Saturday, December 31, 2011

Candle Light and Panna Cotta

A elegant supper, flickering candle light, convivial conversation. We adjourn to enjoy our 2007 Violeta Port from PasoPort Wine Company. This Portuguese style dessert wine made in California is more complex than a ruby port with a deeply spiced nose that bring out the cassis and berries to the palate as you swirl and draw in your first sip. A perfect match for the refreshing panna cotta before us, drizzled in a spiced brandy berry sauce.

Ginger-Lemon Panna Cotta with Brandied Berry Sauce
Hints of ginger and lemon flavor this creamy, light dessert
Truth be known,  I have never made panna cotta before today and I generally am not a sweet wine aficionado (blame some scary days as a youth and Mogan David Wine.)  However, in 2006 I had the delightfully enlightening opportunity to visit Graham's Port Lodge in Portugal, wander in the cellars inhaling the musky fermentation and taste their vintages from ruby to tawny.  Mind-blowing is the  description of my newly educated palate and the realization that I am a tawny port kinda gal. Or so I thought. How limiting.

Fast forward to 2010 and a road trip to San Luis Obisbo and a little event called Savor the Central Coast. My darling dear and I met the lovely Lola Glossner from PasoPort Wine Company and tasted their versions of the Portuguese classics and a truly California take on Ruby. Sold. We came home with their 2007 Violeta and it played the perfect compliment to this, my first ever panna cotta.

Panna Cotta, exotic sounding yet simply scalded milk products, gelatin and flavoring. Chill, unmould and viola! Tired and over saturated with indulgent beyond belief rich delights inspired me to try this silken, creamy, cool and refreshing take on a no-egg custard, an Italian favorite. A hint of ginger, tang of lemon. Over the top -- a drizzle of spiced brandy sauce made of fresh blackberries and blueberries. A sip of port, a bite of ambrosia, the conversation continues into the night.

Spiced Brandy Berry Sauce tops creamy Panna Cotta

Ginger-Lemon Panna Cotta with Brandied Berry Sauce
Serves 6
Cook Time 30 minutes
Chill Time 5 hours or overnight

Panna cotta
1 tablespoon Vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
2 ginger tea bags
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons warm water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon zest in fine strips

Rub the inside of six ¾ - 1 cup custard cups or small bowls with a bit of oil, set aside.
Split vanilla bean in half and scrape seeds to be added to milk/cream mixture.
Grate and Zest Lemon Peel separately.(Will take about 2 lemons for enough)
Juice lemon removing seeds and pulp. Reserve.

  • In a small sauce pan, heat cream, milk and vanilla bean including seeds to a simmer, do not boil.
  • Add 2 ginger tea bags. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 20-30 minutes to infuse with flavor.  Remove vanilla bean and tea bags.
  • In a small bowl, add lemon juice and warm water. Sprinkle in powdered gelatin (two envelopes) allow to set, takes about 7-10 minutes.
  • Return sauce pan to low heat and whisk in sugar and gelatin until dissolved thoroughly, 2-3 minutes.  
  • Turn off heat and whisk in grated lemon zest and crème fraîche.  
  • Pour mixture through sieve into 4 cup measuring cup (this makes it easy to pour into the oiled individual bowls.)
  • Pour into individual bowls (I placed the on a large rimmed baking sheet and covered) chill for at least 5 hours or overnight before serving
  • Run thin sharp knife around edge of bowls, Set each bowl (one at a time) in warm  water half-way up sides for 5 seconds to release, invert on to serving plate with a drizzle of the Brandied Berry Sauce and fresh berries, sprinkled with reserved shredded lemon zest. 
    1 ½ cups fresh blueberries (about 8 ounces)
    1 ½ cups fresh blackberries (about 8 ounces)
    3 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
    ¼ cup brandy
    ½ teaspoon ground ginger
    ¼ teaspoon ground cardamon
    ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

    Place 1 cup each of blackberries and blueberries in food process or blender with brown sugar and brandy.  Blend to puree. In a small sauce pan, mix puree and spices and heat to low boil, turn down heat to low and simmer 15 minutes or until reduced by ⅓.  Remove from heat and press mixture through a fine sieve, removing all seeds. Cool before serving. Can be made a day ahead and chilled. Sprinkle with reserved berries when plating.
     Cook’s Tips
    You can used frozen berries, thaw thoroughly and reserve juices to incorporate into sauce.

