Friday, April 19, 2019

Springtime Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Nielsen Massey Vanillas

I've always heard that panna cotta is the lazy chef's fancy dessert. You'll see this thick, creamy, molded custard dessert on menus quite often, mostly because it requires very little cooking or baby sitting. Just heat, mix, and leave it in the fridge. Lazy or not, I love it. I am an unrepentant dairy addict, so if you offer me something creamy, most likely I'm gonna be ok with it.

This year, I have promised myself to be more adventurous when cooking at home and try things I've never done before, so I decided it was time to give the panna cotta a go. Now, the secret to making a perfect panna cotta is having a perfect base recipe to layer flavors on top of. That's one of the reasons this dessert is one of my favorites; it's versatility. It can be fruity, it can be chocolaty, it can be floral, it can be boozy, or any combination one could dream of.

When I started to build my panna cotta recipe, I knew immediately that I wanted to flavor the base with Nielsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. This stuff is a staple in my baking cabinet, mostly because it adds the touch of those little vanilla speckles that always make a dessert feel more elevated. They even recently released a new version of the Vanilla Bean Paste, made with Tahitian vanilla, which carries fruity and floral notes (as opposed to the Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste, which is more rich and creamy in flavor).

Since my vanilla of choice was a little more on the fruity side, I chose to make my first ever panna cotta a passion fruit panna cotta. Instead of making my own passion fruit curd, I opted for one I already knew was great, but maybe next time I'll be brave enough to try making one from scratch!

I was almost shaking when I un-molded my little rounds of creamy goodness for the first time, but they turned out PERFECTLY! Fruity, floral, just a touch of sourness, and a silky smooth texture that makes you never want to stop eating them. Don't like passion fruit? You can literally use this base recipe with any kind of flavor! Fruit jams, infused syrups, spice blends... the possibilities are literally endless!

Passion Fruit Panna Cotta

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup passion fruit curd
2 tablespoons Nielsen Massey Tahitian Vanilla Bean Paste
1 envelope un-flavored gelatin
2 tablespoons any sweet white wine (can also use white grape juice)

Add two tablespoons of white wine to a small sauce pan and sprinkle gelatin over the surface of the liquid. Leave to bloom.

Add heavy cream, half and half, and sugar to a medium sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a soft boil, then take off the heat. Add in the passion fruit curd and the vanilla bean paste and whisk slowly to combine.

Heat wine and gelatin mixture over a medium heat. Remove immediately once gelatin is completely dissolved. Very slowly, pour the gelatin mixture into the cream mixture while whisking. Once everything is combined, pour into small ramekins (should fill about 4-8, depending on size). Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour (over night is best).

To un-mold, unwrap the ramekins and run a thin knife blade along the edge. Dip them into a bowl of hot water for a few seconds, then invert them onto a plate. Garnish with fresh berries and serve.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

35 Last Minute Chicago Easter Brunch Spots 2019

Neighborhood Favorites
Tried and true brunch destinations, all featuring super special dishes on their Easter brunch menus.

Chicago Q, Gold Coast
Bar Roma, Andersonville
Cantina Laredo, River North, all entrees include a complimentary mimosa or bloody maria
Ocean Prime, The Loop
The Albert, Gold Coast
Broken Barrel, Lincoln Park
Tuscany Restaurants, Little Italy 
Weber Grill, River North, Lombard, Schaumburg
True Food Kitchen, River North
Imperial Lamian, River North
Eden, West Loop
Virtue, Hyde Park

Fun for the Whole Family
These spots feature fun activities to keep the more energetic members of the family happy while everyone gets a chance to chow down. From pictures with the Easter Bunny himself, to face painting and egg hunts, these are great options for families large and small.

Blue Door Farm StandLincoln Park, a la carte
I|O at The Godfrey, River North, buffet, $39 per adult
The Signature RoomThe Loop, buffet, $80 per adult
Travelle at The Langham, River North, buffet, $175 per adult
Punch Bowl SocialWest Loop, a la carte featuring special menu items
The FlorentineThe Loop, a la carte featuring special menu items
Burnham's at Eaglewood Resort and SpaItasca, buffet, $48.95 per adult
The Estate by Gene and GeorgettiRosemont, buffet, $52 per adult, includes a complimentary brunch cocktail

Best Bet Buffets
Buffets are always the easiest choice for large groups and picky eaters. Here's some of the best on offer for all types of budgets.

La Storia Ristorante, Gold Coast, $55 a person (additional for unlimited mimosas)
ETA Restaurant + BarStreeterville $45 per adult
The AshburnRosemont $25 per adult
Acadia, South Loop $95 per adult
SundaRiver North $60 per person
Prairie Grass CafeNorthbrook $53 per adult
The Chicago FirehouseSouth Loop $59 per adult
Tortoise ClubRiver North $69 per adult
Hubbard InnRiver North $50 per adult, includes unlimited mimosas and bloody marys
Parlay at Joy DistrictRiver North, $50 per adult, includes mimosas
Tuscany Restaurant, Wheeling, buffet, $42.95 per adult

Perfect Prix Fixes
Perfect for the indecisive, these prix fixes will allow you to just show up, order a cocktail, and let the chefs do all the rest of the work for you. 

Eddie V's, The Loop, three course prix fixe, $49 per adult
III ForksEast Lakeshore, prix fixe for $45 per adult, includes one cocktail, bread service, and an entree (a la carte menu is also available)
Artango Bar and SteakhouseLincoln Square, 3 course prix fixe, $35 per adult