Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pan-fried Polenta with Sauteed Mushrooms and Garlicky Spinach

I have been wanting to try to make polenta for a while but I was hesitant because I didn't really know what to serve it with. I consulted The Book (we all know which this is by now) and found that sauteed mushrooms were suggested with polenta. How convenient that I had some mushrooms that weren't used for Thanksgiving. I wanted some green on the plate so I decided on spinach, and I used the Garlicky Greens recipe on 101 Cookbooks as a rough guide.

The polenta was easy to make, but a little difficult to work with when cutting it and frying it. First you cook it in a pot, then pour it into a pan (I used a loaf pan) to cool. You can let it sit there all day if you want. Then you just slice it and do whatever you are going to do with it. I wanted to pan-fry it. I tried my stainless skillet at first but this is not a good idea. You need nonstick for this. The stainless saute pan worked great for the mushrooms though, since you deglaze with a little wine (yum).

This turned out to be a nice, delicious meal. I think it was pretty balanced too - protein from the spinach and carbs from the polenta. I would like to try some lemon with the greens too - maybe zest instead of juice to give it a little something refreshing.

I thought I had pictures of this, but I can't find them. Sorry!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I had fun cooking for Thanksgiving with my mom. It took days (literally) and was gobbled up in about 30 minutes (literally) but everything came out pretty great. Here is a little photo tour through our menu... unfortunately I didn't get pictures of everything, but I'll try to describe it all.


Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts: I thought these would be gross - I hate water chestnuts. But between the bacon fat and the globs of honey, they softened up a lot and were really flavorful. There is no real recipe for this - just wrap water chestnuts with bacon, pop in a toothpick, and pile on the honey.

In addition to this, we also had brie with dried cranberries, walnuts, and thyme. I think some more stuff was out, but nothing too fancy.


Winter Green Salad with Sugared Walnuts, Crispy Pears and Pomegranate Vinaigrette: This is from Clean Food. The dressing was a huge success... it was made from pomegranate juice, a little balsamic vinegar, zesty honey mustard... delicious. I didn't use the sugared walnuts recipe from Clean Food because I had to make them for the stuffing anyway (see below), and that recipe was much easier. The tough part here was getting the pomegranate arils out of the fruit. Also check out my sweet Vera Bradley apron!

Main Course

Ham and Turkey: No pictures of the turkey, but here is the ham being slathered in brown sugar. There was some other stuff involved, but I don't know what. All I have to say is... yummm!

Sage, Walnut, and Dried Fig Stuffing: This is a 101 Cookbooks recipe, which I was so excited to make. As I mentioned earlier, I made the sugared walnuts (egg whites, sugar and salt) and used them also in the salad. I was so excited to have vegetarian stuffing with no meat in it! And although it was pretty dry (Mom even added extra liquid) it still tasted good. I would add more liquid next time though.

Wild Rice with Apples: This recipe is from Cooking Light - if not October 2009, another fall issue for this year. I was so excited to make this. It takes a long time though, and so I had to get dressed while I was waiting to bring it to a boil. I asked my mom to turn it down to a simmer after it boiled. A looong time later, I realized that she had turned it all the way up instead. Oops! There was no liquid left but it was completely uncooked. I managed to salvage it by adding a ton of extra liquid and cooking it much longer. Fortunately it turned out really good. It was a really interesting side dish and fit well with the holiday - the sauteed Pink Lady apples were so good.

We also had the typical sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.


Best-Ever Apple Pie: This is from a cookbook of my mom's - I forget the title, but it is actually quite interesting. I read it while I was supposed to be helping with the cooking. This woman traveled to farms all over the country to collect recipes. A lot of them are kind of disgusting (using ingredients like lard, etc.) but some are really cool. There are also sidebars about stuff like avocado farming, for example. Haley did most of this by herself - I helped a little though.

Tofu Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust: Another Clean Food recipe, but not as much of a hit. There was some flavor here that just wasn't really great, but it was OK. The gingersnap crust was very good though.

Mini Sweet Potato Tarts: Mom made these after she overcooked the sweet potato. I ended up taking over and scooping the stuff into all of the cups and putting on the sweet pecan mixture. I didn't try one of these (I don't like sweet potatoes, I will have to try them again someday) but they looked pretty good.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Orange and Oat Scones

I don't typically make the currently featured recipe on 101 Cookbooks because I rarely have time to do it, but I couldn't pass up these Orange and Oat Scones. And I am so glad I took the time to make them, because they are SO good!!!

I hate the pastries at Starbucks because they are so full of sugar. These scones are so lightly sweetened, and the oats and whole wheat fill your stomach. The orange zest was the perfect addition to this - the slight flavor from the zest was amazing.