    Inspiration: Lemon Panna Cotta with Blackberry Sauce | Bon Appétit April 2003
    PasoPort Wine Company
    Graham's Port Lodge

    Monday, December 26, 2011

    Crab Cakes with Lime Cilantro Aioli & Wasabi Caviar

    Winter Crab season is upon us and there is nothing I like better than freshly caught California Dungeness Crab in a little lemon and drawn butter, pure and simple. And, as I thoroughly love the indulgent richness of crab cakes, the notion of picking out all the meat for them is a tedious process I'd rather avoid all together. Of course, you could purchase the tubs or cans of crab meat, but ouch, those are very expensive and the taste quality varies. For this festive delight I opted to use the Classic Crab Chunks available at the grocery store. The Lime Cilantro Aioli brightens your taste buds as you combine the two for a refreshing precursor to coming attractions. Notice the citrine jewels on the top? Tonight these cakes are topped with Cavi-art Wasabi flavored vegetarian caviar made from seaweed, a gift from Gourmelli, Plate to Page Sponsors. Tasty jewels that pop a light flash of cool heat as you inhale your first bite. It may not be traditional, but the result is beautiful, tasty and affordable. Add some bubbly and you've created elegant, yet light-hearted festivity. Cheers!

    Crab Cakes with Wasabi Cavi-Art
    A fresh take on Crab Cakes - Lime Cilantro Aoili and Wasabi!

    Crab Cakes with Lime Cilantro Aioli
    Makes 24 appetizers or 12 large cakes
    Prep Time 15 minutes
    Cook Time 20-25 minutes

    2 8oz pkg Classic Crab, Chuck Style
    3-4 green onions, finely chopped
    2 tbl fire roasted red peppers, finely chopped
    ½ cup bread crumbs (¼ cup plain, ¼ cup Italian Style)
    1 egg beaten
    ½ cup mayonnaise
    ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
    1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
    ¼ tsp Tabasco Sauce (or more to taste)
    ¼ tsp ground Roasted Cumin (or regular ground cumin)
    ¼ tsp ground White Pepper
    1 tsp Dijon Mustard
    1 tsp lemon juice
    1 - 1 ½ cups Panko Bread Crumbs for final coating
    Optional: Substitute Peppadew Peppers for Fire Roasted Peppers for a little sweet/spicy zing

    • Preheat oven to 425º, place racks top to middle. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper
    • Remove crab from packages and chop to break up into smaller pieces (about ¼ to ½” inch “cubes”
    • Finely chop green onions, peppers
    In a medium size bowl, add all ingredients but the Panko Bread Crumbs. Mix thoroughly, mixture should not be dry. Using a tablespoon, measure out a portion, roll in a patty and press into panko crumbs on both sides. Place on baking sheet about 1 ½” apart. Bake for 20 minutes or until top is lightly browned, rotating sheets mid-way in the oven. You can also fry up these cakes if you choose in olive oil and butter. Serve warm with the following Lime Cilantro Aoili.

    Lime Cilantro Aoili
    In a small food processor or blender mix together
    1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, packed
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, finely diced
    Juice of 2 limes (about ⅛ - ¼ cup)
    1 tsp lime zest
    3 tbl olive oil

    Add first five ingredients into the bowl of your process and pulse to finely chop the cilantro and mix in the garlic and pepper.. Add the olive oil, pouring in a bit at a time. This will emulsify the mixture. Should be slightly creamy when finished. Note:  I usually taste the peppers before adding to a recipe to enable heat adjustments depending on my guests personal tolerances.

    Cook’s Tips
    The baking method is time efficient if you are preparing other foods for your guests and is lighter in fats. But I do like the alternate method of frying these as larger cakes for a light dinner. Instead of using a tablespoon, use a ¼ measuring cup for each cake. Pack mixture into tall biscuit cutter to form, sprinkle with panko crumbs for crispy top layer, chill on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for a hour so they will hold their form. Fry in heavy bottom pan at med-high heat with butter and olive oil until browned on both sides. Serve hot!


