oven polenta

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies

Jump straight to the Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies recipe.

I love corn, I love cornmeal, and I adore polenta. Steve wants nothing to do with it. So more for me.

polenta with roasted veggies

But everyone knows that polenta is a giant pain in the ass because of all that blasted stirring. I’ve made it in the crockpot; it eliminates the stirring, but also stiffens up the polenta so it’s like those little tubes you buy of ready made polenta at the store. This, my friends, is not the polenta of the Italian grandmother you may have had, or in my case, pine for on occasion. (I had a German grandmother on one side who could bake but preferred riding horses, and a French/Danish/Irish one on the other, who made weird multicolored popcorn balls and sauerkraut. Never polenta.)

Bon Appetit was one of my early cooking teachers, and it remains one of my favorite arrivals. I still like print magazines and probably always will. Leafing through the October issue, I saw what looked like a lovely bowl of polenta and a pan of roasted mushrooms. Most intriguing, the polenta was baked in the oven right alongside the veggies. The recipe subhead reads: “Call it cheating—we call it 30 minutes you don’t need to spend standing at the stove.”

Count me IN.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Prep

Look, why just roast a pan of mushrooms when you also have some eggplant and red bell pepper to use up? And why only add thyme when you also have some rosemary growing in a pot? These are questions I ask myself frequently, especially after a recent mild talking-to that Steve and I gave to ourselves about better using the virtual fruit of the refrigerator.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

I cubed the eggplant and pepper; I’d bought the shrooms sliced, so they were good to go. Roasting veggies is not a recipe thing, people. You put them in a bowl, add some oil, fresh herbs and garlic if you’re so inclined, seasonings. Then spread them on a sheet pan and roast them.
One new wrinkle that the recipe provides, and that I decided to give a try: Begin the roasting process at a measly 325º. I typically go for the max carmelization delivered by a hotter oven, but….why not?

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Veggies in oven, I heated broth and water together to a boil. The recipe specified water only, but long ago I learned that if you can sub something for the water, do it; more flavor.

I whisked in the polenta, covered the pot, then put it right in the oven. The nice low temp ensured that the polenta would cook gently all by itself. Then I sat down and played the piano for a while, because that is an amazing thing to be able to do while you wait for the timer to ring.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: Finishing

After about half an hour, the polenta was ready to come out. When I looked at it and shook the pan, I thought….this cannot be! The polenta was still liquid. But then I stirred it and found that it had indeed started to thicken to the perfect polenta consistency. I removed it, gave it a good whisk, and left it on the stove top.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Now I cranked up the oven—the recipe actually instructs, “Crank up the oven”—to its highest temp, which on mine is 550º. Zoinks! The vegetables crisped up after about 10 minutes.

Then we went on a walk for about 40 minutes, with of course everything out of the oven. In that time, the polenta had set up beautifully: pourable, but not a soup, just that wonderful hybrid of liquid and solid that means ideal polenta. Without the walk, I would have kept the stove on its very lowest setting to give the polenta just a little more incentive to thicken.
But seriously, it was lovely.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Recipe

stuffed acorn squash

Stuffed Acorn Squash

stuffed-acorn-squash

Jump straight to the Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe.

It’s squash season. Bright orange pumpkins of all sizes, ecru butternut, forest green acorn, mad scientist-y turban, and all sorts of weird warty things. What to do with this bounty? Stuff it! This adaptation of a Clean Eating recipe, which I made the other night, changed up my game big time.

And why was that game so changed? Well, I’ve made stuffed squash before and always felt like it was kind of meh. It’s been a while, and I freely admit that I could have been doing a lot of things wrong. But my memories were a sort of bland, healthy filling and a squash that was a little stiff and not perfectly baked, and also—again—just sort of boring.

Stuffed Acorn Squash: The Squash

The beauty of this technique is how simple it is. You know, the “why haven’t I done this all along?” kind of simple. Heat up your oven, cut the squash in half, season it….

stuffed-acorn-squash

….wrap it in parchment, and bake it. The recipe calls for foil, but I don’t trust it. (This same issue of the magazine has a bunch of myth-busting, one of which is that it’s ok to cook in aluminum, but still….parchment makes a cool noise!)

