Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Polenta with Butternut Squash

         I  have a new favorite recipe to share but I’ve had a difficult time getting a good photo. So I have been waiting on this, but I decided to share it even with pictures that did not do it justice. I have been making polenta for a while but I saw a wonderful addition to it recently on an online magazine called Food and Style.com . I love Viviane Bauquet Farre’s fresh, delicious recipes and her lovely photos and videos. Go take a look at her awesome website!

 If you are at all familiar with my recipes you can tell that I love butternut and winter squash. So hearing about the combining of two of my favorites, creamy polenta and butternut, made me want to try it right away. I combined my recipe for polenta with Viviane’s idea of adding butternut. I think her recipe sounds fantastic!  She makes it with crème fraîche  and toasted pumpkin seed oil which would be fabulous but I did not have what I needed to follow her recipe exactly, though I will try it soon.  I also want to try some of her other delicious recipes. Be sure to check out her online magazine Food and Style and especially this recipe  that inspired me to add butternut to my polenta!
I add lots of butter and 2-3 oz of cream cheese to this polenta recipe but you can skip these or cut back quite a bit if you are steering clear of dairy or trying to cut back on calories. If you are skipping butter, you will want to add a few TBSP of dairy free butter substitute or olive oil. The cream cheese makes this rich and creamy but again, I know many of you cannot do dairy so just skip if you must. If you are on the fence, just try it with the butter and cream cheese- they really make polenta better and this recipe makes about 6-8 side  servings so not really much butter or cream cheese per serving!

Polenta was originally from Italy. It is similar to American grits and many restaurants not in the south will use polenta in place of grits. Polenta is made with cornmeal simmered in water or broth. There are various things you can choose to add if you wish, butter and cheese for example. Polenta is great topped with fish, sautéed greens, vegetables or various sauces. Left overs can be chilled, sliced and grilled or fried.  I buy Bob’s Red Mill corn meal for grits or polenta. If you need completely gluten free, they have a gluten free option that is not milled in the same place as wheat or soy products. Don’t buy instant polenta or already made, sold in tubes!  Polenta, similar to risotto, needs about 30 minutes to cook up and should be stirred often. I have heard somewhere that a pinch of baking soda is a good addition but I have not tried it.

Now, on to the delicious combination of polenta and butternut. Since butternut seems to be available nearly year round, I don’t think of it as a fall/winter vegetable.  I use it all the time, and usually keep some butternut puree in the freezer to use in recipes.  One thing I like about adding butternut to polenta is that I can make this gluten and lactose free! I will admit I usually make my polenta with a good amount of butter and parmesan, but I have tried polenta with butternut, olive oil and no cheese and the squash makes it all good J

Polenta and butternut or plain polenta is an excellent accompaniment to all kinds of greens, which are abundant in summer in gardens and farmers markets. Swiss chard is something I can grow well in my garden that our large bevy of bunnies does not devour.  It also goes great with grilled fish or shrimp, which seem to be summer staples in our house. So this recipe for polenta with butternut is a wonderful go to main or side dish for summer fare.

Creamy polenta with Butternut

4 cups of water OR 3 cups of water and one cup of vegetable broth
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 cup polenta (medium ground corn for grits)
4 TBSP butter, unsalted
2-3 TBSP grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 heaping cup of butternut, roasted and pureed *
2-3 oz. cream cheese, low fat
More salt if needed
Extra butter if desired

*Roasting butternut-You can cook and puree the butternut anyway you like. I prefer to wash and  cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and string and place cut down  in baking pan with a bit of water—no more than ½ “. Bake in 350 or 375 oven for 45 -60 minutes, checking for doneness often. Once it is softened, remove from oven and let it cool. Peel or cut skin off or scoop out all the squash. Place it a small batch at a time in food processor with a tsp. of water and process until smooth. You could also use a hand masher or ricer. If there are leftovers, place in a cup containers and freeze.

Heat water and salt to vigorous boil. Lower to medium boil and slowly pour ground corn polenta in a little at a time, stirring or whisking well for 2 minutes.

 Lower to light simmer and cook, stirring often, for 30-35 minutes until creamy and no longer gritty. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer a few minutes, stirring well until everything is mixed in and warm. If you would like to prepare in advance, cool and then heat in microwave or on stove and vigorously fluff with wooden spoon.

                                                                  To serve:
My favorite way to serve up polenta is to top it with sautéed greens, especially Swiss chard or spinach.    I sometimes will add slivered onion to the pan first with some olive oil and let it cook on low for 10 minutes before I add the greens. Wash, pat dry  the greens- chard, spinach, kale or others. For chard or kale, cut along the sides of the tougher, larger stems and remove them.  Next, chop the greens well before sautéing for just a few minutes in olive oil, with a couple cloves of mashed garlic, and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes with salt and pepper.

Greens with bacon-Another way to cook greens is to cook up some bacon, about 4 slices and remove it from the pan. Cook the greens in the left over bacon drippings in the pan for a few minutes till tender and then crumble in the bacon. 
I wanted to close with  a couple photos of my daughter's kitten. She has been staying here quite a bit and we have enjoyed having a little kitten around. She is just so much fun!

Okay, so she is a little spoiled. She prefers to be carried around while she naps.
 How can I say no to that face? 

 I hope to have a tour of the new kitchen soon! It is almost complete, just a bit of trim to re-do and one more light to get up.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Brussels with bacon, figs, pecans and maple

Here is a great way to cook up Brussels sprouts! May I just say I did not just like this dish, I really loved it. I hoarded the leftovers and ate them all up myself 0_0  It was such an incredible blend of flavor and textures! This one gets an A+ from me!
This may not be the most beautiful dish of veggies
ever but it is one of the best tasting!

There were the nicest little Brussels sprouts on sale at the market a few days ago so I bought a big bag because we all like them. I also found dried figs on sale. Last year I enjoyed including figs and pecans when I roasted vegetables. Brussels sprouts were wonderful in the mix along with the other veggies and figs. I thought I would like to try just Brussels sprouts, figs and pecans. This all sounded awesome but even better with a hint of maple syrup drizzled over everything.  So there was a very nice side dish to serve with our blackened salmon and butternut polenta and greens.

But of course, as soon as I decided on all that I had second thoughts… I do love bacon and Brussels sprouts, or bacon and green beans, or bacon and spinach…well you get the idea. I do apologize to my vegetarian and non-pork eating friends and readers but I think many things are even better with bacon. Rather than choose whether I wanted figs and pecans OR bacon with the sprouts I thought they would all play nicely together. I do know that sometimes one can get too many flavors coming to dinner, but this time, the complex medley was like a symphony of flavors working together not in a cacophony but in a wonderfully harmonious  melody.

The day of my dinner ended up being a bit hot, not surprisingly for our recent heat wave in Colorado. So I decided against turning on the oven. I love how big my oven is but it takes longer to heat up and warm air is released into the kitchen when it is on so the stovetop seemed like a better bet. I took a peek online to see if anyone else had cooked Brussels sprouts and figs on the stove top. Lo and behold, the uber-chef and Minimalist Mark Bittman,   had an article in the NY times a few years ago that combines sprouts, figs and bacon with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

 It sounds great but I had my appetite set for the nutty sweet additions I had planned for this time and will try that next time out. I did cook them, as he suggested, stovetop adding some water to the dish to sort of braising the sprouts and I really love the way they turned out, as good as roasted!
Of course, I did make a small pan of these up without bacon for our lovely vegetarian guest so feel free to forgo the bacon if you are so inclined.

Brussels with bacon, figs, pecans and maple

1 lb. or so small Brussels sprouts,  small

6 -7 slices bacon, center cut or uncured…whatever you like

¾ cup dried figs

2/3 – ¾ cup pecans

2-3 TBSP water

Salt and  pepper

Light sprinkle of maple sugar if you have it, brown sugar if you don’t

1-2 TBSP or so real maple syrup, optional

 In a large, wide skillet heat bacon slice, whole or chopped first.
Wash Brussels sprouts, dry and trim off the very bottom and remove any tough or yellowed outer leaves. Quarter. ( Note: if you cannot get small sprouts then slice or shred them with food processor. Shredded will cook faster)
Quarter figs.
Pecans may be left whole or very slightly chopped.

Once bacon is crisp, remove to paper towel. You may remove and reserve a bit of the rendered bacon grease, depending on how much is in the pan. I used almost all of the grease from the center cut since it is lower in fat. Keep any removed grease in case you need it. Alternatively, you could remove more grease and use a bit of olive oil, to make this more healthful. Chop bacon.
Okay, into the same  skillet bacon was cooked in, heat to medium, place quartered sprouts and figs. If it looks dry, add more bacon grease or olive oil.  Heat, stirring for 30 seconds. Then cook without stirring for about a minute. If you stir too much it will not caramelize well.
Stir once as you add water, let it sit and cook for another 3 minutes.
 Stir once as you mix in pecans with a sprinkle with salt, pepper and bit of sugar.  Let it sit cooking still on medium  for 2 minutes until water is absorbed. We are looking for some caramelization not dark crispy browned so adjust times as needed. ( note: if you cannot get maple  syrup, you may  add an extra sprinkle of sugar in this step)
Add bacon back in.
Drizzle with real maple syrup—do not use imitation!  Serve immediately.

I hope you enjoy this dish soon. Don't forget, I really love comments, questions or suggestions for other posts so feel free to comment here or on the facebook page. Comments are the only way I know that people are reading these posts so know I am very appreciative of each and every one!!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Blueberry Sauce

I am not sure if it is because it is summer or because all my energy has been going into the remodel but I find I am choosing very simple desserts to make for our gatherings. It also seems like most of the desserts I’ve made lately are fruit, which is nutritious and hopefully somewhat lower in calories.

For the fourth, we had a nearly spontaneous gathering here for dinner. We invited one couple over and then I was talking to some mutual friends and invited them. They had friends and relatives come to visit so I said to bring them along. Then another group called to ask if we were doing anything fun for the fourth of July so I invited them and their roommate and friend. And voila, it is a party!

I know that among this group of friends there are a few vegetarians and one gluten free, dairy free eater. So I tried to make sure there would be something for everyone. For appetizers we had fresh salsa, bean and queso dip and guacamole.  Then I grilled some balsamic sesame vegetable kabobs and balsamic chicken, along with grilled corn on the cob, basmati rice and a few salads which people brought. We were also given some wonderful food from an Afghan restaurant (where my daughter works) because we spent most of the day helping them with a little emergency clean up and repair at the restaurant. They gave us a huge dish of eggplant and tomato and some potato bollani.  Okay, I know most Fourth of July dinners are all BBQs with things like hamburgers and hot dogs but that just didn’t sound good or fit the group of people we were coming.  So we had a mish mash of various cultural foods and to me that exemplifies a key component of America! Diverse cultural backgrounds all coming together.

As I said, desserts have been simple fruit dishes and tonight was super easy to make!

Blueberry Sauce over Ice cream, waffles, cake, yogurt, or

1 ½ lbs. or 2 dry pints of blueberries, cleaned and sorted 
1 ½ cups white sugar (more or less as desired)                
2 tsp. lemon zest, grated fine or chopped very fine
¼ cup water
1 TBSP lemon juice
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½-2  tsp. corn starch dissolved in 1 ½ tsp. cold water

In heavy medium sauce pan over medium low,  heat blueberries, sugar, lemon zest, juice and water. Stir often for about  20 – 25 minutes until blueberries soften and sauce begins to thicken up a bit.This may take a bit longer. Remove from heat and add vanilla and cornstarch slurry. Return to heat and stir until bubbly and a bit thicker.
I like to leave the sauce as is but you can put some or all of it through a wire mesh sieve. The sauce is syrupy by design for pouring over ice cream or on waffles or pancakes. Other uses include drizzling over cake or cheese blintzes.
I like to cool the sauce for ice cream as it will melt the ice cream too quickly if it is hot. But you can serve this blueberry sauce hot, cold or room temperature! It keeps in the fridge for several days to a week, as far as I know. We usually eat it up pretty quickly. I believe it should freeze well if you have any left over.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Vegetable Soup

I love soup year round, but in summer months I prefer something light and a bit faster to cook than some simmer-all- day winter soups. I also find my veggie bins filled to overflowing with all the great summer produce from farms, gardens and markets. This soup is a great way to use up some of those vegetables like those last couple zucchinis or the left over cabbage from the coleslaw you made. You can choose any vegetables you would like to include. I like to add them in batches according to how long they each cook so just add any others in wherever they fit best.

One time saving, flavor building twist is to add V-8 or plain tomato juice. Of course, you could easily skip this but I love the spicy, tomato-y tang  it adds.

 I make this soup in bigger batches because it keeps well in the fridge and freezes well, too.

By the way, my kitchen is almost done and I posted a sneak peek photo at the end of this post.

Summer Vegetable Soup

1 large onion

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic

Choose as many vegetables as you would like and add in the order given:

1st batch:

1-2 sweet potatoes, peeled, cubed

3-4 carrots, peeled, sliced thin

3 parsnips. Peeled, sliced thin

Add broth, see list below

2nd Batch

Half a small green cabbage, sliced into slivers then cut till they are  about  1 ½  inches long

1 cup green beans, washed and trimmed, cut into bite sized pieces

2 zucchini and/or yellow summer squash. Cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half moons

½ head of cauliflower, cut into small florets

1 can tomatoes. Diced or fire roasted

3rd batch

1 small bell pepper, any color, diced

3 celery stalks, sliced

Any other veggies  you have on hand such as potato, leeks, fennel, spinach, kale, peas,  corn or mixed vegetables. 

1-2 cans kidney beans, red and/or white


 About 4 cups of low sodium, organic vegetable broth or any good broth of choice

About 2-3  cups  spicy or low sodium V-8 OR plain tomato juice Or sm. can tomato sauce (optional)

1 tsp. Italian herb blend

½ tsp garlic powder and/or onion powder

Pinch of crushed red pepper, and or cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Extra water as needed to keep things broth-y

Start by cutting onions in half and cutting into slivers. Cut the slivers in half-ish. You can just chop the onions if you prefer. In a large pot ( 6-8 quart) heat the olive oil on medium low and add onions, Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring now and then. Add garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.

Choose as many vegetables from the above list as you would like and of course, feel free to substitute others. I add the vegetables that take the longest to cook first. So let’s say I am using carrots and parsnips. I add these, along with a bit more oil if needed,  to the onion to begin to brown and caramelize a bit- not much- just a bit. After sautéing them for about 5 minutes, I add canned tomatoes and broth ingredients.

At this point, after sautéing  1st batch for about 5 minutes,  I usually add in canned tomatoes and broth and let it all simmer for about 20 minutes or until just beginning to be tender.

After 20 minutes, add the 2nd batch of veggies and simmer for 5 minutes and then add the last group of quick cooking vegetables and kidney beans and simmer for at least 15 minutes. For best results, I simmer  everything on low for more like 20-30 minutes.

This soup can be served as it is with some crusty bread or a salad or try these variations—

Add a dollop of hot polenta in the center of the bowl

Cook some macaroni and add it to a pot of this veggie soup. You could also cook some ground beef to add in.

If you have left overs, pack them up in smaller serving size containers and freeze a few for lunches.