Monday, March 26, 2012

My Best Panna Cotta

Yes, those are penguin martini glasses...
Mmmmm....gelatin!  I am not usually a huge fan of the stuff, but when used properly, there are some really cool, fun, and crazy things you can do with it!  One item that is pretty common is panna cotta (literally cooked cream).  It is of Italian origin and is a very simple, straightforward creamy dessert that is excellent for dinner parties and such since you can make it up to a day ahead of time.  The recipe that follows here is adapted from the book "Indulge" by Claire Clark.  Claire was the head pastry chef at the French Laundry just before my time there (we only overlapped for a few weeks), and is a lovely lady and a fabulous pastry chef.  Her version if panna cotta is the best I've had yet- it is as light as air and delicious besides.  One hallmark of typical panna cotta is that you can turn it out of it's mold and have it jiggle like Jello on a plate; this recipe will not do that.  It is soft and delicate and would not hold up it's shape if ejected from the mold.

Yogurt and Buttermilk Panna Cotta
yield: 6 servings

2 leaves gelatin
18 fluid oz plain yogurt
4 1/2 oz granulated sugar
5 fluid oz creme fraiche
2 fluid oz buttermilk

Get ready:
Soak the gelatin in cold water for five minutes.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and set aside.  Put 4 ounces of yogurt in a small saucepan, add the sugar, and warm just until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Add the gelatin and dissolve in the yogurt-sugar mixture.  Do not boil it!  Get an ice bath ready (a large bowl with ice, and a smaller bowl set within).

Add the rest of the yogurt, mix well, and pass through a fine sieve into a bowl set over an ice bath.  Whisk the mixture gently and frequently to prevent lumps.  Once it is cool to the touch, remove from the ice bath.  It will have begun to thicken at this point but should not be fully set.

Whip the creme fraiche to soft peaks, and whisk it into the yogurt along with the buttermilk until it is smooth.  The mixture should be homogeneous and pourable.  Transfer quickly to decorative serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.

Serve in the vessels with fruit, compote, or whatever suits your taste!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nasu No Suzu Ni: Ginger-Stewed Eggplant

Alright...before you get all agitated...  I did cook eggplant in March.  No it was not local, and yes I know I broke my own rule.  And you know what?  I ate it, and I enjoyed it.  Every girl needs a break from kale and brussels sprouts every once in a while, so I am asking your forgiveness while presenting this lovely recipe as a peace offering.   

On a recent trip up to Bainbridge Island, I found a gem of a book in the used section of Eagle Harbor Book Company.  It is called Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen, written by Elizabeth Andoh. The recipes sounded so delicious that I simply couldn't resist.  It contains a wealth of knowledge with fabulous explanations for many Japanese terms and ingredients in the front.  Everything in the book looks wonderful, and this is the first recipe I've tried from it.  I adapted it slightly to accommodate my pantry.  

Ginger-Stewed Eggplant

yield: 4 servings

4 japanese eggplants or 2 small globe eggplants

1 t vegetable oil
1/3 c dashi broth or water
1 t sake
1 t sugar
1/2 t ginger juice or grated pulp
1 T soy sauce
extra soy sauce and mirin as needed to balance the final dish
white poppy seeds or toasted sesame to garnish

Rinse eggplants and dry well.  Trim the stems and cut each eggplant in half, lengthwise. With the cut surface to the board, make many fine, shallow, parallel, slits on the diagonal into the skin side of the eggplants.

In a skillet just large enough to hold the eggplant pieces in a single layer, heat the oil. Sear the eggplants, skin-side down, pressing them to ensure full contact with the pan.  Turn the eggplants over, and sear for at least two minutes on the flesh side.  Add the water or broth (you might need some extra if you are using large or globe eggplants), sugar, and sake.  Cover with a lid that fits within the pan and place a brick or other weight on the lid. 

Once the eggplants are tender, add the soy sauce and simmer for another minute. Add ginger and cook for another 30 seconds. The liquid should be almost gone at this point- creating a thick glaze.  Season as desired with the mirin and soy sauce.  The eggplant will seem very intense while it is hot, but will mellow considerably when it cools.  Cut into slices and serve room temperature or chilled. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunchoke Soup with Bergamot Oil and Parmesan Cream

I am sure that spring is on the way.  It simply must be at this point!  Folks are complaining of allergies...chickens are laying eggs like the little egg-makers they are...cute fuzzy things are being born...  In spite of this affirmation, I am challenged, as you are, to find even more interesting and creative ways to use produce that is at it's peak as winter draws to a close.  Everyone always comments that winter is the worst season for fresh produce, but I think it has to be early spring that is the hardest.  The stores from the fall harvest have run out, every last root vegetable has been dug, and though the seedlings are sprouting in every greenhouse around, it seems that they cannot grow fast enough to satisfy my desire for something fresh, new, and vibrant.  By the time summer rolls around, I will be completely exhausted of wild arugula salads and pea shoots, but for now they invade my thoughts and I swear I wake in the morning with the taste of them on my tongue.

Today, I may have found a temporary antidote to my winter produce blues.  We went this afternoon to visit a new friend and fellow farmer/cook Lori Deacon over at her lovely Cape E Farm & Vineyard in Home out on the Key Peninsula.  She very generously shared her recent harvest of sunchokes, so I had to figure out something do do with them right quick!  Sunchokes are fun little tubers that spread kind of like potatoes, but have tall stalks (up to10 feet) topped with mini sunflower blooms.  They make a great backdrop in the garden and produce copious amounts of chokes with a myriad of uses.

Sunchoke Soup
yield: 4-6 servings

2 T unsalted butter
1 shallot, roughly chopped
1 quart peeled sunchokes, kept in acidulated water
clear vegetable or chicken stock to cover (about 4 cups, with some extra kept in reserve)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1/4 c heavy cream
salt and white pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallot and saute briefly.  Drain the sunchokes and add to the pan.  Saute for a few minutes, then add herbs and stock to cover.  Simmer gently until the shallots and the chokes are very tender (30-40 minutes, but will vary depending on the size of your chokes).  Once they are tender, remove the herbs, and puree completely, adding extra stock as needed.  Return to a clean saucepan, heat, add the cream and season to taste.

To garnish this simple, delicately flavored soup, you can use your imagination.  This time, I used a bit of olive oil infused with bergamot and then topped it all with a bit of cream that was scented with a parmesan rind.  To do this, simmer the cream with the parmesan until the flavor has been infused.  Transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely, then remove the rind and whip as you would any cream.  Keep in mind that with the added salt, the cream will look curdled very quickly after it begins to thicken.  Alternatively, you could garnish with truffle oil, bits of fried prosciutto...really, whatever suits you palate.  It's kind of a blank slate!