Stuffed Acorn Squash: The Stuffing

While the squash bakes, you make up your yummy sauce. As usual, I improvised off the recipe recommendations. I sautéed onions and mushrooms—onions and any sautéeable veggie you have on hand would work. Bell peppers are a natural this time of year, as are carrots and celery in any season. I added a spicy chicken sausage I had on hand, having been recently chastised for not using turkey sausage in time (man, does that stuff get funky quick). This subbed for regular old ground turkey in the recipe, and if I’d used that, I would have upped the spice quotient, because it, too, can be super blandorama. (I realized crumbled tempeh would have worked great for a meatless version as well, and there are enough spices in this that it wouldn’t taste like b.s., which tempeh does if you don’t spice it up.)

stuffed-acorn-squash

Speaking of spices, I used the recommended ones from the original recipe, and also doubled the tomato paste quantity. I realized afterward I have some red pepper soup sitting in the fridge that would have also been a dynamite substitute for tomato sauce. Next time. And you could easily make this southwestern by using cumin, oregano, chili powder, and just a pinch of cinnamon.

By the time I’d finished putting the sauce together, the squash had 25 minutes to cook—exactly the amount of time the sauce needed to simmer.

After that, I just took the squash halves from the oven, unwrapped them—they were wonderfully soft, perfectly cooked…

stuffed-acorn-squash

…and filled them with sauce. Oh, at the last minute, I stirred some nutritional yeast into the sauce.

stuffed-acorn-squash

Big flavor, a little more texture. I strewed some fresh basil across the top.

Wow, what a great fall dinner. And even greater is that I finally learned how to do a stuff squash that is both yummy and virtuously healthy. Enjoy.

stuffed acorn squash

Stuffed Acorn Squash: The Recipe



autumn-sweet-potato-kale-curry

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry

Jump to the Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry recipe.

chickpea-curry

So before proceeding to the evolution and execution of this Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry, I must take a moment to pay homage to my guy, Tim Gunn.
For the rest of you: I love Tim Gunn.

I’ve suffered through many a grim episode of Project Runway just to watch him stroll into the studio, impeccably dressed, marvelously discerning and insightful, and most of all, respectful. I’ve been trying to mastermind a Tim Gunn for President of the World campaign for, like, ever. Sigh. Tim, you will also be the secret to making the world fabulous, better dressed, and kinder in my book.
Now a lot of times on Project Runway, one of the contestants will come up with a real Fashion Don’t. And Tim will say, “I’m concerned,” and the way he says it…

…you know that he is the only thing between that contestant and an icy and heart-freezing look from Nina Garcia…

….who would disdainfully raise her eyebrows if Botox hadn’t robbed her of that ability long ago in a way that is all the more soul-destroying because in that moment, said unfortunate contestant realizes that he/she/they simply don’t exist for her and never did.

And then Tim will say, in this wonderfully hearty and stirring way, “This is what we call a Make It Work Moment!!”

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: The Mistake

Well, making this Sweet Potato Kale Curry was a total Make It Work moment for me. Because I did a very dumb thing, which was: I didn’t get all my ingredients out before hand. I say why one should never do this. Physician, heal theyself!! Or be forced to get through a Make It Work Moment.

I got my new (October 2018) issue of Clean Eating, and there’s this awesome article on spice blends. And there’s also a recipe for Squash, Spinach, and Chickpea Curry. (I’d give you the link here, but the recipe’s not online yet.)

Well, just a couple of days ago, Steve went to visit our friends at Frog Holler Farm, and he came home with this lovely butternut squash. Also, that morning, he mentioned we had some kale just kind of sitting in the fridge, and I nearly always sub kale for spinach, because the texture holds up better. Chickpeas? Tons of cans lying around. Ditto coconut milk.
Also, it was an overcast rainy day and so really perfect for some curry.

So I start merrily following the recipe. First up: A really terrific homemade turmeric blend. This is a direct copy of the original recipe at Clean Eating (and I’ll link to it when it’s available); I’ve reproduced it below in half the amount.

curry-spice-blend

There’s a little blurb in the magazine on the joy of turmeric, and this particular blend is generous with a bunch of other stuff, so mainly the turmeric adds color, because on its own it’s got kind of a weird dusty flavor. So I mixed that up straight away.

I heated the coconut oil, chopped up half an onion. We’re going gangbusters so far.

curry-sauteed-onions

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: The Joy of Improv

Then I say, “Hey, babe, did you bring in that squash from the farm?” 
“It’s in my car.”

I start to exit stage left—and then remember we left the car in Ann Arbor (the details are not that interesting). With the squash in it.

But I did have some sweet potatoes on the counter. So I thought, ok, a sweet potato will Make It Work. Phew! I peel and cube one, throw it in the onion pot that already also has some garlic and the spice blend in it, and add some broth. Everything’s bubbling away making a cozy sound.

