Archives for posts with tag: polenta

To continue with the theme, Work With What You’ve Got for October 2012 I thought I would inventory the pantry for ingredients, specifically two cupboards of the pantry: our cooler and the cabinet below it. A cooler, in case some of you don’t know, is a cabinet that shares an outside wall with the house in which some of the wall has been replaced with screens that let outside air into the cabinet. This means you can keep condiments such as oil, honey, peanut butter, mustard and ketchup in the cooler instead of storing them in your refrigerator. We also use our cooler to store unopened jars of pickles, jams, pumpkin, evaporated milk, salsa, as well as opened vinegars and salad dressings.

What I found:

1)  several jars of jam and jelly: black currant (3), tayberry(1), orange marmalade (1), apple jelly (3) ginger (1) sherry wine jelly (1)

2)  marinated artichokes and artichoke tapenade

3)  roasted red peppers (2)

4)  canned pumpkin (3)

5)  cashew butter, peanut butter and Nutella

6)  molasses, honey, lemon honey, dark and light Karo syrup, maple syrup

7)  Bakers’ unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, chocolate chips

8)  dill pickles (3), sweet gherkins (1), capers (6)

9)  canned chicken (2)

10) red lentils, lentil soup mix

11) tomato juice, diced tomatoes, roasted tomato salsa, Prego pasta sauce (4)

12) salad dressings (4), vinegars (black, plum, rice, blackberry balsamic, red wine)

13) peach chutney, Worchestershire sauce (3), mustard (4)

14) shitake mushrooms, teriyaki sauce, teriyaki noodle mix, tamari, hoisin sauce, sesame oil

15) instant coffee, liquid espresso concentrate

16) Kitchen Bouquet

17) Campbell’s Cream of Chicken (3) and Cream of Mushroom (2) soups

18) minced onions (dried).

19) maraschino cherries, glaceed cherries, sour cherries (2), dates, mincemeat

In the cupboard below the cooler we have

20) garlic (3 heads, plus), onions (6), red potatoes (lots)

What this list of ingredients suggests to me is glazed meats and glazed fruit tarts to use up all of the apple jellies , salad dressings (as marinades), marmalade and mustard. Also Chinese food ( tamari, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, black vinegar). We also have the makings for cherry and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving here. I did not go through the cupboard where we keep pasta, rice and beans, the baking cabinet, or the jars on top of the fridge which hold rice, tea and dried chiles or the freezer, which holds fruit, meat, butter, cooked food.

Original watercolor painting shows four cooked dishes: cereal, soup, polenta and pie.

Four Dishes. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

What I actually ate yesterday is this: my new Work With What You’ve Got breakfast is a mixture of rye flakes, rolled oats and granola, cooked in milk with home-dried apples and commercial dried cranberries and pistachios. I still have a large jar of dried apples from windfall Gravensteins I foraged in Berkeley. We still have apples on our tree, too. The cranberries and pistachios came from Canned Foods Grocery Outlet two visits ago , as did the rye flakes. I made the granola some time ago. We are running low on rolled oats, which is why I went to rye with the last three-quarters cup of oats mixed in — the granola is oat-based, too, and cooks up well.

For lunch, I ate leftover chicken-vegetable soup that Mom made, with a whole wheat tortilla and a little bit of cheddar cheese, two cups of black tea with milk and the last homemade brownie (Mom baked while I was away for the weekend).

For dinner, I took the last of the Riverdog Farm beet greens and turnip greens that had been languishing in the fridge, trimmed them and chopped them and cooked them in polenta. I threw in the salty cotija cheese that my sister-in-law had brought us and added some pecorino Romano and a pinch of red pepper flakes — it was a good way to eat plenty of greens for dinner without feeling like I had to eat them plain. I’ll eat the rest of the green polenta for lunch or for dinner tonight since no one else cared for it.

Today I will be taking the last butternut squash from last year and turning it into butternut squash soup, roasting it in the oven while Mom makes lasagna. She said something about making a pie from the last of our current pie crust, too. Bryan only likes apple, pumpkin and coconut cream — maybe cherry — I’ll ask — maybe we can have a cherry pie (There are lots more cans of cherries in the garage).

Food notes: Breakfast cereal: most cereals can be cooked and will mix well — I’ve eaten combinations of wheat, oats, corn and rye as well as eating each one as a separate cereal. Cooking the cereal in milk adds protein for staying power and assures you of getting calcium in your diet for your bones. Cooking cereal with dried fruits adds sweetness without adding table sugar (unless you are using pre-sweetened dried cranberries!). Nuts also add protein and good fat.

