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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charred tomato pasta

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I am one of those snobs that refuses to eat a tomato out of season. There is nothing more disappointing to me than a bland, water filled ball that you find in the winter grown in a green house or shipped from Chile. So the end of summer is especially sad for me because it means another 9 months without a perfect tomato. The season is officially over and I just harvested the last of my tomatoes that have ripened. I ended up with a load of green tomatoes that are on their way to the pickle jar which will be a whole other post. These ripe beauties on the other hand are going in the wood oven to roast away with garlic and rosemary for a super easy sauce.

I will use any excuse to fire up the oven before the inevitable cold, wet and gray sets in. The fire also gives a nice char that brings out the tomato’s sweetness and concentrates their flavor as well as leaving a perfect hint of smokiness. If you don’t have a wood burning oven you can absolutely do this inside. Just crank up your oven as hot as it will go. My kids favor the curly-q fusilli and I like the way it grabs ahold of the chunky sauce but any noodle will work here. Gnocchi would be delicious as well.

So, so long summer, you’ve been great. We will miss you. Now I must go stock up on canned San Marzanos to get me through the year.

tomatoes


charred tomato pasta

serves 4

  • 2lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • handful of basil torn into pieces
  • salt & red pepper flakes
  • parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven as hot as it goes. Cut tomatoes into 1″ chunks and put into a roasting dish. Toss with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, salt & pepper. Roast until tomatoes are charred and falling apart and the juices are starting to reduce to make a lovely sauce. About 30-45 minutes. stir a couple of times to get an even char on the tomatoes. Once it is to your liking, remove the rosemary sprigs and season to taste with salt & pepper flakes. Cook your pasta al dente and drain reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Toss, pasta, sauce, cooking water and basil all together with a big drizzle of olive oil. Top with a nice sprinkling of parmesan cheese and eat up!

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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.

pink peppercorn almond ice milk

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It is officially ice cream season in my house. Not that we don’t eat ice cream year round but any weather over 65º calls for an excuse for daily consumption of it. So I’ve dusted off the ice cream maker and started playing around with different recipes. I prefer an ice cream that’s not too creamy or overly sweet. I also try to incorporate a bitter or savory quality to make things more interesting.  Which a lot of the times is not welcomed by my brood of ice cream traditionalists.

There was a sorbet company in Oakland who closed their shop a few years back but had the most amazing pink peppercorn almond sorbet. It was refreshing and interesting and rich and nutty and sweet all at the same time. Thinking it may be nice to mix a little dairy free options into our ice cream diet I thought I’d try recreating the recipe.

I’m a big fan of ice milks. I love how refreshing yet satisfying they are so I decided to start there with the basis of the recipe. The base of this ice milk is going to be almond milk which I prefer to make myself. It’s ridiculously easy and well worth the effort. Plus, there aren’t a lot of commercial almond milks on the market that I’ve found compare to the incredibly creamy milky flavor you get from home made. Essentially you just soak almonds in water (from 1-2 days depending on how creamy you want it) then drain, blend with fresh water and strain out the almond meal. It only lasts in the fridge for a couple of days so you want to make only as much as you will use but I’m not bothered since the process only takes a few minutes. If you want to bypass this step, the one brand I have found that closely resembles home made is from The New Barn which you can find at Whole Foods.

The rest of the recipe is simple, a little sugar, a little vanilla and some pink peppercorns to give it a subtle spicy fruitiness. I really love pink peppercorns. They have a more delicate, well rounded heat than black peppercorns and a dried berry like flavor that make them so versatile. they are very fragile and their papery skins fall right off when gently crushed. I like to use the skins as a garnish to give added, color and a little crunch.

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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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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

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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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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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