Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

A few weeks ago I picked up a new cookbook to help with trying to go more vegetarian. I really like Plenty because it is a vegetarian cookbook that isn’t written by a vegetarian and it acknowledges that there are different versions of vegetarian. Some are more vegan – no animal products at all – some are no eggs or no dairy or fish only and others are anything other than meat. I am clearly not totally vegetarian but I like to cook meatless as much as I can.

I started my exploration of this cookbook with a polenta with eggplant. I didn’t use the polenta recipe from the book because A) it required six ears of corn and B) I really love my version of the Alton Brown recipe. My version is pretty simple:
1 shallot, chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup corn meal
1 tablespoon butter
1 oz grated cheese (Pecorino or Romano generally)
Oil for the shallot

Cook the shallot over medium heat about five minutes until soft. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal until it is all incorporated. Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. Remove and add the butter – whisk to incorporate – then the cheese. Stir well to mix the cheese in.

That’s it. Fairly simple and always delicious.

For the eggplant sauce, I did this fairly close to the actual recipe.
1 medium eggplant chopped into pieces about 3/4 inch
Oil for the pan – about 1/2 cup
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup water
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon chopped oregano

I peeled the eggplant because I don’t like the skin – I find it bitter. So heat the oil in a large pan then cook the eggplant about 15 minutes until it is browned and cooked through. Drain all the oil – I used paper towels over a large bowl and let it all drain for a minute or two. Return the eggplant to the pan and add the tomato paste. Cook 2 minutes then add the wine and cook 1 minute more. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat for five to ten minutes.

This one was a real winner. The polenta was smooth and creamy and very comfort food feeling. The eggplant was simple, but flavorful. They went really well together and made a great meal. There were no leftovers from this even though it is suppose to serve four. I probably used a smaller eggplant than anticipated and with the different polenta recipe we only had enough for two. But it works and I will definitely be making this again.

I have a potato/tomato pie on plan for today … We shall see how that works.


I am a huge bread fan. Huge. I went through withdraw when Bob wanted to go without grain but since we’ve started doing more grains and less meat I’ve gotten back into making bread.

Bread is, oddly, simple to make. It is pretty easy to mess up too, but I’ve found that if I don’t overheat the water (thus killing the yeast), let the dough actually rise and use salt it tends to come out pretty well.

My first bread this week was a beer bread. I’ve made simple beer breads before, but this one was an actual yeast based beer bread. The recipe is straightforward and requires little work beyond patience, which is not my strong suit. I used Blue Moon Belgium White Ale for this bread and poured some melted butter over the top right before baking. I think this may be my favorite quick bread (where quick means no kneading, not short time) and it goes well with everything. We had it with cheese for lunch Saturday then with the Chicken and Dumplings I made Sunday.

I also made a nice, basic whole wheat bread today with three cups whole wheat flour and one cup all purpose flour. This doesn’t have the beautiful crust of the beer bread, but it is a great all purpose bread.

Dough can also be dessert. As in pecan cinnamon roll dessert dough.

I love the sticky, goo-y rolls and the pecans really make these. I did experiment with the dough and I like my old recipe better – but the topping was pretty perfect.
Some basic ingredients, a little patience and a world of possibilities. I’m so glad Bob is ok with grains again. I missed my bread.

A Few Changes

It has been an interesting few weeks here. I’ve had time to work on the front garden and make a few changes inside. First, the flowers.

I went searching for shade loving flowers last week and needed something that stands up to the a Florida heat. There are a ton of leaves, bushes and non flowering grasses that will do fine in shade, but I wanted flowers. Blooming, colorful flowers. I finally found these cute fern-like flowers in purple and white. Perfect.

The flowers are tiny and difficult to see from the road. My spacing also has some room for improvement, but I wanted to keep the begonias that were still doing ok. Amazingly I planted them before Thanksgiving and they only recently needed some help. We also have a white flowering plant that is reseeding itself in the front bed. I planted those my first year here and they have finally decided to grow. I’m hoping for lots of pretty flowers next year since they are slowly taking over the garden.

