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!

Il Cortile Ristorante – Paso Robles

Central Coast, Food Adventures

2014-06-22 19.11.22

On our recent trip to Central Coast Wine Country, we were overwhelmed by our dining options in downtown Paso Robles. After all, where there’s good wine, there’s good food, right? But in our search for dinner plans, Il Cortile stood out with its homemade pastas, stunning dishes, and (because first impressions matter) clean and modern website.

Upon our arrival, we were pleased to find that our first impressions were just the beginning of a wonderful experience. It was a warm summer evening so we elected to dine al fresco on the inviting semi-enclosed patio. Our server Andrew was friendly, and somewhere along the way, we learned that a surprising number of Paso residents (including himself and the Chef Santos MacDonal) are LA transplants!

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Even after having partaken in an entire afternoon of wine tasting, we could not resist yet another opportunity to sample the Central Coast, so I had the Rose flight while Martin chose the Italian flight to start our meal.

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We love grilled octopus so despite other tempting offerings such as mozzarella di bufalo, coppa con burrata, and carpaccio di anatra (duck), we went with our first instinct: grilled octopus with fresh vegetables marinati in a spicy vinaigrette. The octopus was charred to perfection and oh so tender. It was served over a hearty bed of cannelini beans and tomato, reminding us that we are indeed in an Italian ristorante.

We mentioned wanting to try two different entrees and sharing so that we could sample two of their famed dishes. But without any indication or request, our server went ahead and asked the kitchen to split the plates so that we could each have our own portions, beautifully plated. So thoughtful!

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Following our antipasti was our primi of pappardelle al aragosta – squid ink pasta with a lobster ragu finished with salmon roe. Remember when we said we love grilled octopus? Well we LOVE squid ink pasta. Guaranteed, at least one of us will order it given the option. The lobster ragu was rich and packed with generous bits of lobster meat, while the roe (which I believe was actually tobiko, or flying fish roe, as it was much smaller than the distinct size of ikura) added a welcomed touch of saltiness. The pasta itself, made in-house, had the distinct texture that only fresh pasta has, and it was cooked just until al dente. Absolute perfection, we enjoyed every bite of this. (Editor’s Note: I noticed this dish is no longer listed on the current menu on the website and has been replaced with a lobster ravioli dish instead.)

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Our secondi was a very special dish, one that everyone will tell you to order if you come here but never seems to make a permanent appearance on the menu: osso buco – overnight-braised pork shank with parmesan risotto. It was customary to serve me easier-to-daintily-eat slices and chunks of braised meat while the gentleman got the rest of the bone-in shank in all its glory. What they didn’t know was that this lady has a strong stomach and ended up devouring some of her date’s portion as well, it was just so good! Quick research on the history of osso buco tells me that this was a more “modern” preparation with its tomatoes and mirepoix, but modern or traditional, it was an impressive dish that felt decadent and yet comforting at the same time. Don’t miss it!

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For dessert, Martin was in the mood for something less sweet and made a special request for an affogato – hot espresso poured table-side over vanilla ice cream. I opted for the vanilla panna cotta which was garnished with fresh strawberries and a berry coulis. I loved being able to actually see the flecks of vanilla bean, and the flavor was delicate. Delicious!

From beginning to end, we had an amazing experience. Be sure to include Il Cortile in your next Central Coast adventure!

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Check out Il Cortile – ilcortileristorante.com

608 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446

See their Yelp reviews here!

Homemade Squid Ink Pasta (Nero di Seppia)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I had always wanted to go to the fish markets in Downtown Los Angeles but we never seem to wake up early enough to catch the good stuff. One morning, we made our way over to Los Angeles Fish Co. in the industrial district, ready to be inspired by the bounty of the sea. Razor clams, Santa Barbara uni, PEI mussels, pompano fish, arctic char, fanny bay oysters… the assortment was exciting. One of the more interesting finds was a jar of cuttlefish ink. We love to order squid ink pasta whenever we find it on a menu, and we’ve always wanted to make it at home ourselves, so we opened our wallets and forked over the $35 for the 500 mL jar (as we later discovered, it will last us for a very long time).