    Gourmelli - Cavi-art
    Cavi-Art from Denmark
    Plate to Page

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Of Pfeffernuss and Red Envelopes

    Holiday spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and Tasmanian Pepper? Nothing is so evocative of the holidays as the heady scent of spice. But how or why do you introduce something new to your holiday traditions?

    I think about being overwhelmed by the holidays. A constant bombardment of what to cook, how to entertain, what to buy, how to feel, how to worship. Commercialism aside, the expectations of the miracles of the season are alarmingly over-the-top even in the culinary world. It is hard sometimes to just breathe.

    At certain stages in life, you must just learn how to edit. What is important to you now? This moment? As young marrieds, is it the excitement of the first Christmases. Tender ornaments hung together on a tree, celebrating that special union that is just two.  Along come the babes, and then recreate the magic remembered as children, anew in the light and delight of innocent eyes. Then the transition born as we all become aged and the threads of traditions are passed from parents to sons or daughters.

    Some of us are clearly the conductors of the holiday orchestra and at each stage we edit and filter the score according to the needs of those we love. Gently weaving in the family traditions – just enough so the threads of our life’s story has continuity and meaning. Like the teachings revisited during the Seder or the retelling of Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve, or even reading again of the Night Before Christmas. Our own stories are retold around the family table as we share the dishes we always share on this, the most important holiday. Connecting the present with the past, laying the foundation for the future. If the main tradition is kept for family, then, the heartfelt meaning of "You are important and our love is important"  rings true. The details can then ebb and flow naturally without strict, rigid regimen.

    Christmas cannot be that picture-perfect moment, frozen in time and repeated as remembered or pictured in Hallmark cards, captured with a cut and paste -- just press the repeat button and play every December.  The memories,  no matter how precious cannot be recaptured or recreated exactly the same way,  year after year. People change. Times change. Relationships change. Recipes change. Tradition then, is about adaptation and understanding the ties that bind it all together.

    It is no secret that I am blessed having grown up a native Californian, five generations strong. Thriving on the central coast where the fruits of the sea and land are abundant and a family heritage that has echoed the traditions of many in this melting pot of a land. I was thinking about the dishes and their origins that have made up our holidays, the diversity and range of traditions we have adopted as our own. I only wish we all could accept as easily the peoples and cultures that produced them. If only.

    On any Christmas Eve you will find us having a cioppino, a reflection of the strong Italian community of fisherman in Santa Cruz. A cup of Ibarra Mexican hot cocoa would warm us as we wrapped presents in the firelight with Danish vanilla wreaths or Italian biscotti to dunk in the rich, spiced chocolate. Come morning and possibly cinnamon rolls or abelskivers, sausage, and latkes would appear to fortify our constitution for the day ahead. After a traditional dinner of either turkey, ham, or roast prime rib might lead into a persimmon steamed pudding if Grandma had an inkling. After time, we celebrate the Lunar New Year, Gung Hay Fat Choy. Red envelopes and dishes for health, good fortune, and luck appeared at the table. Standing in the Buddhist Temple at midnight plus one. Bell ringing and deep resonate tones, shaking us to the core, reverberating into our very bodies. Echoing continuity and tradition. Transition, tradition, ever evolving and changing.  That is my America. My Family.

    These reflections are in part a response to watching Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions (Dec. 20, 2011 8pm PBS) and my own reflections about family holidays. PBS and Lidia Bastianich score in a holiday special that relates to real people, real families without the overt contrivances of food TV specials.  Lidia is best in her kitchen, visiting new friends and treating family as family and friends as family.  Traveling with her to San Antonio, San Francisco and as a guest at her own table she makes you feel you are with a special friend. “Lidia Bastianich is someone you want in your life.” says Mo Rocca as he shops with her on Arthur Street in the Bronx.  (Spoiler note: Stanley Tucci is a stud in the kitchen and earns his ‘cred with Lidia in this special.) Over brisket and horseradish we tag along a Passover Seder with fourth generation owners of Russ & Daughters and talk about mothers, fathers and traditions. This is why I watch PBS and especially Lidia on the stations that are home to Julia and Jacques and America’s Test Kitchen. Programming is sincere, engaging and a truthfulness that is lacking in the over-produced, contrived foodie networks. I think you will enjoy the insights Lidia finds in her travels. It is refreshing to find someone so bold to still believe in the American Dream. If you missed the original presentation I hope you can catch the rebroadcast.

