As creator of The Hive – Utah’s Original Forum for Food Bloggers in Utah, I was recently able to help host a little get together of a few local bloggers to introduce them to some good friends of mine over at the Deal Pickle – a new website where you can get killer local deals and gift certificates (in Utah for now, but will be expanding in the not-too-distant-future). You may want to keep them in mind as Mothers’ Day is on the near horizon and you can get some amazing deals on things that any Mom would dearly love. The wonderful LaSalle Restaurant Group, owners of Faustina, Oasis Cafe and Carvers Steak & Seafood, were kind enough to give us an incredible afternoon in their lovely restaurant, Faustina, located just east of downtown Salt Lake.
Faustina has super easy and plentiful parking (which isn’t exactly common in the downtown area) and they have a darling patio for outside dining too which I’m sure will be absolutely delightful in the warmer (if the weather ever cooperates) months ahead. Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, the inside of the restaurant is beautiful and so comfortable with lots of natural light and unique paintings (seriously, there is this series of poppy paintings on a kind of aqua blueish green field that I just loved!). The staff was wonderfully friendly and helpful and we even got to meet Joel LaSalle himself, who was so kind to be our host and drop in and say hello.
Perhaps the best part of the day, aside from the obvious benefits of getting to hang out with some dear and darling bloggy friends* and spend some quality time, was of course, the food!! I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I only have these little pictures I took with my iPhone to share with you because I was somewhat one handed during the whole event since I had a little extra guest tag along with me (that is Miss Kayla-boo herself snuggled in my arm there hiding behind her bottle).
That said, for a much better review of the actual food and meal, please head on over to Emily’s site where she did a fantastic write-up.
*Other bloggers at the event were Emily (Is This Really My Life?), Camille (Make It Work Mom), Pam (That Damn Pam), Maria & Josh (Two Peas and Their Pod), Heather (SLC Lunches), Becky (Vintage Mixer), Richard (Utah Stories), April (Sweet Life In The Valley and Simply the Sweet Life Magazine), and Lyndsey (Cafe Johnsonia).
Our meal was prepared for us by none other than Utah’s very own Ultimate Chef winners, Chefs Jared Young and Billy Sotelo, who also treated guests to an amazing meal at the closing night of Chef Dance during this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City. The Chefs prepared a gorgeous family style meal of some of their favorite dishes for us to enjoy and were kind enough to come out and say hello and share some of their tips and stories with us at the end of the meal.
I’ll list all the tips I can remember at the bottom of the post – I’m sure there were more, but I may have been in such a food satisfied coma at that point that I hate to admit my listening skills were probably not at their best and I was just enjoying myself too much! After all, it isn’t often that I get to enjoy a meal I didn’t have to prepare, let alone prepared specially by two great chefs. Let’s just all be grateful that I didn’t just drown the keyboard in drool thinking back on the event, shall we?
My general notes on the food were that it was overall delicious and extremely well prepared and presented. I would have to say that, aside from the dessert which I will talk about more in a minute, my favorite part was the beef tenderloin with the fingerling potatoes. It was about as heavenly as could be. I am also proud to admit that, picky as I am, I tried everything. That is actually saying quite a bit for me because among all the deliciousness there were three items that would normally, completely sketch me out – there was calamari… which I have to admit I had never tried because the general idea of it just has always grossed me out. I’m not sure if the topic has ever really come up here, but I am completely NOT a seafood person.
Wonder of wonders. I liked the calamari. Really! I’m not saying I would eat it anywhere now though, but I would definitely eat it at Faustina again, and perhaps with their amazing chef’s tips that we were treated to at the end of the meal that they prepared for us I would even attempt making it at home.
I also tried their San Francisco style Cioppino which is basically a soup made of several different types of mostly shellfish in a light tomato and basil broth. While I was not so into the seafood (again, I am weird and that is totally just me!) I absolutely loved the broth. If you like seafood even a little, I’m sure you would want to possibly marry this soup and live together in wedded bliss. I’m just weird that way about seafood.
We were also served grilled lamb chops with some super cool fried celery root, bruschetta with a garlic olive oil spread that was completely unctuous and ridiculously good, and for dessert the most silky, perfect, creamy panna cotta it has ever been my pleasure to eat.
The thing you may not know about me is that I don’t particularly care for desserts that have gelatin in them – at least not when the texture can be prevalent. I’m just not a fan. That was why when I first tried Faustina’s panna cotta I was floored. I savored every single bite and loved it so much I had to email the restaurant after the event and ask them to share their recipe so that I could share it with you. Luckily for us all, they were able and willing to share. Since the recipe was originally sized for, well, restaurant portions, I’ve tweaked it here so that you don’t end up with a huge amount and can increase the recipe easily from here if you do have a crowd.
Panna Cotta couldn’t be easier to make or more low maintenance. This vanilla bean version relies largely on vanilla bean paste to give you that real vanilla bean kick, but you can substitute pure vanilla extract as well if you don’t have the paste or can’t find it. Basically the amounts of the vanilla bean paste vs vanilla bean vs pure vanilla extract is 1 to 1, so if you are substituting it is equal (1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste = 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract or 1 whole vanilla bean). The only way to get the superbly speckled look shown here is to use the vanilla bean paste since you do end up with more seeds than perhaps even the whole bean itself, but the flavor will be great with any of the above, or a combination.
