One of my pet peeves is how early product commercialization for the winter holidays begins. Just last week, when I walked through the electronic doors of a grocery store, the potent artificial scent of cinnamon pine cones accosted me. These pine cones were prominently on display at the entrance of the store. Why now? Is there really going to be a run on scented pine cones that you need to start selling them in August? I did not see pumpkins for sale, so why are scented pine cones available now? Instead of pine cones, grocery stores should feature the best produce that is in season now, like figs.
I am pushing figs for several reasons, they are delicious, can be prepared for any type of meal, and I believe they are exquisite. In the Northeast US, figs have two short seasons in early summer and in late summer. In places like California, the season extends over the course of the summer. So, get them while you can because they will disappear soon.
Eat them ripe and fresh as is, or serve with any number of cheeses. Figs and cheese are a classic pairing. I particularly enjoy figs with blue cheese or goat cheese. The sweetness of the fig mingles nicely with the sharp flavors of each cheese. Another great pairing is fig jam and brie. Figs are also delicious for dessert in cakes and pastries like an almond and fig tart. Or, make figs for a savory sauce for pork.
I wanted to make an easy and elegant dessert and decided to simmer the figs in a simple syrup with warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and black pepper. Along with the spiced figs, I made a yogurt panna cotta. Together, the figs and panna cotta created an exquisite dessert with creamy, tangy and warm flavors. The silky texture of the panna cotta is so smooth and nicely contrasts with the vivid pink color and warmth of the spices in the sauce. I realize I complained about the cinnamon scented pine cones earlier, but this sauce has a natural cinnamon infusion along with other spices. It has just enough spice for the early fall. What is great about this simple syrup recipe is you can use whatever spices you like. Freshly grated nutmeg, allspice, star anise, thyme, and rosemary are all wonderful choices to infuse this light fig sauce.
Along with the fig sauce, panna cotta is one of the easiest desserts to make and has a lusciously silky texture. My recipe is based on one from Food and Wine magazine. There are no eggs, just cream, yogurt, sugar, and gelatin. You can adjust the flavor of the panna cotta with a number of sweeteners and spices. Because sugar is not important to the structure of panna cotta, it is easy to vary the amount of sugar when you make it. You can adjust the amount depending upon how sweet your sauce or fruit is.
I am always looking for ways to use my homemade yogurt, so I included yogurt in my recipe. If you do not like yogurt, you can use a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream. I have also seen recipes for using goat cheese, yogurt, and milk. Or, use a plant based milk product such as almond or coconut milk. I have read from TheKitchn, that unflavored Vegan Jel by Natural Desserts works very nicely for panna cotta. Currently, Vegan Jel by Natural Desserts is unavailable on Amazon. However, other vegan gelatin alternatives are available. Also, I read Whole Foods carries Vegan Jel. If anyone has used it I would love to know how you like it.
The most difficult thing when making panna cotta is unmolding it from your ramekins or cups. I recommend a ramekin with smooth sides as it is easier to run a knife around the edge. Also recommended, is a light coating of canola or vegetable oil. The oil and a quick dunk in a warm bath will eventually release the panna cotta from the dish to present on a plate. Or, forget about unmolding it and serve it directly in the container you set it in.
Save the scented pine cones for when it is cold enough to build a fire in the fireplace and threatening to snow. Now is the time to set our sights on fresh produce, recently harvested and ripe. Fresh figs are a real treat so get them while you can.
Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta
Yogurt Panna Cotta
- Canola or vegetable oil
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 2 1/4 tsp 7 g
- 2 TB cold water
- 1 cup 250 ml heavy cream
- 1/3 cup 68 g granulated sugar
- 1/2 - 1 tsp real vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean split and seeds scraped
- 1- 17.6 oz 500 g tub Greek yogurt, about 2 cups
- 1/3 cup 36 g walnuts halves
- 1/2 cup 100 g granulated sugar
- 1 cup 250 ml water
- 3 whole cloves
- 1/2 stick cinnamon
- 1- inch 2.54 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
- 3 black peppercorns
- 1/8 tsp anise seed
- 12 fresh figs
Yogurt Panna Cotta
If you are planning to unmold the panna cotta, lightly grease the sides and bottoms of 6 - 1/2 cup (4 oz /125 ml) ramekins. Set aside. No need to do this step if you are keeping the panna cotta in the serving container.
