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I am the mother to Cosmo, a 4-year old shihtzu. My dog requires a bath every 10 to 14 DAYS. Otherwise, the white parts of his paws start to resemble an old pair of UGG boots dipped in mud and then sun-dried, and he secretes the scent of a homeless person. If I were to stretch the time between his baths and let him walk around au naturel, we would all get evicted from our building in no time.

The best part comes AFTER the bath. When in the tub, Cosmo relinquishes his power and hands over authority to the person pouring water all over his body. He stands motionless, startled, with his eyes W-I-D-E open and mouth shut tight. He endures all that rubbing and scrubbing without uttering a single cuss word despite the fact that we give him enough reasons to call us every name in the book.

Then comes the towel… The challenge is to get as much moisture out of his coat as possible before Cosmo torpedoes out of the bathroom. When he’s out, he’s gone! With crazy eyes, he gallops across the house back and forth, non-stop, for about 3 days straight, pacing and barking at himself, his tongue hanging out and drops of water splashing all over the walls, floors, and ceiling. Suddenly, he stops for a moment to catch his breath, after which he takes off all over again and slaloms between the legs of the dining table and its chairs. If you find yourself in his path, you best run for your life. Nothing stops Cosmo when he’s in DRYER MODE.

Inevitably, the spectacle ends and Cosmo finds his way to me. Putting on his cutest face, wagging his tail, waving his eyelashes at me, he asks,  “What’s for dinner, mama?”

“Dog food for you, you little mischievous bundle of love you” “Roasted Asparagus Wrapped In Pancetta for me and daddy.”

In my effort to break the cycle of cushioning my midsection during the holiday season, I’m breaking the bank in search of ideas for flavorful yet light meals. Starvation and deprivation are two words that longer belong in my dictionary. They should never be an option for you either. Eat whatever you want, just be smart about it, and love yourself no matter what!

ROASTED ASPARAGUS WRAPPED IN PANCETTA served with a side of Mâche with Avocado Salad with Strawberry Dressing makes a beautiful and delightful dinner for two, and most importantly leaves room for dessert.

To start, preheat the oven to 400°. Snap the ends of the asparagus spears off and drizzle them gently with olive oil before seasoning with black pepper. You don’t need salt because of what’s coming up next: wrap a paper-thin slice of pancetta (or pastrami) around each spear and lay it flat on a baking sheet. Place the pan in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until the asparagus is cooked, but still has a little bite to it.

In the meantime, prepare your salad as you would with the Mustard Dressing. Except this time, instead of Dijon mustard, add a handful of chopped fresh strawberries and whip the dressing in a blender or Magic Bullet, if you have one. Then dress your greens and avocado gently, drop a few chunks of strawberry around for extra blush, and serve everything with a toasted slice of baguette.

The salty and crunchy bites of the Asparagus contrast, thus emphasizing the delicate leaves and flavor of the cow grass dipped in strawberry juice, making this an exquisite and sophisticated meal .

Who even needs a dessert after that?

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I don’t even know where to start.

It was a long holiday weekend with a rainbow of flavors and events from the Pork Loin Wrapped In Bacon, to Experimental Mashed Rutabaga & Cauliflower, to Butternut Squash Ravioli, to couples’ massages in Ojai, to the golden sunset over an orange orchard, to my virgin Lucky Devil’s Kobe Burger, to a kaleidoscope of hungry friends taking turns in our dining room, to the beheaded pigeon in the courtyard of our building. Need I say more?

The pigeon incident was not only utterly sad, but also eerie. Last night I was leafing through the Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “Jamie at Home”, looking for dinner inspirations for the upcoming week. There’s a whole section on feathered game in the book, and I happened to put my finger on the page 262 with the recipe for an Asian-style crispy pigeon with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. It was so outside of my culinary box, I handed the book over to Jason asking for his impressions, and thinking to myself “How does one even go about getting a pigeon?” This morning I found one, lifeless, headless, footless, right outside our kitchen window. It was heartbreaking and creepy all at once. I have chills rushing down my spine even now, as I’m typing these words. Urgh! Those wild cats that roam the streets of the city at night! Then again, there’s no reason to reason with Nature about the shape and form of the food chain established over the millions of years of evolution.

Happy thoughts, happy images, quick, take me to my happy place…Now!

(As seen from our moving car:)

We drove to Ojai to steal a day outside of LA (I’m such a poet). We left to catch a breath of fresh air and to remember why we had chosen to live in California. After each of us got a bottle of body oil rubbed into their skin from heads to toes (just like the herbal and honey-mustard mixture I massaged into the piece of pig we ate on Thanksgiving), we cruised the outskirts of that little town, surrounded by orange trees pregnant with fruit and kissed good-night by the last rays of sun. There was silence in the air, and we could feel the heartbeat of the Earth beneath our feet. The living painting all around us was simply astounding. The Earth… the Mother, the Miracle, the Might, the Beauty… Let’s not destroy it… please.

Speaking of miracles, I mummified our 2-pound Pork Loin with the following Honey-Mustard and Herbal Rub:

–       2 tbsp of Dijon mustard

–       1.5 tbsp of whole grain mustard

–       1.5 tbsp of honey

–       2 garlic cloves, minced

–       2 tbsp of fresh thyme

–       2 tbsp of fresh sage, chopped

If you are aching for baking… a little pork, here’s what needs to be done for this dish. Mix all the above listed ingredients in a bowl and set the sauce aside. Heat the oven to 350˚. Cut three pieces of kitchen twine, long enough to wrap around your pork loin and tie. Lay them across your baking pan, and set the meat on top of the strings. Sprinkle salt and pepper all around it, but gently. Using a spoon spread the honey-mustard mixture all around the chunk of pork. Now, take two bacon strips at a time and overlap them as you cover the whole piece of pig in the dish. Tie the kitchen twine, and shove it al into your preheated oven for about an hour.

Here’s the before and after shot of the beauty:

When you take the meat out, wrap it with a sheet of tin foil and give it 20 minutes to let the pork get to its happy place. You never want to cut into the meat instantly after cooking. Let it rest. The juices will then distribute within the chunk, thus keeping it moist and utterly flavorful.

Our pig was really happy, particularly because we served it with a side of simple green beans. I’ll give you a few tips on how to make the beans exciting and bursting with life. Toss your green beans into a pot with salted boiling water and let them cook for about 2 minutes. Then whisk them out and throw them directly into a bowl of ice water. In other words, shock them! There’s no need (nor reason) to hide and then jump and scream “Surprise!” while at the task. The ice water will do the trick. Basically, you want to stop the cooking process, and also allow the beans to retain their vibrant color. Drain the veg and now toss it onto a hot skillet with a tablespoon or so of melted butter, add a couple of roughly chopped garlic cloves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe a few red pepper flakes for that extra kick, and toss everybody around for a couple of minutes over medium-low heat.

Another miracle of the day was my Experimental Mashed Rutabaga and Cauliflower. It was a truly unexpected success. I will tell you all about it in my next installment. Stay tuned.

Cheers!

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