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Archive for the ‘cheese’ Category

The first time I scrambled eggs for Nancy was our first anniversary. We were staying in a friends’ cabin in North Lake Tahoe. The night before we went to the store and bought a bunch of supplies. I offered to make Nancy breakfast. For those of you who haven’t read the past posts about my cooking skills four years ago, suffice it to say that I had none.

This was one of the first moments when I started to realize that I really didn’t know “anything” whatsoever about cooking. It’s really funny looking back because my relationship with food was so different then. I just stuffed food, as much as I could get, into my mouth. It didn’t matter if it tasted good or not. I didn’t really appreciate what I was eating. I was one of those people who would go to a restaurant because of the size of the portions, not the quality of the food.

On this occasion though, as I watched Nancy try to eat my overcooked, overstirred and overworked eggs a small light went off in my head. I can’t say for sure, but it was probably the start of my desire to actually learn how to cook and appreciate food.

Fast forward four years and I think I have a pretty good grasp on making perfect scrambled eggs. I put my skills to test multiple times this week. I escaped the restaurant early a few days ago to come home and work on the books. We had two dozen farm eggs in the fridge, so I made scrambled eggs for Jacob, Randy and I. Thursday night Nancy had plans with her sister so I decided to make breakfast burritos for dinner.

Everything was pretty straight forward with the exception of trying to take the pictures of the finished product. Right now the most difficult part of putting together this food blog is the pictures. Everything I cook we are going to eat for dinner and my family, though very understanding, isn’t excited about eating cold food. At first I think they thought it was funny… watching me try to style a plate, then trying to find a place with proper lighting and lastly taking a zillion pictures with different settings since my photography skills are amateur at best.

Other than the many things you can add to the eggs, there seem to be two different methods on the actual scrambling of the eggs. One produces small, even-sized curds while the other, the one I use, produces big fluffy scrambled eggs. The difference comes down to how much stirring and disturbing of the eggs happens as they are cooking in the pan. Many recipes call for the cook to stir continuously while the eggs are cooking. This method with produce smaller, even-sized curds, but in my opinion they lack any visually interesting texture and overall look (and taste) quite boring.

In the method I use you let the eggs start to set a bit, then slowly push the eggs toward the center of the pan, allowing the runny parts to distribute to the bottom of the pan. If you haven’t tried this way I would recommend it! The below recipe will serve two hungry people. Adjust for the group you are feeding, but don’t try to make more than a dozen at a time in one pan. Use two pans if you have more mouths to feed.

Breakfast Burrito (serves two hungry people)

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 teaspoons low fat milk
  • 3 pinches kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons Italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 burrito-sized tortillas, I used sun-dried tomato tortillas
  • 3 – 4 pieces of cooked bacon (we like bacon and we baked it)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lay out tortillas. Place bacon and shredded cheese down the center of each tortilla. When you start to scramble the eggs, you will place tortillas with the cheese and bacon in the oven to melt the cheese and soften the tortillas.


Combine eggs, milk, salt and parsley in a metal or glass mixing bowl. Whisk mixture until evenly combined, about 30 seconds!

Place the tortillas directly on a rack positioned in the middle of the oven.

Melt butter on medium heat in a NON STICK PAN and tilt to distribute. Add egg mixture to the pan and let it sit undisturbed until the eggs just barely start to set. Using a flat wooden spatula start to push the eggs toward the center of the pan forming large, soft curds. You can tilt the pan to distribute the runny parts.

Continue with this process, flipping over the eggs to cook the runny parts.

When the cheese is melted on the tortillas pull them out of the oven and place on a plate. Transfer the eggs to the burritos, wrap them securely and devour. Top with salsa for extra fun.

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Wow, what a weekend and what a day last Friday was. We prepared food for two catering events, one, a 150 person wedding and the other an upscale boxed lunch for 200 people. On Friday I had quite a day and a ton of fun. I did a large amount of prepping while trying to keep the front of the restaurant running smoothly. Nancy, Joannie and Megan were up to there eyeballs in food from the moment the day started. Megan cut and grilled so much chicken that the joke was that I was going to go print her out a “Chicken Mastery” certificate.

