Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Panna Cotta (and Pasta Night!)

Photo credit: Chai Green
A couple weeks ago, I had some friends over for a hands-on dinner party, and we tackled two of my 2015 food goals in one night: pasta and panna cotta. I made the pasta dough and panna cotta ahead of time, and once my friends arrived, I put them to work helping roll pasta.

For the pasta dough, I used the recipe from Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Basically all you need is flour, a bit of salt, egg, and a bit of oil. For rolling and handling technique, I found this article from Serious Eats to be very helpful. It's also a good read if you like to get real nerdy about your food. We used the old-school hand crank pasta rollers and cutters, for which you really do need two people--one to turn the crank and hold the machine in place, and one to feed the dough through the rollers and catch it as it comes out. I don't understand how people manage a hand crank roller by themselves! Making fresh pasta was a lot of work, but it was fun work with friends who were willing to pitch in and work for their dinner. And it tasted so good!

It was Lynn Rosetto Kasper of The Splendid Table podcast who inspired me to make panna cotta, so I originally planned to use her recipe. However, she uses sour cream in hers, and I couldn't find lactose-free sour cream for my lactose-intolerant guest, so I used The Kitchn's recipe instead. It tasted delicious, looked and felt fancy, and was actually really easy to make. And you can easily vary it up with different toppings or even different kinds of milk or flavorings. I will definitely make panna cotta again. See tips and topping ideas in the notes below the recipe.

Also, for an appetizer that night, I made simple peach-basil crostini. Simply slice a baguette, spray or brush lightly with olive oil, and spread out on a baking sheet. Then broil for just a few minutes until toasted (watch closely!). Then chop up some fresh peaches, and toss it with some thinly sliced fresh basil. Scoop the peach-basil mixture onto the crostini, and you've got a tasty, summery bite. A bit of ricotta or creamy goat cheese probably would have been a nice addition. Bonus: the peach-basil mixture tasted sublime on the panna cotta.

Panna Cotta
Yield: 6 servings (6 oz. each)

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp. powdered gelatin
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Fresh raspberries, chopped fresh peaches, or other toppings of choice (see notes)

Pour the milk into a saucepan (off the stove) and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes. The surface will get wrinkly and the gelatin will be slightly dissolved.

Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk gently, whisking frequently. The milk should never boil, simmer, or even start steaming. If it starts to steam, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly. The milk should get warm, but not so hot that you can't hold your finger in there for a few seconds. After about 2 minutes of warming, rub a bit of the milk between your fingers to make sure it's smooth and doesn't feel gritty at all.

Add the sugar to the milk, whisk it, and continue warming until the sugar is dissolved. Again, make sure the milk doesn't get too hot. This whole process of dissolving the gelatin and the sugar shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. 

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the cream, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Let the mixture sit out so it cools to room temperature. Whisk it again, then pour into wine glasses, ramekins, or other container of choice. Chill for 1-2 hours or more. The longer it chills, the firmer it will be. Add toppings of choice and serve.

  • Topping ideas: Fresh raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries (puree some for a sauce, if desired). Chopped fresh peaches, tossed with fresh basil, if desired. Drizzle of thick, good-quality balsamic vinegar. Drizzle of honey. 
  • The gelatin we're using here is plain, unflavored, unsweetened gelatin. In other words, not Jello. I found it in the Jello and pudding section of the grocery store, and the brand I got looks like this. It had 4 little envelopes of gelatin powder, and it took almost two envelopes to measure 1 Tbsp. 
  • When I got ready to pour the milk mixture into the wine glasses, I found it helpful to line a cookie sheet with non-slip shelf liner, then put the wine glasses on that. It made it easier to move them into the fridge all at once with no slip 'n' slide action.
  • The Kitchn has two panna cotta articles that I found helpful: How to Make Panna Cotta and Why Panna Cotta Is the Perfect Dessert. In both articles, she mentions that sometimes the milk and cream can separate into layers of lighter and heavier fat levels while the panna cotta chills. In the first article she recommends using half and half (instead of milk plus cream) to combat this, and in the second article she recommends allowing the mixture to come to room temp and whisking again before pouring into ramekins. I went with the latter solution, as you see in the recipe above.
  • If you want to unmold your panna cotta to serve it, see the instructions in the How to Make Panna Cotta article linked above.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lebanese Lemon-Parsley Bean Salad

