Farmers Market Finds II: Passion Fruit Panna Cotta

A sunny Saturday spent wandering the Ferry Building farmers market in SF yielded a fantastic discovery: fresh passion fruit! It's rare to find them in their fresh form, especially in the cities I've lived in; they often show up in tropical juice blends and in frozen form. California's fresh produce really is second to none. It was a nice surprise and exactly the inspiration I'd been missing for the past few months.

Passion fruit has a syrupy, tropical aroma-- it's hard to describe. While the pulp smells sweet, it's very sour, so it works best in creamy applications. It also has many hard black seeds which are edible, but not pleasant to chew on. Passion fruit is typically used in desserts (mousses, ganache, and panna cotta), but I recently had passion fruit-browned butter carrots at the newly opened TBD restaurant; I didn't know carrots could taste so good. 

The last time I made panna cotta, the recipe called for gelatin sheets. This one uses powdered gelatin which is much easier to find. I think passion fruit is my new favourite panna cotta flavour. The tropical fruitiness balances the smooth and creamy dessert perfectly. I wish passion fruit were easier to find, but I guess the rarity makes it a special treat.

Recipe after the jump!


Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflé

While fluffy, warm and completely delicious, soufflé has an unfortunate reputation of being extremely temperamental to prepare. It's probably because of the perceived fragility of the egg whites-- one errant puff of wind and the dessert could deflate like a sad balloon. Admittedly, I do find French desserts to be pretty finicky. For instance, I have yet to master macarons or croissants. Soufflés aren't so bad though, especially if you keep a few tips and tricks in mind. Notes are in the recipe below!

This recipe makes a tasty soufflé that is chocolatey without being too sweet. Even better, the batter can hold up for 30 minutes between preparation and baking though I have not tested this. This stability is a good thing, since you will want to serve it immediately out of the oven before it falls flat. Soufflé photography is kind of stressful; the first image was taken about 20 seconds out of the oven. A minute later, it looked like this:

It inevitably sinks before your eyes. At this point, there's nothing left to do but dig in...

The soufflé was light and airy with a soft center and thin, crisp crust. There's still some room for improvement though. For one, I'd prefer the top to be less cracked. I also wanted to get the "top hat" effect, created by running a knife around the perimeter of the ramekin before baking. The cut obviously did not stay while baking since my souffle came out looking more "helmet" than "top hat", but I'll blame the recipe for that. Shh. I guess this means there are more soufflés to bake (and eat) in my future. What a pain.

Recipe after the jump!


Sticky Five Spice Ribs with Lemongrass Rice

This is a pretty foolproof method to make delicious ribs and all you need is an oven. Aaand a little patience. They are first braised in a flavourful liquid for fall-off-the-bone tenderness, then finished at high heat until they are burnished with sticky glaze. They won't have the smoky grilled flavour that rib aficionados may demand, but I think they're great as they are.

I've made (faux) barbeque ribs using this method, but was in the mood for something different this time around. I'm not sure how five spice ribs came into existence, but it just seems to work well with the pork. Chinese five spice powder is typically a combination of anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and szechuan peppercorn, lending a spicy, warm woodsiness to whatever it seasons. (That just sounded like a perfume description, didn't it?) 

I served these with some lemongrass jasmine rice. This involves tossing a lemongrass stalk, bruised with a few whacks of a cleaver, in with the rice while it cooks. That's it. Just remember to remove the stalk before serving!

Recipe after the jump...


Got Milk? Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies were my first solo foray into baking, as well as one of the earliest posts I wrote for this blog (back in 2009). I was in the mood to bake and decided to make some of these classics. We start off with the usual suspects: white and brown sugars and butter. But not just any kind of butter...

Browned butter!

Browned butter (or beurre noisette, if you want to be fancy) is magical. Like bacon, anything it touches is turned delicious. It's especially good on fresh biscuits. It also makes a great pasta sauce, but that's a recipe for another day!

As it cooks, the butter turns a deep amber color and gives off an amazing nutty aroma. It imparts a toasty caramel flavour to the finished cookies for a taste that's reminiscent of English toffee. Finish with a sprinkle of salt on top for a very addictive sweet and salty dessert. 

As always, recipe after the jump!


Farmers Market Finds: Brûléed Meyer Lemon Bars

I recently moved from New York to the (occasionally) sunny shores of the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the numerous perks of living here: the abundance of well-stocked farmers markets. I'm pretty sure I ate two avocados a week for the first couple of months I was here and I can't wait for nectarine season to begin. 

One particularly Californian farmers market resident is the Meyer lemon. They might not be anything special here, but they were always difficult to find everywhere else I have lived so I'm probably a little irrationally excited about them. I remember buying a Meyer lemon cake mix on a trip to California many years ago and weighing out portions of it as a way of rationing said cake mix.

A cross between a regular lemon (also more thrillingly known as a "Eureka" lemon) and a mandarin orange, the Meyer lemon has a unique herbal citrus scent. The skin is a cheerfully warm yellow. It's also a little sweeter than your typical lemon so you could feasibly eat it plain, though I found it still to pack quite a pucker.

I wrote a post about lemon squares the last time I made them (in 2009!) This time around, they showcase the mellower flavour of the Meyer lemon. I also brûléed the tops; the caramelized sugar adds a satisfyingly crispy texture. I've found that a broiler gets the job done just fine (until I get my hands on a kitchen torch, that is). The only downside is that the caramel will lose its snap if you allow the bars to sit for too many hours, so brûlée them as needed!

Recipe after the jump!


Black and Gold: Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

There's no better occasion for a slightly over-the-top dessert than New Year's Eve. A dense chocolate hazelnut torte, coated in dark chocolate ganache, jeweled with candied hazelnuts and topped with a halo of spun sugar is great for a special occasion. The torte is soft and dense since it is flourless, with a slight graininess from the ground hazelnuts. This was a crowd pleaser as the chocolate and hazelnut flavours really come through without being cloyingly sweet. It can also sit out without refrigeration so guests can enjoy it at their leisure while waiting for the countdown.  

The recipe is somewhat work-intensive, but for a special occasion it is well worth the extra time. The actual process is not difficult but there is a good amount of prep work (chopping and melting chocolate, toasting and grinding hazelnuts, caramelizing sugar, etc.) 

This was the first time I made spun sugar. It was fun to (carefully!) fling the hot caramel between two skewers and watch the glossy strands form. The glittery gold threads were the perfect touch for a dessert to ring in the new year.

Recipe after the jump!


A Little Humble Pie: Cottage Pie

Homey, rustic food is just the thing to take off the chill at this time of year. Cottage pie has all the ingredients of a quintessential wintertime dish: meat, potatoes and gravy kept toasty warm in a casserole dish. It's basically the same thing as shepherd's pie, though "cottage pie" usually indicates the use of minced beef rather than lamb. 

Why bother cooking the filling and topping separately, and then cooking them again in the oven? Baking lets the flavours blend together so the pie is more... cohesive tasting, if that makes any sense. The potatoes absorb some of the gravy below which enhances their flavour. It's also the easiest way (short of a blowtorch!) to get a nicely bronzed potato topping. 

Tip: Adding an egg yolk to the mashed potatoes helps them brown. It's the same method used to make Duchess Potatoes.

Recipe after the jump!