Chocolate, bacon, almonds unite for paleo-friendly sweet treat

About this feature

New cookbooks flood the market every week. This feature will help you make sense of what’s new and what’s worth trying out. Email your questions and ideas to connie.post@coxinc.com

Modern humans have it pretty easy when it comes to gathering food.

Our pre-agriculatural ancestors are believed to have subsisted mainly on wild game they chased or trapped, fish they caught barehanded or with rudimentary tools, nuts and wild berries they plucked or picked off the ground, as well as ferns and a variety of plants that bear little resemblance to the produce beautifully displayed and automatically misted in grocery stores.

The paleo diet is a contemporary interpretation of primitive cuisine. It focuses on meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and avoids all grains, dairy, refined sugar and other processed foods. If you’ve ever tried this diet, you know it takes a lot of effort to follow.

To reward you for that effort, cookbook author Lea Hendry Valle sweetens things up. “Sweet Paleo: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Delights” (229 pages, $16.95; published by Countryman Press, 2015) offers adherents of the paleo diet all sorts of goodies — cookies, cakes, donuts, pies, pastries, custards, puddings, candies, etc. The recipes use natural, unrefined sweeteners such as raw honey, coconut nectar, dates and maple syrup.

The recipes are creative and the pictures — all taken by the author — are mouthwatering. The recipes I tried are super-duper easy and received very high marks from the taste testers. You don’t have to be a paleo-gastronomist to enjoy them.

COCONUT MILK PANNA COTTA (Page 131)

2 (13.5-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk, divided

1 tablespoon unflavored grass-fed gelatin or vegan equivalent

1/3 cup raw honey

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup fresh berries or fruit sauce

1. Pour 1 cup of the coconut milk into a medium-size saucepan and sprinkle evenly with the gelatin. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to allow the gelatin to soften.

2. Heat the coconut milk mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture begins to steam. Stir in the remaining coconut milk and honey and whisk.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes.

4. Divide the panna cotta mixture evenly among six glasses or small bowls. Cover the dishes tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until cold and set.

5. Top with seasonal berries to serve.

Our assessment: The recipe is very easy to follow. Here is the assessment of one of my taste testers:

“It was sort of like Krispy Kreme glazed donuts, which just dissolve in your mouth, so you keep eating more of them, because the only thing they ever fill you with is guilt. On the other hand, it’s probably perfect for toothless babies and elderly columnists who soon will be having to eat food with that consistency on a regular basis. The berries were a nice touch. But, according to my research, it also could have had rum added to it, which I would find infinitely more desirable.” — humor columnist D.L. Stewart

OK, next time I’ll try rum.

I also made:

CHOCOLATE BACON ALMOND BARK (P. 177)

8 slices thick-sliced organic, free-range bacon

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 cup unsalted raw or roasted almonds

¼ teaspoon (scant) finely ground sea salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

16 ounces (about 450 g) dark chocolate (at least 70 percent dark)

1. Bake the bacon until crispy (see recipe below). Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2. When the bacon is cooked, reserve 1 to 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat. Crumble the cooked bacon into a bowl along with the maple syrup, almonds, salt and pepper flakes, if using. Stir well and set aside.

3. Melt the chocolate along with the bacon fat, using a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (you can also use a microwave). Slowly melt the chocolate, stirring often, until smooth. Combine the melted chocolate with the bacon mixture.

4. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out as thinly as possible.

5. Place in the refrigerator to chill until set, about 20 minutes.

6. Once set, break the bark into pieces and store in an airtight container.

TIPS FOR OVEN-BAKED BACON

1. Buy high-quality bacon — ideally organic, uncured (nitrite/nitrate-free) bacon from humanely raised pigs.

2. Lay out the bacon on either a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil or a wire rack placed over a sheet pan covered in aluminum foil.

3. Place the pan in a cold oven. Do not preheat the oven.

4. Turn the oven on to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and set your timer to 20 minutes.

5. Check the bacon after 20 minutes to see whether it is done. The doneness will depend on how thickly the bacon has been cut and your personal preference.

6. If the bacon was cooked directly on the pan, you will need to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Our assessment: If you’ve never had oven-baked bacon, you should give it a try. It turns out so perfect that I felt bad crumbling it up and mixing with the chocolate and almonds.

I shared a few pieces of the almond bark with Annette Morcos Schwab of Kettering. She had this to say: “I try to follow the paleo diet daily. Thank you for the delicious paleo breakfast! Dark chocolate, almonds and bacon! A healthy treat to start my day…. touch of sweet, salty and crunchy! Yum!”

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