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Posts Tagged ‘five ingredients or less’

This past week, even though it’s still rather warm here in Southern California, I’ve definitely noticed the changes that mark the movement of Summer into Autumn.  They’re very subtle, and someone who hasn’t lived here for most of their lives wouldn’t necessarily notice–how the morning air is just a few degrees cooler, the afternoon light tilts just slightly casting a warm glow across the skies, even though it’s still 85 degrees outside.  With the seasonal nestiness kicking in, my thoughts have been moving to some of my favorite things to make–roasts, braises, and the like.  Tonight, I made some last minute plans to have friends over for dinner, so I wanted some uncomplicated dishes that I knew I could put together easily–a Roast Chicken with root vegetables cooked in the pan; a salad… but what about dessert?

Yes, even with living a primal lifestyle, dessert can and does come into the equation.  The occasional sweet thing is not verboten, and with a little tweak here and there, you can make something spectacular.  Here at El Rancho, I had a bag of pears sitting on my counter that needed some attention, and I KNEW what I had to make.

Taking the firmest of the pears, they got the peeling and coring of their lives.

A vanilla bean was split down the middle and scraped of its insides (wow, that sounds awfully violent, doesn’t it?) and blended with some melted butter and local Orange Blossom Honey.  After the pears took a little bath in this magical syrup, they were nestled in one of my favorite roasting dishes and put in the oven for an hour.

What came out:

And I’m not joking when I tell you these smelled amazing when they came out of the oven.  The pears with the honey, vanilla and a splash of lemon just works.   What’s fantastic is that the juices mix with the syrup and caramelize into this sauce you could pretty much wear as a perfume.  It’s so simple, but one of these guys with a spoonful of whipped crème fraiche and a handful of fresh raspberries… okay, words don’t do it justice.

I admit:  not the greatest picture.  Not gonna apologize for it, either–that pear was warm, the crème fraiche was melting, and I needed to PUT IT IN MY MOUTH.

Honey-Vanilla Roasted Pears

  • 4 firm pears, peeled, cut in half and cored
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Butter roasting dish and arrange pears cut side up
  3. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds.
  4. Add seeds to a small saucepan with the honey, butter, lemon juice and melt on low heat until butter has melted and created a syrup.
  5. Tuck the remaining vanilla bean with the pears, pour syrup over the pears, making sure some of the syrup is in the core of each pear.
  6. Roast for about 30 minutes, then turn over and roast another 20-30 minutes until the pears are fork-tender.
  7. Turn the pears cut side up again, and brush juices over the tops.
  8. If you’d like a little extra browning like I did, turn broiler on low and broil the tops for 3-5 minutes.
  9. Serve warm with whipped crème fraiche or if you’re feeling decadent, some great vanilla ice cream.

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I know I’ve been rather quiet here on BBB this year, for a multitude of reasons which I won’t bore you with all the details except for the major one:  the complete change of how my family eats, especially since the beginning of this year.   We’ve moved to eating in a primal/paleo fashion.  You may have heard of it–it’s gaining followers, and for good reason, I believe.  I’m not going to preach about it, but if you’re curious, you can learn more about it at the Whole9 Blog and Mark’s Daily Apple to just start out.  Essentially, we’ve cut things out of our diets such as grains, legumes and heavily processed foods; and began focusing our diets on meat, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, healthy fats such as coconut oil and things like fruit, full-fat dairy and nuts in moderation.   Sure, we’re not perfect–we do go off the rails sometimes for holidays or when we’re traveling–but we figure we always do the best we can, and our bodies do like to remind us when we’ve cheated enough.

It’s really been an incredible change for us.  I’ve lost 80 pounds and have seen many of my health markers change for the better:  my A1C, cholesterol and liver function numbers went to normal within 6 months of starting the diet–I sleep better and I have the energy to get through my day (with exercise, even!).  Choo has been on this also, and he’s lost somewhere to the tune of 50 pounds.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know about this change, because it will change the tone of BBB in the future.  I may experiment with the occasional baked good that’s been tweaked to fit our lifestyle (because sometimes CAKE is the only thing that matters), but from now on, I’ll be focusing on dishes that will fit into a primal/paleo lifestyle.  Like this one:

 

Oh sure, it’s BACON.  But, even with fat not being the enemy in a paleo diet, if you’re using cured bacon, it still needs to be treated like it’s candy:  sweet, delicious meat candy.  Still, these make a fantastic appetizer, especially right now while figs are at the height of their season.  These are super-easy but still impressive (don’t you love it when that happens?).

