Panna Cotta

As far as desserts go, Panna Cotta has it all. It’s dead simple to make, but absolutely satisfying and delicious. Depending on what you top it with, it can be rustic or elegant, or anywhere in between. It’s creamy and sweet, but it’s not full of eggs, so it’s lighter than a custard, mousse, or pudding. Basically, if you have baking fatigue right now, but still have some festivities to get through, consider this my gift to you.

This version is from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and it serves 8 in very small ramekins, but I usually do 6 larger portions.

1 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 TB cold water
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
Pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Heat the rest of the ingredients, except the sour cream, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, until hot, but not boiling, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the gelatin until completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

3. Put the sour cream in a bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream, a little at a time, until completely combined and smooth. Taste for sweetness, and add a little more sugar if needed.

4. Pour into ramekins or custard cups, Cover, and chill for at least 4 hours, or over night.

Because there are very few ingredients involved, please use the best ones you can find. You can top it with fresh fruit, jam or compote, any kind of sweet sauce, crumbled cookies, or, honestly, just have it plain. You can also substitute yogurt, chevre, or any other creamy-but-sour dairy semi-solid for the sour cream. I always serve it in the dish I make it in, but you can unmold it and plate it up if that’s more your style.

Ramen Egg Salad

I started to make some ramen eggs on the assumption that we had saved the marinade from the last time we made ramen, but that assumption proved incorrect, so I turned them into egg salad sandwiches for lunch. And they were delicious! Unfortunately I did not have the forethought to take a picture before they were all devoured, but I’m recording the basic method here so you can try it at home. Maybe take a picture and send it to me?

Part 1: make soft/medium boiled eggs. Boil enough water to cover however many eggs you’re making (I made six, which was enough for three sandwiches). Once the water’s boiling, place the eggs in the pot. Boil gently for seven minutes (that will give you a pretty jammy yolk, you can go down to six for a runny yolk, or up to nine for a more solid yolk), then remove the eggs from the pot and place them directly in an ice/cold water bath. Once they’ve chilled for a bit, crack the shells and put back in the water (getting some water under the shell makes them easier to peel cleanly). Peel and use, or refrigerate until using.

Part 2: make sriracha aioli. I used leftovers from last night’s kimchi hotdogs, but if you aren’t so lucky, you can make the actual version (from Double Awesome Chinese Food by Andrew, Irene, and Margaret Li: whisk an egg yolk, 2 cloves of garlic minced, 1 TB sriracha, 1 TB rice vinegar, 1/4 tsp each salt and sugar, together. While whisking, slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup canola or other neutral oil. Add another half TB of sriracha and vinegar, then taste and adjust seasonings however you like) now, or you can just combine sriracha and mayonnaise in whatever ratio you like.

Part 3: make the salad: Cut your eggs up into big chunks and throw into a bowl with a splash each of toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar, some salt and pepper, and and two-ish thinly sliced scallions. Mix, crushing the eggs a bit, taste and season as needed. Since the yolks are somewhere on the jammy spectrum, the salad will be pretty gooey. If that’s not your bag, make it with hard boiled eggs instead.

Part 4: assemble your other ingredients. Toast two slices of bread per sandwich (so, six, in my case, and I think most types of bread would be pretty good for this sandwich), peel, pit, and slice a ripe avocado, get some lettuce or other greens of your choice clean and ready, and if you have some, a pinch of shichimi togarashi is pretty nice to have.

Part 5: sandwiches! For each sandwich, spread both slices of bread with a layer of sriracha aioli. Arrange slices of avocado on one slice of bread, and sprinkle with a little sea salt if you’re feeling fancy. Mound some of the egg salad on top of the avocado, and add that pinch of shichimi togarashi. Top with the lettuce and the other slice of bread. Have a great lunch!

Potato Gratin

This is a pretty simple side dish to make if you have a mandoline. If you don’t, then the slicing may get a bit tedious.

Serves 4

4 russet potatoes
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 bay leaf
1 small sprig of rosemary
3 thyme sprigs
1 1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground white or black pepper and nutmeg to taste
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

1. Put all of the ingredients except for the potatoes and the cheeses into a pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter a 9″-square casserole, or you can go for a different shape around the same size. If you’re feeling French, you can first rub the pan all over with a cut clove of garlic.

3. Peel the potatoes, and slice them fairly thin, about 1/8″ (this is where the mandoline comes in). When you’re not working with them, keep the potatoes submerged in cold water so they don’t oxidize, but make sure you pat them dry before using them.

4. Arrange the potato slices in the pan, overlapping them, but keeping it to a single layer. Try to fit most of them in, but if your potatoes were on the large size you might have some left over. Strain the cream mixture, and pour it evenly over the potatoes. (If you taste the cream mixture, it will probably be delicious, but too salty. That’s okay, because the potatoes are as yet unseasoned, so it will all work out.)

