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Monday, May 9, 2011

Parties, panna cotta and lox

Hello friends,

This weekend I had a wonderful garden party for all of my friends who graduated. The party was an amazing success! I usually am in bed by 10:30pm, but I stayed up until 2:30am talking with my friends. Two friends stayed the night (a walk home at 2:30 sounded terrible) and in the morning we woke up and had coffee and crepes. It was a wonderful experience, magical and awesome and I felt so loved all day yesterday.

Thankfully the weather cooperated and gave me enough sunshine on Saturday that we could all hang outside. I spent hours in my backyard this past week; there is an area behind the grass that is a sloping hill that heretofore was a mess of brambles, old yard clippings and broken bottles. I donned my gardening gloves and cleaned up the mess and created a very liveable space. This is just phase one, but after moving all the debris, setting up some lawn chairs and purchasing solar fairy lights the area is a magical forest of awesomeness. I invite everyone over to experience the glory.

Now on to the food. What good is a food blog without all the food?

First off, at the suggestion of Portland based rock star Dave Depper I made some lox. Dave made lox last month and his rhetorical question to the realms of facebook "why haven't you made this?" made me wonder why I hadn't. So I looked up a few recipes and figured out how easy it is. All you need to make lox is: salmon, salt, sugar, spices and a really heavy weight. That's it! So, the golden ratio of preserving is: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup salt. Mix these together in a big bowl. I used NW Alder smoked seasalt (available here) and ground it myself and mixed it with organic cane sugar. I then added a bit of long pepper (also from Savory Spice, linked above) which I also ground myself. Then I added some dried dill my father grew and harvested for me. I packed it on and then cut the salmon in half and folded it lengthwise. I then wrapped the salmon is saran wrap, keeping one side open, and laid it in a baking dish. Then came the hard part: finding something heavy that would put pressure on the fish evenly that would fit in the other baking pan.

I wandered my house to no avail (my man took his handweights with him to the field) and decided to see if there was a heavy rock out back. But LUCK! There was a decomposing cinder block that fit perfectly in my baking pan! I got a bucket of hot and soapy water and took to scrubbing the cinder. My neighbors came out. Oblivious to their stares, they finally said "Um, Stefani? What are you doing?" And I replied "I'm washing a cinder block. Obviously."

I took the cinder block inside, set up my fish in a baking pan, baking dish on top, cinder block on that baking dish, and then found some old socks and propped one end of the contraption up so the juices could drain out. Fastforward 48 hours, the fish is done! Unwrap and wash the sucker clean. The next hard part came with cutting the fish. My grandmother bought me a mandolin, and I tried that, but it really works much better on vegetables and the fish was just gumming it up. So I spent 20 minutes sharpening a knife (note to self: ask for sushi knife for birthday!) and then finally I was able to cleave the meat away in nice pieces. I placed all the pieces in the tray, sprinkled them with a little lemon juice, and liberally sprinkled with dill. These will be served on rosemary crackers this afternoon with the clotted cream for my proper tea.

I also made a yogurt based panna cotta this weekend, flavored with saffron, vanilla bean and cardamom, inspired by a recipe from the cookbook Eat Well. All you need is:
2 packets unflavored gelatin
1.5 cups milk (2% or higher)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3/4 cup sugar
orange or tangerine zest (I used tangerines in this)
2 cups plain yogurt, whole fat or partial, but not non-fat

So, first step: separate out 1/2 cup milk and sprinkle contents of one packet of gelatin onto the milk. DO NOT STIR! Let it stand for 10 minutes as it is for the gelatin to moisten.

Pour the rest of the milk (1 cup) into a small saucepan over medium heat. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into the milk and add the ground up inner seeds of the cardamom. Add the vanilla bean pod, 1/2 cup of sugar and the zest. Stir until the sugar dissolves in (took a while since I use big granules of sugar) and the mixture begins to simmer. Remove from heat. Add the gelatin mixture and stir it in until gelatin is completely dissolved. At this point, I started worrying I didn't have enough gelatin, with terrifying fantasies of serving my guests yogurt goo that just glops off the table and onto the floor, so I sprinkled in the second packet. This might not have been necessary, but my end result was so delicious it might be a good idea.

Then transfer the liquid to a large bowl, cool for about 10 minutes, then remove the vanilla bean husk (people don't like eating bark. It's just gross). Whisk in the yogurt until it's well blended.

You'll need 6 ramekins for this; brush them with butter or your favorite non-fat cooking spray. Divide yogurt evenly among ramekins and let set in the fridge for 2 hours to 2 days.

THEN to make the syrup, you need 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water and some lemon juice. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, and then poor this over prepared orange quarters and let cool.

To serve, gently run a butter knife between panna cotta and sides of ramekins to loosen. Place a plate over each ramekin and, holding plate and ramekin together, invert and shake until the panna cotta comes loose. Pour the syrup over, garnish with oranges (and I added a bit of homemade grenadine for good measure).

Happy eating!

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