    As I am baking with the grandbabies, and preparing our holiday meal I will be thinking of my friends and family and doing the best I can to breathe, edit and hold the simple truths of the why we really celebrate.   I wish for you blessings, peace and joy of season.

    Boxed and Ready

    Tasmanian Pfeffernusse - Pepper Spiced Cookies
    Makes about 36 cookies
    The flavor of the Tasmanian Pepper (also called Mountain Pepper) is an exciting change up in this classic German cookie. Sweet on first taste belies the woody, pungent pepper punch.

    1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Smaromi Tasmanien Pepper (Pfeffer)
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
    3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
    1 large egg
    1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
    Put powdered confectioner’s sugar in a 1 gallon zip lock bag. You will use this later for covering the cookies in a sugar coating. Shake and Shake.

    Sift dry ingredients together (flour, spices, baking soda and salt.) Set aside as you beat butter, brown sugar, egg, vanilla and molasses in a large bowl until light and creamy, about 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Reduce mixing speed to low and slowly add in the dry ingredients. Mix until  just combined thoroughly. Form cookies by spooning about 1 tablespoon of dough and roll in a ball before placing on cookie sheet. Make sure you have a good inch and a half separation so cookies don’t touch. Bake for 15 minutes until golden and cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes before shaking a few at a time in the confectioners’ sugar.
    Cool completely before storing in airtight containers. Best eaten next day! (If you can wait.)

    Cook’s Tips
    Of course you can use regular fine ground black pepper in this recipe.

    Inspiration: Martha Stewart Pfeffernusse Recipe

    About Tasmanian Peppers


    Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions  

    pfeffernusse taste test
    Pfeffernuss on the Christmas cookie list to include Tasmanian Pfeffer from Smaromi.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    Bread Pudding with Gingered Brandy Pears and Caramel Sauce

    I am keen on recycling in the kitchen, making the most of leftovers in an interesting or sometimes better form than what I started with. A perfect example is bread pudding. So many varieties, sweet, savory and a staple in restaurants with mountains of bread to recycle into croutons, crumbs, dressings and puddings. Oftentimes drenched in a boozy bath of hard sauce to make it appeal to the adults in the room. Both my husband and father have made tall, custardy puddings with that tender creamy interior, a sprinkling of raisins and a toasty, crunch of the just right browned top. This is the kind of pudding that whispers comfort and has found its way to my breakfast bowl as often as my dessert plate.

    As a dessert though, it is rarely described as elegant, nor very pretty to look at if your personal filter isn't set to nostalgia mode. A recent article by Gail Monaghan for the Wall Street Journal reminds us, "Whether you call them "Winnie-the-Pooh desserts," as I do, "nursery desserts" or simply "comfort food," soft and creamy puddings call out to the kid in all of us." But, what if you could image a more sophisticated take, layered flavors and decidedly adult sensibilities without the heavy liquor? That was the question that lead me to this.

    Bread Pudding with Gingered Brandy Pears and Caramel Sauce
    bread pudding with gingered pears and caramel sauce
    How pretty is that?

    A silken bread custard, layered with tender pear slices that have been gently simmered in a ginger, brandy tea to infuse those bright flavors, topped with a creamy caramel sauce. Served warm, this is our new nostalgia.

    Poached pears add a bright fruity surprise.
    Bread Pudding with Gingered Pears and Caramel Sauce
    Serves 12
    Prep Time 1 hr 15 minutes
    Cook Time 1 hr to 1 hr 15 minutes

    1 loaf day old french bread, cubed, most of crust removed
    1 quart milk or 2 cups milk 2 cups half and half
    3 eggs
    1 ½ cups granulated sugar
    2 tablespoons vanilla
    ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
    ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
    1 ½ tablespoons butter, cubed
    2 tablespoons sugar in the raw

    Poached Pears
    3 comice or other firm pears, peeled and sliced
    1 ½ cup brewed ginger tea
    2 tablespoons brandy
    1 teaspoon lemon
    1 tablespoon honey

