Panna cotta is dessert I think I should make more often. It is one of those examples which justifies the old adage that ‘simple is beautiful’ or ‘less is more’. All the way from Italy, this delicate chilled pudding is traditionally made from cream and gelatin with a side serving of fruit coulis. You can play around with the gelling agent and the dairy as long as your final product has a soft set and a slight wobble with a smooth, melt-in-the-mouth texture. You need to make sure your mixture does not turn lumpy or gritty at any point; it is not a good idea to walk away from your pan as it goes on the stovetop. If you are worried that it does not get to set properly, you can serve this vanilla speckled strawberry panna cotta, from BBC Good Food, right out of dessert cups or shot glasses instead of unmolding it on a plate.

STRAWBERRY PANNA COTTA

Ingredients:

For the Panna Cotta

3 agar agar leaves

450ml double cream

200ml whole milk

100g white caster sugar

1 vanilla pod

For the Strawberries

400g strawberries, hulled

1½ teaspoon corn flour

50g white caster sugar

Method:

  • For the panna cotta, put agar agar leaves in a small bowl of cold water to soften, about 5 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, pour the cream, milk and sugar into a pan, split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds.

  • Add the seeds, along with the pod, to the cream mixture. Heat gently until hot, but not bubbling.

  • Remove agar agar leaves from the water, squeeze out any excess liquid then add to the hot cream.

  • Stir the mixture until agar agar is dissolved and leave to stand for 20 to 30 minutes until cooled.

  • The vanilla pods should be suspended in the liquid by this point. Strain mixture through a sieve.

  • Pour into 6 serving glasses, then chill for at least 3 hours. Toss strawberries in a small saucepan.

  • Add the corn flour and sugar in a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.

  • Cook until the released juices thicken and strawberries are softened. Set the mixture aside to cool.

  • Once completely cooled, top panna cottas with the strawberry mixture. Chill until ready to serve.

Strawberry Panna Cotta

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The one vegetarian dish I always order whenever I am eating out at an Indian restaurant has to be paalak paneer. Though I may sometimes be tempted by dal makhani or baigan bharta when I look up a menu card, my final choice has to include the famous spinach gravy from North India even when I happen to order a thali meal for a quick lunch. With time, I learnt to make paalak paneer at home combining young spinach leaves from the local market and freshly made cottage cheese to match the ‘restaurant’ taste and texture of the restaurant of this favorite dish of mine. The recipe, from MyFoodStory, is one I have used many times with consistently outstanding results using minimum effort. The bright green spinach colour comes through nicely and the gravy gets much of its creamy texture from a blend of cashew nuts and tomato puree, which is best enjoyed along with a spicy masala curry and piping hot naans.

 

PAALAK PANEER

Ingredients:

5 cups spinach

1-2 green chilies

5 garlic cloves

1-inch fresh ginger

1/2 cup cashew nuts

3 tablespoons olive oil

1-inch cinnamon stick

1 dried bay leaf

2 cardamom pods

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 large tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons kasuri methi

2 tablespoons heavy cream

200g paneer, cut into cubes

Kitchen salt, to taste

Method:

  • Blend together fresh spinach leaves, chilies, ginger, garlic cloves and cashew nuts in blender.

  • Add 1/2 cup water and blend till smooth. Heat olive oil in a pan, add cinnamon and bay leaf.

  • Add cardamom pods and saute the spices for one minute, then add minced garlic and onions.

  • Cook onions till they are translucent and add tomatoes, coriander powder and salt to the pan.

  • Mix and cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes till the tomatoes are soft. Pour in spinach mixture.

  • Add kasuri methi to the pan and mix well. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down to a simmer.

  • Cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Check for seasoning and add more salt, if it is required.

  • Add cream and paneer to gravy. Mix gently so as not to break paneer and cook for one minute.

  • Ladle the palak paneer into a serving dish and serve hot with naan or rice. Makes 6 servings.

Paalak Paneer

After I was done with my cornmeal pancakes, I still had almost half a bagful of finely ground cornmeal I purchased from a Rodriguan entrepreneur some months back. Contrary to my expectation, the processed corn had a surprisingly long shelf life and I was happy to have a bowl of cornmeal porridge on my list of breakfast items for the next few weeks. When I ran a Google search for ‘cornmeal cake’, this devilishly simple cake from Elegant Meraki stood out a mile and I felt that I had saved the last of my cornmeal just for this one. Liberally soaked in orange honey syrup and topped with pistachios, it has a rich golden crumb, which goes well with an infusion of Bois Cheri’s Paul & Virginie black tea.

ORANGE HONEY CORNMEAL CAKE

Ingredients:

For the Cornmeal Cake

1 cup almond flour

1 cup finely ground cornmeal

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 eggs, room temperature

2/3 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Zest of 1 medium orange

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon orange blossom

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Orange Glaze

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon orange blossom

1 tablespoon orange liqueur

3 tablespoons honey or golden syrup

3 tablespoons pistachios, chopped

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick spray or line with baking paper.

  • Sift together almond flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl, and set it aside.

  • Whisk together eggs, sugar, oil, zest, juice, orange blossom water and extract until it is just combined.

  • Slowly add flour mix and whisk only until just combined. Set aside for 20 minutes then pour into pan.

  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven, set on a wire rack to cool.

  • For the glaze, combine the fresh orange juice and honey in small sauce pan and simmer for 5 minutes.

  • It will thicken slightly. Stir in the orange blossom water and liqueur. Poke holes in cake, 1/2 inch apart.

  • Using pastry brush to slowly brush glaze over cake. Do not rush the process as it will make cake soggy.

  • Leave the cake to cool completely, then top with toasted pistachios before serving. Makes 10 servings.

Orange & Honey Glazed Cornmeal Cake

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