bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate

pana-cotta-editsGrowing up in my family, we didn’t have a lot of holiday food traditions that I remember. Sure there was turkey on Thanksgiving, ham on Easter and corned beef on Saint Patricks Day but I always envied my fiends who’s families would spend an entire day making tamales for Christmas or a tableful of dozens of different types of Italian cookies. When I had kids I decided I wanted to make our own food traditions. So far they have just evolved from things my family can’t get enough of and enjoy making with me in the kitchen; ginger scones on Christmas morning, crab for Christmas dinner and gougères on New Year’s Eve. Then this dessert, which will start as a tradition this year and my children have deemed wobbly cream.

Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert and probably the easiest and most versatile thing to make. Unlike an egg custard that requires baking in an ice bath, panna cotta is set with gelatin. You can make it as creamy or light as you’d like by using either milk or cream. I haven’t tried it yet, but it would probably be delicious made with almond, cashew or hazelnut milk as well. Infuse any herb, spice or extract that you like and top with any fruit, jam, nut, syrup……the list could go on and on. In the summer I love infusing it with lemon verbena and then topping it with strawberries. In the fall I’ll top it with plum preserves and In the winter I use bay leaf and pomegranates whose flavors and aromas remind me so much of Christmastime.

I hope you try it and make it your own. Here’s to new holiday traditions!

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bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate

serves 4

  • 1 1/2 cups half & half
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean split in half or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 3 T water
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Start by removing the seeds from the pomegranate. I usually do this by cutting it in half then putting it in a large bowl of water and breaking it into pieces with my hands, carefully removing the seeds. The pith and rind will float to the top of the water while the seeds will sink, so that when you are finished, you can just pour off all of the debris from the pomegranate with the water then you have the seeds at the bottom of the bowl. I’ve also recently seen this technique from Martha Stewart that seems crazy easy. When you are done, set the seeds aside.

 

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You can either serve the panna cotta in cups or you can un-mold them onto a plate. Keeping that in mind, choose 4 custard cups or small bowls or tea cups and rub the olive oil on the insides.

Heat half & half, cream, sugar, bay leaves and vanilla bean (if using) over medium heat in a small saucepan just until it starts to simmer, stirring to make sure sugar has melted. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, put the water in a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it and let it sit for 10 minutes. After the cream mixture has steeped for 30 minutes remove bay leaves and vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds and adding them back into the mixture. Reheat the mixture until it is hot then pour into the gelatin whisking to dissolve it.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the prepared cups. Put them all into the fridge to chill at least 2 hours. Once it is set, you can either just top with the pomegranate seeds and eat it out of the cup or you can put a plate over the cup and flip it over to remove the panna cotta, then top with the seeds.

Enjoy!

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acorn squash pappardelle with leeks, oyster mushrooms & spicy breadcrumbs

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We recently bought a tiny cabin on an island bordering the San Juans and with it came two huge gardens full of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers. It has always been a dream of mine to have land to grow enough food to feed my family. There is nothing more fulfilling to me than to go outside with my kids, pick vegetables and immediately come inside to cook them. Plus my children eat way more raw veggies straight out of the ground than they do if I buy it from the store and serve it to them. The other day my daughter tore off a huge leaf of lacinato kale and proceeded to eat the whole thing. I wouldn’t even do that! Whatever the magic of the garden is to them, I’ll take it.

So now that I have this dream come true, it’s beginning to feel like a pretty daunting task. Mostly because this is a part time residence. How can I possibly keep up with it? But I WILL do this people! My first harvest was leeks, squashes, chard, kale, collard greens and parsley. Now what to do with all of this. I really love hearty pasta dishes in the fall. I could eat pasta ev-er-y day. I decided to roast all of the squash because it is really one of my favorite things and so versatile. I ended up using them in salads, enchiladas and risotto for the week. I had some roasted acorn squash leftover so I decided to puree it and use it to make pappardelle noodles to give them a nice sweetness. Tossed with sautéed oyster mushrooms, melted leeks from the garden and topped with spicy breadcrumbs, it ended up being my favorite meal of the week.

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acorn squash pappardelle with oyster mushrooms, leeks & spicy breadcrumbs

serves 4

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 2 leeks
  • 1lb oyster mushrooms
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • rosemary- four 3″ sprigs + 1T minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped fine
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400º. Cut the squash into quarters and remove the seeds. Lay skin side down on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or foil. Drizzle with 1T olive oil, salt & pepper and the rosemary sprigs. Roast in the oven until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Peel the skin off and put half of the squash in a food processor to puree. You should end up with about 1 cup. Reserve the other half of the squash for another use.

