Sunday, February 27, 2011

Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies (DB)

I don't know about other parts of the country, but we've been enjoying beautiful 70 degree weather here in Texas lately.  It's a welcome change to the all the ice and snow we've been having! (Makes me wish we had a yard with a wooden swing set for my little girl to play on, though.)  While some desserts lend themselves to the winter season (i.e. Yule log), here are two sweets that can be enjoyed year round whether it's warm or cold outside - panna cotta and florentine cookies.

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. 

I love panna cotta and have always wanted to try making it.  Every time I see it on a blog, I think I should try it, yet I never seem to get around to doing so.  I was glad, then, to see that it was chosen for this month's challenge.  Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering together milk, cream, and sugar, mixed with gelatin.  When set, it has a texture/consistency somewhat thicker than flan and but more delicate than jello.

Giada's recipe uses honey in addition to sugar to sweeten the cream. I found that this was a great way to flavor the panna cotta.  It was subtle, but added some depth to the panna cotta's flavor profile.  It only took a year, but I took this opportunity to use some Bee Raw wild raspberry honey that I won from Blake Makes.  Because honey always takes on the flavors of the flowers used by the bees during the pollination process, this is “a light and floral honey, with a unique raspberry finish intertwined with the aroma of warm cocoa butter." It was wonderful in this panna cotta.

I ended up serving my panna cotta in several different ways.  I layered it with some strawberry gelée in a small drinking glass, put it in some mini dessert glasses, and unmolded one from a small ramekin.  While the small drinking glass size is great for any panna cotta lover, I think it's way too much cream for most folks.  The small ramekin size was good and would probably be the size I would go with for entertaining.  The mini dessert size was my favorite, though.  Just enough to get a taste when you're craving something sweet after dinner, but not too much to where you end up too full and wishing you hadn't had dessert.  If you've never made panna cotta before, I encourage you to try it.  It is really easy and doesn't require a lot of ingredients.  You can dress it up for a holiday or special occasion, or enjoy it with a weeknight dinner.

The florentine cookies were my favorite part of this challenge! They reminded me quite a bit of the maple tuiles I made not long ago, with a more grainy texture due to the addition of oats.  These did not last long in our household, as I kept telling myself they were healthier for me than regular cookies because of the oats ;)  I drizzled some with chocolate, sandwiched some cookies with nutella, and then ate the rest just plain.  They were good and I will definitely be making them again!

Thanks Mallory, for hosting this month's challenge.  I'm glad I finally got to make my own panna cotta, and I'm thrilled to have discovered florentine cookies! Make sure you check out the Daring Bakers' Blogroll to see how everyone else enjoyed these sweet, creamy, and crunchy treats!

Vanilla Panna Cotta
from Giadia de Laurentiis

1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (one packet) (15 ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (720 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt


1. Pour the milk into a bowl or pot and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk (make sure the bowl/pot is cold by placing the bowl/pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start making the Panna Cotta). Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
2. Pour the milk into the saucepan/pot and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes. (I whisk it a few times at this stage).
3. Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn't boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
5. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Add garnishes and serve.

* Recipe tips:
- When you sprinkle your gelatin over your milk, be sure that it's a thin even layer of gelatin, no clumps. When you heat it up after it's soaked a bit, you'll be less likely to get any lumps of gelatin in the finished product.
- The type of honey you use will lend a subtle flavor the panna cotta so if you have a particular non-clover honey that you enjoy, you should use it in this recipe.
- If you would like to unmold your Panna Cotta from a ramekin simply run a knife along the edge, dip the ramekin in a bit of hot water, then invert onto your serving platter. Viola! Unmolded Panna Cotta. (Be aware though, Panna Cotta is not Jell-o, it's got a much softer texture so it does not keep its shape in the same way as Jell-o)
- If you cannot find powdered gelatin/only have access to sheet gelatin this can be used. Simply follow the directions on the package for conversions.
- Milk substitutes, such as skim, almond, or even coconut milk can be used in the vanilla Panna Cotta in place of the whole milk, but cream is important. In order to get the right texture there needs be a certain percentage of cream fat.

