Posts tagged ‘creamy’

Black Pepper Panna Cotta & Red Wine Strawberries

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (main)

I bought a carton of strawberries.

I did it against my better judgment—the berries were suspiciously big and still a little out of season, not to mention overpriced. They were so red I couldn’t help but feel suspicious.

But I bought them anyway because I wanted to make panna cotta, and I thought berries would make the plate prettier. Plus, I’d found a half-cup of cheap cabernet in the fridge, forgotten by the apartment’s previous tenants, and I figured that would be enough to make mediocre berries taste good.

I went home and got to work, chilling the panna cottas and reducing the wine to a slow-bubbling glaze. After all that, I popped open the box of strawberries. I was surprised—they actually looked really good. Well, I thought, I’m glad they’ll photograph nice. I scooped up a handful, ran them under water, and let them tumble onto a cutting board, which slowly pinkened with juice. Before slicing, I picked up one of the smaller berries, pinched off the green, and popped the whole thing in my mouth.

Wow.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (strawberry)

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (spoon)

With one bite I was transported home to Seattle, to our front yard, to my mom’s strawberry patch.

She planted the seeds when I was a senior in high school. They’ve grown prolifically since then, the leaves a dense carpet. The berries are tiny, thimble-sized, and redder than roses. They’re profusely floral, like perfume in your palms, so fragrant you taste them before you’ve parted your lips. Each bite melts on your tongue and the sweetness probably causes cavities.

They’re the best strawberries I’ve ever had.

One year, I infused some into a jar of bourbon. Another time, I made shortcakes with thick dollops of real cream. But they’re always best as-is, still warm from the sun, by the bowl-full. My dad likes to dip them in black pepper, a preference I found off-putting until I tried it. You can’t actually taste the pepper—like salt on chocolate, it simply enhances the berry itself.

Once I’d settled on red wine strawberries, I added pepper to the panna cottas, without hesitation.

Black Pepper Panna Cotta (closeup)

The grocery store strawberries weren’t as good as my mom’s. Not even close. But they were outrageously better than I expected. The panna cottas were, too.

I was nervous they would stick to their molds, but each panna cotta wobbled right onto the plate. The texture was perfect—-firm enough to hold a shape, yet soft and creamy as pudding. The edges were smooth as marble. I’d originally imagined the pepper sprinkled throughout, and I was disappointed they had settled down instead. But on second glance, I liked the way it looked—-pure white with black flecks crowning the top, like caviar, gently trickling down.

And the berries. Glossy, sweet, and superbly robust. The color contrast was gorgeous. I didn’t regret stirring them into the red wine reduction, even though I usually like to eat delicious fruit as-is.

I’ll save that simple happiness for the next time I’m home.

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June 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm 15 comments

Red Velvet Cheesecake

Red Velvet Cheesecake Red Velvet cake, a layer of cheesecake, and cream cheese frosting.

August makes me think of peach skin against my lips, of yellowing grass, and inevitably of the coming school year.

I remember exactly where I was last August – the kitchen. There were only a few weeks before I moved to Boston for college, and I went into a baking frenzy. In the mornings, I preheated the oven before I brushed my teeth, and I photographed enough desserts to keep the blog alive across the country.

This summer, though, I haven’t spent much time baking. I don’t leaf through cookbooks when I’m bored or brainstorm flavor combinations in the car. I’ve lost something I can’t place. Whenever I think about it, unease seeps through me like melting ice. I don’t know why I’ve fallen into a baking rut or how to fix it.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

A year ago, I remember standing with my dad in the kitchen. I’d spent the week baking, and I handed him fork after fork of desserts to sample. He’d just tried the Oat, Pear, and Raspberry Loaf when he said, “You’re really going to do this. Keep the blog going.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. I hadn’t even considered ending the blog, giving up on the baking, moving on with life as I moved into college. “Yeah.”

He shrugged a little and said, “You never know. After a while, you might not want to be 17 and Baking anymore. You might lose interest.”

“Never going to happen.” I wrapped up the loaf, started on the dishes, and the conversation faded from memory.

Now I can’t get it out of my mind.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

I didn’t spend as much time with my parents this summer as I expected, or as I would have liked. I think the ritual of family dinners would have helped me rediscover that “feeling.” I think tossing ideas back and forth with my dad would have inspired me. Now, it’s too late. Here I am a year later, nine days from my flight, with almost nothing saved up.

This semester I’m going to Europe, where baking opportunities will be even scarcer than they were in Boston. I’m so afraid. I didn’t realize it until I typed the words a moment ago, and now it’s more real than ever. I’m afraid of wasting the opportunities I’ve been given. I’m scared of failing. I’m scared that I have burnt out, and that I can’t recover.

But I am more than my insecurities. I know that when I put my mind to something, I can make it happen. I have the strength to pull through baking ruts, to breathe life into my writing, and to conquer fear. I’m afraid, but I’m also more passionate and determined than ever.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

D- is a new friend, but already a good one, and his first visit to Seattle is wrapping up in a few days. I wanted to make something really special to celebrate his 19th birthday and last night in the Emerald City.

