Sunday, March 24, 2013

Creamy Polenta with Sausage, Spinach and Pecorino

March is such a teaser month.  Temperatures may fluctuate anywhere between the 20's to the 60's.  One day it could be snowing and the next people are walking around in shorts and tank tops. The change in the weather and the arrival of spring always gets me amped up for all of the new vegetables that will be coming our way soon, like asparagus, fennel and artichokes.  I begin to crave salads, cold noodle dishes and spring rolls instead of soups, stews and hot tea. 
As much as I'm ready to start eating lighter, the temperatures haven't gotten much above the 30's for the greater part of the month.  So, until I'm able to wear any less than three layers outside, I'm still sticking with comfort foods to get me through this last bout of cold weather. 

Polenta is one of the foods that I always have in the cupboard for a quick meal.  With the addition of a little butter and cheese, it is transformed into a creamy base that goes with just about anything! I'm a big fan of topping my polenta with sauteed greens and a poached egg, or a sautee of wild mushrooms or come summer time, stirring in a drizzle of pesto and topping with roasted vegetables like red pepper, fennel and zucchini.  It's a great meal to make when you have little odds and ends in your fridge that you're not quite sure what to do with, which is exactly what I did this time around.

I had very few things to work with other than a bag of spinach, some spicy sausage links and a small hunk of pecorino romano.  My first intuition was to throw these together with pasta but since I ate an entire baguette doused in olive oil for lunch, I decided to cut back on the wheat and make it gluten free with some polenta, and it totally hit the spot.

Creamy Polenta with Sausage, Spinach and Pecorino
Serves 2-4

Creamy Polenta:
1 c. polenta
4 1/2 c. vegetable broth
3 T. butter
1/2 c. grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more for serving
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

3 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. spinach
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 c. chopped flat leaf parsley

Place vegetable broth in a medium sized heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and slowly whisk in polenta. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook polenta for about thirty minutes, whisking every couple of minutes to prevent it from clumping up or sticking.  When the polenta is soft and creamy, whisk in the cheese and butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low while you prepare the sausage and spinach.

Heat 1 T. extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the sausage and cook until cooked through and browned on the outside. Transfer to a paper towel to drain excess oil.  Wipe out the pan and heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and spinach and cook just long enough for the spinach to collapse.  Season with salt and pepper.

Before serving, give the polenta a good stir (if it has thickened up too much, you can thin it out a bit with more vegetable broth). Divide the polenta evenly between shallow bowls. Top with the sauteed spinach, sausage parsley and an extra dusting of pecorino romano.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Whole Wheat Bacon Fat Dog Biscuits

I first started this blog with the intention of having it be strictly vegetarian.  Although I ate fish and turkey on occasion, the world of pork and beef was unbeknownst to me.  Not a bite had passed my lips in over fifteen years and I never thought I would be eating, let alone cooking meat anytime in the near future.

About six months ago I was dining in Manhattan and decided then and there that I was going to eat pork.  I don't know why all of a sudden, at that moment the idea sounded so appealing, but I decided to go with it and I would either love it or hate it.  I didn't go all out and order a steak or ribs or a porkchop but instead eased into it slowly with a wood fired pizza topped with broccoli rabe, fresh mozzarella and spicy sausage.

...It was hands down, one of the top ten meals I've ever had.

Over the past six months, I've s-l-o-w-l-y incorporated meat into my diet. I would go out for an occasional grassfed burger or buy a package of local sausage links or some maple smoked bacon. I've made some dang tasty grub featuring these foods but for some reason didn't feel comfortable blogging about it since 95% of my blog is vegetarian (I've featured fish in a couple posts) and I didn't know if I would lose an audience of vegetarian readers if I decided to start blogging about meat.

...and then I got over it....

The tagline of my blog is, "tasty whole foods cuisine" and I think meat (if raised in slaughtered in a sustainable way) fits the bill... in moderation. So, from here on out, some of my posts may feature fish, chicken, beef or pork... or seaweed, kale, pomegranates or sweet potatoes. I can guarantee that whatever I choose to post gets my stamp of approval and tastes delicious.

Although I can't vouch for the following recipe since I didn't actually TRY them myself, my dogs absolutely love the bacon fat dog biscuits that I made for them.  I always have leftover grease from cooking bacon, and never felt the desire to do anything with it myself, so I decided to make my little pooches a tasty little treat that was free from all of the crap that is usually found in any of the ones you would buy at the petstore.

Although they may not be as healthy as carrot sticks and kale stems, these little biscuits are something that you can feel good about giving your furry friends.

