Polenta & Parmigiano Crusted Cauliflower Slabs

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I really love cauliflower. I can’t say that I always did. As a kid, my mom used to disguise it by slathering the entire head with buttery bread crumbs. It gave the soft cauliflower a much needed texture and provided a yummy, crunchy flavor before hitting the softness of the veg. That crispy texture was everything. Maybe that’s where my need to crunchy foods emerged. Ah ha, case solved.

I have grown to love cauliflower more and more over the years, and have cut it up, roasted it up, spiced it up a few different ways. My famously easy Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup launched this blog and is an all time favorite among my readers. I Spiced & Roasted it. I’ve made it into a cheesy dip and even put it in a vegetable soup. This cruciferous, nutritious vegetable is a versatile little bugger.

On this cauliflower adventure I traveled back to my youth, and that first encounter - cauliflower with a crunch. I decided to take the encrusted idea to a new level. As you know, I can’t eat bread, which means the crunch would have to come from something other than bread crumbs. But what? I dug into my Italian heritage looking for crusty, gluten free ideas. Voilá, aka Ecco in Italian. Not one thing Italian. 2 things Italian would do the trick. Polenta and Parmigiano Reggiano.

And I’m not kidding when I say that this is truly an easy, roast veg dish. As some of you have said, “oh, easy for you.” But this, my friends, is ridiculously easy.

Ingredients

1 large cauliflower head
1/4 c polenta
3/4 c Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 t salt
1/8 t pepper
Olive oil

You can either cut the cauliflower head into small florets or slice big slabs. I did both since you can really only get 3-4 slabs then little florets naturally fall off.

For this test run, I only used a 3 main ingredients. Call it the getting my feet wet before I dove in deep.

All this white will turn a beautiful golden brown.

All this white will turn a beautiful golden brown.

Instructions

  1. Wash, dry then cut the cauliflower into slabs

  2. Arrange the pieces on a baking sheet and drizzle them with oil, salt and pepper and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile grate the cheese and set aside.

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Combine the polenta and cheese together.

Combine the polenta and cheese together.

4. Once the cauliflower is browned, flip them. Once flipped, douse them with the crunch factor, aka Polenta and Parm mix. Drizzle with more oil and back in the oven until browned and crunchy.

See those nicely browned spots. That equals yum.

See those nicely browned spots. That equals yum.

Make sure you coat all the surfaces. You’ll want that crunchy goodness everywhere.

Make sure you coat all the surfaces. You’ll want that crunchy goodness everywhere.

Up close and looking good.

Up close and looking good.

The polenta really adds the crunch factor. And I just loved that golden color. I kept it simple for this first revival of crunchy cauliflower, but I think you can imagine how easy it would be to spice these up and change the flavor profile. You could add turmeric and cumin for more Indian flavors. Or oregano and basil to amp up the Italian theme. Go for 5 spice or Caradom for an earthy flavor with a hint of sweet. Sky is the limit, my friends.

These make a perfect side dish for any meal. Or enjoy a slab with a large salad for lunch.

Easter Ideas - A Story From Past Posts

Some traditional Italian Easter appetizers.   Pizza Rustica   , fresh tomatoes and burrata, crisp fennel/olive oil.

Some traditional Italian Easter appetizers. Pizza Rustica , fresh tomatoes and burrata, crisp fennel/olive oil.

Here comes that bunny hopping down the lane. Chocolate and candy and weird marshmallow treats will fill grass lined baskets, for the strangest mash up of a religious holiday and spring rituals. Forget the odd Cadbury egg which oozes some strange goo from its center, or those spongey artificial colored bunnies. Let’s talk real food. Nutritious, delicious food. If you find yourself hosting this holiday clash of traditions, I’m here to help with some ideas. As we know, Easter marks the coming of Spring and all things fresh and new. But I believe revival is just as good as new, if not better. So, instead of overwhelming you with new recipes, why not resurrect a few from past posts to parse out some suggestions to guide you through the food choice conundrum.

Let’s start at the very beginning… A very good place to start. Appetizers. Here are few.

