Tuesday, November 18

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

If you're a custard kind of person (if you said "yes", no explanation needed... if the world custard does not excite any reaction in you, then don't feel left out, but I highly recommend reconsidering the virtues of this culinary delight), like me, then its close cousin panna cotta is probably near and dear to your heart (or stomach, more likely).

Panna cotta is an Italian "cooked custard", consisting primarily of milk, cream, sugar, and gelatin to give it a sexy little wobble. As the peice de resistance at my birthday dinner last sunday night, I prepared the "Heavenly Panna Cotta" from Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano, which is easily one of my favorite recent cookbook purchases. The panna cotta was only slightly different than the classic in that it had a healthy dose of ricotta to give it just a bit more textural interest on the tongue, and of course contributing a richness and smoothness that ricotta is so darn good at providing.

The final panna cottas were not quite flecked with vanilla bean (they all fell to the bottom, sadly. I think if I'd chilled the custard slightly, then stirred and poured into the final glasses I might have averted this, but maybe by then they'd be too set?), but they tasted indeed like heaven. I used some of the leftover raspberry sauce from my morning crepes as a topping, and highly recommend it. I like to have a little something to contrast against all that creamy, and very rich goodness, so a tart little fruit topping is just the ticket.

Heavenly Panna Cotta

1 cup fresh sheep's milk ricotta or whole cow's milk ricotta
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 packet powdered gelatin*

Toppings: Chestnut Honey or vincotto was suggested, or try a quick berry sauce like I did

Place the ricotta and 1/2 cup milk in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously until the ricotta is smooth and lump free. Place the heavy cream and sugar in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with the flat side of a small knife and add them to the pan along with the bean. Place the mixture over medium heat and bring just to the boiling point, whisking occasionally.

In the meantime, whisk the gelatin into the remaining 1/2 cup milk and set aside. When the cream mixture has scalded, turn off the heat. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup milk and gelatin mixture. Gradually pour the liquid into the bowl with the ricotta, whisking constantly until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the vanilla bean an strain the mixture through a chinois or fine-meshed sieve. Divide the panna cotta among 6 dessert glasses and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.

Before serving, drizzle the surface of each panna cotta with 1 or 2 teaspoons of warm chestnut honey or a few drops of vincotto. Or use the topping of your choice!

Cook's Note: * The recipe calls for 4 sheets of gelatin, but I couldn't find any so I substituted the powdered Knox gelatin, which worked just fine. I followed her cue that 4 sheets of gelatin is equal to one of the powdered packets.

Sunday, November 16

Crepes with Orange-Flecked Yogurt and Raspberry Sauce

I told you'd I'd planned food-related activities for my entire weekend, and here I present another piece of evidence. The buns of gluttony were Saturday morning (and again Monday morning, just as devishly delicious), and Sunday morning I took another recipe from Food and Wine as inspiration, and whipped up some yogurt-filled crepes. My first crepes ever, made with a crepe pan I got 3 years ago! My husband quipped "It's about damn time", and I agree!

Since I'm new to homemade crepes I can't speak to the perfection of the crepe recipe itself, but I'd imagine they are all fairly similar, and this one was tender and tasty, and made a nice little package for some thick Greek yogurt. The yogurt I mixed with grated orange zest, honey, and vanilla, which sounds rather ambrosial, doesn't it? to top it off, I used frozen raspberries we picked this summer and mixed them with some local raspberry jam and a squeeze of lemon, and cooked it just long enough for the flavors to get happy and jammy together.

These were so simple, and seriously good. I can't wait to make them again, and come up with some interesting new toppings and flavors for the yogurt... like lemon poppy seed, pomegranate and walnut, or even some seriously decadent options like creme fraiche and spiked berries. What flavors will you experiment with?

Crepes with Sweet Yogurt and Raspberry Sauce
Makes 8 crepes (4 servings)
Adapted from Food and Wine, December 2008

3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1 1/2 cup raspberries (frozen)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups plain Greek Yogurt
3-4 tablespoons honey
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 cup of the milk and the salt until blended. Whisk in the flour until the batter is smooht, then whisk in the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Let the crepe batter stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

In a small sacuepan, combine the raspberry jam and the frozen raspberries along with the lemon juice and cook over moderate heat until jammy, about 10 minutes. Cover and keep warm.

In a bowl, mix the yogurt with the honey and orange zest.

Heat a 10-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Brush the pan with some of the melted butter. Brush the pan with some of the melted butter. Pour in a scant 1/3 cup of the crepe batter and immediately rotate the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Cook the crepe until lightly browned on the bottom, about 45 seconds. Flip the crepe and cook until brown dots appear on the other side, about 15 seconds longer. Continue making crepes with the remaining batter, brushing the pan with the remaining butter as needed.

Spoon 1/2 cup or so of the yogurt into each crepe and roll them up or fold. Transfer to plates and spoon the raspberry sauce over top.

Note: The crepes can be made ahead, stacked, and rewarmed in a microwave oven for about 20 seconds.

Saturday, November 15

Pecan Rolls, Gluttony

It's my birthday weekend, and not surprisingly, everything I've planned revolves around food. It's supposed to be rainy and dreary, which means baking. And last week I was gone for a long and tiring week volunteering in New Orleans, so this weekend I'm all about relaxation, sweatpants and movies. I also had the flu at the beginning of the week, so I've earned the right to a little bit of pampering, and apparently gluttony as well. I'm usually so sensible, but apparently this trait does not apply to yours truly when presented with a big steamy plate of warm, soft cinnamon pecan buns.

A few things. These are made with cottage cheese in the dough, which makes them super soft and tender, and in my mind makes them a more respectable and wholesome version of a morning bun. There's protein to balance the sugar, so that makes it borderline healthy , right? These are made almost entirely in the food processor, then rolled out and sliced, which is the fun part of making this kind of treat, so it's hardly work at all. The dough is super soft and pliable, and couldn't be easier to work with. It's also spiked with vanilla and orange zest, so it tastes heavenly. And there's no yeast or rising involved at all, so they're friendly even to those of you who don't fancy yourselves bakers.

In the spirit of gluttony and with the knowledge that there's a long winter ahead (or just because they tasted so darn good) Dustin and I at half the pan of these. Really, it sounds worse than it was.

Cinnamon Pecan Buns
Food and Wine, December 2008
Makes about 12 Buns

4 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (its says optional, but I wouldn't skip it)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan with half of the melted butter.

In a food processor, combine the pecans with the brown sugar, cinnamon and koser salt; pulse until the nuts are almost finely ground. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and sprinkle a scant 3/4 cup over the bottom of the prepared pan. Wipe out the food processor.

Add the cottage cheese, buttermilk, egg yolk, granulated sugar, vanilla and orange zest to the processor and puree until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine the 2 1/4 cups flour with the baking powder, baking soda and fine salt; whisk to mix. Add the flour mixture to the processor and pulse just until the dough comes together; it will be quite soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it into a smooth ball. Roll out the dough to an 11 x 16 inch rectangle, flouring the work surface as necessary. Brush the dough with the remaining melted butter, leaving a 1/2 inch border all around. Sprinkle on the remaining pecan-sugar mixture.

Working from a long side, roll the dough into a tight cynlinder and cut it into 1-inch slices. Arrange the slices cut side up in the prepared pan. Bake the buns in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned on top and slightly firm to the touch. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the springform ring. Invert the buns onto a plate and carefully remove the bottom of the pan, scraping any of the pecan mixture that has sticked to the pan onto the top of the buns.

Serve warm.

Note: The buns can be prepared up to two days ahead of time and rewarmed in a 350 degree oven.

Vermont Farm Table