Begging for forgiveness with chocolatey goodness

Tom bought me a blue tooth keyboard for Mother’s Day, effectively eliminating my one last sorry excuse not to blog. Typing on the iPad’s virtual keyboard is awkward and requires short fingernails, but that is not the primary reason for my absence. The back pain that has been tormenting me for 9 months is getting worse, not better, and all conservative treatments have failed. My only hope is to find a surgeon who is willing to correct my scoliosis, but this is a risky surgery with an extensive recovery time. This has thrown me into a deep depression, and the pain has limited my ability to cook. I am not looking for sympathy or prayers (and the next person to tell me, “hang in there” gets clocked in the face), I just wanted to give an honest reason for my recent hiatus. I still have been cooking delicious Primal meals, but I haven’t always had the emotional energy to photo document them and write about them. Tom has been a wonderful help in the kitchen recently, learning how to cook new meals himself while continuing to wash the dishes to boot! I am hoping that I will eventually be able to talk him into writing a guest blog.

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Having guests over last night for a home-cooked meal inspired me to bite the bullet and write a post. We had Flat Iron Steak with Balsamic Reduction, collard greens, roasted cauliflower, roasted parsnips and rutabaga, and salad with Orange and Rosemary Vinaigrette. However what I really want to write about is dessert. The inspiration for this dessert is twofold. I first made this recipe about a month ago when I ended up with a surplus of egg yolks after making Paleo Biscuits and Gravy. I hate to waste all the good nutrition in the yolk of a pastured egg, so I searched the internet high and low for an indulgent recipe to use them in.

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It turns out that I am the only one in the family who likes Hollandaise Sauce, so that most obvious solution was out. Instead I began looking for dessert recipes that could easily be made Paleo. When I came across pot de crème I knew I had a winner. I looked for Paleo and Primal versions of the dessert, but I was not satisfied with any of them. In the end I decided to use the recipe from my beloved 1973 edition of Joy of Cooking with very minor adaptations:

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Pot de Crème
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
8oz dark chocolate chips (choose a brand without hydrogenated fats)
6 pastured egg yolks (factory farmed egg yolks do not taste the same)
1 tsp vanilla extract
fresh berries for garnish

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Set up a double boiler and add chocolate chips. You could also use a high quality dark or bittersweet chocolate bar broken up into pieces, chocolate chips are just easier. The dark chocolate chips in the bulk section of Earth Fare are fantastic.

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Add milk and cream. You could also use half and half. I’m sure this would be delicious with all cream as well! Coconut milk would probably also work well in this recipe for those who want to avoid dairy.

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Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture begins to simmer. Taste to decide if you want to add any sweetener. Jewel and I felt that the chocolate chips themselves lent enough sweetness. At this point it tasted like the best hot chocolate ever, and we had to restrain ourselves from pouring the mixture into a couple of mugs and drinking it.

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However there was still the matter of the egg yolks. Notice the rich orange color of these yolks, completely different from pale yellow factory farmed eggs. Beat the yolks and the vanilla extract into the chocolate milk mixture.

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Strain the custard into ramekins or custard cups. It definitely helps to have a second set of hands here! Jewel was more than happy to help with the promise of getting to lick the spoon and clean out the bowl.

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This recipe was supposed to make 6 servings, but I rather foolishly used my largish ramekins and therefore made only 4 servings. We garnished them with fresh blackberries. Tom gave me his biggest compliment on this dessert. In the midst of gobbling his up, he asked, “How many calories are in this?” I was about to tell him that I hadn’t worked it out when he said, “never mind – I don’t care!” and proceeded to finish his whole serving. Dora and Jewel both thoroughly enjoyed this dessert as well. It is not completely Primal because there is sugar (well I think it’s evaporated cane juice syrup, but whatever) in the chocolate chips, but even Mark Sisson makes an exception for dark chocolate.

Because of my family’s rave reviews, I felt very comfortable making this dessert for company. In addition, when Jewel and I went to Auburn for honor band in February, she picked out a Mediterranean restaurant to try and her friend Bobby and his dad Bob went with us. Jewel and Bobby both ordered pot de crème and I’m not sure which one of them was more entranced with it. That was also the night that Jewel drank the little pitcher of cream that I was served with my coffee. This time I was smart and borrowed small ramekins from Mom. I increased the recipe to serve 8, and that worked out perfectly. Of course I forgot to take a picture, but I’m sure that Mom and Dad will want me to make this for them in the future in exchange for borrowing the ramekins. Much to Dora’s disappointment, everyone loved the pot de crème and happily scraped out their bowls. I knew it was a hit when the chorus of, “this is good,” was followed by silence. Bob even said that he thought these were better than the dessert at the restaurant. Oftentimes the simplest recipes are the best. When you start with high quality ingredients it really doesn’t take much effort to make delicious food.