One of the dishes we were making was an Asian salad with skewered grilled chicken satay and peanut sauce. I consider myself super lucky that I wasn’t asked to skewer the chicken. We all got a good laugh because Joannie, who is vegetarian, ended up the job. She must have spent 3+ hours producing over 1,000 skewers.

I needed to julienne, into 1/8″ pieces, about 20 pounds each of bell peppers, carrots and cabbage. The bell peppers were great because I was able to really practice my knife skills, about 1 hour of them. The carrots were a bit easier because I was able to use the mandoline (watch out!) and with my mesh glove I cruised through them. The cabbage was the easiest as I only needed to core, then run them through the food processor with the shredder blade insert.

Nancy’s birthday was Saturday so our staff volunteered a few months back to handle the wedding catering Friday night. All we had to do was set up the event, make sure everything was ready to go and then we could head off. I had originally planned to make dinner for Nancy after we left the event, but after 12 hours of standing up I decided I was a wimp and I only wanted to relax. Thanks to my staff though, who after working all day, spent another 6 hours taking care of the wedding. We did pick up dinner on the way home and just chilled out.

About 11:00pm, after Nancy was out cold, I realized we would be heading to work early again Saturday morning and I really wanted to make breakfast for Nancy. The problem was I wanted to stay up late and I didn’t want to get up early. I decided I would make the strata that had been on my list for the last few weeks.

I spent some time a few weeks ago looking through many of my cookbooks and had a pretty good idea what I was going for. I do have a few tips I leaned that I wanted to share. When you use high-moisture ingredients like sausage or raw vegetables you must saute them first to remove the moisture. If you don’t the strata will be wet and soggy. Second, to produce the perfect texture you should weigh down the strata while it sits in the fridge overnight. This will allow all of the egg/cream mixture to really soak into the bread. You don’t have to use anything fancy, I just used a gallon of milk.

The outcome was excellent and I will be making it again. I think I might try to make a pepperoni pizza strata next time. The recipe was inspired by “The Best New Recipe” from Cook’s Illustrated.

Strata with Spicy Italian Sausage & Gruyere Cheese

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 7-8 slices French bread
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 4 medium minced shallots
  • 8 ounces pre-cooked spicy Italian sausage, cut into slices
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 ounces Gruyere cheese
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, or half-and-half
  • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Start by drying out the bread. Pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 40 minutes, turning once after 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then moderately butter one side of each piece.

Okay. On to the the sausage and shallots. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until translucent. Add the sliced sausage and saute until browned, about 4 minutes. (The sausage is already cooked so you are only browning them to concentrate the flavor and reduce the moisture.) Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the wine to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until you have reduced by half. This will go quickly, just 2 or 3 minutes.

Take an 8×8 baking dish and coat the inside with butter. Arrange half of the bread slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pan, buttered side up. You can break the pieces to make them fit. Sprinkle half of the sausage/shallot mixture evenly over the bread then cover with 1/3 of the cheese.

Arrange the other half of the bread over the cheese, then the remainder of the sausage/shallot mixture and another 1/3 of the cheese.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl until combined. Whisk in the reduced wine, parsley, half-and-half, heavy cream if using, 1 teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread and cover, flush with the surface, with plastic wrap. Weigh down with something heavy. Refrigerate for at least a few hours up to overnight. Place remaining cheese in a bag and save.

Remove from refrigerator and let sit on the counter for 20 minutes to warm up a bit. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and place oven rack in middle position. Uncover the strata and sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, for approximely 40 to 50 minutes until the edges and center are puffed and when you shake the baking dish the strata doesn’t jiggle. If you have a convection oven then cook at 270 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Remove from oven, cut into 4 or 6 pieces and devour.

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First off, let me start by saying one word, “WOW”. Okay, one more word, “GREAT”. These are the words that sounded off at the table last night!

