bits and pieces

Friday, April 22, 2011

Creamy Lemon Panna Cotta with Blackberry+Grand Marnier Sauce

Depression cooking seems to be working out well.
There appears to be a direct correlation between my continued unemployment and the excess in my cooking. Some cook when they're happy, some cook when they feel sad - I cook when I feel unemployed. Which luckily for people eating at my house (me, cat, man) is constantly! Last night my sorrows manifested themselves in the form of dessert.

Yesterday morning dawned bright and sunny and I was filled with zest and vim, ready to take on the world. I had a great job interview first thing in the morning which went splendidly. I knew going into it that I would get the job when the first ski lift opened in hell, however, despite knowing this I still REALLY wanted the job. Unfortunately I didn't realize how much until actually leaving the interview. Which is not exactly good planning on my part, but what can you do. Besides planning my life better.

So I moped, changed into jeans, shed a little tear, and went to the grocery store.

A few weeks back I had a wonnnderful meal at Pizzeria Libretto in Toronto. The dessert was a light, creamy (contradictory, I know), scrumtrulescent lemon panna cotta. I dream of this panna cotta. I'd been thinking of attempting it for awhile but panna cotta SOUNDS so complicated.

At the gym the only way I get through 5K is by watching cooking shows.. one show, a show and a half and ta-da! Run from hell is over. Well earlier this week I was watching Michael Smith's show (who totally does look like Aiden from SATC) and he made panna cotta and claimed it was easy. That was all the challenge I needed. I would have panna cotta! Aiden said so.

Turns out this IS really easy. I think panna cotta means cooked cream in italian, and that's honestly all it is. The only 'hard' part is planning ahead so you can chill it long enough. But honestly - this is a simple, sunny, wonderful dessert - and despite being made with cream, it doesn't feel all that bad for you. No complicated technique, no weird ingredients (the only thing I had to buy was gelatin and blackberries), and no serious time commitment.

I adapted this recipe from a basic vanilla panna cotta, and the blackberry sauce was essentially created by me going 'hmm.. blackberries and lemon go well together.' and then throwing things in a pot. Seriously - I'm not entirely sure what's in the blackberry sauce so bear with me on that one. Either way though - If you're ever having guests over for a big dinner and you want a light but impressive dessert this lemon-heaven-baby comes highly recommended. Top it with any fresh fruit (berries = divine). Just ensure you make it 3 - 4 hours in advance so it has time to set + chill properly. The recipe below makes enough for two BIG panna cottas, or 4 normal ramekin sized concoctions.

1.5 cups of cream (whipping)
1/2 a cup of white sugar
2-3 tsp of fine lemon zest. The finer the better. This is the only really crucial step. Coarser zest tends to sink to the bottom leaving you with a weird zesty shell that's comparable to the weird gross hard bubbly bottom of poorly made jello.
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp grand marnier (optional but I think it added a depth of flavour)
1 package of unflavoured gelatin. I used the knox gelatin from the grocery store. It comes in boxes of 4 + 12 packages. You'll want to use only about 60% or 75% of a package. Using a whole package will turn your panna cotta into a too firm cheesecake like dish. Which is probably incredible but not necessarily what you're going for here.  
3 tbsp of warm water

for the sauce:
any kind of berries - I used blackberries. 
a few tbsp of sugar
1/4 cup of water
a good splash of grand marnier
a good splash of wine
some of the juice from the lemon I had grated. 
left over gelatin if you're feeling ambitious

other things you will need:
a pot to cook your panna cotta in
a small bowl for softening your gelatin
containers for your panna cotta - you SHOULD use ramekins or something comparable, however, being a challenged girl I left mine in Vancouver where they are obviously put to good use by the ghosts in the empty condo. Subsequently, I used pretty glasses. 
a zester/cheese grater
a fine mesh strainer if you have one (not necessary)
  1. This recipe works best/easiest if you have all your ingredients assembled and sitting off to the side of your stove ready to be used.
  2. Zest your lemon. As stated this is the ONLY important step. So zest it. Zest it reaaal good. Harder lemons are easier to zest than soft ones, and despite owning a wonderful zester, I used the fine grate part of my cheese grater and even still I wish it was finer. Life is hard. 
  3. In a sauce pot heat your cream, lemon zest, sugar and vanilla. You'll want to bring it to a simmer. Heat it up slowly though, don't just crank your stove to high. 
  4. While your cream mix is heating up assemble your ramekins/glasses/small bowls. If you plan on serving your panna cotta 'properly' use ramekins. Grease them lightly/cooking spray them, and then once your panna cottas have chilled and are ready for eating - turn your ramekins over, dump your panna cotta onto plates (gently!) and top with blackberry goodness. These should be served like little mushy lemon-cream cakes. 
  5. Once your cream has started to simmer remove from heat. Whisk grand marnier into your cream mixture.
  6. Quickly prep your gelatin (this takes maybe 20 seconds). In a small bowl dump out a 75% of your gelatin package, and add to it 3 tbsp of warm water (you may add a little more if you think it's necessary). Stir it all together and it will start to thicken pretty much immediately. If it's like a weird gelatin paste, add a little more water until it resembles a strange clear slightly liquid cake batter (that's the best description I can come up with sadly). Whisk into your cream mix quickly and stir until combined.
  7. Pour your panna cotta into your assembled glasses/ramekins/whatever. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, and then place in the fridge. Chill for 3-4 hours (you can even chill these overnight if you're really ahead of the game and smart enough to make your dessert the day before).  
Now for the sauce. I wasn't kidding when I said I just kind of threw things in a pot. I'm pretty sure I half made jam. Alcoholic jam, but jam nonetheless. So really, don't worry too much about the sauce.. if it tastes good that's all that matters...
  1. Add about a 1/4 cup of water into a pot and heat on medium. Throw in a normal-smallish/carnie sized handful of blackberries, and a few tbsp of sugar. 
  2. Simmer on medium until blackberries begin to soften and fall apart. I expedited this process by smashing them with a whisk. 
  3. Add a splash of grand marnier. And a small splash of white wine. A little squirt of lemon juice. You don't want a whole lot of lemon, but just a hit to brighten up the other flavours. Lemon juice is one of the best flavour enhancers. Toss it in most dishes and it really livens all of the other flavours up. Yaaay lemon. 
  4. Add more sugar/water/whatever and keep smashing until it starts to resemble a syrup-y juicy mess. By the end I was left with about 1/4 - 1/3 of a cup of blackberry mess. 
  5. Add a pinch or so of gelatin if you're feeling arrogant and want to call your blackberry massacre a 'gelée'. I then strained my fruit mess through a fine wire mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Make sure you smush all the mixture to ensure you take it for all it's got.
  6. Then GENTLY spoon this blackberry sauce over your panna cottas. I recommend waiting about half an hour to ensure the panna cottas have set a littttttle bit (or stick them in the freezer for 20 minutes and then do this). 
Chill your panna cottas for 3-4 hours and then EAT THEM. THEY ARE CREAMY. LEMON-Y. HEAVENLY. SO EASY.

I'm soooo easy. Just like anyone after eating this puppy. Oh yeaaah.
Seriously - the panna cottas themselves take maybe 15-20 minutes hands on time. The sauce is just kind of fun 'I'm mushing stuff in a pot in my kitchen and it's going to taste good because I'm a mad kitchen scientist' time.

Top your dessert with more fruit. Maybe some left over lemon zest. Maybe some icing sugar. Whatever. Eat your dessert. Feel proud of yourself. Don't tell anyone how easy it was. Except me. Tell me.

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