Williams-Sonoma is ridiculous and I love it.
Our last apartment was about half a block off Granville Street, and three blocks away from Vancouver’s only Williams-Sonoma. It was a weird place to live, because the rent was very affordable and many of the apartment buildings were very old, but all the stores were for the fancy rich people who lived up the hill in Shaughnessy. There was a Restoration Hardware, an Anthropologie, and a lot of expensive art galleries. Occasionally I would see an outfit I liked in a shop window and wander inside to look, discreetly search for a price tag, and then high-tail it out of there because who can afford $800 jeans?! Also most of the restaurants in the neighbourhood sold only bland food because rich people don’t like to taste flavours.
But I’d go into Williams-Sonoma a lot, mostly to fondle the expensive enameled cast-iron and copper pots. I rarely bought anything, though occasionally some of their cookbooks would be on sale, and once I bought this great vinaigrette mixer-spritzer that I later broke because I am not gentle with things.
When we were first married, I didn’t have the impressive cookbook collection I now fill an obtrusive shelf in our dining room with, and I wanted to have a few reliable books I could refer to. I happened to be in Williams-Sonoma, and was delighted to discover that The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook (you can buy it for less here) was actually very reasonably priced for a big, fat, hardcover cookbook. The cover price was $40, but it was (miraculously) on sale for only $20. The recipes are easy to follow, even for a beginner cook, and they don’t call for unusual or expensive ingredients. I later acquired a copy of Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of French Cooking (I think when my aunt was thinning out her cookbook collection), which has also turned out to be pretty good.
It’s been well used, and certainly worth more than what I paid. One recipe in particular has proven itself invaluable, as it turned out to be Nick’s favourite dessert. Nick doesn’t eat much dessert, and didn’t eat much dessert even pre-diabetes (I do not understand this). But this one pleased him so much that he insisted I bring it to his parents’ for his birthday one year, and his family loved it and now it’s in the family cookbook and we have it almost anytime there’s an occasion that calls for dessert.
- Butter (for greasing six ramekins)
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 packages, or four teaspoons, unflavoured powdered gelatin
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 vanilla bean (you can use 1 tsp. vanilla extract if that’s what you have in your pantry)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)
Lightly grease six ramekins with butter. Set the cups on a small baking sheet.
Pour one third, or 1/2 cup of the milk into a small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin over top, and let sit for about three minutes.
Add the rest of the milk and the sugar and heat it until the sugar and gelatin is dissolved, then take the pot off the stove and stir in the cream and vanilla bean. Whisk everything together, then pour the mixture into ramekins. Cover ramekins with plastic wrap, then place in the fridge to set, which should take four to six hours.
To serve, remove the panna cotta from the ramekins by sliding a knife gently around the circumference. It should come out easily, but you can serve it in the ramekins too if you want. It saves dirtying more dishes, which counts for a lot around here.
Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream. In the winter, I warm frozen blueberries with a bit of maple syrup, then let the compote cool to just about room temperature before spooning over the panna cotta.