Fruit Gelée
from A Sofa in the Kitchen

1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) fruit (strawberries, raspberries, mango, blackberry, etc.) *Note: Certain fruits interact with gelatin and stop it gelling like pineapple and kiwi etc.
3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
1/4 cup (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons (7½ ml) (3½ gm) (1/8 oz) unflavored powdered gelatin


1. Sprinkle gelatin over water.
2. Place fruit and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Now mix the gelatin into the strawberry mixture and stir until gelatin has dissolved.
3. Remove from heat and allow to cool (close to room temp, again, if you're planning on layering on pouring on top of your Panna Cotta, a hot mixture will also heat up your chilled Panna Cotta).

Florentine Cookies
from Nestle

2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm) (5.3 oz) unsalted butter
2 cups (480 ml) (160 gm) (5 2/3 oz) quick oats
1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (95 gm) (3⅓ oz) plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark corn syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1½ cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate

Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F (190°C) (gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.

To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula.

Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets.

While the cookies are cooling melt your chocolate until smooth either in the microwave (1 1/2 minutes), or stovetop (in a double boiler, or a bowl that fits atop a saucepan filled with a bit of water, being sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl).

Peel the cookies from the silpat or parchment and place face down on a wire rack set over a sheet of wax/parchment paper (to keep counters clean).

Spread a tablespoon of chocolate on the bottom/flat side of your cookie, sandwiching another (flat end) cookie atop the chocolate.

This recipe will make about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen sandwiched Florentine cookies. You can also choose not to sandwich yours, in which case, drizzle the tops with chocolate (over your wax paper).

* Recipe tips:
- If you only have old fashioned oats on hand, simply give them a quick whir in your food processor to give them a similar texture to the quick oats.  If you don't have a food processor on hand, you can still use the old fashioned oats in this recipe, you'll just end up with a chewier cookie.
- Nutella also tastes great sandwiched between these cookies!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where to Eat in Puerto Rico

We just got back from a short but sweet trip to Puerto Rico so I didn't get a chance to bake this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  My apologies to Mike for not baking along.  Instead, I thought I'd post a few quick reviews of some of the places where we dined.  Unfortunately, I didn't snap any photos of the food (didn't think about it until after I got home - sorry!) but hopefully the reviews will still be helpful for those who will be planning a trip to PR in the future.  And, because I hate to put up a post without photos, here's a picture of my sweet baby girl enjoying her first trip to the beach! :)

San Juan, Puerto Rico Restaurant Reviews/Dining Guide

Bebo's Café - this eatery on Calle Loiza in Santurce serves traditional food (comida criolla) in an informal atmosphere.  It felt like we were in the Puerto Rican equivalent of Denny's or Chili's.  There were some tourists there, but for the most part we were surrounded by local families.  My husband got the milanesa de pollo (chicken milanese) and said it was good.  It's chicken pounded thin, then coated in egg and breadcrumbs and shallow-fried, then topped with cheese and marinara sauce.  I had the salmorejo de jueyes (crabmeat stew), and while nicely seasoned and delicious, it was overly salty.  The fried sweet plantains were great, though slightly greasy.  If you go here, don't confuse it with Bebo’s Chicken, which is also delicious, but simply an open-air chicken shack off of the highway adjacent to the international airport.  (average entree price = $10-20)

Ceviche House - located on the western end of Isla Verde, this Peruvian restaurant makes some of the best ceviche.  I've heard the service here can be a bit slow, but we got take out so I can't comment on that.  I do find in general though, that many restaurants in the Caribbean operate on "island time" and the servers just can't be bothered to move any quicker.  Here we ordered the Papas Huancaína as an appetizer.  Papas Huancaína is a Peruvian salad of boiled yellow potatoes (similar to the Yukon Gold potatoes) in a spicy, creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce. The sauce is made of fresh white cheese (similar to farmers cheese), vegetable oil, aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian pepper), evaporated milk and salt mixed in a blender. It was served cold as a starter over lettuce leaves and garnished with hard boiled egg quarters.  It was good, but a bit too heavy for my taste.  I thought the portion was quite large for an appetizer, so it was probably meant for sharing.  It could easily serve 2-4 people.  For the main course, I ordered the shrimp ceviche and it was very fresh and flavorful.  I got the small portion and wish I had gotten the large.  Would have definitely loved to have returned here a second time for more ceviche if time had permitted.  My husband ordered the churrasco (grilled skirt steak) and found it to be average, with Che's being much better (see below).  (average entree price = $20-30)