Lebanese Lemon-Parsley Bean Salad

Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 6 servings

2 (14-oz.) cans red kidney beans
1 (14-oz.) can chickpeas
1 small red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried dill
Pinch red pepper flakes

Pour the kidney beans and chickpeas into a colander. Rinse well and allow to drain while you chop all the veggies.

In a good-sized bowl, combine the beans with the red onion, celery, tomato, cucumber, parsley, and mint. If prepping ahead, cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to dress and serve the salad.

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, dill, and red pepper flakes in a pint mason jar (or larger). With the lid on, give it a good shake. If prepping ahead, leave the lid on and store the dressing in the fridge until ready to serve.

Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and toss gently but well. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to an hour or two.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Spiced Roasted Okra

When I was a kid, we went to a lot of Christian summer camps. My parents got to share about our overseas mission work, the campers got to learn more about foreign missions, and my brothers and I got to go to camp! It was at one of these summer camps that I first tasted okra. Pickled okra, to be exact. I can't remember where that camp was, how old I was, or even the face or name of the friend-for-a-week who loved pickled okra so much that she got some every day from the cafeteria salad bar and encouraged me to try it as well. What I do remember, though, is that I hated it.

Over the years, I had okra in soup a couple times, and it tasted better than that pickled okra but had a weird sliminess. As a college student I was introduced to the wonderful thing that is fried okra. And a couple years ago, when my neighbor started sharing fresh okra from her garden every summer, I started looking for other ways to prepare it that highlighted its freshness and didn't involve breading and a deep fat fryer.

Enter roasted okra. Roasting okra deepens the flavor, cuts down on the sliminess, allows you to add whatever spices you like, and is simple and pretty healthy.

Spiced Roasted Okra

Fresh okra
Olive oil
Spices of choice (I used ground coriander, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and black pepper)

Preheat oven to 450. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper or foil.

Rinse the okra and pat dry with a towel. Trim off the stem ends and the very ends of the tips (otherwise they'll burn). Halve the okra length-wise.

In a bowl, toss the okra with olive oil. Then sprinkle with spices. Don't bother measuring; just sprinkle to your heart's content. Toss well, and add more olive oil if it looks dry, and more spices if it looks like they're not coating the okra well enough. Spread okra on your baking sheet(s), being sure to leave some breathing room around each piece of okra. (If they're too close together, they'll steam rather than roast.)

Bake for 15-25 minutes, stirring 2-3 times during the cooking time. Watch them during the last 10 minutes or so--you want to pull them out when they're starting to get toasty but haven't turned the corner into burnt territory. Allow to cool slightly before eating. These are best eaten with your fingers. :)


  • You can also leave the okra whole or cut it into smaller pieces, but you'd need to adjust cooking time accordingly. I like them halved, because it lets the spices cover the okra more thoroughly and is a convenient size to eat with your fingers.
  • If you have a grill, okra taste great grilled. Leave them whole and trim off just the tips (not the stem ends). Put two skewers through them (so you can flip them more easily) and grill for a few minutes, depending on how hot your grill is. Then pick up by the stem to eat them, but don't eat the stem. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Grilled Cheese, Two Ways

Today, my friends, I bring you two ooey-gooey variations on grilled cheese. Behind Door #1 we have a Peach Grilled Cheese with Mozzarella and Brie. Initially I was planning to do a caprese grilled cheese, but the peach festival had me still in the mood for peaches, and peaches and basil go well together, so I swapped out the tomatoes for peaches. And then I threw some brie into the mix, because when is brie not a good idea? And the second time I made it, I added a drizzle of lavender balsamic vinegar.

