Archive | May, 2012

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Burnt Orange Caramel Sauce

28 May

This last week, three things happened to bring this dish together. I was in Bali for a wedding and over the dinner table I spent some time debating with the groom’s Nanna Val and cousin Kate, the ever important question of whether burnt caramel is better than sweet caramel. Before I left for Bali, my friend Karen (the uber wonderful cook you may remember from our ‘day of cooking’) made me panna cotta. Her panna cotta is like no other and I may have, once or a hundred times, expressed to her how much I love it when she makes it. I am subtle. Then B posts this incredible looking dessert with cumquats.  This is how things collided in my mind for me to start thinking about… burnt caramel with citrus alongside panna cotta.

Fortunately Karen was happy to come over and show me how she makes the panna cotta. And she does make it differently to the traditional method, mainly in that she doesn’t heat the cream. She thinks this keeps the taste cleaner and fresher. I made the sauce before she arrived.

The sauce…

is just freshly squeezed orange juice, sugar and some slices of orange.

I heated the sugar in a pan over medium heat. As I stirred, it melted, and then rapidly changed colour and frothed up. Perhaps my heat was too high, as it should take around seven minutes. I think it took me about 90 seconds.


Once it had reached a darkness I thought looked burnt enough, I took it off the heat and added the orange juice. It does spit a bit, so be careful. Also stir as you go. Because I was taking a photo, I got a few lumps so warmed it up slightly to melt them again.

I removed the pith and rind from the orange and then sliced the orange up finely. If you put the slices in to the warm sauce on low heat for a few minutes to allow them to macerate for a while, they will lose their acidic edge. Then I allowed the sauce and orange slices to cool.

And the panna cotta….

is cream (a little more than this one container), whole milk, caster sugar (superfine sugar), titanium grade gelatine leaf and vanilla bean.

We began by splitting a vanilla bean down the centre and scraping out the seeds. Both the seeds and the pod were added to the milk, and then heated until it just began to boil. Watch it the whole time as you don’t want it to over boil. The picture below shows when we took it off, just starting to bubble around the edge. We then set it aside to rest.

We soaked the gelatine leaf in cold water for around five minutes.

We then removed the vanilla pod from the warm milk, and added in the sugar, and then the gelatine leaves, which were squeezed out.

We warmed the milk mixture and stirred until the sugar and gelatine dissolved.

We put the cream in a bowl, and then we added a ladle full of the plain cream to the milk mixture and mixed to slightly reduce the temperature, then strained the milk mixture directly in to the bowl of cream. The straining made sure there are no gelatine lumps, or clumps of vanilla seeds.

We then stirred the mixture well. We were speeding the process, so we continued to stir the creamy mix until it began to thicken with our bowl of cream set over a bowl of ice. You do not need to do this if you make the panna cotta the day before and set it overnight, but if you make it only a couple of hours before you plan to eat it…

The mix was then ladled in to Dariole moulds on a tray, ready to slide in to the fridge. Dariole moulds in plastic like these ones are under a dollar apiece, and Karen likes them best for panna cotta as they slide out (relatively) easily.

When they had set, we ran a warmed knife around the inside of the moulds and inverted them on our plates. Then ladled on a little of the now cooled burnt orange caramel sauce and a slice of the orange.

Well hello there, deliciousness!

So now we have her secret recipe! And although the caramel debate will most likely continue, I am well and truly on the dark side.

Thank you, B, for your part in the inspiration.

I wonder where we are off to now?


Burnt Orange Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 orange, pith and rind removed, thinly sliced crossways

Stir the sugar in a pan over medium heat until it dissolves, and then cook until it turns a dark caramel colour. Remove from the heat. Carefully, as it spits, add the orange juice and stir until well blended. If you have lumps warm the pan up on low heat. Add the orange slices and allow to warm in the sauce on low heat for a few minutes before setting aside to cool and macerate further in the sauce.

