Polenta Stuffed Peppers

Some people call it grits, some say cornmeal, others call it porridge. But in Italy they call it polenta, and it's one of those versatile grains that can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Heck, I've used it as an appetizer, that's just how useful these golden kernels are.  For those who haven't made polenta, it is ground cornmeal. You can make it creamy, or more solid which you can then cut into small pieces and fry, grill or bake to create a perfect delivery vehicle for various toppings.  This time around I asked more from my polenta by using it as a stuffing.  

Last week I found some yellow peppers (among other goodies) at the farm stand and asked my niece if she liked stuffed peppers.  Since her answer was yes, I grabbed a few knowing that I would evidentially figure out what to stuff them with.  

My bountiful picks of the week. Yes, I got cauliflower and made 'Faux Creamy' Cauliflower Soup. Plus I created another topping for the white eggplant. That will be coming soon. (P.S. It was my niece, Gabrielle's idea to take our abundant finds and photograph them outside. Good idea

My bountiful picks of the week. Yes, I got cauliflower and made 'Faux Creamy' Cauliflower Soup. Plus I created another topping for the white eggplant. That will be coming soon. (P.S. It was my niece, Gabrielle's idea to take our abundant finds and photograph them outside. Good idea

My mom used to stuff peppers with ground beef, rice and tomatoes, but I don't eat meat, so toss that idea down the drain.  All week long I had different ideas ruminating in my head .  Among them...

  • Potatoes/Peas/Carrots

  • Chicken pot pie in a pepper (but I don't eat chicken either)

  • Rice and something else??

  • Something and something else...

None of those had any real chance of winning a spot as the stuffing. Then when JC used the fresh English peas for another dish, peas were no longer an option either.  However, when I discovered some mushrooms in the fridge I knew just how well polenta cozies up to them.  A real earthy combo. My niece, Gabrielle, suggested adding spinach, which I thought was a great idea but I already had kale in the house, so why buy something else. Remember what I always say; recipes can be followed exactly or used as a guidelines. So USE what you have and don't fret, which is exactly what I did.  The plot thickened, as did the polenta.  Here is the plan to stuff some peppers with polenta.  Say that 3 times fast!

INGREDIENTS

6 yellow, red or orange peppers
3 c mushrooms, cut into small pieces
2 c Kale, chopped
5 T chives, chopped
1/2 t crushed garlic
1 c polenta
2/3 c Feta cheese
4-5 T milk or cream (optional)
Magic 3 (olive, salt, pepper)

Instructions

Cut the tops and seeded middle out of the peppers, wash, and let dry. In a skillet, sauté the mushrooms in oil. Do not salt them until they are cooked as doing so early on releases their liquid and they become mushy.  Add 3 tablespoons of chives and salt toward the end of the cooking process. Once nicely browned, remove from the pan and set aside.  In the same pan, sauté the kale quickly.  You just want to wilt this but not overcook it. Remove and set aside. 

Nicely browned mushrooms with garlic and chives.

Nicely browned mushrooms with garlic and chives.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the polenta according to the package. You want a creamy consistency.  Remove from heat and stir in the milk or cream.  Once combined add the feta, mushrooms, kale and the rest of the chopped chives.  

Fill each of the peppers with the stuffing mixture placing them in a baking tin and bake for 45 minutes or until the peppers are tender and slightly browned.

If you like a bit more cheese, about 5 minutes before they are done crumble some feta on top and let brown. Serve them warm.  

(Since I was also preparing a few other items for this dinner, I cooked these ahead of time and then warmed them right before serving.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see these are quite big and filling, so for a more proportional serving size as a side dish to your meat, fish or chicken, cut them in half. That was the case the night I originally made these.  We had so many other yummy offerings that there were left over peppers.  Do you hear me crying?  I think those are cheers of joy because...

 ...the next night we warmed them up and enjoyed the stuffed peppers with the left over roasted veggies and a fresh salad for dinner, and that was plenty.  Any way you cook it polenta pulled off another useful way to serve it up.