Add the gelatin and 2 Tb cold water to a small bowl. Let the gelatin rest to soften for 5 minutes.
In a small saucepan add the cream, sugar, vanilla or vanilla bean, and bring to a slight simmer Once the sugar is completely dissolved, turn off the heat and add the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is melted.
Pour the yogurt into a medium mixing bowl and whisk out any lumps. If using, remove the vanilla bean. Slowly add the cream into the bowl with the yogurt. Stir, or whisk, as you add the cream to help temper the yogurt.
Once combined, pour the yogurt mixture into the greased 1/2 cup ramekins, or other serving containers and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 3 hours until set. It should look and feel solid with a little bit of jiggle. Once the panna cotta is set, cover each dish with plastic wrap until ready to serve.
Heat an 8-inch (20 cm) skillet over high heat. When the pan is nice and hot, but not smoking, add the walnut pieces and toast until the oil releases. Keep the walnuts in motion, by stirring them or flipping the nuts in the pan like a pro. You will know the walnuts are toasted when you see a slight sheen on the pan’s bottom surface and on your walnuts. Also, the aroma of the walnuts will be slightly more pronounced. Be careful not to burn the walnuts, or they will taste bitter. Remove the walnuts immediately from the skillet to cool.
Add the water and sugar to a saucepan just large enough to fit all the figs. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the spices and simmer for 10 minutes.
Clean and trim the figs. Clean the figs by wiping them gently with a damp cloth. Remove the stems and discard. Add the figs and walnuts to the syrup and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the figs and place on a plate and turn off the heat. Cool the figs and syrup separately so the figs do not fall apart. After 15 minutes or so, strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and add the figs. Serve warm or chilled.
Store the figs in the syrup in the refrigerator in a covered container. They will last for two weeks, covered in the refrigerator.
Assemble the panna cotta and spiced figs
Remove the panna cotta from the ramekins. Run a thin sharp knife around the inside edge of the ramekin. Dip the container into warm water for 10 seconds. Remove the ramekins and place upside down on your serving dish. Tap the sides and top of your ramekins and jiggle them to encourage the panna cotta to slide out. If no movement occurs, dip the ramekin right side up in the warm water again. Try again. Repeat until the panna cotta are all unmolded.
If you are not serving them right away, loosely cover each panna cotta with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Just before serving, spoon the spiced syrup over and around the panna cotta. Arrange the figs and walnuts on top or around the panna cotta and serve.
Use any spice combination you like. Cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom, freshly grated nutmeg, allspice berries, vanilla bean, black peppercorns are all good suggestions. The spices in the simple syrup are subtly blended and not an overpowering taste experience.
I realize not everyone likes yogurt, so substitute the yogurt with 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk. and continue as directed. Any ratio of yogurt, to heavy cream, to half and half, to milk will work if you use the specified amount of gelatin for 3 cups (750 ml) of dairy.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
For Saint Patrick’s Day, I wanted to pay tribute to my husband’s Irish heritage by posting a blog about stout floats. It wasn’t just any old stout float. A new microbrewery called Broken Bow in Tuckahoe NY, produced a stout that we have a small world connection to. It just so happens this brewery is in the hometown of my mother-in-law. Yet, not just in her hometown, but right around the corner of her childhood home. Brewed in the chocolate coffee stout are 5 types of chili peppers. By coincidence, 4 of 5 chili peppers are grown on farms in Yorktown, where we live. Hell Hath No Fury is the name of the stout. Unfortunately, it is a seasonal beer for the fall.
Yet, even if I could not make a direct home front connection, I was determined to write a post about beer floats. I can still honor my mother in law and her family and use Guinness Extra Stout. After all, Guinness is brewed in the Grogan and Begg families motherland. So, Guinness Float it is. The funny thing is, I don’t believe I have seen Agnes drink beer let alone stout. Nor, for that matter, have I seen her mother drink beer. It is the thought that counts, right?