Being Italian I’ve made multiple versions of gnocchi in the past few years. In fact it was one of the first things I attempted to cook when I started this whole “cooking quest”. Jacob and I have made at least 4 or 5 different versions in the past year. We have baked the potatoes, with salt and without salt, boiled the potatoes, put them through a ricer and through a food mill. We have made them with bolongese sauce, with cream sauce and browned butter. So in other words, we have made our share of gnocchi.

Last year I was looking through Thomas Keller’s book “Bouchon”. I noticed a recipe for gnocchi that didn’t use any potato, but used a dough made with flour, butter and boiling water. At the time I had no idea what this was all about, but vowed to make it one day. I vaguely remember Nancy telling me then what the dough was, but I was lost in thought at the time, or maybe I wasn’t really paying attention. Sorry my love!

A few weeks ago I was looking through the “Cafe Beaujolais” cookbook from Mendocino, California and another gnocchi recipe caught my eye. This one too had the same dough in it. What was this stuff? So yesterday I told Nancy and our baker Joannie about it and asked them for details on this mystery dough. At exactly the same time they both said in a loud voice from two sides of the restaurant, “that’s a choux pastry, a pâte à choux”. Then Joannie, who is Italian, said “Gnocchi, that’s not gnocchi! Well I guess you could call it a gnocchi,” as she made quote marks with her fingers in the air.

So I started to do some research on what a pâte à choux is. Here is what I found… It is a versatile dough of flour, water, butter and eggs distinguished by the fact that the flour is combined with the butter and water and partially cooked before the eggs are added to it. The resulting dough, which puffs when it bakes, has a light and elegant texture. It is used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs, French crullers, beignets, and gougeres.

I was excited. I get to try something new and adventurous… new dough, new fancy name, piping bag.. yeah! All I had to do was get out of the restaurant at a reasonable time so I could get home, work out and make dinner before I fell over with exhaustion and delayed my cooking for another day!

It was going to be questionable since our refrigeration guy was supposed to be coming at 4:00 to do regular preventative maintenance on all of the refrigerators and freezers and display cases. He’s a great guy and often times after he finishes we end up spending an hour hanging out and trading stories. For the record, refrigeration has been the bane of my restaurant-owning existence. If it’s not one thing breaking it’s another. There is nothing worse than coming in in the morning to find out that $500 of product has to be thrown out because a compressor froze up and stopped working overnight. Fortunately Nancy found this guy 6 months ago and he has kept everything in tip top shape since.

He is a very busy guy though and I was hoping he would call me to reschedule so I could take off and get home… fortunately or maybe unfortunately, not sure, he did and I was out of there like a rocket ship blasting off.

Nancy was going to be gone with her running group so it was going to be all me. She would get home in time to eat the results, but if something went wrong it was going to be up to me to figure it out. Fortunately nothing went wrong, in fact other than dropping a half cup of flour all over, things went smoothly.

The dish was incredibly rich, the gnocchi were light and airy. In fact the texture was what I have only dreamed of when making traditional potato gnocchi. I can’t wait until we have our next dinner party, because I’m going to make this for the first course. I think I will present them in a small ramekin with just about 12 pieces per person. What a way to start a dinner… I’ll have Nancy do the main course since I’m not sure I can top them!

All I can say is make these as soon as you can. You will love them and so will your family or guests. These as a primi, maybe Osso Bucco as the main and a tiramisu for dessert. WOW!

Baked Gnocchi with Prosciutto & Gorgonzola (serves 4)

(adapted from the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 stick butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1.5 oz. chopped prosciutto (put in the freezer for 15 minutes before chopping)
  • 4 oz flavorful cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola, Muenster) I used half Gorgonzola and half Muenster

Fill a 6 quart pan 3/4 full of water and bring to boil. You are going to par-cook the gnocchi in this water, meaning you will drop them into the boiling water for a bit, then finish cooking in the oven.