 

 

Roasted Fish & more - A Meal in the Country

We have dear friends who have a lovely home in the NY countryside.  

This is not their house but the relaxing vista on the way.  Take a deep breath as we enter a blissful weekend.  (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

This is not their house but the relaxing vista on the way.  Take a deep breath as we enter a blissful weekend.  (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

When they invite us up to spend the weekend, we have a blast on so many levels including making delicious meals together.  We all have the same cooking methodology; use few and fresh ingredients and make them sing. Another special treat about their home is their vegetable garden.  This is a treat and a carved out section of envy. It is the truest sense of farm to table eating. During our last visit we kept it super simple preparing items and eating as they came out of the kitchen.  We pulled together a couple of light salads to nosh on during the day.  
This is a post about the art of simplicity.

Arugula salad with beans, corn & cucumber

No need for a recipe, just combine those ingredients and dress with the Magic 3 and squeeze of lime. Besides the refreshing taste, we all loved how the colors of the salad were a perfect reflection of the handcrafted bowl our friend Ron made.  Check out his work at    Miller Pottery HVNY.

No need for a recipe, just combine those ingredients and dress with the Magic 3 and squeeze of lime. Besides the refreshing taste, we all loved how the colors of the salad were a perfect reflection of the handcrafted bowl our friend Ron made.  Check out his work at  Miller Pottery HVNY.

Watermelon & Feta

Some crisp watermelon, feta and fresh herbs from their garden paired with a Spanish Albariño,   La Val

Some crisp watermelon, feta and fresh herbs from their garden paired with a Spanish Albariño, La Val

Zucchini "carpaccio"

This was a completely off the cuff creation that was good but needed some refining.  I've made the adjustments and the improved recipe will be in a future post.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

This was a completely off the cuff creation that was good but needed some refining.  I've made the adjustments and the improved recipe will be in a future post.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

All those refreshing dishes were our day time lunching bites.

At night we again kept it simple:  Roasting some fish, tossing a salad and warming beans & potato.

Oven Roasted Grouper

For the fish, we wanted to keep the fresh purity of these beautiful grouper fillets, so they were seasoned with the Magic 3 (salt, pepper, olive oil) and then added parsley, some sautéed onions and roasted tomatoes. (Remember the previous posts on roasted tomatoes and all the different uses... Well, here is one glorious way to use those candy-like jewels.)  Roast at 350 for 12-20 depending on the thickness of the fish.

On an aluminum lined baking sheet, place the fillets, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper and top with tomatoes, parsley, garlic and onion. 

On an aluminum lined baking sheet, place the fillets, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper and top with tomatoes, parsley, garlic and onion. 

Half the onions and sauté them in a cast iron pan until they become golden brown on both sides. (Always season with Magic 3). Then add them to the fish before roasting.  The leftovers can be used to serve as a side dish.

Half the onions and sauté them in a cast iron pan until they become golden brown on both sides. (Always season with Magic 3). Then add them to the fish before roasting.  The leftovers can be used to serve as a side dish.

For the salad, use the freshest greens you can find.  In our case, no car necessary. We were lucky that all that was required was a pair of scissors to snip some from their abundant, and I mean glorious, garden.  If only JuanCarlos and I had this kind of green thumb.  Ron gets two thumbs up for this magnificent 'living salad bowl'. 

Ron choosing the best of the best from his garden.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

Ron choosing the best of the best from his garden.   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

Garden Greens with Nectarine

I say, don't mess with perfection.  

Look at that fluffy green-ness. Perfectly crisp, perfectly fresh, perfectly perfect.                   (Photo credit: asithappens.me)

Look at that fluffy green-ness. Perfectly crisp, perfectly fresh, perfectly perfect.                  
(Photo credit: asithappens.me)

The garden fresh greens didn't need too much, so I only added some scallions and nectarines and dressed it with a light lemon, garlic vinaigrette.  (Since we are heading out of nectarine season, they can be substituted with avocado, or apple. The idea for the salad is have a sweet element to it.  Use whatever you like.)

