Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tempranillo Poached Blackberry Panna Cotta w/ Florentine Cookie - Daring Bakers

For the last couple of months, I've been developing a few recipes using the wines from a very lovely winery in Paso Robles - J & J Cellars. While poaching blackberries in their exquisite Tempranillo wine, I imagined how sweet and sultry a Panna Cotta with these flavors would pair.

Tempranillo Poached
Blackberry Panna Cotta w/ Florentine Cookie

James Judd is one of the sons in James Judd and Son's Vineyards and our friendship started years ago in the Entertainment/Sketch Comedy business of Show. Now, he performs an award-winning and hysterical one man show called, "7 Sins", along with many other ventures. His family-owned vineyard has been growing grapes and citrus for over 100 years and passing expertise, talents and instincts down their family lines.

Their Tempranillo under the label,
A Cellar Full Of Noise, is affectionately named after lyrics from a Petula Clark song about fun, friends, hanging out and loving life. The Tempranillo is vibrant, spicy and lives up to the dark black fruity grapes of its origins.

The fresh blackberries from the farmer's market, gently poached and added to a milk-honey Panna Cotta, created a dessert that was full bodied, but light on the tongue. It started off creamy and cool, then followed with a deep and lingering fruit and spice combo.
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.

With Panna Cotta being this month's challenge, it was a no-brainer to put my original curiosity to the test. Wow, I'm glad I did. First of all, I was lucky to have any blackberries left for the Panna Cotta and the Syrup. Just the berries poached in this beautiful wine alone were being popped into the mouths of myself and my husband as if they were candy.

For one set of Panna Cotta, I also used the Tempranillo for a Gelee to layer in the Panna Cotta and then crumbled the Florentine cookie on top.
James was kind enough to send me a few bottles to drink, I mean -- experiment with for other ideas. I'm also creating a few Wine Jellies, Spice and Marinade mixes and Baked Goods with the Malbec and Barbera wines from J & J Cellars. I'll keep you posted about how they come out.

I would love to hear how you've used wine in your own cooking. As always, thanks for stopping by.

Vanilla Panna Cotta (Giada De Laurentis)

1 cup whole milk
1 Tbls. unflavored powdered gelatin

3 cups heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup honey

1 Tbls. sugar

pinch of salt

1) Pour the milk into a bowl and sprinkle gelatin thinly over cold milk. Let stand for about 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.

2) Pour the milk into a saucepan over med. heat. Heat the milk until it's hot, but not boiling and whisk a few times.

3) Add the cream, honey, sugar and salt and continue to heat while occasionally stirring until sugar and honey has dissolved (about 5-7 minutes). Make sure the mixture does not boil.

4) Remove from the heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Pour into ramekins, glasses or molds that you want to use.

5) Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Garnish and serve.

**For mine, I added a few sliced Tempranillo Wine poached blackberries to the glasses just before pouring in the panna cotta liquid.

Tempranillo Wine Poached Blackberries and Syrup-

1 handful of fresh blackberries

2 cups of Tempranillo Wine

2 Tbls. sugar

1) In a small saucepan add all the ingredients and heat on med. just to hot, but not boiling.

2) Stir gently to dissolve the sugar and continue to heat for about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool (can be held overnight in the refrigerator.)

3) Remove the berries and hold for serving. Return the saucepan of wine to the stove and heat on Med/High until the wine has been reduced by half and is syrupy enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Let cool until serving.

Florentine Cookies - (Nestle Classic Recipes)

2/3 cup butter

2 cups quick oats

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup dark corn syrup (** I used Agave)

1/4 cup whole milk

1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

(Optionally - melt chocolate for making sandwich cookies or drizzling on top)

1) Melt butter in saucepan, then remove from heat.

2) To the melted butter, add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla and salt. Mix well.

3) Drop a spoonful of batter, 3 inches apart, onto a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your spoon.

4) Bake in preheated 350F oven for 6-8 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet, then peel off and place on rack to remain crisp.

**If sandwiching, put a smear of melted chocolate on the flat side of one cookie and sandwich together with the flat side of another cookie. Or, drizzle melted chocolate over the top.
Recipe makes about 2 1/2 dozen sandwiched cookies.

Wine Gelee-

1 cup of wine

1/2 tsp. powdered gelatin

1 tsp. sugar

1) Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup of wine and allow to sit while the gelatin softens.

2) Pour the rest of the wine into a saucepan with the sugar and heat on low.

3) Add the gelatin/wine to the saucepan and stir until all is dissolved. Heat until the wine mixture is very hot, but not boiling for about 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely.