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Paleo Shepherd’s Pie, Take Three

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The third time’s a charm on Shepherd’s Pie. I looked over several Paleo and low-carb shepherd’s pie recipes to come up with this. I originally tried a Shepherd’s pie recipe from The Primal Blueprint Reader Created Cookbook. It was very good, but Jewel doesn’t like green beans or green peas. So then I tried Robb Wolf’s recipe, sort-of, but I had trouble following directions, and while the bones look really cool sticking out of the dish, I found bone marrow slimy and disgusting, and I didn’t like transferring the ingredients to another dish. So I tried to combine the best aspects of these recipes and add my own food knowledge to develop this recipe. A chef’s secret for fabulous mashed potatoes is to use chicken fat, garlic and plenty of butter. Since the topping for traditional Shepherd’s pie calls for potatoes, I wanted my cauliflower topping to be more reminiscent of mashed potatoes. Browning the meat separately gave the dish a fuller flavor. I can’t take credit for that one – it was Mom’s idea.

Paleo Shepherd’s Pie
Ingredients:
Topping:
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled
Butter and/or chicken fat, about 2T total
Sea salt to taste
Filling:
4 slices bacon
2T bacon fat (if using leftover bacon)
1 small onion, minced
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
2 carrots, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
10oz pkg butternut squash
3/4C beef stock (pot roast stock, or other flavorful homemade stock)
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 T fresh rosemary
1T fresh oregano
Salt and pepper

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Preheat oven to 425. Place chicken fat and/or butter on a roasting and place in the oven while it is preheating. I had a combination of these fats leftover from the drippings from roasting a chicken. When the fat is melted, place the cauliflower florets on the roasting pan and toss to coat in fat.

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Roast cauliflower on 425 until done, turning frequently, about 35 min. Set aside. Turn oven down to 350.

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If you don’t have leftover bacon from breakfast, fry some up now. Remove bacon from pan to drain but leave bacon grease in pan. Otherwise start with 2T bacon fat, heat dutch oven over medium-low, and add onions to hot fat. Sauté until golden.

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Add ground beef. Sauté until meat is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The onions will absorb into the meat an pass undetected. I mention that just in case this is an issue in anyone else’s family.

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Remove meat with a slotted spoon.

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Sauté vegetables in Dutch oven until tender, about 10 minutes.

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I like the Stahlbush brand of frozen fruits and vegetables. However if butternut squash is in season you could certainly use fresh.

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Add the meat back into the pan.

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Pour stock into pan and stir until it is mostly absorbed.

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Purée cauliflower and garlic in food processor.

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Spread cauliflower evenly over the top of the filling.

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Bake for 20 minutes.

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I served this with steamed kale. This is the most flavorful way I have found to make a Paleo-friendly Shepherd’s pie. Cooking the meat and the vegetables separately allows the meat to retain more texture and flavor. A hearty stock makes a difference here as well. I preferred the roasted cauliflower hands down to the bitterness of steamed cauliflower. This recipe is a great way to stretch a pound of meat to feed 8 people instead of 4 for those on a budget. You can substitute other vegetables that are in season or that your family likes for the ones that I chose in the filling.

Hamburger Soup

4/8/2012 edit: Happy Easter! Please come visit my recipe on Easy Natural Food’s Sunday Soup Night!
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Dotty writes:
This trip home has been a walk down memory lane. I had requests for Hamburger Soup and Raspberry Bavarian Pie [stay tuned for a Paleo version in an upcoming post], two recipes that were a staple of our family. Hamburger soup brings back memories of my childhood. My mother (Jennifer’s grandmother) was known for her hamburger soup. As I recall, we started having it quite often about the time that Dad had back surgery and was on disability. With the big vegetable garden in the back yard and my dad’s love of all vegetables in season, the recipe would vary with the seasons. I sometimes called it stone soup, since it could be stretched to feed our large family and any relatives or friends who showed up. Of course, we had homemade egg noodles or egg dumplings in the soup (not too paleo).