In a medium-sized pan, place 1 cup of cold water and butter and bring to a boil. You want the butter to be melted fully just as the water boils.

Add salt to flour and then add the flour/salt mixture to the water all at once. Remove the pan from the heat and beat with gusto with a wooden spoon or whisk, to make a smooth paste.

Put the pan back on the stove, with medium heat, and dry the paste by scraping it toward you with the wooden spoon or a spatula, flipping the paste over. Keep the paste moving to dehydrate it. The less water remaining, the more readily the paste will absorb the eggs. (I did this part for 2 or 3 minutes.)

The paste with steam, form a film on the bottom of the pan, and butter will glisten on the surface.

Remove pan from the heat. Add whole eggs, one at a time. Each time an egg is added, the paste with appear to separate. Continue to beat with the wooden spoon and it will come back together.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Put the finished paste in a pastry bag, cut off enough of the end so that when you push through the dough it will be about 3/4 inch thick. Hold a knife or clean scissors in one hand, the pastry bag in the other over the boiling water. Squeeze and cut after 1 inch of paste emerges. The knife or scissors may get gummy, so you can dip them in the boiling water to clean.

The dumplings will fall into the water and sink to the bottom. When they rise to the top they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon to a buttered plate.

Butter a medium-sized 8×8 inch baking dish and pour enough cream to coat bottom. Cover with the chopped prosciutto, half the cheese, then the gnocchi, then the remaining cheese and finally the remaining cream. Bake for about 1hour until cream is mostly absorbed and gnocchi turn golden. Eat right away.

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I started this post last Wednesday. The past few days have been a bit rough. The restaurant has been very busy and we were down one person for the past few weeks. This changed today though, as we had someone start who worked for us in the past and she was able to plug right in.

To give you a bit of background our restaurant is small. We have 38 seats inside and 12 outside. Total square feet is 1,200 and there are 6 of us. Nancy is the creative genius and overseer of the operation, baker and chef. Myself, chef dishwasher. Megan, our superstar chef de cuisine has been with us for almost 4 years. Lisa, is the focused prep and line cook. Joannie the great baker (who probably doesn’t need to work, but does because she loves working with me so much) and our counter person Anna who just started back with us today. Last, but not least is Mike who handles a ton of deliveries for us and makes sure the lunch caterings are ready to go out the door.

With only 5 employees in the cafe, if you are missing one person you can really feel it. On average we have a full restaurant everyday and most days we handle 3 to 5 catering delivery orders that go out before the lunch rush. We make all of that food in the midst of steaming milk for the latte people, scrambling eggs for the breakfast burritos and corralling pastries for the “just coffee ma’am” men who change their minds when they see a tray of hot scones hit the counter. The best part is, we do it with a 87 square foot kitchen. Imagine that if you can. Most of you probably have a larger walk-in closet than our kitchen.

Anyway getting back to food… you can tell by the last few posts we’ve been eating pretty rich lately and I’ve missed a few days of exercise. We had frittata last weekend as well as spare ribs on Sunday (post coming on that one) still doing some research. We had a lasagna with an excellent bolongese sauce Nancy made as well.

I was hoping to get home a little earlier last Wednesday, so I could try out some low calorie chicken tacos. I love tacos plain and simple and believe me I need to start making some lower calorie, lower fat food for a few days and get myself back in line. Nancy leads a bible study and was going to be heading out early, so the goal was to get home, work out and make dinner so we could eat together before she had to leave. The evening didn’t work out as planned.

Nancy left while I was working out, said she would pick something up on the way. I had no desire to cook anything so I pulled out one of my standbys… a Trader Joe’s, Trader Ming’s meal in a box. There are three different versions, Pad Thai, Kung Pao and Peanut Satay. They are actually pretty darn good.

The noodles are in one package, the sauce in another. You open the box, remove the noodles from their package, put back in the box, mix with the sauce and warm in the microwave for 2 minutes. Viola! You have a meal. The best part is they are only about 550 calories, which is what I’m shooting for at dinner.