3 Dips a Dipping

Given that there are 3 distinct dips/flavors and 3 different hearty veggies for dipping in the recipe, you can serve just this for an appetizer and be done.

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5 Appetizers That Impress

This post featured 5 different appetizer options that fill the tummy and impress your guests. Pick one or two and call it a day.

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Smoked Trout Cucumber Bites

Crisp and refreshing, these are as easy as slice, scoop and top.

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Salad Course
Moving onto the next course, salads are ideal for an Easter dinner because it marks the freshness of spring. So, why not start the meal with salad first before you even bring out the main course. Here are a few ideas, including the one where I plated the salad and encouraged, (alright, maybe ‘forced’) my guests to eat it first. It worked, they ate it up.

Citrus Bowl Salad - One by One

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Graped Up Bibb Salad

A fresh salad that offers crisp fennel and hint of sweet pop from grapes. Easy and delicious.

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Pretty in Pink Salad

For a super special salad that serves both as an appetizer and salad course, try this gorgeous salad that features figs and burrata. This one will really wow your guests.

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Main Courses

Lamb is the Easter/Springtime king of meats. It is traditionally served for this holiday. But…

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…if you feel like doing what we have done a few times, switch it up and serve other meats. Here are a few ideas.

Oh So Yummy Osso Buco

This is hearty and with a sauce that makes it feel luxurious. Serve it with polenta or pasta and your guests will feel like royalty… well fed royalty.

A Belly Full of Pork
This is another hearty alternative to lamb that offers a rich sauce that can also be served with a starch such as potatoes, pasta or polenta.

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Roasted Lemon Sole
For those who may not eat meat, serve a lemon sole, simply roasted with parsley, onions and tomatoes. It’s light but makes a satisfying fish dish.

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Of course, the blog is filled with lots of other recipes and ideas, including table settings and flowers. Please browse, search and reminisce from past posts to help you plan a wonderful holiday meal to enjoy with your guests. Hosting is about sharing. Sharing food, drink, laughter and above all LOVE.

Happy Easter

 
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Watercress, Cucumber & Herbed Butter Tea Sandwiches

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There are a ton of ways to say it…

Ask and you shall receive

Put it out there

Tell the universe what you want

Whatever saying you espouse, it’s all based on energy and the Laws of Attraction. If you want something, all you have to do is ask. Once you float an idea out there, the universe, full of energy, tries to provide you with the answer. I can attest to this theory in dozens of real life examples. I could go on and on about the “careful what you wish for“ statement. Which seems a bit more negative in tone than it’s true meaning. But it heeds the warning of be mindful of what you put forth because your wish will probably be granted. And so mine was. Sure, it had been brewing for some time, but the universe doesn’t have deadlines. It delivers what you need when you need it.

Now granted this is not one of those major life altering wishes. It was way more frivolous. More like a desire and Saturday morning daydream. None the less, it was a wish. I had been wanting to throw a tea party for the longest time. I know, you are thinking; Really, after all that blabber on the universe providing and it’s energy and that is what you wished for? It was. No judgement, please. However, I had two big hesitations. One, I can’t eat bread, and two, who would I invite? The latter is an easy challenge to overcome. The former, well that is another story entirely, which is why I have never thrown a tea party. BUT, out there I put the thought. Floating around like whisper waiting to be heard. And so, there was a cosmic little giggle when I was recently asked to cater a tea party. And there it was… Call it serendipity. Call it fate. Call it my prayers were answered. Call it whatever you like, but I asked and I received. And the funny part of it was, it literally answered all the challenges. Since it wasn’t MY tea party I didn’t have to eat the bread, or figure out who to invite. Talk about wishes coming true.

This is one of the easiest and most classic tea sandwiches.

Ingredients

Black Rye Bread
Watercress
English Cucumber, thin round slices

Herbed Butter, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 T chives, chopped
2 T parsley
1 T lemon juice
Lemon zest
1 t salt

 

Instructions

1.First things first, make the herbed butter. Start with softened room temperature unsalted butter. It is important that the butter is really soft so the added ingredients can be blended in thoroughly and easily. Chop the herbs. Then using a mixer with a paddle attachment, blend together. Add the lemon juice, zest and salt to taste, mix a bit more but do not over mix. Set aside and leave at room temperature so it is easy to spread on the bread.