Overall it’s pretty and I like it. Just need to weed some more and add a fresh layer of mulch and it should be good.

On the inside of the house changes we have a new dishwasher!

20140723-160316-57796552.jpgOur dishwasher was only six years old, but it was driving us nuts. The vast majority of the time we ended up rinsing the dishes after they were washed to get gunk off them – especially the glasses. We would think we found a solution, but the next time it didn’t work. I finally asked Bob if we could get a new dishwasher before I went back to work. Delivery and all that. Last weekend we spent most of Saturday going from one place to another looking at dishwashers. We finally found one we could agree on and was in our price range. The stainless model was on sale (neither white nor black was on sale) so we decided we could do a stainless dishwasher rather than spend an extra hundred bucks on white. We have a stainless coffee pot and silver door pulls and faucet – it’s fine.

What we were not anticipating was buying a fridge. We had talked about it and looked at them, but our fridge works fine. It doesn’t function great layout wise, but it works and we could not justify spending the money. Until, that is, we saw the exact one we wanted on sale. A very big sale. As in we spent less on both the dishwasher, refrigerator, warranty, parts (for installation), delivery, tax and set up than we would have for just the refrigerator before tax. Everything. We decided to go for it since we probably would not see it again and my luck our fridge would die the week after the sale expired or in the middle of testing when I could not be home for delivery. I’m so excited.

The door configuration is going to take some getting use to. Because of the way they have the ice maker, the door shelves are a little narrow, but I did manage to fit everything in a logical (I think) place. Bob has his beer shelf (yet somehow he still needs some of my milk shelf for his beer) and he can get to it with the cool door-in-door feature.

I can also get to some of my most used cooking items (veggie base, butter, tomato paste) in the same area. I’m considering adding some eggs there, but I almost never cook with eggs. Bake, yes, cook, no. But we will see. We got everything. Set up and cooled before our HelloFresh box arrived today, so the timing was perfect.

Oh, we went with the stainless refrigerator instead of white because it was A) less expensive and B) it was in stock and deliverable this week. White was not available until the end of August. We are keeping the same stove and microwave – my oven is going to have to completely die before I give it up, so we have two major appliances in white and two in stainless. I think because the cabinets are white and we put in the silver pulls it all works. I’m sure we will be learning the quirks of both the dishwasher and ice box, but for now, I love them. Love them and cannot wait to be able to just unload the dishwasher. Or let Bob do it. I may love the appliances, but I haven’t gone insane enough to like doing dishes.

Pickled Beet Sandwich

Here’s an idea … Take a bunch of foods you don’t particularly like, use a prep method you are not fond of and create a fabulous sandwich. A few months ago our Hello Fresh box had such a sandwich. Yes, I could have gone for the regular box, but the other options in the veggie box just looked so good I decided to go for it. Bob loved the idea of this sandwich, but I was pretty hesitant. I want to like beets and I try to like beets, but I have a hard time with them. I really don’t like radishes, red onions are not my favorite and ricotta cheese is ok, but only ok. There are way better cheeses out there. And pickling? No thanks.

So how did I end up loving this sandwich enough I find all the ingredients and recreate it? Dunno, but I did. Somehow the beets are not prominent in the flavor of this sandwich, the radishes aren’t sharp or bitter and the ricotta acts more as a condiment than a cheese. It’s pretty much a perfect sandwich, although very messy.