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In looking for a recipe as a guideline, since I seldom use recipes, I looked in Iowa church cookbooks and then remembered my Christmas present from my brother and sister in law, Jerry and Pauline Kramer.

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And, there I found my guideline for today’s version of Hamburger Soup. We made some variations based on family and diet concerns. Starting with Jen’s beautiful home made beef consommé instead of my usual canned or packaged beef broth, the result was wonderful, flavorful and hearty.

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Hamburger Soup

Ingredients:
1.5# ground beef
2 small or 1 large white onion
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1/2 small head of cabbage (about 2 cups shredded)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1.5 T salt or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper or more
2.5 C cauliflower florets
1 28oz can tomatoes, undrained
About 2 quarts homemade beef broth
Fresh thyme, parsley and rosemary

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Brown the ground beef in a large stock pot. You want to have some chunks of meat, so don’t break it up completely.

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Add chopped onion and sauté until soft.

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Add celery and carrots and continue to sauté.

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Secretly add cabbage when no one is looking. Jen’s paternal grandmother didn’t tell her kids that their favorite soup contained cabbage until they were adults. As a child I loved to help out in the kitchen and be first to grab the heart of the cabbage. What a nice crunchy treat, doubt that I knew it was also healthy for me. I still love the cabbage cores.
Also add the two cloves garlic. Add salt, pepper and granulated garlic.

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Add the beef stock.

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Bring to a simmer.

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Jen writes: Add the tomatoes. I like this brand of tomatoes because the can is BPA-free. Cook for about an hour, then add the cauliflower. I remember calling this “dumpling soup” when I was a kid. I don’t really care for dumplings anymore, but I thought that the cauliflower florets would be a healthy substitution. We didn’t have cauliflower in our soup growing up. Add the fresh herbs and adjust seasoning to taste. We needed extra salt because my homemade stock was unsalted. It helps to have someone else do the tasting. Mom would often have me taste a soup or sauce that she was cooking to make suggestions on the seasoning. Cook for another 30 minutes or so. You could also make this recipe in a crockpot and cook it all day on low.

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Optional: cook pasta separately for family members not following a Paleo diet.

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We had the girls guess what orecchiette meant. Dora was tickled to learn that it meant “little ear”.

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Jen writes: This is my place-setting. The non-Paleo eaters had the option of serving the soup over pasta. The soup was just as delicious as I had remembered it. Dora couldn’t believe we were torturing her like this, but Jewel ate the soup heartily. I knew she really liked it when I had leftovers last night because chewing made my head hurt. She said, “no fair – I want soup too!” So she had hamburger soup alongside her hamburger!

Mango Avocado Kale Salad

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This is another recipe I found on Pinterest, and I was drawn to it because of its visual appeal. It already feels like summer here in Alabama, and I’m in the mood to eat salads and fruit. Champagne mangoes (also called honey or yellow mangoes) have been a favorite fruit of mine for many years. They are in season now, so grab some while you can get them. Kale is a recent welcome addition to my family’s diet. Neither Tom nor I grew up eating kale, but recently I’ve been including it more often, steamed with some olive oil, as kale chips, or even for breakfast!

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Massaged Kale Salad with Mango and Avocado from Healthy Food for Living
Ingredients (4 servings):
1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale, leaves torn from the stalks and thinly sliced (I used regular kale)
1/4 cup Lime Olive Oil, such as Boston Olive Oil Company Whole Fruit Persian Lime (alternately, you can use 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice – this is what I did)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp agave nectar or honey
2 ripe champagne mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
1 ripe but firm avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup toasted unsweetened flaked coconut

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Toast the almonds and coconut in the oven or in a dry skillet on the stove top, taking care not to burn them (more than once). In a large bowl, toss the sliced kale leaves with a small drizzle of the olive oil and a bit of Kosher salt; massage with your hands until the kale softens and wilts, about 2-3 minutes. Since Dora is our resident massage therapist, I recruited her for this job.

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In a small bowl or jar combine the remaining olive oil, honey, and salt & pepper to taste. Whisk or shake until well-combined. This takes some doing if your honey is thick like mine was.

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Toss the massaged kale with the dressing and add in the diced mango and avocado.

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Serve at room temperature topped with the toasted sliced almonds and flaked coconut. I added 1/2 can of salmon to each portion when we had leftovers for lunch. Mom and I really liked this salad and ate it for several meals. It kept very well for 3 days. The combination of sweet and bitter flavors and the combination of textures were delightful. The rest of the family decided they didn’t like raw kale. Their loss!

