Make Limoncello Now: Perfect Gift From Your Kitchen

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Homemade goodies seem to capture the spirit of the holidays in a way no store-bought treasure can. Create homemade liqueurs and then sit back and enjoy the pleasure that those soul-warming libations bring as gifts.

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Homemade liqueurs don’t take a lot of prep time. However, they do require advance planning and patience during the aging period.

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All fruits carry bacteria that can potentially spoil the liqueur. This potential hazard only exists when you opt to leave the fruit in the liqueur rather than straining it out.

To prevent spoilage with “fruit-in” liqueurs, make sure the spirit you select is at least 40 percent alcohol — a concentration strong enough to kill the bacteria. After a month or so, the liqueurs can be strained and poured into bottles, decanters or snazzy jars.

My favorite is limoncello, an Italian-inspired liqueur made from fresh lemons, liquor and simple sugar syrup. It has become very popular over the past several years and can be used in baked goods and as a cocktail ingredient.

But it is most often served ice cold right from the freezer, poured into small glasses.

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Limoncello (3 1/2 pints)
14 lemons
4 cups grain alcohol or high-proof vodka (40 percent alcohol)
3 cups simple syrup, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: For simple syrup – combine 2 ½ cups water and 3 cups granulated sugar in medium saucepan. Stirring occasionally, bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat; simmer about 3 minutes. Cool.

  1. Wash, dry and peel lemons, using a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to cut wide strips without much pith. Put peels in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. (Juice leftover lemons to use in drinks or in cooking – you can freeze it.)
  2. Add grain alcohol or high-proof vodka and seal. Place in cool, dry spot away from sunlight. Let sit for 2 weeks.
  3. Add simple syrup; stir and reseal. Return to its spot. Let sit 2 more weeks.
  4. Strain liqueur through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other easy-pouring vessel. Strain again through two new layers of cheesecloth into one large bottle or a number of small bottles or jars.cathythomascookslogoModified*************************
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Sweet-Spicy Melon: Easy-Perfect for Buffet-Style Entertaining

Sweet and Spicy = Delicious piquant-sweet melon.

Perfect for the buffet table and holiday entertaining!

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Use any ripe melon for this delicious dish. I like to serve it as part of a showy buffet.

(AND, remember, cantaloupe is on of the most nutrient-dense fruits on the planet.)

 

(Make the syrup in advance if you like, and then drizzle on the melon up to 30 minutes before serving.)

Spicy-Sweet Firecracker Melon
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons seeded and minced Serrano chili, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
2 large, ripe cantaloupe

Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Upon completion wash hands and work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch eyes or face.
1. In a small saucepan, make a chili syrup by combining the sugar and water over medium-high heat and boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a small bowl and let cool.

2. Stir in the chili, lime juice, mint, and bell peppers.

3. Cut the melons in half and remove the seeds. Cut into wedges or other interesting shapes and arrange attractively on 8 chilled plates. Drizzle about ½ cup of the chili syrup, or to taste, over all the melon. Reserve the remaining chili syrup for another use.

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Easy Chinese-Style Appetizers, Katie Chin Style

Chinese tapas, yes!

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Cookbook author-caterer, Katie Chin, learned how to cook from her Chinese mother. She helped in the kitchen with her late mother, Leeann Chin, an award-winning restaurateur. In 2003, the two starred in a PBS national cooking show “Double Happiness.”

I joined her in the Melissa’s Produce kitchen to test out some of her favorite recipes from her newest book, “Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook” (Tuttle, $24.95).

Everything she cooked was delicious, but I seem to focus on appetizers this time of year. Home entertaining around the holidays always requires delicious starters – hors d’ oeuvres with palate allure and eye appeal.

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Her six-ingredient Firecracker Shrimp recipe teams shrimp with matchstick carrots and strips of spring roll wrappers (much easier than batter).

She says you only need about 10 minutes to make them.

(Yes, maybe after you practice once!)

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Fried crisp, they are served with a simple-spicy dipping sauce of mayonnaise and Sriracha chili sauce.

