Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Guava Sauce

guava-obsession

My love affair with guava continues this week. In pastries, cocktails, cheesecakes, bars, and baked with brie- guava is my jam. Guava and goat cheese panna cotta are like little pastelitos de guayaba con queso without the puff pastry and a little extra ‘je ne sais quoi‘. The goat cheese adds a richer, creamy texture without overpowering the palate, and the bright guava flavor cuts through the tang and shines in your mouth.

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Panna cotta is an easy and practically fool-proof dessert that can be made ahead of time, which is great especially if you’re entertaining. Cream, sugar, and gelatin is all you need to make this classic Italian dessert although my variation uses goat cheese, vanilla bean, and tropical guava. In less than 20 minutes I had six adorable individual desserts ready to pop into the fridge and become silky satin.

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Like Cuban flan, panna cotta is versatile, simple, and it just so happens to be gluten-free (if that matters to you).  Panna cotta’s simplicity allows you to add flavors and get creative with ingredients like coffee, almonds, rosewater, fresh berries, liqueurs, and pretty much any combination you can think of.

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Guava and Goat Cheese Panna Cotta

  • 1 package unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups half and half (1 pint container)
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 4 oz softened goat cheese
  • 1 vanilla bean

Guava Sauce

  • 2 cans guava nectar (or juice) mine were 9 oz each
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • Juice of a lemon wedge

Allow the goat cheese to soften at room temperature. Mix the packet of unflavored gelatin with ¼ cup cold water and allow the gelatin to soften for around 5 minutes or so. Heat the sugar and half and half in a sauce pan over medium heat making sure to stir occasionally. While the milk is steaming, scrape the vanilla bean. I scraped mine on top of the softening gelatin just because I didn’t want to wash another dish. When the milk is steaming and all of the sugar has dissolved turn off the heat and whisk in the softened goat cheese until smooth. Add in the gelatin and vanilla bean. My gelatin turned into a small puck in the ramekin yet quickly dissolved into the goat cheese panna cotta.

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I had enough of the goat cheese panna cotta mixture to fill six individual cups. I allowed them to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes before placing them in my fridge (mainly because my fridge is too tiny and it would have heated up its contents too quickly). If you are blessed with a large fridge pop those suckers in when they’re done and cover them with plastic wrap around an hour later.

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While the goat cheese panna cotta are cooling down and setting start the guava sauce. Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with around ¼ cup of guava nectar and whisked until smooth and set aside. Heat the remaining guava nectar with 2 tablespoons of sugar until it was just simmering. Add the cornstarch guava mix and simmer 5 minutes or so longer until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from the heat and squeeze in the juice of a fresh lemon wedge.

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This made around 2 cups of the guava sauce, although you likely only need a ½ cup or so for this recipe. Pour the guava sauce into smaller individual ramekins to cool and set faster. Once the goat cheese panna cotta has set pour the guava sauce on top. You can allow the guava sauce to set on top or garnish before serving.

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**The guava sauce tasted just like Conchita Guava Marmelade. If you want to take a short cut just spoon this marmalade on top of your goat cheese panna cotta.

 

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Ropa Vieja

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“Old clothes” make me salivate. Ropa vieja is a rustic shredded beef stew that all Cuban kids grew up eating. Ropa vieja is true Cuban comfort food and something my abuela would make weekly. Although named old clothes for its sloppy appearance, ropa vieja is a healthy (-ier) Cuban dish with peppers and onions simmered in tomato sauce, dry white cooking wine, and made with aromatic cumin, oregano, and garlic. My abuela’s ropa vieja was soft and tender flank steak cooked in a whistling pressure cooker with salt and onion. To kill two birds with one stone she would toss in a bag of garbanzo beans to have ready to make garbanzo frito for the next day.

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In her avocado green kitchen with its brassy worn fixtures and original 1970s trash compactor, my abuela fearlessly wielded the pressure cooker. I have always been intimidated by its high-pitched taunting whistle and haven’t dared to use a pressure cooker without her. As it is in my tiny nearly non-existent NYC kitchen I can’t afford to store one more cooking device. So I opted for the longer approach sans demonic pressure cookers.

