Thursday, February 3, 2011

GRAND MARNIER PANNA COTTA


My father wanted a bar. Big, dark chocolate wood top, cool black leather front and faux-Spanish metal finishings. Very late-60’s chic! Dad, ever the true engineer, designed his dream bar and commissioned a local woodworker to build it to his very precise specifications. Yes, this beautiful bar would fit perfectly in the corner of his newly closed-in, decorated and outfitted back room with its floor-to-ceiling dark wooden paneling, wall-to-wall red carpeting, faux-Zebra skin sofa and the grooviest of grape chandeliers dangling from swags of gold chains and spreading a warm, hazy glow across the room. And the day it arrived, with much expectation and even more ado, we excitedly ran outside to watch them unload that beauty and carry it into the house! Except, engineer is as engineer does, and the bar, that monstrosity, would not fit through one door of the house! So, of course, they proceeded to remove the plate glass front window so they could push the bar through and into its new home!

My parents’ own tidy Swinging Sixties lifestyle consisted of weekend cruises to the Bahamas and neighborhood buffet parties, the women dressed in brightly-colored satin party pajamas and shimmering pastel lipstick, the men burgundy banlon polo shirts and sleek knit slacks, hair slicked back with Brylcreem. Photos snapped of smiling couples in cruise ship cabins or up on deck holding fancy glasses of colored cocktails with tiny umbrellas and tissue paper fruit on toothpicks dancing gaily above the rim, bringing home straw dolls and baskets with Nassau scrawled across the front in brightly-colored stitching. Memories of long white gloves and dangly earrings, sugary sweet cocktails or Tom Collins from a mix, their libation of choice, party platters of deli meats or finger foods and games of Twister in that same back room all blend together in bright contrast to mom typing or doing the wash, dad working under the hood of the car or reading Life Magazine while watching the news at 6 o’clock.


My parents weren’t drinkers and, well, that bar was never finished, never covered with faux-leather fabric or edged in metal molding, and years after my father passed away when my mom decided to update the décor of the back room, we decided to part with his beloved bar, its bare plywood front staring at us miserably, accusingly from the corner of the room, no way to hide its nakedness. That old wooden bunker was piled high with gadgets and gifts never opened, memories of other people’s vacations, baskets of birthday cards and bank calendars, now-empty plastic deli party trays and bric à brac that had found no other home. It all ended up being scattered throughout the house, wherever there was space, or thrown into the bin, unopened cellophane cracking with age, the feeble whine of stuffed animals begging for mercy as they headed towards the same sad demise. We crouched down behind in the dark and pulled out all the bottles of whiskey and Kahlua, wine and bourbon that had never been opened, never drunk all those years ago, bottles dusty, labels faded, signs of a lifestyle more played at than lived, and drinks saved for another occasion, forgotten about and left to their musty conclusion.


No, my parents were never drinkers and neither was I, watching and learning, having little interest in getting drunk on cheap beer behind the high school football bleachers or Champagne on New Year’s Eve. From high school to college, I watched, and experimented, but never understood the attraction to keg parties and great goblets of that golden, grainy beverage, the magical nectar of students everywhere. Going to State U, where, when beer wasn’t being guzzled, parties whirled around huge bowls of punch spiked with who knew what, whatever was on hand and could be purchased on the cheap, and flavored with the sweetest of fruit cocktails, the easier to swallow great quantities of the stuff. The ever-present scent of coconut oil, visions of gaudy flowered shirts and the comfort of flip-flops dressed up those years in the Sunshine State, between golf courses and studying outside by the swimming pool. Key West-themed parties, blenders whirring, strawberry daiquiris sipped through straws, piña coladas and margaritas drunk to Jimmy Buffet and Tom Petty, fingers licking off barbecue sauce and spicy dip. Sweet hints of the islands, surfboards tucked under arms, was the tipple of choice, the exotic flavors of coconut, lime and berries, heady with tequila and rum.


