Monday, March 23, 2009

We made polenta pizza!

(This is a real time conversation between Sarah and Alena, the cooks behind this tasty dish.)

Alena: Hey Sarah. So, do you remember how we came across the recipe for this polenta pizza? I know I do.
Sarah: Hey girl. I think I recall. Wasn't it that Bittman article telling you to "Rethink your Breakfast"? Or something like that? The one that misguided you into making savory oatmeal?
Alena: That's the article. All I know is, I am never putting soy sauce in oatmeal ever again. The polenta pizza however, is something I would definitely make again (and did, in fact, the night after we made this one !) Let's tell 'em all how we began the recipe.
Sarah: This is the Bittman Polenta Method. His version of the pizza had spinach and pancetta, but we changed it up to make it vegetarian. But you can put anything you want on this pizza!

Polenta crust:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup coarse cornmeal (we used instant)

Mama Vallese's sauce
smoked mozzarella
4 shallots, sliced thinly
bunch a spinach
couple cloves garlic

Here are Bitt's instructions for the crust:

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees; brush a layer of olive oil on a pizza pan or cookie sheet. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine milk with 2 1/2 cups water and a large pinch of salt. Bring just about to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking all the while to prevent lumps from forming. Turn heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until thick, 10 or 15 minutes. If mixture becomes too thick, whisk in a bit more water; you want a consistency approaching thick oatmeal.

2. Stir 1 tablespoon oil into cooked cornmeal (polenta). Spoon it onto prepared pan, working quickly so polenta does not stiffen; spread it evenly to a thickness of about 1/2 inch all over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and put it in refrigerator until it is firm, an hour or more (you can refrigerate polenta overnight if you prefer).

3. Put polenta in oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it begins to brown and crisp on edges. Here's where we take over.

4. Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Add some garlic and those shallots. Brown em real good. Toss in that spinach. You don't even need to chop it. Just tear off those stems. Cook just for a few minutes.

Now you are ready to assemble.

Spread on that sauce.
Slice up that cheese and put it on.
Distribute those veggies.
Pop that shit in the oven.
Just for like five. Til the cheese melts. That's all you need.

Alena: This is the part I like the best. We got out some plates and put HALF the pie onto mine and HALF onto Sarah's. Actually just kidding, we left like a 1/4 of the pie for Hillary to try, except I think we ended up eating that too. Sorry Hill. We will make another one for all of us soon.
Sarah: This was so good because the polenta crust is spongy but also crispy and is just so delicious in contrast to the smokey mozz and the sweet shallots. Plus it's healthier and feels lighter than regular pizza.
Alena: It's true. In fact, I remember that after we cleaned our plates, we commented that we did not feel as uncomfortably full as we often do when eating regular pizza.

Sarah: That's true. We did make that very comment.
Alena: If only the episode of Gossip Girl that we watched while eating was as good
as the dinner itself, you know?
Sarah: I know right. What was up with that Age of Innocence motif. It's like, JUST IN CASE YOU DIDN'T REALIZE, THIS SHOW IS TRYING TO BE LIKE EDITH WHARTON OR JANE AUSTEN IN ITS IRONIC PORTRAYAL OF NEW YORK HIGH SOCIETY. except it is a show on the cw (i almost said "the wb" LOL).
Alena: Whew, I am so glad you didn't call it the WB, how embarrassing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I made joey's mama's sauce and it was the best sunday afternoon project EVER!!!

This is just a note to say that a couple Sundays ago, I made Joey's Mama's tomato sauce, and it was a very rewarding experience. Making sauce from scratch seems like such a labor intensive, exact science, but it is really not that hard, and any sauce you buy in a jar really does not compare. The only thing that is at all laborious is that you have to cook it a long time--i cooked mine for about three hours--but that's why it's a good Sunday activity. You get it on the stove, do some laundry, go to the gym, give it a stir once in a while. No big deal! And THEN you freeze what you don't use right then, which will be a lot. Here is a list of things I have made with this sauce:

-spinach ravioli in sauce
-angel hair pasta in sauce with sauteed eggplant and romano cheese
-ricotta filled whole wheat tortellini with chunks of roasted butternut, sauce.
-POLENTA PIZZA (this baby will have its own post.)

The only changes I made to Mama Vallese's sacred recipe is that I added some glugs of red wine (which I've seen Joey do when he makes it, so i figured it was ok), and sauteed some garlic with the vegetable mush before adding the tomatoes.

and i mushed those vegetables in a bowl with my trusty hand blender. i am telling you. you can do anything with that thing. it is the most universal kitchen appliance.

ok that's it. make this sauce this sunday. you won't be sorry. it will be really fulfilling.

We Made a Vegetarian Version of Julia Child's French Onion Soup

This post is long overdue. A few weeks ago, Alena and I were trying to think of something delicious and comforting and warming to make for dinner, and she suggested French Onion Soup. I have often wondered if it is possible to make a vegetarian version that tastes like the real thing, since it's traditionally made with beef broth. Well, it IS possible, and let me tell you: it was DELICIOUS.

The trick is to use the right kind of vegetable broth... some recipes I found on the internet suggested "No-Beef Broth", but we couldn't find it, so we used mushroom broth instead.

