Polenta Fries

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There’s a chain restaurant in Clifton called Spuntinos. It’s a yummy tapas restaurant and every time I go I make it a point to order their polenta fries. They have a crisp texture on the outside, some nice chew on the inside, and usually seasoned well with herbs and grated cheese.

I decided to try and replicate them at home. I played around Pinterest and most potenta fries “cheated” with tubed polenta. I prefer to make something from scratch.

In pantry project fashion, I assumed I had polenta on hand, but in fact I didn’t. I did, however, have cornmeal. It’s honestly the same thing! My only advice is if you want a smoother texture, pulse the cornmeal in a food processor a few times.

The production was pretty easy, but for best results this should be a two day event so the polenta can set and stiffen.

POLENTA FRIES
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups broth (I used chicken ut veggie works)
1/8 cup chopped parlsey
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried chives
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. Bring broth to a boil, add cornmeal and stir constantly until full incorporated. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to cook about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat and add seasonings, cheese, and butter – mix until well incorporated.
  3. Lightly grease a cookie sheet (one with sides) or jelly roll pan, spread polenta mixture evenly in pan. Smooth top.
  4. Allow to cool about 30 minutes, transfer to refrigerator and allow to stiffen overnight.
  5. When ready to fry, heat a generous amount of vegetable oil, about 1-2 inches deep in a heavy bottom pot or skillet (I use cast iron) to 350-375 degrees.
  6. Cut the polenta to desired sized strips. If the mixture falls apart or feels too loose you can coat with a bit more cornmeal.
  7. Fry several pieces at a time (do not overcrowd), turning once, until golden brown. Place on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with some hard cheese, like Parmesan, while still warm.
  8. Serve immediately with a favorite sauce, I chose marinara but you can do a Belgian style mayo as well.

   
    
   

Strawberry Hand Pies

IMG_3955Speaking of summer, another one of my loves for the summer is berries – strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc. They are so versatile and can be used in countless ways – salads, sauces, cocktails, crumbles, gallettes, etc.

One thing I like to make, which is a cousin to my empanada obsession, is hand pies. I find strawberries fall apart too much when you prepare them as a filling, making a really slopping and unattractive traditional pie. But for a hand pie, they are a great consistency.


I was at the grocery store yesterday and found a good deal on strawberries. I often freeze and reserve for smoothies, but I decided to go the sweet route. I also had some Dancing Deer Flaky Pie Crust mix, and as always, some butter in my freezer, so I was good to go.

Preparation is really easy, especially using a pie crust mix. You can go an extra step with laziness by using refrigerated pie crust or frozen puff pastry for turnovers. I do not suggest cheating on the strawberries – keep them fresh.

STRAWBERRY HAND PIES
Makes 8 Pies
1/2 package Dancing Deer Flaky Pie Crust Mix (7.2 ounces)
1 stick Butter, cold
2 ounces water

2 cups fresh Strawberries, cleaned and halved or quartered
1/4 cup Sugar or Maple Syrup
2 tablespoons Corn Starch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Extra Butter or Coconut Oil

  1. Prepare pie crust according to package directions. Roll into a large, thick disc and cut into 8 equal pieces. Refrigerate until ready to prepare pies.
  2. In a heavy bottomed nonstick pan, add the strawberries and sugar. Boil until some of the liquid is reduced. Add the corn starch mixture and cook until well incorporated and mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and allow too cool. If filling is too hot, it will melt the butter in the pie crust and the crust will fall apart, or you will have soggy pies.
  3. When ready to assemble, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Roll dough out, one piece at a time, to about 1/4 inch thick. Add about 2 tablespoons of filling in the center and fold the hand pie over, sealing the edges by hand. Too much filling will spill out. Score the top of the pie to allow ventilation during baking.
  5. Line a cookie or baking sheet with parchment paper. Line the pies on the sheet, about 1 -2 inches apart. Baste the top of each pie with a bit of butter or coconut oil. Bake for 25 minutes or until crust starts to turn a light golden brown.
  6. Serve warm with ice cream, whippped cream, or all alone 🙂


  

    
    
  

Summer Corn Chowder

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My years of living in New England made me a chowda lover. In addition to the regional cuisine, I had a roommate who was obsessed with the dish, especially corn chowder.

