Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daring to do it: Panna Cotta and Florentines

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Reading what the February challenge was going to be was pretty exciting for me. My next door neighbors growing up, who were more family than neighbors, were Italian, and cooked and baked some of the most amazing foods. While I can't remember them ever making home-made panna cotta, I do remember eating some version or another with them, and loving it. I have also been to Italy a couple of times, and love any sort of happy reminders of that beautiful and delicious country! The biggest problem I saw with this challenge, as far as I could see, was the dairy factor. Panna cotta means cooked cream. And I don't use cream. That whole lactose intolerant thing... So right off the bat, I knew that my take on the challenge wouldn't be quite authentic. (Can you still call it "cooked cream" if there is no "cream" in it?) Luckily I am not the only Daring Baker facing this issue, and there was some amazing support for us to find alternatives. I found this recipe for a tofu panna cotta which looked good, even though I did alter it up a bit to suit my own tastes. (I only used the panna cotta part of the recipe - not the blood orange or candied pistachios.) For the Florentines, I was able to use the recipe as it was written, with only a couple of tweaks.

Here is the mostly photographic tour of this delicious challenge

Infusing vanilla non-dairy creamer with even more vanilla-y goodness:
Combining the vegan gelatin substitute and sugar: Tofu and brown sugar (instead of honey) ready for a spin in the blender:Letting it all cook and thicken up:
Panna cottas ready to chill out: The Florentines called for quick oats. Which I don't have. I have old fashioned oats. What to do... Using a plastic baggie and my trusted rolling pin, I made my own quick oats!
Melting the margarine:
Adding the rest of the ingredients (subbing light corn syrup for dark, since I don't have dark, but using some brown sugar to fill the molasses-y flavor), adding cinnamon to the mix: Ready to go into the oven:Spread a little, but cooling down:
Coating with chocolate... yum:

Finally, I topped my panna cotta with a fresh blueberry sauce, let it all set, then waited for dessert time. And it was definitely worth the wait! The brown sugar vanilla (soy/tofu) panna cotta set up so beautifully, and had the perfect texture. The blueberries on top were a great complement to the creamy dessert, too.

And the Florentines? There were those who found the cookies to be a bit too sweet for their tastes. I was not one of them. These were delicious. Crispy edges, chewy centers, some with chocolate on them... I found myself snacking on one pretty much every time I went into the kitchen until they were all gone! (Which didn't take long...!)

Thank you so much, Mallory, for this amazing challenge! I loved every bit of it - but mostly the eating! You have absolutely given me recipes which will remain in my arsenal for a long time!

If you are in the mood for a treat, take a look here to see what my fellow Daring Bakers came up with!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

When is a quiche not a quiche?

A few weeks ago (remember, I am clearing out some backlogged stuff here!) I had quiche on the meal plan for dinner. Not a problem, it just meant that we had to get to the grocery store to get a few ingredients. Like eggs. Then the weather decided to get interesting on us. As you may have heard, there has been a LOT of snow here in our part of the the world. And that day there was a lot of it. Keeping me from having any interest in driving to the grocery store. But I had already made my quiche crust dough the night before. What's a mom to do? Get creative, that's what!

Looking in the pantry and the fridge I discovered that I had some ingredients on hand that would go really well together. Onions, goat cheese and Jarlsberg cheese. This sounded to me like the makings of a French onion soup. Except pie/tart crust isn't generally a part of soup. And I really wanted to use the crust while it was fresh. So I made, with the help of my favorite sous chef, a "French" onion tart! Little Girl helped my cut the onions, and was very excited to be a part of the process. (Plastic knife, VERY CLOSE SUPERVISION, and specific instructions that if she used the knife in any way that didn't involve both the onion and the cutting board she would lose all of the tools!) Once sliced, the onions went into a pan with a bit of salt, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of brown sugar to caramelize. Is there anything better than the smell of sauteing onions? It just makes the whole house smell amazing...! While the onions did their thing I baked the tart shell. Once baked, the crust was spread with creamy goat cheese, then sprinkled with a layer of shredded Jarlsberg cheese. Since the onions needed a few more minutes, I put that back in the warm oven to get melty. Once the onions were ready they went on top of the cheeses, then were smothered with more Jarlsberg. Back into the oven for more melting, and dinner was ready!

