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!

pomegranate


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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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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blueberry galette

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One of my favorite things about the arrival of summer is when the berries start swarming the markets. First comes the strawberries, then raspberries and blackberries and finally the blueberries. Living in Seattle we are so lucky to have access to so many amazing berry farms within a 30 minute drive. One of my favorite things to do with the kids is take them out to pick our own fruit. They get outdoors and learn where and how our food grows, it’s fun and usually half the price than buying at the market. Plus, as my daughter chants “one for the bucket and one for my mouth,” you get to snack while you pick.

This weekend my mom was in town so we went to Mountainview Blueberry Farm in Snohomish because we also wanted to visit the historic little town afterwards. Right now they have the concord and rancocca varieties ready for the picking. After about an hour, we left with 10 pounds of blueberries and purple stained hands and mouths. Now I need to figure out what to do with all these sweet beauties. After freezing half of them, my list is going to include ice cream, crumble, jam and pancakes. But first things first, this super tasty galette. I do not claim to be good at desserts. I don’t have a lot of finesse in the baking department and I don’t have the patience for all that precision. So I love how simple and rustic galettes are.

I like to add a little whole wheat flour to the crust for a bit of nuttiness and texture. Also, any chance to pretend I’m making things a little healthier for the kids makes me happy.  I love the combination of blueberries and ginger so I also snuck a little candied ginger into the crust which gives a nice little chewy burst of flavor in every bite. Enjoy and I hope you get the chance to get out there to pick!

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blueberry galette

serves 6-8

  • 2lbs fresh blueberries
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons ground arrowroot
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • 2 Tablespoons candied ginger, minced
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • demerara sugar for finishing

Preheat oven to 425º Stir the flours, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and toss to coat. With a pastry cutter, quickly cut the butter into the flour until it has been broken into pea size pieces. Do not over mix! Sprinkle 3 Tablespoons of the ice water over the flour mixture and mix until incorporated adding another tablespoon of water at a time until dough just comes together when pinched into a ball. Shape the dough into a flat disc and wrap in plastic wrap refrigerating it for at least an hour. (the dough will keep refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for a month)

Combine the blueberries, lemon juice, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, arrowroot, allspice and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and stir until well mixed. Roll out pie dough into a 12-14″ round and trim the edges just to tidy them up a bit, not forgetting it should  be rustic. Transfer the round to a parchment lined baking sheet and pile the blueberry mixture in the center leaving 3-4″ space at the edge. Gather the edges up over the blueberry pile and brush with the egg wash then sprinkle with some demerara sugar. Bake on the bottom rack for 20 minutes then decrease the oven temperature to 375º and move galette to the middle rack continuing to bake for another 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

leek soup and a buckwheat pear tart

soup tart meal

It’s a winter meets spring sort of vibe in Seattle right now. We are teased by the sun daily and the markets are showing hints of the coming season with loads of tulips and tender leeks. The days are getting longer and the blossoms are exploding which makes me so excited for warmer days to come but then I’m pulled back down to reality with the next downpour of rain. But hey, the rainbows sure have been epic!

Here is a meal that reflects this moment in the season; warming for the last days of winter yet introducing spring and reminding you of the amazing things it will have to offer. This quick and easy soup is full of flavor and texture; sweet leeks, silky white beans, earthy cauliflower, bright lemon zest and crunchy hazelnuts. For dessert, a rustic tart with the last of the pears which are begging to be eaten. I’ve added buckwheat to the dough for a bit of tenderness and a nice nutty flavor. Enjoy!

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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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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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