Watch the crisp-bubble dance in this short video …

Chin’s Firecracker Shrimp
Yield: 6 servings as appetizers
12 shelled (tail left intact) and deveined large raw shrimp
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, divided use
4 spring roll wrappers1 large carrot, peeled, cut into 3-by-1/4-inch matchsticks
1 egg, beaten
Oil for deep frying
Dripping Sauce: 4 tablespoons mayonnaise mixed with 1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha (to suit your taste)

  1. Cut each spring roll wrapper into thirds to make 12 long narrow strips.
  2. Place carrot matchsticks in small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt and set aside. Sprinkle shrimp with remaining garlic salt.
  3. Brush top third of each spring roll strip with egg. Place shrimp at bottom of strip. Place a carrot matchstick on top of shrimp. Roll each shrimp and carrot up tightly in the spring roll strip (egg will hold it together). The tail of the shrimp and the carrot should be protruding from one end to resemble a fire cracker. Repeat the process until all the wrappers are filled.
  4. In a large wok or deep skillet heat 2 to 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Fry the shrimp rolls until golden brown, about 2 minutes, turning 2 to 3 times. Drain on sheet pan lined with paper towels. Serve with dipping sauce.chincathycathythomascookslogoModified
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Cooking Class with Chef Michael Rossi, The Ranch

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Award winning executive chef at The Ranch in Anaheim, Michael Rossi, charmed  students with his skill and culinary passion in a recent cooking class. It was the first class taught in the beautiful teaching kitchen on the sixth floor – high above the restaurant.

Twenty-four students sipped sparkling wine in this intimate-yet-high tech setting while watching Rossi’s every move. If they wanted a tight shot of the action, they could view it on three large screens arranged to capture every move.

He flawlessly prepared 5 dishes, everything from appetizers to main course, while his brother, award-winning executive pastry chef David Rossi, taught the dessert; scrumptious Butterscotch Pots de Creme.

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Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Brown Butter, Sage and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Pasta made from scratch …

The menu was themed to fall, a season that cooks look forward to for its richly flavored ingredients, slow braises and decadent desserts. Wild Mushroom Ravioli made with from-scratch pasta wowed the crowd, each pillow-like disk generously filled with irresistible flavors.

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A tomato salad showed off a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes harvested at “the farm;” the colorful concoction was napped with a classic vinaigrette and topped with blue cheese and house-cured bbq bacon (note anything with blue cheese and bacon in my opinion is a big winner). ranchtomatotrimmings

Even the trimmings are pretty ….

The main course was Veal Osso Buco served with Anson Mills’ polenta and roasted root vegetables.

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Appetizers are always high on the list of what home cooks want to master.

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His Fig & Burrata Toasts were easy to prepare and designed to tempt any palate. (If you want to prepare this and figs are out of season, substitute cubes of caramelized butternut squash tossed with dried cranberries, or diced Fuyu persimmons). Here is the recipe:

Fresh Figs and Burrata Toast
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon minced orange zest (colored portion of peel)
2 teaspoons honey, divided use
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh basil and 1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
Kosher salt to taste
12 fresh figs, stems removed, halved lengthwise top to bottom
Nonstick spray
6 slices baguette or rustic Italian bread (1/2-inch thick)
Extra-virgin olive oil for lightly coating bread slices
6 ounces burrata cheese
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish: microgreens  (I buy them at Trader Joe’s)
1. In a medium bowl, combine vinegar, zest, 1 teaspoon honey and olive oil; whisk to combine. Stir in basil, mint and salt. Add figs and toss to coat. Set aside for 10 minutes.
2.Spray grill pan with nonstick spray and heat on medium-high. Brush both sides of bread lightly with olive oil. Grill bread until nicely toasted; set aside. Grill figs on cut side until soft but not squishy, about 2 to 4 minutes. Return figs to bowl with residual marinade and cool; toss. Cool bread.
3. Tear pieces of chilled burrata cheese to fit the top of each bread slice. Top with figs, cut-side up. Drizzle with reserved honey and season with Maldron salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Top each with a smidgen of microgreens. Source: Michael Rossi, executive chef, The Ranch, Anaheim

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Roasted Asparagus with Crunchy Parmesan Cheese? Please!

Asparagus and cheese – a marriage made in food heaven.

Roast asparagus topped with crunchy Parmesan cheese is a favorite.

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The short video shows how easy it is!

 

Roasted Asparagus with Crunchy Parmesan
Yield: 4 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 bunches medium-sized asparagus, tough bottom portion of stems trimmed off
Coarse salt, such as kosher, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano cheese
1. Adjust one oven rack to bottom position, the other rack to a position about 6 inches below broiler element. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread asparagus out on large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil. Use clean hands to roll asparagus in oil to coat the entire surface. Arrange so that asparagus is in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt. Roast on bottom rack until tender-crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes (time depends on thickness of asparagus).
2. Remove from oven and turn on broiler. Top asparagus with the cheese; place on top rack in oven over the broiler. Broil until cheese is browned and asparagus is tender but not squishy.cathythomascookslogoModified

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Shaker Salad with just-right salty-sweet elements to make it irresistible

I love Giada’s Shaker Salad.

