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Recipes skimp on ingredients, not flavor

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Maple candied bacon is salty, sweet and addictive.


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They say it is harder to write short than long.

To cook short, however, with a minimum of ingredients and flourishes, is far less painless than piling it on but also, strangely, as much a discovery.

And who doesn't love those little "Aha" moments in the kitchen- Claire Robinson's book, 5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant and Irresistible Recipes (Grand Central, $29.99), is full of them.

Robinson hosts the Food Network show by the same name, which revolves around the five-ingredients-or-fewer recipe (that's not counting salt and pepper).

Her tricks, she writes, are not really tricks at all, but still something to take home. Take a main ingredient, swap out a secondary ingredient or change technique - add toasted nuts, or roast a vegetable you'd usually saute - and you completely change the dish.

"The better the main ingredient, the less you're going to have to add to make it a delicious dish," she writes.

Baste bacon, for example, with a bit of Dijon mustard and maple syrup, and out of a hot oven it comes, all crispy and candied and completely addictive.

Or, caramelize onions and mash them into maple-roasted sweet potatoes, for a more savory take on the standard holiday side.

Robinson offers 122 recipes in all, covering breakfast, snacks, sides, desserts and even cocktails. I appreciate her brief notes offering easy substitutions or add-ons and explanations of what makes each recipe "sing" almost as much as I do the simple recipes. These may be minimalist in approach, but they're not lacking in flavor or panache.Four's a charm

While we're playing the numbers game, here's another one for the bookshelf: Desserts 4 Today: Flavorful Desserts With Just Four Ingredients (Taunton Press, $17.95) by Abigail Johnson Dodge.

Everything in the book reminds me of that no-flour peanut butter cookie recipe everyone seems to be able to recite by heart (legend has it, it originated in a 1999 issue of Gourmet): 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Who knew you could make brownies in much the same way, with a big scoop of Nutella, a bit of flour, an egg and some chopped nuts- Oh yes, you can.

Dodge groups her 125 recipes into five categories: cookies, creamy desserts, frozen desserts, fruit desserts and pastry desserts. Like Robinson, she offers substitutions with each recipe, plus ideas for how to "gussy it up."

If you bake frequently, a good number of the recipes won't even require a trip to the store; you probably already have the ingredients on hand. Keep the book close at hand, then, for impromptu visits from friends, or whenever your sweet tooth gets the better of you.

Puff pastry is a godsend in the pastry chapter (it's a godsend, period, isn't it- ); elsewhere, Dodge calls for pre-made cookies, ice cream or sorbet.

But mostly, she leaves it up to chemistry. Coaxing something delicious out of varying combinations of butter, sugar, cream, eggs, flour, chocolate, coconut milk, vanilla and fruit isn't magic, but it's funny how doing so can make you look like a genius.

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