Dominator Honey-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and Why I Love Facebook

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

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I’ve thought about them so many times over the years.  Little girls in blue and grey, enveloped in giggles as they played hopscotch and double dutch in an asphalt covered schoolyard.  Little girls racing home after school to watch Barnabas Collins and Angelique face off on Dark Shadows.  Little girls hurrying down to Larry’s Candy Store to score some Double Bubble and sneak a read of the latest issue of Tiger Beat magazine.  And later, bigger little girls, experimenting with neon blue eye shadow, grabbing a “slice” from the Pizza Shack and strutting their (not quite yet developed) stuff down the “Avenue”.   It’s funny.  Most days, I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast or where I stashed my car keys.  But, I remember each one of those bright and shiny faces – my own included – even though it’s been over thirty-five years since I last saw any of them.

I don’t know.  Maybe my own mortality is catching up with me.  But lately, I’ve been feeling so nostalgic for those old days.  It’s like I have this urgent need to remember as much as I can, so that I never forget.  Does that make any sense?  It’s a little hard to explain – even to myself.

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Anyway, a few weeks ago I found a group on Facebook dedicated to Morris Park, my old neighborhood in the Bronx.  I clicked on it and the page was filled with posts from people about life in the “good old days” in the “old neighborhood”.  Most were like me – the ones that started out there, and for whatever reason, moved on to a life somewhere else. There were also many who still lived there, some even in the same houses they were born in.  Some of the posters just wanted to reminisce. Some were looking to find old friends they’d lost touch with.  I got kind of a rush when I read the comments about places or neighbors that I remembered.  The group’s air of congeniality and familiarity really struck me.  I felt a sort of kinship with them.

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I browsed through the list of members of the group.  To my delight, I realized that there were several names that I recognized, including a few old friends from elementary school – those little girls in blue and grey.  WOW!  I got so excited!  I immediately “friended” them, not knowing or even caring if they’d remember me.  Within ten minutes, one had already “friended” me back.  Then, I found this rather exuberant note in my inbox:

“WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is this or is this not a BLAST FROM THE PAST????? OMG HOW ARE YOU?????”

It was from Marguerite V., one of my good buddies from St. Clare’s Grammar School.

I remember the first time I met Marguerite.  It was the first day of second grade, and my first day at St. Clare’s.  I was “the new kid”, having just moved back to the “neighborhood” from Westchester.  I was pretty shy back then, and I was scared to death!  This cute little blonde pixie with a big grin on her face walked up to me and introduced herself.  It was Marguerite V.  Then, she introduced me to a bunch of the other kids and invited me to play with them at recess.  I was in!

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Marguerite and I became pretty good friends after that.  We had a lot in common.  We both loved to sing and act, performing in school plays and recitals. We ran around in a pack with other pre-pubescent, Catholic school girls and thought we were hot stuff. We didn’t get into too much trouble, though.  Back then everybody knew everybody else, and that included everybody’s mothers.  We knew that if we ever pulled anything, someone’s mother would find out and tell ours about it.  We had fun, but we definitely towed the line.

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The St. Clare’s Girls and me at my 5th grade Halloween Party

Then, in the summer between 6th and 7th grade, the unthinkable happened.  My father came home from work one day and announced that we were packing up and moving to Florida.  FLORIDA?  HUH!?!?  What about my friends?  What about my life?  What about my one true love – Bennie Buffamante?

For the first few years after we moved, my family used to go back up to New York for visits a few times each year. I lived for those trips!  They meant that I got to see my gal pals again. Then, little by little, the rest of our family moved to Florida too and we had less reason to return.  Eventually, I lost touch with all of the St. Clare’s girls.  And then, more than thirty years went by…..

Marguerite and I have spent some time chatting and catching up with each other’s lives.  Since then, I’ve reconnected with a few more of the the St. Clare’s girls too.  None of us live in the old neighborhood anymore.  But, through the magic of Facebook, I’ve managed to grab back a treasured piece of the past.

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The other day, I bought a gallon of some gorgeous full fat cream from a local dairy.  It was too good to use for just anything.  I really wanted to find some recipes that would highlight the simple purity and natural sweetness of the cream.  Naturally, I posed my request for ideas to my peeps on Twitter and Facebook.  One of the responses I received was from Marguerite.  “Panna Cotta!”, she wrote.

Panna cotta.  Perfect!  This silky, creamy, voluptuous dessert was just the thing to showcase my cream.   Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering cream, milk and sugar together, mixing it with gelatin, and letting it cool until it sets into a luscious custard-like cloud.