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Limp greens and soggy veggies are often the fate of a made-ahead salad destined for the lunchbox. In Giada De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook, “Happy Cooking,” she provides a shaker jar strategy. Chill. Shake. Enjoy.

Start with a wide-mouth quart-size jar.

Giada’s Shaker Salad
Yield: 1 serving
1 tablespoon store-bought hummus
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup canned black-eyed peas, rinsed, drained
1/3 cup red seedless grapes, halved
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1 cup chopped radicchio or shredded green cabbage
1 cup loosely packed chopped romaine lettuce, about 2 leaves
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
1. In small bowl, whisk hummus, juice, oil and salt. Pour dressing into bottom of a wide-mouth quart-size jar or sealable container. On top of dressing layer: peas, grapes, celery, feta, radicchio or cabbage, romaine and almonds. Seal and refrigerate up to 6 hours.
2. When ready to eat, shake the jar to coat and mix the entire salad in the dressing.
Source: adapted from “Happy Cooking” by Giada De Laurentiis (Pam Krauss Books, $35.00)

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Sweet-Tart Kiwi Sorbet: Small portions or large, it’s an alluring treat

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Kiwi Sorbet can be prepared in either in a standard freezer, but is best made in a machine specifically made for making ice creams (it’s lighter and fluffier that way).

I have a simple machine that uses a chilled canister;  I store the canister in the freezer so it is ready when I need it.

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If you like, accompany a hearty scoop with a crisp cookie.  Or, it’s fun to serve one or two tiny scoops in shot glasses; they are perfect as diminutive treats at the end of a big meal where a larger dessert might seem like a too-much finale. Here is the simple recipe:

Kiwi Sorbet
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
5 kiwi
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 egg white (optional for standard freezer method), see cook’s notes
Optional garnish: 6 sprigs fresh mint
Cook’s notes: When making sorbet in a standard freezer, a small portion of raw egg white added to the sorbet improves its texture.
1. Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, gently shaking the handle occasionally to distribute and dissolve sugar; boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool sugar syrup mixture to room temperature.
2. Peel and slice kiwi fruit and puree in food processor fitted with the metal blade. Measure 1/2 of sugar syrup mixture and add to kiwi.
3. Add lemon juice and process until blended.Now you have the choice of two different methods of making the sorbet.

Procedure in ice cream machine: Process kiwi mixture according to manufacturer’s directions.

Procedure in standard freezer: Pour mixture into shallow pan and place in freezer. Freeze until almost hard. Break up sorbet and process in food processor fitted with the metal blade until smooth. Add egg white and return the mixture to the freezer until it is the consistency desired.

Presentation: Scoop into stemmed glass and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Serve with an assortment of good quality cookies.

Yield: Makes 12 tiny scoops or 6 large scoops.

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Roche Harbor, Dungeness Crab Paradise

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Dungeness crab tastes sweeter at Leigh and Judy Ross’ summer home in Roche Harbor, an idyllic spot on San Juan Island off the Washington State coast. It sits along the Haro Strait close to the Canada–United States border.

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During our stay last summer, those chilly clear-blue waters provided us with a generous harvest of wiggling crabs – Dungeness beauties with pink, succulent flesh.

Just-trapped and cleaned, they were ready for our boiled crab feast.

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Leigh Ross is no stranger to shellfish cookery. Long ago he owned and operated a seafood shack in Brandon, Vermont. Clams and fries were the specialty at his place, but an entree of boiled crab was also on the menu.

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He is adamant about what he considers the proper way to clean crabs, contending that his technique makes the crab meat tastier, edged with a lovely sweetness – both in taste and aroma. Working on the dock next to his mooring, he concentrates on one crab at a time, first stabbing with a sharp pointed knife for a quick kill (yes, this prevents those frisky claws from wrecking havoc).  Next he cleverly uses the cleat on the dock for leverage to pull off the carapace, in the end yielding two chest-leg halves. Those halves are washed with a power hose to make them clean as a whistle.

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(Note: Julia Child used a lot of words explaining how to remove a crab’s carapace by hand in “Mastering The Art of French Cooking Volume Two.” Guess she didn’t have any dock cleats.)

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Have a look at the video; Leigh is cooking the crab in a big pot set atop the barbecue on the balcony (yes, the view is spectacular – lanky pine trees frame bobbing boats moored in the azure waters). The boiling water used to cook the crabs is augmented with Old Bay seasoning and sea salt.