But after making the Peach Grilled Cheese twice, I was out of peaches, so I went searching the internets for ideas to use up the rest of the brie, mozzarella, and sourdough bread. Which brings us to the sandwich behind Door #2—Avocado and Tomato Grilled Cheese with Mozzarella and Brie. I actually liked this one better! The original recipe called for sundried tomatoes, which would have been lovely on this sandwich . . . but the sundried tomatoes in my fridge tasted a little past their prime, and I had a perfectly good fresh tomato on my counter, so that’s what I went with.

Both of these grilled cheese combinations were cheese-drippin’-down-your-chin good! The avocado one especially was very rich, and the peach one offered a lovely sweet vs. creamy contrast, though I wish I’d used more peaches because their flavor almost got lost. Red onion would probably be a great addition to either or both of these sandwiches. And if prosciutto was more my thing, I think it’d be a perfect addition as well. 

Grilled Cheese, Two Ways
Yield: However many sandwiches you make
Avocado variation adapted from Serious Eats

Sourdough bread (or other bread of choice)
Olive oil spray
Fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil

Peach Variation
Fresh peach
Balsamic vinegar or lavender balsamic vinegar (optional)

Avocado Variation
Fresh tomato or sundried tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Lightly spray one side of each slice of bread (what will be the outside of the sandwich) with olive oil. On the inside of the sandwich, arrange slices of brie on one slice of bread and slices of mozzarella on the other side.

Slice your peaches or your avocado and tomato, and layer them on top of the mozzarella. If desired, grill the peaches to get a bit of caramelization (I did this but don’t think it was necessary). If using fresh tomatoes, seed them so your sandwich doesn’t get too watery. Add a drizzle of balsamic or a sprinkling of salt and pepper

Sprinkle thinly sliced basil over the top. Now, if you press the brie into the bread a bit, it’ll stay put while you flip that slice of bread over to place on top of the sandwich. 

Preheat a skillet over medium-low heat. Carefully slide the sandwich into the skillet, and cook for a few minutes on each side, until the bread is nicely toasted and the cheeses are gooey. I usually cover it for half the cooking time to help the sandwich get warm throughout. Move the sandwich to a cutting board and carefully slice in half before serving.

  • It would have felt weird to put measurements in a grilled cheese recipe, but just to give you an idea of some of the quantities: For each sandwich, I used less than half of a medium peach, just under half a regular (not hass) avocado, and about a third of a roma tomato. My bread slices were bigger than a slice of standard sandwich bread. 
  • For the cheeses, I bought a pretty small wedge of brie and a fist-sized ball of mozzarella (sorry I threw away the wrappers and transferred them to zip bags before thinking to write down how many ounces I bought of each cheese!). I've made three sandwiches and have enough brie for one more, and would have enough mozzarella for probably two more sandwiches if I hadn't nibbled so much of it. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A First Time for Everything

Last Sunday, I got to preach for the first time. I’ve been wanting to write about the experience but have struggled with how to write about it and what to say. Because there is such a tangle of thoughts and feelings tumbling around in my heart and head, it’s hard to pull them apart and identify each one in a coherent way. But having the opportunity to preach for the first time is a significant milestone for this egalitarian, CofC-raised girl, so it’s worth trying. So here are some reflections, which may or may not be cohesive, but they are reflections nonetheless.

After being told (explicitly and implicitly) for 30 years that I would never preach—or at best being told that I should be able to preach in theory, but would never actually have the opportunity—it was terrifying and affirming and exciting to suddenly be asked, “Would you like to preach next week?”

At times, I felt a bit like an imposter. I don’t know how to write or deliver a sermon. I’m not a preacher. I’d never done this before. I didn’t know what I was doing. And yet, there I was, doing it. My sermon-writing training consisted of an invaluable 10-minute conversation with a friend, where he shared his own sermon-writing process and a few tips on study resources and sermon construction. Beforehand, I told virtually no one outside my house church that I was preaching, because I was a little afraid that one of my friends would show up that morning to support me, and I’d do a bad job in front of them. And the morning of, I was afraid to tell anyone I’d never preached before, because I was afraid they’d be disappointed in me.

