Vanilla Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote

Desserts and Sweets, Recipes

The holiday season is upon us and you know what that means — it’s time for a few easy-to-make yet impressive-looking desserts that you can add to your repertoire for wowing guests! Case in point: before I stumbled upon this article on The Kitchn, I had never even considered making panna cotta at home. And now that I’ve seen the light, I could not imagine spending $14 on it at a restaurant ever again (unless there are some really special flavor combinations going on…). It’s that easy and oh so versatile to customize to your liking. I had some blueberries in the freezer from our visit to a pick-your-own blueberry farm in Santa Barbara over the summer, but you are welcome to use any seasonal fruit to pair with the silky smooth pudding. Just a slight note, this basic recipe involves gelatin and refrigeration to set, unlike the traditional Italian recipe which uses egg whites and is baked in a bain marie.

Panna Cotta Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1-ounce envelope of powdered gelatin (or 4 gelatin sheets, bloomed in ice water)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Set up a double boiler if you have one, or bring a small pot of water to a boil and nestle a heat-safe bowl (Pyrex, for example) over it. Add milk and sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the surface. Let sit for 1-2 minutes to bloom the gelatin. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk well to completely dissolve the sugar. It should have a silky texture with no grittiness. Heat the mixture until it is barely simmering. Pour in the cream and continue to cook until the mixture has warmed to room temperature. (If it is too hot, just set aside to cool a bit before pouring into the molds.) Pour into ramekins or serving dishes. Refrigerate for at least one hour or until set. The texture will be wobbly and much more delicate than jello. Serve cold.

Blueberry Compote Ingredients:

2 cups frozen blueberries, divided

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons honey

Dash of ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of blueberries with the water, honey, and cinnamon. Simmer over medium-low heat until the fruit starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon, gently mash the berries into a coarse puree. Add the remaining 1 cup of blueberries and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the whole berries are warmed through and the mashed berries have formed a sauce-like consistency. Serve warm.

The blueberry compote also tastes great as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, waffles, even steel cut oatmeal! Once it has cooled, I transferred the leftover compote to a glass jar and kept it in the refrigerator for about a week. It could probably keep longer if you’re into canning jams and whatnot, but the compote is so delicious that it will magically disappear quite quickly!

I know it’s been a long time since we’ve posted a recipe on this blog, but I hope you enjoy this two-for-one. We did not include step-by-step photos this time, but trust me, it’s just THAT easy. If you try either of them at home, please let us know what you think!

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things, and I can honestly say that my life has changed for the better knowing now that panna cotta is just so easy to make!

This month is hosted by Linda at The Orange Bee.

Cheers!

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Beer Braised Bratwurst and Apple Slaw

Main Dishes, Recipes

Even though Oktoberfest in Germany ended earlier this month, it’s not too late to celebrate with beer and brats here in the States! That’s right, folks — contrary to popular belief, traditional Oktoberfest does not wait until October to begin. This annual sixteen-day festival runs from late September to the first week of October each year, though Oktoberfest events in the States (or at least here in Southern California) run throughout the 10th month of the year. I love holidays, so one night after work, I decided to surprise Martin with a festive batch of beer braised bratwurst accompanied by seasonal pumpkin ales.

Beer Braised Bratwurst, Apple Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and a seasonal lager

Beer Braised Bratwurst, Apple Slaw, Mashed Potatoes, and a seasonal lager

This recipe is a great way to prepare your favorite store-bought brand of bratwurst (or, I suppose, “bratwurst-style sausages,” to be all-inclusive). We’re not quite skilled nor equipped for stuffing our own force-meat at home, so a quick stop at a local butcher shop or grocery store is in order. While you’re there, grab a six-pack of your favorite brew along with a good-sized white or sweet onion. I served ours over a bed of mashed potatoes with a dollop of apple slaw, though you are welcome to whip up more traditional potato pancakes, sauerkraut, or a cabbage-based slaw.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 lb of bratwurst (I used Trader Joes seasonal pork Hofbrau Brats)

1 medium (or 2 small) white or sweet onions, sliced top-to-bottom like for the Office Burger

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt & pepper

12 ounces of beer (any will do – I used the Oktoberfest lager, also at Trader Joes)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

(Optional) Apple Slaw Ingredients:

(Optional) Apple Slaw Ingredients:

2 apples (I used one honey crisp and one granny smith)

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

Extra virgin olive oil until emulsified, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup

Mm butter...

Mm butter…

Step 1: Melt the butter in a large skillet.

Sear the Brats

Sear the Brats

Step 2: Brown the sausages on all sides, getting a nice dark sear. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Saute the Onions

Saute the Onions

Step 3: In the buttery, fatty goodness, saute the onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Wilted Onions

Wilted Onions

Step 4: After about 5-10 minutes, they should have wilted like this. Sprinkle with a bit of granulated sugar (to help with the caramelization). Continue to saute for a few more minutes.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Step 5: Pour in the beer and bring to a simmer. Add in the bratwurst and continue cooking until the beer has reduced to a glaze-like sauce. If needed, sprinkle in a bit of brown sugar to combat any bitterness from the beer. During this stage, prepare the apple salad or any side dishes.

