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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Japanese Chicken Curry (From the Box)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Back in college, I used to spend a lot of my time (and money) perusing the local Japanese supermarket in the Sawtelle / Little Osaka area. Some grocery shopping trips would yield a cornucopia of fresh ingredients like enoki mushrooms and sashimi grade salmon, and others would be geared toward restocking my pantry with staples like furikake and yakisoba. Among the latter would always be a box of Japanese curry mix. Heavily seasoned blocks of curry roux, these were essential to making a hearty meal in the dead of winter when I was too busy studying to truly make something from scratch. Nowadays, I still keep a box or two around for weeknight meals that appear impressive with minimal effort.

Japanese Chicken Curry over Spaghetti

Japanese Chicken Curry over Spaghetti

Japanese curry roux generally comes in three levels — mild, medium hot, and hot/spicy. There is also a variety of brands available depending on your area and grocery store. Even if you are not located near an Asian supermarket, you could probably find S&B Golden Curry at your local grocery chain in the “Asian food” aisle. I prefer buying the mild kind and spicing it up with La Yu chili oil to my preference. This enables you to taste the flavors of the curry mix without the spice level dominating your palate. Also, the first step (marinating the protein in mirin) is optional, but I think this sweet rice wine is ideal for bringing out that great umami flavor that sets this curry apart from your neighbor’s.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 lb boneless chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 lb potatoes (I used mini yukon golds and quartered them)

2 carrots, sliced

2 tablespoons mirin

salt & pepper

2-3 cups water

1 100g (3.5 oz) package of Japanese curry mix

few drops of La Yu chili oil (optional)

Side/grain: rice, noodles, spaghetti, or crusty bread

Marinate the Chicken

Marinate the Chicken

Cut up the chicken and place in a large bowl. Season with salt (or garlic salt as pictured) and black pepper and drizzle with mirin. Toss to combine and set aside.

Prepare your mise en place

Prepare your mise en place

Chop the onions, potatoes, and carrots. Set aside. If using mini/young potatoes, you do not have to peel them.

Saute the Onions

Saute the Onions

In a large pot (I used my 4.5 quart dutch oven), saute the onions in a light drizzle of oil, about 1 teaspoon, on medium heat. You want them softened and translucent but not too browned.

Add the Chicken

Add the Chicken

Add the chicken, mirin and all, and try to caramelize each side for added flavor. Saute for a few minutes.

Add the Veg and Water

Add the Veg and Water

Toss in the vegetables and pour in enough water to cover. The box instructions will likely say 500 mL (about 2 cups). I added extra, but not more than 3 cups total.

Testing the Potato

Testing the Potato

Bring the pot to a boil and then turn the heat down. Leave it at a steady simmer until the potatoes and carrots are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

Adding the Curry Mix

Adding the Curry Mix

While still in the package, break up the curry roux into chunks. Tear open the package and add the chunks to the pot. Stir well to evenly distribute and let simmer for another 5 minutes for the sauce to thicken, stirring constantly.

Ready to Nom!

Ready to Nom!

Serve immediately over steamed rice or noodles or even pasta. If serving over rice, might I offer a suggestion…

Rice Well

Rice Well, Ready to Pile High

Using the paddle that you used to scoop the rice out of the rice cooker, press a small well into the center of the mound. This will hold in the “good stuff” while letting the sauce run over the sides to flavor all of the rice.

Voila! Japanese chicken curry over rice.

Voila! Japanese chicken curry over rice.

Personally, I prefer noodles over rice, so I will often cook up some boxed spaghetti or utilize leftover pasta as my starchy base for Japanese curry. I also like my curries spicy, so if you look really closely, you can see the glistening crimson drops of chili oil on my portion…

Japanese chicken curry over spaghetti

Japanese chicken curry over spaghetti

Itadakimasu~!

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PS: I know our posting schedule has fluctuated over the years. While I would love to continue with twice a week posts, I’ve made a (good) major life change lately that will no longer allow for me to feasibly keep up with that schedule. We appreciate your patience as we revert to our once-weekly schedule (ideally Mondays, but sometimes Tuesday or Wednesday). :) We love you, Nom Nom Cat readers!