So here is the original recipe with my home changes noted:
2 Ciabatta rolls (multigrain bread, cut thick like rolls)
8 oz. cooked baby beets (I used 1 beet from an 8.8 oz package of 3)
1/2 oz dill (way less – probably half that amount)
1/2 oz parsley (didn’t have parsley on hand, but it definitely was missed)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (I had white balsamic on hand, but the white wine vinegar is better)
3 radishes (2 radishes)
1 red onion (1/4 of a medium red onion)
8 oz ricotta (half this amount for two sandwiches – 4 oz total)
1 teaspoon turmeric (1/2 teaspoon was enough)
1 tablespoon olive oil (same)
3/4 teaspoon sugar (just a pinch – maybe 1/4 teaspoon)
Salt and pepper to taste

Toast the bread – I found using the broiler in the oven on low for a few minutes worked great. The 450 degree oven in the recipe was quick to burn the bottom of the bread.
Slice the onion as thin as you can. Mix with the turmeric, a little salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon vinegar (not quite a whole tablespoon is needed for the smaller amount). Set aside.

Slice the radishes thin. Mix with a pinch of sugar and a little salt (about 1/8 teaspoon or less) and set aside.

Slice the beet thin and mix with remaining vinegar. Pull the dill from the stems and do the same with the parsley.

Spread about two heaping tablespoons of ricotta on one side of the bread. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the beets in a single or double layer then top with the red onion.

Add a layer of radish and then the dill and parsley. Be generous with the herbs – they really do add to the sandwich.

Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and too with the other half of the bread.

According to the original recipe this has 535 calories per sandwich. Since I always end up using way less of everything, I’m pretty sure it is less then that, but even if it isn’t, it is an awesome sandwich.

I’m trying to figure out how to get this to keep so I can take it to work for lunch. I’m thinking about keeping the ingredients separate and just assembling before I eat it, but am not sure if that would work or how the longer “pickling” time would effect it. Have to say though, it was very pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this. It isn’t something I would have ever tried from a cookbook or off a menu, but I love it. I’m also wondering how a fresh goat cheese or golden beets would work. They might make a nice variation. One thing is for sure, I may have to try foods I’m not crazy about more. Except mushrooms. Still can’t get past the concept of eating fungus. I might try, but that one is harder than some of my other food hang ups.

Hope everyone has a great week!

It’s Blasphemy To Call It Pizza

Sometimes I decide to try a recipe and go through the cabinets and fridge and make sure I have everything or make a grocery list so I get the exact ingredients. Sometimes I look up a bunch of similar recipes and combine them or take inspiration from them all. Other days I really want to stick with a recipe, but end up using what I have on hand and hope it works.

I found a Rick Bayless recipe for a salsa verde pizza. I read it over a half dozen times and was pretty sure I could do this by the book. I did, however, forget to check the salsa recipe until I was ready to go and realized it used a jarred sauce. I also didn’t have the correct cheeses on hand (go figure) or, apparently, the correct type of beer. Well, Bob had beer so I asked if I could use some of his fancy beer for the recipe.

First things first, I had to get both the dough and the sauce going. A friend from work gave me a bunch of fresh tomatillos at the end of the school year so I was good to make the sauce. I roasted about ten tomatillos with a half an onion (large onion), three cloves of garlic and one jalapeño.

I fully admit to generally being lazy with salsa, but with this I was careful to take the stems out of the tomatillos and the jalapeño before roasting. After everything cooled I dumped it all (drippings and all) into a food processor with some salt, cumin and chili paste.

The color is no where near the pretty green salsa verde usually is, but all the taste is there. The tang and tart bite of the tomatillos, the slight sweetness of the onion and garlic all come through. Sauce done and good; on to the dough.

Bob called this the world’s most expensive pizza dough. I needed a third of a cup of beer and used one of his fancy beers. I was able to reseal the bottle so he had the rest with dinner, so no beer was wasted in the making of the dough.

In keeping with my “let’s just change everything” mode, I swapped half the all purpose flour for whole wheat flour and increased the yeast a little. It was crumbly and messy and did not look anything like dough, but seven hours later – I had dough.

So the “pizza.” I rolled out the dough on an oiled pan and baked it at 450 for fifteen minutes. I know the recipe calls for 500, but I know my oven. 500 I have a burned mess in ten minutes; 450 I have crust in fifteen. While the crust was baking, I went for toppings.

