Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seductive Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blood Orange Confit

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blood Orange Confit

The word “classic” can be applied to lots of things, from automobiles (Maserati) to fashion (Chanel) to beauty (Grace Kelly).  When applied to food dishes, it means “enduring.”  Panna cotta by any account is a classic Italian dish that has transcended its Piedmont roots to be a world-wide dessert staple in more than just Italian restaurants.  So I was thrilled when my intrepid sous chef suggested I prepare for our Italian-themed Christmas Eve dinner a recipe for Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blood Orange Confit he discovered in the January 2012 issue of Los Angeles Magazine.  Thrilled because panna cotta is a light dish that would perfectly complement the full-bodied courses that would precede it.  Plus it would make us feel we had jump-started our New Year’s resolution to eat lighter and healthier.

Minimal ingredients required

The recipe is from Rory Herrmann, the executive chef at Bouchon in Beverly Hills.  The recipe combines great seasonal ingredients that form a sort of blood orange creamsicle.  It is pure bliss.  Light, creamy, and sexy with a blush of color reminiscent of cheeks pink from embarrassment.  Not only is this eye candy, it is mouth candy!  To quote George Gershwin, “’S wonderful!  ‘S marvelous!,” and very simple and practical to make.
Blushfully Perfect Panna Cotta

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blood Orange Confit by Rory Herrmann, Executive Chef Bouchon Beverly Hills – 2012 issue of Los Angeles Magazine:

Serves 8

Panna Cotta:

2 tablespoons cold water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
3 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ½ cup ramekins sprayed with nonstick spray. 

Measure water into a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin.  Let stand 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. 

Bring cream, sugar, and lemon zest to a gentle simmer in a heavy medium saucepan.  Remove saucepan from heat.  Add softened gelatin and stir until gelatin dissolves.  Cool slightly.

Stir in buttermilk and vanilla extract to cooled mixture.  Divide mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins.  Chill until set (approximately 6 hours).

This mixture can be made 3 days ahead and covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated.

Gelatin is standing with water to soften

Bring mixture just to a boil

Let mixture cool slightly before adding buttermilk
Add buttermilk and vanilla to cooled mixture

Pour mixture into ramekins 

Blood Orange Confit:

6 blood oranges
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar

Using a serrated knife, cut away peel and pith from the blood oranges.  Carefully cut alongside membranes to release segments.  Place segments in a medium bowl.  The knife work should be done over a bowl to capture any juice that might be emitted during this process.  Remember to add this juice to the small saucepan mentioned below.

Squeeze the juice from the blood orange carcasses (including membranes) into a heavy small saucepan.  Add the water and sugar to the blood orange juice.  Bring the blood orange juice mixture to a boil over medium high heat.  Pour the hot blood orange juice mixture over the blood orange segments.  Let cool to room temperature.

ServingUnmold the panna cotta (if desired, or leave in its ramekin) and serve the confit over it.

Peel and pith blood oranges

As you segment oranges squeeze juice from membranes into separate bowl
Look at the beautiful color of the oranges

The perfect shade of blush - wouldn't this be a great lipstick shade

Pour hot mixture over segmented oranges

Cool orange mixture and use for garnish of Panna Cotta
Gorgeous, light and delicious!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cauliflower Bacon Gratin - An Ounce on the Lips Forever on the Hips

Cauliflower Bacon Gratin

New Year’s Eve is an organized bacchanalia, complete with fireworks.  It is the punctuation mark to the end of the old year and an exclamation point to the start of the new year.  So I was expecting the final French Friday with Dorie challenge for 2011 to be a big, bold, colorful and exciting challenge.  Instead we got a delightful, simple to prepare dish that serves well as an accompaniment to a variety of more flamboyant dishes.

Preparing Bacon - I like to use a little olive oil when browning my bacon
Cauliflower taking a little bath 

Cauliflower placed in a buttered dish for baking and topped with the browned bacon
Cauliflower Bacon Gratin is a variation of the classic potato gratin, only the inclusion of egg results in a custardy quiche texture and taste.  Substituting cauliflower for potatoes makes it seem like this dish should be part of the Weight Watchers program.  In fact, I felt like the Paula Dean of Palm Springs since it is actually rich in all things that go straight to the hips:  cream, cheese and bacon.  The result is a flavorful, creamy starch substitute in which the cauliflower taste is nicely moderated by the baking process and other ingredients.  This is a dish I would make again, although I will try my sous chef’s suggestion of mixing cauliflower and broccoli to give more color and flavor to the dish.

