Friday, February 12, 2010

Blood Orange Panna Cotta

In relation to my number of years on Earth, I have probably worked more jobs than anyone else you know. I'll provide just a few examples. Upscale stationary shop girl. Nanny. Celebrity interviewer. Envelope stuffer. Makeup artist. Lecturer on random topics. Law office helper girl. Movie and TV extra and stand-in. Newsroom intern. Workout place counter girl. Proofreader of office supply catalogs. The list is insane and endless. Now, to be clear, this does not mean that I am a workaholic--no, far from it. My wacky patchwork of a resume absolutely comes from the sometimes practically negative length of time spent at each place. Apparently, for quite some time I reversed the old adage to say, "Winners always quit".

In truth, I didn't quit every single job flippantly. No, each quitting would have me all wound up with ulcer-level angst in the days leading up to it. As much as I may have wanted to leave each job, I never really wanted to let anyone down. Except for the time I left a job in the fashion of asking to be fired. I'd been trying to let them down for months.

They'd even issued me a corporate "Back on Track" plan, a document which encouraged me to stop letting them down by a certain date lest I be fired, which only made me try to let them down harder. And at the expiry date of the "Back on Track" plan, they still didn't fire me, so I was forced to point out the calendar date to my manager and inform her that it was clearly time to fire me. Which she did, after a very, very long and befuddled pause. True story.

There was also the time I was fired without my knowing. This was in college, a part-time job that had me calling up a recurring list of delightfully chatty old people and asking them to donate their blood for their platelets. I actually really liked that job, so much so that I was there right up until Spring Break. My boss, a no B.S. type named Judy, asked when my school break was, I told her. Done annnnd done, right? Um, not quite.

I left town for a week for vacation, blissfully unaware that she'd scheduled me for extra hours since I wouldn't have classes that week. Apparently they had a rule that if you didn't show up for work for three days without calling, you were automatically fired. Which I found out when I showed up all tanned and ready to work the Monday after Spring Break and was informed that I'd been fired three days earlier. Further evidence that college students don't actually live in the Real World, even if they have a part-time job in it. I was all, "Hel-lo, Judy! It was my Spring Break!" Ha. That one still makes me laugh.

But there was one job that will always hold a special place in my heart and on my demented resume. And no, I'm not talking about motherhood (a job that's schooled my quitter behind in reality--there's no way I can get outta this gig). Several months before moving to San Francisco, with my pre-motherhood pluck and a whole lot of emphasis on my food and recipe obsession and writing background, I landed the most amazing opportunity to write recipes for Joe's Restaurant in Venice, California. Had my ambitious, brilliant and almost annoyingly successful husband not gotten a job that moved us up to San Francisco later that year, I'm sure I'd still be there at Joe's in the late afternoons, all scrappy for hours so I could experience the energy and artistry of the place, learning volumes about food, wine and the amazing dishes they turn out of that tiny, Michelin-starred kitchen.

When I left Joe's, I made sure to take note of a few recipes that I'd bookmarked among the hundreds of splattered, crinkled pages in the restaurant's archives. I could prattle on all day about the fabulous savory dishes at Joe's, but some of the desserts would probably make you cry with joy. I've been wanting to tell you about this Blood Orange Panna Cotta recipe for ages, and with my citrus obsession in full swing, it's the perfect time to finally get to it. That, and the fact that Valentine's Day is right around the corner and this would be the absolutely perfect button on a romantic meal a deux, or even just pour un, because you're worth it.

Panna cotta is one of my very favorite desserts, even though it amounts to little more than gelled cream. So simple, so right. The addition of the bright, sweet-tart juice of blood oranges really makes the dish here. And the color, people! The color! So beautiful. I served mine with a little extra dollop of unsweetened whipped cream because, you know, more is more, and could not have felt better about the whole experience. Oh Blood Orange Panna Cotta, I wish I knew how to quit you.

Blood Orange Panna Cotta
Loosely adapted from Joe's Restaurant in Venice, California

Serves 4

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
3 tablespoons cold water
1 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl and let soften for five minutes.

Pour the blood orange juice into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce by half, about five minutes. Pour the reduction into a small bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

Give the saucepan a quick rinse and dry and set it back on the stove. In it, place the cream and sugar and warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, just until it begins to simmer--do not boil. Meanwhile, heat the softened gelatin in the microwave on high heat until it's melted, about 15 seconds. When the cream is ready, whisk in the melted gelatin and vanilla until the mixture is smooth. Pour the cream mixture into a metal bowl set over an ice bath. Stir until cool to the touch. Whisk in the buttermilk and the reduced blood orange juice. Pour into four custard cups or ramekins set in a large shallow dish. Chill until set, at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.

When the panna cotta is set, unmold by dipping each dish in a pan of warm water, nudging the edges of the panna cotta from the dish with a thin knife if necessary, and invert them onto serving plates.

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