Big Fat Chicken Nuggets & Parsnip Fries

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Mom joined Jewel and me for our Monday night cooking. Mom had made a breaded chicken breast recipe recently that she thought the girls would like. I found this recipe which was similar but called for mayonnaise instead of bread crumbs. Mom was not convinced that this was all that healthy of a substitution but she want along with it. The girls really liked the honey mustard sauce last time I made it, so I made it again to go with the chicken breasts. Mom asked if Dora would eat a chicken breast, and I told her I thought she would if we called them big fat chicken nuggets. After the recent success of the parsley root fries, I decided to try parsnip fries.

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Melt in Your Mouth Chicken Breasts
Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C homemade mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder

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Preheat the oven to 375. Shred the cheese. Jewel found this to be hard work!

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Mix together the cheese, seasoning salt, pepper and garlic powder.

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Randomness courtesy of Jewel. If you don’t have any homemade mayonnaise go ahead and make that. Stir one cup of mayonnaise into the dry ingredients.

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Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet. We lined it with parchment paper for easy clean-up.

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Top chicken breasts with sauce.

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Bake for 45 minutes. We topped them with fresh parsley to make them look fancy.

Roasted Parsnips
INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 pounds of parsnips (or so) peeled and cut into 2 1/2 inch batons
4 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup of stock – turkey stock, chicken stock or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 teaspoons drained, bottled horseradish
1/2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 Tbsp minced chives (we didn’t have any so we just left them out)
1/2 small garlic clove, minced.

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Cut parsnips into exactly 2-1/2″ sticks, ensuring that all sticks are precisely the same width. That’s how I teased Jewel when I saw her perfect handiwork. Actually it is nice if they are all about the same size so they all get done at the same time. This is a good job to delegate to an older child or a spouse who is an engineer-type.

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Pour olive oil in a roasting pan, add salt and pepper.

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Place the parsnips in the pan and toss with oil. Add the broth and cover pan with aluminum foil, put in hot oven. The recipe says to cook at 400 but we kept the oven at 375 until the chicken was done.

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Cooking can be hard work! Take a break and get off your feet for a few minutes.

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Check the parsnips at 20 minutes. Stir them and return to the oven. We may have taken the foil off at this point. Check parsnips frequently so that they don’t get mushy.

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I think we baked them for about 30 min.

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Honey Mustard Sauce
Ingredients:
3-4 Tbsp of honey
1.5 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
pepper to taste
1/4 C oil (I used a combination of olive, walnut and toasted sesame oil)

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Put honey, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in blender or food processor.

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When well combined, keep the blade running and slowly drizzle oil in. Blend for 10 seconds after oil is fully combined. Taste test and adjust flavor as needed.

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When Dora got home from Lacrosse practice she asked what we were having for dinner. I told her, “big fat chicken nuggets,” and she responded, “like Sammy?”

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Everyone was very pleased with this meal. Oh, we also roasted Brussels sprouts for our green vegetable. The chicken breasts were very moist and flavorful. The leftovers were great additions to salads. I was concerned that the sesame oil flavor might be too strong for my family, but they all raved about the honey mustard sauce. I think that the sesame was a nice balance to the sweetness of the honey. The parsnips were flavorful, but the texture was softer than I would have preferred. Next time I will omit the broth and roast them uncovered. One option if you want to make the chicken breasts on a weeknight is you could prepare the sauce ahead of time. If you have plenty of fridge space you could even top them with the sauce and store in a casserole dish with a lid. Then you could just pop them in the oven when you get home and make some vegetables while the chicken is baking.

Paleo Pork Ribs

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My whole family likes ribs, but the recipe I used to use contains a fair amount of brown sugar. Of course there are plenty of recipes that call for prepared barbecue sauce, but I have never liked sweet barbecue sauce. I like the ribs you can get in the South that have a dry rub on them, and if I put any sauce on them it will be the vinegar barbecue sauce. However the rest of the family aren’t as keen on vinegar as I am, so I had to come up with a compromise. Ribs should be falling off the bone tender, and they are meant to be eaten with your hands. I have this thing about sticky hands, but there’s no other practical way to eat ribs. In order to get tender ribs, they must be cooked very slowly. This is a recipe to reserve for a weekend or a day off when you can set aside about 4 hours for these to cook (mostly unattended). I was suspicious of a ribs recipe developed by a Canadian city girl, but I would not dispute Cosmopolitan Primal Girl’s claim that these are the Best Paleo Ribs Ever.