Vietnamese-Style Stuffed Tomatoes (Ca Chua Nhoi Thit)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Stuffed tomatoes (cà chua nhồi thịt) is one of Martin’s favorite home-cooked dishes. His mom used to make for him when he was a kid, and it’s a dish that really takes him back to simpler times. So although I don’t particularly crave it, I was definitely motivated to learn how to make it. No Vietnamese mother writes down her recipes and every Vietnamese mother has her own recipe taught to her by her mother and so forth. But between Martin’s mom and my mom, we were able to pull together a hearty meal that’s easy enough to prepare on a weeknight but that also freezes well to keep for later.

Vietnamese Stuffed Tomatoes

Vietnamese Stuffed Tomatoes

At home when my mom prepares this for my dad (also a big fan), she includes bean thread noodles (bún tàu) and reconstituted dried wood-ear fungus (nấm mèo). Traditionally, the filling is made with ground pork, but we like the extra heartiness that a simple ground beef stuffing offers (and sadly, it is a bit difficult for us to acquire bun tau and nam meo here on the West Side). We also love our stuffed tomatoes extra saucy, hence the many tomatoes.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

4-5 ripe tomatoes (round ones, not roma)

1/2 lb ground beef (80-20 is a good fat ratio)

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce or seasoning sauce x 2

1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic salt x 2

1/2 teaspoon black pepper x 2

1 teaspoon sugar (see below)

1/2 sweet onion, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Preparing the Tomatoes

Preparing the Tomatoes

Prep the tomatoes, starting with the pretty halves for stuffing first. For the prettiest stuffed tomatoes, I use only the “bottoms” of each of the 4 tomatoes. Cut across the tomato (not down through the stem) leaving a little more than half for the bottom side.

Re-purposing a One-Trick Pony (Grapefruit Spoons)

Re-purposing a One-Trick Pony (Grapefruit Spoons)

Use a spoon (or even better, a serrated grapefruit spoon) to hollow out the tomato middles; toss these into a small saucepan. Set the ready-to-stuff halves aside.

Chopped Tomatoes for the Sauce

Chopped Tomatoes for the Sauce

Dice the remaining parts of the tomato (and any additional whole ones you plan to use) into rough chunks – skins, seeds, and all – and add to the saucepan. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper (adjust to taste). Cook down and simmer on medium to medium-high heat until the tomatoes fall apart. Taste; if too acidic, add about 1 teaspoon of white granulated sugar.

Seasoning the Ground Beef

Seasoning the Ground Beef

In a small bowl, season the ground beef with the other “set” of the seasonings above – 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (this is a good opportunity to use the pre-ground, packaged pepper if you have it sitting around). Obviously it’s not recommended that you taste the raw beef (unless you ground the meat yourself) so try judging the flavor based on smell. Yes, I’m suggesting that you sniff the bowl. If you would like to use onions in your stuffing, mix them in now. We have made this both with and without and they are equally delicious.

Stuffing Time!

Stuffing Time!

Retrieve the pretty tomato halves and stuff away. The 4 tomatoes should use up most if not all of the mixture. Err on the side of over-stuffing, as the meat will shrink a bit as it cooks and you don’t want your lovely stuffing to fall right out of the tomato! If you have extra meat, just roll them into meatballs and let them join the party. (Sometimes we will prepare a full 1 lb package of ground beef for the same number of tomatoes just to have extra meatballs – be sure to double the amount of seasoning to accommodate!)

Sear the Stuffed Tomatoes, Meat Side Down

Sear the Stuffed Tomatoes, Meat Side Down

In a frying pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic until it just starts to brown. Add your stuffed tomatoes meat-side-down (and meatballs, if preparing) and get a nice sear going. Be sure to rotate the meatballs periodically to get an even sear on all sides.

Seared Tomatoes

Seared Tomatoes

You’ll want to let this go until the bottoms are browned and seared and the meat part feels like it’s firming up. At this point, you could flip them so the tomato side touches the pan.

The Cooked-Down Tomato Sauce

The Cooked-Down Tomato Sauce

Back to your sauce – are the tomatoes all lovely and cooked down? Good. If my tomatoes are a bit bland or acidic, I might mix in a bit of tomato paste to help it along at this point.

Handy-Dandy Immersion Blender

Handy-Dandy Immersion Blender

The easiest route to make this sauce more “saucy” is to take an immersion blender and let it whir through the sauce until it’s smooth and thick. Alternatively you could smash the tomatoes with the back of a spoon and fish out any stray skins that float around.