To use with layering Panna Cotta, make sure the wine gelee is room temp before spooning over the chilled and set Panna Cotta layer. Then, refrigerate for an hour to allow the Gelee to set before adding another layer of room temperature Panna Cotta. Return to refrigerator and allow for all to set for serving after several hours or overnight.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saltine Toffee Bacon Bark - Simple Saturday

Sometimes you need a sweet treat, and you need it in a hurry. I'm not one for buying a box of cookies - where's the fun in that? That's where these salty, chocolate, caramel, and bacon.......(HOLD IT, WHAT?), yes bacon bark treats come in.

This post came from my sweet/sour relationship with having a bunch of teenagers over to my house. The sweet part is: I know where my son is and what he's doing every moment. The sour part is: I know where 19 other teenagers are because you can't miss the racket and mess they are leaving in every place they breathe. My son is part of his High School Comedy Sports Team and they have rehearsal twice a homes. And, I'll admit, it's so fun to watch these talented, intelligent and truly funny personalities attacking word games, spoofing cultural icons and satirizing political rhetoric. But they're teens and that means hyper-everything, from drama to spraying the counters every time they turn the water on, to somehow changing the direction the area rug is facing.

When they rehearse at our house, I like to prepare a sweet treat and usually I have a few days to play and create something - who knows, even sneak in something healthy.This week, I got 1 hour notice~ It was a called rehearsal because they had a chance to perform in a benefit, so it was understandable and my son "volunteered" our place. I love that he feels comfortable with us to want his team over here, but it doesn't give ya a lot of time to prepare.

I'll be serving these to adults, now that they've passed the hardest focus group around: Teens.

Dash to the cupboard and throw this together:RECIPE: Saltine Toffee Bacon Bark

1 pack of saltine (or like) crackers
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup cream
9-12 ozs. dark chocolate (disks, chips or chunks)
1/2 cup (or more) toasted chopped pecans (or other nuts)
2-3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled (*obviously this is optional, but it gave it that extra special salty bite)

1) Line the crackers facing up, side to side in a lined baking pan.
2) In a saucepan, heat the brown sugar and cream to boiling and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, stirring.
3) Carefully pour the brown sugar toffee over the crackers in your pan and bake in the oven on preheated 350F for about 5 minutes.
4) Remove the pan from the oven and immediately sprinkle the chocolate all over the toffee. Let rest for a few minutes, then using a spatula, spread the melted chocolate out evenly.
5) Sprinkle with chopped nuts and bacon and allow to cool for 15 more minutes.
6) Place in the refrigerator to help set the chocolate for about 20 minutes or more.

Break into pieces and serve, or you can hold in an airtight container or freezer for a couple days.

I haven't tried this, but I bet it would be great with graham crackers as a bottom, or butterscotch chips on top. Hmmm, let me go check the cupboard again. :D Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What The Focaccia - with Rosemary/Onions/Tomato & Cracked Pepper

Man shall not live by bread alone, but it sure makes it easier - right? I know this will be hard to believe, but I've been working-out and really paying more attention to my health lately. I'm being very successful and I already have more energy and feel like all the cylinders are firing, ya know? One would think flavorful Italian Focaccia Bread would be the opposite of that, but it actually helps.

Italian Focaccia Bread (with toppings)

Because quality beats quantity in almost everything about food for me, the experience of making my own bread (machine or by hand), controlling the ingredients and adding the flavors to my liking means I will not wolf-down slice after slice of tasteless processed bread that will end up as a ball of glub in the pit of my stomach. I've always liked the saying, "Everything in moderation, including moderation". As I attempt to reduce my servings, my sugar, my calories, etc. etc., I also must make time for foods that feed me emotionally. Otherwise, I turn into a three-year-old and feel punished. Having a great tasting, earthy piece of Focaccia with a small slice of salumi or mozzarella and arugula salad not only fills me up with food, but also with a sense of time well spent and I can still be eating healthy. If that sounds weird, it may be because you aren't allowing yourself to be as important as you make others, or your kids, or partner. I was brought up with a deep sense of others and frankly get embarrassed at time spent on myself. You can bet, I'm working on it though and I'm starting to like it...a lot. :DMy adult daughter gives me a hard time because I love and over-use the example of the airline message the attendants tell you before take-off, "...Put your mask on first, before you try to help others." It's my fav metaphor and she busts me for using it way too much. But it's so true, for everything!

If it sounds like Italian Focaccia can change your life, well then you've been taking me too literally, hahaha. However, I think slowing down the shoveling and taking a little more energy with what gives me energy has already made me more successful.
On a side note: You've probably heard of SlowFood by now, but have you read what it's really about at or . They have an insightful way of encouraging all of us to return to placing value on what we put into our planets, our bodies and our minds.Here's a simple Bread Machine way to make Italian Focaccia: (you can also make it by hand)

RECIPE: Italian Focaccia with Rosemary & Onions or Focaccia with Tomatoes & Cracked Pepper

(** for a Gluten Free recipe look at

1 1/2 cups Water
2 2/3 cups Bread Flour
2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tbls. Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
2 Tbls. Olive oil (plus more for topping)
2 tsp. Active Dry Yeast

If you're using a Bread Machine:

1) Place ingredients into the canister in the order as given. Choose the Basic Dough mode.