Polenta: Polenta is versatile. You can eat it plain. You can stir cheese into it or tomatoes or peppers or greens or all four. You can eat it sliced and topped with marinara and cheese. You can eat it as a breakfast cereal with vanilla extract, milk and fresh or frozen fruit (see my polenta with peaches and Johnny’s polenta, a savory variation). Cornmeal or grits will do for polenta in a pinch — you’ll just get a slightly different texture.

What would you eat if you were eating out of your stored food right now? What have you got on hand?

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Watercolor painting of bowls of polenta, tomato, Martin guitar in green chair.

Johnny’s Polenta. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Some of you know that I frequently eat polenta as a breakfast cereal during summer and early fall, cooking it in milk, stirring in a fresh peach or a handful of wild blackberries. Some of you know I have spent part of the summer flirting with a guitar player, wondering how much he liked me, being alternately elated and crushed as I went to play music at his house, attended band rehearsal, sang at a small festival in Santa Rosa, followed him up to another festival called Cur-Ville. You’ve seen me donning red dresses and trying to let go.

That phase has ended: the guitar player is mine now and, to prove it, spent the better part of the long weekend at my house. Mornings found us in the kitchen, brewing coffee, figuring out what to eat for breakfast. I cooked him eggs twice, scrambled with cheese and Gypsy peppers, served with sourdough toast. This morning I asked him what he ate for breakfast besides eggs. He mentioned a dish of polenta and various cheeses, topped with tomato and avocado.

We always have cornmeal, so I put on a pot of  salted water to boil and put out the cheese collection for Johnny to look at while I measured out a cup of cornmeal. He selected Red Leicester, a cheddar, and chopped it into small pieces.  I added some grated pecorino Romano. While the polenta was warm I added a chopped tomato. We tasted the polenta. He added a bit more cheese, I added a pinch of kosher salt and a healthy sprinkle of paprika and we had a beautiful golden breakfast, flecked with tomato red, Johnny’s gift to me and my gift to you.

After we ate, I did the dishes, dancing at the sink while Johnny sat in a green chair and played me Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” Occasionally, I turned around to look at him to sync my back-up vocals to his lead. Dishes have never been this much fun — who knew? All you need is a guitar-player in your kitchen to play songs for you while you wash and rinse. But you can’t have mine — he’s taken. Sorry.

If you want to make Johnny’s Polenta, measure water and cornmeal in a four-to-one ratio (I used four cups of water to one cup of cornmeal, but you could use one cup of water to a quarter cup if you want only one serving).

Add a bit of salt to the water — not too much, since you are going to be adding cheese later.

Boil polenta and water mixture until it has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat and stir in

Chopped and grated cheeses to taste : I used about 3 ounces of cheddar and 1 ounce of pecorino Romano.

Add one large chopped tomato.

Add 1/2 tsp of either sweet or hot paprika, depending on your proclivities: this adds wonderful color as well as a subtle flavor.

Taste and season as necessary. You will have to provide your own soundtrack for dish-washing.

Food Notes: You can make this with cornmeal or polenta, or even grits — whatever cereal-like corn product that you have hanging around. Lauren, if you are listening, you could swap some permitted vegetable for the contraband tomato and eliminate the cheddar, substituting some cheese you like, such as the cumin cheese we ate in France.

The Lauren Project: Thanks from Lauren and from me to all who sent recipes to the Lauren Project. Lauren is out in California, cooking up test batches of recipes. She and I will confer soon and announce the prize winners in an upcoming blog post. Before we complete the winners’ post we will contact our winner to ask what prize he or she desires. Then we will contact the second place finisher, third-place contestant, etc. until all prizes are awarded. Those of you who did not win will still be eligible for free shipping on any Kale Chronicles’ painting purchased by midnight December 31st, 2012.

Painting shows lunch buffet at Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM.

Lunch at Mabel’s. 12″ x 12″ Gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

One of ways I become a better cook is to learn from cooks with greater skill and different repertoires than I have: once such cook is Jane Garrett who cooks at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico. On my most recent visit there on a snowy November afternoon Jane served a lunch that struck me as perfect for the season and the weather: marsala mushrooms over polenta served with fresh figs in a balsamic reduction. She accompanied this richness with a simple pan of roasted root vegetables and a lemony salad made of raw baby chard and radicchio. I no longer remember what we ate for dessert because it was the lunch dishes that captivated me.

