Chèvre Panna Cotta with Mint Oil

Spring is coming ever so delicately knocking at my door, though you wouldn’t know it by the weather.  I set the panna cotta yesterday afternoon, not with promising rays of sun filling my kitchen, but while the sky was white with puffy snowflakes. This winter has been unrelenting, but in my heart, and in my kitchen, it is getting to be breezy and sunshiny.

The evolution of this recipe has been germinating in my brain for a few weeks now. I imagined a delicate pillow of panna cotta with fine teeny spring vegetables. Radish sprouts give this dish a little sharp bite, and fresh mint adds counter balance. It’s not always the case that my imaginings turn out just so, but this one was a triumph. The texture is more like a trembleque, which is astonishing next to the slight crunch of the asparagus and the pop of the peas. Not only is it melty light and refreshing, it’s also refreshing light in calories too!

The secret ingredient is a splash of grapefruit vinegar, which I concocted myself. I’ve been having a lot of fun creating some lovely vinegar flavors. I promise I’ll be posting on the vinegars with recipes soon, I’m just working on a few other versions that I think you’ll really enjoy. I am all about the finishing vinegar these days…


For those keeping track, I am still overwrought by the breaking of my camera. I used my traveling point and shoot today, which is… well….

Let me just say that I’ve been a real champ  trying to be a real champ about this. I decided to Snap to!, Stiff upper lip! and all that, but the charm is swiftly waning. I’m finding that capturing images onto this teeny sensor has been quite fine, but the lens on this bugger is NOT conducive to my creative flexings. The damn thing has such a curved lens that I struggle with distortion, which you might notice a bit of in the picture above. I crop and crop and crop, which leaves me with a less quality than I would like. *sigh*

I know I’m being a big whiney baby right now. I know that many many folks shoot solely with a camera like the one, (Canon G11), which is no slouch of a camera at all! AND great work can be, and is, created.

When I studied photography in college (back in the caveman days), I was a purist. I shot 35mm film with only a 50mm lens. I felt that you didn’t need fancy camera or lenses to create Art, and for the most part, I still believe that to be true. But like a person that drove a your parent’s hand me down car for a long time, and then one day you get to drive a Mercedes, well, there is just no comparison. Will they both get you to where you want to go? No question, but oh what a ride in the Mercedes.

This is how I feel about my camera. I plunked down a pile of money a few years back to buy it. It was a real financial stretch, and a personal affirmation of my dedication to photography. I promised myself that I would use it so much that it would earn it’s value back many times.

And it has.

My camera is worth every penny, and I will love her long into the future once I get her back. It has been a lesson for me. Do you always need the most expensive things? Not always, but sometimes having quality and good tools can make a difference- and I have come to learn that I am worth it.

I hope you enjoy my spring treat. It really is no fuss to make, even though it looks fussy.

Happy Almost Spring!

Chèvre Panna Cotta with Mint Oil
I used some small condiment dishes I had to mold the panna cotta but any vessel will do, including tea cups, wine glasses etc. It’s also possible to make one single large mold, and even double or triple this recipe to do so. The panna cotta may be made a day or two in advance and kept in the fridge.
serves 4
1.5 cup reduced fat milk, divided
1.5t unflavored gelatin
6 oz chèvre
pinch of salt
1 c asparagus, sliced into small pieces, leaving heads whole
1 c English peas
3T fresh mint, finely minced
2T olive oil
2T grapefruit vinegar, or white balsamic vinegar
handful radish sprouts
Prepare 4 molds, about a half cup in size, by lightly oiling them. Set aside
In a small bowl place .5c of cold milk and sprinkle the gelatin over the top, stirring to moisten all the gelatin if necessary. Allow to rest and bloom for 3-5 minutes.
In a blender, or with a hand blender, combine the chèvre, salt and the rest of the milk, and blend smooth.
Warm the gelatin milk in a microwave for 1 minute. The milk will be hot and the gelatin melted. Stir into the chèvre mixture and thoroughly incorporate.
Divide the mixture between the four cups, then place in the refrigerator until set, about 3 hours.
Place a saucepan with 2 inches of water and a generous pinch of salt over a high flame and bring to the boil. Add the asparagus and peas and boil for a minute and a half, or until the vegetables turn a bright green and have a tender bite to them. Immediately drain through a sieve and run cold water over them to stop the cooking.
In a medium bowl combine mint and olive oil.
To turn out the pannacotta, run a sharp knife, place a plate on the top, then flip the two over. The panna cotta will fall right out onto the plate. If it needs a nudge just give the cup a tap or two.
Sprinkle the vegetable over the top, then drizzle with the mint oil. Finish with a splash of vinegar over the top of each.
Serve with some crackers or crusty bread.

