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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gone clamming

clamming 1-13

One of the things I immediately wanted to do when we moved to Seattle was start foraging  at the beach. It took nearly two years but I finally managed to wrangle the family together and get out there. It helped that it was mother’s day and I could do whatever I wanted and I wanted to dig for clams. My one request was that no one complain the entire trip, which lasted just until we got into the queue for the ferry. Oh well, it was a beautiful day and we were on our way to Whidbey Island.

I have never been clamming. My only experience was watching a video of Langdon Cook, award winning writer and instructor on wild foods and foraging. I knew what to bring and which beach to go to but that was about it. We arrived at Double Bluff beach at low tide  and to my surprise and relief the kids got right into it and we dug and dug and dug. My 5 year old found one beautiful cockle which she was so proud of and ended up becoming my mother’s day present. I found a huge sea snail and some eels but that was it. Then I realized off in the distance a group of people were digging at the cobbly area near the bluff. So I left the kids to swim with my husband and I set off to dig. After a half hour I ended up with a dozen or so native littlenecks but since the kids would soon be melting down I decided to pack up. Though I will definitely be back soon better prepared and able to leave with a full clam feast.

clamming

Back home we fired up the wood oven and I roasted our little gems in some white wine with garlic, shallots and herbs along with some flatbread. Even though we only ended up with just a taste it was so worth it. The kids had a load of fun and any chance they can be in nature and learn where our food comes from makes me a happy mama.

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fava and jamón salad

favas-3I have a bitter love for fava beans. I get so excited when I see them in the market for the first time in spring and always load up a huge bag to take home. Then I usually stare at them for a couple of days while I try to figure out a time I can sit down for more than 20 minutes to go through the dreaded task of peeling the things. The art of slow living just doesn’t exist in my home at the moment. BUT this spring my 4 year old has taken on the duty as sous chef and shucking beans has become her specialty. Now we can up our fava intake.

If you can find the pods when they are finger length snatch them up because they are amazing eaten whole. Toss them with olive oil and grill until tender then sprinkle with a nice flake salt, squeeze of lemon and some crushed red pepper. Once larger than that the pods are too tough and they must be shucked. The beans inside then need to be peeled of their paper thin outer shells. A lot of people don’t think this process is worth the end result. I’m just obsessed with the sweet, earthy, hearty, protein packed little green gems.

One of my favorites and a classic way to eat fava beans is on a crostini of burrata cheese with lemon, olive oil and basil. They also go amazingly with ham. On a warm spring day, a bit of jamón serrano, manchego and a pile of favas dressed in sherry vinegar, good quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs is a perfect light meal.  You could also use prosciutto and pecorino just don’t forget the really good loaf of bread and bottle of rosé. It’s simple perfection.

favas

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Swan Oyster Depot’s crab louie salad

swan oyster depot

Whenever I go back home to visit San Francisco I try to sneak off to one of my favorite places for lunch, Swan Oyster Depot. I say sneak because this is a place I like going either by myself or with one friend, but more than that, you’ll be extending your already hour-long wait. The shop opens early, as it is an actual fish market, but when the bar opens up at 10:30 the queue immediately grows down the block for this 100 year-old 12 seat seafood heaven.

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The present location has been in operation since 1912 where it was owned by four Danish brothers who distributed seafood throughout San Francisco. In 1946 it was purchased by Sal Sancimino who operated it until 1970 when his children took it over. You’ll always see one, if not all, of the five brothers behind the counter and they always greet you like you are the most special person who has walked through the door all day. I belly up to the beautifully aged marble bar and chat with everyone behind the counter like we’ve known each other all our lives. For a lot of people, they have! There are still plenty of customers who’s family have been coming to Swan Oyster Depot for six generations. Just one of the many things that make this place so special….along with it’s authenticity and quality.

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nettle gnocchi in parmesan brodo with spicy pork meatballs

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Every week my first stop at the farmers market is Foraged and Found Edibles. Whatever they have always sets the tone for our meals for the week. They are chefs turned foragers who harvest wild foods from the surrounding Seattle area and always have an amazing selection of things you will most likely never find in the grocery store. This last visit confirmed that Spring is in fact HERE and I walked away with wild nettles, fiddlehead ferns, miner’s lettuce and watercress filling my bag to the brim.