Karen’s Vanilla Panna Cotta

750ml 35% fat cream (25.3 fluid oz)
270ml milk (9 fluid oz)
3.5 titanium grade gelatine leaves
160 grams sugar (5.6 oz)
1 vanilla bean, split in two and the seeds scraped.
Add milk and vanilla bean, along with the scraped seeds into a pan and bring *just* to the boil, then set aside to cool.
Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for five minutes.
Remove the vanilla beans from milk.
Return to the milk to a low heat and add the sugar. Squeeze the water from the gelatine and add to the milk and sugar.
Continue heating and stirring until sugar and gelatine have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add a little of the cream and mix through, this cools the mix a little and means the gelatine will have less of a shock when it is poured in to the full bowl of cream. Then strain the milk mixture with a sieve into the rest of the cream and stir until combined. Ladle the mix into moulds and allow to set overnight in the fridge.

To serve, run a heated knife around the edge of the mould and invert on your plate. We heated our knife by waving it quickly through a gas flame, but you could also dunk it in a jug of hot water and then dry.

Lift the mould up and let the panna cotta slide on to the plate.

Spoon over a little of the sauce and add a slice of the macerated orange.

Crêpes with Kumquat Marmalade

21 May

Alice’s last post looked so great! I love Vietnamese food, but I am quite intimidated by all the ingredients and some of the unfamiliar cooking techniques. That dish, however, was absolutely something I could do. Thanks for showing me how entirely doable it is, Alice.

The pancakes in that last dish reminded me of crêpes. And I had a bag of beautiful kumquats that I picked up at the farmers market in San Francisco that I wanted to use.

Yes, I’m the person who gets on an airplane with a bag full of food. So I came up with my twist on the classic Crêpes Suzette – Crêpes with Kumquat Marmalade.

Kumquats are an interesting fruit, they are like teeny tiny little oranges, but you eat the whole fruit, peel and all. In fact, usually the peel is sweet and the inside of the fruit is a little tart. Perfect for marmalade. And really, they are just so cute!

First I washed and sliced up 30 kumquats

Then I added them to a medium saucepan, along with some sugar and water. I left the seeds in the pan, as I read that the seeds contain some pectin and help thicken the marmalade.

Brought the mixture to a boil

and reduced the heat to medium, so the marmalade stayed at a simmer

After 30 minutes or so, when the fruit had softened and the marmalade had thickened a bit, I scooped out the seeds

I let it cool a bit before spooning it into a clean jar that I had just run through the dishwasher to sanitize.

I cooked my marmalade too long, nearly an hour, so it was a bit too solid and would not be easily spread. So don’t cook it too long and do as I say and not as I do.

Once in a jar, the marmalade should keep for about a month in the fridge.

Then on to the crêpes.

I whisked together eggs, milk, flour, sugar and salt.

When that mixture was smooth, I added the water, oil and melted butter and let it sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes.

Then I heated my small cast iron skillet and melted a little butter in the pan.

So I thought this whole crêpe making process would be easy, as I’ve made many a crêpe with my Mom. Only the ones we make are with a cornmeal batter and after we form the crêpes, we fry them and fill them with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, onions, etc for tacos. I’ll share that recipe sometime.

But back to the crêpes. I thought this would be easy. I know the technique, I have a nicely seasoned pan, which makes it nearly non-stick, so no problem. Well, unfortunately, I kept trying to flip the crêpe before it was fully cooked and ended up with the first two looking like a mound of scrambled eggs.

I took a slightly different tack. I rubbed oil into the pan with a paper towel, then added the crêpe batter, just about two to three tablespoons worth, with a small ladle. You just want to coat the bottom of the pan with the batter. Lift the pan off the heat, pour a little of the batter into one edge of the pan and rotate the pan so the batter coats the bottom completely. The pan shouldn’t be too hot either, just a medium heat is good.

