Envelope yourself in the creamy world of the Italian panna cotta

April 10, 2007 in cheese, cookbook, Food Porn, Paper Palate, pork, recipe, vegetable, Well Fed Network


(This post will appear on the [tag]Paper Palate[/tag] blog, a member of the [tag]Well Fed Network[/tag])


Panna Cotta cover image

Book review of [tag]Camilla V. Saulsbury[/tag]’s [tag]Panna Cotta: Italy’s Elegant Custard Made Easy[/tag]

I had never heard of [tag]panna cotta[/tag] before I saw it made on Iron Chef a few years ago. I obviously do not frequent many [tag]Italian[/tag] restaurants, mainly because I live in an Italian restaurant wasteland where white dinner rolls (you know, the kind that you buy at Stop and Shop ready to pop in the oven to “bake”) are served along with bologna antipastos (practically right out of the grocery store packaging). No, you can bet panna cotta will not be on any local menus.

Seeing it made on [tag]Iron Chef[/tag] is a very different thing than making it yourself. I actually never had a hankering for it until I agreed to review “Panna Cotta: Italy’s Elegant Custard Made Easy” by Camilla V. [tag]Saulsbury[/tag] and I am so glad that I decided to try a panna cotta on for size. I recommend this type of food and this cookbook in particular to both beginning cooks and the more experienced. You will not be disappointed.

First, let me tell you about the most fundamental lesson I learned from this book – panna cotta is extremely easy to make. You are essentially making a custard-like concoction without any [tag]egg[/tag]s. You do this by replacing their eggy magic with powdered [tag]gelatin[/tag].

The cover is fantastic, a raspberry vibrancy that sets off a poppy seed panna cotta to excellent effect. If you are visually cued like I am, you will be drawn in by the cover, [tag]seduce[/tag]d into exploring the [tag]panna[/tag] [tag]cotta[/tag].

In it’s mere 128 pages, this book packs in quite a lot of fantastic information about what panna cotta is (literally means [tag]cooked cream[/tag]), the fundamentals of making a panna cotta, and a treasury of [tag]recipe[/tag]s that will definitely inspire you to try a few out.

Just inside the front cover, the book has several pages of color photographs that depict some of the recipes. These are not as beautiful as the cover but they serve to illustrate the variety of panna cotta forms and presentation possibilities.

The introduction provides an excellent grounding in panna cotta [tag]First Principles[/tag]. Do not skip this chapter because it will give you the basic understanding of this eggless custard that you can then use to [tag]design[/tag] you own creations.

The recipes are organized into six chapters:

  • Top-10 Panna Cotta Favorites
  • Chocolate, Caramel, & Spice
  • Fruit Panna Cotta
  • Spirited Panna Cotta
  • Enlightened Panna Cotta
  • Savory Panna Cotta

In the “Top-10” chapter, you will find recipes like [tag]vanilla bean[/tag], [tag]PB&J[/tag], toasted coconut, cinnamon panna cotta and others.

Chapter Two has quite a few tempting recipes, such as mayan chocolate, pink [tag]peppercorn[/tag] (sweet!), cannoli, chai, and five-spice & honey panna cotta. There will certainly be a dessert there for everyone in your family.

Chapter Three explores the use of fruits such as mango, [tag]hachiya[/tag] [tag]persimmon[/tag], [tag]roasted pear[/tag], and even sweet [tag]pumpkin[/tag]!

As you might have expected, the “Spirited Panna Cotta” Chapter (Four) delves into recipes that use alcohol, recipes such as late harvest [tag]reisling[/tag], [tag]mint julep[/tag], [tag]limoncello[/tag] & mint, and even white chocolate amaretto panna cotta.

Chapter Five, “Enlightened Panna Cotta,” provides “lighter” versions with ingredients such as evaporated fat free milk and reduced fat sour cream in decadent sounding recipes like ricotta-honey, cafe brulot and linzer panna cotta.