These were so simple and easy to make. I actually found afterwards that I accidentally used only half the amount of butter - but they still came out delicious! This also made them substantially healthier. I also skipped the currants - just not something I had on hand and I wasn't too sure if I really wanted them in there. Dried cranberries might be a really nice substitute for the currants. The walnuts lent a little extra texture in there too.

This recipe inspired me a little and I tried a little twist by using frozen blueberries and no orange zest or nuts. Aside from turning a little green on the outside, these came out great too, although the moisture from the blueberries (and their frozen-ness) changed the texture, so they were more cake-like rather than crumbly like a good scone should be. However, they reminded me a lot of the Blueberry Oat Cakes from Jamba Juice which I have been trying to find a recipe for forever - so if you like those, I would recommend this variation.

I would like to make these again... they might make a good Christmas gift, actually. I think it would work well to make and freeze the dough, then bake off a few as needed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic

I stopped at the farmers' market around the corner the other day and ran straight into a big stack of cartons full of small, brightly colored tomatoes. Each carton held a mix of several different colors and I picked up two right away, almost forgetting what I had stopped for in the first place. I didn't have a plan for them, but I knew I could find one.

Ken mentioned (again) that he doesn't like sun-dried tomatoes. He did tack on the end of that statement this time that he does like roasted tomatoes. That got me thinking of the roasted cherry tomatoes I made for the Red Pesto Ravioli over the summer.

I consulted my handbook (HTCEV) for roasting instructions, then added extra olive oil and thinly sliced garlic (thank you Pampered Chef Garlic Slicer!). This went on my stoneware into the oven for a while. We tossed it with a long thin pasta. The garlicky olive oil and tomatoes made a lovely sauce.

Next time I will try to remove some of the seeds since they were a little out of hand. Maybe I will try again with my second carton of tomatoes... or maybe I will think of something new.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Garlic Soup

I don't like soup. It might sound weird, but me craving soup usually means I am deathly ill. After much contemplation I have decided that I do not like chicken broth. I always eat the wontons but not the broth, and I prefer Campbell's Double Noodle over anything because it is basically entirely noodles.

For some reason, although I was not sick, I wanted to make soup. Not any soup in particular, but just soup. My big came over for a soup/study date and I wanted to max our working time and minimize our soup making time, so I picked a yummy sounding Garlic Soup from 101 Cookbooks.

Apparently everyone else was thinking, "Garlic soup? Just garlic? Could that actually be any good?" Um, yes. It can. And to have seen the bottom of a soup bowl for probably the first time in my life, I can tell you that this soup is worth the small amount of effort required to make it.

Probably the reason I like it so much is that it contains some things I like very much. Fresh herbs, a ridiculous amount of garlic, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. You make the broth using chopped garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and sage, then add a "binding pomade" of egg and cheese to thicken it up. It was a little complicated to physically do, so I'm glad I had an extra pair of hands, but I think I could do it myself if I had to (or just wanted to!) and I certainly plan to make this again. We are having an Indian Summer but the snow will come eventually and when it does I will be armed with this deliciousness.

There is not a thing to change about this recipe. I will make it again just as it is. The crusty bread is a must (though I prefer to dip rather than pour the soup over). It reheats just fine in the microwave. Due to my love for shortcuts and freezing things I am considering making the broth with the herbs and garlic and freezing it for a quicker soup. Hopefully it will work just as well.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Barley and Roasted Pepper Salad

My mom's neighbor gave us 5 peppers (red, orange, yellow) and I decided I wanted to roast them, but had no idea what to do after that. Later that day I opened How To Cook Everything Vegetarian (surprise) to look up something totally unrelated, and when I opened the book it happened to land on page 87. I happened to notice a recipe on this page called "Wheat Berry or Other Whole Grain Salad with Roasted Peppers." The first sentence of the recipe says "This mild, rich salad is not only delicious but also gorgeous, especially if you use red and yellow peppers you've roasted yourself." Not surprisingly, I made it the next day.

This recipe takes a bit of advance preparation. I roasted the peppers and cut them into long thin strips the day before. I also should have cooked the barley at this time. I wanted to use wheat berries as the recipe mentions, but I couldn't find them in my freezer or refrigerator. I know they are buried somewhere in there. One of these days I will come up with some kind of organizational system.

I didn't have fresh basil, so I added some dried basil to the dressing of olive oil and red wine vinegar. I mixed it up before pouring it over and mixing it in. I got a little too crazy with the dressing so I will have to have some self control next time so I'm not eating spoonfuls of oil with each bite.

This kept for several days in the refrigerator, although I made sure to eat it at room temperature. I like grain salads best at that temperature. It was definitely easy to make with all the prep work done.