Then let the crêpe sit in the pan until the edges start to crisp up and the bottom starts to solidify and easily lifts away from the pan. Flip it over, it should have light brown spots. I used a small spatula to flip mine but my Mom uses either a butter knife or fork to flip them over.

Let the other side cook for just a few seconds and pull it out of the pan. Lay the crêpe on a plate to cool for a minute or two while you get the next one going, then fold it in half, then in half again to make a triangle.

You can keep them warm in an oven at low heat, if desired.

Once the crêpes were all cooked, I melted some butter, added some of the marmalade, a splash of orange liqueur and heated it up.

I spooned it over the crêpes and voila!

It was rich, delicious and just a little tart.

Kumquat Marmalade
(inspired by a post by

30 kumquats
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water

Wash the kumquats and slice them as thin as you can, including the peelings and seeds.

In a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan, add the sliced kumquats, sugar and water. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring every few minutes. After it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium low and let simmer for about 30 minutes or until the fruit is tender. During that time, you can scoop out the seeds that will float to the top.

Once the kumquats are tender and the mixture has begun to thicken, turn off the heat and let it cool for a bit.

Scoop the slightly cooled marmalade into a pint sized jar that you have sanitized – I ran mine through the dishwasher. It will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

(for more tips on how to make perfect crepes, watch the amazing Jacques Pépin show you how)

2 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup cold water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter

Whisk together the eggs, flour, milk, salt and sugar. When the batter is smooth, add the water, oil and melted butter. Let it sit in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

Heat a 6-inch crêpe pan or nonstick skillet and rub with a little butter or oil. Add two to three tablespoons of the batter and tilt the skillet to distribute the batter evenly, pouring any excess batter back into the bowl. Cook over medium heat until the edges of the crêpe curl up and start to brown. Flip the crêpe and cook for a few seconds longer, until a few brown spots appear on the bottom. Tap the crêpe out onto a plate to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter, oiling the skillet a few times as necessary.

When you have finished making all the crêpes, fold them in half and in half again, making little triangles. Keep warm in low oven.

Well, Alice, I hope I’ve succeeded in making you hungry. Where are we going next??

Vietnamese Prawn and Pork Pancakes (Banh Xeo)

13 May

B’s meal on the grill looked so very tasty. I love the idea of shaved marinated asparagus, cooked or not.

The prawns with salad reminded me of this Vietnamese dish, which is a pancake scattered with flavoured prawns and pork that you then break up and wrap generously in lettuce and herbs.

The word Xeo means the cracking sound generated when you cook the Banh- the pancakes. I have never cooked them before and was honestly surprised by the flavours. I am not sure why I didn’t think coconut milk and rice flour pancakes would be so… umm… coconut ricey.

It took me a few attempts to perfect the pancake cooking. I have read that many homes keep a special pan just for this dish. It is a bit of an art as the pancakes are sticky and delicate until crisped up. I found that I needed a good layer of oil in the pan, and by not lifting or checking it too much until it was crisp on the base, I was able to keep it in one piece. I have used a mix of recipes to develop this one.

You need quite a few ingredients to make these… but if you have a good Asian grocery it might be one stop shopping.

The pancake batter is made with rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric, cold water and salt.

I put all of the batter ingredients in to a bowl and mixed well. This needed to be set aside for at least an hour, but overnight is great. You will need to give it a stir before using it.

I then prepared the prawns and pork to allow them to marinate a little before cooking.

I sliced up the pork fillet as thin as I could, and shelled the prawns and then sliced them in half long ways. This also makes it easy to devein them. Then into a bowl I put the garlic, fish sauce, salt and sugar and mixed them up, along with the pork and the prawns. I left this to marinate for half an hour in the fridge.

Fish sauce is a staple in South East Asian cooking. It is quite pungent, as it is made from fermented anchovies. It is inexpensive and adds a distinctive flavour. I like Golden Boy brand. If you would like to read more about fish sauce, here is a link to a wikipedia article.