Zucchini Roll Ups with Provencal Roasted Tomatoes: And the Camera Calamity

One of the worst things happened to me yesterday. Not a tragedy, but certainly a calamity that has left me unsettled and distraught: My camera done got broke.
It’s not hard to imagine the fact that I use my camera just about every day. If I’m not shooting actual food for myself or for my internship, I am practicing technique, or {attempting to} teaching myself new things. It might surprise you to know that I photograph far more things than I publish. Sometimes because they are just studies, but sometimes, (and I hate to admit this), yes sometimes, things turn out dreadfully. It has been known to happen that I have trashed and completely reshot an entire recipe several times until I felt I got it.
This is, in fact, a new sort of me.

This is not to suggest anything except that I am learning to be a nit picker. Since this is not a genetic proclivity, I have a long way to go. At times it can be a bothersome struggle, but I am learning that there is  music in the process for me. Perhaps what I am really getting at is not that I am learning to be overly critical, but to go past the point of “good” creation. It’s a different realm, it’s the practice of getting to a better quality of “yes”. Sometimes it’s satisfying, mostly it’s satisfying. Some days it’s downright aggravating.

Like I said, I am nascent at this new phase. I have many baby steps ahead of me.

But today I’ve experienced a mechanical failure, and so I am derailed for the week. My beloved Canon 5D has dislodged its mirror. For those who don’t know: The mirror is behind the lens in front of the sensor. It’s main function is to reflect what you see through the lens up into the view finder so you can actually see through the camera. When you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up and allows light to enter through the lens, hit the sensor in the back of the camera, and VIOLA! record the image onto the sensor.

According to the web, I am not alone in this problem. A factory defect (bad glue?) is the culprit. So cheery Graydon at the other end of the 1-800 number, assured me that a ticket and tag and assessment etc etc will be swiftly executed, and without delay or cost my baby shall be repaired. *sigh*

His idea of swiftly was a week to ten days- an interminable amount of time to my mind. Good god.

So! Onward to Plan B. I have a point and shoot, I have my iPhone and I have plenty of other things to do. I shall make the most of it, I shall rise in the face of adversity, I shall most likely learn something very good! So thank you very much. Again… *sigh*

The breakdown occurred halfway through this shoot, specifically while I was taking a shot of the zucchini being grilled (hence no photo, sorry). Perhaps you can’t tell, that would be nice.

As a result this shoot did not turn out to the “yes” I was hoping for. I decided to let that go, it’s the karmic dada of this recipe. It was “meant” to be this way. It’s the Art of the recipe expressed. {gawd}

However, let me be clear, this only goes for the photography. The styling could have been better, I could have been a bit more creative in the shooting process, but the recipe is quite lovely.

This is a perfect dish for a luncheon or a light supper. Tangy goat cheese is rolled up in thin strips of grilled zucchini and paired with roasted tomatoes that are so sweet and flavorful, and still quite juicy.

The rolling is a little fiddly, but laying the zucchini down on a layer of plastic wrap is a fantastic tool. I really hope you enjoy this one.

