This week, let’s shift from savory dishes to sweet and talk about dessert. Since it is the middle of summer, turning on the oven and baking something probably ranks low on your cooking to-do list. Instead, try out the following silky, sweet dessert that can be made with the help of your refrigerator.
Panna cotta is a Northern Italian dessert you’ve probably just seen on fancy restaurant menus. But you don’t need to be a trained pastry chef to pull off this creamy, dreamy dessert. It’s a cinch to prep, then just set it and forget it in the fridge. It’s comprised of cooked cream (or other dairy product), sugar, gelatin and other flavorings. After the gelatin and sugar have dissolved in the warm cream, the mixture is poured into (typically clear) serving dishes or silicone molds and chilled for a few hours to let it firm up and set.
As for the texture of the dish, let me put it this way: If pudding and jello had a baby, it’d be panna cotta — it’s soft and smooth, yet firm and just a wee bit wobbly. Brit TV chef Nigella Lawson described the ideal elasticity of panna cotta when she acted as guest judge on Top Chef: Las Vegas: “...[panna cotta] should quiver like an 17th century courtesan’s inner thigh.”
When you dine at a typical Mexican restaurant, you're probably already familiar with the usual offerings of enchiladas, tacos, refried beans and rice. It's kind of ironic that many dishes served in most of today's Mexican joints are actually of American origin by way of Texas or California. We Americans have put our own twists on the originals over the years and labeled them "Mexican food."
To get a little more authentic taste of south-of-the-border cuisine, try Mexican sopes, a zesty appetizer that will have you ditching your old gringo go-to of nachos or chimichangas.
Sopes are a handheld Mexican street-food dish made from a dough of masa flour (dried and finely ground corn) that's flattened, typically fried, then topped with either meat or beans and salsa. This version of the classic Mexican dish sees the little masa "boats" baked instead of fried, saving you some calories and a greasy mess on your stovetop. I use flavorful Mexican chorizo sausage for the filling and top it with a Yucatecan-style (i.e.: from the Yucatan Peninsula) sauce comprised of toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and habanero pepper. These sopes can be made any size you please — from smaller for appetizer servings to larger ones if you're serving them as a snack or main course.
People assume Thai cuisine is complicated to prepare at home, but it's quite the opposite. Most Thai food is made of simple, fresh ingredients that can be thrown together in a jiffy, like stir-fries, fresh spring rolls, noodle salads, etc. The key to making great Thai at home is having your ingredients prepared correctly before you begin cooking them.
Thai satay skewers — marinated, skewered, grilled chicken or pork served with a zesty peanut dipping sauce — are a popular starter on Thai restaurant menus, and they're a breeze to whip up at home. It's easy to make a small batch for two or a large batch to feed a crowd if you're entertaining.
I prefer dark meat for its flavor, but boneless chicken breast can also be substituted. Coconut palm sugar is fantastic in the marinade — its deep, almost caramel-like flavor adds the perfect hint of sweetness — but you can also use brown sugar in its place. No grill? No problem. Cook the skewers under your oven's broiler.
Try this tasty Thai favorite this weekend but be warned: You may never want to order them for takeout again.
Summer is on our doorstep, and many folks will be gathering to celebrate the warmer weather. If you happen to be throwing a casual get together, look to the Spanish and their famous and incredibly flavorful paella dish to impress your guests.
Paella originally hails from the Valencia region of Spain and is comprised of short-grained rice simmered with yellow saffron threads, vegetables and sometimes meat, seafood or a mixture of both. The type of rice is key to this dish: It must be short-grained in order to hold its shape when cooked and to properly absorb the flavored liquid. Bomba rice, grown near Calasparra, Spain, is best, but Italian arborio rice is a great substitute. With bomba rice, the liquid-to-rice ratio is three to one, while it is two to one if using arborio. The key is to not stir the rice while it is cooking so that the much-coveted, crusty, caramelized bottom layer, the socarrat (soh-kah-raht), can form.
Whether you’re sticking with just veggies (pealla vegetariana), meat (paella Valenciana), seafood (paella marisco) or a mix of all of the above (paella mixta), paella is an easy and exotic crowd-pleaser that’s perfect for a crowd or an intimate evening with friends.
A photo frame made from popsicle sticks might have cut it when you were in kindergarten, but you'll probably want to step it up a bit this year. Why not get creative in the kitchen and whip her up a lovely brunch meal? I've got just the dish for you: poached eggs on ciabatta bread with pancetta, arugula and a zesty Spanish Romesco sauce — it's elegant, easy to prepare and ever so delicious.
Save yourself the hour-plus wait for a table at brunch this weekend and make this classy meal for mom instead. Just be warned: She'll be so impressed with your culinary prowess that she may expect a homemade gourmet gift like this every year.
Frozen peas. I guarantee that most of you have them hanging out in your freezer. What if I told you that besides using them as a green side dish, or as a makeshift ice pack, peas can also be used to add color and flavor to pesto sauce? Bonus: It's also another sneaky way to get your kids or resident veggie-hater to eat peas.
The main components of a pesto sauce are herbs, nuts and oil. Other aromatics like garlic can be thrown in, as well as cheese (classically, Parmesan). But why be limited to the standard pine nut, basil and Parm pesto when you can use a multitude of other ingredients to add both color and flavor?
For this pesto recipe, I used a bag of (thawed) frozen peas to add a hint of sweetness and a light green hue — also, because I already had them in my freezer. In place of pricey pine nuts, I substituted toasted walnuts, and in addition to basil, I threw in chives and spinach to boost the color and herbaceous flavor. To round it all out, I added a pinch of red pepper flakes for a slight hint of spice and some fresh lemon juice to add a bright flavor and enhance the other ingredients.