    Butter 9” x 13” baking pan.
    Place bread cubes in large bowl, pour in milk and soak for 1 hour.
    Pre-brew 2 ginger teabags in 1 ½ cups boiling water for about 10 minutes.
    Bring the tea, brandy, lemon and honey to a low boil in a medium size pan. Add in pears and lower temperature to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Cool and set aside.
    Preheat oven to 325°

    In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices. Pour over the soaked bread cubes and stir to mix thoroughly. Pour into baking dish.
    Remove poached pear slices from liquid with slotted spoon and arrange on top of the wet bread pudding mixture.
    Sprinkle pears with raw sugar (this will give a sparkly glaze) and dot with butter pieces.
    Bake for at about an hour to an hour and a half until custard is set and top is golden. Your time might vary.  Cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Drizzle with caramel sauce.

    Salted Butter Caramel Sauce
    With just a cup of sugar, heavy cream and some butter (and a bit of steady stirring this wondrous concoction is yours!)  Salted Butter Caramel Sauce recipe from Jamie Schler’s Life’s a Feast Blog used with permission and joy. (Thanks Jamie!) 

    For the Salted Butter Caramel Sauce (Caramel au Beurre Salé):

    1 cup (200 g) granulated white sugar
    3 ½ Tbs (50 g) salted butter
    1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

    Melt the sugar in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat and cook until completely melted and caramel in color. Lower the heat to low and whisk in the butter in about 3 or 4 additions. Continuing to whisk, add the heavy cream in a slow stream; the caramel may foam up, but keep whisking, as it will calm down once all the cream is added and will turn to… a smooth caramel. Once it is smooth and creamy, remove from the heat and allow to cool at least to tepid before serving.

    Link: Nostalgic for Nursery Pudding, Gail Monaghan, Wall Street Journal.

    Sunday, December 4, 2011

    From the Archives -- Artichoke Torte

    Do you have those family recipes, the go-to ones that are cried for during the holidays, potlucks or other get-togethers? Since the '70's this recipe has been on our snack table and taken for an appetizer when friends ask us to bring a little something to share.  It is always a hit. There are many versions out there, a torte, frittata, or quiche, I'm sure. But I hope you enjoy my take on this savory, spicy artichoke and sharp cheddar perfection in a bite. There is a reason it keeps coming back to our table.

    I also think I started a new tradition. Tried out a wonderful focaccia recipe from Bon Appétit, with cracked black pepper and truffle oil. My darling son brought me a lovely bottle of truffle oil recently and I just had to put it to use. A sprinkle of minced herbs and finished with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt, these tasty bites disappeared very quickly. Hmm, dipped in olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.

    Cracked Pepper Focaccia with Truffle Oil

    Artichoke Torte with Smoked Sun-dried Tomatoes
    So, maybe you will have something new to try as you are preparing your holiday tables. Perhaps one will become a family tradition. Or both!

    Artichoke Torte
    (From the Archives - Hayford Family Recipe since 1970’s)
    Serves 6
    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Cook Time: 30 minutes

    2 8 oz. jars marinated artichoke hearts
    ¼ cup smoked sun-dried tomatoes
    4 eggs, beaten
    1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
    1 garlic clove, minced
    2 tablespoons fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
    1 table spoon fresh Italian Oregano
    ⅓ cup plain bread crumbs
    ⅛ teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
    ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
    ⅛ teaspoon salt
    ½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

    Preheat oven to 350°
    Grate cheese, beat eggs, chop onion and herbs.
    Drain artichokes, reserving liquid, give them a rough chop.

    In a medium pan, saute onions and minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ of artichoke juices until soft and translucent. Remove from heat.
    In a large bowl mix artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, grated cheese, bread crumbs, beaten eggs, herbs and garlic onion mixture including pan juices. Add Tabasco (to taste), black pepper and salt. Stir to thoroughly combine, making sure the cheese if fully coated and not in clumps.
    Spay an 8” x 8” pan with vegetable spray and Pour in mixture. Bake for 30 minutes until set and golden brown. Cool for at least 15 minutes, then and cut into squares to serve at room temperature.

    Cook’s Tips
    This recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9” x 13” pan for about the same time.

    Cracked Pepper Focaccia with Truffle Oil, Bon Appétit  | February 2001 
    Himalayan Pink Sea Salt courtesy of Gourmelli, Sponsor of Plate to Page Tuscany