Pouring the cream and egg mixture over cauliflower and bacon
This is the exact moment I felt like the Paula Dean of Palm Springs - just look at all that cream and cheese
Voila!  Oh, and isn't the casserole beautiful - it's from my favorite bakery Clementines in Palm Desert
And speaking of dishes, I used a round casserole dish whereas Dorie used a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Since my casserole dish was deeper, it took almost 45 minutes to complete the cooking process.  So just remember to adjust the cooking time if you are using a baking dish that is deeper than the one Dorie uses.

Cauliflower Bacon Gratin with Rainbow Swiss Chard and Fennel Spice Rubbed Chicken

This recipe is on Dorie’s website, and if you would like to try it yourself the link is below.

To read other French Friday with Dorie experiences with Cauliflower Gratin, or to join the group:

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, safe and culinary New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Linguine with Lobster, Lemon, Chile and Mint

I am not sure who or what land being had the courage to first dine on the crustacean known as lobster, but I am sure glad he/she/it did.  Although lobster did not achieve haute cuisine status until the 1930s, it is now considered a delicacy for all occasions.  We always include lobster as part of one or more holiday menus, so for our Italian-themed Christmas Eve dinner I used a recipe that combined three of my favorite ingredients:  citrus, pasta and lobster.

The January 2012 issue of Bon Appetit features on article on citrus filled with light and healthy recipes that provide some healthy options after a month-long holiday binge.  Remember, January 1st does mark five months until swimsuit season, except for those of us in desert climes, in which case swimsuits are nearly year-round attire. 

The recipe described below is an ever so slightly adjusted version of the Linguine with Crab, Lemon, Chile and Mint found on page 77 of Bon Appetit’s January 2012 issue.   Since our local market had lobster on sale for a song, and because my sous chef strongly prefers it to crab, we substituted lobster for the crab.  Red Thai Chiles were not available, so I had to use the green, and for color I used one of my red chiles from the garden.  A word of caution.  Don’t be like my sous chef and pop one of the Thai chiles in your mouth.  At best you won’t be able to taste the nuances of the dish; at worst, you might traumatize your tongue and taste buds for days to come.

I love how the layers of this dish finish on your palate.  The freshness of the mint, with the acidity and citrus flavors from the lemon, are offset by the soft heat of the chiles making this a perfect mouthful when you add buttery lobster and linguine.  We used this dish as the secondi course, but it works well as the primi course.    

Linguine with Lobster, Lemon, Chile and Mint – adapted from the Bon Appetit January 2012 issue.

8 Ounces Linguine
Kosher Salt
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ Cup Minced Shallots
1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic (I used 2-3 because I love garlic)
1 Red Chile
3 Green Thai Chile
1 ½ Tablespoon or more of fresh lemon juices
2 Teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 Lobster – cooked, cleaned and shelled
1/3 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves – shredded, torn or chiffonaded
1 Cup Pasta Cooking liquid (reserve 1 cup from cooked pasta)

Cook the pasta per instructions in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

While the pasta is cooking, melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and stir until just soft (3-4 minutes).  Add garlic and chiles and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (approximately 1 minute).

Add ½ tablespoon lemon juice, 3 tablespoons pasta cooking liquid and a pinch of pepper to the shallot mixture.  Stir until the liquid is almost evaporated (about 1 minute).  Transfer the pasta to the skillet and add ½ cup reserved pasta cooking liquid.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Cook, tossing the pasta or stirring, until the liquid is almost evaporated and the pasta becomes glossy (about 2 minutes).  Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest, the lobster, half the mint and more chiles (if desired).

Stir the pasta until the butter melts and the pasta is well coated.  Add more pasta cooking liquid if the dish seems dry. 

Divide the pasta into bowls or plates and top with the remaining lemon zest and mint.  Finish with a little extra lemon juice if desired.  (I recommend this as a great way to finish the dish.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Burrata with Speck, Peas and Parmigiano-Reggiano

I am inveterate collector of food books.  In fact, I am obsessive about collecting, despite having food books spilling out of bookcases and stacked all over the house, little land mines to trip my sous chef and elicit four and five letter words that are less than endearing.  I get all tingly when I read about the publication of a new tome by some culinary genius like Robuchon or Keller, or Food Network personality like Lidia or Nigella, or some less known chef whose name or book title appeals to me (such as Flying Pans).  To avoid missing out, I will pre-order even though the book will be widely and readily available on the release date through a local bookseller like Barnes and Noble. 