Beans & Potatoes 

For the bean/potato dish, another simple pairing of just a few items.  Cut 2-3 potatoes into bite sized cubes and boil until just before tender.  Drain and set aside.  In a skillet, sauté garlic and shallot in oil. Add the potatoes and season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.  Add the small cannellini beans to warm through. And now here is yet another use for those roasted tomatoes. Wait for it... instead of using the tomatoes in this dish (which would certainly be a lovely addition) I used spoonfuls of the oil and juices that bubbled out while roasting.  This creates another level of flavor that makes this dish warm and yum!  Chop some fresh parsley to finish.

Do you see all that juice?  That is liquid gold and what I used in the potato/bean dish.

Do you see all that juice?  That is liquid gold and what I used in the potato/bean dish.

The meal was quite tasty without a lot of fuss.  The best part; sharing good, nutritious food with people we love.  I hope you, too, can carve out some time this weekend or next to take in nature's beauty and create a meal that brings you joy and stir up some love with the ones you love. 

Here's leaving you with a little zen.

(Photo credit: asithappens.me)

(Photo credit: asithappens.me)

Tomatoes Galore: Tomato Fennel Spread & More

spread2.jpg

What do you do when you buy 25 lbs of tomatoes? 

Make a spread... that is, after making a ton of other tomato goodies. But first, I bet you are wondering why I bought so many tomatoes.  Well, it's the end of the season and our farmer's market had an offer I just couldn't refuse.  So after making containers upon containers of Roasted Tomatoes...
 

AND Tomato Sauce, to freeze for the fall months...

AND Oven Dried Tomatoes...

These were easy.  P lace on parchment paper & s prinkle oregano on tomatoes. Roast at 200 degrees for HOURS.  These took 7 hours, then I let them dry out more in the warm, but turned off oven overnight.  

These were easy.  Place on parchment paper & sprinkle oregano on tomatoes. Roast at 200 degrees for HOURS.  These took 7 hours, then I let them dry out more in the warm, but turned off oven overnight.  

Just like sun dried tomatoes, pack these in olive oil and use at will.

Just like sun dried tomatoes, pack these in olive oil and use at will.

I looked at my cutting board and saw tons of tomato tops.  

I know, you are thinking, just toss those away, don't I have enough tomato product already?  But it seemed like so many to just throw out. (I must have been channeling my grandmothers who never wasted anything.)  I then realized I had a fennel stalk that needed to be used before it was abused by age and I got the idea for a tomato jam.  I figured it would be like making regular ole fruit jam, but thought I would quickly google tomato jam to see if I was on the right track.  It seems no matter how you slice it when making tomato jam, besides the usual need for sugar, you also need an acid. I took what I had and cooked up the following.  I'm calling mine a spread because it's more spread-like than jam, which I think is pretty darn good.

 

Ingredients

3 c Tomato tops (core cut out)
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly (no stalks or fronds)
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 T honey
3 T sugar
2/3 c white wine vinegar
salt, pepper, oil

 
Onions & fennel sweating up a storm, getting caramelized together.

Onions & fennel sweating up a storm, getting caramelized together.

Tomatoes cooked down with vinegar, sugar & honey.

Tomatoes cooked down with vinegar, sugar & honey.

Buzz it up, but leave it a bit chunky.

Buzz it up, but leave it a bit chunky.

INSTRUCTIONS

Sweat the onions and fennel in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Once translucent, add the honey and sugar and let melt down.  Add vinegar and tomatoes and simmer over low heat for an hour to hour and half until all the vegetables breakdown.  Use an emulsion blender to puree it all up.  I took out some of the liquid, as I could see it would have been too much and made it soupy instead of a chunky spread.  Store in an airtight jar. Here are some used ways to use this "leftover tomato top" spread.

