Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One of the reasons I love my job...

Right now at The Kitchen Studio, we've got both kid & teen afterschool classes running. This month's theme? Cooking Around the World!

Last week, we did a little bit of Italian cooking. And what goes better with Italian food than mustaches? Nothing I tell you; nothing. :D

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Recipe: Espresso Panna Cotta

Lately, I've been fiddling around quite a bit with various recipes for panna cotta, which essentially means cooked cream. It's a firm Italian custard made with no eggs, and set by gelatin. Easy, right?

You 'betcha! I do love custard, but once we get into water bath territory, I think of that hot water splashing on my arms and all of the time involved and I just, well, check out of the process. But with panna cotta, it's an absolute breeze to make, and, I promise, only 10 minutes or so from start to being placed in the fridge.

I started with a recipe by the ridiculously talented David Lebovitz, and you can find his Perfect Panna Cotta recipe here. It's very, very good, but also very, very rich (all heavy cream) and just a tiny bit firm for my personal taste. I changed things up a bit by reducing the amount of gelatin used, and switching out 4 cups of heavy cream for 2 cups of cream and 2 cups of whole milk. I also added a good bit of espresso flavor by using a good dose of instant espresso powder (you can find it online or in a local Italian Market, like Juliet's Italian Market on Church Street here in Frederick).

Here's the recipe for you, just in case you'd like a little something wonderful for a very quick and easy dessert that will have you looking like a real pro in the kitchen in no time at all. And I dare you not to eat them all.

Espresso Panna Cotta
Serves 8ish
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar (though you can use regular granulated sugar if it's all you've got)
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 4 teaspoons powdered gelatin (little bit less than 2 packets)
  • 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla
  • pinch salt

Place the water in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

Combine the heavy cream, milk, and sugar in a medium pot and place over medium heat until just beginning to simmer around the edges of the pot and sugar has melted. Add the espresso powder, vanilla, and pinch of salt and whisk gently until the powder has dissolved. Remove from heat. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Using a ladle, pour half of the milk mixture over the gelatin and whisk gently until the gelatin has dissolved. Pour remaining milk mixture into gelatin mixture, whisking to combine. Divide the custard mixture into 8 4-ounce ramekins, then place in the refrigerator to firm, 2 hours or so. Top with a chocolate-covered espresso bean and maybe even a dollop of whipped cream to serve.

There you go -- easy, right? Now go forth and panna cotta your little heart out! ;)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lucky Me: Great Article in The Town Courier

You know it's going to be a great day when someone writes that your skills are part science, part art. Am I right or am I right?

I really, really, really like what I do. Teaching cooking is one of my favorite things in the whole world (that and maybe a good chicken liver pate with some red onions and grainy mustard). And sometimes, someone takes it upon themselves to write something nice. And today is one of those days.

An article from last week's Town Courier, by Adrienne Lawrence, discusses our recent Soups & Stews class at The Kitchen Studio. Here's an excerpt:

"Chef Van Bloem has an easygoing style, and she mixes some important basics along with humor and lots of great conversation. For example, she showed us some tips on how to properly handle a knife. It starts with having the right standing position. You don’t want to be pretty when cooking — you want to be safe, she said. So spread your feet a little so you are comfortable, bend your knees a little, hold your knife a little higher, and don’t stick out your first finger over the top of the blade. Instead, curl your first finger and grip the knife from the bottom of the blade to the handle. No, you aren’t cutting your finger on the blade; it’s more of a relaxed position then that.

Can’t picture what I’m explaining? I understand. You should probably see Van Bloem do it in real life, and then you’ll see what I mean."

Check out the full article here, and let me know what you think. :)