I always look forward to throwing dinner parties. There’s something magical about gathering around a table with great friends, enjoying delicious food and fine wines together as the hours slowly pass. Before you know it, it’s midnight and your guests reluctantly start to leave because it’ll be an early start to get to work in the morning. You linger at the door saying good-bye for another half hour before anyone actually leaves. You shut the door still smiling, because of course all the fun has blocked your memory of the dishes waiting to be done.
On this particular occasion, there were plenty of dishes to do after a dinner party of 10 guests with 3 courses. The dessert alone created 40 dirty dishes! All I can say is thank god I have a dishwasher. Of course, I had to take the opportunity to try out some new recipes. We started with a Tomato, Goat Cheese and Onion Tart. I served each slice of tart with some spring greens tossed in dijon vinaigrette and a balsamic syrup drizzle on the plate. The tart was surprisingly simple to make and proved to be a hit. The fresh tomatoes helped cut through the richer flavours of caramelised onions and goat cheese. The main was an Herbed Roast Beef with Tomato Madeira Confit. The original recipe calls for a fillet or beef but I had made this once before and used an eye-round of roast beef with spectacular results. The thinly sliced medium rare beef is brought to new heights with the unctuous tomato confit. For dessert, I decided to experiment with a trio of lush Panna Cottas. I love the idea of having a few small tastings of desserts so that you can get some variety without being to weighed down at the end of a large meal. My new issue of Gourmet had arrived with a stunning recipe for Honey-Almond Panna Cotta with Lemon-Thyme Peaches. I knew I had to make it so with that recipe decided, I chose to make two others – a simple Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis as well as a Cappuccino Panna Cotta with Cocoa Whipped Cream.
Unfortunately as I was too busy serving, I didn’t get any pictures of the starter or main. Not to mention that the pictures of the desserts are sorely lacking any style, but I had to at least get an image of these beauties before they disappeared. And disappear they did! Each little serving was devoid of any lingering smears, cream or sauce. A definite success that I look forward to repeating. The Honey-Almond Panna Cotta was my personal favourite, even though I am partial to both vanilla and coffee. All three were outrageously tasty, but the combination of honey, almond and peaches was stellar! I urge you all to make it immediately. Seriously, I’ll wait here. Let me know what you think.
Honey-Almond Panna Cotta with Lemon-Thyme Peaches – adapted from Gourmet, July 2008
For panna cotta:
- 1 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce envelope)
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (I used full fat Greek yogurt)
- 1/4 cup mild honey
- 1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon-thyme leaves (I used regular thyme and added a squeeze of lemon juice)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 peaches, peeled if desired, pitted, and thinly sliced (I used a small dice for the peaches)
Make panna cotta:
Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small heavy saucepan and let stand 1 minute to soften. Stir in cream and 1/8 teaspoon salt, then heat gently over medium-low heat, stirring, until gelatin has dissolved.
Whisk together yogurt, honey, and almond extract, then whisk in cream mixture.
Pour mixture into 4 small bowls and chill, covered, until set, at least 8 hours.
Mince lemon thyme with sugar, then toss with peaches. Let macerate, stirring occasionally, at room temperature 20 minutes. While peaches macerate, let panna cotta stand at room temperature.
To serve: Top bowls of panna cotta with peaches and their juice. Drizzle with additional honey if desired.
Cooks’ note: Panna cotta can be chilled up to 3 days.
Cappuccino Panna Cotta – adapted from Tyler Florence
Cocoa Whipped Cream:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Espresso Panna Cotta:
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon espresso beans, roughly ground
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
- 1/2 a vanilla bean
First add the cocoa powder to the heavy cream for the cocoa whipped cream. Stir well to combine then cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Begin preparing the espresso panna cotta by placing the heavy cream, ground espresso beans, sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add these along with the bean to the pan. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and steep for 6 to 8 minutes. Add the powdered gelatin and using a whisk stir over low heat to warm the mixture and dissolve the gelatin. Do not let it simmer. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve (this not only removes the vanilla bean and espresso beans, but also any undissolved gelatin) then pour into individual espresso cups. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
Once you put these in the refrigerator you can finish preparing the cocoa whipped cream (alternatively, you can do it just before you serve the panna cotta). Whip the cocoa cream until it begins to thicken and then add the confectioners’ sugar. Whip until soft peaks form and serve a spoonful over each of the panna cotta servings. Top with a raspberry.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta – adapted from Gale Gand
For Panna Cotta:
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1/2 cup sugar
In a small bowl, combine the water and gelatin and let soak about 10 minutes (do not stir). Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the cream, vanilla bean and sugar to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. As soon as it simmers, turn off the heat and add the gelatin mixture, stirring to dissolve the gelatin. If the gelatin doesn’t completely dissolve in 3 minutes, return the mixture to the heat and warm gently until dissolved. Pour the mixture into 6 to 8 ramekins or dessert cups. Chill, uncovered, 2 hours.
Serve with Strawberry Coulis.
Ready to serve