Off to the garden to pick a bunch of basil, then wash it along with the kale. I happily chop my troubles away as the sweet potatoes cook up on the stove.

It’s time to add half of them to the blender with a can of coconut milk. Which…we don’t have.

Dammit!

How can this be? I’ve looked a at least 4 cans of coconut milk in my pantry for ages, thinking, why did I think I would use a small case of of coconut milk? (Because I was at Costco, that’s why. That place makes me think I’d better stock up for that army of epicures who are bound to kick down my door, demanding facsimiles of southeast Asian delicacies.)

I search my pantry and my apoteca, which is this kind of cool roll out door that holds the stuff that won’t fit in my smallish pantry, increasingly wild-eyed. There is no damn coconut milk.

Bauer, you can Make It Work! I told myself, feeling plucky despite my trembling lower lip. Quickly, I improvised. I had frozen a bunch of buttermilk in little 1/4 cup batches in the fridge. I threw four in the blender, along with a handful of shredded, unsweetened coconut, and a little almond milk. I blended in the sweet potatoes.

It actually worked. The buttermilk is thick and not out of place in a curry. The almond milk and coconut lent some nuttiness and sweetness.

So that was cool. I poured my coconut milk substitute into the sauce pan, being careful not to boil it (so it wouldn’t curdle), added the kale, and went to find the chickpeas.

vegetarian-curry-sauce

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: Continued Thrills

You probably saw this coming. I had dried chickpeas for days, which frankly were not going to do me a damn bit of good. But a can of cooked chickpeas? You know, one from the batch I’d bought at Costco that took forever to get rid of?

Forever, apparently, passed me by. Not a cooked chickpea in sight.

But in my frantic can search….what to my wondering eye should appear?
Oh, for pity’s sake.

canned-coconut-milk

Well, I had a half cauliflower on hand. So I roasted it…

cauliflower

….because at this point, the dream of sweet potato kale curry for lunch had evaporated and I just ate some sort of snack.

cauliflower-curry

I also had packs of rice and quinoa from Costco, which are just sitting there like all the six packs of things I get from Costco, so I threw one of those in.

chickpea-curry

My Make It Work Moment tended to be just like the ones on Project Runway—about an hour long. But I did make it work. 
I don’t recommend you reproduce my angst. Please get ingredients out ahead of time. Making It Work is gratifying, but slightly stressful. Then again, sometimes that frisson of panic is exactly the seasoning a dish needs. Bon appetit.

Autumn Harvest Salad

I love a big old bowl of rainbow crunch. This Autumn Harvest Salad, inspired by a June 2017 Clean Eating recipe, fits the bill and sums up for me the things I love about this time of year: the rich colors, the produce bursting with vibrant flavor and color, and that wonderful feeling of newness that hits me every September.     autumn-harvest-salad-with-chicken Read the step by step or jump straight to the recipe.

The dressing is a citrus-y yogurt concoction, though I adapted it to be a little lighter on the acid. I just don’t like dressings that are too liquid or have too high a proportion of vinegar. I did add the juice left over from sectioning an orange I had on hand. The original recipe calls for a bigger amount of juice and no fruit. It made a lot more sense to me to add the sections. The approximate tablespoon of juice that resulted was pretty much perfect, without me feeling like the salad was swimming. See this quick tutorial to efficiently slice up an orange.

how-to-slice-an-orange

Beyond that, it’s a pretty straightforward operation. Make the dressing (see details below if you don’t have the basics down). Chop a bunch of stuff. In my case, that included plenty o’ cabbage….

cabbage-autumn-harvest

….along with  some carrots, mint, parsley, jicama, and fresh corn, with a few hemp hearts and golden raisins thrown in for good measure.

autumn-harvest-ingredients

You can keep your Autumn Harvest Salad entirely vegetarian by adding tofu, tempeh, beans, or nothing….

autumn-harvest-salad-chicken

But if you happen to have some protein on hand, like, say, this tasty best damn chicken (hey, here’s the recipe!), add it, by all means.

best-ever-chicken

Shrimp or salmon would work, too. Build it all up on a dish. Enjoy with gusto.

autumn-harvest-salad

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Autumn Harvest Salad: The Recipe

 

Sauteed Collard Greens

Like classic sauteed green beans are so simple and tasty, they hardly need explaining, or a recipe. But I include this because, well, some people just like recipes. This is for you, buckaroos!

To learn more about prepping collard greens, view this Le Chou Fou WTF, CSA? post.