Then I moved north to my Ivy League school, where Hawaiian shirts were replaced by button downs and polos, shorts and baggies with chinos, flip flops for loafers and searing heat and bright sunshine with a snowy, gray winter. Odd college chants for the team filled the crisp, chilly Autumn air, “Ha ha hoo hoo we’ve got more Nobels than you!” in the centuries-old stadium, straw hats and likenesses of our own favorite Quaker, Ben Franklin, became the norm, heavily endowed buildings in red brick standing majestically around a stately green and dinner parties, elegant and worldly, tomes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking pulled from shelves and studied as seriously as any economics handbook. Beer, yes, that old college standby, was never very far, but now corks were pulled from innumerable bottles of red and white to accompany platters of duck and asparagus and chocolate tortes. Sips of candy sweet raspberry, orange or chocolate-flavored liqueurs, oh so sophisticated, or so we thought, followed these meals or punctuated an evening with the girls or a date.

My move to Europe and marriage to a Frenchman amid the popping of corks and the ppffffssss of Champagne, bubbles tickling my nose and making me giddy, has me seeing the world through wine colored glasses: a glass or two of Muscadet, Quincy, Bordeaux or Anjou with every meal is the norm, traditions infused with the intoxicating juice of the vine. And meals are followed by strong, burning gulps of grappa or eau de vie, invigorating whiffs of prune, poire, raisin, Mirabelle. Or splashes of Amaretto, Sambuco or Cognac, just a hint, in a demitasse of café, just enough to infuse it with an earthy heat, a bite of heavenly bliss, an eye-opening kick of the devil’s tipple. No drinker, I tend to smile sweetly and shake my head no at anything that strong as I tap the rim of my wine glass indicating that a drop or two more of that wouldn’t be looked at askance. Yes, I’ve learned to savor and taste, understand and appreciate this ambrosia of the gods, the fruit of the vine, Bacchus’ delectable nectar. As for the stronger stuff, well, I prefer to bake.


Limoncello, Amaretto, rum or Grand Marnier, whatever the liquor I am more often than not to be found measuring it out and drizzling it in batter or cream, ganache or filling than drinking it out of a tiny crystal glass. I’ve added it to mascarpone filling, brownies, cake and even bread, and now I’ve stirred it into delicate, ethereal, silky Panna Cotta, adding a rich, vibrant orange flavor, not quite as sweet as fresh juice, a luxuriously sophisticated version of this gorgeous dessert.


It is with great pleasure that I announce 2011 Food and Wine Blogger Indaba, the South African Food and Wine Bloggers’ Conference to be held on February 20 in Cape Town, and that I will be leading a workshop on food writing with my friend and talented writer Jeanne of CookSister! Don’t miss it, book now!


The Plate to Page team is thrilled to let you know that we now have a stunning venue for our second Plate to Page workshop in Tuscany, Italy the weekend of October 28 – 30, 2011 and we are offering you a sneak peek at Il Salicone! And don’t miss the latest guest poster on the Plate to Page blog, my lovely friend and very talented writer Lael Hazan, who shares her story of how she found her voice to write. Read her touching story in A Writer’s Journey.


Looking for a sweet little something with which to woo the chocolate lover in your life for Valentine’s Day ? Try my Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte, my Valentine’s Day recipe on Huffington Post Food.

Last but not least, Life’s a Feast has been nominated for a Blogger’s Choice Award 2011 in the category Best Food Blog and I am absolutely thrilled and honored! Please take just a few minutes to hop over to the Life’s a Feast page on their site and vote for Life’s a Feast! Thank you so very much!

GRAND MARNIER PANNA COTTA

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
2 Tbs + ½ tsp (35 g) sugar
2 – 3 Tbs Grand Marnier *
1 ¼ tsps (6 g) unsweetened powdered gelatin
Finely grated zest of one orange, preferably pesticide free, optional

* 2 Tbs will give you a lovely subtle taste of Grand Marnier, 3 Tbs the flavor will be more pronounced but still delicious.

Place the heavy cream, the sugar and the Grand Marnier in a medium saucepan. Stir in the grated orange zest if adding. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the top and gently stir it in with a fork or whisk. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. At the end of the five minutes the gelatin will look like tiny yellow translucent splotches on the surface.

Place the saucepan over low heat and slowly and gently whisking, allow the mixture to heat up just to the boiling point. Watch carefully as this only takes a few minutes. Once it starts to boil (it may just foam around the edges), remove from the heat and, whisking, make sure that the yellow spots have disappeared completely: this means that the gelatin has completely dissolved.