And yet, this community of people embraced me as their preacher for the day. One woman, Wanda, introduced me to as many people as she could, and every time, it was, “This is Karissa, our preacher.” Not, “This is Karissa, who led our service today,” or even, “She preached for us today,” but, “She’s our preacher.” It still feels weird and special to me that, for many of the people who met me that day, my primary identity was that of a preacher.

It was good to have some of my assumptions about people challenged. I generally assume that the older people are, the more conservative they are. And the more conservative they are, the more they oppose women having an equal voice and equal opportunities to serve the church. And yet, the elderly folks at a retirement center were the first people who allowed me to preach.

The lectionary is a wonderful thing! There is basically an infinite number of possible sermon texts, topics, and combinations thereof. So having that infinite number narrowed down to just four texts was a glorious thing.

My sermon focused on God as our Shepherd and on our responsibility to shepherd and care for one another. Wanda perfectly embodies the “shepherd one another” part! She is very clearly a shepherd within her community—she gathered up people to come to the church service instead of going back to bed after breakfast, she greeted everyone we passed in the hallways, she invited me to join her for lunch in the cafeteria and welcomed me into her apartment for coffee and dessert, she talked with and encouraged people as we stood around waiting for the cafeteria to open for lunch. After spending several days thinking intentionally about this shepherding theme in order to prepare a sermon about it, it was especially cool to see Wanda living out this role in such meaningful ways.

Several people have asked how preaching went, and I think it went well. There are definitely some things I wish I’d done differently or done better, but I think it was pretty good for being my first time. My prayer going into it was that something I said would be meaningful to at least one person. And a couple people came up to me later and shared some ways that something I said resonated with something in their lives.

Though the experience as a whole was a little terrifying and made me feel like an imposter, it also made me feel victorious for marginalized women everywhere. Because preaching is a role that is off-limits to so many of us, even in churches that are at least somewhat gender-inclusive. So it was meaningful to join the growing ranks of CofC women who’ve had the opportunity to preach, and to be a small part of continuing to normalize the idea of having both women and men in the pulpit.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Peach Salsa with Spiced Black Beans and Corn

The summer I lived in Georgia, the couple I stayed with kept the kitchen fully stocked with fresh, juicy peaches all summer long. These were not your run-of-the-mill grocery store peaches. Rather, I'm pretty sure she bought most of them from local growers and fruit stands. Jann even knew the names of the different varieties, when each variety would come into season, and the unique flavors of each variety. Many evenings that summer, Jann and I would stand side by side at the kitchen sink, peeling and slicing peaches, our hands dripping with juice while we told each other about our day.

Though I liked peaches before then, it was that summer that really solidified my love for peaches--especially juice-running-down-your-chin, just-picked-that day peaches. So when Google showed me recently that there's an annual peach festival in Weatherford, Texas (of all places), I convinced a couple of my peach-loving and/or festival-loving friends to take a trip to Weatherford for some peach love. Food highlights for me included the Caribbean jerk chicken sandwich for lunch, the homemade peach ice cream for dessert, and the bottle of lavender balsamic vinegar I brought home with me.

One of my goals for our trip to the festival was to get some peach salsa. I'd made it once before and really liked it, so I was interested in trying someone else's version. Unfortunately, though, by the time we got there and ate lunch (and ice cream) and got serious about browsing the manymany vendor booths, the jarred peach salsa was sold out everywhere we looked and asked. But no worries! Because I was already planning to buy a bunch of fresh peaches from the fresh produce stand (which we all did), and I still had that trusted peach salsa recipe from before, so I just made my own again tonight.