The best part about this butter is that you can place it in plastic wrap, roll it up like a log and freeze. You can then slice it anytime you want. Add it to rice or noodles or to finish a steak or fish.

I made a a lot because I had to make plenty of sandwiches. I froze the leftovers

I made a a lot because I had to make plenty of sandwiches. I froze the leftovers

2. Wash and thoroughly dry the watercress. Thinly slice the cucumber into rounds.

3. Get all the ingredients ready, placing the bread out.

4. Heavily butter one side, then lightly butter the other side of the bread. Then place the cucumber down first.

Line everything up to create your own assembly line. Of course, I made way more than you will need, but the concept still works even for a few sandwiches.

Line everything up to create your own assembly line. Of course, I made way more than you will need, but the concept still works even for a few sandwiches.

I placed 3 slices in a row x3. This way when I cut the bread into finger sandwiches I used the cucumber rows as my guide to create 3 bite sized sandwiches.

I placed 3 slices in a row x3. This way when I cut the bread into finger sandwiches I used the cucumber rows as my guide to create 3 bite sized sandwiches.

5. Pile the watercress on top. Close the sandwich and trim the crusts. Then cut the full sandwich into smaller finger sandwich pieces. I chose to cut these into thirds. You can also cut them in quarters to create squares or on a diagonal to create diamonds. Your choice. It tastes the same no matter the shape. It’s all about your visual preference, so do what turns you on.

When only using but a few ingredients freshness is of the utmost importance.

When only using but a few ingredients freshness is of the utmost importance.

I needed plenty of finger sandwiches for my event. Assembly line work is in my blood and makes the task go faster.

I needed plenty of finger sandwiches for my event. Assembly line work is in my blood and makes the task go faster.

The scraps. Just as edible, if you like the crust.

The scraps. Just as edible, if you like the crust.

This sandwich has such a wonderful flavor profile. The butter provides a huge amount by giving you sweet, salt and herbaceous notes. The watercress is slightly peppery and the cucumber is crisp and cool. The bread, well that is down right comforting while also adding an earthiness. This simple little sandwich packs a powerful big punch.

I hope your wishes all come true. Remember to be mindful of what you ask… the universe is listening.

 
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The Not Sweet Fruit Tart

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I’d venture to say that most of us have had recent conversations about food allergies, food intolerances, and just plain avoiding foods we think we shouldn’t be eating. It has become another whole food industry - Gluten Free, Vegan, Non GMO, Dairy Free, No Refined Sugar, Plant Based. There are Instagram feeds dedicated solely to a niche food category. I actually think it is fantastic that people are becoming more aware of what they are ingesting. We truly are what we eat. Food can either heal or harm, so why not be uber selective in what we consume. But at the same time, it has become increasingly difficult to decipher all the information and determine what to eat each day. And trying to host a dinner and side step all the allergy mine fields, can be explosive. More than that, it just plain saddens me knowing that we have poisoned our food supply resulting in this food intolerant epidemic. Which is why I mostly stick to eating as organic as possible, loads of seasonal vegetables and grains. And fruits, which is how I decided to make this tart. I bet you were wondering where all my ranting was going.

I, too, am a sufferer of food intolerances, so I get it. I annoy myself sometimes. I can, and will write another post detailing how I navigate the world side stepping foods I love but can’t eat. For now, this post is about understanding people’s choices, honoring and trying to accommodate them. Hey, it’s all good for me. These challenges only present opportunities to push myself to find new food ideas. Ain’t nothin’ bad about that.

Recently, I met up with my two friends to celebrate all three of our birthdays, and to just plain ole catch up. (That’s another subject I can write at length about - how we are all so busy that it takes months to find a mutual date to meet up. Do not get me started on that one!) At first, I was supposed to host but then plans got switched around and Donna graciously took up the mantle to host. She made a most delicious dinner featuring a salmon dish with a salsa that has my lips licking just thinking about it. I will beg her for the recipe to share. Since she was handling the dinner, she asked if I could make a dessert. Our friend Lisa was avoiding sweets. So how do you make a non sweet dessert? Fruit to the rescue. I was banking that it’s own natural sweetness would do the trick.