Now that summer is here I am taking advantage of all the fresh beautiful produce out there. This afternoon I picked up corn, potatoes, and bacon for the soul purpose of transforming them to soup.


I also love any reason to use my Staub coquette.


The soup is really easy to prepare once all the chopping is complete.

SUMMER CORN CHOWDER
5 ears fresh Corn
3 Potatoes
1 sweet Onion
5 strips Bacon
1/4 cup Flour
1/2 stick Butter
2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
2 quarts Chicken Stock
1 cup Greek Yogurt
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Cheese and Scallions to garnish, optional

  1. Prep the corn, potatoes, and onions. Strip the corn from the cob, using either a knife or corn stripper. Dice the onion to a medium chop, and peel and cube the potatoes into one inch pieces.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan, render the bacon. Once browned, remove the strips, leaving the grease.
  3. Sauté the onions until soft and starting to brown. Add corn, flour, and butter. Cook, stirring constantly, about two more minutes until ingredients are well incorporated.
  4. Add chicken stock and potatoes. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer about 25 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.
  5. Ladel out about 2-3 cups of soup, process in a blender until smooth and creamy. Mix in to the rest of the soup.
  6. Chop the bacon and add to the soup. Adjust seasoning to taste preference. Serve with cheese, scallions, and fresh ground pepper, if desired.


  
  

French Onion Soup Empanadas

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On numerous occasions on this blog I gushed about my love of French Onion Soup. It’s somewhat of an obsession.

One of my other loves in any food that’s wrapped in dough – be it puff pastry, filo, pasta, etc. I’ll travel the culinary world for a good dumpling, pierogi, patty, lumpia, pita, etc. Of course, empanadas are no exception.

Last weekend a good friend of mine sent a snapchat of some empanadas he was frying up, and I was smitten, realizing it had been a long time since I made them myself. His sister’s Ecuadorian in-laws noddingly approved of his frying skills. I instantly knew I wanted to achieve similar greatness.

Apparently the secret was Goya empanada wrappers. I bought some the next day and saved them in my freezer until inspiration struck.

A few days later the idea of French Onion Soup Empanadas came to mind. I had two additional inspirations on top of that snap chat – a French Onion Soup Casserole I saw on Pinterest and the famous French Onion Soup Dumplings at The Stanton Social.

By not making empanada dough from scratch, these were super easy to make.

FRENCH ONION SOUP EMPANADAS
3 large Sweet or Vidalia Onions, sliced thick
1 stick Butter
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Beef Better than Bouillon (or 1 Beef Bouillon Cube)
2 tablespoons Flour
1 cup White Wine (or Brandy)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
4 ounces Jarslberg Cheese, sliced into small squares
1 packet (12 each) Goya Empanada Wrappers
Vegetable or Corn Oil for Frying
Sugar and Parmesan Cheese

  1. Remove wrappers from freezer and allow to thaw while you prepare onions.
  2. In a heavy bottom stock pot or dutch oven (I used my Staub coquette), melt the butter. Add onions and spices. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until onions are brown and a little syrupy.
  3. Add flour and stir for a couple of minutes until well incorporated.
  4. Add wine and cook mixture for about five more minutes, until onion mixture has thickened and excess liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and spread on a cookie sheet or pan to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, heat oil in pot (I cleaned and re-used my coquette). Use a candy thermometer and allow to heat between 320 and 350 degrees.
  6. Assemble empanadas – use about two tablespoons of onion mixture and 1-2 squares of cheese. Fold in half and crimp edges closed with fork.
  7. Fry empanadas for about 3-5 minutes, until golden brown to brown.
  8. Remove from fryer and drain on a paper towel. While still hot, sprinkle with a pinch of Parmesan cheese and sugar.

