polenta on the grill


polenta on the grill

I got adventurous the other weekend.  I made an amazing flank stead rolled up with all kinds of yumminess inside and grilled it off.  But I was in need of a side dish.  So this post is not about the amazing flank steak, but instead, finding a suitable side dish.  Disappointed?  Sorry.  Maybe I will muster up that post another time!  Since my husband and I were, (or constantly are) in the midst of self-hatred when it comes to diet choices, I figured mashed potatoes were out as a side option.  The kids were so tired of brown rice that they said they would rather have beets.  Ok, so they didn’t say that, but I understood their complaint (considering that my father thinks beets taste like dirt, I never really have tried them, and so I have yet to introduce them into my household).  I  needed something to go with the meat and salad I was preparing, but what do you plug in that fills that carb void?  French fry nachos?  Now that’s a thought…(note for the Superbowl!).  Scrolling through iPad land, I came across a polenta recipe that seemed to fit right in.  It was creamy and had sautéed veggies in it and cheese.  Now I need to sell the family on polenta.  I remember a few years ago though, buying the tube of polenta that you could cut into discs and grill or sauté.  After maybe the second time preparing them…probably topping them with an arugula salad or something…my husband finally told me that he felt he was eating what he described as preformed nastiness – dogfood-like crap, and that I didn’t need to make that dish any longer.  He can be direct.  Looking at this recipe, however, this preparation was different.  The polenta could be cooked in a cast iron skillet on the grill, and you could add to it pretty much whatever you wanted.  Now self-hatred aside, yes, there is cheese, but I didn’t go crazy.  I used some feta and some parmesan.  In another life where I could prance around in a size nothing and bloating didn’t exist, I would opt for cheddar craziness, goat cheese or even gouda….anything else but feta!  But this tasted good.  I was thrilled, and so was the family.  I could cook it right on the grill and not have to jump between the steak and the stove.  Win win!  Plus, it didn’t taste like beets!

pancetta

polenta with mushrooms and tomatoes on the grill:

3  TB butter
1  4oz pkg pancetta
1  cup polenta
4  cups hot chicken broth
1  3oz pkg mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup  grape tomatoes, sliced
1  jalapeño, sliced
1/4 cup  crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup  grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt
black pepper

polentamushrooms

Preheat your grill to medium high heat.  Heat up the stock on your stove or directly on the grill.  Gather all of your ingredients and have them ready at your grill.  Place a 10 inch or larger cast iron skillet on the grill.  Add the butter so it starts to melt.  Add the pancetta and render until browned but not crispy.  Add the polenta and give a quick stir.  Pour the hot broth over, and gently whisk to prevent any lumps forming.  Continue to whisk until the mixture starts to get thick.

pancettaadded polenta

Once thick, add mushrooms, tomatoes and jalapeños.  Stir to combine.  Let cook on the grill for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in parmesan and feta and stir to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If necessary, toast it under the broiler for a minute or two to finish it.

jalapeños

veggiesbroiler

finished polenta

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caprese wontons


caprese wontons

People always talk about shedding pounds after the holidays.  Unfortunately in this household, the holiday weight gain period extends through to the Super Bowl.  It’s flattering to hear that there are people who look forward to the get-together at our house every year, so I must be doing something right, right?  Or is it the guilty pleasure of devouring a 7-layer dip and fried buffalo chicken balls that brings everyone back?  Whatever it is, I don’t care.  Unlike the orchestrated Thanksgiving or Easter meals, the Super Bowl is a nosh-worthy event.  I throw everything onto a table and I sit back and enjoy the game, (or in this year’s case, not enjoy the game so much, but more so my friends and David Beckham).  So this time, I made a concerted effort to try to incorporate some healthier dishes without going all vegan on my guests (not that there is anything wrong with vegan!)  What is funny, is that the couscous salad sat, so did the potato salad made healthier with greek yogurt.  Anything remotely like a taco-cheese-like substance is always a big seller.  So are the veggie dips and ranch dressing.  But all my energy wasn’t wasted in trying to tone down my frowny-faced caloric menu, because I found one healthy appetizer that sold….quickly.  Ok so it has cheese.  But still, it wasn’t fried or dripping with steak juice.  These little mozzarella, basil and tomato bites were a hit.  Plus they are easy to prepare and apparently don’t sit very long!  I love the fact that you can tailor the amount to what you feel like.  I made them one night for myself and a friend, so we just made six.  Ok so we also made three other appetizers and shrimp étouffée, oh and uh, a smoothie made with Bud Light and peanut butter, but that is another story for another time.  (Or maybe I’ll just let that one go…)