My most recent holy grail of food books is The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton.  Mozza Restaurant is an iconic dining spot in Los Angeles where lengthy advance reservations are essential.  I enjoy food books from such culinary temples for it allows me to enjoy the experience without enduring the reservation process and arduous drive.  I pre-ordered this book four months in advance, then suffered my sous chef’s droll comments when delivery was finally made a full week after the book’s release.  But after a seeming eternity of anticipation, I was not disappointed.  The Mozza Cookbook is just full of superb photos and exciting recipes.

For our Italian-themed Christmas Eve Dinner, I chose the Burrata with Speck and Peas.  This is a great starter as it is full of flavor and very refreshing.  The recipe calls for shucked English peas and thinly sliced snow peas.  As most of you know, I live in the grocery wasteland called the Coachella Valley, hence my reliance on the Internet for my most creative dishes.  In this area, English peas are apparently only found in schoolbooks between “O” and “Q.”  Necessity begets adaptation, so absent English peas I shucked the snow peas instead.  No small task, but it proved worth the effort.

Burrata is a cream filled mozzarella sack.  It is a newcomer in the world of cheese as it was only invented about 40 years ago in the Puglia region of Italy.  Burrata came about as a way to use the scraps of curds left over after twisting balls of mozzarella.  Thank goodness someone found a “way” to use the curds.  The result is a hedonistic, creamy cheese that oozes goodness as it is sliced.

Speck is an Italian cured, smoked meat that is native to the Alto Adige, a region that straddles Northern Italy and Southern Austria.  A boned pork leg is cured in salt and spices, then intermittently slow-cooked for several months using pine or juniper wood.  The resulting product is deep red in color with heavily marbled traces of fat and a wonderful smokiness.  Like prosciutto, it is served thinly sliced or used to flavor cooked dishes. 

The speck is arranged on the plate like a four pointed rosette (or, alternatively, like a wavy ribbon around the plate), a slice of burrata is gently placed in the middle and topped with a mixture of peas, mint and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, with extra virgin olive oil sprinkled over and about for good measure.  My mouth waters just typing these words.  Every bite of this dish brings a new flavor to your palate – smoky, creamy, slightly salty, refreshing bites. 

Burrata with Speck, Peas and Parmigiano-Reggiano (as “adapted” from The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton):

Serves 4
Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper
1 Package Fresh Snow Peas [Note:  if you can find English peas, then use one package of fresh English peas and one package of snow peas]
20 Medium Mint Leaves (chiffonaded)
1/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano + an additional ¼ cup for garnish if desired
2 Tablespoons Finishing Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
16 Thin Slices of Speck or Prosciutto
1 Package Burrata

Shell the snow peas (or English peas if you have them; in which case you thinly slice the snow peas on the diagonal) and place in a small bowl.  Add the mint leaves, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil and stir to combine.

For each salad plate, use 4 slices of speck or prosciutto and shape as a rosette or a ribbon around the plate. 

Slice the burrata into quarters and place one piece in center on top of the speck or prosciutto.

Top the burrata with the pea mixture, and adorn with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ubiquitous Creme Brulee

Festive Creme Brulee

Crème Brûlée:  it is ubiquitous, peripatetic, versatile, multi-national, non-denominational, simple to make and, when done well as it usually is, very good.  It is like the simple black sheath:  dress it up or dress it down.  Add fruit or jam to the custard mixture, or not; garnish with fresh fruit and mint, or not; sprinkle lots of sugar on top and blowtorch until a crisp, caramel crust results, or not.  It is good any way and every way.