This week I rediscovered the process of finding The One. You know, The Recipe that is everything Your Friend would want, their sweet tooth soulmate. I remembered that his favorite cake is red velvet, but his favorite dessert is cheesecake. I immediately wanted to combine them. I’d seen red velvets split by cheesecake on several other sites, but that didn’t make it less special.

The excitement mounted as I bought ingredients at the store, while I creamed butter, when I scattered sprinkles across the frosting. But everything became clear when I eased the first slice onto a plate and passed it to D-, drank in his expression of surprise and joy.

The thrill! It lit me up like a sparkler – burning slowly, but unbelievably brightly. I almost forgot that feeling, but now, all I want to do is relive it. I’m an addict.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

The cream cheese frosting is thick, tangy, and sweet, just like I like it. The cheesecake is dense and creamy. But the star is the red velvet. Heartbreakingly red, soft as satin, fine-crumbed and fluffy… As I watched him scrape the fork across the plate, I couldn’t wait to come home and share the recipe with you.

I never lost the passion. I just had to stop taking it for granted.

I’ll probably be on the east coast when the next post is up – thanks for staying with me. See you on the other side.

[Too hot to bake? Check out my Chocolate Raspberry Icebox Cake in the Boston Globe! It's a heat free, ridiculously easy recipe that comes together in half an hour.]

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August 11, 2011 at 6:07 pm 118 comments

Raspberry Honey Tapioca

Raspberry Honey Tapioca Pudding

I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since the 9th grade. My reasons then were few but passionate – I wanted to use the written word to uncover the truth, to change my community, to travel and inspire and burgeon forth with knowledge. My sense of direction grew stronger with every internship and workshop. When I left Seattle for Boston, I left as a journalism major.

But ever since I got here, I’ve been tainted with doubt. I ignored it for months and tried to enjoy my journalism classes. They sent me into the city for man-on-the-street interviews and to city hall for public records. I learned how to use cameras and microphones to record audio and video packages. And though I’ve loved hearing my voice on the radio and coming up with stories, I don’t like where I’m headed.

The reality I have to face is this – I don’t like hard news. Sifting through police reports, breaking essential details into short graphs, learning the broadcast aspects of journalism necessary to survive today’s newsroom… This isn’t for me. But when you’ve been so sure of your path for so long, the thought of starting fresh terrifies.

Raspberry Honey

I scheduled a visit with my academic advisor. We looked over my schedule for next semester (which was limited, since I’m studying abroad in Europe in the fall). I was clearly less than enthused about the journalism class I’d be taking, the next step on the journalism major ladder. He folded his fingers into a triangle on his desk, leaned forward and asked, “What do you want to do with your life?”

“Well, I want to write,” I said. “I’m interested in freelancing for different magazines, maybe writing a column.”

“Yes,” he interrupted, tapping his pencil on the course catalogue. “Half the kids here want to write. But think about it, seriously. What are you really passionate about?

That’s when I realized I already knew. Maybe I’d known all along. I flipped to a junior-level class – Creative Writing: Nonfiction Travel Writing – and declared, “This is where I want to be.”

He leaned back in his chair and shrugged his shoulders, like, that’s that. “Then maybe you shouldn’t be a journalism major, if you’d like to get into that class. You know, the only one you seem genuinely excited about.” He handed me a major change form and said, “Mull it over.”

I walked out of his office shaking. Daunted by the work that changing my major conjured. Scared of making the wrong choice. I headed to the mailroom to pick up a package that had arrived for me, trusting my feet to take me there while my head spun.

Raspberry Honey Tapioca Pudding

I don’t frequently receive packages, and at that moment I was unprepared for the lovely surprise that was Heidi Swanson’s (of 101 cookbooks fame) new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. I tore off the paper as the elevator lurched, and I was already flipping through when I got to my floor.

The cookbook was a relief. This was familiar, well-traveled territory, a path I’d always know was right for me. This cookbook was like breathing.

I worked my way through the sections. Every page offered breathtaking photos, Heidi’s beautiful writing, and recipes that made me want to be a more wholesome eater. I was starved for cookbooks, having left my entire collection at home. This one satisfied a hunger sorely missed. The sides of the book became frilly with scraps of paper, marking the recipes I wanted to try first. I couldn’t bear to dog-ear the corners.

I settled on Heidi’s Honey & Rose Water Tapioca, and walked to the store.

Raspberries

I made the pudding using the stovetop in the common room. I left out the rosewater and used raspberry blossom honey, but otherwise stuck true to Heidi’s recipe. Everything about this all-milk, honey-sweetened dessert comforted. While the common room emptied bags of Fritos and put on a movie, I stirred constellations of tapioca pearls. The custard slowly thickened and the pearls grew plump and opaque. Sometimes people asked what I was making, and the floor taste-tested with plastic spoons.

