When my parents come to visit I like to make things that they wouldn’t normally try, which usually results in research and discussion, because my dad is very meat and potatoes (Ginny and I have this in common with our families). So for dessert I picked Panna Cotta. I had some fresh frozen peaches from my aunt’s tree that were itching for something creamy and I thought that would do the trick. Boy, did it ever! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Much like Beth, I am a creative cook (and people wonder why we get along so well). My co-workers hate me sometimes when I take food to work (again, common ground). They ask for the recipe and I tell them I can give them the original recipe and then that I didn’t follow that recipe. I doubt anyone at work has ever effectively re-created what I cook.
So, I must have looked at a dozen different recipes for Panna Cotta before I decided how to proceed. The basic concept is warm milk or cream to dissolve the sugar and gelatin (sometimes a flavor of some kind), then add cream/milk/yogurt/sour cream/buttermilk to the gelatin mixture and pour it into either a large container or individual dishes.
My two inspirations were the aforementioned peaches and some amazing cinnamon that Beth and I found at Penzey’s Spices. They have catalogs, are online, or they have retail stores. If there is a store near you, you should take the opportunity and go. They have all the stuff they sell in open containers that you can smell and I suppose if brave enough taste. (You should have seen us slinking around the store in Maplewood, MO, sniffing and making tiny little sounds of pleasure) So if you hear about something and wonder, what is that like? You can find out! It was the Vietnamese Cinnamon that captured us a couple of visits ago, and I have to say, I am in love! (I will never go back to any other kind of cinnamon now. Seriously. I would just throw out any other kind you have in your spice rack and buy some of this. Now.) I have always liked cinnamon, but this makes your mouth say WOW, that’s some cinnamon! I’ve been putting it in everything. I found no recipes involving cinnamon, so I was on my own. I am undaunted!
(Here is the basic recipe for the panna cotta we made.)
In a mixing bowl “bloom” one packet of plain gelatin in 2-3 Tablespoons of cold water. (If you don't know about "blooming", it just means to gently mix the two together and let it rest for a minute to give the gelatin a chance to "activate" kind of like yeast does.)
In a saucepan heat:
1 ½ cups half and half
2/3 Cup Sugar
½ - 1 tsp Cinnamon (the Vietnamese Cinnamon is strong, so I used ½ tsp).
Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. (I allowed some time for the cinnamon to steep in the milk.) Do not boil. Pour this mixture into the bowl with the gelatin and whisk until the gelatin is dissolved.
Add 1 ¼ Cup of sour cream and 1 tsp vanilla and whisk until well blended. Pour into serving container. Refrigerate until set.
I have to say I made two batches for the parents visit, because the first batch was small, and my family likes to eat, so… I liked my second batch better, which I of course altered slightly. I tested the first batch and it was a little more solid than I would have liked, so in the second batch I used less gelatin. The above is the second attempt. My nephew asked me what it was; the best I could come up with was “it’s like milk jello”. (I don't know about you, but "milk jello" would not entice me into trying something new.) BTW, I don’t like jello, not since a high school cafeteria incident, so this was a big experiment for me. This is why I used less gelatin in the second batch. This was amazing with the peaches!
I liked it so well that I knew I had to make it again when Beth and I got together. However, it was time for another variation. This time we used ginger instead of cinnamon. (Ginny didn't say this, but she has a nearly obscene fetish for ginger.)
In a mixing bowl, bloom one packet of gelatin in 2-3 Tablespoons cold water.
In a saucepan heat 1 ½ cups half and half with ½ Cup Sugar and grate about 1-2 tsp fresh ginger into the pan (this will depend on how much you like ginger). After the ginger gets a chance to steep in the milk, pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the mixing bowl. Whisk to dissolve the gelatin.
Add 1 ½ cups of buttermilk and 1 tsp vanilla and pour into serving container. Refrigerate until set.
We served this with some fresh pineapple and it was fabulous! I have to say even Beth was amazed when I asked her for the glasses that we were serving this in. Done already?! (yeah, yeah, know-it-all, I was surprised, I admit it.) There are times when you read how easy something is to make, but no lie, this is a fast and easy dessert! I still want to try this with a Greek Yogurt variation, I just have to decide what other spice to use with it…sweet, maybe savory, who knows? (I could totally see a basil-tangerine variation....although I can see us trying something like rosemary-parmesan. Ginny is a freak about rosemary, too.)
So, the picture above is the original shot Ginny took of the batch she made for her family, and the rest of the pics are the version we made at my house. It was really amazing, and as Ginny said, incredibly easy! See if you can come up with a new variation and let us know how it works out!