Recipe: Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Apricot Gelée

Panna Cotta, an Italian dessert of silky, sweetened cream set with gelatin, is all at once simple, classic and elegant.  It is, at its best, subtle, not overly sweet, and the perfect way to end a meal on a light and refreshing note.
Panna cotta comes together quickly and can be molded in any type of vessels you choose -- from ramekins to demitasse, martini glasses to mason jars.  I like to compliment my panna cotta with a thin layer of gelée -- a gelatin stabilized glaze made from fresh fruit.  Apricots are in season right now, and are bursting with summer sweetness, so I chose to do an apricot gelée.  You can use my recipe with any type of fruit you'd like.  
Here are some photos of panna cottas I've made in the past with a variety of gelées and vessels:
Vanilla Panna Cotta with a Honey Gelée and Bee Pollen
Lemon Panna Cotta, no gelée
Meyer-Lemon Panna Cotta, Strawberry-Rhubarb Gelee

I like to decorate my desserts with edible flowers, especially in summer and springtime. My theme fo…


Happy October! Although it involves my complete resignation to the fact that we're 3/4 of the way through the year, I always greet October with a measure of excitement. Many years ago my husband and I started the tradition of celebrating the arrival of October with a bowl of homemade pumpkin soup on October 1. This year, I have embraced my self-proclaimed title of "foodie" with a bit too much zeal. On a subconcious level I must have been trying to find a very personal way to pay homage to the October "squash of the month". No need for a Halloween costume this year. I already look like a pumpkin.

Of course I've decided to pick October as the month to start a healthier eating program, since there's little temptation in the months ahead (insert canned laughter here). My first assignment ~ transform my traditional "October Celebration Pumpkin Soup" recipe into a "Skinny Pumpkin Soup" recipe without sacrificing flavor, richness, and bowl-lickability!

I won't bore you with too many of the details. I started with the obvious: reduce the amount of butter. I wanted to boost sweetness and body without the use of heavy cream and added sugar. To accomplish this, I used sweet potatoes. Perfect! The natural sugars in the sweet potatoes allowed me to reduce the quantity of honey. I replaced the heavy cream with evaporated milk. These simple changes yielded a rich and creamy soup with good complexity and balance. Unlike a lot of pumpkin soups, this one doesn't taste like liquid pumpkin pie (Ewww!)

If you speak "Weight-Watcher-ease", you can have a large bowl (1.5 cups) of this soup for ONLY 4 POINTS! Now, that's cause to celebrate! Enjoy!

Skinny Pumpkin Soup
Serves 8

1 Tablespoon butter
1 pound sweet potatoes, halved lengthwise, skinny ends trimmed off
2 shallots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed with the blunt end of a knife
48 oz. chicken or vegetable stock
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
3 Tablespoons honey
½ cup evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 350.

On a baking sheet, arrange halved sweet potatoes. Spray both sides with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until fork tender. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard skins. Set aside.

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and sauté until shallots are translucent and garlic pieces begin to brown. Add sweet potatoes and combine with garlic/shallot mixture, breaking up sweet potato as you stir.

Add stock, then whisk to combine. Whisk in pumpkin, salt and spices and bring to a simmer. Simmer on medium- low for 15 minutes, uncovered, whisking periodically to prevent burning on the bottom. Reduce heat to low. Using a stick blender (or transferring soup to a blender or food processor), process until smooth.

Stir in evaporated milk and honey and cook at a low simmer for five more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a dollop of creme fraiche or lowfat sour cream and enjoy.

Serve with a crusty multi-grain bread.

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