Next I made the nuoc cham dipping sauce which is very simple. I mixed some lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and water. Then I added some chopped up chilli and you can also add minced garlic if you like that extra bite. I mixed it until the sugar dissolved, and then tasted to check that the sauce was strong enough and that I could taste a good balance of the sour and sweet.

I  loaded up a serving platter with cucumber sticks, a pile of lettuce leaves, Vietnamese mint and coriander (cilantro).

Next I cooked the pork and prawns.

I started by slicing some onion lengthways and sautéing it in a hot pan with some vegetable oil. When it was cooked to transparent I added the marinated pork and prawns and stirred it constantly until the meat was cooked through, the prawns were pink and the pork was pink no longer.

I set the meat aside in a bowl close to the stove. I also filled two small bowls with bean shoots and chopped spring onion and had them at the ready stove-side.

I put  a layer of oil in a pan, and heated on medium-high heat. When the oil was hot, I poured in a small ladle of pancake batter and swirled the pan to coat it with a thin layer. I sprinkled the batter with spring onion, bean shoots and some of the pork and prawn mix. I left it to crackle away and cook until it was browned and crispy on the bottom.

When it was cooked, I folded it over in half and put it on a plate.

To eat… start with a lettuce leaf, and break off some pancake and place it inside, then load up with herbs and cucumber to your liking. Dip it in the sauce and hey presto.

Crunchy, fresh, warm, a bit gooey, sweet, sour, salty, and a little spicy in each mouthful.

I don’t think we have discussed much Asian food before B. Curious to know where you will take this. Over to you!

Vietnamese Prawn and Pork Pancakes (Banh Xeo)

pancake batter ingredients
1 3/4 cups rice flour
300ml (half a pint) coconut milk
300ml (half a pint) cold water
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients in a bowl to a smooth batter and allow to rest a minimum of one hour. You can leave overnight.

pork and prawn filling
250g (1/2 pound) pork fillet, sliced thinly
250g (1/2 pound) prawn meat, cleaned and deveined
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small onion, sliced thinly lengthways
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat, and sauté the onion until transparent. Add the prawns and pork along with their marinade and cook until the pork is no longer pink, and the prawns become pink.

for the pancakes
3 spring onions (scallions), chopped
a big handful of bean shoots

to serve – arrange on a platter for the table
1 iceberg lettuce
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), washed
1 bunch Vietnamese mint, washed
2 cucumbers sliced in to sticks

To cook the pancakes, heat one tablespoon of oil over medium high heat, and pour in a thin layer of batter, tilt the pan to spread the batter to make thinner.

Scatter with some bean shoots and spring onion, and then a small handful of the cooked pork and prawn mixture.

Cook over a heat that gives you a gentle crackling noise (medium-high in my case), and when the base starts to crisp up, you can move in the pan by shaking it a little. Be careful not to lift with an egg slice until the base is crispy.

When the base is cooked, fold the pancake in half and slide, or lift, on to a plate.

They are best served straight away, but if  you want to cook a number at once, place on warmed plate, cover with foil and put in a slow oven to keep warm until you have as many as you need.

To eat, break some of the pancake off and place on to a generous layer of iceberg lettuce, then top with herbs and cucumber. Dip in the nuoc cham sauce and eat.

dipping sauce –  nuoc cham
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 small chilli chopped
optional: 1 clove garlic, minced

Mix all of the ingredients together and taste for balance.


Grilled dinner: Asparagus and Prosciutto Pizza and Romaine Salad

7 May

Tis the season to be grilling! Alice inspired me to make a dinner on the grill. The weather in Minnesota is not always beautiful, sunny and warm, so when we do have a beautiful day, we want to be outside soaking it in.

My friends Jill and John and their young daughter Grace are some of my favorite grilling buddies. Every once in a while, I head up to their house and spend time with them, visiting and cooking. They’ve been my willing subjects when I experiment with different dishes and this week was no exception. I tried this dish last summer and really loved the flavor of the grilled pizza crust.