Rather than do something the same way twice, though, I took the peach salsa from before, and served it over the corn and black beans from these lettuce wraps. The lettuce wraps recipe also included a guacamole which sounded lovely, but I didn't feel like making three different components, so I just cubed an avocado, and that was simple and perfect. The black bean/corn part of the dish has so many warm flavors going on, the peach salsa pretty much tastes like summer, and the avocado added this creaminess that brought all the flavors into harmony.

If you wanted to bulk this up or make it stretch to more servings, you could easily add some cooked quinoa or millet. Originally I had planned to do that, but I decided to keep it simple tonight, and I didn't miss the grain at all.

Peach Salsa with Spiced Black Beans and Corn

Peach salsa adapted from A Couple Cooks and posted previously on my blog hereblack beans and corn adapted from A Couple Cooks.

Yield: About 3 servings. I know that's weird, and I'm sorry. I was planning to do 2 servings but got too excited about peaches once I started cutting into them, so I ended up with 2-3 generous servings of peach salsa and 3-4 servings of the black beans and corn.

Peach Salsa Ingredients
3 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1/2 medium red onion (or 1/4 large red onion), finely chopped
Just under 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste

Everything Else
1/4 to 1/2 large red onion
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 ear of corn, kernels removed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. kosher salt
Dried chipotle powder, to taste (or chopped, canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, to taste)
Black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup water
1 avocado, cut into cubes

For the salsa, combine all the salsa ingredients in a bowl. Toss to combine. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, green pepper, and corn; saute until veggies are slightly browned, about 5 minutes, stirring only very occasionally. Add the black beans, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, chipotle, and water. Give it a good stir, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has cooked down.

To serve, spoon some of the black bean and corn mixture into a bowl. Top with avocado and peach salsa, and give it a good stir. Then add some more peach salsa on top because it's hard to resist adding just a bit more.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sparkling Cucumber Limeade

Confession: summery drinks are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. In the fall and winter I go head-over-heels for winter quash, cozy casseroles and soups, and all things roasted. But when summer rolls around, it's all about the fresh herbs and refreshing drinks!

Yes, I know they're full of sugar and empty calories. But when it's 100 degrees and I want my air conditioning bill (some people call it an electric bill) to not be exorbitant, a tasty cold beverage becomes almost a necessity.

And what's more refreshing than lightly bubbly limeade infused with cucumber and fresh mint? Not much, my friends!

Sparkling Cucumber Limeade
Adapted from Rachael Ray, as seen on Taste and Tell
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1 cup lime juice (I use bottled)
1 medium cucumber, sliced (peeled if the skin is bitter)
Additional mint leaves (optional)
2 cups sparkling water, chilled (see notes)

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the mint leaves. Let sit, for 10-30 minutes.

Remove and discard the mint leaves, which will probably now be dark brown and less appealing-looking. Combine the sugar water with the lime juice and cucumber. Add more fresh mint leaves, if desired. Refrigerate for at least an hour. (I actually like to let mine chill for about 30 minutes before adding the cucumbers--I'm afraid of cooking them slightly if the sugar water is too warm.)

Right before serving, add the sparkling water (see notes) and serve over ice.

Since I live by myself, I usually eat and drink by myself. Which poses a problem with fizzy beverages like this, because I can either 1) drink a reasonable amount in one sitting, but then the rest of it goes flat before I drink it, or 2) drink the entire pitcher, but be sick because that's ridiculous. So here's what I do:
  • Make the recipe, minus the sparkling water. Store this in the fridge for use as needed.
  • Buy the skinny cans of Perrier (250 mL each) and keep those in the fridge.
  • When I'm ready to partake, I use a pint-sized mason jar, add 3-4 ice cubes and almost a whole can of Perrier, and fill the rest with the limeade concentrate. That ratio is just about perfect for me, but you may find that you like more or less of the concentrate.
Also, for the record, I don't like sparkling water on its own (even the flavored stuff), so I'm usually skeptical about recipes that call for it. But it's great in this drink!