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I asked Marguerite is she would share her panna cotta recipe with me, and she was kind enough to agree.  The only additional ingredient I added was an incredibly plump and moist Tahitian vanilla bean from my stash.  Panna cotta is usually prepared in some kind of a pan or bowl and unmolded before serving.  I decided to serve mine in these pretty little glasses instead.  I think they’re the perfect size for such a rich and decadent treat.  I also made three different toppings to go with the panna cotta: a strawberry gelée, a lemon curd and an espresso jello.  I just kind of made up the recipe for the gelée.  I bought the lemon curd at my local farmers market. And, I swiped the espresso jello recipe from my very talented and creative friend Jen from Use Real Butter.  Oh yes, and the peppermint and spearmint leaves came from my garden.

Marguerite calls her recipe Dominator Panna Cotta for personal reasons I won’t go into.  I kind of like that, so I’m keeping it.  If you’re looking for a new panna cotta recipe or you just need to use up some cream, I urge you to give this one a try.  It is a little bite of heaven in a shot glass!  Each of these three versions were to die for!

So, there you have it: a fabulous recipe for panna cotta and the reason why I love Facebook!

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50 responses to Dominator Honey-Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta and Why I Love Facebook

  1. On March 16, 2010 at 6:18pm, City Girl said...

    This is a lovely post – and the panna cottas look so tasty. Great pictures too :)

  2. On March 16, 2010 at 6:18pm, Sook @ My Fabulous Recipes said...

    Oh they look sooo beautiful!! Beautiful photos.

  3. On March 16, 2010 at 6:39pm, Rosa said...

    Yes, Facebook is great for that!

    Your Panna Cotta are fabulous!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. On March 16, 2010 at 6:50pm, SMITH BITES said...

    I’m all teary-eyed and I don’t even know you OR your friends! But I can relate on so many levels . . . thanks for sharing the beautiful story AND the beautiful dessert. I’m going to make some just for you and Marguerite!

    • On March 16, 2010 at 11:03pm, Susan said...

      Awww! Thank you so much (from both of us)! :)

  5. On March 16, 2010 at 7:05pm, Jackie said...

    What a great story and a great dessert! ps- my mom is marguerite!

    • On March 16, 2010 at 11:06pm, Susan said...

      Hi, Jackie! Wasn’t your mom a cutie in the 5th grade? Welcome to SGCC, and thanks for stopping by! :)

  6. On March 16, 2010 at 7:24pm, Sandy said...

    OMGoodness! This all looks soo delicious! The pictures make the food look even tastier too!

  7. On March 16, 2010 at 7:34pm, marguerite said...

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! let me say that again………WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Susan, what a great great stroll down memory lane………Dark Shadows, Larry’s, Pizza Shack!!!! as i was quoted saying..”yes a blast from the past!” All good times, simple times! The first time I ever ate ( devoured) this was during a family vacation to Florence, Italy. The memories of that trip are forever etched inmy mind!
    I have made this desset many times but……….must admit, mine never look as let’s say ,INVITING as yours!

    So glad we re-connected after ?? years ( now if i told EVERYONE would know how old we are)
    thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping the name!
    ps……your blog DOMINATES!!!!!!!!!

    • On March 16, 2010 at 11:21pm, Susan said...

      Wow, is right! Those really were such wonderful times! I’m also very thankful that we reconnected after all these years, and have had the chance to catch up.

      Thanks so much for sharing your recipe with me (and the rest of the web). I’m glad that you’re pleased with what I did with it. :)

      Oh yes, and thanks also for not spilling the beans about how old we REALLY are! ;)

  8. On March 16, 2010 at 7:38pm, Jessica said...

    Oh these look delicious (like everything I’ve seen\read here)!

    Thank you for sharing the Facebook story, I too have had so much fun reconnecting with high school and grammar school friends (even though most of us are within 50 miles of our schools). It’s nice to hear someone else having fun the same way!

  9. On March 16, 2010 at 7:43pm, Joanne said...

    Facebook is definitely a useful tool for keeping in touch. So cool that you grew up in the Bronx – my dad is from there. I miss going to Arthur Avenue and Little Italy now that my grandparents have moved to Queens.

    This panna cotta looks delicious! I love the back story to it. It probably made it all the tastier knowing that it was from a childhood friend.

    • On March 16, 2010 at 11:24pm, Susan said...