So, if you haven’t tried them, give them a shot.

Okay, back to chicken tacos. The recipe is inspired from a few different versions I looked at on Food Network. I was able to make them on Thursday of last week, but due to chaos and craziness it has taken me until today to get the text done. They were excellent, so easy to make and tasted great. You can literally make them in 1/2 hour after work and enjoy a filling and low calorie meal.

Low Fat Chicken Tacos

Ingredients

  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small cubes or strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced or not seeded if you like it really hot
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 cup store bought salsa or make your own
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 sliced scallions and 1 large tomato chopped for garnish
  • 1 cup low fat sour cream, or the real stuff
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheese

Pat chicken dry with paper towels to remove moisture. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, preferably not non-stick (the chicken will not brown as well), over high heat just until oil starts to smoke. Add the chicken and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until browned on all sides. This is going to take about 4 to 6 minutes. If the bottom of the pan becomes full of liquid and the chicken is poaching instead of browning, pour off the liquid. You want the chicken to brown, not steam or poach. If the chicken starts to burn you can add more oil and/or turn down the heat. You want the brown bits to form on the bottom of the pan, this will add flavor later.

When the chicken is browned remove from pan to a bowl and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot add onions and cook, stirring until they are tender, about 5 minutes. As the onions release their liquid you can start to scrape up the browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. You will notice that they mix in with the onions and your mouth with start to salivate at this point.

Now add the bell pepper, garlic, jalapeño and cumin. Continue to stir so as not to burn the garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes until peppers are bright, but still remain crisp.

While this is finishing up, take your tortillas, place them on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the microwave for 1 minute. This is the quick way to warm through your tortillas without having to warm up the oven. It works fine! The plastic wrap holds the moisture in as they warm.

Now stir in the salsa and the chicken you set aside. Cook, stirring and bringing up the remainder of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan until the chicken is hot, about 3 or 4 more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Spoon into the warmed tortillas and garnish as you see fit. Pig out!

Let me know how it goes and what changes you have made! -Joe

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Pizza has a special place in my heart. I’ve made, warmed up, ordered, picked up, reheated and plain ate a ton of pizza over the past 30+ years. My favorite pizza of all time was the Tombstone pizza that my dad would buy for me in the bars of Blair, Wisconsin. This is where my dad grew up and we would visit my grandfather every few years for vacation.

You see my grandfather was a bit of a bad ass, actually much more of a bad ass than my dad. When I started going back to Wisconsin at the tender age of 12, I was always allowed in the bars. Everyone knew my grandfather and even though he was in his ’70s at the time, they respected and still feared him. They would break the rules, hence I was never bothered in any of the bars, would have full run and, well, occasionally I could have a bit of beer.

Back then my dad, grandfather and I would go fishing all day long, almost every day then many nights we would take a trip to one of the 17 bars in Blair, population 1,100, circa 1980. Between playing pool, sneaking a drink here and there and well, eating pizza, I had the time of my life.

Rivaling my childhood pizza memories was the trip Nancy and I took recently to Italy for our honeymoon. I couldn’t get enough pizza when I was there and I think I ordered some almost every day, 17 days in total. True Italian pizza is in my opinion is the best you can get. Yes I love all types, but the thin crispy crust with a few toppings, it’s simplicity at its best.

Fast forward to present times… Even though I’ve eaten 100s and 100s of pizzas, unbelievably I’ve never grilled one on my barbecue. I’ve thought about it quite a bit, but for some reason, I guess I chickened out. I end up throwing them in the oven. Good but not great!

So this past Sunday I finally worked up the courage to give it a try and let me tell you, it was awesome. I did take a shortcut and used dough I purchased at our local bread shop and I used Trader Joe’s pizza sauce, but the basil was from our garden and I used fresh mozzarella for one of them and shredded mozzarella and pepperoni for the other.

By all means you can make the dough yourself. I’ve done it before and it’s very rewarding. But all you have to do is call the local bread shop. We purchase ours for something like a buck per pound.

