basic, perfect polenta.

I’ve been trying to get better at meal planning for the week, as I already make about 24 stops at Wegmans/Trader Joes/public market/natural foods store each week. It never fails, I inevitably forget an ingredient or pick up a quick meal. I always have the best intentions to do a weekly shop…

A few weeks ago, I picked up some hot turkey Italian sausage at a great price, but never had time to make it, so I promptly tossed it in the freezer. When I did said weekly meal prep, I decided to cook up that sausage with some marinara. I wasn’t in mood for pasta, so I decided to make the classic Italian side dish, polenta.

img_3159

Mm, polenta. Have you ever tried it? Polenta is not for weeknight cooking. Classic polenta is made from humble cornmeal, and it takes a while for the cornmeal grains to swell up and cook properly to become tender, yielding that creamy finished texture, not unlike grits.

Polenta is remarkably simple, in both technique and number of ingredients. I used homemade stock for mine, but if you use store bough stock, please try and buy low sodium, as you’ll want to adjust the salt you use. Most recipes have you add the cornmeal to boiling water, a la quinoa or pasta, but not here! I think that contributes to the risk of lumpy polenta; no thank you! We want smooth and creamy: starting both cold and lots and lots of whisking will alleviate that risk.

Leftovers can be cut into squares or triangles and fried crisp in a pan with some oil; you’ll see the leftover polenta will thicken up considerably.

img_3160

Serving this under sliced Italian sausage and marinara sauce was a hit, and a delightful change from pasta. This homey, cozy side dish is perfect for short January days.

basic, perfect polenta.
adapted from New York Times Cooking. 

img_3161

ingredients
4-5 cups vegetable stock or water
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese plus 1 tablespoon (I have used an Italian cheese blend with mozzarella, fontina, romano with success).

directions
In a deep saucepan or saucier (2-3 quart), combine the stock, cornmeal, olive oil, salt and pepper over medium high heat. Whisk often (consistently, if not constantly), until the mixture comes to a boil.

Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until mixture starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Polenta mixture should still be slightly loose. Partially cover and cook for at least 45 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes or so. When polenta becomes too thick to whisk, stir with a wooden spoon, adding the additional cup of stock if needed (I always add 5 cups in total). Polenta is done when it pulls away from the side of the pot, and individual grains are tender and creamy.

Turn off heat and gently mix 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into polenta until cheese has melted. Cover and let stand 5 minutes to thicken; stir and taste for salt before transferring to a serving bowl. Top polenta with about 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish.

Serves 4-6.

**Please use organic ingredients wherever possible** 

green beans with caramelized onions + toasted almonds.

I think green beans may be my favorite vegetable. They are so versatile, easy to prepare, and a real crowd pleaser. I don’t think I can think of anyone I know that doesn’t like them… can you?

img_2795

This recipe is time consuming, as caramelizing onions cannot be rushed! However, once the onions are done, this recipe couldn’t be simpler! Promise. Blanch the beans, toast the almonds, toss everything together, DONE. The onions provide a sweetness and richness, and the almonds add a crunchy, toasty note. I love recipes like this: just a few ingredients work synergistically to create a rich, complex dish.

I brought this to Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house, and one of the guests asked me for the recipe, as her 14 month old daughter kept asking for more beans. Baby approved? We’ve got a winner on our hands.

img_2797

green beans with caramelized onions.

img_2794

ingredients
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 sweet onion, sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted, grassfed butter
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup sliced almonds
sea salt and black pepper

directions
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Slice the onions 1/4 inch thick, and add to the skillet along with 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook, stirring often for 40-50 minutes, or until often are soft and lightly golden, being careful to not burn/crisp them. Add the second two tablespoons of butter halfway through the cooking process. Add the thyme leaves during the last five minutes (35-40 minute mark).

While the onions are cooking, heat a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sliced almonds and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of sea salt. Add beans and blanch for 4-5 minutes, until crisp tender. Remove and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and preserve the green color.

In a large bowl, add the onion mixture, toasted almonds, and green beans and toss together. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Serves 8.

*Please use organic ingredients wherever possible* 

 

brown rice + pumpkin “risotto”.