Braising the Brats

Braising the Brats

Step 6: By the time the beer becomes glaze, the sausages will have cooked for anywhere from 20-30 minutes. Remove one and insert a meat thermometer, ensuring that the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees. Once you’re there, it’s good to go!

Time for Apple Salad!

Time for Apple Salad!

For our side dish, I whipped up a quick apple-based slaw. I forgot the honey my first time around so it turned out way too acidic… I won’t be making that mistake again any time soon! The recipe above should yield a balanced, sweet & sour salad perfect for the savory sausages.

Whisk Whisk

Whisk Whisk

To prepare the apple salad, whisk together the dressing ingredients, starting with the mustard, vinegar, lime juice, and honey and then drizzling in the oil until well emulsified.

Cut the Apples

Cut the Apples

Julienne the apples — if you have a mandoline, slice on the thickest setting and then cut the slices into strips.

Toss in the Dressing

Toss in the Dressing

Toss in the dressing until well coated. Season with salt. Let chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Ready to drink and devour. Prost!

Ready to drink and devour. Prost!

We served two sausages per person for a hearty dinner that paired perfectly with my Sam Adams Octoberfest and Martin’s Hoegaarden. It took a bit longer than anticipated for a weeknight dinner (mostly because I’m paranoid about cooking pork and really wanted those sausages to simmer in the brew for a long time) but for an hour’s work, we ended up with a deliciously festive meal. So try it out, raise your glass, and Prost!

Happy Pi Day! (and Non-Pie Pumpkin Pie)

Desserts and Sweets, Recipes

March 14th is a fun day of the year for me — it’s one of the few holidays that encourage the combination of geeking out AND cooking! You would think I’d bake a pi(e) today, but I thought I’d finally try making my own version of the crust-less parfait / mousse / pudding type pumpkin desserts I’ve only read about before today. I know, I know – pumpkin is usually an autumn flavor. However, I happened to have a can of pumpkin puree in our pantry, and I just love pumpkin pie! I also love Greek yogurt, so this is a perfect match:

What tastes like a pumpkin pie but doesn’t look or feel like a pumpkin pie? That delicious concoction!

Ingredients:

4 oz plain Greek yogurt (I used a honey flavored one)

4 oz canned pumpkin puree

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

(or 1/2 to 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice, if you have it)

3.14 tsp sugar (haha just kidding. Start with 1 tsp of your favorite sweetener and add to taste. I used agave.)

This will probably be one of the easiest recipes we post. Grab a small bowl. Toss everything in. Stir it up. Sweeten or adjust to your personal taste.

In this dessert, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts! (Yes, more math references for Pi Day.)

And voila – a pumpkin pie yogurt parfait mousse.. thing. I’ve yet to come up with a good name for this.You could also prepare this in advance and chill it in the refrigerator. I wish I had the patience or foresight for that.

Whatever you call it, this is a great way to be festive for Pi Day (or, I suppose, Thanksgiving and other more traditional pie-eating holidays) while enjoying a healthy dessert. Pumpkins are full of Vitamin A, potassium, fiber, beta carotene (you can tell as it shares the same lovely orange color as carrots), and so much more. Greatist even refers to pumpkin as a superfood! So eat up and enjoy while reciting pi as far as you can… I’ll start: 3.1415926…

Happy π day 2012!

Happy Lunar New Year from Nom Nom Cat!

Uncategorized

Chúc mừng năm mới, everyone! We’re taking a quick break from our One Week, Three Cities series to wish you all a very happy Lunar New Year. It’s the year of the dragon (my zodiac year!) and we are looking forward to a fantastic 2012! Lunar New Year is also known as Chinese New Year, which is a bit of a misnomer since many Asian cultures celebrate this time of year with their own festivals, traditions, and customs. This past weekend, we visited my parents for an early celebration of Tết, the Vietnamese word for Lunar New Year.

Source: chinesenewyearcards.blogspot.com

Day Two: Seattle – Dim Sum and Henry’s Taiwan for Christmas

Food Adventures, Seattle

What we hadn’t anticipated about holiday travel was just how many places would be closed on Christmas Day. We asked around for ideas on what to do, and the general consensus seemed to be “Go to Chinatown.” Sounds like a plan!

Christmas morning, while children around the world are eagerly tearing up wrapping paper to uncover their presents, we stood outside of a cramped doorway packed with others who apparently had the same idea that we did – DIM SUM. Harbor City Restaurant and its neighbor Jade Garden Restaurant are local favorites for this weekend brunch of sorts. Did you know that dim sum is thought to have given rise to the Western concept of brunch? Who would’ve thought that thousands of years of traditional ‘yum cha’ with hot tea and dumplings would one day evolve into pancakes and French toast. But I digress.