In the final recipe chapter, “Savory Panna Cotta,” Saulsbury gives recipes for the panna cottas which I personally find the the most attractive. With recipes for butternut squash, [tag]porcini[/tag], [tag]asparagus[/tag], cauliflower and [tag]gorgonzola[/tag] panna cotta, you will impress friends and family with flavorful and unexpected appetizers that can really set the scene for a memorable dinner.

Saulsbury is able to, in a very small number of pages, put you on track to making your own panna cottas and encourages you to strike out on new paths, exploring your own part of the pana cotta universe. I found her writing encouraging to the uninitiated, namely me, and I soon found myself innovating a new recipe on my first time out of the panna cotta gate.

I would recommend this book to any of my friends and family and I look forward to trying out more of these recipes.

What follows is my first panna cotta, inspired by Saulsbury’s Thyme [tag]Goat Cheese[/tag] panna cotta. The family, from toddlers, pre-teens, to adults, all loved this savory [tag]appetizer[/tag].

(Copyright 2007 Nika Boyce)

Basil Ginger Goat Cheese Panna Cotta by Nika Boyce

(Inspired by Saulsbury’s own Thyme Goat Cheese Panna Cotta found on page 124)

Makes 12 or so mini panna cottas with some left over for the cook.

Instead of the many tempting sweet panna cottas featured in this book, I chose to make a savory one. Saulsbury has several very tempting recipes for savories such as summer corn panna cotta, asparagus panna cotta, avocado panna cotta and many more. I adapted her recipe for thyme goat cheese panna cotta because I didn’t have the exact same ingredients that she called for. Instead of heavy cream, I used half and half. Instead of thyme, I used basil. I also added ginger because I seem to want to add ginger to everything these days and I wanted to see how it would do in this setting. Ginger, for me, was a wonderful addition.


  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • ginger, small 1/8 inch thick slice that is not minced but left whole
  • several basil leaves, tear by hand into small pieces
  • 8 oz [tag]goat[/tag] [tag]cheese[/tag] [tag]chevre[/tag], cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/4 C half and half
  • 1/2 C sour cream
  • 2 slices hardwood smoked bacon, fried until crispy, allow to cool
  • 1/2 red delicious apple
  • 2 crimini mushrooms, medium size and sliced
  • 2 large [tag]basil[/tag] leaves for presentation
  • sea salt


Add the powdered gelatin to the 3 tablespoons of warm water and set aside to allow the water to be absorbed, at least 5 minutes.

In a heavy pot, bring the half and half, ginger slice, and basil leaves up to a simmer (over the lowest heat that will get you there), remove from the burner and add the gelatin. Mix until the gelatin is dissolved. Using a whisk, incorporate the goat cheese and then the sour cream.

I used a mini-muffin tin that I had coated with a good olive oil. I poured the panna cotta mix into this tin and then put it into the refrigerator overnight. Saulsbury suggests at least 4 hours.

I served this up two different ways. Not shown was how I had poured some of the excess mixture into a medium size baking cup. The next day I just stuck a spoon in to spread the panna cotta on matzos, very delicious and not fussy at all. The dry matzo and the rich panna cotta spread are a hit in this house now.

The photos show the second way I served this. I slowly fried some hardwood smoked bacon slices in a cast iron pan. I set those aside and sauted several apple slices and also diced apple and allowed them to drain and cool. I also lightly sauted some crimini slices. I assembled them, as show, with some basil leaves as the base, the panna cotta, a dribble of olive oil, a slice of apple (with the peel for color), a slice of mushroom, a bit of apple and bacon dice, and then long slices of the bacon for flair. The bacon, apple, and mushroom eaten with the panna cotta are a unctuous mix of savory, sweet, tart, and creaminess. Try to allow all garnishes to cool as hot items may just make your panna cotta melt.