Capellini nere alle vongole

Capellini nere alle vongole

The first question I had (and Googled) was “squid ink vs. cuttlefish ink.” The verdict? I learned that most commercial squid ink is actually from cuttlefish, and that cuttlefish ink is superior because of its rounded, smooth flavor. Squid ink could taste strongly of iodine. Both bring the briny essence of the sea and a stunning black hue to a classic Italian dish. My second question was whether I should have purchased the cephalopods whole and extracted my own ink sacs. Another Google search told me that commercially harvested ink, packaged in jars, are generally higher quality and better suited for cooking. And the third and last question — how the heck do I add it to the pasta dough?

Squid Ink Pasta Dough Ball

Squid Ink Pasta Dough Ball

Well, browsing online yielded a lot of recipes for what to do with the store-bought squid ink (don’t do it). But when I finally found some advice on making homemade black pasta, it turned out to be surprisingly easy! Just take our fresh pasta recipe (yields about 1 pound of dough), and whisk in one tablespoon of ink with the egg-oil mixture prior to pouring it into the flour. It’s that simple.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

5 ounces all-purpose flour

5 ounces semolina flour

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon squid ink (or cuttlefish ink)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Measure out the flours and gently mix to combine. Make a well in the center.

Flours and Egg-Ink Mixture

Flours and Egg-Ink Mixture

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, ink, and oil. Pour into the well.

Whisking in the Ink

Whisking in the Ink

3. Using a fork, stir in a circular motion to slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet.

Kneading Time!

Kneading Time!

4. When a dough starts to form, knead on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes.

Resting the Dough

Resting the Dough

5. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes to 1 hour.

Cross-section of Dough

Cross-section of Dough

6. Cut into quarters. Flatten into a disc and roll out to desired thickness.

Beautiful Velvety Jet-Black Pasta

Beautiful Velvety Jet-Black Pasta

7. Cook in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and toss into sauce of choice. Serve immediately.

Cut Pasta

Cut Pasta

So if you’re looking to make a homemade Italian meal to impress a loved one, try making squid ink pasta. Now that’s amore!

Serving Suggestion: Squid Ink Pasta with Clams

Serving Suggestion: Squid Ink Pasta with Clams

The Factory Kitchen – Downtown Los Angeles

Food Adventures, Los Angeles
fusilli alla amatriciana

fusilli alla amatriciana

Hidden away in the heart of the newly coined “Arts District” that is transforming the grungy old industrial neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles is, believe it or not, a trattoria-style Italian restaurant that just opened in 2013. In a dining room that stays true to its concrete column and exposed ducting “look,” The Factory Kitchen’s menu features a variety of traditional dishes including a selection of handmade pastas.

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

Martin had been here for lunch with his coworkers before and he raved about so much that we decided to dine here for a belated Valentine’s Day meal.

focaccina calda di recco al formaggio - pizzata

focaccina calda di recco al formaggio – pizzata

Starter: focaccina calda di recco al formaggio – pizzata – crescenza, san marzano tomato, capers, anchovies, oregano. Martin suggested that we share a focaccina to start and he let me pick one. Lured by the prospect of anchovies and capers, I selected the pizzata. What is a focaccina? It was unlike anything I’d ever had, but I suppose the best way to describe it would be a very thin, very flaky and puffy flat-bread pizza. The pizzata was lightly sauced with a San Marzano tomato puree and decorated simply with a pair of anchovy loins. But the beauty is in its simplicity. It was so amazing I almost didn’t want to share.

gnocchi malfatti

gnocchi malfatti

Entree (M): gnocchi malfatti – ricotta semolina dumpling, lamb sugo. I’m a big fan of ragu-type meaty sauces (and I don’t mean the stuff in the jar), so I had a feeling the lamb sugo would be a good choice. The ricotta gnocchi were very fluffy but also very cheesy. Martin, who is already a huge fan of potato gnocchi, really enjoyed this dish!

