Friday, February 20, 2009

//Jentacular, jentacular! Morning meals can truly be spectacular.


Question: If one eats yogurt panna cotta first thing in the morning, does that cancel out the negative effects of the dish's purported heart-damaging ingredients? My reasoning is that since it's a.) breakfast, the most important meal of the day; and b.) the main ingredient is yogurt, it can't be that bad for you. No, you say? What about if one adds homemade granola that's rich in soluble fiber from oats, chock full of heart-healthy fats from nuts, and has antiviral/antifungal properties from ginger and coconut? Maybe? Yes, please?

Regardless, yogurt panna cotta has become one of my favorite alternative breakfast meals. It is particularly rich, so I don't eat it with abandon like I might eat tomatoes right off the vine. First seen and sampled at Everett Street Bistro back in October, I credit this creative spin on the tried and true method of serving up yogurt with breaking me out of a jentacular specific rut that had been going on for six months.

In thinking about something as abstract as the concept "breakfast," various and multiple associations will come to mind. Probably the No. 1 image to pop up for most people are eggs, a favorite for old and young people alike. But you see, unlike most of the population, I am not a card-carrying member of the Egg Appreciation Club (though I do on occasion find myself longing to belong, especially during Sunday brunch, which is when I tend to feel the most left out). Really, it's the yolk of an oeuf that turn me off from omelets, ooey gooey eggs over easy that are so runny the yellows have to be sopped up with crusty bits of toasted wheat bread that's been slathered in velvety whipped butter, bright chilaquiles, and mounds of benedicts.

For the first 15 years of my life I loathed breakfast like a vegan loathes being taken to In 'N' Out by their friends during a late-night food run. Morning meals eaten out with my family were avoided at all costs for the mere reason that I couldn't just have my plate of various sides and eat them too: If I wanted ham, hash browns and toast, I had to order the meal because it was more economical, which meant getting eggs, and eating said eggs. The years of trauma I endured as a consequence of my parents' (well-meant) belief that one ought not to waste food are now behind me; the sensory memories of my drowning the eggs with ketchup, ranch dressing, A1 or maple syrup are now sufficiently repressed enough that I don't gag whenever I think about those Dark Days. Instead of stressing about whether my mother will uncover my secret plan to nonchalantly slip half-chewed scrambled eggs out through my paper napkin, and, oh god, the torture of having to then reeat the now cold, rubbery, glistening with saliva bits as punishment for my tricksiness, now I enjoy breakfast... possibly because being adult also means calling the shots on what you want to eat.

And that's pretty much been the way of things since my mid-teens. My inner chemist recognizes that yolks play a vital supporting role in the creation of many delectable dishes; still, I can't quite bring myself to eat whole eggs by themselves. I wish I could, though, because then I'd feel more in tune with the rest of the world. Until such a day comes, if ever, at least I'll have dishes like my yogurt panna cotta to see me through the mornings.

Yogurt Panna Cotta

* 2 Tbsp water
* 1 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
* 2 cups whipping cream
* 1 1/4 cups yogurt (fat-free, whole milk, regular or Greek; I used fat-free)
* 1/6th of a vanilla bean pod, scraped (or 1 tsp of vanilla extract will do)
* ~ 1/3 cup sugar (I used less sugar than the standard recipe because I don't like sweet yogurt)

Put water into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let stand for 10 minutes or until gelatin softens. In a large bowl combine 1 cup cream, yogurt, and vanilla and whisk until smooth. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine the remaining 1 cup of cream with sugar and bring to a simmer while stirring. Remove from heat, and add softened gelatin. Stir until gelatin dissolves.

Pour the hot cream mixture into the cool yogurt cream mixture and whisk until smooth. Divide the mixture among 6 ramekins, tea cups, or small bowls, pouring 1/2 cup into each. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. You can serve panna cotta right in the ramekins, or invert each ramekin onto a plate. To invert panna cotta, set the ramekins into a pan of hot water for 2 minutes. Make sure the water does not get into the ramekins. Run a knife around the edges of ramekins and invert them onto plates. Remove the ramekins.

Ginger Coconut Granola

This was my first time making granola. The taste buds reported back to me early yesterday morning that I definitely did something right. As a result, I've had to keep the Pyrex class dish containing a week's worth of mix out of sight so I don't eat it all before the weekend's through. If you don't have the time to make it, you can find good granola at the sister Aroma and Alcove Cafes in Los Angeles (it might be made by the La Brea Bakery; I'm not sure). Buster's in Pasadena also gets an enthusiastic nod of approval from moi. Besaw's serves up an amazing variety that's made in house. What I toasted on Tuesday evening is less sweet and more zingy. I also used whatever was already in my cupboard.

* 2 cups old-fashioned oats
* 3/4 cup whole almonds, halved
* 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
* 1/2 cup pecan halves
* 1/2 cup crystallized ginger, diced
* 1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
* 1 teaspoon cardamom
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
* 2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 300°F. Mix first 9 ingredients in large bowl. Melt butter with honey in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Pour over granola mixture and toss well. Spread out mixture on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add dates; mix to separate any clumps. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes longer.


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