Very carefully pour the hot liquid into 4 serving glasses (I use a soup ladle or I pour it into a pyrex measuring cup with a spout). Cover the glasses or bowls with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator – ideally over night – to firm up.


I poured a Pomegranate jelly over two of the Panna Cotte and although it was tasty, the Panna Cotta was definitely better without it, simply on its own. If you like, serve this with some fresh raspberries or sliced fresh strawberries.


40 comments:

americainefrenchie said...

Your panna cotta looks really good. Its my favorite Italian dessert. I will give it a try, although I am no baker!

Jamie said...

@americainefrenchie: you don't need to be a baker to make panna cotta. Just be careful and follow my indications and it should be beautiful!

Lick My Spoon said...

panna cotta looks fabulous. I'm sure the orange flavour really gives it a kick. i did a rose flavoured one- our base recipes look similar but mine had mascarpone in it!

Jamie said...

@Lick My Spoon: Oh I adore mascarpone and now I can't wait to see you recipe!

Sanjeeta kk said...

I love the sixties lifestyle, though I was very small to have enjoyed the bells in the pants, shimmering lipsticks and the colorful party pajamas! I relive the sixties with a few of my favorite movies of those times.
The Panna Cotte looks gorgeous with the pomegranate jelly.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A pity that bar was never finished... It must have been great to have such fun-loving parents!

Like you, I've never been interested in getting drunk (it never happened to me, but I enjoy a glass of wine or a little cocktail here and there.

I easpecially love boozy desserts and this one is no exception. I'm sure I'd gobble that panna cotta in a matter of secopnds!

Cheers,

Rosa

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

The story of your father's bar brought a smile to my face. My parents also had quite a variety of liqueurs that were never drunk. I think many are still "aging" in my mother's home. I too tend to measure the alcohol into dishes rather than drink it myself. Although we do take our students to see a grappa maker. The saying is... if the students are good we will let them taste, if they are difficult, they get to taste twice :)

Thank you for your kind words about my work. I'm honored to have been asked to write for Plate to Page and I look forward to reading more about the conference and perhaps attending in the future.

Peter M said...

How exciting to be going to S.Africa...first time? When there, use Amarula for your panna cotta..impress the locals!

Jamie said...

@Peter M: Ah, thanks, Peter, for the suggestion. Guess I'll have to bring some of that home with me! And yes, first time and soooo excited!

A Thought For Food said...

I'll eat just about anything if it has booze in it. But this panna cotta looks just stunning! And simple to make too!

Lynne Rees said...

Oh my goodness! It's not often I open a blog page, or a book, and see two ingredients I'd climb over George Clooney for : ) Definitely making it this weekend. Thank you!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

My college experience was less glamorous than yours, no fancy wines or impressive dinners I'm afraid! I'm not one for drinking strong liqueurs, but I do have to admit I love to nibble on those alcohol infused fruits like cherries and kumquats, as well bake with it like you do.

Jamie said...

@Lynne Rees: OMG that is too funny! And flattering! Wow! Now go back one blog post and check out the espresso chocolate cake... that is even better :-)

@A Thought For Food: As always, lovely Brian...

Barbara Bakes said...

Wow - you have a lot going on in your life! Congrats! I would love to pop over to Tuscany for your workshop. The panna cotta sounds fabulous!

5 Star Foodie said...

What a lovely panna cotta, I love the addition of Grand marnier! Excellent!

Brenna [fabuleuxdestin] said...

You went to Penn? How cool (i'm from philly)! I love the way you tell your stories through your recipes.

elra said...

Beautiful dessert Jamie, love the addition of Grand Marnier.

Jennifurla said...

I just wish I could go to a conference, this looks scrumptious my dear. Wonderful post

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Big congratulations Jamie. How fabulous! I'm on my way to vote, but I had to say Grand Marnier makes everything taste better.

Congrats again. You deserve it.
Sam

Barbara said...

I have a soft spot for Grand Marnier as for 7 years they were my client. Whenever I visted Paris on holiday they would entertain us in the best restaurants. Their management and staff are really lovely people.

Nisrine|Dinners and Dreams said...