The original recipe calls for goat cheese and Parmesan and I didn’t exactly have those. I had Midnight Moon, which is technically a goat cheese, although not a soft cheese. I also had some fontanelle from last month’s box and Alpha Tolman from this month’s box. I used about two ounces of each plus about half of the sliced red onions shown and about an once and a half of prosciutto.

Once the crust was baked for the fifteen minutes I added the sauce (about half of what I made) then the Midnight Moon. To that I scattered the onions then layered on the fontanelle only to top that with the prosciutto and the Alpha Tolman.

I thought the layering was a good method for even distribution of topping and just made it look prettier. The dough went back into the oven for five minutes then, after checking the bottom of the crust to make sure it wasn’t burning, I left it in the oven (turned off) until Bob got home a few minutes later.

At first Bob declared it “interesting.” Since he kept eating I figured it was good; I liked it. I liked it a lot. Bob said he liked the crust (although he did suggest picking up a few bottles of “cooking beer” for the next time). He loved the way the flavors came together but also said it was blasphemy to call it pizza. It was good, but he doesn’t consider it pizza. I can live with that. This will also probably be impossible to recreate because of the sauce. I know how I made it (see recipe below) but to get the right mix of the right ingredients when I don’t measure and am far from precise is going to be next to impossible. But I can try because pizza or not, this was just a darn good dinner.

Salsa Ingredients:
10 tomatillos
1/2 large sweet onion
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño
Oil to coat
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon chili paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Chop onion into large chunks; de-stem the tomatillos and jalapeño. Coat onion, tomatillos and garlic in a little oil and roast at 400 degrees for twenty to thirty minutes, stirring once.

Once cooled, pour everything into a food processor and add about a quarter teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon chili paste and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Blend well until smooth.

Arugula Pesto

In my morning routine I like to sit with a cup of coffee and read the news and a few blogs. There are a variety of them, but one I really like is The Wandering Gourmand and one recent feature gets me thinking each month – the Wine vs. Beer Challenge.

I am definitely a wine girl and Bob leans towards being a beer guy so we are each a little biased with these. I can appreciate what a good beer would bring to a dish, just like I can appreciate dessert wines even though I don’t like them. When I saw this month’s challenge I really wanted to try it even though we were not going to be home over the weekend for me to cook. But rarely one to give up (won’t say never, there are a few endeavors I now pass on) I decided to make it work. So Monday, the last day of the challenge I went ahead a made an arugula pesto and started thinking wines. I don’t know enough about beer to contemplate it here, but that was Bob’s job before dinner.

Pesto is incredibly simple to make. In this case one package baby arugula, half a cup chopped walnuts, salt and pepper. I put all that into the food processor, turned it on and drizzled olive oil in until it had the consistency I wanted. I pulled it out and added Parmesan cheese (quarter cup), chopped garlic (2 cloves) and grated fontanelle cheese. As a last touch I zest end a bit of lemon and squeezed the juice of half the lemon into the mix. It came out a vibrant green that needed just a touch of salt.

The pasta part of this. I didn’t want to go traditional penne or spaghetti. I wanted something that could work as a main or a side so I went with orzo. Ok, it is also what I had on hand except for shells but I loved the idea anyway. I sweated a bit of onion, added some chopped garlic and carrot to the mix then added the orzo and water. I let it all cook for seven minutes then took it off the heat, folded in the pesto and added another squeeze of lemon.

It came out really well for a no recipe dish. Yes, it’s simple but those are sometimes the best.

