Monthly Archives: January 2012

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Last January, I made several resolutions that I hoped to fulfil through the course of the year. A flood in my apartment, which led to several walls being torn out and weeks and weeks of workmen Humpty Dumpty-ing my home back together again killed any drive I had to enact the “entertain at least once a month” resolution. Or any of the myriad food-related resolutions I had, since my kitchen was barely navigable from all the belongings normally hidden away in the storage room.

And so, in the end, I fulfilled none.

This year, I’ve kept my resolutions equally simple:

  • Write more actual letters to people
  • Read more classics
  • Travel somewhere new
  • Drink more water
  • Make panna cotta
  • Join a new class
  • Increase my intake of fruit and vegetables

And so far, I’m off to an unexpectedly good start.

I’m partway through Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and have Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte on standby; I’ll be travelling to Morocco this fall; and I made panna cotta.

Panna cotta with strawberries II

This was a holdover from last year’s resolutions and I’m surprised it has taken me this long to finally cross it off my list. (Although, I do think part of my hesitation stemmed from knowing this is a very dangerous recipe to master.)

Panna cotta – literally “cooked cream” in Italian – is nothing more than sweetened cream (or a combination of cream, milk, buttermilk or yogurt) infused with any one of myriad flavours.

It’s infinitely adaptable; I’ve had everything from simple vanilla versions to ones flavoured with orange blossom water, topped with fruits or coulis or left unadorned to let the light flavour come through.

It’s silky, soothingly smooth and can be the perfect end to most meals.

And it is ridiculously easy. The hardest part of making this recipe was wading through the hundreds of versions that popped up after a straightforward Google search.

But, for the first time attempting it at home, I wanted something uncomplicated.

Nothing more than cream, vanilla, sugar and gelatin, topped with a few macerated strawberries for colour and flavour.

This version from food blogger and author David Lebovitz fit the bill.

Even making the panna cotta felt soothing: from scraping out the fragrant flecks of vanilla from their pods and stirring them into the cream that was gently heating on the stove, to pouring the liquid into ramekins and putting them to bed in the fridge for the night.

Only attempting to unmould them proved tricky. (If no one is worried about spectacular presentation – and who would be after taking one bite of this dessert? – I probably wouldn’t worry about bothering next time and would simply serve them in clear glasses or pretty coloured ramekins instead.)

But any frustrations stemming from their unwillingness to slide out on the first attempt evaporated with the first bite of panna cotta.

Sweet, light, brightened by diced strawberry and speckled with vanilla, it was everything I had hoped for.

If the rest of my resolutions turn out to be this easy, I just might get through all of them this year.

Unmolded panna cotta

Strawberry

Vanilla Beans

Panna cotta with strawberries I

Panna cotta with strawberries III

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries

This version is slightly adapted from David Lebovitz – namely the addition of macerated strawberries – who in turn adapted it from Judy Witts’s Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen. You can find gelatin, which is typically sold in boxes of packets, in the baking section of most grocery stores.

  • 4 cups (1 L) whipping cream (or half-and-half)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 2 tsp/10 mL vanilla extract)
  • 2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 ½ tsp/22 mL)
  • 6 tbsp (100 mL) cold water
  • 2 cups (500 mL) strawberries, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) sugar (depending on the sweetness of the strawberries)

Heat the cream and sugar in a pot on the stove or in the microwave until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them and the pod to the cream. Cover and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the pod and rewarm the mixture before continuing.

Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil, such as vegetable or safflower.

In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the warm panna cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide between the prepared cups, then chill until firm (at least two hours). Just before serving, mix together diced strawberries and sugar and let sit while unmolding the panna cotta.

To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta and dip the ramekin in a dish of hot water to loosen. Unmould onto a serving plate and top with strawberry mixture.

Serves 8.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipe ideas and food stories, check out the Herald’s food page.

Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

If I believed in past lives, I’d swear I was a southern belle in one of mine. Give me a pitcher of sweet tea, porch swings, some fried chicken or chicken-fried steak and especially give me some Biscuits with Sausage Gravy.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy II

I’ve been bookmarking recipes for biscuits and gravy on Delicious for a while now. In fact, when going through to clear out some old links (I mean, do I need 800 bookmarked recipes? No, I don’t think so.), I found a few I had forgotten about. I left one of them because it was different enough that I think I’d like to give it a go later.

Because this certainly won’t be the last time I cook up some biscuits and gravy.

Oh yeah.

So, instead of the usual biscuits, which involve cutting in butter to make them nice and flaky, this recipe only uses cream.

And they were a total revelation. Light and fluffy, cracking perfectly in half when pulled apart and with not an ounce of butter to be seen. Not that using butter in shortcakes or scones is difficult, since I discovered Nigella’s trick, but avoiding it all together certainly makes things go much faster.

The sausage gravy recipe was just as simple and straightforward. I think next time I may want something where I have a bit more control over the flavours. However, this was super tasty and it came together very quickly, which, if I was making this for a crowd would definitely put this recipe in the win column.

It’s easy to adjust the flavours just by changing up the type of sausage you use, which is also nice.

I’d call this a very good starter recipe, but I’m certainly not done exploring the world of biscuits and gravy.

Cream Biscuits

Cream Biscuits

Sausage Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy I

Cream Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in the cream (starting with about 1 1/4 cups and adding more if necessary) until a dough forms, about 30 seconds or so. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Gather it together and squash it together (not quite kneading it) until smooth.

Shape it into a circle about into a circle about 3/4″ thick. Cut biscuits into rounds and place on parchment-lined backing sheet. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Sausage Gravy

  • 12 ounces bulk pork sausage
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking it up into little bits, until browned and cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Sprinkle the flour into the remaining fat in the pan and cook for about a minute. Whisk the flour mixture while slowly adding the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes or so to let the gravy thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the sausage.

Serve the sausage gravy over the cream biscuits.

Serves 8 or fewer, depending on how hungry people are.