Isn't panna cotta one of those desserts from heaven? I can't seem to get tired of it. Mmm, Grand Marnier must be one of my favorite liqueurs!

Have a fabulous weekend!

Deeba PAB said...

Love panna cotta every time you post it. You HAVE to make some for me. It;s gorgeous!

shaz said...

Lol! I prefer to bake with the stonger stuff too :) My parents bought a HUGE bottle of Cointreau for me from duty free when they came to visit a while back. And I've never actually drunk it properly, only ever used it for baking :)

Beautiful shots Jamie, and the panna cotta looks perfect.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

How exciting you are off to SA with Jeanne! I can't wait to hear about all your adventures there. Looking at my first panna cotta at the moment, I think it's going to be a life long favourite!

A Canadian Foodie said...

Clearly we lived through the same era. I love the photos = they remind me of my own life and my own family kitchen growing up!
Are the little specks in the gelatin orange zest? They look much bigger - almost like wild strawberries.
I have never made a good panna cotta. Everyone says it is SO easy. Not for me. I don't know why. I love it!
:)
Valerie

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

I'm going to send the link to this post to my friend's parents. They were in the Bahamas at that time and your pictures remind me of theirs. I love the idea of pairing panna cotta with Grand Marnier. This silky dessert is one of my favourites, the simpler the better i.e. usually only with a hint of vanilla...but the GM tempts me here (not the passionfruit topping). Thanks btw for your 1st blog-anniversary greetings comment - I really appreciate you taking the time. So enjoyed reading this post.

tasteofbeirut said...

I love your panna cotta; I will make it with cornstarch instead and call it muhallabieh! :)
Congratulations on your nomination and all these exciting events all over the world that you are leading! Hope to join you all at some point.

A Canadian Foodie said...

Oh - and I double Peter's suggestion. I have a bottle on my shelf right now from a student - and it is yummy!
:)
Valerie

Just checking back re feedburner... etc...

Junglefrog said...

NOw that is a perfect way to get rid of some of that Grand Marnier that has been sitting in our closet forever...lol... I am not a big drinker either. I also come from a family that never really drank much, unlike Tom's family who take every occassion to celebrate with loads of alcohol! Lol... In anyway; I'm back and love your pannacotta!

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

LOL - your parents and mine would have got on like a house on fire! We also had a 70s-tastic built-in drinks cabinet filled with gift bottles of whisky (always drunk with soda water - ugh!) and multi-coloured exotic liqueurs. Many of them are still there like some sort of shrine to the 70s as my dad now drinks only the occasional glass of sweet white wine. Love the pannacotta - and once again, the gorgeous napkin :o)

Cake Duchess said...

Ciao Jamie-Bella panna cotta!! Come sempre, sei bravissima:)Love the jelly on top. Wonderful story. I love the story about your parents bar that didn't finish. Maybe it worked out better that way:)

Meaghan Luby said...

your panna cotta looks spectacular! i agree with using something a bit stronger when cooking, ha. go big or go home, right? thanks for sharing :)
-meg
@ http://www.clutzycooking.blogspot.com
@ http://www.myscribblednotebook.blogspot.com

Eliana said...

I've never made a panna cotta before this is inspiring me to give it a go. Looks so luscious!

Nicole said...

I think I have these same molds. They are so cute! This recipe looks beautiful!
Too bad I'll have left Italy when you're in Tuscany in October. Should be a blast, it'll be a pity I'll miss it!

megi said...

Your panna cotta looks amazing, the texture looks perfect. I really enjoy your writing.

Sarah said...

Its always sweeter on your side of the internet. Such a lovely sweet panna cotta. Thank you also for the interesting links and the cool retro pictures.

ClenbuTerol said...

Love Grand Mariner coctail, never had it as panacota, could be great, should be great.

C. Terol

sophiesfoodiefiles said...

Your Grand marinier panna cotta looks stunning, dear Jamie!

I am sorry that I haven't been here lately but my husband & I just baught our dream house!


I recently moved my blog to wordpress.com/ Come over @ my blog & check it out! You must update your RSS too!
Did you finally recieve my Christmas card???

sophiesfoodiefiles said...

Also conrtas on hosting the show & doing a work shop! Good for you!

asiangrrl said...

This looks fabu, Jamie!

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