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“Covered and cooked for fifteen minutes does the trick,” Leigh explained to pal Marcia Kay Radelet. 

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Judy cooked the sides and made a delicious blueberry pie with local berries for dessert. Mmmmm.

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Pickled Summertime: All In Good Brine

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QUICK-PICKLED – “REFRIGERATOR FRUIT PICKLES”: No steaming water bath or hours spent in a hot kitchen laboring with knife work.

Quick pickling is fast and easy.

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Refreshing and unbelievably simple to do, summer fruit tastes delicious pickled this way.

Some suggestions …

*They make a tangy cocktails; use as a garnish or muddle with gin, fresh lime juice and simple syrup – serve on the rocks and garnish with mint. pickledstrawberriesCockCrop

*Use in an arugula or spinach salad topped with shaved Pecorino or baked disks of goat cheese coated with bread crumbs. pickledstrawberrrysalad

*Serve on a charcuterie platter with assorted cheeses and meats (such as prosciutto and salami).

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*For a sundae with sweet-sour surprise, spoon some over or under coconut ice cream or chocolate sorbet.

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*Pickled grapes are delicious served with pork or duck.

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*Serve atop crostini or crackers spread with a little soft garlic-herb cheese or goat cheese.

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Quick-Pickled Strawberries
Yield: one-quart jar
1 pound ripe but firm strawberries, hulled, halved if extremely large
1 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1  tablespoon kosher salt
2/3 cup water
1. Place strawberries in a clean 1-quart heatproof jar. Bring vinegar, sugar, salt and water to boil in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Pour over strawberries. Cool; cover and refrigerate.
2. They are delicious for 5 days, but I like them best after 2 days. They aren’t harmful after 5 days, but they start to turn pale and can get squishy. Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

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Pickled Grapes
Yield: about 3 cups
2 3/4 cups seedless red and/or green grapes
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt (you may find that you want them saltier)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 small garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
Leaves from 1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig
Optional: pinch dried red chili flakes
1. Pack grapes into clean 1-quart heatproof jar. Pour vinegar and water into saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat; add salt, sugar, garlic rosemary and chili flakes (if using). Bring to simmer and stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Simmer 1 minute. Pour over grapes, adding enough brine to cover grapes (transfer any rosemary or garlic to the grapes if they didn’t make it to the jar).
2. Cover tightly; shake to distribute seasonings. Uncover and cool. Cover again and refrigerate 5 days. Adapted from Wall Street Journal.

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Luscious Layered Panna Cotta, Eye Candy from Chef David Rossi

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Chocolate Panna Cotta layered with raspberry and passion fruit “jellies.”

David Rossi, award-winning executive pastry chef at The Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim, triumphs long before dessert arrives. Served at the start, his puffed-to perfection, piping hot popovers accompanied with house-made jam, show off his skill and attention to detail.

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The dessert finales reaffirm Rossi’s expertise. Some are classics, his versions augmented with unique twists to make them better than traditional renditions. His sticky toffee pudding saddles up with cream cheese ice cream. Crème brulee doesn’t stand alone; it’s teamed with scrumptious seasonal madeleines, shell shaped cake-like cookies, his far more attention-grabbing than most.

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Other offerings showcase sweets that are whimsical yet seriously alluring. His Milky Way Chocolate Bars, and the Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars (with caramelized banana ice cream) are two examples.

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So visually stunning, it is a joyful surprise to taste the irresistible flavors that his painterly presentations present.

One of my favorites is his panna cotta, a light silky egg custard made rich with high-quality cacao-rich dark chocolate. I was thrilled when he consented to show me each step of its preparation.

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Layering it in glasses, he adds colorful stripes of both raspberry and passion fruit “jellies.” Beautiful and luscious, he often prepares these portable wonders for large parties and weddings, adding a topping of crunchy chocolate crumbs for textural constant. Petite raspberry meringue drops crown each dessert, as well as a leaf or two of micro sorrel.

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For me, another reason why I love this panna cotta is because it can be prepared a couple of days in advance and refrigerated. But I admit that for home use, I greatly simplify it.

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At-home simplification!

I use just the chocolate panna cotta and serve it in shot glasses topped with fresh blueberries and blackberries, plus tiny mounds of whipped cream.  But watch the master at work in the video. He is truly a dessert artist.

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Chocolate perfectionist: Rossi spent a week last fall on cacao plantations and dairies in Equator to research chocolate. He sampled the beans right out of the pods, discovering that the very sweet and floral membrane looks much like litchi fruit.

Homework: At home in Huntington Beach he studies and experiments with techniques and flavor profiles.  His dabbling includes pickling, preserving, canning and making bacon.

The Competition: His favorite restaurant (other than The Ranch) is Napa Rose. He worked there prior to The Ranch Restaurant and says that Executive Chef Andrew Sutton taught him myriad skills, including paying close attention to details. He met his wife of eight years, Erika, while working there.

Tipples: IPA style beer is his choice for the moment. Sculpin from Ballast Point Brewing Company in San Diego is a favorite.

David Rossi’s Layered Panna Cotta
Yield: about 8 (12-ounce) glasses
Chocolate Panna Cotta:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
150 grams (about 1 cup) chopped dark chocolate (65 to 73 percent cacao preferred)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 sheets bronze gelatin sheets, see cook’s notes
1/3 cup sour cream
Passion Fruit “Jelly”:
4 sheets bronze gelatin sheets, see cook’s notes
1 cup concentrated passion fruit puree, see cook’s notes
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Raspberry “Jelly”:
1 cup raspberry puree, see cook’s notes
1 cup water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 sheets bronze gelatin sheets, see cook’s notes
Optional garnishes: chocolate crumbs (see cook’s notes), tiny raspberry meringue drops, dots of passion fruit puree and micro sorrel leaves
Cook’s notes: Fruit purees and gelatin sheets are sold online and at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa. Chef makes the chocolate crumbles from scratch, but for an easy version  place half of a 9-ounce box of Famous Chocolate Wafers (plain chocolate cookies), about 18, in food processor; process until coarsely ground. Add 2 tablespoons soft butter; pulse until combined. Spread out on rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of coarse salt. Bake in 350-degree oven until crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool.
1. Prepare panna cotta: In medium saucepan combine milk, cream and sugar; place on medium heat. Stirring frequently, heat until hot to dissolve sugar (mixture needs to be hot enough to melt gelatin and chocolate, but shouldn’t boil). Meanwhile, place gelatin sheets in bowl of cold water.
2. Place chocolate in bowl. Pour hot milk mixture over chocolate and stir with a whisk to melt chocolate. Stir in sour cream. Add drained gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool.
3. Prepare passion fruit jelly: Place gelatin sheets in cold water; set aside. In a medium-large saucepan, place passion fruit puree, water and sugar. On medium-high heat, stirring frequently, heat until hot (but not boiling). Add drained gelatin sheets; off heat, stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool.
4. Prepare raspberry fruit jelly: Use same procedure as passion fruit jelly, substituting raspberry puree. Set aside to cool.
5. Using 12-ounce clear glasses pour a layer of panna cotta in each glass; chill until firm. Add a layer of passion fruit jelly; chill until firm. Add another layer of panna cotta; chill until firm. Add a layer of raspberry jelly; chill until firm. Add another layer of panna cotta; chill until firm. Chef David Rossi tops each with crunchy chocolate crumbs, tiny raspberry meringue “drops,” tiny dots of passion fruit puree and sorrel microgreens. For an easier at-home approach, top with fresh berries and a little whipped cream.
Source: David Rossi, executive pastry chef, The Ranch Restaurant, Anaheim

Thanks to Curt Norris, videographer and photographer,  for your wonderful work!-

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Blackberries and fresh sweet cherries have such complimentary flavor profiles.

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Bing (bright red to mahogany red) is most common variety in the marketplace, but others such as Rainiers (yellow with a red blush) can be substituted. The easiest and least messy way to remove the seeds is to use a cherry pitter. The gadget works something like a scissor-style paper punch with a shaft that pushes the pit out.

Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Blackberries and Mint
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 cup sugar or agave syrup
2 (2-inches wide) strips of orange zest or tangerine zest, colored portion of peel
1 1/2 pounds fresh sweet cherries, pitted, halved
1/2 pound whole blackberries
Optional: 2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
3/4 cup plain fat free Greek-style yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
Optional garnish: 8 sprigs of fresh mint
1. In a large saucepan (not aluminum) combine wine, sugar and strips of zest. Bring to simmer on medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cherries and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until cherries are just barely tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. When lukewarm, add blackberries and mint, if using. Gently toss.
2. In small bowl, stir yogurt and honey until combined.
3. Divide cherry-berry mixture into 8 small bowls. Top with dollop of yogurt mixture. If desired, garnish each serving with a small sprig of mint. From “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas

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