Oh, hi there! How are you? Sorry for my unexpected silence; life got in the way and I ended using my kitchen for incredibly uninspiring food: lots of egg white omelettes, toast, grilled chicken topped salads and copious amounts of hummus were consumed. In a nutshell: life has had me pretty exhausted. And it seems that fall has arrived while I’ve been quiet! Hello, chilled evenings and early mornings. Hello to the Harvest Moon and the incredibly vast, clear black sky. And hello to you, grey, dreary, rainy days. I’ve missed you, too. Yes, I know I’m probably the only one, but I love grey, rainy days. Rain is cleansing, evocative, romantic, even.  To usher this cool weather in, I have a super seasonal recipe that is a fun play on risotto, without the near constant stirring of hot broth into the rice: pumpkin risotto with sage. We’re using brown arborio rice to up the nutrition of this meatless main dish. The brand I use can be found here, and I can usually find it in my main grocery store.

img_2571

This risotto recipe was calling my name; although it’s a lengthy recipe, much of the time is inactive! You can just a pop a lid on the pot, set a timer, and go about your business for 35-40 minutes, and then come back to finish it off.

img_2570

Pumpkin and sage are quintessentially autumnal, and the former provides such a rich creaminess to the dish. I garnished the finished dish with some local, raw gruyere-like cheese that I picked up a festival a few weeks ago, but you can use any hard cheese that you like: pecorino, parmesan, you name it! You can also just leave it off for a dairy free and vegan friendly dish.

Enjoy friends; I loved this. The ideal cocktail for this dish is coming up next. 🙂

pumpkin + brown rice risotto.
adapted from healthy seasonal recipes. 

img_2569

ingredients
1.5 cups brown arborio rice
3 cups vegetable stock or broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 medium/medium-large sweet onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine (I like an oaky Chardonnay, but any dry, crisp white will do)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea or Kosher salt
15 ounce can of pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2-3 teaspoons fresh sage leaves, chopped, plus additional whole leaves for garnish
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup hard cheese, grated (optional)

directions
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion and garlic. Saute the onion and garlic for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and fragrant.

Add the rice and stir for about 2 minutes, until the rice becomes slightly toasted and translucent in spots on the grains of rice. Add the wine and let cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often until almost all of the wine has evaporated. Add in vegetable broth, nutmeg, salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring often. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 35-40 minutes.

Remove lid, stir and add in pumpkin, cinnamon, and sage leaves. Stirring often, increase heat to medium and let cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, stirring often to let thicken and the flavors combine and to let the rice continue to soften. Once the rice is soft and everything is well combined, taste and add in additional salt and pepper if desired (I added more of both).

Divide amongst four bowls, garnish with cheese and whole sage leaves and serve immediately.

**Please use all organic ingredients wherever possible** 

 

sweet + tangy cucumber salad.

Can I give you one last hot weather recipe before the summer ends? I know it’s after Labor Day, but it was 90 degrees here yesterday, so I think it’s appropriate. This is an old school recipe, too. Cucumber salad. Not just any cucumber salad. A cucumber salad that teeters ever so slightly on the verge of too sweet, but yet somehow manages to stay just perfectly balanced between sweet and tangy. Ergo, the name of ‘sweet and tangy cucumber salad’ was born. I’m so clever.

image

I received a container of this from my mom when she was visiting, courtesy of my grandmother, who sent it over from a picnic. My aunt was the one who had actually made it. I thought the original incarnation of this recipe was too sweet, so I cut back on the amount of sugar and oil, which is reflected in the recipe below. The onion becomes milder as it sits in the dressing, so I recommend making this at least an hour prior to serving.

image

Take this to any end of summer picnics, and watch it disappear. Sometimes simple, family recipes really do take the cake.

sweet + tangy cucumber salad.
courtesy of my Aunt Terri’s recipe. image

ingredients 
2 cucumbers, peeled
1 onion, very thinly sliced
dressing:
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon celery seed

directions
Combine the sugar, vinegar, oil and celery seed into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Turn off and let cool. Set aside.

Peel cucumbers (if desired) and thinly slice and equal amount of cucumbers and sweet onions. Cut about an 1/8 inch thick. In a large bowl, combine the cooled dressing and the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve chilled.

Note: The onion’s sharp flavor will decrease as it marinates in the dressing.

Serves 6 as a side.

**Please use ingredients wherever possible** 

 

green beans with roasted bell peppers.

This recipe just epitomizes summer to me. Easy, fast, fresh and bursting with flavors, thanks to local vegetables, adorned simply with good olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. That’s it. An incredibly simple side dish that is sure to become a mainstay on your dinner table, just like it is on mine.

image

The most difficult part of this recipe is the blanching of the beans. You want to cook them until they are crisp tender, and then shock them in ice water, immediately stopping the cooking process. Once they are cool, you toss with the roasted peppers and onions and season with an extra drizzle of olive oil and pepper. So. Easy.

image

This is great for a summer potluck or picnic, as it’s equally good warm or at room temperature.

green beans with roasted bell peppers.
barely adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot in Paris.

image

ingredients
1.5 pounds green beans, trimmed
1 sweet onion, large dice
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 red bell pepper, large dice
sea salt
black pepper
2.5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, prepare the ice bath. In a large bowl, fill with cold water and 3-4 cups of ice. Once water is boiling, add green beans and blanch for about 4 minutes. Remove from pot and plunge into the ice bath, stirring to make sure all bean are submerged. Once they are cool, remove and drain.

