June 28, 2013

Panna Cotta with Fresh Berry Sauce

Italy has always made a big impression on me.  Its majestic history, scenery and food are so imposing and hard to ignore.  So, last year Adrian and I finally ventured to Italy together.  It was our first time together to the boot-shaped peninsula and this time we decided to take Rome and Tuscany by storm.  In a nutshell, it was amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed every second in the Eternal City, Florence and the surroundings, but we also truly relished the best panna cotta in the world!

Over the years, I’ve sampled numerous variations of this classic Italian dessert across America and even in Romania, but the one that let me hungry for more was the panna cotta in Italy.  I don’t really know why; maybe because the Italians invented it, or because it’s been done, tweaked and improved, and found seemingly on every restaurant’s dessert menu.  Most likely, because it’s delicious!  But don’t panic.  You don’t have to fly across the pond in search of a great panna cotta.  This Panna Cotta with Fresh Berry Sauce can easily be a second best and will graciously do the trick!  

In all honesty, I’ve always had an affinity for this Italian staple but somehow never dared to make it myself.  Perhaps the wobbly pudding engrained in me the idea of a highly difficult dessert.  As it turns out, I was wrong all along.  Making panna cotta is nothing short of effortless!  And this Panna Cotta is here to prove it.  It’s so unbelievably easy to whip up, no baking required, and you’ll be done in roughly 30 minutes, sauce included.  The tough part is the waiting for the panna cotta to set.  You’ll impatiently wonder around until you can finally dig in and engulf this fabulous dessert.  But once set, you’ll have a stunning sweet treat gleaming in deliciousness.  

This panna cotta is simple, summery, and purely sublime!  Refreshing and beautiful will also look gorgeous on your Fourth of July table.  The contrast between the silky smooth, cottony pudding, bursting with delicate vanilla perfume, and the sweetly tart, crimson saucy berries is wonderful.  The flavors are luxurious and transcending, and the faintly thick, delightful richness of the cream shines through.  Of course, you can swap the vanilla for rosewater or lavender or any other flavors you desire to infuse the cream mixture.  The possibilities are endless and the result magical.  Simply put – a glorious dessert that will make your summer even sunnier! 

Panna Cotta with Fresh Berry Sauce
Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients for the Panna Cotta:

·         1 cup whole milk
·         1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin
·         Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
·         3 cups heavy cream
·         1/3 cup honey
·         1 Tablespoon sugar
·         Pinch of salt

Ingredients for the Fresh Berry Sauce:

·         2 cups assorted fresh berries
·         1 ½ Tablespoon sugar

Instructions for the Panna Cotta:

Place the milk in a heavy, small saucepan.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let stand for 5-7 minutes to soften the gelatin.  Stir over medium heat just until the gelatin dissolves but the milk does not boil, about 5 minutes.  Add the vanilla seeds and stir well to combine.  Add the heavy cream, honey, sugar, and salt and stir until the honey and sugar dissolve, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.  Pour the mixture into 6 glasses, dividing equally.  Cover each glass with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.  

Instructions for the Fresh Berry Sauce:

Place the berries in a small saucepan and sprinkle with sugar.  Heat up the berries over medium-low heat until juicy and soft and mash some of them with a fork.  Continue to stir until the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes.  Let it cool. 

Spoon the sauce atop the panna cotta and serve. 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

June 12, 2013

Easy homemade granola

“Eat your breakfast alone, share your lunch with a friend, and give your dinner to your enemy.”  This old saying in Romanian culture still rings so true today.  In a nutshell, you have to eat a generous breakfast, a small lunch, and an even smaller dinner, or skip dinner entirely to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  So, we’re talking about breakfast again, a meal I was never fond of yet steadily grew to appreciate.  But, stay with me, it’s worth it!  Breakfast today includes a very easy and lip-smacking granola!       

I have to tell you that Romania doesn’t really do granola.  In fact, it’s only been a few years since we started incorporating cereal into our daily breakfast.  Traditionally, breakfast in Romania is substantial and comprised of bread; eggs turned into omelettes, scrambled, fried or hard-boiled; cheese, butter, cold cuts, fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, jams, coffee and tea.  Frequently and mostly in the countryside, Romanians still prepare with great pride the country’s national breakfast called mămăligă or polenta, a rich and filling cornmeal dish served with cheese.  These days, in our house this type of breakfast has evolved into a brunch, which we fully relish on the weekend.  On weekdays, though, this Easy Homemade Granola has breakfast written all over it!  

Truth be told, I used to purchase my fair share of sickly pale store-bought granola, but now the search has ceased.  I’ve found a recipe that makes me look forward to breakfast every morning.  It’s my go-to invigorating breakfast (and late night guilty sweet snack).  This granola has it all; it’s simple but rich in flavor, crisp and crunchy, nutty and nicely spiced, packed with the usual suspects – oats, nuts, seeds and sweet accompaniments – freckled with colorful chewy raisins and dried cranberries, and lacquered with a healthy dose of olive oil.  And that pinch of salt in a sea of crackly deliciousness binds everything together and nails the faint savory component.  All there’s left to do is sprinkle a couple of spoonfuls of granola over creamy plain yogurt, and toss in a few slices of apple or your favorite fruit while you’re at it, simply douse it in milk, or use it to make this bad boy.  Enjoy!    

Easy Homemade Granola
Adapted from Bon Appétit (February 2013)

Makes: 12+ servings


·         1 large egg white, beaten
·         3 cups old-fashioned oats
·         ½ cup whole raw almonds
·         ½ cup whole raw cashews
·         ½ cup whole raw walnuts
·         1 ½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
·         ¼ cup agave nectar
·         ¼ cup maple syrup
·         ¼ cup olive oil
·         ¼ cup sesame seeds
·         2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
·         1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         ½ cup golden raisins
·         ½ cup dried cranberries


Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spread out the almonds, cashews and walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 10 minutes.  Take them out of the oven and let them cool completely.  Once cooled, chop the nuts and set them aside.  Lower the oven temperature to 300°F. 

In a large bowl, combine the egg white, old-fashioned oats, nuts, coconut shavings, agave nectar, maple syrup olive oil, sesame seeds, light brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon.  Toss well to combine.  Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake the granola, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and dry, about 40-45 minutes.  Once out of the oven, mix in the golden raisins and dried cranberries.  Allow the granola to cool on the baking sheet (it will crisp as it cools).  

Do ahead:  The granola can be made 2 weeks ahead.  Store airtight at room temperature.

Note:  Feel free to tweak this recipe as you wish – you can swap honey for maple syrup and agave; you can play around with the dried fruit or add chocolate chips at the end if you wish.  There’s plenty of room for negotiation!

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)