As the dessert set, inspiration came. I grabbed a notebook and scrawled down the phrases that came to mind – “raspberry honey marries with a flurry of lemon zest,” “bright and wholesome,” “creamy pudding studded with chewy tapioca beads.” Writing and food are inseparable, and good food puts my pencil to paper.

I smoothed the pudding into some Tupperware and looked again at the notebook. Maybe my path has always been this obvious… It just took a little trial and error to figure it out.

Raspberry Honey Tapioca Pudding

The paperwork is official. When people ask what I’m studying, I don’t hesitate to say, “I’m a writing major with a minor in journalism.” And I swell with joy every time.

Maybe somewhere down the road, I’ll try to design my own major. I’ll combine elements of print journalism with writing and publishing and some solid English literature. It isn’t completely clear yet, but I have faith in myself. For now, I’ll enjoy my summer, spend a sleepless semester in Europe, and continue to write and eat.

[PS: I also have some incredible news to share! I've been invited to speak at BlogHer Food '11, on a panel with my Kitchen Generation co-founders about food blogging and the younger crowd. I'll finally get to meet my fellow teen food bloggers in person after a year of Skype chats. I'll get to meet scores of food bloggers I truly admire. I almost can't contain myself.

The conference is May 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, and there's still time to register. Maybe I'll see you there?]

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April 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm 102 comments

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate!)

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

Inspiration has hit me again. Pretty hard. And this time I think it’ll be harder to shake.

I had some free time between classes, so I went to the store. For the first time in my life, I bought myself basic ingredients, starting with absolutely nothing. I tried to balance quality and price as I grabbed flour, sugar (white, brown, and powdered), vanilla, salt, butter, cream, and eggs… At the very last minute, standing in the check out line, I ran back to get baking powder and soda. Almost forgot.

When the total came up and I took out my wallet, I mentally calculated how many tables I’d have to wait to gain it back. Since when was baking such an expensive hobby?

This being-an-adult, shopping-for-your-own-groceries thing is tough. But I smiled the whole ride home.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

As the week went on, the anticipation grew. I think this is what I discovered. When the only times you bake are for dinner with the neighbors, birthdays, holidays and paid orders, something is wrong. When you’re baking just because? Because you want to, because it’s Thursday, because there are four pounds of sugar under your bed? These reasons are happiness-generators, like fresh batches of Play Doh and abandoned fields of dandelions.

Faced with the freedom of no guidelines, I couldn’t decide whether to go crunchy or chewy, warm or chilled, chocolate-glazed or baked with fruit. On Saturday I was sure I would make a citrusy pound cake. Sunday I’d switched to some kind of breakfast scone, easy to share with the common room… By Tuesday I found myself wanting a few secret pots de creme in my mini-fridge, a midnight snack just for me.

Then, considering the mediocre fruit selection in the dining hall at lunchtime, it hit me. I took three ripe pears and looked up a recipe for clafouti. I packed all the ingredients and tools, plus a book and my camera. I lugged the ridiculously heavy bag down the street to the dorm building that has kitchens.

Peanut Butter

The kitchen was a bit of a letdown. There was no soap by the sink for dishes. The windows were blocked by buildings and didn’t let in any natural light, so no photographs. But I figured out how to work the oven, mixed the clafouti batter as best I could, and hoped for success. I sat down to read and discovered that, somewhere in Chapter 2, I could smell sugar.

I pulled the puffed, golden-brown custard out of the oven and experienced a more real satisfaction than I could have possibly imagined. My bones felt solid, my lungs felt full, and would you believe it, I felt starved. I washed the dishes and repacked the bag in a dream, and as I turned to leave, I grabbed the still-hot pan without thinking. My hand automatically opened and the clafouti splattered like vanilla-infused ink. The metal pan clattered against the linoleum and I thought it would never stop ringing in my ears and in the corners of the empty kitchen.

Empty-handed, without photos or a taste. Bitterness started to settle like steeping tea.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

But then, in spite of myself, I laughed. No regrets, no tears. Because, let’s be real, it was a pretty stupid move on my part, but it didn’t take away any of the pleasure I got from the baking process. Blog post or not, for one afternoon, I felt unfiltered elation. Maybe there was a lesson in the unsalvageable clafouti – the joy comes from the process, not from being recognized as the “baking blogger” or from eating a lot of cream.

Instead, I’m sharing these Peanut Butter Pretzel bites with you. They’re easy enough to make from a dorm. Creamy peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla combine in a rich and addictive filling. Sandwiched between two crisp, salty pretzels and dunked in bittersweet chocolate, you end up with an incredible party snack that vanishes fast.

No mixer required. No fiddling with foreign ovens. You can even melt the chocolate in the microwave (which I did.) The result is a delicious, one bite contradiction of creamy and crunchy, sweet and salty, peanutty and chocolatey.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

I knew right away they wouldn’t survive the weekend, but that’s okay. I’ve still got 3 ½ pounds of sugar under my bed. That’s reason enough for me.

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March 25, 2011 at 12:07 am 133 comments

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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