The Sauce

The Sauce

Pour the sauce into the pan with the tomatoes. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so to let the flavors meld and to ensure that the beef stuffing has cooked through. Serve over a steaming bowl of white jasmine rice.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Serves 4 (we like to make this for a weeknight meal so we’ll each have a portion for dinner and leftovers for next day’s lunch!)

For anyone wondering, this is my mom’s more traditional version with ground pork, ground shrimp, bean thread noodles, and wood-ear fungus in the stuffing:

More Traditional Style of Ca Chua Nhoi Thit

More Traditional Style of Ca Chua Nhoi Thit

How ever you decide to prepare stuffed tomatoes, we know it will be a delicious and comforting bowl to warm your heart on a cold winter’s night. The blended sauce was the brainchild of Martin and his mom, established through a phone conversation one evening when I was working late and Martin wanted to surprise me with dinner. He’s quite proud of it and as he should be — it’s velvety and packed with flavor, perfect for mixing into white rice and shoveling down by the spoonful. Enjoy!

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Weeknight Dinner: Tuna & Arugula Pasta

Main Dishes, Recipes

After the success of the bacon & arugula pasta, I thought I’d try combining pasta and arugula again. This time, I used a different protein – tuna packed in olive oil, specifically, a fancy gold can of Genova Tonno tuna. And yes, I used cellentani pasta for this one also. That corkscrew shape is just too fun. What follows is a dinner that is perfect for quickly throwing together after a long day at work. It has the comforting familiarity of a tuna casserole without the sodium and fattiness of a canned soup base. Plus, it’s tossed with arugula for a peppery dose of greens.

Tuna & Arugula Pasta - the finished product

Tuna & Arugula Pasta – the finished product

This tuna pasta also keeps well for the next day’s lunch, an important trait we think about when we’re planning out our weeknight dinner rotation. Just remember to get the tuna packed in oil. The kind packed in water (which I usually buy for tuna salad and other cold dishes) will get mushy when you try to saute it. Another key flavor enhancer is the anchovy paste; I used to be able to find it only in Italian grocery stores or fancier markets like Gelsons, but lately I’ve seen these tubes sold at our local VONS and Ralphs as well. It’s worth the investment – the tube will keep for months in the refrigerator and the fishy paste is great for adding an umami quality to Italian dishes.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/2 box dried pasta (about 8 ounces)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, finely diced

1 5-ounce can tuna packed in oil (pictured here is a 3 oz can for dinner-for-one)

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

1-2 cups arugula

Juice of one lemon wedge plus a few wedges for serving

Step 1: Saute

Step 1: Saute

Step 1: Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the garlic and shallots until the garlic is a light brown color and the shallots are translucent.

Step 2: Tuna

Step 2: Tuna

Step 2: Drain out some of the oil from the canned tuna and add the contents to the pan. Stir to break up the chunks. Add the anchovy paste and saute for a few minutes.

Step 3: Mix

Step 3: Mix

Step 3: Add in the pasta and stir to combine. Season with black pepper (plenty) and salt (just a bit, as the anchovy paste will naturally add plenty of saltiness). Just before serving, toss in the arugula and mix until wilted. Drizzle with lemon juice for brightness.

Step 4: Serve & Enjoy

Step 4: Serve & Enjoy

Step 4: Ready in less than 30 minutes, all that’s left is to dig in and enjoy! If you’re looking to make an ordinary weeknight dinner a bit more special, this tuna & arugula pasta pairs nicely with a glass of Chardonnay. Serve with lemon wedges for extra zing, if desired. Bon appetit!

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Weeknight Dinner: Bacon & Arugula Cellentani

Main Dishes, Recipes

I know the discontinuation of Google Reader is old news, but a few weeks ago I finally migrated my RSS feeds over to Feedly and have been playing catch-up with some of my favorite food blogs for inspiration. Anywho, last week Adam at The Amateur Gourmet posted an apparently popular recipe for bacon, chickpea, and spinach pasta and I, remembering the bacon I have leftover in the fridge after making a boatload of onion compote for the barbecue, was inspired to make my own bacon pasta for dinner. Unfortunately I had neither chickpea nor spinach on hand, so as much as I love Lidia Bastianich, I had to pave my own path that night. A half-eaten bag of arugula, also a casualty of the Copycat FO Burger, called out to me (as did its friend Canned Tomatoes sitting in the pantry) and before I knew it, the dish really came together.