      Thanks, Joanne! Where in the Bronx is your dad from? Wouldn’t it be funny if he were from our old neighborhood too? You should hook him up on Facebook. ;)

  10. On March 16, 2010 at 8:25pm, MaryBeth said...

    WOW…How elegant they all look. I would love the one with the strawberries it looks so delish.

  11. On March 16, 2010 at 9:05pm, Memoria said...

    What a lovely story. I could barely focus on it because of the yummy desserts haha. I’m saving this recipe.

  12. On March 16, 2010 at 9:41pm, Lauren said...

    My first time eating panna cotta was while I was studying abroad in Florence and my whole family came to visit–including my aunt marguerite!! i LOVE this post and i LOVE panna cotta! it truly brings back great memories! one day i will be brave enough to try to make it myself!

    • On March 16, 2010 at 11:38pm, Susan said...

      Welcome, Lauren! So glad you enjoyed the story. How cool that you got to study in Florence! It’s one of my favorite cities. And, how cool for your family that they got to come visit you! You MUST make the panna cotta. It is one of the easiest desserts to prepare. I promise! :)

  13. On March 16, 2010 at 9:47pm, John Tomasso said...

    I’m annoyed.
    It was me that suggested panna cotta, not Marguerite.
    Go back and check.
    This injustice must not stand.
    And I wasn’t even ever one of your gal pals.
    JT

    • On March 16, 2010 at 11:43pm, Susan said...

      Oh, John! My apologies! :o You’re right. You did suggest panna cotta. But, Marguerite did send me her recipe. Plus, I never played hopscotch or shared blue eyeshadow with you. ;)

  14. On March 16, 2010 at 11:27pm, nina said...

    I was overwhelmed with tears reading this, not sad ones though. This is just so awesome that you found a friend after so many years….

    Divine desserts too!!!!

    • On March 16, 2010 at 11:44pm, Susan said...

      Nina, you are too sweet! Thank you! :)

  15. On March 17, 2010 at 6:49am, thecoffeesnob said...

    What a wonderful story- it’s always so nice connecting with old friends!

    And those glasses of panna cotta are just gorgeous, Susan!

  16. On March 17, 2010 at 8:26am, bellini valli said...

    Such a great story Susan. If we could only go back and find all our school friends.

  17. On March 17, 2010 at 8:50am, shelly (cookies and cups) said...

    So funny! My husband is from the Bronx and there is a facebook page for his old neighborhood (Stratton Park, I think…near Park Chester)! So funny how that is…for those of us who grew up in the suburbs, it is a little hard to understand, but my hubby tells me how the whole neighborhood knew each other and it was like a big family.
    great pictures as usual

    • On March 17, 2010 at 12:27pm, Susan said...

      I know Parkchester very well. My mom used to take us shopping there for our school uniforms. It used to be a gorgeous area, though I haven’t been there in eons.

  18. On March 17, 2010 at 10:05am, dani said...

    what a nice story…. and a beautiful dessert :)

  19. On March 17, 2010 at 11:57am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    I had panna cotta trauma a couple of years ago when I had this great idea of topping the chocolate custard in a black bottom pie with a layer of panna cotta. The stuff never quite set and was a drippy disaster. I have feared the stuff ever since.

    I keep saying I’ll make it again. I’ve been looking for the perfect recipe. I want a recipe that doesn’t include yogurt (yech!) and is foolproof. This looks so beautiful and so rich, I think I have found what I’m looking for.

  20. On March 17, 2010 at 11:59am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    Oh and I forgot to say how much I loved your story. My father grew up in the Bronx as well (all of the years my grandmother still lived there I don’t really know the name of the neighborhood – It’s a very residential area where Co-Op City is in view acroos the highway and is full of row houses) and he feels the same way about his old neighborhood. In fact a few years ago he had a reunion of his own with his school buddies.

    • On March 17, 2010 at 12:26pm, Susan said...

      Thanks! Co-op City is in the Baychester area of the Bronx. Baychester is right next to Pelham Bay which is where we lived for a while. I remember when Co-op City was being built. What high school did your dad go to? I’ll bet I probably know of it. :)

  21. On March 17, 2010 at 2:29pm, Marilynn Cinquegrano said...

    Dear Susan,
    Panna cotta is my FAVORITE dessert!! Now YOU said its easy to make, so I will try it! Thank you!!!

  22. On March 17, 2010 at 6:44pm, Stella said...

    You are amazing. What a beautiful post with such delicious looking photos!