I begged Jane for the recipes to share with you. She graciously obliged. I brought them home with me. I went out and bought a bottle of dry Marsala. Alas, fresh figs had disappeared from my Farmers’ Market: I bought some dried figs from Trader Joe’s and contented myself with mushrooms from the mushroom vendor. We keep polenta. The Riverdog Farm box yields plenty of leeks. I had all of the spices and herbs on hand.

I made three of the four lunch dishes for dinner tonight (We had no salad ingredients but romaine lettuce).

Because I was using dried figs, I began with the balsamic syrup, using the only balsamic vinegar I had on hand, a blackberry-vanilla blend I couldn’t resist a few years back: the small bottle sat at the back of our cooler cabinet, waiting for a compelling recipe. To make the syrup, combine

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

When sugar has dissolved, add

1/2 cup dark balsamic vinegar

1 cinnamon stick

1 piece of star anise

2 black peppercorns

1 allspice berry (I used about 1/2 tsp of ground allspice, being out of fresh)

rind of one orange, with juice (again, I faked it here, substituting some candied orange peel)

a few branches of dried thyme.

Jane says to simmer this for five minutes: since I was using dried figs I popped them into the syrup and let them simmer at very low heat while I cooked everything else.

I should have prepared the roasted vegetables next, but I chose to wipe about 3/4 of a pound of brown mushrooms first and clean 1 leek.

I sliced the leek into thin rings, put them through two changes of water, and skimmed them off to saute them in a skillet with olive oil and butter. While they cooked, I sliced the mushrooms, tossing any broken pieces into a stock pot with the trimmings from the leeks for vegetable stock.

When the leeks were browned, I transferred most of them into a bowl, added more oil and butter to the skillet and sauteed my mushrooms in two batches. I put one batch in with the leeks and left the other in the skillet on low heat. I splashed in some marsala and it all evaporated, so I waited and then added some more (Jane says to add it to taste and then thicken your sauce with cornstarch and vegetable stock). Then I put the other mushrooms back into it with just a few of the sauteed leeks and set the skillet aside so that I could prepare the vegetables I should have done earlier.

The vegetable compartment yielded parsnips, rutabaga and turnips. I peeled them, cut them bite-sized, more or less, poured a little olive oil in the palm of my hand and rubbed the vegetables with that on a sheet of foil in a roasting pan. I seasoned them with only a little black pepper — the other components are highly seasoned and I wanted the vegetables to contrast with the other elements. I put the parsnip tops and tails into my stock pot. As an afterthought I cut open a delicata squash and scooped  the innards into my stock pot, added water and a few branches of thyme and started simmering the stock. I put the squash cut side down in a loaf pan I had rubbed with oil and put all of the vegetables into a 375-degree oven.

Then I made polenta: 1 cup of polenta to 4 cups of water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, stir regularly, and cook until thick.

All this time, my figs were simmering and my stock boiling, then simmering.

When the vegetables were almost done, I pulled them out of the oven and nuked them for two minutes in the microwave with a quarter cup of the unfinished stock — I did this because the rutabaga had been large and tough.

Then I heated up the mushrooms, made some liquid cornstarch by shaking cornstarch, stock and a bit of marsala in a small jar, scooped in a couple of teaspoons of the fig syrup and cooked the mixture for a few minutes.

Jane mounded her polenta in a serving dish, put the mushrooms on top and the balsamic figs around the sides. I kept the figs separate and instructed Mom to dish herself a pile of polenta, top it with mushrooms and eat the figs on the side if she wanted any. She did.

We both agreed that this dish would be better with the fresh figs that Jane had used, but it is the other end of November from when Jane made it — if you live in the Southern hemisphere, please make this with fresh figs, as I will earlier next fall. On the other hand, the balsamic syrup has a future on bowls of oatmeal and coffee ice cream, maybe on polenta pancakes!

Food Notes: Use fresh figs in this dish if they are available. Use any roastable vegetables you have on hand: carrots would be good, sweet potatoes, celery root. Use any kind of mushrooms you like, or a mixture of varieties. The Kensington Wine Shop says to buy “the good stuff,” dry marsala from Italy — apparently we don’t know how to make good marsala in California yet. Serve this with an acidic green salad if you possibly can — it takes the meal up a notch — but if you are fresh out of salad makings, make it anyway. You won’t be sorry. And if you get to Mabel’s, stop in and say “Hi” to Jane.

P.S. There was a little polenta left after the mushrooms were gone. This morning I mixed in an egg, some flour, some milk, a little sugar, 1 tsp of baking powder and a bit of vanilla and had some polenta pancake batter — apparently, I know how to do this without a recipe now. I ate the pancakes with some of the fig syrup — delicious!