I have to say, I don't think I have ever been so happy to have been missing a key ingredient! This tart was so good! It really was fairly reminiscent of a French onion soup, and it made a great meal. I am going to have to remember this one down the line. So instead of saying "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," I guess I have to say "When life runs you out of eggs, make an onion tart!"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Daring to do it: Soba Salad with Tempura

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including,, and

I can honestly say that I never thought I would make tempura. I am a bit intimidated by the thought of deep frying, and the few times I have done it I have made a HUGE mess. Add to that the fact that home-made Asian food always seemed like it would be... complicated? Well, I am so glad that Lisa challenged us to make this combination! There was no better way to get over my hesitation than to just jump right in. Did I make a mess? Absolutely! I was cleaning up tempura batter and splashed oil for a couple of days. Was it worth it? Yes, yes, yes!!
One thing I did to make this challenge a bit more challenging for myself was to make it for some friends of mine who have spent time in Japan, and who are fans and, may I say, connoisseurs, of Asian food. I was nervous to hear their response to the meal. But sort of proud to have their high-level of knowledge and experience to help me along!
Here's how it went:

Making the soba salad was not complicated. It involved prep work, but no real assembly - everyone built their own to suit their own tastes. The noodles cooked up easily, pretty much like standard pasta. I kind of liked the fact that, once the noodles are done boiling, the directions call for the soba to go into an ice bath. It made the fact that I wanted to make the noodles early in the day a breeze - and freed up my pot for making the tempura! To accompany the noodles, and make them into a salad, I had strips of red pepper, green pepper, scallions, pan fried tofu and scrambled eggs. For the dressing/dipping sauce I had to do some improvisation. The recipes which Lisa provided looked and sounded fabulous, but called for ingredients that I don't keep in the house. So I made up my own using soy sauce, white vinegar, brown sugar, cumin and Chinese five spice powder. (I think that was all...!) Little Girl, my best kitchen helper, did a great job shaking everything up, and with that, it was time to get down to the business of tempura-ing.

For my tempura I chose a variety of vegetables that had looked good to me in the produce store. I used carrots, yellow squash, zucchini and broccoli. I was a bit nervous about the carrots cooking through, even using baby cut carrots, as tempura should only be in the oil for a minute or two so as to keep its light color and texture. So I cut them even thinner...! It was then time to make the batter. The recipe called for regular all purpose flour. No problem, right? Unbelievably, I had actually just run out of AP flour baking up dessert... So I used whole wheat flour. I was sure that there would be some sort of issue with the batter because of the switch. Nope. Not a problem in the slightest. The color was fine, the texture was good, I totally need to start using whole wheat flour more often!! Once mixed, the tempura batter bowl was put into its own ice bath. As I learned from the host and the Daring Cooks who had completed the challenge before me, one of the ways to ensure a crisp crust is to keep the veggies and batter very cold before shocking them in the hot oil. So cold is how I kept things. Other than being time consuming and messy, the frying process was easier than I thought it would be. Into the oil, watch for a minute or two, then onto a cooling rack to drain. My friend, who was keeping me company in the kitchen, commented "Wow, it looks like tempura!" when the first batch came out. (While that might not sound like a compliment, I was thinking the same thing, and her comment made me VERY proud!)

Finally it was time to assemble and eat my very first home-made Japanese (style) meal. When I tell you we all had seconds, I mean all of us - Little Girl included! This was SO good! To the point where my Asian food experts requested the recipe...!
Thank you so much, Lisa, for making me get out of my comfort zone and try a new technique. This is exactly why I joined the Daring Kitchen, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of this challenge! Please do yourself a favor and see the amazing creations assembled by my fellow Daring Cooks!