(Copyright 2007 Nika Boyce)

Books of Interest:


Paula Deen’s Special Collector’s Issue “Quick & Easy Meals”

March 16, 2007 in baking, beef, breakfast, cheese, chicken, cookbook, cooking, dessert, drink, Paper Palate, pork, recipe, review, seafood, Well Fed Network

[This post appeared on the Paper Palate blog, a member of the Well Fed Network]

Deen Special Collectors

(Source: [tag]Hoffman Media[/tag], click image to go to magazine order page)

I watch only a few shows on the [tag]Food Network[/tag], two of those being [tag]Alton Brown[/tag]’s “Good Eats” and [tag]Paula Deen[/tag]’s “[tag]Home Cooking[/tag]”. I do not watch the “[tag]Paula’s Party[/tag]” show though, something about that show makes me feel uneasy. I am positively inclined toward Ms. Deen but am not what you would call a fan. I am only a fan of the Japanese [tag]Iron Chef[/tag], other than that, I watch without much fan-like adoration.

I am also not the sort to buy [tag]cooking magazine[/tag]s because I am not in the habit of buying in the “women’s magazine” [tag]genre[/tag]. When I was a kid, I did have a subscription to [tag]Bon Appetit[/tag] (I know, wierd, I was an odd one to say the least) but not to any of the pop culture teen mags. Thus, I am not jaded by other “women’s” genre food magazines. I get [tag]Food & Wine[/tag] and [tag]Saveur[/tag] but I did not compare them to this magazine, different concept.

When I opened this [tag]magazine[/tag], I wasnt really paying attention to the fact that it was a [tag]special edition[/tag]. I was astounded that a food magazine would have zero interstitial ads. The only ads you will find are on the back and front cover. What you get instead is bombarded by page after page of simply delicious [tag]recipe[/tag]s, [tag]appetizing[/tag] and dynamic [tag]food photography[/tag], and a huge dose of Paula’s personality.

This issue boasts 85 recipes, 20 complete [tag]menu[/tag]s (and they ARE, I got full just reading them, honest) and photographic suggestions of inviting table settings and decorations. In the back, you can find all sorts of high quality kitchenalia and dining room related objects carefully chosen from artists in [tag]Savanna[/tag] and other people and places relevant to Paula’s universe.

Each of the seven recipe [tag]chapter[/tag]s starts with a nifty little box outlining the menu and then provides recipes. With no ads, they really pack quite a few recipes in on each page.

  • Wake Up Sunshine – Ham and Cheese [tag]Quiche[/tag] with Potato Crust
  • Lunch Bunch – Molto [tag]Muffeletta[/tag] (Paula’s vegetarian version of the resplendent New Orleans sandwich, too much bread and too little Italian cold cuts in my mind)
  • Special Suppers – None of the protein dishes attracted me but the [tag]Lime[/tag] [tag]Blueberry[/tag] [tag]Tiramasu[/tag] calls my name like a siren.
  • Dinner from the Grill – Bourbon Beef [tag]Tenderloin[/tag] with Sweet [tag]Bourbon[/tag] Sauce and Sweet Potato [tag]Cheesecake[/tag] with [tag]Streusel[/tag] Topping (Pinch me, I think this sounds fantastic! When my grill thaws out, I will be trying this for certain)
  • Casual Evenings – New York [tag]Strip Steak[/tag]s with Terragon Melting sauce, Herbed Monkey Bread and pornographic Easy [tag]Chocolate[/tag]-[tag]Cherry[/tag] [tag]Cake[/tag]
  • Game Time Tonight – Mini [tag]Bratwurst[/tag] [tag]Sandwiche[/tag]s (cute things. Little = eat more!) and Queen of Hearts [tag]Brownie[/tag]s (dainty decadence)
  • After Dinner Delights – Hot [tag]Carmel[/tag] Apple Cider

In the last chapter, “Quick and Classy [tag]Tabletops[/tag]”, the table setups are so colorful and very textural.

All that said, I do not see how these could be considered quick! The time I would have to spend in [tag]Pier One[/tag] just buying all the stuff would be hours. Note – I will use any excuse to spend hours there, my toddler cries when she sees the Pier One sign though.