 

Vegan Creamed Kale

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Months ago I tried a vegan version of creamed kale and it stayed with me – I really wanted to replicate the side dish. In usual fashion I bought too much kale recently and pondered what to do with it, so I decided to take a stab at it. I picked apart some recipes on Pinterest and came up with my own.

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The first thing you need is your cream sauce. I do not know why these ingredients combined together mean magic, but they just do:

VEGAN CREAM SAUCE

1/4 cup homemade cashew butter
1 cup unsweetened plain almond milk (I prefer almond breeze)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes (I use red star)
Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper – to taste

In a medium sized saucepan, melt the cashew butter over a low flame – do not allow to scorch. Add almond milk and whisk mixture together until well incorporated and smooth. You can raise the heat to medium and add yeast flakes and seasonings – adjust to your liking. Personally, it needs a good amount of salt. Cool and set aside to use in recipes immediately, or you can refrigerate for up to one week – makes a great pasta sauce as well!

VEGAN CREAMED KALE

1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon coconut oil
4 cups baby Kale
1/2 cup – 1 cup Vegan Cream Sauce

Over high heat, heat coconut oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet. Add onions and lightly saute, until softened and slightly translucent. Add garlic and kale and mix with onion. Lower heat and cover skillet for about two minutes, allowing the kale to steam. You can steam longer if you prefer softer vegetables. Remove lid and add cream sauce, mix until all the kale is coated and hot, about one minute. Serve with your favorite vegan entree or just enjoy on its own!

Baked Potato Soup 



With winter coming to a close (hopefully) I decided to give baked potato soup a whirl. Whenever I go to Houlihan’s it is my favorite soup to order but for some reason I never thought to make it.

I looked up some recipes but I was not totally sold on anyone in particular so I modified and came up with my own.

In all honestly I needed an excuse to use the grill press that I bought as my first employee purchase from Sur La Table.



To make the soup I cooked about 11 slices of thick cut applewood smoked bacon and I reserved about a quarter cup of the bacon grease. I chopped one small yellow onion and threw in some garlic, seasoning the mixture with salt-and-pepper. After the onions got soft I added a few tablespoons of flour and started to create a roux. 

I then added 32 ounces of chicken broth and six chopped and peeled russet potatoes. I let the mixture boil then simmer about half an hour until the potatoes were soft. I then added a cup of warm milk (I was scared cold milk would curdle) and adjusted the seasonings. The soup definitely needed more salt because I forgot how much the potatoes absorb. I also added about a cup of chopped scallions and then my crumbled bacon which I had reserved on the side. That was pretty much it and it was really only about an hour for the whole process.

To serve I just added a little bit more scallion and shredded cheddar. So yummy and boyfriend approved. ☺️



S’Mores Cheescake Bars

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Since I recently have not been working as much, I had my girlfriends over for dinner as a late Christmas present. Rather than buying gifts, I cooked for them. For dessert, I winged this S’mores Cheesecake Bar recipe and I was overall happy with the results. I made a couple of tweaks to the recipe to improve it for future use and for you, my dear 5 or 6 readers 🙂

When I made this I used an 8×10 glass pan, but I recommend doing this in an 8×8 square pan instead.

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S’MORES CHEESECAKE BARS

For crust:
12 graham crackers, crushed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