We decided to theme our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners this year.  Italian for Christmas Eve and French for Christmas Day.  So this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge nicely fit our culinary itinerary.  But I admit to being less than thrilled since it seems like such a passé dessert.  And let’s face it, Trader Joe’s long ago decoded the mystery of this dessert when it felt confident enough to offer it in the frozen dessert section. 
Eggs & sugar for the custard

Whisking before hot liquid and vanilla are added

Dorie’s recipe for Crème Brûlée has definitely renewed my enthusiasm for this dessert.  Using the base custard mixture like a little black sheath, she has dressed it up with the addition of jam or jelly, and there didn’t seem to be any restriction on the flavors that could be used.  With this in mind, my intrepid sous chef went to market and, like a little piggy, returned with Bellini Jam, Holiday Jam, and Strawberry Rhubarb Jam.   We made two of each flavor and decided the Bellini Jam, which is a combination of peaches, sugar and Prosecco, was the lightest and least sugary and ended up being our favorite.  It was quite delicious, lusciously creamy with an ever so sublime hint of vanilla that lingers on the palate.  I feel like I’m describing a wine, but what’s so bad about that if it pleases the palate and tickles the taste buds? 
Just boiling heavy cream and whole milk

Tempering the egg mixture

A little pure vanilla

Dorie’s Crème Brûlée is a great base for a holiday dessert and can be made to look quite festive if you want to wow your guests with a little “over the top” plating.  Another plus—particularly during the holiday craze--is ease of preparation.  The custard takes less than 10 minutes to prepare, although it needs 50-60 minutes to bake and set in the oven, and another 3 hours to chill.  So some advance planning is needed.  Fortunately, the dessert can be made a couple days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.  Just sugar and blowtorch (if you choose) and garnish when you are ready to serve.  We experimented and found the dessert retained its original fresh flavor even after a couple days in the refrigerator.

Bellini, Holiday Jam and Strawberry Rhubarb waiting for the custard

Drizzling the custard

Voila! One down four to go

 Some notes about this recipe that I would like to share:

The brown sugar caramelizes pretty quickly, so you need to watch the flame carefully so the sugar does not burn.

The caramelized sugar top was a little sweet for our taste when combined with the jam, which already has plenty of sugar.      

The more liquid the jam, the longer the cooking time.  Treat the jam like yogurt and strain off some of the liquid. Fresh fruit as a jam/jelly substitute could be quite interesting and less sugary.

The custard mixture was wonderful and really didn’t need the jam—or the sugar top for that matter--to enhance the flavor.

Just out of the oven, and perfectly set

Don't recommend torching the sugar and taking photo at same time

In the holiday spirit, I adorned our Crème Brûlée with a rosemary wreath and fresh raspberries masquerading as Christmas ornaments.   To make the rosemary wreath, take two rosemary branches, approximately 7 inches each, tie together at the top with a ribbon, and the bottom can be stapled or taped together and covered with a raspberry ball to hide the  tape/staple.  The holly in the center is represented by 3 mint leaves and a raspberry.  Quite a festive holiday dessert!

Ready to share the holiday cheer - rosemary wreath with raspberry Christmas ornaments

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good dessert!

To read more French Friday with Dorie experiences with Crème Brûlée, or to join the group, go to:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Farro, Spinach & Pomegranate - Healthy Holiday Alternative

Farro, Spinach, & Pomegranate

The Wine Spectator is not just for wine recommendations and fireplace kindling.  It is also a knowledgeable source for restaurants.  Food emporiums that have great wine lists are likely to take their food very seriously as well, and Il Grano Restaurant in Los Angeles is one such restaurant.   I was determined to try Il Grano after reading a six page spread in the October 31, 2008 issue of The Wine Spectator.  Los Angeles is not exactly around the corner from the Palm Springs area, but when it comes to fine culinary experiences, I am like a big game hunter who is not constrained by mere geography.

Chef/Owner Salvatore Marino is a second generation restaurateur who has spent a lifetime working in the restaurant industry, including stints at  several Michelin-starred restaurants, before returning to Los Angeles in 1997.  In July 2007 he graced the cover of Bon Appetit, and in 2008 was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award as best chef in the Pacific.  Clearly he knows his stuff.

Il Grano Restaurant has a clean, contemporary interior, yet it feels  like a warm, neighborhood boite where everyone knows your name and you can spend hours grazing over a meal and caressing a bottle of wine.  Which we did.  After  all, great food should be savored and fine wine can’t be guzzled like swill.  