The tabletops are classy, certainly, but super complex. I think I would need a Masters in Design to accomplish this on my own. I am sure there are many readers here who have the desire and talent to do this (it is just beautiful) but I dont see my doing it any time soon. Its likely that one of my kids would either pull the tablecloth off with little flair or light a bonfire with candles and fancy linens.

I have only three beefs with this magazine:

  1. I gained 3 pounds just reading the thing
  2. I honestly felt lonely after putting it down because Paula looks like she has SO MUCH FUN
  3. Paula’s photos can be a bit disconcerting at times because some of the shots make her look like she has a 1000 yard stare and her blue eyes are a bit too retouched to look natural. Note to Paula’s photographer, keep her giggling, catch her happy smiles and forget the Hello Kitty vapid look, it is a disservice to Miss Paula.

I can not recommend this Special Collector’s Issue ENOUGH.

If you see it on the news stand, grab it.

It will be out until May and sells for

  • $7.99 US
  • $8.99 CAN

How to organize your Food Life

March 6, 2007 in Paper Palate, product, recipe, review, Well Fed Network

russel+hazel recipe binder

[This article was published on the [tag]Paper Palate[/tag] blog in the [tag]Well Fed Network[/tag]]

When the Well Fed Network was given an opportunity to [tag]review[/tag] the [tag]russel+hazel[/tag] [tag]Recipe Binder Set[/tag], I had to try it out. The best way to describe this [tag]concept[/tag] is that it is like [tag]Levenger[/tag] for your [tag]kitchen[/tag]. Instead of messy [tag]food[/tag] splattered [tag]index cards[/tag] that get lost or not used because they are in an un[tag]organize[/tag]d and intimidating pile, this [tag]system[/tag] has a home for each and every [tag]card[/tag].

In this set, you get five different types of items.

Two spiffy and sturdy [tag]binder[/tag]s with this interesting rubber band looped around the front cover. I think that this rubber band is meant to hold the current [tag]recipe card[/tag] in place on the outside. You can then prop up the folder and the [tag]recipe[/tag] card stays safely out of the [tag]cooking[/tag] [tag]chaos[/tag]. These binders hold all of your recipes and related materials that you have tamed with their system.

You get section tabs that separate your recipes into 14 categories:

  • [tag]appetizer[/tag]s+[tag]beverage[/tag]s
  • [tag]bread[/tag]+pastries
  • [tag]salad[/tag]s+dressings
  • [tag]soup[/tag]s+[tag]sandwich[/tag]es
  • [tag]vegetable[/tag]s+side dishes
  • [tag]pasta[/tag]+[tag]rice[/tag]+grains
  • [tag]fish[/tag]+[tag]seafood[/tag]
  • [tag]meat[/tag]+[tag]poultry[/tag]
  • [tag]cake[/tag]s+[tag]cookie[/tag]s
  • vegetarian
  • [tag]cassarole[/tag]s+one-dish meals
  • [tag]outdoor cooking[/tag]+[tag]grilling[/tag]
  • family+favorites
  • [tag]entertaining[/tag]+parties
  • bonus empty tab
  • one [tag]measuring[/tag] equivalents 1/2 sheet

Your recipes, which you have lovingly changed and perfected to your own personal tastes and needs, can be recorded on the supplied 7 1/8 inch by 4 3/8 inch cards. Each card has space for the recipe, the date recorded, notes, preparation time and how many it serves. These are good reminders for [tag]record[/tag]ing a recipe. You need to have a sense for how many you can feed and how long it will take so that you can plan effectively.

Two recipe cards can be slipped into a full page size binder sheet that you then put into the correct section of your binder.

Finally, for those of you who are really organized and like to plan your [tag]meal[/tag]s for the week, there are week-at-a-time menu planning sheets. Each day of the week has a line for [tag]breakfast[/tag], [tag]lunch[/tag], and [tag]dinner[/tag] and there is a column to the right side of the page where you can build your [tag]shopping list[/tag]. There are several headings on this list, including: fresh produce, dairy, butcher, pantry, and bakery. This shopping or market list is removable by [tag]micro-perforation[/tag], handy for when you run out the door to go shopping.

