November 20, 2017

Dear friends,

Although panna cotta is on the menu of many fancy restaurants, in truth it’s easier to make than instant pudding. Seriously.

That’s why I made pumpkin panna cotta Sunday when Tony and I craved something sweet. I knew I would be cooking pumpkin pie, turkey and other feast foods in the coming days, and I didn’t want to mess around.

The simple Italian dessert has been described as “creamy gelatin,” but I think panna cotta tastes more like a firm custard. The gelatin in the recipe almost inconspicuously holds the milk, cream and flavorings together in a gentle embrace.

I have seen panna cottas chilled in molds that are then dipped in warm water and tipped onto dessert plates. That’s not a good idea with a generously spiced version such as pumpkin. I found that some of the spices invariably sink to the bottom, which then becomes the speckled top when the panna cotta is unmolded.  I recommend chilling and serving it simply in custard cups or dessert coupes (little footed dishes).

To make the dessert super fast, I used pumpkin pie filling that is pre-sweetened and pre-spiced. I’m not ashamed. Consider the work involved in this recipe: a packet of gelatin is sprinkled on some milk in a saucepan and let stand for five minutes. More milk along with cream and pumpkin pie filling are stirred in and brought almost to a simmer. The mixture is poured into custard cups and chilled. That’s it.

When Tony raved about my pumpkin panna cotta and I smiled and accepted his accolades as if I’d spent the afternoon in the kitchen — now, THAT I’m ashamed of.

Pumpkin Panna Cotta

 

PUMPKIN PANNA COTTA

• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1 envelope gelatin
• 1 cup whipping cream
• 1 cup pumpkin pie filling (sweetened, spiced)
• Whipped cream, fresh-grated nutmeg

Pour 1/2 cup of the milk into a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over the milk. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften.

Meanwhile, whisk remaining milk with the cream and pie filling until very smooth. Pour into pan with gelatin, whisking well. Heat to just below a simmer, stirring until the gelatin dissolves.

Whisk again and pour into 6 to 8 custard cups or coupes. Chill at least 4 hours. Top each with a spoonful of whipped cream and a dusting of grated nutmeg. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HELP U COOK

On Tuesday I cooked my annual pre-Thanksgiving back-up turkey my favorite way, on a covered Weber grill. Grill-smoked turkey is hands-down the best way to cook the beast. The meat always turns out juicy, smoky and delicious. One year I roasted a turkey in the oven and one on the grill and compared. The winner by a mile was the grilled turkey.

I have to look up the directions every year because my brain does not hold onto every little detail. I assume you are the same way, so I am providing detailed directions I wrote years ago for the Beacon Journal. It is as good a guide as I’ve seen. You may want to print and save it.

You’ll need a covered grill large enough to contain the turkey. If you’ve already put away your grill for the winter, don’t forget to open the vents or the fire will go out during the first half-hour of cooking. You’ll have to start over, beginning with moving the hot, slippery turkey to a platter.

Use plenty of charcoal. The colder and windier the day, the more you’ll need. Pile about 50 or so briquettes in the grill for starters, and allow them to become about 80 percent ashed over.

When the fire is ready, push the briquettes to each side of the grill and place a drip pan in the center of the grill. A throw-away foil pan works fine. The turkey will be placed directly on the oiled grill (breast-side up) above the drip pan, so that the juices for gravy flow into the pan, and so that no coals are directly under the turkey.

This is called cooking with indirect heat and it’s what all true barbecuers do, whether the meat is turkey, pork or beef. If you place coals directly under a large piece of meat such as a turkey, the outside will burn before the inside cooks.

Add two or three hickory chunks that you’ve soaked in water to the fire before putting on the turkey. This will give the meat a pleasant, woodsy flavor.

Four or five briquettes must be added to each side of the fire about every 45 minutes, so that a steady heat is maintained. About halfway through the cooking, add a couple more chunks of hickory, too. Try to keep the two fires evenly hot, or one side of the turkey will cook faster than the other. Open the grill lid as little as possible, to keep the heat in.