I never enjoyed a Guinness Float before I went on this adventure. Also, it is only fair to admit that I am not a big stout drinker. However, my son is educating me about all kinds of beer in hopes that I will expand my repertoire. At first, I wasn’t sure if mixing the very bitter and malty stout with creamy vanilla sweetness would work. However, upon my first sip, I was pleasantly surprised. The two are really a great combo. I used to believe that there was nothing better than a root beer float, especially on a hot summer afternoon. Guinness float is giving my old favorite some competition.
The milky creaminess of vanilla ice cream works wonderfully with the malty bitterness of Guinness Stout. Please don’t feel like you need to be a stickler to just one type of ice cream. We also tried coffee ice cream, and a combination of the two. I am sure chocolate ice cream would taste great as well. You could also change-up the flavor by using different stouts. I have a chocolate hazelnut stout I am curious to try. The possibilities are endless.
My life changing discovery is the stout simple syrup I found on The Food Network website. The Hearty Boys on the Food Network came up with this idea. Oh man, it is like a malt caramel syrup. I added some chili powder that has a bright heat flavor. I used a chili powder we received as a gift. All we know about it is, it is from Pakistan, but it is incredible. Adding the ground chili to the stout syrup had an amazing effect. I recommend adding your favorite chili powder if you don’t mind a little heat. I am not embarrassed to say, that I kept sneaking over and tasting it by the spoonful. Stout syrup is also delicious drizzled over a bowl of ice cream. Add it to chocolate syrup and you will get an amazing chocolate experience.
A couple of weeks ago I began my journey learning about Irish cuisine. It may have originated through the backdoor of a pub, but I have vicariously traveled out to the green pastures and coast of Ireland during my exploration. One day I hope to visit Ireland in person and enjoy the landscape, people and culture. Until that time, I will continue to be inspired by its cuisine. Cheers!
How to make Guinness Float, 2 ways
Guinness floats are just like root beer floats, but it is an adult beverage. Adding the ingredients together can either go smoothly or cause an eruption. No matter which method you choose, add half the bottle first then let everything settle down. Once you know everything is calm slowly add more beer, or ice cream.
Each way produces a slightly different float. Both are equally delicious.
- Add the ice cream in the glass, then slowly pour in the beer. This sequence will produce a more blended stout float. You can also get more ice cream this way. It is important to pour the stout slowly pausing periodically to let settle and not cause it to overflow.
- Pour the Guinness just over half way up in your glass. Then carefully add one scoop of ice cream on top of the stout. Let it rest to see how the ice cream will displace the stout. If wanted, carefully add another scoop of ice cream. This sequence will create a float with more of a delineation between stout and ice cream. You will also have more stout than ice cream. You can slowly add more ice cream and/or stout until you reach your desired amount. Careful it will overflow if you work too fast or pour in too much beer.
Full disclaimer, this is not a sponsored post.
- 2 scoops Vanilla ice cream
- Guinness syrup
- 1- 12 oz bottle Guinness Extra Stout or your favorite stout
Guinness Simple Syrup
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1-12 oz bottle Guinness Extra Stout
- pinch of red chili powder optional
In a large tumbler glass add one scoop of ice cream. Drizzle a tablespoon of the stout syrup over the ice cream. Add another scoop of ice cream and stout syrup. Hold the ice cream filled glass at a 45-degree angle and carefully pour the stout into the glass. Make sure the stout eases into the glass by pouring the stout so it glides down the inner side of the glass. Pour until the stout fills the glass about halfway up and let the stout settle for a bit. Carefully pour more stout in the glass, pausing every now and then to make sure it does not overflow. You will not use the whole bottle of stout for your float. Add stout until it reaches close to the top of the glass. Enjoy.
Open a bottle of Guinness and let it rest on the counter for 15 minutes to lose some of the carbonation. Add the sugar and the Guinness to a medium saucepan. Turn the heat to medium high and bring the liquid mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and stir the mixture to help the sugar dissolve. (Optional) Add a small pinch of your favorite hot red pepper chili powder to the syrup. Cook the syrup down until it gets syrupy and has reduced, about 15-25 minutes. Once it has thickened and reduced, turn off the heat and set aside to cool. Keep in a glass container with a tight sealed lid.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.