This version is, effectively, the same as the green beans version linked above. It is no less inspired by the southern U.S. than the other; as noted in the previous recipe, a sauté of the freshest greens you can find, beans or leaves, in a little bit of hog fat, pretty much screams classic southern cooking. But I also suggest some variations. In fact, classic sauteed greens also pair up beautifully with plant-based “bacons”, a variety of which are featured in these vegan bacon recipes from Clean Eating. Just note the slightly different technique.

And now, a step by step walk through, or, if you prefer, jump to the recipe.

  1. Pull the leaves of the collards away from the stems, or at least trim the stems way down.sauteed collard greens prior to cooking
  2. Roll up the collard leaves and slice thinly. If desired, cut the rolled slices in smaller pieces.chopped sauteed collard greens
  3. If using bacon, place 1 slice for every two handfuls of beans in a cold sauté pan over medium high heat; this ensures that the bacon browns evenly, and doesn’t start sizzling and burning immediately. If not using bacon, heat the pan, then add about 1 tablespoon of oil—olive, canola, or coconut—for every 4-8 ounces of greens. I tend to prefer less oil, but some folks like their greens pretty oiled up. Your preference.
  4. If using bacon, once the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan. Either way, add 1-2 tablespoons of chopped onions, shallots, or scallions to the hot fat and stir for about a minute. Then add the sliced and/or chopped greens, tossing to coat with oil.
  5. After 4-5 minutes of stirring and cooking the greens and onions, add 1 tablespoon of water or broth at a time; once again, you don’t need much, but if you want them a little softer and/or soupier, add more liquid. Cover the pan tightly and let steam approx 2-3 minutes. When you remove the lid, the greens should be brilliant green; taste to make sure the texture is as you like.
  6. Add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar if you like. Stir for about 1 minute; depending on the quality of the vinegar, it may get a little syrupy.
  7. Top with the cut-up bacon, or your choice of vegan bacon.sauteed collard greensAll purpose and wonderful, these greens can really be served on the side of just about any dish, in any season.

 

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Classic Sauteed Collard

Greens Recipe

 

the emerald isle bowl, a paleo gluten-free bowl perfect for st. Patrick's day

Emerald Isle Bowl

Ireland is green, green, green, and the fish is—naturally—fresh, fresh, fresh. Steve and I visited a couple of years ago, and loved every minute we were there. Beyond all the stuff we did and people we met, we ate amazingly. I invented the Emerald Isle Bowl while we were there, taking advantage of the gorgeous fresh produce and the fresh-out-of-the-Irish-Sea salmon.

Jump to recipe.

With St. Patrick’s coming up and spring trying hard to push back winter, I wanted to get this simple, relatively quick, and very colorful meal in front of you. The textures of the Emerald Isle bowl give your mouth plenty to play with.

They start with the raw. That includes juicy fruit—I used a pear but green apples are terrific as well—crispy cukes, crunchy cabbage and romaine, and chewy kale.

raw ingredients for cooked ingredients for the gluten free paleo-friendly emerald isle bowl from le chou fou

And then we have the cooked: delicate salmon, golden-outside-soft-inside cauliflower and broccoli. I also gave the pistachios a little toast for extra crunchiness.

cooked ingredients for the gluten free paleo-friendly emerald isle bowl from le chou fou

The herbs, a throw-caution-to-the-Irish-wind blend of tarragon, dill, mint, and parsley, add fresh-meadow flavor. The horseradish dressing does that thing where it kind of opens the top of your head. In Dublin, I went crazy for Graham’s, the absolute best horseradish sauce I’ve ever tasted. But any good horseradish cream sauce will work. Or just add some wasabi or minced horseradish to the yogurt and mayo you have on hand.

the sauce for cooked ingredients for the gluten free paleo-friendly emerald isle bowl from le chou fou

Optimum prep includes reusing the same bowl to do all of the following:

  • Toss the cauliflower with oil.
  • While the cauliflower cooks, toss the broccoli with oil.
  • Massage the kale with oil.
  • Toss the romaine, cabbage, herbs, and kale with the dressing before plating.
  • raw greens for cooked ingredients for the gluten free paleo-friendly emerald isle bowl from le chou fou

Above all, be sure to improvise. Use whatever herbs you have handy, though dill and parsley are highly recommended. Change up the vegetables if you like; the bowl looks just as pretty with other colors besides green. And if you want a starch, watch your email for my soon-to-appear recipe Colcannon, the classic Irish potato with whatever-greens-I-have-in-the-fridge.

the emerald isle bowl, a paleo-friendly gluten free bowl recipe from le chou fou

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Emerald Isle Bowl: The Recipe