  • Add it as a condiment to a cheese platter
  • Top grilled fish
  • Slather it on a baked potato
  • Jazz up a plain salad
  • Spread it on a sandwich and grill it up, like I did below.  Enjoy 'spreading' the love.
The "spread": Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, baguette and of course, tomato fennel spread

The "spread": Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, baguette and of course, tomato fennel spread

Slather it one side, olive oil on the other and start adding the rest of the goodies.

Slather it one side, olive oil on the other and start adding the rest of the goodies.

I grilled the sandwich in a cast iron pan to get the bread crispy and the cheese melted.  Served it with some   Spicy Crunch Slaw   and rice/beans.

I grilled the sandwich in a cast iron pan to get the bread crispy and the cheese melted.  Served it with some Spicy Crunch Slaw and rice/beans.

My sister, Jilly & niece, Gabrielle: Happy Customers !!

My sister, Jilly & niece, Gabrielle: Happy Customers !!

Spicy Crunch Slaw

Slaw is perfect for a crowd and perfect for pairing with a variety of proteins, especially ones prepared on the grilled. One of the reasons it's ideal for a large amount of people;  Cabbage. Since it is the base for slaw, the sheer density of this cruciferous veg creates a huge volume.  Next best thing, if you not making it for a crowd, is it's ideal to chop it all up once over the weekend and have extra batches all week long as side dish for lunches or dinners.  The reason I stated 3+ ways is that for years now, I have been making various versions of this spicy crunch slaw depending on what is fresh and crisp at the store and which dressing I stir up that day. The important factor to this slaw is finding items with great crunch factor, and then pairing it with the dressing you like or best goes with your meal.

Since JC and I avoid mayo due to our egg allergy, my dressing eliminates the creamy mayo and replaces it with a tangy, spicy one.  Which I believe provides the perfect, sharp complement to a ton of main courses, ie: pulled pork sandwiches, plain ole pork, burgers, seared tuna, grilled chicken, roasted or sautéd fish. Shall I go on...

Let the chopping begin!

This version's line up of crunchy crunch veggies. Each trying to out crunch the next.

This version's line up of crunchy crunch veggies. Each trying to out crunch the next.

INGREDIENTS

(This makes a huge amount that will easily feed at least 12+.  What I do if I have less people is I only dress the amount I need and keep the rest of the chopped veggies in an airtight plastic container or bag.  It stays fresh for a while and then you can dress close to the time of serving. I suggest at least 1/2 hr prior to allow it to really soak in. One important note if you are saving it for during the week; leave the cucumber out and cut that right before serving. It's the only vegetable that will get watery and soaky if you let it sit. )
 

8 c Napa cabbage, shredded
6 c Purple cabbage
1/2 jicama, cut into strips
1 English cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, sliced on diagonal
1 c celery, thinly sliced
1 c fennel, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced, also on the diagonal
1 c red onion, thinly sliced
Mint or cilantro, whichever you prefer
(Also, please remember that it's just slaw, so amounts are arbitrary.  If you want more celery, add it.  If you only have 3 scallions, so be it.  Seriously, don't stress over the amounts.  I have never measured anything, but have here to give some guidelines.)

Slices of celery, thin enough to mingle but thick enough to provide crunch.

Slices of celery, thin enough to mingle but thick enough to provide crunch.

Jicama. Love this root vegetable. Its flavor is the cross between an apple and a pear. You have to peel the rough brown outer layer, then cut into slices

Jicama. Love this root vegetable. Its flavor is the cross between an apple and a pear. You have to peel the rough brown outer layer, then cut into slices

Jicama cut into strips

Jicama cut into strips

Raw red onion provides a bit of a spicy bite.

Raw red onion provides a bit of a spicy bite.

DRESSING

1 c red wine vinegar
1/2 c rice wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 line
1/2 large jalapeño, finely chopped
1 t Thai chili paste
Olive oil
salt, pepper

Whisk together.  Add more chili paste or jalapeño if you want more heat. (If you still want to have the creamy factor see dressing options below.)