2) When the dough is ready, spread out on a parchment lined and oiled baking sheet. Punch down in dimples by using your finger-tips, all over the dough. Let rise in a draft-free area for about 1-1 1/2 hours.

3) Sprinkle with your choice of toppings, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 350F oven until baked through, crunchy on the outside, yet soft on the inside (about 20 - 30 minutes).

If making by hand:

1) Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water (about 100F) by letting it sit for about 15 minutes in a bowl until frothy.

2) In a large bowl add the flours, salt, sugar, oil, the remaining 1 1/4 cup water and the yeast/water. Mix with a heavy wooden spoon until you have a rough dough.

3) Flour dust a work table or board and empty the dough onto the board. Knead for about 10 minutes until you've reached a nice stretchy dough. (This can also be done in a mixing bowl with a dough hook)

4) Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl for about 1 1/2 hours, covered.

5) Punch dough down, knead the dough for just a few turns on the board, then spread out on a parchment lined and oiled baking sheet. Punch down in dimples by using your finger-tips, all over the dough. Let rise in a draft-free area for about 1-1 1/2 hours more.

6) Sprinkle with your choice of toppings, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a 350F oven until baked through, crunchy on the outside, yet soft on the inside (about 20 - 30 minutes).

Toppings as shown:

onions cut into slivers
roasted tomato slices
fresh rosemary sprigs
Italian dried herbs

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Portobello Mushroom Fries - Simple Saturday

First, a confession: I didn't just wake up with this idea. I was eating Portobello Mushroom Fries in a restaurant (that was known for having the best) and when I mentioned to the server how amazing they tasted...he sold out the whole kitchen- "just slices of portobello fried, but the secret ingredient is Wondra". He just assumed it wouldn't matter to me. I guess there are advantages to not getting that tattoo I thought about (FOOD BLOGGA) on my fingers.I knew I'd be stopping on the way home to buy a canister of Wondra and figuring this out. There wasn't much to do, really. I knew I didn't want to use egg washes, or more breading materials that would over power the umami taste of these giant Portobello Mushrooms.So, I just brushed the mushrooms clean, sliced and trimmed them to consistent sizes and laid them out on a parchment lined pan.

Then, I sprinkled them with salt, and let them rest for a few minutes. The salt caused them to release some moisture, which was enough to hold on to the Wondra coating. One of the reasons these are so good is because the coating is light and crispy, not gummy or thick like bad fried chicken wings.One of my favorite Anne Willan recipes is Salt & Pepper Shrimp where she uses just a dusting of cornstarch before flat-frying the shrimp. They end up crispy golden and the shrimp meat just pops through with spicy juice.These are addictive (what fried food isn't, right?) And with all fried foods, the key is to get your oil hot enough to crisp the outside but still low enough to cook the inside. Too low and your food just gets drenched in fat. If it's too hot you burn the outside before the inside gets cooked. Part of the beauty of Portobello Mushroom Fries is that the mushroom is so good raw (unlike a potato), that even if you miss - you win anyway.RECIPE: Portobello Mushroom Fries

1-2 Large Portobello Mushrooms - brush washed, sliced into even strips

1-2 cups Wondra


1) Lay the sliced mushrooms on a parchment covered pan and sprinkle with salt to release moisture. Allow to sit for about 20 minutes.

2) Pour the Wondra into a flat bowl and roll each mushroom slice around in the flour.

3) In a deep saucepan, heat about 3-4 inches of oil to 350F and carefully drop a few mushroom slices at a time into the hot oil. Fry for a minute or two, just til golden.

4) Remove with a slotted spider or tongs and lay into a paper or towel covered basket to drain. Season with pepper and serve asap. *These go great with a little Aioli dip*

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kaboucha Squash Soup with Cilantro Chili Drizzle

Today was one of those days; Southern California forgot I moved here years ago for the weather and work. The sky poured water and the work went dry. Usually, I would just sit down a chocolate bar, but it's February and I'm still working on that New Year's commitment to lose extra pounds. So, I decided to cozy-up my day by making this creamy, sunny "looking" bowl of Kaboucha Soup. If winter was going to drive me crazy, I may as well turn into the skid.