I made some pizza dough and let it rise while I prepared the rest of the ingredients, there it is resting under the dishtowel. You can use pre-made pizza dough or even the pre-baked pizza crust, but I always prefer home made. This recipe is very easy to make, especially on a spring afternoon that feels like summer, or an actual summer afternoon when the weather is warm, because the dough will rise very nicely.

This pizza is mounded high with marinated shaved asparagus. The trick to shaving the asparagus is to use a vegetable peeler. Just start at the sprout end, using the woody stem part as a handle and peel/shave away until you have a mound of slivered asparagus. Toss it with the juice of half a lemon and some crushed garlic.

Cut some mozzarella into small cubes, and slice up some prosciutto.

Roll out the pizza dough into a 12-14 inch circle and brush it very generously with olive oil.

After heating up the grill, carefully lay the greased dough circle onto the grill.

Close the lid and let it grill until it is solid and has some nice grill marks.

This should allow you to easily remove it from the grill, flip it over and add the toppings.

Put it back on the grill, close the lid and let it continue to cook until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned. Then slide it off the grill, cut it up and eat. Warning, this step might take various tools and more than two hands!!

It was a little tricky to make it look pretty, so bear with the lopsided pizza – it did, however, taste quite good.

Meanwhile, since the grill is already warm, why not grill up the salad too?

Cut a bunch of romaine lettuce in half, keeping the stem intact to hold the leaves together, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Marinate some shrimp in lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Wash a cup of grape or cherry tomatoes.

Grill the shrimp just until it is pink. If you use frozen pre-cooked shrimp like I did, then just put them on for a couple of minutes so they capture some of the grilled flavor and they are completely thawed.

Place the lettuce on the grill, cut side down.

Flip after a few minutes. You want the lettuce to wilt a little and get some of the smoky grill flavor, but don’t leave it for too long or you will just have little crispy lettuce bits. Grill on each side for about three minutes each, then remove from grill and chop into bite sized chunks.

Toss with the grape tomatoes and shrimp, drizzle with olive oil and splash with red wine vinegar.

Grace really was excited about the tomatoes.

And she really enjoyed the pizza.

Pizza and salad from the grill. It’s just the thing for summer!

Grilled Pizza

I used for the recipe for the crust, which really was super easy. And then loosely based my pizza on her shaved asparagus pizza

1 recipe Really Simple Pizza Dough or your favorite pizza dough
1/2 pound asparagus
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes
4 oz finely sliced proscuitto
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Several grinds black pepper
the juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Mix up the pizza dough and while it is resting and rising, shave half a pound or a small bunch of asparagus by using a vegetable peeler. Start at the top, at the sprout and peel down the stem, using the woody end as your handle. It’s OK if the pieces all come out different widths, it just makes the pizza more interesting. Toss the shaved asparagus with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper.

Chop up the mozzarella cheese into small cubes, grate the Parmesan if needed and slice the prosciutto into thin strips.

Preheat your grill to about 500 degrees F or high heat.

When the dough is ready, roll or toss it if you are a fancy Italian pizza tosser, into a 12-14 inch round.  Brush one side very generously with olive oil. Put the pizza on the hot grill, olive oil side down. One thing I learned from my sadly deformed pizza, is that even though I like the taste of a thinner crust on my pizza, thicker crusts are much easier to work with on the grill.

Once the dough has grilled enough to have nice grill marks on the bottom and is solid enough to move, remove from the grill, generously brush the raw side with olive oil, then flip it over so the grilled side is up and the raw side is down.

Load the toppings on the pizza and finish grilling with the lid down. If you are brave, you can top the pizza while it is on the grill. If you are not brave, you can top the pizza on a separate surface and return it to the grill fully topped. All of this has to be done very carefully, as the pizza dough is still soft and breakable.

Once the cheese has melted and is browned and once you have lovely grill marks on the bottom of the pizza, you’re ready to eat!