For cheesecake and topping:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (1 block)
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
pinch of salt
1 cup chocolate chips, optionally divided
1 1/2 cups marshmallows (or enough to cover top layer of bars)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease an 8×8 baking pan
  3. Mix graham crackers, butter, sugar, and pinch of salt. Texture should resemble wet sand
  4. Pour cracker mixture into pan. Using wax paper, firmly press it down into one uniform layer on bottom of pan
  5. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool while you prepare filling
  6. Using a hand or stand mixture, beat the cream cheese about one minute. Add marshmallow fluff and sugar and mix until well blended
  7. Add egg, vanilla extract and salt, beat until smooth
  8. Fold in chocolate chips. You may choose to reserve some for the top
  9. Pour batter into pan. Add layer of marshmallows on top, enough to fully cover the mixture
  10. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheesecake is set, but do not over bake
  11. Marshmallows should have a golden brown color. For a deeper, toastier look, switch your oven to the broiler setting and brown marshmallows for approximately one minute. You may do this with the door open so you may monitor and pull the pan before marshmallows burn
  12. Remove from oven. While still hot, you may add extra chocolate chips on top, if desired
  13.   Allow bars to cool before cutting. You may also refrigerate for up to a week

Lobster and Asparagus with creamy Prosecco Cheddar Polenta

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Whole Foods was having a national one-day sale on lobster tails. I have never been the biggest fan of lobster because of the work involved, but I appreciate it. I am also intrigued by what a lean protein it is. Since with the sale the tails were only $4.99 each, I decided to buy some and play around. My first instinct was lobster rolls, but I wanted something a bit more hearty. Instead I played around with what I had in my fridge and pantry already – asparagus, polenta, and this yummy prosecco cheddar. Yes, cheddar made with the tasty bubbly wine. It’s super creamy and melts like butter – no grating required.

My vision for the dish was surprisingly easy to execute. The whole meal maybe took half an hour to prepare, including baking time. I prepared this just for me, but feel free to up the quantities for guests.

Here is what you’ll need:
2 3-4 ounce lobster tails, thawed
5 ounces asparagus (about 10 sprigs), cleaned and trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon herbs de provence
1/3 cup De La Estancia organic polenta
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup nonfat milk
2 ounces Somerdale prosecco cheddar
white pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil. Mix 1 tablespoon olive oil with the asparagus, sprinkle with salt and pepper – rub the spears with the seasoning to fully incorporate. Line up spears on half of the baking sheet.
  3. Flip the thawed lobster tails over. Using a paring knife, slice down the middle of the cartilage. Crack open the tail and gently remove the meat from the shell, leaving intact. Repeat this process for both tails. Mix the tails with the olive oil, salt, and pepper just as you did with the asparagus, and lay on the other half of the baking sheet.
  4. Bake asparagus and lobster for about 10 minutes. The lobster should be firm and opaque, but not stiff. Asparagus should be slightly browned and tender. It is possible the lobster may be cooked before the asparagus. Simply remove from oven using tongs, and place on a plate until asparagus is cooked through.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the polenta. I used the De La Estancia brand because it is quick-cooking. In a small non-stick saucepan, simmer the chicken broth and milk over a low flame until very hot, but not boiling (you do not want to scald the milk). Slowly whisk in the polenta and stir frequently. Mixture should start to thicken in about a minute to two minutes. Remove from heat and mix in cheddar until well incorporated. Add white pepper and cayenne pepper to desired flavor/heat.
  6. This dish is best served immediately. To serve – cut the asparagus into 1-2″ pieces, reserving the tops of the spears for garnish. Mix the remainder into the polenta and pour into a shallow bowl. Slice the lobster meat into 1/2 slices and shingle the meat over the polenta – garnish with the spears.

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Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Chimichurri Aoli

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At work we have a lot of One Day Sales. I often find myself taking advantage. This past weekend we had a ODS on Coho Salmon, so I bought close to two pounds of filet. After I got home to cook one of my favorite recipes (Salmon with Mustard-Dill crust), I inspected the package more closely. It had a use-by date of today (January 27) but then I didn’t realize that when I made my purchase the product had been previously frozen. I reserved half of the package and decided I would figure out today what I was going to make.

I thought of all the ways I enjoy salmon, such as smoked, sushi, broiled, etc., but half those options I cannot feasibly do at home safely or affordably. I started tinkering around some websites and saw a photo of salmon cakes. Duh! Why didn’t I think of that sooner? I played around with ingredients in my fridge and pantry and came up with this recipe.