What I was especially excited about though were the nettles. The seasonal window of time is so brief for these barbed little things. February and March is prime for eating them as by April they start to become coarse and you should not eat them once they start to form flowers. If you are lucky enough to have them grow wild in your neighborhood, pick only the tips. The first 4 to 6 leaves on each spear are the most tender. Don’t forget to always wear heavy gloves and long sleeves when handling these ferociously stingy things but don’t worry, once cooked, the sting dies off.

It will probably come as a surprise to you (as it did to me) that nettles beat both spinach and broccoli in their richness in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and iron. A tea made by steeping nettle leaves has long been used as a tonic. The flavor is similar to spinach and can be used in its place in most recipes. My favorite ways to eat them is on pizza, or made into a soup or pesto. Here I’m trying something new and putting them in gnocchi paired with bite size spicy pork meatballs all swimming in a nutty parmesan broth. For a veggie option you can replace the meatballs with cannelloni beans. Adding fresh peas would also be delicious.

I hope next time you see nettles at the market or growing along the sidewalk, you snatch some up and discover how tasty and healthy they really are!

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a Sunday roast: spring lamb, minty peas & garlicky potato roasties

lamb meal

One of the things that excites me most about the coming of spring is the first lamb. I’m pretty sure I let out an audible squeal at the market last week when I stumbled upon some from Glendale Shepherd, a local farm here on Whidbey Island. They have the most beautiful pasture-raised humanely harvested lamb. And since my in-laws were on their way to visit from England, a Sunday roast was in order. Though, due to a crazy wind storm which downed a tree causing an all day power outage that happened just as I was putting the meat in the oven, it turned into a Monday roast.

Whatever the day of the week is, this meal really is simple and depending on how you like your meat cooked, could take anywhere from 50 minutes to 3 hours to prepare. I prefer my roast falling apart tender which takes hours so I tend to reserve meals like this for the weekend when I can have a lazy afternoon with the family smelling the amazingness coming from the oven…..but if you like your meat rare, you’re done in under an hour!

My favorite things to go with lamb are minty peas, garlicky potatoes with lots of rosemary and olive oil. I’ve added anchovies to the lamb which I learned from The River Cottage Meat book. They melt into the meat giving it a beautiful salty richness. You’ll never go back to not using them once you see how much umami they give to this roast!

Enjoy and happy spring!

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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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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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An Italian feast via California

feast finish

I love having dinner parties. To cook big meals for friends and gather around the table, eating, drinking and talking for hours. Having been in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years, we had made a community of friends who were truly more like family. Since starting over in Seattle, it has been difficult to meet people and make friends. Maybe it’s our age and the fact that we are busy with small children so are not necessarily whooping it up on the town all the time. In any case, I am increasingly craving those gatherings with people who I know and love so well. So when I convinced my best friend to drive up last minute from Portland for the night, I excitedly jumped into the kitchen. I’m feeling homesick so my inspiration for our meal was from my favorite restaurant in Oakland, Pizzaiolo, which I went to for the first time with this friend of mine.

Pizzaiolo is the epitome of a community building, farm to table California restaurant. Charlie Hallowell started his career at Chez Panisse and has a commitment to using and respecting only the best ingredients, the farmers who grow them and the customers who eat them. Everything is so simple yet always so interesting and delicious. They have the best pizza and bread in the bay (well next to Tartine)…..and the meatballs….those damn meatballs. I never got the recipe for them but I’ve managed to come up with something close. The salads here are my interpretation of ones I’ve had at Pizzaiolo and reflect the transition we’re seeing from winter to spring (first sign of asparagus guys!)  The bread is mine. Though I will not begin to try to explain how to make it here. It’s the recipe from Tartine for their basic country bread and it took me 2 years to perfect.

The dessert I came up with because rhubarb showed up at the market and I bought way too much because rhubarb means SPRING IS COMING, which also means WINTER IS ALMOST OVER. One of my favorite things ever is using bay leaf in creamy desserts and combining it with a tart fruit…bay leaf ice cream with white currents, bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranates. So I thought why not use bay in whipped cream to top a rhubarb shortcake. It was pretty much perfect and I woke up wishing I had some leftover for breakfast.

So here’s to 2016 and having more dinner parties. Besides, good cooks never lack friends, right?

feast veg

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