1220 Sausages and Polenta

Sausages and polenta are our go-to healthy comfort food.  We’ve made them enough times this year to cement that fact – in the spring with canned tomatoes, with spinach for extra bulk, with cherry tomatoes from the garden – occasionally subbing meatballs for the sausages, but never leaving out the sauce or the buttery polenta.

There are few things better – or easier – to make on a cold and tired Monday night.  I suppose that macaroni and cheese from a box would be easier, as would throwing a frozen pizza in the toaster oven for ten minutes.  We certainly do both of these things often enough.  You do have to open a container of thawed tomato sauce and empty it into a dish, which you then have to place under the broiler.  While it’s warming up, you might need to give your sausages a few minutes in the grill pan – or, if they’re precooked, you might just need to open a packet.  Oh the arduous task of adding the sausages to the warming sauce!  Bring your water to a boil, then whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat.  Cooks Illustrated has a no-stir method, but you have to get behind their pay wall to access it.  If you’ve timed this all right, your sausages will be golden by the time your polenta has absorbed all of the liquid – this took 15 minutes or less tonight – and you can sit down with a delicious dinner.

Recipe:
Basic Polenta from Giada De Laurentiis (I’ve been halving the recipe, which makes enough for four)

1213 Meatballs and Polenta

It snowed yesterday for real.  Not the delicate flakes we’ve had so far this month – a dusting that melted away almost every night – a heavy blanket several inches deep, held in place by single digit temperatures.  We both woke up feeling worn down, sore, and just generally unable to face the cold and snow, so we both took a sick day and stayed on the couch under blankets, cats, and laptops.  As is often the case on sick days – or any bonus day at home with no responsibilities – we ended up eating at weird hours, and so weren’t hungry for dinner until OMG we were hungry IMMEDIATELY.  Fortunately, we had a super easy, super delicious dinner on tap: revisiting this summer’s Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate, using leftover meatballs from the ramen we made last month and a container of homemade tomato sauce.

In the waning weeks of the gardening season, I found myself with all of these tomatoes – not enough to can, but too many to eat, especially with all the peppers and potatoes and other things we were bringing home.  I made pot after pot of simple tomato sauce, with dozens of these small tomatoes pressed through the food mill and then simmered down to their sweet essence, then topped off container after container and stashed them away in the freezer for a meal like tonight’s.

With two cups of tomato sauce and a dozen meatballs already thawed, we were able to have dinner on the table in about 20 minutes.  I poured the sauce into an oven-safe dish and placed it under the broiler to heat up, then tossed the meatballs in a skillet until they were browned on all sides.  While Shane whisked away at the polenta, I added the meatballs to the warmed sauce, and put the dish back under the broiler for about 10 minutes.  Simple, warm, and filling: a great end to a snow day.

Recipes:
Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate
Quickest Tomato Sauce from Jamie at Home
Basic Polenta Recipe from Giada di Laurentiis – this recipe halved makes enough for four portions for us

0728 Polenta with a Bunch of Veg

Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks

I think there are only two things I would change about this dinner.  First, in an attempt to save some calories and fat, I made the polenta with our normal recipe (instead of with whole milk and vegetable broth), and I swapped out the heavy cream in the sauce.  The polenta was as good as ever, but I would use the heavy cream, as the sauce really could’ve used the richness to complement the vermouth and leeks.

Second, there’s basically no seasoning in this recipe at all.  I can understand that as it is prepared in a number of separate steps – blanch the beans and peas and set aside, prepare the polenta and set aside, make the leek-vermouth sauce and set aside, saute the mushrooms – and so the potential for over seasoning is significant.  I skipped the seasoning of the leek-vermouth sauce, as it was flavorful enough on its own, but would generously season the mushrooms, adding more salt and pepper to taste when the beans and peas go into the pan.I might also saute some garlic with the mushrooms, as that might give a bit of oomph to the final flavor.

A bonus addition, if I’m allowed it, would be to skip the shallots and instead add some crispy fried onions when plating.  The flavor is all but lost, and I think this would give a nice bit of extra texture.

Despite all of that, I’m pretty damned pleased with a flavorful and filling vegetarian that looks as good as the magazine photo.

Recipe:
Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks from Bon Appetit
Basic Polenta from Giada De Laurentiis (for two portions, we’ll cut this recipe down to 1/3)

0721 Vegetarian this-and-that

Ann Arbor Art Fairs Photos 2010 by Michigan Municipal League
photo by Michigan Municipal League (MML)

Shane’s mom came up from Cleveland today to attend the chaos known as the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair. It’s actually more accurate to say ‘art fairs’, plural, as there are four fairs spread out over the downtown and Central Campus areas. Between vendors and visitors, the art fair conglomerate brings in upwards of 500,000 people over the course of four days. That’s 500,000 people buying and selling, wandering and eating, sweating and parking in very close proximity to where we live and work. That’s a lot of people, you guys.