fusilli alla amatriciana

fusilli alla amatriciana

Entree (A): fusilli alla amatriciana – long corkscrew pasta, pork jowl, onion, spicy tomato. I needed only to spot the words “pork jowl” and I knew this would be the dish for me. There’s something inherently comforting about the flavor combination of pork fat and tomatoes, and this tender, fatty pork jowl did not disappoint. Also surprising were the long (VERY LONG) corkscrews; they were like rotini on steroids. So delicious I only wish there were more on the plate!

pannacotta

pannacotta

Dessert: pannacotta – meyer lemon curd, feuillitine crunch, candied zest. Another one of my buzzwords is feuillitine. Did I ever tell you about the time Martin and I made our own crepes dentelle? Now that was an adventure, but a story for another time. This dessert was love at first sight. Silky vanilla panna cotta topped by a thick layer of lemon curd… the combinations of tart and sweet, smooth and creamy… it was heaven on a spoon. I’m also a big fan of candied citrus, so I thought the zest was a great touch.

A wonderful meal, fabulously attentive service, and a taste of Italia in the heart of the industrial district… definitely swing by and check out The Factory Kitchen!

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Check out The Factory Kitchen: thefactorykitchen.com

1300 Factory Place, Suite 101
Los Angeles, CA 90013

See their Yelp reviews here!

Risotto with Italian Chicken Sausage and English Peas

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Last week I posted a picture of our dinner after having made what I thought was just a simple but tasty way to use up some storebought Italian sausages I had hanging out in the fridge. But the photo garnered many “likes” on both Facebook and Instagram (follow me: keepcalmbakesouffles) so by popular demand, here is the recipe. I had a package of Open Nature brand Italian chicken sausages, but your favorite sausage of just about any brand and flavor will do. (Although if you have some bratwurst to deal with, might I suggest our beer braise with caramelized onions instead?)

Risotto with Italian chicken sausage and English peas

Risotto with Italian chicken sausage and English peas

Also, I chose to toss in English peas as they looked especially fresh and colorful on the shelf of my local Trader Joes (which, apparently, now stocks microgreens as well in case you wanted to bring restaurant plating techniques to your home kitchen). You could substitute (or add) fava beans, chopped asparagus, artichoke hearts, shaved fennel… if you dream it, you can achieve it. Longtime readers may recognize that the instructions are very similar to the risotto al funghi that we posted last summer!

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 white or sweet onion, diced

1 package Italian chicken sausage, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces

1 1/4 cup arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine (2 buck chuck Chardonnay will do fine)

3 cups chicken broth (approximately)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or a few sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup English peas (or frozen petite sweet peas)

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup parmesan, grated

Salt & pepper

Prep

Prep

First things first, set up your mise en place: minced garlic, diced onion, sliced sausages, bottle of wine opened and ready to go. (And peas picked out of their pods if yours are THAT fresh.)

Sweating the Onions

Sweating the Onions

Sweat the onions and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the Sausage

Add the Sausage

Add the sausage and saute for a few minutes. I tried to get a bit of color on some of the slices.

Add Rice and Wine

Add Rice and Wine

Add the rice and pour in the wine to deglaze the pan. Stir until the wine has been absorbed.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Toss in the thyme and pour in the chicken broth, about 1 cup at a time. Let the liquid come to a simmer. When the rice has absorbed most of it, add more chicken broth, reserving about 1 cup (less is OK) for the next step.

Add the Peas

Add the Peas

After about 20 minutes or when the rice has just gotten to the al dente stage, add the peas and pour in the reserved broth.

Finishing the Risotto

Finishing the Risotto

When most of the liquid has been absorbed and the peas are cooked through but not mushy, finish with the butter and parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

White wine may be a more traditional pairing for risotto, but I enjoyed my portion with a tall glass of the Sam Adams Seasonal brew Cold Snap, an unfiltered white ale with the smooth brightness of the summer ale but a hint of spice to remind you of the best parts about this time of year. (Yes, I loved it so much at Dave & Buster’s that I bought a few bottles to enjoy at home!)