If you need more pointers, The Kitchn has a good step by step guide to grilling pizza and Pillsbury has a nice tip on how to get the dough on the grill without deforming it by using tin foil.

Grilled Salad

2 Romaine lettuce hearts
Olive oil, a drizzle
Red wine vinegar, a drizzle
1 pound of pre-cooked shrimp
1 container of grape tomatoes
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Cut the Romaine hearts in half, keeping the stem intact. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Toss the shrimp with the lemon juice and crushed garlic. Grill the shrimp briefly on a hot grill pan just to give it some smoky flavor.

Place the lettuce on the grill, cut side down, for three minutes. Flip over and grill the other side for three minutes, then remove from the grill, chop into bite sized chunks and combine with the shrimp and tomatoes. Drizzle the whole salad with some nice olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar.

I sure enjoyed the grilled dinner that you started, Alice. What do you have for us next?!

Grilled Zucchini with Pine Nuts, Currants and Fetta

3 May

It feels such a luxury to be back in Melbourne and to be totally spoiled for choice with ingredients. Fresh and vibrant produce, cheeses, spices and meats. So good.

My step mother, Betsy, is always an inspiration with food, and we cooked this dish together a few weeks ago. I’m not one to normally be amazed by zucchini, but this dish is something else. We ate it alone as a first course. It is also something that would go well alongside a simple cooked meat, perhaps something on the barbecue or chargrill pan given you have already fired it up.

The original recipe is below, and it is from one of the ‘it’ Melbourne chefs, Andrew McConnell. I would dine at his restaurant, but I am not so interested in a three hour wait. I add a bit more pine nut and currant, but other than that I pretty much stayed on track. I made double quantity, because I figure it keeps well for the next day’s lunch.

You will need zucchini, lemon, currants, pine nuts, fetta, mint, sumac spice, olive oil and a little salt.

First I turned on the barbecue to get it warmed up.

Then I soaked the currants in some warm water, and toasted the pine nuts in a dry pan.

I zested a lemon, and sliced up four medium zucchini. I didn’t see any baby zucchini, like the recipe calls for, so I left them out.

Into a bowl I poured a few good glugs of olive oil, added a big pinch of salt, and squeezed the juice of a lemon. And then gently tossed the zucchini through it.

I laid each piece of zucchini on the heated grill in batches, and let it cook until it had nice stripes, and some charcoal flavour, but was still firm. You want it to maintain a bit of crunch. I reserved the liquid left in the bowl for the dressing.

To the reserved oil mixture I added the lemon zest, drained currants and pine nuts. If you need more oil at this stage, by all means add some.

I gently tossed the cooked zucchini through, and then placed it on a serving plate. I finished it off by crumbling over it some sheep’s milk fetta, roughly torn mint leaves and a smattering of sumac spice.

This is almost too good. For me, zucchini has never known these heights.

Nice to be back to our regular format again… and so with that, over to you B!


Original recipe from the book Cumulus Inc. by Andrew McConnell

1 tablespoon pine nuts
2 teaspoons currants
2 medium sized zucchini, topped and tailed and then cut lengthwise into 3mm slices (just over a tenth of an inch)
3 baby zucchini halved lengthwise
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
8 mint leaves, roughly torn
50g (2oz) fetta, preferably barrel-aged, crumbled
pinch of sumac

Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan until golden. Soak the currants in water for 10 minutes to rehydrate, then drain and pat dry.

Preheat a barbecue or chargrill pan. Gently toss the zucchini with the salt, the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Briefly grill the zucchini on the hot barbecue or chargrill pan for a moment on each side, just until they are lightly grill-marked and wilted without being cooked through.

To serve toss the zucchini with the lemon zest, pine nuts, currants and the remaining olive oil (I used the oil and lemon juice mix left from the zucchini bowl earlier). Arrange the zucchini on a platter and strew with the mint. Crumble the fetta cheese over and finish with a pinch of sumac.

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