After a trip to the garden (me) and some quiet post-fair downtime (Shane and his mom), we had a delicious vegetarian dinner of various things from the garden and the market. I came home with carrots, beets, rapini, chilies, and cucumbers – quite the exciting haul! Our entree resembled the sort-of ratatouille from a couple of weeks ago – onions, tomatoes, garlic, and a chili sauteed in a bit olive oil until everything went saucy, then served over warm polenta. The chili gave just a little bit of heat – a heat we’re going to have to learn to incorporate into more things, as our garden is overflowing with them. I also tossed sauteed rapini with raisins – Shane didn’t love it, but I ate it up.

It was a lovely, healthy, filling dinner improvised amidst long conversation, and then followed by a walk through the downtown masses to Ashley’s for a Bell’s event, where we hoped to try Black Note, but where we made do with a Founders Cerise (me), a lambic (Mom), and a Hell Hath No Fury (Shane). A long, relaxing evening, and a nice end to a very warm day.

0719 Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate

Oh my gosh, you guys. Tonight’s dinner may have redeemed the Spanish cookbook experiment. Now why couldn’t I have just called this dish ‘meatballs in tomato sauce’? Because then I would miss out on a perfectly good excuse to pretend that I can speak, well, any Spanish at all. I mean, I can ask about the location of the bathroom, and I can say that I want more of something, but that’s about it.

Anyway, this was super easy and definitely worth heating up the kitchen on an already hot night. I could walk you through the process, but I actually have photos for once, and the whole recipe is at the bottom of this post. So, albóndigas from start to finish:

Making Albóndigas

Albóndigas in the frying pan

Making Salsa de Tomate

Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate

These were excellent meatballs – sorry, albóndigas – and I loved the bright orange-yellow of the tomato sauce – sorry, the salsa de tomate – over the creamy polenta.  I have a feeling we’ll be making this one again soon.

Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate
Adapted from Spanish

8 ounces minced ground pork
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil, more if necessary
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons red or dry white wine
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the pork, green onions, garlic, cheese, oregano, and plenty of salt and pepper.  Form into 12-14 small firm balls.  Heat the olive oil a large heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, then add the meatballs and cook for about 5 minutes, turning frequently, until evenly browned.  Add the wine and quickly deglaze the pan, then add the remaining ingredients and cover, lowering the heat to medium.  Cook gently for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes are saucy and the meatballs are cooked through.  Excellent served over polenta or with crusty bread.

0516 Sausages and polenta again

With any good party comes the not-so-good day after – you know, waking up late, drinking coffee slowly, maybe eating a bit of greasy breakfast to counteract the previous night’s excess.  We had a little of that this morning – but we also had the most beautiful Sunday we’ve seen in a while, so felt like we couldn’t possibly stay inside all day.  So, after a morning of chores and Shane working on the ‘ped, we headed out to Pinckney for a hike.

After 5 miles of rolling hills, lots of trees, and minimal wildlife, we were both hungry and impatient – no time to make the batter for the galettes we’d intended to eat.  Instead, dinner was a re-run of Friday’s sausages and polenta, with a couple of handfuls of spinach added to the sauce to bulk it out since we had fewer sausages on hand than expected.  It was a warm and satisfying end to a happy but tiring weekend.

Even better, though, was tuning in to learn of the birth of Octavia, Jason and Sonya’s daughter, who arrived this evening.  We are beyond happy for the Wadsgreens, and can’t wait to meet her!

0514 Sausages and Polenta

A deceptively simple dinner on a really beautiful night: homemade tomato sauce, a couple of pork sausages, and polenta.  Kind of a riff on what we’d intended to make, except lighter, faster, and more familiar in flavor.  The lovely thing about meals like this is that you can do it all up from scratch – or you can short-cut just about everything to get dinner on the table.

Since it was a Friday night and I was home earlier than Shane, and since I felt like being all domesticky, I went the scratch route: a simple tomato sauce made from tomatoes I canned last summer, thickened with a couple of tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste.  Sausages sauteed until golden, then kept warm in the tomato sauce while I made the polenta.  Low wide bowls of yellow-gold.  So good.

0214 Very Easy Polenta with Cherry Tomatoes and Mozzarella

I can think of few things better to lift your mood and warm your tummy in the midst of a long, unending winter than this meal.  Look at this beautiful dish and tell me you’re not hungry:

0214 Very Easy Polenta with Cherry Tomatoes and Mozzarella

We tried a new polenta preparation method thanks to Cooks Illustrated which required very little stirring – just slow and low cooking, with a bit of baking soda added to the mix to help break down the cornmeal.  I was skeptical, but the polenta was amazingly creamy, and the pan required minimal scrubbing after dinner – a bonus.  We topped warm plates of polenta with cherry tomatoes sauteed with olive oil and garlic, a chiffonade of basil and the last of the homemade mozzarella.  The mozzarella melted gently into the polenta as we ate, and the juices from the tomato, rich with oil, pepper, and garlic, were just right.  This dinner was so good.  The only disappointment was that the tomatoes were a bit too, well, tomatoey for Shane’s tastes.

Recipe:
Creamy Parmesan Polenta from Cooks Illustrated (online subscription required)
Sautéed Cherry Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Topping from Cooks Illustrated (online subscription required)