I did cheat ever so slightly by adding homemade strawberry jam that I reduced down with orange juice and zest to intensify the flavor. But nothing else had added sugar.

I wasn’t actually looking for an easy dessert to make but this one somehow ended up being pretty easy. The only baking portion was the puff pastry shell. Everything else was pretty much assembly.

Photos first, recipe follows.

Whip a heavy cream. Traditionally, powdered sugar is added for sweetness. Not here. I only added orange zest to brighten the flavor.

Whip a heavy cream. Traditionally, powdered sugar is added for sweetness. Not here. I only added orange zest to brighten the flavor.

The puff pastry has a buttery flavor that adds richness to the overall dessert. Spreading just a small amount of strawberry jam gives another layer of flavor, and a tart and sweet component.

The puff pastry has a buttery flavor that adds richness to the overall dessert. Spreading just a small amount of strawberry jam gives another layer of flavor, and a tart and sweet component.

Fluffy and light, the non-sweetened mix of whipped cream and mascarpone makes it luxurious and not heavy at all.

Fluffy and light, the non-sweetened mix of whipped cream and mascarpone makes it luxurious and not heavy at all.

Spread it out and fill it to the top. See all the orange zest flecks. I do believe these added a fresh, brightness to the cream mixture.

Spread it out and fill it to the top. See all the orange zest flecks. I do believe these added a fresh, brightness to the cream mixture.

Make it pretty. One thing about simple desserts is that it should be visually appealing. Decide on a design, then make it gorgeous!

Make it pretty. One thing about simple desserts is that it should be visually appealing. Decide on a design, then make it gorgeous!

You can use any fruit you like. These were the ones that were readily available and work well together. Plus the colors play nicely, and that always helps making a dish look more appealing.

Ingredients

Puff Pastry sheet
1 1/2 c Mascarpone Cheese
1 pint Heavy Cream
1 Qt Strawberries
2 c Blackberries
1.5 c Raspberries
1/3 c Strawberry Jam
Juice of an Orange & Zest

Instructions

  1. Roll out a puff pastry sheet large enough to fit a 10” pastry pan with removable bottom. Once placed in the pan, use the rolling pin to cut a clean edge of pastry.

  2. Blind bake* the shell until completely cooked. Then set aside to cool

  3. While the shell is baking, simmer the strawberry jam with 2 T of juice of orange & 2 t zest, reducing until thick. Set aside and let cool.

  4. Whip the full pint of heavy cream until stiff peaks. Remove half and reserve for extra topping.

  5. Using a spatula, gently fold in the mascarpone cheese, orange zest and blend until combined. Do not over mix in order to not deflate the whipped cream.

  6. Spread a thin layer of the jam on the bottom of the pie crust.

  7. Fill with the cream mixture.

  8. Cut the strawberries and arrange all along the outer edge. Then fill in with the rest of the fruit.

  9. Add mint leaves for decoration as well as a refreshing addition. Serve with more whipped cream

*Blind baking: Baking a crust without the filing. Some bakers use tin foil filled with dried beans, rice or baking weights to weigh the pastry down. I simply use tin foil and smaller baking pan on top.

Note: When I rolled out the pastry dough there will be left over pieces. I decided to use a small leaf shaped cookie cutter to create little decorations. I baked them at the same time as the crust, then used them in the final decorations. I added cream on one side to adhere them to the pie then topped them with jam to make them look like strawberries. Sprigs of mint not only added a pop of color but acted as the leaves to the faux strawberries.

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This was a huge hit meeting the task of providing a dessert while also being refreshing and Not Sweet. Granted this was not gluten free but it served the purpose while also putting big smiles on everyone’s faces.