We had a truly wonderful meal, but one dish in particular inspired me to attempt recreating it at home.   Farro, Spinach and Pomegranate is a very versatile dish that can be used as a starter, salad or entrée.  I’ve made it every year since first visiting Il Grano and fall in love with it all over again each time.   I think you will find this to be a healthy, festive way to celebrate the holidays without feeling afterwards like you are a stuffed little piggy.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and find yourself craving Italian food, make the time to find Il Grano, it’s definitely worth the effort.  Il Grano is located at 11359 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles, CA 90025/Phone 310-477-7775/

Farro, Spinach & Pomegranate

2 Cups Farro (aka spelt)
6 Cups liquid (I like to do 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth and 2 cups water)
2 Bay Leaves
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 Bag cleaned Spinach
1 Package Fresh Pomegranate Seeds
Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish
Basil for garnish

Place Farro in dutch oven

Cover Farro with liquid

Simmer until Farro has absorbed liquid

Place the farro in a large dutch oven and cover with liquid.  Add the bay leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.   Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer at a slow rolling boil for approximately 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed by the farro.  Remove the bay leaves.  Add the spinach, let it wilt a bit and then mix into the farro.  Add the pomegranate seeds and lightly fold into the mixture.   Serve warm or at room temperature in individual bowls and garnish with ribbons of Parmigiano Reggiano and basil. 

Add spinach to Farro and let wilt

This recipe makes a great entrée for four or a starter, salad or side dish for eight.  Also, the leftovers are excellent the next day as a cold salad.

Festive holiday colors adorn the Farro - healthy and festive!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Betcha Can Eat Just One - Potato Chip Tortilla

Potato Chip Tortilla

When it comes to potato chips, I am the consumer Young & Rubicam had in mind when creating the iconic slogan for Lay’s Potato Chips:  “Betcha can’t eat just one.”  And I can’t.  It doesn’t matter whether the potato chips are traditional, baked, Hawaiian style, flavored or my favorite, Rusty’s Potato Chips from Balboa Island.  I eat them by the handful if they are proffered.  But while potato chips may be haute cuisine within the snack foods category, I don’t think of them as a primary ingredient in French cooking.  So I was intrigued that Jean-Francois Piege, former chef at Les Ambassadeurs—the Michelin-starred restaurant at Le Crillon--would pair one of my favorite snacks with eggs to create what the French call a “clin d’oeil.”  In this case, a “wink” at the original Basque Tortilla that is essentially a frittata made with cubed potatoes. 

I am from Montana originally and a tortilla meant a small, flat disk of cooked flour or corn that you slathered with butter or refried beans or wrapped around chicken, beef, fish or cheese.  But some time ago, my intrepid sous chef told about his dining experience in Madrid where “tortilla” meant something like a frittata.  So I was not surprised by the nature or manifestation of this recipe. 

Simple pantry ingredients - nothing special required
The Potato Chip Tortilla is very simple to make, with only a few items to prep and minimal cooking time.   Potato chips are crushed by hand and put into a separate bowl.  Then in another bowl the eggs are added to chopped onions or scallions, or a combination of both, along with fresh herbs (parsley, basil and cilantro) and a little piment d’espelette (Basque red pepper) or cayenne pepper.  The wet mixture is poured over the potato chips and they are mixed together.   A cast iron pan is heated on the stove with olive oil over medium high heat, and when hot the egg and potato chip mixture is cooked for approximately 2 ½ minutes before transferring to the broiler for one minute to firm up the top of the mixture.  Lunch or brunch in less than 15 minutes.

Eggs, Onion, Scallion, & Fresh Herbs

Egg mixture is combined with crushed potato chips

2 1/2 minutes on stovetop before broiling for 1 minute to set top
The result was aesthetically pleasing, certainly edible, but, to our taste, rather bland.  It was like a Mexican tortilla that serves as the base for flavorful ingredients, except here there were no real flavors to support.  So we marked the dish “not bad, not great, and certainly not memorable.” 

Finished product with a little garnishment of fresh herbs and tomato
We debated about making it again, thinking something had gone wrong in the preparation or that the curly parsley we used instead of the mysteriously unavailable Italian flat parsley was the culprit.  Iwanted to add bacon, cheese and salsa, but my sous chef pointed out we would not be “winking” at the Basque Tortilla, merely recreating it.  So we dumped the remainder in the trash and moved on.  In this case, we certainly had no problem “eating just one.”

This recipe can be found in Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan, page 141.  

To read about other French Friday with Dorie experiences with the Potato Chip Tortilla: