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Lover’s Point Beach in Monterey, CA

Summer is in full swing and we’ve been exploring the beautiful sites around the northern California coast. We made it out to Monterey to meet up with some friends from back home and took a long walk up Lover’s Point Beach. It was breathtaking. I love the weather on the northern coasts, not too hot and the breeze smells amazing. We sampled chowder on the wharf, ate soft-shelled crab sandwiches, and marveled at the gigantic sea lions piled up on each other on the beach. How do the ones on the bottom breath???

We’ve also been going to Chico, CA about once a month for my husband’s work. I really love that town. It’s surrounded by farm country and the produce out there is gorgeous. For such a small town, they have amazing eats. I haven’t had a bad meal out there and a lot of that has to do with access to fresh, seasonal, local produce.

Another great thing about summer? Strawberries. I love strawberries. They are such beautiful red gems of deliciousness and we’re right in the middle of the season. A sea of strawberry cartons cover most tables at the farmer’s market and you can smell them as  you walk by. They all look so perfect and enticing. And apparently there are lots of different kinds of strawberries. I remember buying some strawberries at a market in Paris and they were so different. They were very delicate and almost foamy when you bit into them. Despite the lacey texture, they were very flavorful.

Strawberries in Chico

Strawberries in Chico

Strawberries at the Farmer’s Market in Chico, CA

During the summer, foodgawker and my blog reader are clogged with strawberry desserts, cakes, ice creams and even salads. A big trend I’ve noticed lately is the combination of strawberries and balsamic. I haven’t tried that combo yet but I’m super curious. My absolute favorite way to eat strawberries is Strawberries Romanoff, I have no idea what the history of this dish is but it’s very unique and delicious. You take fresh strawberries, dip them in sour cream then in brown sugar……. I am drooling right now!

I attempted a Japanese spongecake recipe and it turned out pretty good. Although, I had to tinker with it because I didn’t have the right size cake pan and I had to make enough for a group of up to 10. As many of you more experienced bakers know, tinkering with baking recipes is to be done at your own peril. I ended up with a huge sponge cake but it was pretty delicious. And I learned what stabilized whipped cream is. Stabilized whipped cream is a must for any cake served in the summer! It doesn’t melt in the heat! If you’d like to tackle the recipe for Japanese sponge cake, it can be found on a blog called lafujimama.com. It’s a pretty simple recipe but make sure you have an 8″ cake pan for the perfect thickness!

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Japanese style spongecake with stabilized whipped cream

I have also run across a recipe for the best dessert so far this summer. Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry sauce. It’s an Ina Garten recipe but in the original recipe, she uses that popular combo of strawberries and balsamic vinegar. I was going to make this for dinner with a guest and wasn’t sure how that adventurous combination would go over so I just made a simple strawberry sauce instead. The panna cotta was delicious and got raves from my hubs and our guest but I wasn’t satisfied with the texture. It was too soft for me. I made it again and added more gelatin. I like the results better.

The great thing about this recipe is that it can be prepared the day before and is better the longer you let it sit. It’s also a very pretty dessert. I really wanted to find pretty glass brandy snifters to serve it in but ran out of time.

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Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry sauce. See? Isn’t it gorgeous?

I still have some strawberries and cream left. I may just make this again. If you make Ina’s recipe with the balsamic strawberries, please report back with your results! I’d love to know. Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce

Panna Cotta adapted from Ina Garten

You will need 4 small bowls or juice glasses. Makes  4 6 oz. servings

For the panna cotta:

1 1/2 teaspoons of unflavored granulated gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

1 1/2 cups heavy cream divided in half

1 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped into a bowl

1/3 cup sugar

For the strawberry sauce:

1 cup strawberries, hulled and finely chopped by hand or in a food processor

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

Extra thinly sliced strawberries and mint sprigs for garnish.

 

Place 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle in gelatin. Stir and let the gelatin dissolve for 10 mins.

In the meantime, whisk together 3/4 of a cup heavy cream, yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Put the other 3/4 of cup heavy cream in a saucepan with 1/3 cup sugar over medium-low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer. Don’t let it boil or the cream will begin to cook and get lumpy. Remove the heated cream from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir to fully dissolve.

Slowly and carefully pour the warm cream mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture. Stir to combine. I try to stir the mixture as I’m pouring it in to help it temper. Pour the final mixture into 4 small bowls, ramekins or juice glasses. Chill in the refrigerator, uncovered until cold through. Once they are completely chilled, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Make strawberry sauce ahead of serving it. Let it cool to at least room temperature before putting it on the panna cotta. Put strawberries, sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let simmer for 15 mins. Remove from heat and let cool.

To serve, top panna cotta with fresh, sliced strawberries, and spoon strawberry sauce over berries. Garnish with a little mint, if you like.

 

 

 

 

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Several years ago I found this amazing tomato sauce recipe that was so simple it was deceiving how good it was. The woman and chef behind this amazing sauce was quite a character in the culinary world. She was the chain-smoking, opinionated, Italian alternative during Julia Child’s skyrocketing fame and she was amazing. The more I find about about her the more enamored I become of her, her cooking, and her approach to food. Marcella Hazan passed away just last year but she had such an effect on how Americans cook and eat Italian food; even if you’d never heard of her, you probably cook things a certain way because of her. Here’s a great NY Times article, written shortly after her death.

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is the most requested item in our house and one of the most versatile sauces I’ve ever encountered.  I call it 3 ingredient sauce and it’s beautiful. It’s so simple in it’s makings but the purest, most delicious, perfect tomato flavor. When I made it for my husband while we were dating he began requesting it and soon we had it at least once a week. I wouldn’t go so far as to credit this 3 ingredient sauce for our marriage but it certainly helped.:)

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Homemade margherita pizza with 3 Ingredient Sauce

This sauce makes for a really easy dinner too. As the sauce cooks you can saute chicken or veggies and cook the pasta. When that’s all done, the sauce will be ready. I’ve also made big batches of this sauce and frozen it for later.

Surprisingly, I can’t find photos of me cooking the sauce but it’s such an easy sauce I really don’t think you need a play by play. I prepare it a little differently than the recipe I found on a blog called SteamyKitchen.com. The original recipe instructs you to halve an onion and when the sauce is done cooking, to remove it. I like to thinly slice the onion and leave it in the sauce. It makes for a chunkier, heartier sauce. I also use unsalted butter so I can control my salt intake. So, technically it’s a 4 ingredient tomato sauce but if you were to use salted butter, it would be 3.

I do however have pics of what I’ve use the sauce for. I bowl of pasta with this sauce is super comforting but I’ve also put it on pizzas, zucchini pasta, used in in lasagna, simmered shrimp in it, poached eggs in it and eaten it with just scraps of bread when I’ve run out of pasta. It’s that good.

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Old Bay dusted shrimp with 3 Ingredient sauce over zucchini noodles

So without further adieu, Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce:

1 28 oz. can of whole or diced tomatoes with juices (San Marzano tomatoes are best for this recipe)

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, peeled and halved (I like a chunkier sauce so I thinly slice my onion)

Salt

Combine the tomatoes and juices, butter and onion in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, uncovered for 45 mins. Stir occasionally and use the back of a wooden spoon to smash any large pieces of tomato. Taste and add salt as needed.

When the sauce is done cooking, you can discard the onion if you halved it. This recipe makes enough sauce for 1 lb. of pasta.

Sooooooooo gooooooood.