Kaboucha Soup with Cilantro Chili Drizzle

Now, I'm feeling healthy (which always helps my outlook), and I'm proud that I took action, changed my state-of-being, and I actually left a little for the rest of the family :D

If you've never eaten Kaboucha Pumpkin Squash before, give it a try.
It is packed with Vitamins A,B,C and tons of fiber. Kaboucha is a Japanese winter squash that you can usually find around late Fall and is getting ready to say goodbye in just a few weeks. It will be out of season by Spring, but you can make some really good Kaboucha chutney or even freeze some right now. Pick one up next time you're at the market. When you get home, wash it off - cut it in half, rub it with oil, salt and pepper and turn it over on a lined baking sheet. Throw it into a preheated 350F oven for about 45 minutes until it's fork tender inside. Scoop out the seeds and then there are many things you can do with that buttery squash center. * You could slice it into wedges like a cantaloupe, sprinkle with brown sugar and roast it again until bubbly.

* You could spoon it out into a saucepan, add a little butter and stock and whip it up like mashed potatoes.

* You could scoop it out, add it to quinoa, or wild rice, or edamame with chopped dried fruit, nuts or both - then return it to the Kaboucha half for serving.

* You could make this mood altering, good for your body and your spirits soup:

RECIPE: Kaboucha Squash Soup with Cilantro Chili Drizzle

1 Kaboucha Squash

1 Onion, sliced long ways and caramelized in butter

2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

1 cup milk

Pinch of Dried Sage and Thyme


1) Cut the Kaboucha Squash in half, rub with oil, salt and pepper.

2) Place cut side down onto a lined baking sheet and roast in 350F oven until fork tender inside (about 45-60 minutes)

3) Remove seeds, then scoop out Squash into a large saucepan. Add the caramelized onions, chicken stock, milk, salt, pepper and seasonings. Cook together on low/med for 15 minutes.

4) Using an Immersion Blender, carefully puree the soup (or do this in a blender).

5) Continue to cook until flavors have concentrated. Use more stock if too thick for you.

Serve with a drizzle of Cilantro Chili Oil or a shot of Sriracha.
Cilantro Chili Drizzle

1 small bunch fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove
1/2 chili pepper (serrano, or jalapeno)
2-3 guzzles of Olive Oil

In a food processor, add all the ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil. Puree, then continue to pulse as you add the olive oil a little at a time until you get the consistency you want for your drizzle.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Best Chocolate Cupcake Recipe with Champagne Buttercream

Not kidding, this has become my favorite all-time best Chocolate Cupcake Recipe. Although, I made these "Message" cupcakes for Valentines - the cupcake, itself, is my Go-To recipe. POM COCOA CUPCAKES

Do you have those "Go-To" things in life? I have a couple pairs of pants that I've had for a thousand years. I call them my "uniform" because I wear them so often for hanging around, cooking, and working on projects. For some reason, even when other clothes seem to shrink (it's not me gaining weight, of course) or get loose (because I've lost weight, of course) - these uniform pants fit no matter what. This particular Chocolate Cupcake recipe is like that for me. I have the ratio of ingredients in my head and sometimes I'll experiment with additions (like the wonderful Pom Juice) or I'll substitute the buttermilk for sour cream and adjust the flour, or experiment with the type of flour and adjust the oil, etc.. but I'm always starting with the "Go-To" version.

Today, these cupcakes are doing double duty because POM is generously giving money to the AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION (AHA) based on these cupcakes and some other gorgeous ones that have been submitted. Before you run off and make these (because you really should, they're cocoa-licious), click the button HERE and then click on like my POM COCOA CUPCAKE to help me raise money for AHA and have a chance at prizes.If you're reading this on Valentine's Day - I wish you a HEARTFELT day of feeling loved and if it's not Valentines day for you - I wish the same thing - - we need it everyday, right? Love is the "Go-To" place - the "uniform" I'd like to wear everyday...while eating cupcakes. :D
Click LIKE for my cupcake to win the POM cupcake contest
and give money to the American Heart Association


POM COCOA CUPCAKES: (makes 12 cupcakes)

1 1/3 c. cake flour
1/3 c. cocoa
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs
1/2 cup Pom juice (Pomegranate - or you can use water)
1/3 cup oil


1/2 c. butter (room temp)
2 Tbls. champagne
4 Tbls. Pom Juice (Pomegranate Juice, or you can use another flavor)
2-4 cups powdered sugar



1) In your mixing bowl, mix together the Flour, Cocoa, Sugar, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, and salt.

2) In a separate bowl, whisk together the Buttermilk, Eggs, Oil, and Pom Juice.

3) Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and using the paddle attachment, combine all ingredients on low for 2-3 minutes.

4) Ladle batter into each cupcake liner about 2/3 full, bake at 350F for 12-16 minutes until center is spongy.


In your mixing bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add in Champagne and Pom juice and continue beating for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar, gradually, and continue beating until desired consistency for frosting.