Polenta Bowls with Chard and Bacon

Polenta Bowls with Chard and Bacon

https://www.macheesmo.com/polenta-bowls/

So, this recipe initially jumped out at me because bacon + cheese + polenta seemed like an obviously correct decision.  But this summer I have been trying to eat a little healthier, which means at least thinking twice about recipes that include extra-salty, greasy, and delicious things like bacon. As I was adding the recipe to my list for the week, the little part of my brain that irritates me with reminders about responsible decisions I’ve made in the past popped up and reminded me of this. So, after arguing with it for a few minutes, I wondered if there was anything else I could add to replace the bacon. I had some roasted red peppers on hand, so I decided I’d substitute those and see how it went.

You might be able to see where this is going. Sadly, this recipe did not survive the vegetarian adaptation very well. The veggies were tasty enough – my scallions purchased on Sunday didn’t make it all the way to Thursday, so I sautéed some leftover red onions in butter along with garlic, chard, and roasted red peppers, and that came out pretty good. But I had forgotten that polenta is a big bland flavor sinkhole. Even with the cheese in there, it sort of absorbed all the other flavors into a creamy, tasteless mass. Not the fault of the recipe, I believe; it just needed the bacon.

I may give this another shot someday, including the all-important bacon. I think you could even throw a soft-boiled egg in there and have this for brunch. In any case, lesson learned: bacon isn’t optional.

But one neat side effect of making this recipe is that I learned a bit about polenta. I couldn’t find coarse-ground corn grits in my grocery store, so all I had to work with was regular corn meal. I wasn’t sure if that would work, so I did some research and came away with some great tips from Daniel Gritzer at Serious Eats:

http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/05/how-to-make-the-best-polenta.html

Apparently there’s a whole mythology around polenta that I had no idea about. Stir it constantly, in only one direction, using only a wooden spoon?  (Under the light of a full moon, while standing on one foot perhaps?)  Gritzer dismisses these overly-detailed instructions as basically superstitions.  The constant stirring does sound potentially reasonable, but I also found that it wasn’t strictly necessary – though I did end up stirring every 2-3 minutes, which is arguably the same thing. On the one hand, I usually don’t have patience for stuff like this on hectic weeknights. But on the other hand, once in a while, after a long day of writing code, my brain is a little fried, and it’s kind of pleasant to just stand in front of a stove and not have to think about anything more complicated than stirring for a while.

In any case, I found his notes on the liquid-to-cornmeal ratio helpful. He recommends at least 4 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal (or grits), and you can use whatever liquid you like – water, stock, and milk are all common choices. I struggled a bit to know exactly when my polenta was “done” – I took it off when it had reached a quite thick consistency, almost as thick as play dough, and it was starting to take some real upper body strength to stir the lumps back in. I wondered if I had left it a little too long, but since I was going to be adding a cup of cream to it, I figured I’d better err on the side of thickness. And in fact, when the cream was stirred in, it was a nice texture and not lumpy at all.

It wasn’t especially flavorful though, so, just keep that in mind and be sure to top it with things that really pack a punch.

Deliciousness score: 4

Easiness score: 5

 

1.5 rating

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Grilled Cheese with Peaches and Gruyere

Grilled Cheese with Peaches and Gruyere

https://www.macheesmo.com/peach-grilled-cheese/

 

So, when this one came off the grill, I was prepared for a total write-off. I’m skeptical of fruit in savory dishes to start with – I only picked this one for this week because I had 2/3 of a block of leftover gruyere that I wanted to be sure to use, and it seemed like the easiest gruyere recipe on Macheesmo. Then, in spite of my efforts to keep the pan on medium heat, I managed to brown (i.e. blacken) the bread before all the cheese had time to melt. By the time I pulled the sad little heap off the stove, I wasn’t expecting to be too impressed.

But, much to my surprise, it was delicious! I’m officially a savory-fruit-sandwich convert, at least in this case. The flavors really complement each other: savory richness from the gruyere, sweet-but-not-too-sweet fruit, and a little peppery bite from the arugula. It was hearty but also light; a summery comfort food. These were also made on the homemade King Arthur buns mentioned yesterday

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/beautiful-burger-buns-recipe

Two tips for keeping this sandwich together while grilling:

  • Use tongs to flip it. I found that tongs worked much better than a spatula, both to flip, and to snug up the contents while cooking if they started to slide out.
  • Cover it. My fiancé discovered this one: covering the pan with a tight-fitting lid trapped more heat and helped the cheese to melt faster, before the bread could get burned. You do have to lift the lid and check on it periodically, of course.

Our sandwiches were also pretty thick, on small buns. Next time I try this, I’ll use regular-sized bread, and try to slice the cheese and peaches thinner. The tongs might not be necessary with those changes.

