Yes I am. In a scant 6 hours I will be heading toward SFO for Australia. Nearly a year of preparation and it’s finally here. My bags are packed, the check-in boxes are sealed, my visas are a-go, and yet I can’t help but feel a bit anxious, nervous, as though something is still left undone – perhaps I am forgetting something? A foreboding sense of unease. An omen, a premonition? A bit of foreshadowing? I’m not too sure. These last few days have been a bit off, not unpleasantly but just enough to contribute to this strange unease I feel. The only certain part of this week was Family Dinner, a constant in my life, an outlet for my sanity.
There were like 13 or so people who needed to be fed, and with Vivian’s tiny toy kitchen, we had to work magic. I settled for a Cheesecake Factory copycat recipe, Pasta da Vinci, while the others each brought some other dish. Andrea took care of a walnut/cranberry salad; JimmyJames made fresh pasta and a strong arugula/basil pesto; Vicky baked a wonderful loaf of cheesey garlic bread; and my dear Jessica made an amazing dessert – Panna Cotta! J^2 never cease to amaze me. Homemade pasta AND a fabulous dessert. But yes, before I left the continent, I thought it would be good to leave with a bang. And a BANG it was. Another delicious Family Dinner with some of the people I love most in Berkeley. A fête accomplished, or in Viet, ‘dai cong cao thanh!’
Pasta da Vinci
This was actually a recipe I received from Mrs. Roit. We had dinner not too long ago at the Burrow and this is the delicious dish I was blessed enough to steal. The sauce is rich and sweet and very simple to prep. The Madeira (which Vivian was lucky enough to buy) is very sweet and most people found our $4 bottle too strong to drink alone. I personally enjoyed it. I digress. This entire pasta recipe takes under 30 minutes to make and I made both a vegetarian and meat rendition. This goes well with a white meat like chicken, and in my vegetarian substitution, I used eggplants and plenty of portobello and button mushrooms. The recipe that follows is the meat version. If you plan to make vegetarian, then keep the sauce as is, but sauté the mushrooms and eggplants until they wilt down.
1 lb box penne pasta (anything with ridges works, farfelle or fusilli are great)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
1 large red onion, finely chopped
5-7 button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup Madeira wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and sugar to taste
optional: a few portobellow mushrooms & eggplant, sliced
Cook pasta according to package. Do not over-salt the water.
Heat oil in a skillet. Once hot, dump in garlic and onions. Allow to sweat and caramelize. Throw in the chicken and sauté until just cooked. Throw in the mushrooms and allow to wilt down. Remove and put in different bowl, but keep the little bits of flavor left in the pan. Add madeira, sour cream and heavy cream to the pan and allow to simmer. I find that this isn’t enough flavor so I add generous amounts of sugar and salt to taste, getting everyone to sample with each addition. Allow sauce to reduce and thicken up. I cheat a bit and added a tiny spoon of starch to thicken up the sauce as well. Shh, don’t tell anyone! I was trying to feed 13 people on very little, so I had to make do. Return the chicken/mushrooms to the sauce and remove from heat. Spoon the sauce over plates of pasta and serve hot. Delicioso!! (The real deal not that Ingrid Hoffmann business.)
Jessica’s Easy Panna Cotta
This was delicious, perfect for a summer dinner on the patio. Rich and served cold, with lots of strawberry syrup. Sooo good and you aren’t going to believe how easy it is to make. There are very few ingredients and you don’t need much to feed a crowd as it is too rich to eat a lot of anyway (well, unless you are me and have an insatiable sweet tooth.) I made a strawberry syrup which I like to use over icecream, but it pairs perfectly with the panna cotta. Just slice and dice a basket or so (more if you need) of fresh, clean strawberries. Sprinkle 2-3 generous tablespoons of sugar. Plastic-wrap and let sit in fridge for a few hours. When you take it out, it should be thick and sweet and yuum. Spoon over whatever it is. Yuum. Just know that the syrup is sweet, so you might want to use a bit less sugar in the panna cotta.
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar, or more to taste
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (8-ounce container) sour cream
2 cups pitted fresh cherries, strawberries, or sliced peaches or pears
Or, 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons artisan-made balsamic vinegar
Or, 2 to 3 tablespoons saba syrup or Vin Cotto
Sprinkle the gelatin over cold water and let stand for 5 minutes. In a 3-quart saucepan, warm the cream with the sugar, salt, and vanilla over medium-high heat.
Do not let it boil. Stir in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Take the cream off the heat and cool about 5 minutes.
Put the sour cream in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream a little at a time until smooth. Taste for sweetness. It may need another teaspoon of sugar. Rinse 8 (2/3-cup) ramekins, custard cups, or coffee cups with cold water. Fill each one 3/4 full with the cream. Chill 24 hours.
To serve, either unmold by packing the molds in hot towels and then turning each out onto a dessert plate, or serve in their containers. Serve alone or with any of the toppings.
That concludes my Family Dinner entries. I will be on a 3-week hiatus, but hopefully I will get the chance to update from Australia. Land of kangaroos, koalas and Donna Hay! It is going to be coold in Melbourne and Sydney, a refreshing change of weather from the warm California suns. My last week in Cairns should help defrost my chilled bones and will be a welcome change as well. But farewell and happy undertakings in the kitchen. Good luck to my Ici dinner crew. Piggy, be safe in China. Kari, good luck with linear. Viv, have fun at the gallery and can’t wait to work on my kitchen mural. Jess, have a great time in Taiwan. Nicole, don’t work too hard. Amanda, thank you for everything. Stephanie, have a great summer even if you are stuckin SJ. I’ll keeo you posted and love you all.