grandmother’s recipe calls for shortening. I really, really try to avoid that stuff as much as possible. If I’m gonna add pure fat to a recipe, I’d like it to be butter. So, my mission? Find a Date Nut Chocolate Chip recipe that calls for whole dates and butter!

So, yeah, I kinda stole this recipe, too. But, I altered it, so I don’t feel so bad. The cocoa powder isn’t traditional, but after my experience with the mini chocolate cupcakes, it seemed like the thing to do.

Not My Grandmother’s Date Nut Chocolate Chip Cake

1 cup dates
1/2 cup butter, creamed
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 small pkg chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarse ground walnuts

Pit and coarsely chop the dates. Dump them into 1 1/2 cups boiling water with 1 tsp. baking soda. Allow to cool.

Cream butter and 1 cup sugar. Add eggs.

Give the date/water mixture a good spin in the food processor. (This is my way to get around that date crystal thing!)

At this point, you’re left with two bowls. One is super pretty. One is amazingly disgusting. I think this might be why we were never invited into the kitchen while this cake was being assembled. If we had known what it looked/smelled like at this phase, we never would have eaten it!

I call this one, "Beauty and the Beast." Seriously, pulverized dates in baking sodaed water are disgusting!

Combine wet ingredients. Add the dry. Pour into 7×11 buttered cake pan.

Now this is the cool part! Dump the chopped walnuts and chocolate chips on top. Then generously sprinkle with sugar. Give it a good dusting. Yeah, it looks kinda funny, but that’s part of its charm.

It kinda looks like it snowed on my cake, no?

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Top with Cool Whip. Not homemade whipped cream. Not that stuff from the can. It’s gotta be Cool Whip!

Don't worry if your cake cracks like mine did. It's supposed to do that. At least...I think it's supposed to do that!

And there you have it. A sure fire way to have a date (or twelve) for Valentine’s Day. Enjoy!

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