5. Bake for 45 minutes, and then check it. The top should be browning a bit, and the potatoes should be cooked through (poke the center to make sure). In my experience, how long they take is highly dependent on how tightly packed your potatoes are, so give yourself some wiggle room, they may go longer.

6. Take them out of the oven, sprinkle with the cheese, and either put them back in for a few more minutes to get melty, or heat up the broiler and brown to desired crispiness.

Cauliflower and Chickpea Tacos

My cooking method these days is often to get an idea of what I want to make, Google several recipes, and then combine the best parts of each recipe, adding stuff I like, and getting rid of stuff I don’t like. Then the next time I go to make that dish, I have to recreate the whole process, so, instead, here’s a quick and dirty (and delicious) cauliflower taco recipe reminder.

Two heads of cauliflower + one can of chickpeas. Olive oil, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, chipotle chili flakes (couple pinches), salt, pepper. 400° for 25 minutes. Serve with cabbage slaw (1/2 head cabbage + olive oil + lime juice (about half a lime) + cilantro and salt), crema or sour cream, avocado, and queso fresco. Might be good with some kind of toasted almonds next time. Also, maybe double it.

Sweet Potato Chili

My daughter has decided to eat less/no meat for the time being, and I’m now realizing that a lot of our autumn/winter comfort foods are very meat-forward. Fortunately, my mom has been a vegetarian (pescatarian if you’re being picky) for longer than I’ve been alive, and she has some really great recipes. This is based on her sweet potato chili, but I kind of went off on a tangent, because I just really love these cumin roasted sweet potatoes, okay?

Serves 4-6

4 TB peanut oil (divided)
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 – 1 tsp berbere spice blend
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 28 oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes, depending on your texture preference
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup apple cider
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
1/2 tsp fresh grated orange peel
Salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss the sweet potatoes with 2 TB of the oil, the cumin seeds, and some salt. Spread them on a baking sheet in a single layer, and roast for 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. They should get pretty dark, but not charred. Remove from the oven and let sit while you make the rest of the chili (or roast them ahead of time, if you want).

2. Heat up the other 2 TB oil in a stew pot over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers, and sauté until golden and soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, berbere, and paprika, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, or until the paste thickens up and gets a little darker.

3. Add the tomatoes, broth, cider, beans, and salt to taste, and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan if you need to. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for ten minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and cumin seeds, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

4. Stir in the cilantro and orange zest, and cook for another minute or two. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve hot, with sour cream, cheese, cornbread, or whatever toppings you like on chili.

Notes: Berbere spice blends are going to vary, so taste yours first and add more or less depending on how spicy you like things. I did one heaping teaspoon, and it was on the edge of too spicy for me, but I’m like a medium spice white person, so, adjust accordingly. Also, this was very thick, so feel free to add more broth or water if you like it saucier.

Macaroni and Cheese (stovetop version)

This is my favorite weeknight mac and cheese recipe. It comes from Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine, in kind of a fancier version with country ham and a Parmesan basket, but the core of the recipe is quick, easy, and super tasty. The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of macaroni, but that’s like, super saucy. I usually make a pound of pasta, and that seems a bit more reasonable, and feeds a whole family. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reheat well, or do well in the oven (ask me how I know), so it’s not great for potlucks and that kind of thing, but otherwise, it’s great.

Serves 4

1 lb. dried tubular pasta (elbows, cavatappi, penne, &c.)
2 TB butter
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 TB minced shallot
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated aged Gouda cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, but on the al dente side of things.

2. Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until soft and fragrant, being careful not to brown them (the recipe says five minutes, but it’s less than that). Add the cream, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream has reduced by a quarter, and coats the back of the spoon.

3. Whisk in the grated cheeses, and cook, stirring, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. You can strain it at this point if you want, but I never do.

4. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce (or vice-versa, depending on your relative pot size), and simmer together for a minute or two, adjusting the seasoning as necessary.

The garlic and shallot measurements are a little silly, and I usually just go for one clove of garlic and one shallot. If you like breadcrumbs on top, you can do some extra garlic and shallot, cook them in some butter, and then add some breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and cook until toasty, then sprinkle them on top of the finished mac and cheese.

Let me guess…

My daughter spent a chunk of her free time this summer playing Skyrim, so, for her first day of school, I made her some sweetrolls to steal. I used the recipe in the Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino, but you could make any cinnamon roll or sweet bun dough and I’m sure it would work. The tricky part is finding two 6-cavity mini Bundt pans, if you don’t already have them.

Fantasy Sweet Rolls
Makes 12

For the dough:
1 envelope (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
6 TB salted butter, at room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks, at room temp
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temp, just have everything at room temp, okay?
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
4 TB salted butter, melted
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 TB ground cinnamon

For the icing:
2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 TB whole milk

1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar together.

2. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the milk, cardamom, and salt until well-blended (This was the step that mystified me. No matter how room temperature everything is, you’re still just going to get soggy butter chunks.). Beat in the yeast mixture.

3. Add 3 1/2 cups of flour, and mix until well-combined. Knead the dough until smooth, adding more flour if necessary (it was).

4. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle, and brush with the melted butter.

6. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the dough.

7. Fold the dough into thirds (on the 18″ side, so you’ll end up with a 12″ x 6″ rectangle)

8. Cut the folded dough crosswise into 12 1″-wide strips.

9. Grease your two 6-cavity mini-Bundt pans, and wrap the dough slices around the center tubes. I only had one such pan, so I did half a batch at a time (I had to go to several stores looking for an appropriately-sized mini-Bundt pan, and the only ones I could find were $36 each, and I wasn’t prepared for that kind of investment).

10. Cover the pans and let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

11. Bake 18 – 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

12. Level the bottoms of the rolls with a large knife.

13. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla, and milk for the icing, adjusting with more milk or sugar to get a thick, but pourable, glaze.

14. Spoon over the tops of the rolls, and allow (encourage) to drip down the sides.

Green Chile and Cherry Tomato Pickle

I brought several appetizers from Indian(-ish) by Priya Krishna to a family get-together last night. They were all delicious, and well-loved (and well-eaten), but these tomatoes received the most recipe requests, so here you go! I did not have fenugreek seeds, so I left them out, and I only had two serranos (well, I had three, but I needed one for the peanut chutney), which I quartered, so if you want to make exactly what I made, those are the only differences.

Serves 4

2 TB olive oil
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp nigella seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp asafetida
4 long Indian green chiles, or serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 TB fresh lime juice (from about half a lime)

1. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. When it begins to shimmer, add all of the seeds, and cook until they look slightly browned and start to sputter, about 1 minute. Stir in the asafetida and then the chiles. Cook for 2 minutes, until the chiles brown and crisp on the sides.

2. Turn off the heat, mix in the tomatoes, and immediately transfer to a serving bowl so that the tomatoes stop cooking. Gently mix in the salt and lime juice. Serve warm or at room temperature. These will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, but are best the same day.

Grilled Pizza

We make homemade pizza fairly often in the winter, but who wants to turn their oven up to 500° when it’s in the 90s? Enter grilled pizza, which, you still have to stand around a hot grill for, but at least your whole house doesn’t get overheated.

I used Bon Appétit’s method for the pizza, but I really don’t like supermarket pizza dough, so I made my own

This is my second-favorite pizza dough recipe, because my favorite pizza dough recipe takes six hours, so you have to know before noon that you want pizza for dinner. This one, adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table, only rises for two hours, so you can be a little more spontaneous. I quadrupled the recipe, for six personal-size pizzas.

1 to 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup warm water

1. Mix the dry ingredients, then add the water and mix until combined. Knead for about five minutes, until the dough comes together, and is soft, but not too sticky, adding more flour as needed.

2. Form into a ball (or as many balls as you’d like pizzas, if you’re increasing the recipe), and place on well-floured surface. Flour the top of the dough, cover, and let rise for two hours, or about tripled in bulk. Then make some pizzas!

Bonus no-cook pizza sauce recipe: Combine a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (these can be pre-crushed, or you can drain some whole tomatoes and run them through a food mill. You might have to experiment with different brands to get a flavor and consistency that you like) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a clove or two of minced garlic. Taste and add lemon juice or sugar if the flavor needs adjusting, then let it sit while you’re busy with your other pizza business.

Oisgill Scones (aka Round Scones)

This is my mom’s recipe, and it’s kind of a mystery. It was copied out of a food magazine a long time ago, but no amount of googling has led me to its source. The people of Oisgill Bay, Isle of Skye, Scotland, don’t seem to have a particularly robust scone-making tradition, and, while there’s a wide range of “traditional Scottish scones’ recipes out there, none of them are like these, as far as I can tell. Honestly, these scones aren’t very scone-like. They’re more like breakfast cookies. That doesn’t stop us from loving them, though!

Makes 10

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugat
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

For egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water

1. Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Beat the butter and sugar by hand or with a mixer. Add the egg and beat until blended. (I added 1/2 tsp vanilla after this step, because I thought it would be a good addition, and I was not wrong).

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt (I didn’t. I literally almost never sift anything if I can get away with it), add to the butter mixture, and mix gently, just to combine.

4. Gather into a ball, and flatten into an 8″-round, 1/2″-thick circle. Cut into rounds using a 2″ cutter, gently gathering and re-flattening/cutting the scraps until they’re all used up.

5. Place on baking sheet, and brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until they’re light brown.