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My apartment smelled like a Cuban household the instant I started boiling the flank steak. I was reminded how powerfully scent recalls memory as I felt the comfort and love that lingered in the air while the ropa vieja was simmering away.

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Ropa Vieja

  • 5-2 lbs flank steak (falda)
  • 2 qts water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion cut lengthwise
  • ½ green bell pepper
  • 4-6 garlic cloves (or more if they’re tiny)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp salt divided
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1-2 bay leaves (hoja de laurel)
  • ¼ cup dry white cooking wine (vino seco)
  • ½ cup beef stock (from cooking the steak)
  • Olives for garnish (optional)
  • Pimientos for garnish (optional)

Reserve a quarter of the onion to add to the cooking water for the flank steak. I seasoned the water with the quarter onion, chunks of green bell pepper, 3 whole garlic cloves, cumin, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a bay leaf. If using the pressure cooker allow to whistle 40 minutes. OR place in a pot on the stove top and bring water to a boil. Once boiling bring to a low simmer and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours. Add water as needed to avoid the pot from burning. DO NOT cover the pot while the flank steak is cooking and be sure to stir every once in a while so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

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Remove from the remaining beef broth and shred with two forks. I discarded the onion and garlic, but mashed up the green bell with the shredded beef for flavor. I am not crazy about green bell peppers but for some weird reason I do enjoy the flavor it imparts- just not eating pieces of one- if you want extra in yours saute some with the onions when you make the sofrito.

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Once the beef is shredded season with the extra salt and oregano and set aside. Start the sofrito. Slice the rest of the onion and mince the other 2-3 garlic cloves. Sautee the onions in the olive oil until translucent and tender. Add the garlic and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Mix in the shredded flank steak and stir with the dry white cooking wine and tomato sauce. Add the beef stock and stir again. My abuela’s ropa vieja is not as saucy as other varieties, but it is my favorite recipe there is. Simmer the ropa vieja for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. You can add olives in while it is cooking or as a garnish as I did, some people like to use red pimientos for a garnish as well. Serve with white or brown rice and platanos maduros, tostones, or even a fresh banana.

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Gin Lavender Lemonade

stirred-not-shaken

The camphorous delicate buds of the lavender flower are intoxicating. I have been lusting after lavender lately. The soothing scent is familiar yet foreign especially when used culinarily. The restaurant where I work made a lavender panna cotta last season that awakened my taste buds and turned me on to this aromatic herb of love.

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Steeped in simple syrup, the sweet-smelling buds perfumed my entire apartment. The refreshing fragrance calmed and cleansed the air. Lavender reminds me of summertime in Europe. I learned to sit still amidst fat fuzzy bumble bees floundering about my head in Heidelberg. Their whirring wings intimidated me, but I relaxed knowing they were just foraging for sweet pollen.

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At the Union Square Farmers Market, I saw bunches of lavender with the same busy bumble bees bouncing from bud to bud. I bought fresh lavender bunches for décor, and dried lavender online for baking and boozing. I don’t want to inundate you with lavender recipes, but I’m thinking French 75s, lavender mojitos, and gin lavender lemonade- don’t get me started on the baked goods. All I know is in this cold city winter, gin lavender lemonade will make you wish for warmer weather and the buzzing of bumble bees around your head.

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Gin Lavender Lemonade

Serves 4

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (5 large lemons)
  • 8 oz Hendricks (or gin/ vodka of your choice)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp lavender simple syrup (see below)
  • Soda water
  • Lemon twist or Lavender sprig (or both) to garnish

Lavender Simple Syrup

  • 2 tbsp dried lavender buds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Bring the 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and steep the dried lavender buds for 5 minutes. Strain and press the liquid out of the lavender buds (I’m saving the candied lavender buds in an airtight container to use as a garnish for baked goods; bake them at 225F for 15 minutes to dry them out). Allow the lavender simple syrup to cool.

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Juice the lemons (I like to peel the lemons and save the peel to make candied lemon zest or just lemon simple syrup to have on hand!). Mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice with the Hendricks, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 cups water, and 2 tbsp lavender simple syrup. Pour about 4 ounces of the gin lavender lemonade over ice. Top the gin lavender lemonade with soda water (or champagne if you’re feeling boozy) and garnish with a lavender sprig and lemon twist.

lavender-buds

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