  23. On March 17, 2010 at 11:21pm, anna said...

    Every one of those panna cottas is more delicious than the last! So wobbly and good :D

  24. On March 18, 2010 at 9:34am, Kaitlin said...

    Gorgeous shots! These look so good. I made my first panna cotta recently and I think I’m going to go at it again with one of these variations. It’s such a great dessert :)

    I really like your blog!

  25. On March 18, 2010 at 11:54am, katy said...

    those are just stunning. and the halloween picture is adorable!

  26. On March 18, 2010 at 3:49pm, Jenni said...

    Love the addition of honey–bet it’d be wonderful w/some buttermilk and/or yogurt in the mix, too. Your panna cottas are just lovely–I think the espresso ones are especially beautiful!

    And facebook is pretty awesome. Thanks to fb, I just got off the phone about an hour ago w/a friend I haven’t seen in 22 years!

  27. On March 18, 2010 at 4:07pm, Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen said...

    What a fantastic post – ah the wonders of facebook! :) I know, it has re-united me with many long lost friends as well! :) Amazing panna cotta too! All your topping look delicious. Wonderful photos Susan! Thanks Marguerite for sharing your recipe with Susan for all of us to enjoy!

  28. On March 18, 2010 at 5:54pm, nico said...

    I love your pictures!!

  29. On March 18, 2010 at 6:25pm, Joan Nova said...

    That story is as sweet as the beautiful desserts you prepared for this post. Stunning photos.

  30. On March 18, 2010 at 9:22pm, Cynthia said...

    Such stunning presentations.

  31. On March 19, 2010 at 1:11am, momgateway said...

    What a lovely blog! I’ve subscribe to your posts!

  32. On March 20, 2010 at 5:43am, Joy said...

    I had to click from the RSS just because of your title. Yes, I won’t pry as to why it’s even named that. LOL. I’ll just say: gorgeous presentation! I’m in the mood for panna cotta, too, and it’s actually on the menu this weekend. :)

    I know, the wonder of the internet and social networking–I’ve reconnected with friends from way back in the past, I love it! There’s just something about the people when you were still a wee one, there’s always that kind of connection and history that you can’t replace. :)

  33. On March 20, 2010 at 9:35am, Nate @ House of Annie said...

    Great story and beautiful pictures of your panna cotta!

    Since you are using homegrown mint, come share your post in our Grow Your Own roundup this month. Full details at

    http://chezannies.blogspot.com/2010/03/announcing-grow-your-own-40.html

  34. On March 21, 2010 at 4:05pm, Valen said...

    They look so pretty! I’ve never had panna cotta, but I’m sure I would love it!

  35. On March 21, 2010 at 10:47pm, Wizzythestick said...

    Wow these panna cotta are so much prettier than mine. I love the idea of serving them in those cute little glasses.

  36. On March 22, 2010 at 9:43am, Nicole Spasiano said...

    oh they are so beautiful. even your glasses are pretty. But of course, the contents are making me swoon for some panna cotta.

  37. On March 22, 2010 at 3:21pm, emiglia said...

    How great to get back in touch with old friends! I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun walking down memory lane with them…

  38. On March 23, 2010 at 10:29am, Manggy said...

    It’s kind of like a master panna cotta cos it pairs with everything, I get it :) (I’m just hoping the “dominator” label is not some sordid tale, so I made up my own explanation…)
    I love all of them, they’re all so stylish. Must… make… soon…
    I didn’t know the Bronx was your area! No wonder you’re so much like J.Lo :) I didn’t know they had Tiger Beat back then, I mean, ahm, uh, what the heck is “Tiger Beat?” :P

  39. On September 28, 2010 at 12:02pm, Nadia said...

    Hi there! this post got me inspired to make my very first panna cotta :-)
    The honey panna cotta tasted great..just one problem though… my gelatin separated..atleast that’s wht I think happened. There were two distinct layers to it- the bottom was creamy, white and yummy and the top had a thin grey-ish white layer, which kind of tasted gelatiny! :(

    I dont know what happened I followed the recipe but I didn’t have whole milk so i put in 2% milk with some hevay cream added to it. Could this have changed anything? I really do want to try this again…

  40. On November 12, 2010 at 10:59am, Molly said...

    This looks relatively easy for such a beautiful end product! I can’t wait to see the look on my hubby’s face when these come out for dessert.. I also think it’d be quite nice to see these at a baby shower.. you could coordinate colors and everything. Very cute.

    -Molly
    Antique Jewelry

  41. On February 25, 2011 at 8:47am, tania said...

    So tasty!

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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