Whole Wheat Bacon Fat Dog Biscuits
From The Kitchn

1/2 c. melted bacon fat
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. wheat germ
1 egg
1/2 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until a dough is formed. Tear off a sheet of parchment paper and lay on a flat surface. Sprinkle with flour and roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness. Transfer to a large baking sheet and score with a pizza cutter or butter knife into desired shapes/size. Poke small holes (I think this is more for decoration) with the end of a chopstick.  Bake for 20 minutes, break apart and flip the biscuits over.  Return the biscuits to the oven and turn off the heat.  Let sit for 20-30 minutes to allow them to crisp up a bit.  Store in an airtight container.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Nori-Nettle Gomasio

Years ago, when I lived in California, I used to hit up the farmers markets at least twice a week.  The Bay Area was a food lovers paradise.. the growing season gave you tender lettuces in February, tomatoes in March and basil in January.  In addition to the variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from year round, there was always a handful of locals selling homemade goods ranging from kombucha to goat cheese, to kimchi.  At the tail end of the market was an older woman sporting dreadlocks and a smile that was contagious. She harvested her own seaweed and sold an amazing gomasio.

Gomasio is a Japanese condiment consisting of unhulled sesame seeds and sea salt. It's great sprinkled over a salad or rice or over steamed vegetables, basically anywere you want a bit of salt and crunch.  The woman at the farmers market (she had some hippy name like Rainbow or Moonbeam or something), took a basic gomasio recipe and added dried nettles and nori and sold it in little baggies for like, five bucks.  I quickly became addicted to the stuff, not only because it was delicious, but I knew that everytime I sprinkled a little of her magic fairy dust on my quinoa and steamed greens I was doing my body a big favor in the health department.

Sesame seeds are high in calcium, magnesium, iron, B vitamins and fiber.  Nori (a dried seaweed) is also rich in B vitamins as well as vitamin A and E and contains more vitamin C than oranges. It is rich in iodine, a trace mineral that stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones required for metabolism and keeps hair, nails and skin looking their finest! Nettles are one of those "super herbs" used to treat anything and everything. It's a slow acting nutritive herb that gently cleanses the body of metabolic wastes. It has a gentle, stimulating effect on the lymphatic system, enhancing the excretion of wastes through the kidneys.  It is rich in iron, vitamin C and calcium, making it a great herb for women to prevent anemia and keep bones strong without the use of dairy products. It is commonly used for people that suffer from seasonal allergies, can help alleviate joint and muscle pain, increases circulation and purifies the blood.

... Not to bad for a simple condiment.

Nori Nettle Gomasio

3 sheets nori
6 T. unhulled sesame seeds
1 T. black sesame seeds (opt)
3 T. dried nettles
1/2 t. sea salt

Cut nori into small pieces.  Place in a spice grinder and pulse a couple times to break it down.  Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the salt.  Working in batches, transfer to the mixture to the spice grinder and pulse until the nori and nettles are powdery and the sesame seeds are broken down a bit ( I did mine in two batches). Place in a bowl and stir in salt.  Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Honey Butter Popcorn

Popcorn has to be, hands down one of my top ten favorite foods. It's cheap, full of fiber and can be thrown together in minutes, making a great snack or dinner option when I'm not that hungry but still want a little sumpthin' to munch on.  As much as I love the traditional butter/salt combo, I usually drizzle my popcorn with a healthier fat like flax, hempseed, or a nice extra virgin olive oil.  When it comes to toppings, I'm a huge fan of nutritional yeast flakes and sea salt. Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that has a nutty, cheesy flavor and as a bonus is high in protein and B vitamins.

To switch things up a bit, I'm always looking for new ways to flavor my popcorn.  Some of my favorite combinations include:
Truffle oil and parmesan cheese
Toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds and dulse or nori flakes (dried seaweeds)
Olive oil and zaatar (a blend of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, thyme, marjoram and sea salt)
Coconut oil and curry powder

I've heard of people topping their popcorn with butter, cinnamon and sugar and the idea has never really done it for me.  When I make popcorn, it's usually because I need salt and fat, and lots of it. I recently came across a recipe for honey butter popcorn and decided to leave my comfort zone and give it a whirl.

Let's just say I've made this three times in the past week and it just might be my new favorite snack when I want something on the sweet side and there isn't a single thing in the house other than popcorn, coconut oil, honey and salt (this is only a SLIGHT exaggeration). 

This combination has everything you could want in a snack: fat, sugar, salt and crunch.

Need I say more?

Honey Butter Popcorn
From Food Loves Writing

2 tablespoons coconut oil 

1/2 cup organic popcorn kernels 
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons raw honey 

sea salt to taste

Melt coconut oil in a large stockpot with a lid. Place two kernels of unpopped corn in the pot and cover it. Once you hear the kernels pop, take off the lid and add the 1/2 cup kernels. Put the cover back on and shake the pot. Cook over medium heat, shaking the pot again once or twice, until all you stop hearing popping sounds (about five minutes or so).

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter, honey and a pinch of salt over low heat. When the popcorn kernels stop popping, turn off the heat. Transfer popcorn to a large bowl and toss with the honey-butter mixture.