Stir Fried Greens with Crispy, Spicy Rice Noodles

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We recently returned from 10 glorious, 87 degree days in Miami to the brutally stark contrast of 7” of snow and no food in the house. My immediate thought was of course our serious food shortage situation. So before more snow fell I needed to get to the grocery store and stock up. My second thought was to ensure that I stocked up on greens. And that is all due to our eating patterns during this last trip. Normally when we are in Miami we eat fairly lean. Lots of salads, fresh cut fruit and lighter fare. But this trip was indulgence, and more. More of everything and anything, including sun. So my NY shop was going to be all about getting back us back on track. I filled my cart with lots of produce to make soups and sautéd veggies. And I was on a good track except that as I was looking for true buckwheat noodles, meaning no wheat, just buckwheat a lady placed a package of rice noodles back on the shelf. What else could I do but grab them? Now with my shopping cart busting, and some noodles to make me smile, I went home. (Notice that I didn’t have a third thought of how cold it was. I was betting on the “let’s not focus on the mound of snow” attitude.)

First, I made two different soups which we slurped up for 2 days. But I really didn’t feel like slurping anymore and needed to chew on something, and not just drink my meals. As I stared down at all those greens stir fry was the immediate light bulb. And even though there was snow on the ground, I ventured out to the shed to get our plancha* as thoughts of stir fried noodles and veggies floated in my head and made my tummy gurgle.

*plancha = flat metal grilling surface or pan

A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Serious commitment to cooking.

A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Serious commitment to cooking.

I was fully aware that I was getting a jump start on dinner by cooking at 11am. So I resigned to the idea of eating this dish for lunchtime and making enough to share with ‘others’ (my hubby and sister) so they could enjoy at dinner time.

Here’s what I pulled out of the fridge.

A bounty of greens

A bounty of greens

Scallions, Cilantro, Swiss Chard, Carrot, Onion, Baby Kale, Baby Bok Choy.

First things first. You should know the drill by now. MISE EN PLACE, people. Cut it all up and ready it for stir frying. I grabbed just handful of each. This is stir fry so you can add as much of each as you like. Amounts are of no consequence here. Let me say that again. Amounts DO NOT matter. Use what you like or what you have.

Now that is a beautiful board full of chopped up veggies.

Now that is a beautiful board full of chopped up veggies.

Look at the vibrancy of that chard!

Look at the vibrancy of that chard!

I’m not usually a big fan of bok choy, but this fresh and tender and tossed with noodles, that’s another story.

I’m not usually a big fan of bok choy, but this fresh and tender and tossed with noodles, that’s another story.

Before I tackled stir frying the veggies, I cooked my rice noodles and set them aside. Then on my plancha, I added olive oil and two veggies at a time. I cooked each one separately to keep their integrity. Plus I wanted this dish to have the same feel and eating style as you often see in a big bowl of Asian soup. You know the kinds where all the toppings are sectioned off on the top of the soup and you stir them in as you wish.

I gathered my mise en place board of nutrients, and readied them up next to the plancha for easy grabbing. I only seasoned the veggies with salt, pepper and drizzle of sesame oil as each one cooked, then plated them onto a large platter before enhancing the noodles that were standing by.

The real seasonings was going on the noodles.

The rice noodles I just had to grab. I love me some noodles.

The rice noodles I just had to grab. I love me some noodles.

It fits perfectly over two burners. I love this plancha.

It fits perfectly over two burners. I love this plancha.

Bok Choy and onions getting stirred with love.

Bok Choy and onions getting stirred with love.

A good shot of vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin B

A good shot of vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin B

Once everything was stirred with love I got a slurry of spiced sauces ready. In a cup I mixed a tablespoon of red curry paste, a heaping tablespoon of Thai chili paste, half tablespoon of chili oil and 1/2 cup of olive oil, and a tad of sesame oil. I didn’t actually use all of it. You can use as much or as little heat as you desire.

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Having left the scallions on the plancha, I dumped my cooked rice noodles onto the grill and drizzled the slurry on top, then let it cook away until some parts got crispy. I added in the cilantro, then I cut some more and added it to the top.

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Done and done. I couldn’t stop eating this. I think I ate too much. So much for eating light again. Sure there were greens, but in order to truly accomplish the lean eating I would have needed to swap the noodle to veggie ratio a bit. Something I recommend you do if you don’t want to rice noodle your way into a carb coma… like I pleasantly did. What can I say, I love noodles.

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