Other than rubbing the turkey all over with butter or margarine before putting it on the grill (to keep the skin from splitting), no basting is required.

Either place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh (not touching the bone) before you begin grilling, or use an instant meat thermometer to determine doneness. The turkey is done when the thigh meat is 180 degrees and the breast meat about 170 degrees.

The unstuffed 12 1/2-pounder I tested took about 3 1/2 hours to cook. A bone-in, 5-pound breast took about 2 1/2 hours. Cooking time will depend on how cold it is outside, the bone configuration of the turkey, and the temperature of the meat when it was put on the grill. When I grilled, it was sunny and about 65 degrees. But generally, figure on about 11 to 15 minutes of cooking time per pound — longer if it’s cold and windy.

Rely on a thermometer, not looks, to determine doneness. The meat will be pink just beneath the skin because of the smoke, but this is not an indication of rawness.

When the bird is done, transfer it to a platter, cover with foil and let rest about 20 minutes to allow the juices to return to the surface. Remove the drip pan and make gravy from the juices.

That’s it. Just don’t expect any leftovers. Grilled turkey has a way of getting gobbled up.

Turkeys may be cooked on gas grills, too. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the fire. Set the temperature control for 300 to 350 degrees, or low heat, and preheat 15 to 20 minutes, recommends the National Turkey Federation. Place the whole turkey on the grill and close the cover.

TIDBITS

Tony and I both are crushing on Xinji Noodle Bar in Ohio City, which we visited after thoroughly enjoying the Jazz Age exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Finally, ramen that tastes like the rich soup we enjoy in Japan.

The restaurant, which opened in July, is hipster chic on a budget. It is sparsely furnished, with blond wood floors, high ceilings and the requisite exposed duct work. It is a large space — maybe carved from two former shops — partially separated by a wall of exposed brick.

The menu is limited to ramen in several styles, bao sandwiches, a couple of rice bowls and a few appetizers. The latter includes two spicy, very crisp Korean chicken thighs that Tony and I shared. They aren’t as addictive as Nashville hot chicken, but close.

The ramen portions are about half the size of the behemoth bowls served in Sapporo noodle shops, but my bowl of miso ramen was more than enough for me. The rich broth bespoke long-simmered pork bones. The curly ramen noodles had that mysterious crispness of real Japanese ramen (the unusual texture comes from the way the noodles are processed). To cap it all off, nothing on Xinji’s menu is more than $12.

For hours and more information, go toxinjinoodle.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Thick, pan-grilled lamb chops with herbs de Provence and wine sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon; pumpkin panna cotta; chicken and cabbage soup.

What I ate away from home last week:
Pad Thai at the cafe at State Road Giant Eagle in Cuyahoga Falls; Japan-worthy miso ramen noodles with corn kernels, kale, sliced pork and a few bean sprouts at Xinji Noodle Bar in Cleveland; pineapple and ham pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; eggs over easy, grits, ham and a piece of toast at Wally Waffle in Akron; a cup of turkey chili and a Greek salad at Panera.

THE MAILBAG

From Kim M.:
I saw that you had food at the Eye Opener and had French dressing (which I love). How does it compare to Papa Joe’s White French? The reason for this email is I tried to make white French and it separated. I guess I didn’t drizzle the oil. Do you have a recipe for white French dressing?

Dear Kim:
White French dressing is best when the acid threatens to but doesn’t quite overtake the sweet. This recipe is from my book, “Jane Snow Cooks.”

ALMOST KEN STEWART’S WHITE FRENCH DRESSING
• 1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup grated yellow onion
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. distilled white vinegar
• 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar

Place mayonnaise in a bowl. Grate the onion on the grater disk of a food processor or the large holes of a box grater, then mince finely by hand. Measure onion, packing down. Add to mayonnaise.

Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover and refrigerate overnight before using. Makes about 1 cup.

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