This post is for all of us who don’t have a ton of time and want to get some great pizza on the table, after work, without any hassle. Better yet, invite all of your friends over, purchase a bunch of different toppings and throw an awesome party. Your guests will be talking about it all summer long.

Grilled Pizza Margherita or Grilled Pizza Whatever

  • 1 Bottle of TJ’s Pizza Sauce or Homemade Sauce
  • 1 pound of Pizza Dough – Divided then formed into two balls
  • 6 to 8 ounces of Fresh Mozzarella cut into cubes
  • 6 to 8 Fresh Basil Leaves, medium sized
  • Optional – caramelized onions, Pepperoni, Salami, etc, etc.

Set up your grill. If using charcoal then you will want to light about 40 coals. When ready spread them out on one side of the grill so you have a cool side and a hot side. If using a gas grill, light all the burners, close the lid and heat to high. You will then turn the front burner off completely when ready to grill the pizza. This will be your cool zone.

Lightly oil a large baking sheet or cookie sheet. Take one of the balls of dough and using your fingers and hands stretch the dough into a rectangle. I suggest about 13 or so inches long and 9 or so inches wide. Don’t worry about it being perfect, it’s to eat not to hang on a wall. The important thing to figure out is how thick you like your crust, so experiment with this part. It will be fun. Repeat with other ball of dough.

Prepare your ingredients, sauce, cheese and toppings. You want them ready and in reach once your dough hits the grill.

You will want to grill one at a time. Practice makes perfect. Gently lift the dough and drape it over the hot zone of your grill. Depending on the heat of your grill you will leave them there for 1 to 3 minutes. You are looking for nice grill marks a crisp and hardened bottom. If the top starts to bubble don’t worry about it.

Using two spatulas or tongs or a combo turn the dough over and move it to the cool zone on your grill. Working quickly brush the top half with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, apply the sauce, cheese and basil leaves or the other ingredients you are working with. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slide 1/2 of the pizza back over the hot zone close the lid. Every 30 seconds to 60 seconds rotate the pizza and close the lid so that the cheese melts on the top and the crust doesn’t overcook. You are looking for a nice crunchy crust, golden brown, some charring, but not burnt.

Enjoy! Please share ideas for toppings and your pizza grilling experience.

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On Thursday of this past week I had to have a tooth removed. No, it was not because of bad oral hygiene and yes I do brush my teeth two to three times per day and floss fairly regularly. Actually I cracked the tooth some time back and it was not getting better. I had the dentist do a root canal last year, but it never worked. Now I guess I need to figure out if I should get a bridge or implant and what the heck the difference is.

In true fashion of my family, even though I just had a tooth pulled, had a huge piece of gauze in my mouth and I couldn’t feel half of my face, I was thinking about what I should have for dinner. Ice cream sounded really good, yogurt and pudding might do, then Nancy suggested polenta. Wow, great idea actually. I love polenta. It’s a super simple dish and can be spruced up many different ways. In fact one of the favorites in our household is to make a sugo, or meat sauce and serve it on top of creamy polenta with some vegetables on the side.

Meat sauce was out of the question on this occasion, seemed a bit much for my traumatized mouth and I didn’t really have the time or the desire to make something that would take too terribly long. In fact I was having second thoughts as I drove into the parking lot of Whole Foods about the time it would take to prepare proper polenta.

My grandparents on my mothers side are from Sicily and if I’m going to cook Italian food I like to do it right. I’ve never used instant polenta, but I hear it works fine. In fact it might be a good place to start for anyone who wants to get their feet wet. I like the huge level of satisfaction that comes with preparing polenta, standing at the stove and stirring and watching the dish for 30 or 40 minutes. I suppose you could even cook it for 60 minutes on super super low heat, but that is even too much for me. The end result is well worth it. The texture is creamy and smooth, so much more than the instant polenta I have eaten.