Che's - a churrascaria also located on the western end of Isla Verde, Che's is known for having the best churrasco in San Juan.  My friend recommended this restaurant to us, and said she never visits PR without going to Che's.  I had never heard of churrasco before, but it's grilled skirt steak.  While seasoned well, I found the meat to be way too oily (leaving an oily taste in my mouth), and the meat too tough.  My husband thought it was delicious and had no complaints, but I prefer a more tender preparation of skirt steak.  Perhaps I just had a bad cut of meat, because all the reviews I've read of this place online say that their churrasco is excellent, so perhaps you'll still want to give it a try.  (average entree price = $18-25)

La Bombonera - located in Old San Juan (on Calle San Francisco), this family run bakery and coffee shop was packed with a good mix of both locals and tourists.  We arrived there on a Saturday around 10:30am to find a long line inside! Thankfully the line moved quickly and the wait wasn't too long, maybe 10-15 minutes.  My husband ordered the pancakes which were good, but the portion was small (just 3 small pancakes served).  I got the mallorca con mantequilla, a round spiral pastry sliced in half and grilled with butter, then dusted with confectioner's sugar - yum! I enjoyed it so much I ordered a second one :) We also got a box of several other pastries to take home with us - the best ones being the quesitos (flaky, slightly crispy, sugar-coated pastries with sweet cream cheese) and the quesitos con guayaba (sweet cheese pastries with guava filling).  This bakery was also just reviewed yesterday in the NY Times travel section. (average entree price = $5-15)

La Mallorquina - also located in Old San Juan (on Calle San Justo), this restaurant had the most delicious shrimp asopao.  It's a traditional Puerto Rican dish that is kind of like a soup/stew/gumbo made with rice, chicken broth, tomatoes, and spices.  My husband ordered the chicken asopoa and it was surprisingly different from the shrimp asopao that I ordered - in a bad way.  He didn't even finish his portion (and he isn't a very pick eater)! So, if you go here, stay away from the chicken version but definitely order the shrimp asopao! (average entree price = $14-30)

Piu Bello - actually a gelato chain with several locations in PR (and one in NY), we visited the location that is just a few blocks from the Ritz in Isla Verde.  We stopped in during the morning to grab a snack before leaving for the rainforest, so we didn't get get any gelato.  (I did read from other reviews that it's good, though). We tried the apple turnovers and quesitos here.  The apple turnovers were ok at best, but the quesitos were delicious.  We also had the grilled chicken sandwiches on focaccia with petso and mozzerella. They were good, but nothing spectacular. (average entree price = $5-10)

Platos -next door to Piu Bello in Isla Verde, this restaurant serves some amazing mofongo! Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish made from fried green plantains that have been mashed together with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bits of bacon. It's usually filled with vegetables, chicken, crab, shrimp, or beef.  I had the mofongo con camarones (with shrimp) in an ajillo blanca (white garlic) sauce.  You can also get the mofongo served with a Puerto Rican creole sauce, but if you love garlic you have to try the garlic sauce! Soooooo good. While I didn't try the mofongo at any other restaurants while we there, I would have happily returned here for a second visit to eat their mofongo again. (average entree price = $15-25)