Here is the recipe, which is taken from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking:

5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
3 T butter
1 T oil
1 t salt
1/4 t sugar
3 T flour
2 quarts boiling MUSHROOM BROTH
1/2 cup dry write wine or sweet vermouth (we used the former)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 T cognac
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan (I think we used greuyere)

-Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes.
-Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and sitr in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.
-Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
-Off the heat, blend in the boiling broth. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minuts or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.
-Stir in the cognac and pour into ceramic soup bowls (they need to be oven-safe).
-Float the rounds of toast on top of the soup, and spread the grated cheese over it. Sprinkle with a little oil or butter. Bake for 20 minutes in the oven, then set for a minute or two under a preheated broiler to brown the top lightly. Serve immediately.

We were nervous about putting our bowls in the oven, so Suzanne had the idea to put them in a baking dish with an inch of water to prevent cracking:

Here is the finished product. It far surpassed my expectations! The wine and cognac and long-cooked onion makes the flavor so rich and delicious. YES!

Friday, March 6, 2009

A catch up post: Tofu Scramble, Maple Nut Granola, and Wilted Red Cabbage and Bell Pepper Slaw

Here's a little roundup of some things I have been making recently!

Tofu Scramble

This recipe was actually made out of necessity, since I had a carton of tofu sitting in my fridge with an expiration date rapidly approaching. I always buy tofu with the best of intentions, and then let it sit on the shelf until it is no longer usable, and then I feel bad for wasting food and money. I decided that this time, I would not let that tofu go to waste, so the other day I put about a third of it in some miso soup and decided that the next morning I would make a tofu scramble with the rest.

I have had a few previous experiences with tofu scramble, most of which have been from the brunch menu at Kate's Joint in the East Village, and (sorry Kate), most of which have been kinda disappointing. I keep ordering it though, because in theory, I really like the idea of scrambling up some tofu with veggies and spices, but the result is often a little mushy, watery, and bland.

I finally decided to take matters into my own hands when I saw the following recipe on the blog Bread and Honey. They recommend draining the tofu of any excess water before preparing the recipe, and I think it makes a huge difference in the texture of the dish. I did this by putting the tofu on a plate, covering it with saran wrap, and then putting a weight on top (in my case, a 5 pound bag of flour.) If you do this for about 15 minutes while assembling the rest of your ingredients, you will be all set. This recipe made me really happy because it had a great, firm consistency and was so flavorful. It is a nice change from traditional scrambled eggs, and I think now that I know how to make it, I won't have to stress about wasting tofu as much.

Wakantanka Tofu Scramble: adapted from Vegan World Fusion Cuisine cookbook


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced (I didn't have this, so I omitted it. Still tasted fine!)
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 pound tofu, extra firm, crumbled (Keep in mind that the proportions of this recipe are for a whole package of tofu. If you are using less, don't forget to adjust the proportions of spices accordingly, or your scramble will taste crazy.)
1/2 cup tomato, diced
1 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground to taste
1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast (I didn't have this either , so I used some Bragg's Liquid Aminos instead.)
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of soy sauce or tamari
Also recommended: juice of about 1/2 lemon.


Heat oil in a large pan on medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tofu. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 5 minutes. (Before serving, squeeze lemon juice on top.)

Maple Nut Granola (via Epicurious)

This was my second attempt at making granola, and I think this will be my go-to recipe from now on. Making granola is really easy and it makes your kitchen spell really fragrant and toasty. Of course, you can also modify this recipe in a bunch of different ways and add whatever dried fruit and types of nuts you prefer. I like it because it is not TOO sweet, but just sweet enough, and is delicious with some plain yogurt.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup slivered almonds (I actually used 1/2 cup almonds and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
6 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup golden raisins (I think dried cranberries are even better.)
I also added about 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 250°F. Lightly spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss oats and next 2 ingredients in large bowl. Whisk syrup, brown sugar, oil, 2 tablespoons warm water and salt (and cinnamon, if using) in small bowl to blend. Pour syrup mixture over oat mixture and stir to combine. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Bake until evenly browned, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool. Transfer to large bowl. Mix in raisins/cranberries. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container.)

OK: finally, I made this recipe for Wilted Red Cabbage and Bell Pepper Slaw. Now that spring and summer are almost here, I think this would be a really good dish to bring to a picnic or barbeque. This slaw is really crunchy and pungent and would be very refreshing on a hot day - (or a cold day when all you want to do is fantasize about going to picnics and barbeques.)

Wilted Red Cabbage and Bell Pepper Slaw (via Epicurious)

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 red or yellow bell peppers, cut into 1-inch julienne strips
I also added thin ribbons of peeled carrots. Totally optional, but tasty.

In a saucepan bring vinegar and water to a boil with sugar, salt, and mustard and simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes.

In a large heavy skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add mustard seeds and sauté until they begin to pop. Stir in cabbage and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Add vinegar mixture and simmer vegetables 1 minute.

Drain vegetables in a large fine sieve set over a saucepan and transfer them to a bowl. Boil liquid over moderately high heat until reduced to about 3 tablespoons and stir into vegetables. Chill slaw, covered, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Whew. That's it for now. Let me know if you try any of these. They are all easy and tasty!