Howard McGee says “long cooking at the stove develops the corn flavor by the constant application of higher than boiling heat to the pot bottom and the exposure to air and drying that takes place at the surface.” In his book “On Food and Cooking” he also mentions “busy cooks can develop just as much flavor with less labor by partly covering the pot of just-thickened polenta, putting it into a low over 250 degrees, which heats the bottom and sides in a controlled and even way, and stirring only occasionally.” If you try this, or already have please post a comment and let me know how it works.

The key to making polenta is the pot you use. It must be a high quality, heavy bottomed number or you will have trouble keeping the grains from burning. We have a Le Creuset 5.5 quart round Dutch oven. Yes it was an investment at $200, but it has been worth every penny. In fact we use it almost every day for something.

So here I am, half my mouth is numb and I’m hoping that nobody will recognize me in the store because I can barely talk, mouth full of gauze, and I can’t smile at anyone because when I do only one side of my mouth works. It is scary to say the least. In fact I was looking at myself in the mirror before going into the store and the only way I looked presentable was if I keep my lips securely pressed together. haha. I was fortunate enough to get in and out fast. I picked up some medium ground yellow cornmeal (use medium or coarse), some Gorgonzola cheese from Italy and some heavy cream and I was ready to go.

When I got home I popped one of the pain pills the doctor prescribed and I got to work. It was going to be just Randy and I because Jacob was out with a friend for dinner and Nancy was catering a wedding rehearsal dinner.

Polenta & Gorgonzola (serves 4)

  • 6 1/2 cups of water
  • 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 2/3 cups of medium or coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, cut into small cubes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add salt and bay leaves to 7 cups of cold water in a medium pot and then stir in polenta. Some recipes will have you whisk in the polenta once the water is boiling, forget it, this is easier and you will not have lumps!

Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon, until polenta thickens and pulls away from the bottom of the pan, 30 or so minutes. You can walk away for a minute here and there, go to the bathroom, etc. Just make sure it doesn’t burn and stick to the pan. Turn off heat add cream and Gorgonzola and stir until the cheese melts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to bowls and serve.

Other Possible Ways to Prepare

Instead of using water to cook the polenta, you can substitute a few cups of chicken stock or whole milk. This will make it creamy. If you want to make grilled polenta cook the polenta until it is thicker.

You can make the polenta into a gratin. Omit the cheese and the cream. After it is done cooking pour it into a buttered baking dish that will give you a layer about 1 inch high. Top with a cup, or more, if you like, of grated Parmesan cheese and broil until the cheese is melted and is slightly browned. You can then cut into squares and serve hot or at room temp.

You can grill it, again make sure it is fairly thick when you cook it. Omit the cheese and cream. Pour the polenta onto a board or into a pan. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes, can be longer, then cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. When ready to cook, brush with some olive oil and grill or fry with a little salt and pepper or brown them in a pan after heating up some olive oil.

You can also top the polenta with a meat sauce or a tomato sauce. In fact there are a zillion things you can do. Please share some ideas!

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Cheese – The Easy Way

I’m going to attempt to make some cheese… very simple cheese. I’ve never made cheese, but I’ve thought about it. At one point I purchased a book on how to make cheese, read much of it and was overwhelmed by what I read.

You have to have starters and packages of this and that and everything must be super sterile. You need cheese presses and depending on the type of cheese, you need a cool place to let it age. Hmm… I thought I would go buy a old refrigerator any put it in the garage so I could age my cheese in it. Well as always, my ambitions are much bigger than my ability to follow through.

So tonight I was reading Mark Bittman’s book, “How to cook everything Vegetarian” and found a recipe for Fresh Cheese, the Easy Way.

I’m going to make it sometime in the next few weeks. All I need is 1/2 gallon of milk, 1 quart of buttermilk, salt and cheesecloth. Let’s see how it goes. I will put it in my next omelet.

Edit – 6/10/08 – I made it tonight… Nancy wasn’t around and I’m waiting for her to come home to try some. I’m not impressed at this point. I used low-fat buttermilk which may have something to do with it. I may be too critical as well. More to come.

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