EGGPLANT POLENTA – Super Easy!

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My boys grew up watching me cook up a storm on a daily basis. I baked whole wheat bread (sadly, quite often the slices kind of fell apart as you ate it – this was before I understood about gluten), juiced 400 lbs of organic apples every fall, and made pasta and baked goods from scratch.

To my chagrin, they showed no interest in learning how to cook. Until now. Yay! Both my sons have finally grasped the benefit to health and pocketbook by cooking from scratch. Last night my oldest made a delicious, fast, and easy polenta topped with eggplant and Parmesan.

Thus, the student becomes the teacher.

Of course, like all cooks, I made a couple of changes. As it’s zucchini overload season, I decided to incorporate this prolific squash into the recipe (one can only eat so much zucchini bread!). Also, I exchanged Fontina cheese for most of the Parmesan. It has a nice melty property.

NOTE: With a little forethought, you can shave half an hour off the cooking time for the polenta. All you need to do is combine the cornmeal and water the night before (or even the morning of) and let it soak (just soak – no cooking yet) until you’re ready to make dinner. This step takes seconds and you save half an hour!

EGGPLANT POLENTA – makes about 4-6 servings

  • 1 cup medium grind cornmeal
  • 4 cups water
  • 1¼ tsp salt, divided
  • 28 oz can whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb eggplant, unpeeled & cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into quarter moons
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 3/4 cup Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Soak cornmeal and water the night before or the morning of preparing this dish. This will expedite cooking dramatically. If you don’t do this, you’ll just have to allow more cooking time – it could take an hour to absorb the water and be soft enough to eat.

Either way, cook the cornmeal, its water, and 1/2 tsp of the salt uncovered over a medium flame, bringing it to a boil. Then decrease heat to medium/low. Stir often, but not continuously (unless you have nothing better to do).

While the polenta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium flame in large skillet. When it shimmers (the sign for when it’s hot enough), add in the eggplant, zucchini, and 1/4 tsp salt. Sauté for about 7 minutes, stirring often, until browned. Turn off heat.

Add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds with the heat off (this prevents scorching the garlic). Turn the heat back to medium, and stir in the tomatoes (with its juice) and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook another 2 minutes to thicken a bit.

To serve: On either individual plates or a large platter, layer the polenta, topped with Fontina, the eggplant mixture, fresh basil, and then sprinkle with Parmesan. Let set a few minutes so the Fontina gets nice and gooey!

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ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE – A Creamy Delight!

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Orzo is a pasta (yes, a pasta!) that I love, but rarely use – mostly because I forget about it. When I want a rice-like ingredient, my mind goes to…rice.

Orzo has the same chew as white rice, and is only slightly bigger. The benefit is it cooks much faster – about 9 minutes. So if you want to make a risotto – which takes a lot of time and attention – consider using orzo. It will be found in the pasta section of the market, of course.

ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE, like many dishes, can be tweaked to your desires and what you have in the house. Switch the asparagus for red pepper, peas, or mushrooms. Cashews can be exchanged for the almonds. And the orzo can be traded for barley, sorghum, or…rice. The possibilities are endless.

NOTE: If you decide to use mushrooms, cook them until most of the liquid evaporates. This will be longer than the 3 minutes for asparagus.

ORZO ASPARAGUS AMANDINE – makes about 2½ cups

  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo
  • 1 T butter
  • 6 stalks asparagus, sliced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk (see NOTE below)
  • 1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

NOTE: 3/4 cup evaporated milk is half of a 12 oz can. You can freeze the unused half, double the recipe and use the whole can, OR use a 5 oz can and add 3 oz of milk to it (even nonfat).

Boil about 2½ water (it doesn’t need to be exact) and pour in the orzo. Cook until it’s slightly underdone (check after 7 minutes) – it will continue to absorb liquid when mixed with the evaporated milk, so it doesn’t need to be completely cooked. Strain out the excess water using a colander or hand strainer.

While the orzo is cooking, wash and slice the asparagus. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté asparagus for about 3 minutes over medium flame. Add in garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Remove from heat to prevent scorching the garlic.

Add the cornstarch, salt, and pepper to the asparagus, blending well. Pour in the evaporated milk and return to medium flame. Stir until thickened – about 3 minutes. Add in cheese.

When cheese is melted, stir in the cooked orzo. Taste for seasoning, correcting, as needed.

When ready to serve, mix in the almonds. Don’t do this ahead of time or they won’t be as crispy.

 

BLONDIES – Locked & Loaded!

blondies2 textI’ve finally achieved my idea of the perfect blondie. (A blondie is a cross between a chocolate chip cookie and a brownie.) While there may not such a thing as a BAD blondie, there are definitely sub-par ones.

I was looking for a moist, chewy, chocolatey blondie with a salty crunch. Is that asking too much? NO!!! Tinkering around with a pretty good recipe, I decided to brown the butter rather than simply melt it, as directed. This added a deeper flavor.

I also found that removing them from the oven promptly at the 22 minute mark (cooking directions suggested 22-25 minutes) was key to a moist result. Even if you don’t think they’re done, fear not – they’ll continue to bake in the hot pan out of the oven.

A bonus feature of my Blondies is that they’re actually better the next day, once they’re firmed up a bit. I love recipes you can make ahead of time! (Don’t get me wrong – they’re DELICIOUS the same day! It’s just they’re still kind of soft and gooey….not exactly a bad thing, but a little messy for guests.