Why would you want to be this organized?

Its simple – you can save a lot of time and money by planning your meals and stocking your [tag]pantry[/tag] when long term storage dry goods go on sale.

I know that how you organize your kitchen and recipes is a very personal thing. Some of us inherit this from our mothers or grandmothers, some of us muddle through developing our own way, and some of us never really get around to it.

Its my sense that this sort of activity, writing down and saving recipes, is done by people who really value and treasure these momentos. Some of you are lucky enough to have recipe books and cards handed down from grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Those are precious things. With a system like this, you can lavish your own recipes with the same love and then hand it down to your children and grandchildren.

Needless to say, this would make an excellent [tag]gift[/tag] to those people you know who cherish and collect recipes.

It is hard for me to evaluate whether the price-point on this system is sufficiently accessible to all our readers. I think I will leave that up to you.

To review, this set includes:

  • 2 slim binders (in white/charcoal or blue/red) with dry erase interior and recipe card holding rubber band
  • set of 15 section tabs & 1 measuring equivalents sheet
  • Recipe Pages, 40 pages
  • Recipe cards, 50 cards
  • Menu Planning Sheets, 60 pages

Price $110

Where to buy:

“Preserving Memories” by Judy Glattstein (Well Fed Network)

March 3, 2007 in cooking, fruit, Paper Palate, review, Well Fed Network

(I wrote the following article for the Paper Palate blog, in the [tag]Well Fed Network[/tag])

Preserving Memories book coverI recently had an opportunity to review the [tag]cookbook[/tag] [tag]Preserving Memories: Growing Up in My Mother’s Kitchen[/tag] by [tag]Judy Glattstein[/tag]. As you might imagine from the title, this is a book about the making of [tag]jam[/tag]s, [tag]jellies[/tag], [tag]marmalade[/tag]s, and other [tag]preserved[/tag] items. Let me assure you that the work and time you take to make any of these [tag]recipe[/tag]s will be very well spent. [tag]Homemade[/tag] preserves, made from the most simple of ingredients, taste fantastic and much more like the original [tag]fruit[/tag] than any mass produced preserve, jam or jelly you could buy.

Although the cover features some very sexy strawberries in [tag]hyperreal[/tag] colors, this is not a book for eye candy. There are no full color photographs, only the occasional sepia, printed like the rest of the text.

The introductory text rambles a bit, but it does lend “texture” and premise. She does a lovely job of giving some [tag]food history[/tag] throughout and covers the particularities of preserving with a direct brevity that is welcome. [tag]Glattstein[/tag] writes this book because she feels that an important family centered [tag]food tradition[/tag], namely the making and giving of preserves, is being lost in our busy world. She looks to provide for her readers a way back to a type of cooking that should be preserved and passed on.

The recipes are arranged first by type of preserve, including:

  • [tag]Fruit Butter[/tag]s -> Plum [tag]butter[/tag], Quince butter
  • Jams -> Ginger Peach Jam, Orange Fig jam
  • Conserves -> Blueberry Orange convserve, Cactus Date conserve
  • Marmalades -> Seville Orange marmalade with brandy soaked raisins, Key Lime marmalade, Etrog (Israeli citron) marmalade
  • Sweet Jellies -> Apple Jelly with Scented Geranium, Lemon jelly
  • Savory Jellies and Conserves -> [tag]Cranberry[/tag] Muscat Raisin relish, Lemon Tarragon jelly

Next, the book presents further recipes by type of fruit or food being preserved. This can be rather confusing, but using the index should direct you towards the recipes you need. In addition to the recipes, this section provides more food history and horticultural information about fruits that are often used in preserves.

Finally, the last chapter offers recipes that use the preserves to make coffee cakes and tortes and even a meatball recipe at the very end.While Preserving” has some distracting flaws, mainly it’s organization and rambling prose, use this book for the recipes and perhaps to glean a bit of cultural context from the author.

(Strawberry Jam – Copyright © 2006 Nika Boyce)

Where to buy: