Thursday, March 29, 2012

What We've Been Eating, Part 2: Practically Perfect Polenta!

Let's pick up where we left off yesterday, shall we? Okay! Oh, you don't remember where we left off? We were talking about what is working for us and what is not working for us in the quest for hypoallergenic food for the whole family. Mostly I talked about what is not working for us. I was a little negative yesterday. I apologize for that.

But today! Let's be positive! What can we be positive about?  My son is NOT allergic to corn! Now, people have issues with corn, I get it, and it's not the easiest food to digest, I get that too. But we're adjusting to some new dietary restrictions right now and embracing those things that do not cause hives. And we seem to handle corn fine. So this week we really like cornmeal. (And popcorn and tortillas.) I have three cornmeal recipes for you in fact. Herein, eaters, I've got some polenta for you.

I have always liked polenta. I think I have made it once or twice in the past using the recipe on the back of the cornmeal bag. I've never chilled and sliced and grilled it though. That seemed like a lot of work and I thought I just liked it in its more porridge-y form. I thought wrong. Chilled and grilled polenta is WAY better (and pretty easy). MC, Beckett (that's my little boy), and I all loved it. (Sadie (2.5-yr old girl) not so much. But she only seems to want strawberries and yogurt lately so her opinion should not be given much weight.)


The best part: you can cut it into stars and hearts.  Because sometimes saying "I love you" just isn't enough.

Almost Alton Brown's Savory Polenta
Adapted from Food Network
Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for grilling or sauteing if desired
1 small-medium onion, finely chopped
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (use the lesser amount of your stock/broth is salted/store-bought)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups water (or you could omit water and use 4 cups broth)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup cornmeal (Alton Brown says coarse; mine was "medium")**
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large, oven-safe saucepan or dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn. Turn the heat up to high, add the water and stock, bring to a boil. Gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once you have added all of the cornmeal, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Remove from the oven and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Once they are incorporated, gradually add the nutritional yeast*. Serve as is, or pour the polenta into 9 by 13-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely. Once set, turn the polenta out onto a cutting board and cut into squares, rounds, hearts, stars, or triangles. Brush each side with olive oil and saute in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.

The adults in the household ate grilled polenta triangles with this tomato sauce.

*Alton Brown suggests using 2 ounces Parmesan, grated.  I just didn't feel like eating more cheese that day, so I used nutritional yeast and it was super good.

** I soaked the cornmeal in water with 1 tablespoon whey overnight.  I don't know enough to tell you you should do this, but soaking grains is something we've been doing in our household lately.  My point in mentioning this is that, if you do happen to soak your grains and you soak the cornmeal before making this particular recipe, it does not affect the cooking time or method at all.  Maybe it ends up a little creamier though (and gentler on the belly).  For more info on soaking grains, check out Nourishing Traditions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What We've Been Eating, Part 1: My New Favorite Salad with Sweet Potatoes, Wild Rice, and Smoked Salmon

Sorry for the dearth of posts this month.  I still intend to meet my self-dictated quota (4 per month), but intentions are what they are, so we'll see.

I've been busy!  During the months of March and April, I'm teaching every Thursday evening at Local D'Lish.  My March 1st Quick Weeknight Meal-ers were apparently quite special in receiving morning-after attention.  Since then I've enjoyed the company, questions, and helpfulness of forty-one class participants (students?) - 12 for my brunch class, 12 for simple vegan dinners, and 17 at last week's spring soups class - but have not had the time to follow up with them.  I LOVE teaching.  It is super fun, I meet great people, and I get to practice doing what I enjoy most:  cooking, eating, and talking.  It's become an especially important outlet for me in the past few weeks as my in-home cooking has become more challenging (and, frankly, stressful).  I've been trying out several new (expensive) ingredients in my efforts to accommodate my son's recently diagnosed food allergies.  My experimentation has resulted in as many disappointments as successes.  I'm so far out of my comfort zone.  I'm trying to reconcile my desire to be methodical and thorough in my experimentation with the fact that I need to get food on the table for four people several times a day.  There have been lots of sweet potatoes.  I have put banana guilt on hold.  We are making do and my children are thriving and I am lucky that this food stuff is my greatest challenge right now.  Moreover, I am extra lucky to be able to go to my cooking classes once a week, set all my food stress aside, work with the reliable ingredients I know and love best, and share my knowledge, experience, and wheat-and-egg-laden goodies with people who can enjoy them.

On the homefront, we are eating a lot of a few things: chicken, beef, sweet potatoes, soups, alterna-grain pancakes, cheese, yogurt, smoothies galore.  Our vegetable consumption has exceeded even our CSA-season standards.  We're eating more quinoa and rice than we have in a while. Quesadillas have been popular and I've eaten an obscene amount of popcorn in the last couple weeks.  We've experimented with gluten-free flour mixes and Ener-G egg replacer - the former saw some moderate success, the latter has a chalky aftertaste.  There is a reason wheat and eggs are the basis of most Western baking.  They work and they taste good.

With the gluten-free, egg-free banana-chocolate chip scone I ate from the Wedge on Sunday came an important epiphany.  The scone was structurally perfect, flavorful, a nice amount of sweet, and tasted fairly fresh even though I'm sure it was several hours old.  It didn't taste like the scones I'm used to though, and why would it?  I realized that if the Wedge's professional baking staff couldn't make something as delicious and familiar-tasting as a wheat-based scone than I certainly couldn't.  Trying to make traditional baked goods out of non-traditional (not to mention overly-processed, chalky, sandy, weird) ingredients isn't going to be the way we go.  Our current priority:  eating hypoallergenic foods without trying to make them into something they're not.  (Unless it's Beckett's birthday.  Which is coming up, on Saturday.  Then I am giving it my all.  Bring on the xanthan gum and potato starch.  We WILL have edible chocolate cupcakes!)

So I've been eating a variation of this salad a lot.  It's delicious.  And it's totally proud it's not a muffin.

my new favorite salad 

My New Favorite Salad with Sweet Potatoes, Wild Rice, and Smoked Salmon 
Makes enough for 1 breastfeeder or 2 non-breastfeeders 

1/2 a head of lettuce, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces 
1 cup cooked wild rice or rice "blend", room temp or cold* 
1 cup cooked sweet potato, cut into 1/2" dice", room temp or cold** 
4 ounces smoked salmon, flaked into bite-sized pieces 
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil 
1 tablespoon fruit-infused balsamic vinegar (like fig or orange) OR 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar + 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
A rib of celery, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped (optional) 
Handful of sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (optional)
Freshly ground pepper 

Place lettuce on plate.  Top with wild rice, sweet potato, and salmon.  Drizzle oil, vinegar and honey (if using) on top.  Finish with celery, scallion, cilantro, seeds, and a few good grinds of pepper.  Bon appetit!

* To cook wild rice:  Put 1/2 cup wild rice and 1 cup water in a pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Bring to boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat so that it simmers.  Cover and cook 40-50 minutes.  Remove from heat, allow to sit for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

** To cook sweet potato:  The easy way is to dice a sweet potato, put in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to boil and simmer for 5-8 minutes more.  The hard, but slightly tastier way is to dice, toss with 1 tablespoon oil and a little salt and pepper, place on a baking sheet and roast in an oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.  (Peel if you want - I wish I hadn't because I used a jewel yam and it was so pretty and vibrant - purple on outside, yellow on inside - but I feel like peels are a choking hazard for my baby still and we shared this particular sweet potato, as we do most.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy Birthday to Blog! (oh - and my favorite tomato sauce too, plus bonus tomato-rice soup recipe!)

(I don't know why the line spacing is being so weird and inconsistent. Sorry for the non-readability. Maybe 3-D glasses would help?)

Yesterday was my food blog's 2-yr birthday. We celebrate so many more birthdays in this household than we did two years, seven months, three weeks and three days ago. It's pretty fun, although I just learned yesterday that our birthday-cake-making is going to get a little more complicated for the foreseeable future: my not-quite-one-year-old son is not only allergic to peanuts (not surprising because of my own nut allergy) but also wheat, egg, and - semi-uniquely - chickpeas. He's probably allergic to a slew of other things too (I'll be shocked if he's not allergic to tree nuts) but our pediatrician limited the first round of testing to things I could think of based on his recent reactions; he was tested for the main culprits as well as chickpeas, because I'd mentioned he'd reacted to hummus. I don't want to be melodramatic about this because it's not like he has leukemia or seizures and his reactions have never presented as anaphylactic... but it does totally suck in the short-term and, in the long-term, my work in the kitchen will involve new levels of rigor, research and thoughtfulness that I am not that excited about at the moment. And I'm sad because my husband makes the best bread on the planet and we eat a lot of pizza and TONS of eggs and like half my meatless meals involve chickpeas. On a more positive note: dairy's cool. And they make gluten free "puffs", which are my children's favorite snack, despite the fact that they taste like air. We will survive.

Thanks for listening.

Now let's talk tomato sauce. You might think it's not all that worth talking about. (In which case, I don't understand you.) Or maybe you think it's over-talked about on the interwebs. (In which case, I admit I've felt the same periodically.) The reason we're going to talk about it anyway is that this tomato sauce is really quite wonderful, it's super versatile, and it's been complimented by pretty much every one who's tasted it at one of my cooking classes or at a dinner party where, more likely than not, I serve lasagna with this tomato sauce as its base. Compliments to me are like clapping is to Tinkerbell - my life source, really, as well as a good means from which I gauge what is worth posting on here. Sometimes I don't feel that relying on my palate alone is fair. I eat some weird stuff sometimes.

This tomato sauce is not weird though. It is aromatic and rich, both buttery and just-enough acidic, it ages well in the refrigerator and freezer, and it's simple to make, with time doing most of the work. It goes great with meat...

tomato sauce for carnivores


And it's gluten free. (Ugh. I said it. I hated it. Although, being more generous of spirit, maybe this blog will be accessible to more people as I get more familiar with gluten- and egg-free cooking. That would be cool. Rewarding even.)

tomato sauce ingredients

My recipe calls for whole tomatoes. Popular opinion is that the best tomatoes are canned whole and the less-best tomatoes are the ones chopped up and thrown into the "diced" or "crushed" tomato jars. Since summer, I've been using the roma tomatoes that I canned with my sister-in-law. (I used up my last two jars the day these photos were taken! (Sniff sniff!)) San Marzano tomatoes are recommended by the food magazines. But, truth be told, this recipe is kind of full-proof. As indicated in the recipe, chopped fresh tomatoes work just as well (although I tend to add 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste if I use fresh tomatoes, just to give it an intense tomato-y boost). And at the store where I teach, we use jarred diced tomatoes, because that is what they sell (and they're super good).

If it makes no difference to you though, start with the whole canned tomatoes because it's fun to watch them evolve as they stew, reduce, and thicken.

whole tomatoes
tomato sauce simmering
tomato sauce thickening
the best parts

Ideas for use: toss with pasta and 1 lb of browned meat or sausage; throw in some red chili flakes and poach some eggs for an Italian variation on Shakshuka; use it instead of jarred marinara in lasagna; tomato-rice soup (recipe below); with some cheese to make an herby margherita pizza.

Also - the fresh basil makes the whole sauce taste, well, fresher, so it's worth a trip to the store or farmer's market if it's in season (or grown in a greenhouse near you).

Chunky Herbed Tomato Sauce
Adapted from The Bride and Groom's First Cookbook (cheesy title, I know, but a really great cookbook, one that all of you should have whether or not you are a bride or groom)
Makes ~6 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large (26- or 28-oz) jars whole tomatoes* (or 3-4 lbs fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with juices and seeds + 2 tablespoons tomato paste)
1 cube vegetable or chicken bouillon (optional, but recommended, especially if your tomatoes are fresh and/or unsalted; I really like Rapunzel vegetable bouillon cubes)
1 tablespoon honey (or 2 teaspoons sugar)
½ teaspoon each: dried oregano, marjoram, parsley (or 1-2 teaspoons “Italian herb blend” of some sort)
2 teaspoons dried basil (use ¼ cup chopped fresh basil in summer – toss it in with the butter)
2 tablespoons butter

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium heat. Add onion, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, bouillon cube, honey, and dried herbs, and bring to boil, stirring with a spatula to break up tomatoes. Allow to simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until about half of liquid has evaporated. Stir in the butter. Taste and adjust the seasonings. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 1 week, or in the freezer for a few months. Its flavor improves over time.

* For a smoother sauce, start with jarred tomato sauce instead of tomatoes OR puree the sauce in a blender or food processor after simmering, but before adding the basil and butter.

Tomato-Rice Soup
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 4

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 cups Chunky Herbed Tomato Sauce (recipe above)
1-2 cups cooked brown or white rice (depending on how hearty you'd like your soup)
2 cups cooked chickpeas or shredded chicken (optional)
¼ to ½ cup red wine or 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Put all ingredients except red wine in a large soup pot. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in red wine or vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with crackers, croutons, or quesadillas.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Note to Tonight's Quick Weeknight Mealers

Dear Elsaa, Brian, Tracy, Amy, Annie, Nicki, Rebecca, Mel, Cory, Noah, Amanda, and Andy:

Tonight was so fun! Seriously. I had an excellent time - I had an excellent quesadilla - and I so v. much enjoyed meeting you all. Thanks for your participation, your good humor, and your thoughtful questions. You keep me on my toes and that's what makes this job fun!

Thanks also for going back for seconds (and thirds, Cory and Amanda). Makes me more confident that I'm doing something right.

A couple follow-up notes/answers to questions:

1. To make those quick weeknight meals even quicker, raid your pantry: Bring your favorite basic jarred tomato sauce to simmer instead of making your own (10 min tops); if you don't have 20 minutes for chicken or 7 for a sweet potato, smear some canned refried beans with chiles on one side of your quesadilla instead (5 min); omit the noodles and just enjoy your peanut sauce with raw veggies (5 min) or stir-fried veggies with shrimp and/or chicken or tofu cut into 1/2-1" pieces (5-10 min).

2. We omitted cheese from our eggs-in-purgatory (it's in the recipe though) because the pan was crowded and we were going to eat a lot of cheese in our quesadillas. But - as Annie noted - the cheese takes that dish to the next level of richness. Adding a generous amount of ricotta, feta, boursin, or goat cheese if you like it (I don't) would make the meal more substantial. You could also brown some sausage or ground beef and add it to the sauce before adding the eggs. Just make sure there's enough moisture for poaching (i.e. add some water or broth if necessary).

3. The tomato sauce freezes well. The peanut sauce will get weird and gritty if you freeze it. You can store it in your refrigerator for about a week. It also would be easy to make half a batch. (Half a 1/4 cup = 2 tablespoons.)

Tomato-rice soup recipe coming soon! In the meantime... go poach some eggs and impress your friends.