Deliciousness score: 8

Easiness score: 7

1.3 rating.png

 

California Turkey Burgers

California Turkey Burgers

https://www.macheesmo.com/california-turkey-burgers/

So, as discussed in yesterday’s post, I was a vegetarian for many years, and only recently started reincorporating a bit of meat back into my diet.  I mention this to give some context, because I know people have strong feelings about turkey burgers, some not-so-positive. I’ve heard the primary complaint is that turkey is too bland compared to red meat. I have to admit that I sort of see where that’s coming from; I definitely tasted all the add-ins in this recipe (the chilis, parsley, onions, garlic, salt, and pepper), and the meat, while savory, didn’t have a super strong flavor of its own. That’s fine with me, though; if I’m eating meat, I do prefer it to be pretty lean and basically bursting with vegetables, which I realize isn’t everybody’s thing. It was substantial, but didn’t leave me feeling weighed down afterward, which I liked. I also felt the toppings were really key: white cheddar, fresh avocado, arugula, and dijonnaise did a lot to pack some extra flavor into this sandwich.

Definitely do follow his advice about chopping up all the add-ins very thoroughly.  I threw in a little more parsley than called for, just to use it up, and I ended up having a little trouble getting the burgers to stick together.  Luckily, they firmed up as they cooked, and it was no big deal in the end.  Because it was a chilly day here, I made these inside on a Foreman grill, but they’d be even better on an actual grill.  (To be clear, this was a very un-Canadian thing to do; my fiance informs me that Canadians will grill in a foot of snow without batting an eye.  But we have an electric grill, which I have mixed feelings about to say the least.  It gets the job done, more or less, but it fails to deliver the charcoaliness that makes summer grilling worthwhile.  And it also gives up the ghost immediately in cold weather; it just loses too much heat every time you open it.  So, Foreman grill it was.)

Though really, there’s nothing to complain about here, because these turned out completely delicious.  Nicely charred after about 5 minutes on each side.  I also made burger buns from this King Arthur recipe:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/beautiful-burger-buns-recipe

As you can see, mine came out a little different because I forgot the egg wash at the last minute.  They were also a little dense, but it didn’t matter much; they were tasty and substantial, perfect for this burger (and also great for the peach gruyere grilled cheese sandwich coming up later in the week).  If you have some time at home at the beginning of the week, I definitely recommend giving homemade buns a try.

Deliciousness score: 7

Easiness score: 7

1.2 rating

Savory Ginger Mushroom Oatmeal

Savory Ginger Mushroom Oatmeal

https://www.macheesmo.com/savory-ginger-mushroom-oatmeal/

So, a little background on me: I was a vegetarian for almost fifteen years, starting when I was about 20. When I moved in with my carnivorous fiancé, Dusty, I started incorporating a little bit of meat back into my diet. I didn’t intend to at first; in fact we would always cook separately, since there’s not a ton of overlap in the foods we like anyway.

One thing we could share was pizza, which we made together from scratch every Sunday. I would put various roasted vegetables on my half, or just leave it plain cheese, and he would make his usual heap o’ meat: ham, pepperoni, bacon, and ground beef. Occasionally we wouldn’t cut it quite perfectly down the center, and a fraction of a pepperoni slice would find its way onto my side. (Did I mention that pepperoni pizza was the very last thing I gave up, when I went vegetarian? The struggle was real.) My primary motivation for eating a vegetarian diet was to cut down on industrial farming. But… I also find pepperoni delicious. So I said to myself, “Well, it’s too late for this poor pepperoni anyway, it’s already paid for, and my not eating it isn’t going to cast an economic vote one way or the other.” And I went on that way for months, eating an occasional slice of pepperoni and reveling in it, but not intending to make any other major changes to my habits.

Then one day, by accident (yes! it really was an accident, although Dusty gleefully implies otherwise to this day), I was rushing out the door and took his slice of leftover pizza to work instead of my own. Lunchtime came around, I took a bite without thinking about it, and… it was all over. It was so good. Some kind of meltdown happened in my brain, and I decided that, after so many years of eating so strictly, I needed to go adventuring.  I wanted to see what other flavors I’d been missing.

So, for the past year or two, huge sections of cookbooks that had always been blank to me were suddenly filled with new and exciting ideas. I finally tried the celebrated local Pacific Northwest salmon, and tasted for myself what everyone was so excited about. I spent more than ten seconds looking at menus in restaurants. I put bacon in all the things: pizza, muffins, soup, omelets, sandwiches. My heart was happy. (My figurative heart, anyway; my physical heart probably not so much.)

Why am I going on and on about the glories of meat in this review of a recipe with no meat, you ask? It’s just to let you know that, although I’m not vegetarian currently, I spent many years in constant search of the elusive savory vegetarian dish. It’s very difficult to find a meatless recipe that hits those hearty & savory notes; the elusive “umami” flavor, the stick-to-your-ribs-ness that makes you want to curl up with it on a cold night.