Cut the stem and dark green leaves off the leeks then cut in half lengthwise. Rinse under cold water to get any residual dirt that may be hiding in between the layers. Slice the leeks very thin. You should have about 2 cups worth. In a skillet, heat 2T olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for a minute until they just start to soften. Turn the heat down as low as it will go and cover with a piece of parchment paper then a lid. You want the leeks to steam and get super soft without getting too brown. Stir them up occasionally. It will take about 20-30 minutes for them to get super soft and a bit brown. Set aside.

Cut off the stems to the mushrooms and chop into large even sized pieces. Heat a large skillet with 1T olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms stirring occasionally until they release their liquids and start to brown. Then add the wine, a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes more, until most of the wine is absorbed into the mushrooms. There will still be a bit of juice in the pan which is great. You just want to make sure to cook off the alcohol in the wine. Add the leeks to the mushrooms and set aside off the heat.

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In a small skillet, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat and fry the breadcrumbs stirring often until golden brown and crunchy. Stir in minced rosemary, chile flakes and a pinch of salt and set aside.

For the pasta, put 2 1/4 cups of flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle of it. Add the squash puree and eggs into the well and with a fork, whisk the eggs into the puree gradually incorporating the flour until everything comes together to form a ball. Transfer the ball onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. You may need to add the remaining 1/4 cup flour gradually if it’s too sticky. Once the dough ball is smooth and elastic, set it aside covered with a kitchen towel for at least 20 minutes.

Once the dough has rested you can start running it through a pasta machine. I use an old fashioned hand cranked one but you can also use the kitchen aid attachment or even a rolling pin. I divide the dough into quarters and run it through the 5th setting on the pasta machine, dusting with flour as you go to prevent sticking. You want the sheets to be very thin but not too thin that it tears or is translucent. Think the thickness of a dime or 1/32″. Once all of the sheets are rolled out, cut them into 1″ thick noodles, tossing with more flour to prevent them from sticking together.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While you are waiting, heat up the skillet with the leeks and mushrooms over medium heat. Toss the noodles into the boiling water, cover and cook 1-2 minutes. Do not over cook or the noodles will get mushy. Drain the noodles reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water and immediately transfer the noodles to the skillet with the leeks & mushrooms. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and half of the reserved cooking liquid tossing to coat all of the noodles. If they seem too dry, add the rest of the cooking liquid and another tablespoon olive oil. Remove from heat and toss with the parsley and parmesan. Serve immediately topped with a handful of bread crumbs.

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fig olive oil cake with orange and thyme

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I’ve never claimed to be good at baking, except for when I convinced a chef I once worked for to put me on pastry because I was tired of working late nights on the line. I still miss those quiet mornings by myself in the restaurant covered in flour making galettes, meringues, tarts and focaccia while listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Now days my extent of baking is limited to cookies for the kids, fruit galettes and olive oil cakes. I love dessert that’s not too sweet and can even can teeter on the savory side. Something that can be had for breakfast, afternoon tea or post dinner.

Olive oil cakes are crazy versatile and can incorporate lots of different fruits, citrus and herbs. I usually end up making one at every season with whatever fruit is at it’s best….plums & lemon verbena, oranges & rosemary, strawberries & basil and here with figs & thyme.  The one key is using high quality extra virgin olive oil. A nice fruity one. I know you paid a pretty penny for that bottle and this recipe calls for a hefty amount, but trust me, it’s worth it. That’s what’s giving the cake most of its flavor.

You can top the finished cake with fresh figs tossed with sugar & thyme, but here I lined the bottom of the pan with them to bake like an upside down cake. However you choose to do it, top it with either powdered sugar, whipped creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.


fig olive cake with orange & thyme

makes one 9″ cake

fig-cake

  • 12 figs
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • juice & zest from 1 medium orange

Preheat oven to 350º and coat a 9″ springform pan with the butter. Remove stems from figs and slice in half arranging them cut side down in the pan. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and set aside. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. Whisk together eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Whisk in olive oil, orange juice and zest then add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and most of the lumps are gone. Pour batter over figs and bake 35-45 minutes until golden brown, the sides are pulling away from the pan and a toothpick comes out pretty much clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. Set the cake out to cool on a rack before removing from pan.

Once cool enough to handle, remove sides of pan and place a large plate over the cake and flip over so the figs are facing up. Remove bottom of pan and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving (optional).

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clean out the fridge grain bowls

beets bowl

I make a grand attempt to meal plan. I buy all the groceries for the week on Monday stuffing them into my fridge feeling a real sense of accomplishment. Then come Tuesday my cravings take over and I want to order in Indian, then go out for ramen, and then “oh I’m not going to make this dish, I’ll make something else instead.” Suddenly its Sunday and I’ve lost the plot. Luckily one of the most satisfying things to me is going through the fridge and scrounging up all the last bits I’ve forgotten about and coming up with something delicious. A lot of times it’s in the form of a grain bowl. The sad beet I forgot in the veg drawer. The wilted kale because I always buy too much. Then I just go through the pantry and choose whatever grain and bean or lentil I have hiding out and I’m halfway there.