Arrange the peppers and onions on an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle with 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper until seasoned to your liking. Mix together until they are well combined. Roast for 12-15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove from oven.

In a large bowl, gently toss the green beans and the peppers and onions together; drizzle with remaining one tablespoon of oil. Season with extra salt and/or pepper if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8.

**Please use organic ingredients wherever possible**

 

roasted broccoli with pickled onion vinaigrette.

I know. We are deep in the heart of summer, and the last thing you want is a pan full of roasted vegetables. Wait! Before you go, just trust me. Yes, you will have to turn the oven on for this. But, it’s only for twenty minutes, and you can serve this hot, warm, or room temperature.

image

One morning while grocery shopping, I was almost to the checkout when I came upon a huge bin of deeply discounted books. Being the bibliophile that I am, I of course had to stop and peruse. To my great surprise and delight, there were a few different varieties of cookbooks to be found, one being Family Table, a “follow up” of sorts to the incredible Union Square Cafe Cookbook by Michael Romano. Family Table is a collection of “family meal”/staff recipes from across the Union Square Hospitality Group’s restaurants. I loved the idea of some great meals that guests never experience because they are made by and for the staff and kitchen crew! Coupled with a $2.00 price tag, it was a complete no-brainer.

I immediately noted multiple recipes that I needed to try, but this roasted broccoli was calling my name the loudest and I had pretty much everything necessary already on hand. I love love love roasted vegetables, and this version has you toss the broccoli with a bright, punch, acidic vinaigrette peppered with quick pickled onions (pickled right in the dressing!), and finished with basil and parsley. Simple roasted broccoli jazzed up with a tangy, bright dressing. Yes, please!

roasted broccoli with pickled onion vinaigrette.
adapted from Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals cookbook. 

image

ingredients
1.5 pounds of broccoli (about 2-3 crowns), cut into vertical florets
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

vinaigrette dressing
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoons white wine or champagne vinegar
dash of sea salt and pepper

directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice broccoli and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking, until lightly browned and cooked though.

While the broccoli is roasting, whip together the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, mix together the diced red onion, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously until well combined. Set aside.

Once broccoli is done, transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss to combine. Top with basil and parsley. Serve immediately, or at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a side.

**Please use organic ingredients wherever possible**

 

10 minute ‘fried’ quinoa with edamame + carrots.

This take on fried rice is healthy, packed with protein and only takes 10 minutes from pan to plate!

IMG_1954

One of my favorite things about getting Chinese takeout is the containers of fried rice. I can never eat that much of it on the first go around (I reserve my hunger for spicy shredded pork or hunan shrimp!), so I always have at least a container or two of rice hanging out in my fridge. I usually eat it cold with a splash of tamari in the morning standing over the sink. Shameful, but true. How good is cold leftover Chinese food??

Unfortunately, fried white rice is decidedly NOT healthy, and getting takeout all the time is neither healthy or economical. I’ve been wanting to try ‘fried’ quinoa for a while now, and last week I decided to finally try it out. Cold quinoa is essential for this dish. You can make that same day and cool it, but I would recommend cooking it another time, maybe make a double batch when you’re making it for another recipe to keep this super simple.

IMG_1952

Just try to not eat the entire pan of this. It is so, so good.

‘fried’ quinoa with edamame and carrots.
adapted from simplyquinoa.com 

IMG_1915

ingredients

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2-3 cups of cooked and cooled quinoa
1/2 cup of shredded carrots
1/2 cup of shelled edamame
2 eggs, whisked
2 tablespoons of gluten free soy sauce or tamari (up to 3 to taste)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
2-3 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced

directions

Heat sesame oil over medium high heat and add garlic, stirring frequently until garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add carrots and edamame and cook for 1 minute, and add quinoa to vegetable mixture. Stir frequently until mixture is coated and begins to soften. During this time, crack eggs into a small bowl and whisk.

Push quinoa mixture off to one side and add eggs to other side of the pan and scramble them until cooked through. Break them up as needed, and stir them into the quinoa mixture.

Add soy sauce/tamari, ginger, and pepper and mix in until combined and hot. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Spoon into serving dish and garnish with scallions. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish.

**Please use all organic ingredients wherever possible**