This recipe has all of that. I was a little skeptical at first (“Mushrooms? In my oatmeal?”), but it looked interesting and I needed to round out my week’s worth of healthy recipes, so I figured it was worth a shot.

I’m definitely glad I tried it. It basically took all of the things I like about ramen and turned them into a brunch recipe. (I will admit that I don’t think I’d be up for this as breakfast first thing in the morning; I made it for lunch, and it was perfect. Hearty and satisfying, but not heavy.)

A few notes:

  • The mushroom type makes a big difference here. I used cremini mushrooms, as written, and they were tasty. Shiitake or maitake mushrooms would also be good I think; anything with some substantial, unique flavor. I probably wouldn’t just throw white mushrooms in here.
  • The recipe called for a dash of soy sauce; my recommendation is to dash, and then keep on dashing, and then dash a few times more. More of a 400-meter than a 100-meter, if you catch my drift. I like salt, what can I say.
  • I also added some garlic, because why not.
  • The oatmeal-to-mushroom ratio is a little high. I got two bowls out of this before running out of mushroom topping, and still had more than a cup of cooked oatmeal left over. Next time I will either make more mushrooms or less oatmeal.

Very tasty, and worth making again. I did not add any sriracha sauce, because I’m a total lightweight when it comes to spicy foods, but I’m sure it would be good that way as well.

It’s totally worth clicking through to the Cooks’ Illustrated soft-boiled eggs tutorial too, if you haven’t had much luck with soft-boiled eggs in the past (as I haven’t). I followed his instructions in the linked article, which were super simple, and my eggs came out great. They weren’t even hard to peel.

Deliciousness score: 7

Easiness score: 7

1.2 rating

Grocery List – Week 3

Posting this week’s list a little late in the day – you’d think there would be more time on a three day weekend, not less, but somehow little things keep popping up to do.  Incidentally, yesterday was my first Canada Day as a Canadian permanent resident.  The nearby town had a whole day of events planned; sadly, many of them (including the fireworks) got rained out.  But we went to the (indoor) strawberry social, and it was charming.  Strawberry socials are a big thing out here; there are at least ten of them happening at various churches and community halls within the next two weeks.  I don’t know if it’s just a local phenomenon or if it happens across Atlantic Canada or what, but it’s adorable.  Ladies in their most festive red-and-white outfits served us tea and strawberry shortcake.  How is this not a thing everywhere.

In any case, here’s this week’s list.  I’m doing a full week of recipes from Macheesmo, which is one of my favorite sources for hearty, flavor-packed dinner ideas.  He’s got a ton of amazing winter comfort food recipes (I first encountered the blog when I noticed his cheeseburger pasta on Pinterest), but there’s great summer fare as well.

Two of these recipes require bread or buns, so if you’re feeling ambitious, you might want to try making them from scratch.  I used this burger bun recipe from King Arthur Flour:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/beautiful-burger-buns-recipe

Mine looked a little different because I forgot the egg wash and sesame seeds, and also came out a little dense, for reasons I don’t quite know.  But they’re still very tasty, and perfect for substantial sandwiches like these:  a light & satisfying turkey burger, and unique peach & gruyere grilled cheese.  Definitely worth the effort if you’ve got the time.


Recipes:

(all from Macheesmo: )

Savory Ginger Mushroom Oatmeal

California Turkey Burgers

Grilled Cheese with Peaches and Gruyere

Polenta Bowls with Chard and Bacon


Shopping List:

Produce

8 oz. cremini mushrooms
1 inch fresh ginger
1 bunch scallions (split between mushroom oatmeal, polenta bowls, and egg salad)
1/4 red onion
Parsley
1 serrano pepper
1 avocado
Favorite sandwich greens – arugula, spinach, or whatever you prefer
2 red fresno chilis (or other red chilis, or jalapeños)
1 large bunch chard
2 ripe peaches

Shelves

Steel cut oats
Vegetable stock
Ciabatta rolls (or homemade) *
Coarse polenta corn grits **

Refrigerated / Frozen

Butter
Eggs
12 oz. ground turkey
Cheddar cheese
Heavy cream (1 cup)
Bacon ***
4-6 oz. Gruyere cheese

Pantry Staples

(Items you might have on hand, which don’t go bad quickly once opened)

Soy sauce
Red pepper flakes
Burger fixings (ketchup, mustard, etc.)
Salt & pepper

 

* If you’ll make your own rolls instead of purchasing, you’ll need flour, butter, sugar, salt, instant yeast, and 1 large egg.
** I couldn’t find coarse polenta grits in my grocery store, so I came home with regular corn meal, and it worked okay.
*** I left out the bacon in my version of the polenta bowls; while you can do this, I don’t recommend it, so I’m including bacon in the shopping list here.