The first thing I decided to do was cook the salmon. Whenever I have made crab cakes, the crab meat is always ready-to-eat, so I felt it wise to do the same with the salmon. I decided steamed or poached would be best in keeping the fish moist and flaky. Poaching seemed smarter.

To poach I used some water, dry white wine (Pinot Grigio), dill, and onion. I brought the liquid to a low boil and then reduced to barely a simmer and then added the fish filet, whole. I poached the fish about 10 minutes, to the point it was opaque but had a little give.

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Poached salmon cooling on cutting board

Poached salmon cooling on cutting board

For the rest of the recipes…

SALMON CAKES
12 ounces salmon, poached and cooled
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup dill, chopped
1 heaping teaspoon Colman’s mustard powder
1 heaping tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
2 eggs, raw
Vegetable oil for pan frying

  1. Remove skin from salmon and discard. Crumble the meat into a bowl.
  2. Add onion, dill, mustard powder, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Stir ingredients until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Add bread crumbs and mix thoroughly. Taste the mixture and adjust any seasonings. The mustard powder may make the mixture taste very hot/spicy, but that heat will be muted in the cooking process.
  4. Add eggs and knead the mixture with your hands. If it seems a little dry, you can add more lemon juice.
  5. Form the mixture into 8 patties (approximately two ounces each).
  6. Allow the patties to rest as oil heats. In a large skillet, coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Heat to about 350 degrees for frying. If you do not have a thermometer and are not sure if the oil is hot enough, use a small piece of one of the cakes or a piece of onion to test.
  7. When the oil is ready, fry the cakes, four at a time, two minutes per side. The color should be a deep golden brown. Remove from pan and place on paper towels to remove excess oil.
  8. Serve cakes with the Lemon-Chimichurri Aoli and garnish with lemon wedges and fresh dill. Salmon Cakes can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.

LEMON-CHIMICHURRI AOLI
Make as little or as much as you would like with store-bought ingredients. I used equal parts ready-made chimichurri and low fat mayonnaise and thinned the mixture with lemon juice. For an even brighter, more lemony sauce, add some lemon zest.

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Miso-Chicken Noodle Bowl

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I had a noodle bowl craving the other day and decided to experiment. I looked at a couple of recipes and was inspired to create my own. The results were low-cal (353 calories in a generous sized serving), flavorful, and filling. Even better, it maybe took half an hour to prepare. My only criticism is the miso itself is high sodium, so something to keep in mind.

MISO-CHICKEN NOODLE BOWL

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INGREDIENTS
FOR BROTH:
1 large sweet Onion, chopped
4 cloves Garlic, chopped
2 cups chopped Carrots
2 tablespoons Sesame Oil, divided
1 pound Chicken Breasts, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
2 boxes (32 ounce) Miso Broth

FOR NOODLES
1 8-ounce package wide-style Chinese or Japanese noodles
1 tablespoon Sesame Oil

METHOD OF PREP
For best results, prepare the broth and noodles separate.

  1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large stock pot. Add onions and garlic, saute until slightly translucent, but not brown. Add carrots and ginger and saute until carrots are tender-crisp. Add a little water to keep vegetables from browning.
  2. Add miso broth, bring to a boil, and lower to a simmer.
  3. In a medium to large frying pan, heat one tablespoon sesame oil. Add chicken, stirring frequently until no pink remains. Add chili garlic sauce and stir until all pieces are coated.
  4. Transfer chicken to broth and continue to simmer as you prepare the noodles.
  5. Cook noodles in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain and transfer to pot with one tablespoon sesame oil to prevent noodles from sticking.
  6. To serve – in a large bowl, add about half a cup of noodles. Pour 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the broth mixture over. Garnish with scallions and serve with chopsticks, if desired.

Broth mixture and be refrigerated and reheated as needed up to one week.