The beauty about these dishes is that the options are endless, there are no rules, anything works, whatever the season. AND they are healthy! Start with a grain, roast your veggies in a hot oven then choose whatever flavors go well with it. I always add some nuts or seeds, and some type of protein whether it’s cheese, beans or a poached egg.  Carrots with couscous…stir in harissa, preserved lemon, pine nuts, garbanzo beans and mint . Asparagus with quinoa… add pesto, marcona almonds parmesan and a poached egg. You get the idea. Here are a few dishes I’ve made recently. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to make your own. All of the recipes serve 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you are

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fish tacos in Todos Santos

todos santos feast

It is time for the yearly dose of sunshine to break up this gray winter and our trip to Mexico couldn’t have come soon enough for this lady.  We just returned from Todos Santos where we rented a hacienda with some close friends and the guacamole, margaritas, beans and fish tacos were on repeat the entire time. I’m still in a vitamin D induced haze and have not accepted the reality that I am home and wearing socks and a wool coat.

Todos Santos is a small town in Baja California Sur, about an hour north of Cabo. It is one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos,” a select group of towns whose cultural, historical and natural treasures have been deemed, well…magical. Founded in 1723, Todos Santos is an oasis in the desert and boomed from sugar cane production but in the 1950’s fell into ruins when the area experienced a severe drought. Water has returned and the area is now an agricultural center, producing some of the best poblanos, avocados, papaya and mangos.

Since the paving of hwy 19, which runs from La Paz to San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos has also become a tourist destination and a center for art & culture.  It’s charming colonial town center has loads of galleries and shops full of local crafts and is also a host to multiple music, film and art festivals throughout the year.  The area is also big on eco-tourism, birding, sea turtle conservation, surfing….. It really is a pretty magical place.

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seville orange marmalade (plus a bacon, marmalade sandwich)

I know citrus is the theme everywhere you look right now, but I seriously cannot get enough. Satsumas, Cara Caras, meyer lemons…..really my favorite thing about winter. So when I came across these Seville Oranges for the first time in I can’t even remember, I excitedly snatched up way too many.  We were out of marmalade anyway. I think one of the only things you can do with Seville oranges is make marmalade, right? They are super bitter and sour and have a thick tough rind which make it nearly impossible to peel. Not to mention they contain about 25 seeds per orange! BUT they are so beautifully aromatic and all of those other characteristics make for a mean marmalade. The good kind that that kicks you in the mouth jolting your tastebuds awake.

I’ve never actually made marmalade before so after reading dozens of recipes, I settled on this amalgamation of a few. The key is to save all those seeds because they give you the pectin that will ensure the marmalade sets properly.

I bought way too many oranges so ended up with a giant batch. I’m hoping our neighbors like marmalade. So I’ve scaled the recipe down here to a reasonable, worth your while yet not filling your fridge, amount. I also didn’t can mine because I’m storing it all in the fridge.

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charred romanesco salad

Anytime I see Romanesco at the market I can’t help myself to snatch up as many as I can. I just want to leave them in a bowl on my countertop to look at. They really are a piece of nature’s art. Technically an Italian broccoli variety, I think it’s closer in resemblance to cauliflower. It’s sweet and mild and has a dense texture that holds up to a variety of cooking methods. You can find them in the cold months of late fall and winter.

My favorite way to cook these beauties is roasting in a super hot oven until just tender and slightly charred. You can go as simple as a roasting them with a little chile flake, lemon and olive oil or braise it with some san marzano tomatoes, garlic and anchovies then toss with pasta. Here I’m using it as the base to a hearty salad. Though, if you throw in a hunk of crusty bread, this dish is really an entree. Plus it’s a great way to use up some of that ricotta you just made!

This recipe is inspired by a dish in Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, NOPI. I hope you enjoy!

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winter preserving

I recently took a soft cheese making class at The Pantry here in Seattle. Making cheese has been on my bucket list every year for about 15 years so I thought it was about time I’d get to it. This was a great introduction and gave me the confidence to do something with the gallons of milk I have in the fridge since my kids suddenly decided they “do not like” milk the day after we got our weekly delivery. Fine. They better like ricotta.

My local market also had a load of Meyer lemons calling out to me the other day and my stash of preserved lemons ran out about 6 months ago so perfect!

These are two staples I always have in my kitchen. Ricotta is so versatile…..sweet, savory, creamy….I eat it on toast, in gnocchi, pasta, salad, topped with honey & nuts for desert…. and preserved lemons add life to any dish….stews, fish, grains, salad dressings, roast veggies….as well as a little sunshine to these endless cold, wet, dark days. (Which this California girl only two winters in to the PNW really needs right about now). I’ll post some recipes using these lemons when they are finished. Believe me, once you get used to having that intense lemony goodness handy year round, it will be hard to live without them.

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