For the pairing. I discounted reds almost immediately. The pesto, while peppery from the arugula would only stand to a light red, maybe a chianti or really light Pinot. I have a light Pinot on hand but decided against it. I didn’t want a Zinfandel – too intense for the pasta; same for merlot. I almost went with a dry rose – something a touch sweet to offset the pepper – but it just didn’t feel right. I narrowed it down to two whites – a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Gris. At this point I’m just guessing. I leaned towards the Sauvignon because it tends to be a little less on the grapefruit flavor than a Pinot. (This may be totally wrong, but it sounded right in my head.) I waited for Bob for the final decision. I gave him the full range to choose from – beer, reds, pinks or whites. He tossed the reds and beer almost immediately and then decided on whites. I showed him the two I was thinking about and he picked the Sauvignon also. Great minds and all.

So how did it work? Really well. This particular Sauvignon was light and dry with a touch of citrus. It was pretty good on its own but when paired with the pasta, both were better. The peppery arugula in the pesto contrasted with the citrus but it didn’t overpower it. The wine added another layer to the pasta and brought out the lemon in the dish. The orzo was more a vehicle for the pesto than a star of the dish and that let the wine shine even more. I’m not a huge white wine drinker. I tend to go for Zinfandels or Pinot Noirs, but I’m really glad I went with the Sauvignon on this one. I’m even thinking this will be a great cold pasta salad (again a good pair for white wine) and I don’t like cold pasta salads.

The best part about this challenge is that it isn’t about beer or wine or even food. It got me to think about beer and wine and food in more than one dimension. Yes, I like red wine and Bob likes beer, but we thought about the dish as a whole and came up with something that surprised us both – a wine we might not have enjoyed nearly as much with a dish that would not have been as good without it. (It was good – don’t get me wrong – but it was better with the wine.) So thank you to the Wandering Gourmand for taking me out of my wine comfort zone and to Wander and Wine for a great idea!


It is summer. No two ways about it. It is humid, hot and pretty sticky outside. Florida is seeing our daily afternoon (and sometimes morning or evening) showers which just adds to the sticky feeling. Make no mistake, summer in Florida is hot, but realistically not any hotter or stickier than DC or Jersey. I loved living in those places, but when Mom would call in July or August and it was hotter there than in Florida you have to wonder why Florida gets the bad “but it is so hot there” rap. Maybe it makes people feel better to think Florida is worse in the summer, but it just isn’t. And we don’t have snow. I’ll trade hot and sticky for no snow.

The other nice thing about July is that I don’t go into work every day. Say what you want, give me grief for it, but yes, I get a month off. I do not feel guilty for it – I cram enough hours into the other eleven months that it more than makes up for it at my salary level. It is the way the system is (stupidly in my opinion, but then the powers that be never asked me) and I deal with it. But I get to experiment in the kitchen this month. And I have a list of things I want to try (including the Korma sauce that I have failed on several times thus far). This week I started out with inspiration from Robert Irvine for a vegetarian dish that just looked amazing. I say I took inspiration because I (of course) didn’t follow the recipe. After reading the reviews I decided to go with the polenta recipe I really like – substituting white onion for red, vegetable broth for chicken and eliminating the butter. I also made a basic sweet pepper sauce that I know Bob will eat instead of the coulis from the original recipe. I wanted something lighter, so I tried it.

The sauce is pretty easy – one red bell pepper, a pat of butter – simmer until the pepper begins to soften then add a half cup of water and a sprig of thyme. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Pull out the thyme, blend in a food processor then strain through a fine strainer. Thus eliminates the harsh taste of the skin while keeping the subtle flavor of the pepper. Add a dash of cream, a little salt and pepper and let thicken over a medium low heat for about ten minutes. It’s a pretty perfect sauce I think.

I did the vegetables pretty much like the original recipe said. It was pretty good, but it still wanted more sauce. The polenta really stole the show here – rich, creamy with a ton of flavor. It was so good I’m thinking about making more today.

I did try home made tahini sauce this week too. The flavor was fine, but I hate the consistency. It is not saucy enough for what I want and it doesn’t work too well in the magical cilantro sauce. But I tried, and I can use it for something, I’m sure. But for tahini – I will stick to the industrial stuff – I just like the consistency much better.

Obligatory cat picture. She is just too cute even if she hates having her photo taken.