Bacon & Arugula Pasta

Bacon & Arugula Pasta

It’s hearty and rustic without really using much meat, and it was an easy, comforting weeknight dish that yielded 4 meals. Plus, these new cellentani (also known as cavatappi) from Barilla were fun to eat and perfectly held the light tomato-bacon sauce. You can substitute any shaped pasta of your choosing; I imagine penne or ziti would also work well.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

3-4 strips of applewood smoked bacon (the fancy thick-cut slices are ideal)

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (I used 6. It was awesome.)

1/4 cup sweet onion, diced (or about 1/4 to 1/2 of a medium-sized onion)

Optional: Dried red pepper flakes, a few shakes

1 14.5-ounce can of whole tomatoes, hand crushed (you can also use canned diced or crushed tomatoes)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 16-ounce box of dried pasta (you might not need all of it – I used about 3/4 of the box and saved the leftover plain pasta for another dish)

1 generous handful (about 1 cup) arugula, washed and dried

Step 1: Cook the pasta

Step 1: Cook the pasta

Step 1: Boil just enough water to cover the pasta by an inch or so (you’ll want to save the nice and starchy pasta water for the sauce later). Salt it and cook the pasta according to package instructions.

Step 2: Bacon Lardon

Step 2: Bacon Lardon

Step 2: Meanwhile, cut the bacon slices into 1/2-inch strips (in case you’re curious, these are also known as lardon). Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.

Step 3: Sizzle like bacon (just kidding - render the fat)

Step 3: Sizzle like bacon (just kidding – render the fat)

Step 3: Render the fat from the bacon pieces, stirring periodically to brown both sides of each piece.

Step 4: Onions, garlic, pepper flakes

Step 4: Onions, garlic, pepper flakes

Step 4: When the bacon is sufficiently browned but not quite shriveled to a crisp, add the garlic and onion and red pepper flakes, if using. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Depending on the size and shape of your pasta, this will be about the time when you’ll need to — RESERVING the pasta water — drain (and rinse, if you have to) and set it aside. Hold onto the pasta water, at least a cup or two of it.

Step 5a: Crush the whole tomatoes (if using crushed, just open the can)

Step 5a: Crush the whole tomatoes (if using crushed, just open the can)

Step 5a: Crush the tomatoes by hand if using whole tomatoes.

Step 5b: Add the tomatoes

Step 5b: Add the tomatoes

Step 5b: Add the crushed tomatoes and about a ladle or two’s worth of pasta water. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes to cook down and thicken.

Step 6: Herbs

Step 6: Herbs

Step 6: I sprinkled in a bit of granulated sugar at this point, not more than a teaspoon, to balance the acidity. Add the dried herbs and continue to simmer.

Step 7: Stir and simmer

Step 7: Stir and simmer

Step 7: Stir the sauce periodically. If you feel it is getting too thick, add more pasta water. The sauce should resemble a spaghetti sauce but preferably a bit less viscous.

Step 7: Add pasta

Step 8: Add pasta

Step 8: When the sauce resembles a good ol’ spaghetti sauce, add about half to two-thirds of the pasta. Stir well. Add more pasta water or pasta or both until you’ve hit a ratio of evenly coated, tomato-y pasta. Just be careful not to thin out the sauce too much at this point and again, you will probably not use up all of the cooked pasta.

Step 9: Arugula

Step 9: Arugula

Step 9: Just before serving, pile on the arugula and mix in, letting the steam from the hot pasta wilt the leaves. You’ll want to do this last because actually cooking the arugula will make it bitter.

Wilting arugula

Wilting arugula

A sprinkling of fresh cracked black pepper and this is ready to serve.

Buon appetito~!

Buon appetito~!

Buon appetito — a rustic-tasting dinner that can be thrown together in as little as 30 minutes! When I first made this, Martin was working late, so I kept the sauce on a constant simmer and periodically added pasta water as needed over the course of about 20-30 minutes. My total prep and cooking time was about an hour because I wanted to toss in the pasta closer to serving time. Still, not bad for a weeknight and if you’re just cooking for 2 like we are, this means plenty of leftovers for lunch. And in case you were wondering, microwaved arugula is a bit bitter but certainly edible. If you can, bring along some fresh sprigs and mix them in after nuking the pasta and sauce only for best next-day results. Cheers!

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