Zucchini Roll-Up with Provencal Tomatoes
The rolling makes this dish look a bit fancy, but it’s really pretty easy to do, and little touches like this make the simple so special. The rolls can be made ahead of time and, either quickly rewarmed, or served at room temperature.
Serves 2
10 medium Campari tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1T olive oil
1T dried basil
2 large zucchini
1 oz goat cheese
1/2 cup part skim ricotta
Preheat the oven to 425˚
Slice the tomatoes in half through the midsection. Place tomatoes into a bowl with the garlic, oil, basil, S&P (to taste) and toss to combine ingredients.
Place the tomatoes skin side down into a roasting pan and spoon any remaining marinade over the top. Place into the oven and roast until the tomatoes start to shrink, about 35 minutes.
Slice the zucchini in thin strips along the long end of the squash. Heat a grill pan on the stove, spritz with cooking spray and grill until mostly done. The squash will continue to cook after you remove them from the heat, if you cook it to perfection on the grill they will turn to mush as they cool and not be sturdy enough to roll. The zucchini should show some opaqueness in the flesh, and the green skin should be bright.
In a food processor combine the goat cheese and ricotta and a pinch of salt and puree smooth.
Lay down a sheet of plastic wrap on your counter and line up the zucchini on it, overlapping. Carefully spread the cheese mixture in a thin layer, then using the plastic wrap for support, roll up the zucchini, sushi style.
Carefully unroll the zucchini onto the cutting board, seam side down, then cut in half.
Serve half a roll and half the tomatoes. A drizzle of fruity olive oil would be nice here, and a slice or two of peasant bread would be perfection.

Spinach Lamb Hand pies- Comforting Food

Ready to eat lamb hand pie.

I have weathered Sandy here in NYC without a single scratch- except for the emotional impact that I have for my fellow citizens. There is a very familiar similarity in my state this week compared to post 9/11. The same sadness, weariness and struggle to wrap my brain around so much devastation. I expected plenty of wreckage- but I am just so overwhelmed by the total losses. I’ve stopped watching the news updates and have turned instead towards putting my energy towards sending good thoughts and positive energy for our wounded city.

As the recovery unfolds I will no doubt find some way to help. I have a bag of clothes to donate sitting by the door, and I can certainly cook. There will be plenty of opportunity and I will be ready for it.

Ready to be folded

The mayor is presently on the TV saying that they need money, not food- or at least not right now. We’ll see about that as time goes on. NYer’s are a gathering of some of the most resilient folks around- but the future is long and the recovery is great.

So my pretty little lamb hand pies- what jewels to behold in the midst of this. I had made a fairly large roast the other day and ate all I could for a day or two. I live in a Hispanic neighborhood and in the freezer section of the markets are several brands of pre-made empanada dough. The one I found here is low in saturated fat and quite delicious. I usually make my own dough- the recipe for which you can find HERE– but this was a great alternative, and I’m not ashamed to say that for something simple like this, it was well worth it.

I quickly made up about 20 of them in no time flat. Some I have stashed in the freezer, the others I handed out to neighbors and friends. I had one the other day as a quick snack while studying. I only had to warm it up and I was good to go. Years ago I used to eat Cornish Pasties when I was a photo intern at the Catskill Center for Photography in Woodstock, NY. They are a delight. Comforting and wholesome- real stick to your ribs sort of food.

My heart goes out to any of my readers that have been negatively touched by Sandy.  Know that I am thinking of you.

Spinach and Mushroom Lamb Hand Pie
makes 20
You can make them and freeze them unbaked, or as I did, bake them off first. I like the latter for quick snacking or a rushed meal- both work equally well.
8-10 oz pre-cooked lamb- leftovers are fantastic, cut into small cubes
8 handfuls of fresh spinach, or one frozen package squeezed dry
1# white mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
.5 yellow onion, diced
2T fresh minced Rosemary
2 packages of pre-made empanada dough, thawed or homemade
egg wash for sealing and finishing (1 egg + 3T water)
In a large frying pan, sautee the garlic and onion over medium heat until onions become slightly translucent. 
Add the mushrooms and sautee 2-3 minutes until they release their juice.
Add the spinach and sautee until fresh spinach is wilted or the frozen is well heated through
Add the rosemary and S&P to taste.
Allow the mixture to cool as you prepare the dough. Allow the frozen dough to thaw but not fully room temperature- keep cool.
Fill each wrapper on one half side of the circle. I like to be generous with mine. I know it may seem that you won’t get them closed shut, but they will, promise.
Fold over the dough and paint edge with egg wash (or plain water if you prefer). Then pinch and crimp the edge together to seal tightly. 
Paint finished hand pies with egg wash and place on a lined baking tray.
Preheat oven to 375˚ and back until golden brown. The insides are pre-cooked, so they are done as soon as they look tempting.
Be patient and allow them to cook a few minutes before eating. The filling can get mighty hot.