To make the panna cotta, you do need to plan ahead just a bit so that you have plenty of time to let the mixture chill and set, but honestly, the recipe, even though it takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours start to finish, is so largely hands-off that it really isn’t a big time commitment at all. The colors and flavors in the creamy panna cotta itself, as well as in the strawberry ‘soup’ just absolutely scream spring to me and would make the perfect, easy and fun addition to any of your springtime events.
This is also really fun to make with kids because you can pour the mixture into basically anything you want to either use as a serving dish or a mold. If you do decide to portion your panna cotta into molds, just dip the mold into a bowl of warm water (of course not submerging or getting any water into your mold) for a few seconds to loosen the dessert and turn it out onto a serving the plate.
Likewise, the strawberry soup is very simple to toss together and only needs to sit for a few minutes before serving. The strawberries are just diced, tossed with a little sugar and another generous portion of the vanilla bean paste or vanilla and a little lemon juice for brightness. After the berries sit and macerate in the sugar mixture for a few minutes there will be a fair amount of liquid as the strawberries make their own ‘soup.’ Add some roughly chopped bright green shelled pistachio bits for color and crunch and you have a truly stunning and super easy dessert. Just for fun, you can even do what I did and mix up all your dishes for an assortment of shapes, sizes and options by using lots of different molds, tartlet pans, shot glasses, dessert glasses, or really anything your little heart desires for a kind of eclectic, shabby-chic effect. Enjoy!
Favorite Chef hints of the day:
- To make the fried celery root chips that are garnishing the lamb chops the chefs very thinly sliced the celery root on a mandolin, then fried the chips in hot canola oil in a shallow pan till crisp, then removed them to sit and crisp on paper towels.
- To get the lovely little ribbons of apple that the chefs used to garnish the smoked chicken salad they used a Kaiten (Japanese style turning vegetable slicer which is now SO on my wishlist!). Unfortunately if you don’t have that tool, it would be difficult to get the same effect. I think as a substitute idea you could easily just chop your apples into matchsticks, but let’s face it, it isn’t going to be as pretty as those apple ribbons.
- To make a unique and delicious garlic ‘butter’ topping for your bruschetta, skip the butter altogether and mix roasted garlic with good extra-virgin olive oil to get a nice thick, spreadable consistency and layer a slightly generous amount over your toasted slices of crusty bread. I light sprinkling of chopped fresh Italian parsley or perhaps even fresh Basil wouldn’t be amiss here.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry Soup
Source: Faustina, Salt Lake City, UT
For the Panna Cotta:
Makes approximately 2 1/3 cups of mixture to divide in your serving dishes or molds – serves 6 to 8 individual portions
1 – 1/4 oz package unflavored gelatin (Knox)
3/4 cup 2% milk
4 tablespoons sugar
finely grated zest from 1 lemon (about 1 teaspoon – or less if you want the lemon flavor to not be prominent at all)
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract*
pinch of salt
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped into bits
Combine the milk and gelatin in a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk gently to combine and melt the gelatin into the milk as it warms. Turn the mixture on low to very gently heat and melt together while you prepare the other ingredients.
In a medium sized bowl, rub the lemon zest into the sugar until moist and fragrant. You can skip this step if you don’t want the lemon flavor to be at all noticeable, but I liked the extra little zing that working the lemon oils out into the sugar created. Add the cream, vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract), and pinch of salt and whisk all the ingredients together to combine well and dissolve the sugar.
Add the cream mixture to the milk and gelatin in the pan and return the heat to medium while you continue to whisk gently to combine. Allow the mixture to heat to just warmer than body temperature (this only takes 2 or 3 minutes).
Use a fine mesh strainer to strain the mixture into a large glass measuring cup or other heatproof container with a spout, cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge till thick and coats the back of a spoon or is the consistency of egg nog (this took about 1 hour).
Pour the chilled mixture into your serving dishes or molds and cover each one tightly with plastic wrap. If you are using glasses or dishes that you plan to serve the dessert in, be sure to leave room for the strawberries on top. Otherwise, fill the molds almost to the rim or as ‘tall’ as you want the unmolded desserts to be. Cover each dish tightly with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill till set (at least 1 hour or longer). Can be prepared a day ahead.
To unmold the panna cotta from your molds just dip the bottom of the mold in a dish of warm water for a few seconds to loosen the panna cotta before turning it out onto your serving dish and topping with the strawberry soup and chopped pistachios.
For the Strawberry Soup:
12 strawberries, rinsed, hulled and diced into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Combine the diced strawberries with the sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a small mixing bowl and toss together lightly with a spoon, stirring a few times, and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes to allow the strawberries to macerate and create their own sauce or ‘soup’. Serve a generous spoonful of strawberries over each panna cotta.
Top with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios for garnish and crunch and serve.