Restaurante José Enrique - by far our favorite restaurant in PR! It is located in the Plaza de Santurce in a repurposed old home.  It can be difficult to find because there is no street address on the home and there are no signs on the building, either.  There is a small parking lot across the street with a banner that says "José Enrique," however.  We never would have found it, except for the long line of people waiting out front when we arrived.  Plan to come about 15 minutes before they open to make sure you get a table.  People tend to linger and have drinks after their dinners so the wait can be quite long here sometimes (upwards of 1-3 hours).  This restaurant is known for creative, upscale Puerto Rican food, done right. The menu is constantly changing, but we had the crab ceviche served on tostones (twice fried plantains) as an appetizer - beyond delicious.  My husband doesn't even really care for crab and he was talking about how good it was.  For the main course, my husband had the mahi mahi served over rice and beans mixed together.  It was well seasoned and cooked to perfection, and the portion was quite hearty.  I ordered the fried lobster with tostones and avocado "foam."  It was chopped lobster pieces (in shell) in a slightly spicy breading, deep fried and served with an avocado dip.  The server called it an avocado "foam" but I think he just wasn't clear on the English translation.  It was definitely more like a mild guacamole or avocado dip.  Whatever you want to call it, though, it was awesome.  Far better than any plain old lobster served with butter for dipping! The portion size of the lobster was fine for me (especially with a shared appetizer and dessert), but I think it may be a bit too small for others.  For dessert my husband ordered the homemade ice cream trio, featuring three different flavors of ice cream.  I sampled a small bit of his ice cream and it was phenomenal - very rich and creamy.  Our only complaint was that the ice cream "scoops" were very small scoops that were served in 3 individual tasting spoons.  For my own dessert, I ordered the tembleque, a traditional Puerto Rican coconut pudding.  The server mentioned that the dessert features 5 different textures, which definitely piqued my interested.  It was a smooth coconut pudding dotted with small tapioca pearls, cubes of sponge cake dipped in cinnamon, spoonfuls of shredded coconut, and topped with two almond wafers.  It was plated on a spiral seashell-like dish, which allowed me to sample each of the different textures separately.  The cinnamon paired well with the coconut, and all the textures in the dish were a nice way to dress up a very simple Puerto Rican dessert.  If it weren't for the fact that we ate here on our last night in Puerto Rico, we would have definitely returned for a second visit before leaving! You must visit this restaurant if you are in San Juan.  I should also note that while it's "upscale" dining, the environment is very informal (some people were dressed up to go out to the bars afterward and others were very casually dressed in shorts) - we didn't feel like we were out of place bringing our daughter with us to dinner at all.  (average entree price = $20-30)

If you're a foodie like me, eating out is one of my favorite aspects of vacationing! I hope this dining guide proves helpful to at least a few travelers in the future.  If you're ever in Puerto Rico and end up trying one of these restaurants, do come back and leave me a comment and let me know what you think! Bon appetit! Or, since we're talking about Puerto Rico, I guess ¡Buen apetito! would be more appropriate ;)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chocolate Oatmeal Drops (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Caroline and Claire of Bake with Us: Chocolate Oatmeal Drops. I'm on vacation right now so I'm short on time but I did want to put up a quick post about these!

I made these cookies the day before we left for our trip and they were great to munch on during the flight! :) A half batch was more than enough, I'm not sure what you'd do with a full recipe! My cookies did spread quite a bit and ended up rather pathetic looking, but if you follow the advice of Carol from The Bake More and chill your dough for about 20 minutes before scooping it out and baking these, you'll end up with beautiful cookies that are crunchy on the outside with a soft, chewy middle.  Looks aside, I did enjoy these cookies, even though I'm generally not a fan of chocolate cookies.

Thanks Caroline and Claire, for hosting this week.  If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Also make sure you check out the TWD Blogroll, to see how everyone else enjoyed these chocolatey treats!

* Recipe notes:
- Be sure to chill your dough until it is firm before scooping it out to bake.
- It's hard to tell when these are done because they are so dark, but mine were done closer to 10 minutes (maybe it would have been closer to the recommended 12 minute baking time with the chilled dough?). I'd recommend making a small batch in your oven first to determine the ideal baking time before making a large batch.
- For more recipe tips, click here

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Great Grains Muffins (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Christine of Happy Tummy: Great Grains Muffins.  Made with regular all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, oats, and cornmeal, this healthy muffin is studded with dried fruit and nuts.  I omitted the nuts and included prunes at Dorie's suggestion.

I considered swapping out the regular sugar for brown sugar and then somehow got distracted with the little one running around my feet and ended up forgetting the sugar altogether! I was worried they would turn out awful, but between the maple syrup in the recipe and the bites of sweetness provided by the prunes, the sugar wasn't really missed in this recipe! I think these would also be really good with some figs.

Thanks Christine, for hosting this week.  If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Also make sure you check out the TWD Blogroll, to see how everyone else enjoyed this healthy breakfast treat!

* Recipe notes:
- My muffins were done baking in about 13-14 minutes, so watch yours closely.
- For more recipe tips, click here