Bacon-Wrapped Figs 

Serves 6

  • 1 pound sliced bacon (about 12 slices)
  • 12 figs
  1. Heat your broiler on low and cover a sheet pan with foil.
  2. Slice figs in half lengthwise and cut bacon slices in half.
  3. Wrap bacon around figs, secure with toothpicks if needed (I didn’t need to, the bacon held in place)
  4. Place sheet pan in oven on the top rack setting, broiling figs about 7-9 minutes on each side, depending on how crisp you like your bacon.
  5. Fight the urge to immediately pop one in your mouth the minute they come out of the oven.

 

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I can’t believe it’s been a month since I’ve written a post–Kiddo started Kindergarten and we’re all still adjusting to the changes in our schedules.  It finally feels like things are falling into place, as it takes me about two weeks for my body to work out new sleep/waking times, and now that it seems like we have an idea of what we’re doing, I’m ready to get back to life–and to cooking and blogging!

To start things off this time, this article from the NY Times is, well, I’d say astounding, but it’s not, really.  Granted, I’m not perfect and there are days I don’t get those 9 servings of fruits and vegetables that’s now recommended  (that’s 4 1/2 cups, which is not as much as you’d expect), but I certainly try.  I get it’s a struggle sometimes–and there are days when sitting down to a burger and fries just sounds so much tastier than a plate of steamed broccoli and a side salad.  But, the attitude towards vegetables has to change, as they can be easier than you might think, and they can be darned tasty, too.

And, listen, if it takes pulling out the big guns to get you to eat your vegetables, I think you should do it.  I was ready to face an old enemy of my childhood:

Brussels sprouts.  Oh, I have sad, angry memories of these little guys, steamed to a greyish-green mush, with no butter or salt allowed (because it would have rendered them unhealthy, you see?).  I couldn’t look one in the eye for years. But, this morning at the farmer’s market, they caught Choo’s eye, and he challenged me to take brussels sprouts and make them into something good.

And you know what makes just about anything taste better?  Yeah, you guessed it:  BACON.

I found this bag of bacon pieces at Vallarta Market–3 pounds of bacon for $3.99–about what you’d pay for a pound of your regularly sliced bacon.  It’s absolutely perfect for when most of your bacon consumption happens not strip-by-strip, but when it’s chopped up and added to things.   And, there will be many things over the next few weeks that will be chock-full o’ bacon, you betcha.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Makes 6-8 side dish servings

  • 6 ounces bacon, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium onion, cut to small dice
  • 1 3/4 pounds brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed (halve the large sprouts)
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Over medium flame, heat a large skillet.  Add bacon, and cook until browned.  Remove with slotted spoon and let drain on a paper towel.
  2. Add onion to bacon drippings, and cook 2-3 minutes, until onions are translucent.
  3. Add brussels sprouts and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Pour in stock, cover pan, and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until brussels sprouts are tender.
  4. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with reserved bacon.

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It’s time to admit that Summer is on its last legs;  Kiddo starts Kindergarten in a matter of days, the Valley is giving its last oven blasts of heat, and the farmer’s market is packed full of the last of the summer produce.  The peaches, my dear readers, THE PEACHES on display are amazing, and I couldn’t help but pick up a few.  They are so juicy and bright with that perfect balance of acid and sweet.  I had bought some peaches about 2 weeks ago from the supermarket (I know, I KNOW) and they were so… sad.  Mealy and flavorless, and I hated to waste them, so they ended up in our morning smoothies where I could barely taste them.

I’ve seen versions of this salad hitting the rounds in magazines and food blogs, and I knew I had to make this for today’s lunch.  A bed of mesculun, a few heirloom tomatoes, red onion sliced paper-thin, juicy wedges of ripe peach, and a nice drizzle of homemade balsamic vinaigrette make this a fantastic, easy summertime lunch.  If you were feeling sassy, this would be nice with a sprinkling of feta or chevre, or if serving this for dinner, a piece of grilled fish would be a great match.  We had this with a glass of Casa Nuestra 2009 Riesling which was just right–any crisp and fruity white would be an excellent accompaniment.

Heirloom Tomato & Peach Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

  • 6 cups Mesculun or any mixed salad greens or arugula
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes (depending on size), sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large peach, sliced into 12 wedges
  • Balsamic Dressing as needed

On a platter, layer salad greens, tomato slices, onion and peach.  Drizzle with balsamic dressing and serve.

(How hard was that?  Now go make it!)

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This is something we all know as the honest-to-god truth:  there’s nothing quite like homemade bread.  It’s just one of those happy scents that when it’s wafting through your house, you know there’s going to be something delicious on the table. 

See, last week I had a hankerin’ for some Middle Eastern food.  You know the drill:  hummous, baba ganoush, tzatziki, falafel, and pita bread.  I thought I’d give doing my own pita a shot again;  I had done it during those long-ago days of school, so I knew it wasn’t hard to do.  And, really, if you’ve ever made a loaf of bread in your life, making your own pita is a snap. 

This recipe makes a good amount of dough–I got a dozen 6″ pita breads, which is plenty for our little family.  The great thing about leftover pita bread:  it makes delicious pita chips.  All you do is cut them into 1/6 wedges, toss them in some olive oil and salt, and toast them in a 400 degree oven until crispy.  You’ll make pita bread just for the purpose of making chips, I tell you. 

Kiddo got into the act with helping roll out the breads. 

A great thing about pita is that it cooks fast–it’s just a few minutes on a pizza stone or sheet pan in a hot oven.  This is definitely worth the effort of making your own.

Pita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

  • 2 teaspoons regular dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups lukewarm water
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour (I used a 50/50 combination of whole wheat and white flours)
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, and stir in one cup of flour and let sit for about 15-20 minutes. 
  2. Add salt, olive oil, and flour in 1 cup increments to the sponge (that bubbly flour-yeast mixture–it’s called a sponge, but you knew that, right?), stirring until the dough is too stiff to stir.  Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, or knead in a KitchenAid with a dough hook for about 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Place dough in a clean and lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 450°.  Heat pizza stone or baking sheet in oven.
  5. Punch dough down, and divide into 10-12 pieces, and roll into balls.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4″ thick.
  6. Place 2 or 3 breads onto heated stone/sheet and bake for 3 to 4 minutes, until bread has fully ballooned.  If your bread doesn’t balloon, it’s okay, it’ll still be very tasty.
  7. Keep baked pita wrapped in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm while the rest of the breads bake. 

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Ok, I lied.  Last post, I said it was the last of the baking.  Turns out tonight is my father-in-law’s birthday party, and he requested I bring up his favorite cookie to share.  I’ve made these many times before for the in-laws, as they’re fast and easy to make, and they love coconut (and to tell the truth, so do I).  

Back when I was a teenager (oh, it hurts to say that was in the 80’s) my mother had a recipe for a simple macaroon–a bag of coconut, a can of condensed milk, dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, chopped macadamias–scooped into little balls and baked until golden.  They weren’t the lighter, fluffier macaroons that used egg whites; these were dense, chewy and caramelly–a cookie right up my alley.  The recipe was sadly lost until the day in 2001 when I was working at Border Grill as a pastry cook and I had to make a batch of their pajas (“straw” in Spanish, as they do resemble a pile of straw, or a haystack).  I laughed when I realized that it was essentially the same cookie, but their version was with chopped dried apricots, dark chocolate, and pecans.  I made hundreds of those pajas during my time at the restaurant, and the recipe is as natural as breathing. 

It’s an incredibly easy recipe–just five ingredients–and a cinch to adapt to your personal tastes.  Don’t like pecans?  Use almonds!  Can’t stand cranberries?  Swap them with dried cherries!  The possibilities are endless! 

Pajas

adapted from Border Grill

1-7 ounce bag shredded, sweetened coconut

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup dried fruit–cranberries, cherries and apricots (chopped) are best

1 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, macadamias, or almonds

1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all 5 ingredients and stir until well coated with the condensed milk.
  3. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (I mean it, too–these will stick to an unlined pan!)
  4. Scoop dough into golf-ball sized pieces and place 1″ apart on lined sheet pan.
  5. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until coconut is a dark golden brown.
  6. Cool completely on pan, peel off from parchment paper. 

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