Photos courtesy of Elise McDonough
When you pen something as iconic as The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook, you get to consider yourself a bit of a culinary legend. Whether or not Elise McDonough herself actually agrees with this, I'm gonna go ahead and call it: McDonough, High Times' first Edibles Editor and a longtime cannabis advocate, is doing high-quality work. And her book doesn't just run the grub gamut; it explores a number of cannabis cocktails to boot, using the herb for both its flavor as well as its medicinal benefits.
MERRY JANE caught up with McDonough to chat about the importance of patience, tourists tipping over into Amsterdam's canals, and how there is no longer a "typical consumer" of cannabis. She also shared a delicious, seasonal recipe you absolutely must bring to your friends' next potluck.
Bacon-Wrapped Dank Dates
12 large Medjool dates, pitted
4 oz. Gruyere cheese, cut into small pieces that will fit inside dates
1/2 pound bacon, sliced crosswise into thirds (about 5 slices of bacon)
1.5 tsp. cannabutter (optional)
0.5 tsp. kief (optional)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
0.25 tsp. cayenne
0.25 tsp. coriander
0.25 tsp. cloves
0.25 tsp. cardamom
0.25 tsp. cinnamon
0.25 tsp. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
First, slice the dates and remove the pits. If using cannabutter, add a 1/8 teaspoon to the inside of each date, and follow with a piece of cheese. Smush the date closed, re-forming it around the cheese.
Combine your spices and kief in a small dish. Spread a small amount of spices on a plate, and this is where you'll rub each slice of bacon with the spice mixture. Grab a small slice of bacon, dip into the spice, and then rub the spices off the bacon so big clumps don't stick on the meat.
Wrap your spice-rubbed bacon piece around the stuffed date, stretching the bacon a little bit to overlap the ends before securing with a toothpick. Repeat this process with all of the dates, adding more spices to the plate when needed.
Place on a greased baking sheet and roast for 6 minutes before turning the dates over and roasting for another 5 to 6 minutes. The bacon should be crispy on every side.
Serve immediately and enjoy! These are a surefire hit at parties. Wrapped with bacon and stuffed with gruyere cheese, these dates get a dose of kief along with garam masala spices for a festive treat that melts in your mouth.
MERRY JANE: You were the first-ever Edibles Editor for High Times. Tell me about how you've seen social norms make room for cannabis-infused food. How has the culture shifted?
Elise McDonough: Since 2004, I worked the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, where I first tried "space cakes" and quickly realized why the Dutch continue to treat edible cannabis as a "hard drug." Authorities were tired of tourists getting too high and falling in the canals! That same situation has played itself out in every legal cannabis state as new users underestimate the strength and intensity of the high from ingesting cannabis, so I've made it my mission to educate consumers about cannabis-infused foods.
As a judge for the stateside Cannabis Cup, I've eaten more than 500 edibles while watching the scene transform incredibly since 2010, when lab-testing was still a novelty and packaging left much to be desired. The culture has definitely shifted as more female consumers have entered the space, and people seek out microdose products with THC content of just 2.5 or 5 milligrams. In just the last few years, many more chefs and hospitality professionals have grown interested in cannabis cuisine, leading to an explosion in underground pop-up supper clubs and events. People are excited to have an alternative to alcohol that increases social engagement and elevates mood, and low-dose edibles and cannabis cocktails can accomplish those goals.
How would you describe the typical person who imbibes in edibles today?
There is no "typical consumer," since the diversity of products on the market offer many options to be tailored to the needs of almost anyone willing to consume cannabis. Many different demographic groups are using cannabis-infused foods, including chronic pain patients who use high-dose edibles instead of addictive, dangerous opioids; athletes looking to recover from intense workouts with CBD-rich, superfood edibles; as well as overworked moms with anxiety disorders looking for low-dose mints, capsules, and tinctures to help them unwind. It really runs the gamut, which is why the edibles space is the market segment with the biggest potential for growth as California goes legal.
Safety is a huge goal in your cannabis education and work. Besides dosing, what is the most common misconception about edibles?
The most common rookie mistake is to become impatient with the onset time. Depending on what you've eaten that day, edibles can take two to three hours to fully affect your physiology, and people still over-consume by eating more cannabis food after just 30 or 40 minutes. Another big mistake is mixing edibles with alcohol, which is a very bad idea for new users who have never tried cannabis before.
How does your background in visual arts lend itself to culinary endeavors?
Understanding aesthetics is really important when working in the realm of dining and hospitality. Graduating with a BFA in Graphic Design from New York's School of Visual Arts enabled me to launch my career at High Times, and that skill set has given me special insights into effective branding, packaging, and design solutions for cannabis products throughout the years. Edibles that were visually appealing, with nicely-presented consumption advice, lab-tested potency information, and high-quality ingredients always caught my attention and quickly rose to the top of the industry after winning a High Times Cannabis Cup award.
When testing recipes and working in the kitchen, I find that the colors, textures, flavors and aromas of food combine to create a form of edible art that satisfies my creative impulses, as well as my appetite! Art directing photo shoots, styling food, and cannabis, as well as designing and decorating events, has always been a passion of mine.
What is the toughest part about staging events with Convivial Consulting?
Every event promoter in the cannabis space is still in a legal grey area as we wait for permits and license types that will enable public consumption. Finding venues willing to host larger consumption events is difficult, and promoters working underground really put themselves at risk of having bank accounts frozen or being kicked off ticketing platforms. Just as with alcohol, this industry needs permits to enable temporary cannabis consumption, so we can have the equivalent of wine tasting events or beer festivals. Hopefully those permits will be forthcoming during 2018, and until then I've been sticking to private dinners held at homes and branded happenings for influencers.
Tell me about the dish you're sharing with us today. What's the ideal setting for consumption (alone in bed, around a campfire with friends, etc.)?
These cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates hit all of your tastebuds, satisfying cravings for sweet-and-salty, as well as some nice umami from the gruyere and the spices. While hosting judges at the Cannabis Cup tasting sessions, I'd frequently make these for the staff, friends, and family hanging around the house, and they were always a big hit!
It's a super-simple, classic recipe that's easy to whip up as an appetizer, and I like to include kief in the spice rub for the bacon. You can also add a smidge of cannabutter to the inside of the date along with the cheese, too. The cannabis flavor works nicely with the other bold tastes of crispy bacon, smokey melted cheese, and sweet dates.
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