 

Dressing Options
                  
Thai Style Dressing
1/4 c Canola or Peanut Oil (if you only have olive oil, use that)      
2/3 c chunky peanut butter  
1/3 c Tahini
1 T Thai chili paste
Cilantro, chopped
juice of a lime
1/3 c rice wine vinegar
salt, pepper

Creamy Version: 
Use the base dressing recipe above using less oil then add mayo or a smashed avocado to it.

 
 

Ingredient Options

Fresh raw corn, cut off the cob  
Red, Yellow, Orange peppers
Snow peas                       
Snap peas
Radishes   
Arugula
Peanuts  
Cashews  

Slaw with mayo dressing version

Slaw with mayo dressing version

Instructions

Chop, slice, cut the vegetables in thin slices.  I usually use a mandolin because it's fast and easy giving you consistent cuts. But a knife does the trick too.  Another important note when slicing and chopping is to make the pieces similar.  Harder crunchier veg should be thinner than ones that are not, ie: cucumber can be a thicker cut.

Toss all the cut ingredients with the dressing of our choice and set in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour before serving. It's better when the dressing breaks down the rawness of the veggies ever so slightly and allows the salad to absorb that spice.

As I mentioned above, the crunch factor is what you are looking for here.  With the dozens of times I have prepared this salad,  I have altered it according to what is fresh or in season switching out the dressings too. Below are several ingredients that I have used in the past that crunch nicely with, or can replace some of the ingredients above plus two other dressing options. I do recommend that you keep the cabbage as one of the mainstays in this salad.  As you can see, the possibilities for creating a crunchy slaw are entirely up to you.  It can be different every time and still be full of spicy flavor. Hey, if you don't like spice, just leave it out.

Here's a version I recently made using cabbage, celery, fennel, cucumber, red onion, scallion with the Thai style dressing topping it with chopped peanuts and extra cilantro

This salad gets better the next day, and because it's so crunchy it last several days.  However, be forewarned, you might not have leftovers!  So whichever ingredient mix you choose, Crunch away!

Corn & Fruit Salad

I had to do it.  I had to use corn again, and oh when fruit is ripe, it's ripe for the picking.  Such is the time for grabbing peaches, nectarines and yes, corn.   At first this might sound like an odd mix, but when you think about some of those sweet salsa mixes, this doesn't sound so odd at all.   In fact, it's just like a salsa but each of the pieces cut larger to make this a hearty salad instead of topping for something else.

I love how all the textures and different flavor notes play off of each other with this combo.  First you have the crunchy, sweet yet savory of the corn, the creaminess of the avocado, the soft, uber sweetness of the peach and nectarine playing nice with that sharp bite of the scallion.  Oh, how I love when fruits and vegetables play nicely with one another.  If only we all could dance together but shine separately like this salad, the world would be an even better place.

Ok, here are the nuts and bolts of this cut' em up, toss 'em up salad.

Ingredients

3 corn on the cob, kernels raw, cut off cob
1 avocado, cut in cubes
2 small peaches,  cut in cubes
2 nectarines,  cut in cubes
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Arugula (optional)

Dressing: juice 1/2 orange, orange zest, juice 1/2 lime, salt, pepper whisk in olive oil

Instructions

I don't mean to be sassy... Alright, I mean to be sassy, but seriously just follow what is written above (or the visuals below).  Cut 'em up. Toss 'em up (gently).  Eat 'em up.

Serve it up.

Serve it up.

You can also add arugula on a big platter as a bed for your 'salsa turned salad' to rest. Actually, this is a great idea because the arugula adds that pepper note that truly rounds out all the flavors on your taste buds.  This one is a refreshing winner.  We ate this at home one night with grilled fish.  We also brought it a BBQ where they served grilled chicken and pork skewers.  It added that perfect sweet/savory flavor to the meal.