Painting depicts ingredients for recipe polenta with peaches

Summer Breakfast. 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

My mother went to Reno for a few days, leaving me in the house with our three cats, so I had three days to observe how I cooked for myself while she was gone. When I lived alone I developed a fondness for one-bowl cooking, complete meals that fit in a single bowl. Friday morning I made one of my favorite summer breakfasts, polenta cooked in milk, seasoned with vanilla extract and stirred into a bowl of diced peaches. It was so good that I made it again on Saturday — in fact, it is what I eat for breakfast any time we have fresh peaches in the house, usually from late May through early October.

The secret to this recipe is a fresh, tree-ripened peach. I buy most of my peaches from Frog Hollow Farm at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. In formerly flush years I would buy them by the flat and we would eat peach waffles, peach bread pudding, peach cobbler. I would freeze peach puree to make waffles in the winter or spring. Now I buy them a few at a time: I bought four last Saturday, two Cal Reds and two O’Henry’s, enough for four breakfasts.

The other secret is cooking polenta in milk, which makes it lovely and creamy. I began cooking grains in milk when I broke my first bone five years ago, started cooking oatmeal in a cup of milk to make sure I would get daily calcium in the food I ate.

To make this dish, go out and pick a peach from your tree or buy a soft, sweet peach from your farmers’ market. Slice it and then chop the slices into smaller chunks. Put this into your cereal bowl. Then film the bottom of a saucepan with a little water, add a cup of milk, a dash of salt and a quarter-cup of polenta. Cook over medium high heat until it starts to bubble, then reduce heat to a simmer until it thickens enough to your liking. It’s a good idea to stir it frequently so that it won’t stick to the pan. When it’s done, remove it from the heat and stir in a capful of vanilla extract. Pour it over your peaches in your bowl, stir and dig in. The polenta warms the peaches. The juice from the peach sweetens the polenta. The yellows and oranges look like summer in a bowl.

 Depicts ingredients for whole wheat pasta with cilantro pesto and green beans

Cilantro Pesto with Green Beans. 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn DImmick

At lunch-time on Friday, I looked at the cilantro that I had bought a week before and stuck in a glass on the counter — I needed to use it. Cutting off the stems, I broke each leaf from its stem and tossed it into my blender. I went out and picked a Meyer lemon from the front yard, cut it, and squeezed it into the cilantro. I diced a red onion and minced half a clove of garlic. I added some chopped walnuts from our freezer (new crop has not come in yet). I moistened the mixture with some olive oil and started blending it while I got out some rinds of Parmesan, which I grated with my microplane. You can get a microplane, otherwise known as a rasp, at any hardware store — don’t bother with expensive versions from cooking stores: it is the best tool I know for grating hard cheeses and zesting citrus. I gave the blender a stir and added the cheese and a tiny pinch of salt.

Pesto done, I put on some water to boil and got down a package of whole wheat penne, taking out about a quarter pound (four ounces). While the water heated, I topped and tailed a large handful of fresh green beans and snapped them in half. I cooked the pasta for seven minutes or so, then added the green beans to the pasta water, cooking them for one minute more. I drained the pasta, scooped some cilantro pesto into a pasta bowl and stirred like mad to distribute it. It made a little more than I could eat — measurement is not my forte when I am not following a recipe — so I had a small serving leftover for Saturday’s lunch, which I ate cold — equally delicious. The lemon and onion in the pesto and the bitterness of the walnuts play off the sweetness of the green beans and whole wheat.

For dinner, I ate leftover Greek salad on Thursday and made a sandwich of leftover roasted pork loin with leftover apple coleslaw on Friday

Whole Wheat Pasta with Cilantro Pesto:

Combine in jar of blender for pesto

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed.
1 lemon or lime, zested, than juiced or squeezed
1 small red onion
1/2 clove garlic
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil to moisten

Salt to taste

3 to 4 oz whole wheat pasta per person.

1 large handful of fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half.

Blend pesto. Cook pasta until almost done: about a minute out, add green beans to pasta water. Drain pasta and beans into a pasta bowl. Add some pesto and stir or toss to mix. If you have leftover pesto, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or you can freeze it.

When Mom got back Saturday afternoon she asked if there was any cooked food on hand. Nope. I told her I had eaten all of the leftovers. We ate bread, cheese, grapes (me) and tomatoes (her).

Painting Note: For more information on “Summer Breakfast” or “Cilantro Pesto with Green Beans” or any other original painting, please contact me here.