three ingredients

caprese wontons

non-stick spray
1  12 oz package square wonton wrappers
1  8 oz ball fresh mozzarella, diced small
1  TB extra virgin olive oil
6  TB fresh basil, Julienne
1  large ripe tomato, seeded and diced small
crushed red pepper
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

get started on the wonton cups:

wonton wrappers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Add your diced mozzarella and tomato in a medium bowl.  Add the olive oil and toss to coat. Add crushed red pepper, salt and pepper to taste.  Prepare two muffin tins by spraying with non-stick spray.  Taking two wrappers at a time, rotate the top one a quarter turn and press both wrappers into the muffin cup.  Continue to fill each muffin cup until all 24 cups are pressed in.
Equally spoon mozzarella mixture into each cup and top with sliced basil.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and wrappers turn golden brown.

basil on topwontons done

note:  this makes 24 wonton cups – enough for me.  Ok enough for 8-12 people.

ratatouille spirals


Ratatouille Spirals

In a weird way, I think this dish is representative of me.  It is a dish that tries to please everyone.  It looks complicated, but is really straight forward.  And you are committed to it, even though it is a bit of a pain in the ass to make.  I saw this recipe in a magazine and knew right away I needed to make it.  I haven’t mastered it yet, because I think the proportions are off a little with both the veggies and/or the size of the pan, but nevertheless, it is still a good dish.  The first time I made it, I followed the recipe and used the anchovies.  The dish got an F.  The kids were coughing and dry heaving, and then my husband, because he still is a child, did the same. So, obviously the anchovies didn’t dissolve, and ruined the dish (for us).  My suggestion to pick around the anchovies got tossed about as fast as the dish did.  How was I ever going to bring back my dish that I was in love with for the strangest reasons?  Thankfully, the opportunity came up when my cooking soul mate called, and we decided to make dinner reservations.  As the night out drew closer, we made the convenient excuse to just get together and cook a meal ourselves.  We met to go food shopping for a menu that was basically nonexistent, with the exception of the spirals I was making.  But at 5:30pm, in the cheese aisle, our menu took shape.  I think that if we didn’t have a clock or a liver, we could have cooked all night.  Ok, so maybe just not a clock…kidding.  So after the cooking marathon, the hour on the clock told us we were tired and the empty bottles of wine signaled the immediacy of going to bed.  However, we had successfully made stuffed jalapeños with Brie, caramelized onion and mushroom ravioli, and of course, I got to make my spirals again.  This time, I substituted fresh basil for the anchovies.  I still didn’t fill the pan with spirals, but what I could fill was my belly and my fridge full of left overs!

zucchini slices

ratatouille spirals  (adapted from Bon Appetit)

3  lbs beefsteak tomatoes, scored with an “X” on the bottoms
3  TB extra virgin olive oil
1  medium onion, diced
2  large garlic cloves, minced
1/2  tsp crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2  cups cubed country bread
2 1/2  lbs medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips
2 1/2  lbs small japanese or italian eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips
3  roasted bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch strips
20 – 24  fresh basil leaves
1  lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 x 2 inch sticks
freshly grated parmesan cheese

get started on the spirals:

scored tomatoes

In a medium pot of boiling water, blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds.  Drain them and then slip off the skins and halve the tomatoes crosswise.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes, keeping the juices and seeds.
Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large skillet, heat 2 TB of the oil.  Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and juices and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Cook while stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, on a baking sheet, toss the bread cubes with the remaining 1 TB of olive oil.  Toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once, until golden.
In a colander, toss the zucchini and eggplant with 2 TB of kosher salt (can be done in separate colanders), and let drain for 15 minutes.  Shake out the excess liquid and pat the slices dry.
Spoon the tomato sauce into a shallow 2 1/2 qt. baking dish and scatter the bread cubes on top.

bread in sauce

On a clean work surface, top each zucchini slice with a slice of eggplant.  Blot dry if necessary.  Place a strip of roasted red pepper and then top with a basil leaf.  Place a stick of mozzarella at one end.  Sprinkle each stack with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and roll up.  Stand the rolls in the baking dish and drizzle with oil.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

assembly line

Cover with parchment paper or foil.  Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender and the ratatouille is bubbling.  Remove the parchment paper halfway through baking.  Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

rolls

note:  this dish serves 8 people