Finally, I added 1/2 cup of 60% cocao bittersweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli was best) AND white chocolate chips, then topped with toasted pretzel bits for a salty crunch.

NOTE: For the flour and brown sugar I put measurements in both weight and cups. Weight is a far more accurate measurement, which is important in baking. So if you have a scale, use it.

BONNIE’S BLONDIES

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour (1 2/3 cups)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 T salted butter
  • 10.5 oz dark brown sugar (1¾ cups)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup walnuts (or pecans, cashews) – chopped & lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup 60% bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips (I use Nestle’s)
  • 1/3 cup pretzel sticks, broken by hand into small pieces & lightly toasted (unless the bag is fresh)

NOTE: Take care when breaking the pretzels that you don’t knock off the salt.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat, swirling often. Keep cooking until butter darkens and becomes aromatic, but doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl. Let cool a few minutes.

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Mix the sugar into the melted butter. Stir well, smashing out any lumps.

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Beat the eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl. Pour approximately half the eggs into sugar mixture and blend. When smooth, stir in the rest of the eggs.

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Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.

Pour in the flour mixture, folding gently until most of the flour is incorporated.

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Add in the chips and nuts, blending just until flour disappears – over mixing toughens the Blondie.

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Pour into a greased and floured 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Spread batter to cover entire pan, smoothing top. The batter is very thick, so take care when spreading that you don’t scrap off the greased/floured coating – just gently push the top toward the edges.Sprinkle the pretzels on top, lightly pressing into the batter so they stick.

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Bake at 350º Fahrenheit for 22 minutes exactly.  Don’t worry if they don’t look quite done – they’ll continue to cook in the hot dish. Place on a wire rack to cool for, at least, 3 hours before slicing.

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CHILI SPOONBREAD – Creamy Goodness!

chili spoonbread1 textNever heard of spoonbread? Neither had I, but I saw it on America’s Test Kitchen and it looked delicious. A popular dish in the southern United States, it’s kind of a cross between cornbread and a soufflé.

As is my usual practice, I followed the recipe the first time I made it. It was good, but I doubted I’d ever make it again (even though it was pretty simple). Then I spied the leftover CHILI CON QUESO from last week’s blogpost. Hmmm! I wondered if it could be incorporated into the spoonbread to kick it up a notch.

Oh, yeah! Worked like a charm. Turned out to be a wonderful twofer bonus: improved the spoonbread, AND made use of the Chili Con Queso before I could grab the Doritos and scarf down the lot….uh, just so it wouldn’t go to waste.

CHILI-CHEESE SPOONBREAD – makes 4 individual servings

  • 1 cup fine-grind cornmeal (Bob’s Red Mill makes this)
  • 2¼ cups milk (any kind – I use nonfat), divided
  • 2 raw cobs of fresh corn (white or yellow)
  • 4 T butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup chili con queso  OR 1/3 cup red salsa
  •                                               2 oz Jack cheese, shredded
  •                                               2 oz med. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/3 tsp cream of tartar

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal and 3/4 cup of the milk. This will soften the cornmeal so it’s not so gritty. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Butter 4  1¼ cup soufflé dishes.

If you don’t happen to have chili con queso, make it by combining the salsa and cheeses in a saucepan over a low flame, until the cheese is melted. You can do this ahead of time.

Remove the husk and silk from the corn cobs, then wash and dry them. Next (this may sound daunting, but I promise you it’s not) holding each cob at an angle, remove the kernels by running a sharp knife down the sides. It’s easiest to begin a couple of inches from the top and work downwards, away from you. Then flip the cob, and remove the bit that was at the top in the same manner. You’ll get about 3/4 cup of corn from each cob – I found that amazing.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and cook corn over medium flame, until it begins to brown – about 15 minutes. Stir often. Then add in salt, sugar, and the rest of the milk (1½ cups). Bring to simmer, cover, and turn off stove. Let steep about 10 minutes.

Bring the corn mixture back to a simmer and, over a low flame, whisk in the softened cornmeal. Stir until it thickens – about 5 minutes. Shut off flame and stir in the chili con queso. Pour mixture into a large bowl and let cool 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400º fahrenheit, with rack in middle position.

Stir the yolks together, then mix into the batter (once it’s cooled for 20 minutes – you don’t want to cook the egg yolks).

Using an electric mixer on high, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together until stiff peaks form. Spoon about 1/3 of beaten whites into the batter and whisk in – you don’t have to be excessively gentle with this just yet. Once those whites are incorporated, pour the rest of whites into the batter and very gently whisk them in by dipping the whisk into the batter then lifting it out. OR, you can use a rubber spatula and fold the whites in. These whites are going to cause the batter to rise, so you don’t want to deflate them by stirring too vigorously.

Divide batter amongst the 4 soufflé dishes and put in preheated oven. IMMEDIATELY TURN OVEN DOWN TO 350º fahrenheit. Bake for 20-22 minutes, if you like a creamy center (I do!). If you jiggle the soufflé dish, the center should wobble. But, if you want the center cooked like the sides (more bread-like), then bake another 2 minutes – the center won’t jiggle.

If there are leftovers, store Chili Spoonbread in the soufflé bowls. Then microwave about 1 minute 15 seconds when ready to eat.