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Ingredients (serves 4-6)
– 2 racks of ribs
– 2 tablespoons coarse salt
– 1 tablespoon cumin
– 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1 tablespoon dried oregano
– 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
– 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
– 8 whole cloves garlic, smashed
– 4 chipotle peppers – we used canned
– 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
– 2 cups of FRESH squeezed orange juice
– ~1-2 cups of beef broth

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Preheat the oven to 200. Yes, two hundred. Mix spices in a small bowl.

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Rub the spices over the ribs and place in roasting pans.

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Squeeze enough juice oranges to yield 2 cups of juice. The number of oranges you will need will depend on the size and juiciness of your oranges. I was lucky enough to find Moro Oranges, which in my opinion make the best juice, very full-flavored and moderately sweet. Moro oranges are a type of blood orange. The legend is that Saint Frances of Assisi, who had the stigmata, was picking oranges, and the blood from the stigmata in his hands turned the oranges red.
Mix the juice with the garlic, chipotles and tomatoes.

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Pour the sauce over the ribs.

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Add enough beef broth to cover the ribs. Cover the pans with foil and bake for 3-4 hours until the ribs are tender. Preheat the grill.

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Tell your spouse to grill the ribs at medium-high heat for ~5 min per side. Pour the sauce into a saucepan and cook down while the ribs are grilling.

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We served the ribs with roasted asparagus, kale and marinated beet salad with feta and walnuts.

Ice Cream Pie (non-paleo)

In town for a limited time only, blog by Mom, aka Granny:

Our family started making this version of ice cream pie from a recipe in Cooking Light. The sugar cone crust adds a crunch and summertime remembrance of outings for ice cream cones. We have done many variations of this theme. I, like my daughter do not like to throw food away and will try to find ways to create something that my family or friends would enjoy. Buying too many containers of ice cream when Publix Premium is so inexpensive will find its way into a dessert. I do like nutty ice creams, and they work well, but Dora has a thing about textures. This is one of our Alabama family’s favorite combos since the granddaughters have liked mocha flavors since birth. When the Wisconsin family joins us, we change the coffee to vanilla. I usually use store bought caramel sauce and make the fudge sauce. Adding chocolate coffee beans for decoration is another option.

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Ice Cream Pie:
Crust:
1 pkg. sugar cones, crushed
2 T. softened butter
2 T. honey

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Simply mix together and press in a 9 inch pie plate. (Or whatever pan works for your family)

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Freeze crust while you soften the coffee ice cream. Then gently spoon on crust.

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After half an hour (or when you remember) top with caramel sauce. Too much will make it hard to serve.

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Give that an hour or so to set. Then repeat with softened chocolate ice cream. Have a cup of coffee and check the beautiful flowers and garden,

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then top with room temperature hot fudge sauce. Decorate if desired.

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Having hot fudge sauce (ganache) on hand has become a standard for me. Having a husband who would have dessert for 3 meals a day has created the need for instant desserts. It is as simple to make as running to the store for a jar of sauce and so much more satisfying. We love dark chocolate, however, when you want a more milky chocolate flavor, simple change the proportions to twice as much cream as chocolate. I guarantee it will turn out just as easily. The great thing about the fudge sauce is it will keep in your refrigerator for weeks (if you can keep from eating it by the spoons full). I serve hot fudge sundaes as a quick and easy dessert. They are great topped with salted pecans, again the ones at Trader Joe’s are particularly good.

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For this recipe, I used 3/4 cup of heavy cream and 3/4 cups dark chocolate chips. Place in a heavy sauce pan or double boiler, and heat on medium low heat until the chocolate starts to melt. Then stir frequently and watch the creamy texture develop. That is the part Jewel and Dora like…a little magic in cooking. Or, you can use a package of chips (or other chocolate) and 2 cups of cream. I have used Trader Joe’s bittersweet chocolate, for those of you who have TJ’s available.

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Or, you can use a package of chips (or other chocolate) and 2 cups of cream. I have used Trader Joe’s bittersweet chocolate, for those of you who have TJ’s available.
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Make the pie several hours before serving, so cutting the slices are a piece of cake. Couldn’t resist the ‘humor’.