Dim Sum Staples: Cha Siu Pao, Chicken Feet, Har Gow

Harbor City has one cart that holds most of the steamed items, and the waitstaff brings out the stirfried, fried, and baked items on trays in batches as the kitchen rotates through its repertoire. We ordered the staples: har gow, cha siu pao, chicken feet, turnip cake… oh my! The har gow had a nice and sticky wrapper the way I like it, and the shrimp filling was moist and succulent. The cha siu pao, touted as some of the best you could find in Seattle, were hot and fluffy. The barbecue pork filling was a little sweet for my liking, but the texture was perfect. And the chicken feet, if that’s your thing, were flavorful. The turnip cake (below) was crispy on the outside and had bits of lap xuong (Chinese sausage) throughout the turnip dough/paste.

Turnip Cake and Bor Lor Bao

We noticed a lack of our favorite steamed dish – xia chang fun (steamed rice noodle sheets with shrimp, served with a generous drizzle of sweet soy sauce), so we asked our server and she very eagerly brought out our request straight from the kitchen. Ask and you shall receive, indeed! It was warm and fresh with the familiar slippery texture.

Xia Chang Fun

We usually forgo the assortment of entrees and deep-fried offerings, but a pleasant surprise was the crispy shrimp and tofu – a cube of tofu topped with a dollop of shrimp paste, all battered, deep fried, and served with a sweet and sour sauce. Yum! They were wonderful and fresh, but be careful because they come out of the kitchen piping hot!

Crispy Shrimp and Tofu

For dessert, we had the usual – bor lor bao, dahn tat (egg tarts), and mango pudding. After polishing off the last savory dumpling, I dove in a bor lor bao (pictured above). Translated as “pineapple bun”, these baked goodies don’t actually contain pineapple (although some do) but are named for the way the top crust crumbles and looks like the pattern of a pineapple. These were filled with a sweet egg custard. Not the best I’ve had but they certainly satisfied my craving!

Mini Egg Tarts

The dahn tat here are smaller (and cuter!) than those at some other dim sum places. It has a great flaky crust to custard filling ratio. I could eat a dozen more of these!

Mango Pudding

Just as how no dim sum experience for me is complete without bor lor bao, so does Martin feel about ending his dim sum meal with mango pudding. The mango pudding here has bits of a chewier mango jelly, and the main pudding has a more ripe mango flavor and a less from-the-box taste than other places. And of course you can’t go wrong with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk!

As if that wasn’t enough to fuel us for the rest of the day, we wandered around and ended up stopping by Purple Dot Cafe. Rei had taken me here years ago when I visited, and I still remember her excitement over the black-and-white checkered jello. What brought us in, though, was the Hong Kong style milk tea and a dessert missing from Harbor City: sweet steamed tofu. Freshly made silken tofu topped with a simple syrup and ginger concoction, it’s the perfect way to truly complete a meal of dim sum.

Sweet Tofu

We realized that dinner would be hard to come by later on, so we planned ahead! First we stopped by A Piece of Cake; we had passed it on our walk between the station and Harbor City and marveled at the cake displays through the window. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go inside and take home a slice! My eyes darted around at the sheer quantity of beautifully decorated cakes, my stomach growled and my mind became increasingly overwhelmed by the choices.

Such a beautiful cake display at A Piece of Cake!

Finally, I saw it — the green tea honeydew mousse cake — and I just knew it would be the one. Martin already had his heart set on the mango pudding cup, so it was an easy transaction. Dessert in hand, we hopped down the block to Henry’s Taiwan, a place known to the locals as serving up some of the best night market style food. I opted for the must-try dish — beef shaved noodle soup. I asked it spicy and for the noodles to be kept separate so they don’t expand and get mushy before I get the chance to enjoy them. Martin perused the menu for some time before settling on the Shanghai wonton soup and an order of sticky rice from the dim sum offerings.

Beef Shaved Noodles

Christmas dinner in the hotel while watching The Travel Channel might sound less than ideal to some, but I think Martin and I made the best of it and ended up having a great evening. Our room came equipped with a microwave to reheat our meal and a set of table and chairs at which to enjoy it. My soup already smelled amazing but wow, I could eat those hand-shaven freshmade noodles with just the broth all day long and be happy as a clam. They were generous with the beef, which was fatty and cartilaginous just like Mom would make. The dessert was delicious as well — the cake was moist and the layers of creme were not too sweet, just the way I like it. Martin seemed to enjoy his mango pudding, but I think it could have used some condensed milk to make it even better.

Green Tea Honeydew Mousse Cake and Mango Pudding

All in all, we had a very merry Christmas with good food and good company. Despite most places being closed for business, we managed to uncover some great finds in Chinatown, a very worthwhile second day in Seattle.

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Check out Harbor City Restaurant:

707 S King St
(between S 7th Ave & S Canton Aly)
Seattle, WA 98104

Their hours are crazy – opening at 8:30am every day and not closing until midnight on the weekends.

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Purple Dot Cafe:

515 Maynard Ave S
(between King St & Weller St)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out A Piece of Cake:

514 S King St
(between S 5th Ave & S 6th Ave)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Henry’s Taiwan:

502 S King St
(between S 5th Ave & S 6th Ave)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.