Saturday, November 24, 2012

Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola

In the last post I told you about using Lonesome Whistle Farm's polenta in skillet cornbread. The other dish I made right away with this rainbow of coarse cornmeal is one inspired by a baked polenta and gorgonzola recipe from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison. To contrast the sharp notes of the cheese, I used some earthy mushrooms, both fresh creminis and an assortment of dried ones. And to make the most of the flavors, I used the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms as the broth for the polenta.

Admittedly, this dish is a bit involved. First you prepare a tomato sauce, saute your mushrooms, and stir your polenta into a thick mush. Then you need to let the polenta solidify before sliced it, layering it with the mushrooms, sauce, and cheese, and baking it into a pan of bubbling, pungent gooeyness. But each of the steps itself is easy and relaxing; nothing like the time sensitive last stages of getting warm turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy on the table for a hungry horde. So make this dish on a leisurely weekend day when you're ready for a break from turkey leftovers.

Baked Polenta with Mushrooms and Gorgonzola
serves 4 to 6
1 cup polenta
3 1/2 cups boiling water
2 ounces dried mushrooms such as porcini
6 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms
2 Tbsp olive oil for sauteing the mushrooms and more for oiling the pans
~2 cups simple tomato sauce  
4 ounces gorgonzola cheese
fresh parsley leaves

1. Soak the dried mushrooms in 3 1/2 cups of boiling water. After ten minutes, strain the mushroom broth through a fine mesh strainer into a medium pot (you will have about 3 cups), and reserve the rehydrated mushrooms. Heat the mushroom broth with a generous pinch of salt until it is boiling. Slowly pour the polenta grain into the pot in a narrow stream as you whisk. Adjust the heat to medium and stir the polenta with a wooden spoon for about 15 minutes, until it forms a thick, creamy mush that pulls away from the sides of the pan. Brush the inside of a loaf pan with olive oil and pour in the polenta. Let the polenta cool and harden (you can do this a day ahead). 

2. Prepare a simple tomato sauce with a 32 ounce can of tomatoes or a quart of fresh peeled romas.

3. Brush the cremini mushrooms clean and cut them into slices. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and saute the mushrooms with a generous pinch of salt and grinding of black pepper until their juices are released and then evaporated. Chop the rehydrated mushrooms.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover the bottom of a 9 x 12 inch baking dish with about one cup of tomato sauce. Sprinkle over the chopped rehydrated mushrooms. Unmold the hardened polenta and cut it into 1/2 inch slices. Arrange strips of polenta along the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle the remaining tomato sauce over the polenta (you can leave some parts uncovered). Then sprinkle the cooked cremini mushrooms over and finally crumble the gorgonzola cheese on top. 

5. Bake the polenta for about 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the gorgonzola has melted. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve warm.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skillet Polenta Cornbread

In the bounty of a Thanksgiving feast, cornbread is always a welcome addition. Here I adapted my favorite skillet cornbread, from Cook's Illustrated, to a combination of Lonesome Whistle Farm's gorgeous multicolored polenta and freshly ground corn flour. The polenta gives it texture and crunch, while the corn flour keeps it light, and both provide an intense corn flavor.

As your cast iron skillet warms in the oven, mix up a polenta mush and whisk it into a buttermilk slurry. Then melt the butter (or bacon lard) in the skillet, quickly incorporate the dry ingredients into the batter, stir in the melted fat, and pour the batter back into the hot skillet. The batter will sizzle as it hits the cast iron, releasing the fragrant smell of toasted corn. 

This recipe calls for an 8 inch cast iron skillet, which I don't own. I found that doubling the recipe works well for my 10 inch pan (with an extra 5 minutes for baking). About half the recipe will fill my cast iron corn mold, and the other half makes a cute 6 inch skillet  bread. In any shape or size, this cornbread is delicious with a slab of cheddar cheese or slathered with homemade jam, like my husband's quince, hardy kiwi, and raspberry concoction here. A bite of this bread will make you thankful for the bounty of our fertile valley.

Skillet Polenta Cornbread
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Southern Style Cornbread (publish May, 1998)
Makes one 8 inch skillet bread (double recipe for a 10 inch skillet)

2/3 cup corn flour
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda

1/3 cup polenta
1/3 cup boiling water
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 Tbsp butter (or 4 Tbsp bacon lard)

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place an 8 inch cast iron skillet (or two cast iron corn muffin molds on baking sheets) in the oven.

2. Mix together the dry ingredients of corn flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

3. In a large glass or ceramic bowl, our the boiling water over the polenta and whisk to make a stiff mush. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk, making sure there are no lumps, and then whisk in the egg.

4. When the oven is hot, take the skillet out of the oven and place it over medium low heat on the stove. Melt the butter or bacon lard. If using muffin molds, take them from the oven and brush them generously with melted fat. Working quickly, stir the dry ingredients into the polenta mixture just until they are incorporated. Then pour the melted butter into the batter, stir quickly, pour the batter into the skillet or molds, and put them back in the oven.

5. Bake until the corn bread is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean, about 20 minutes for a skillet bread and 15 minute for muffins. Turn the bread or muffins onto a wire rack, cool for five minutes, and serve warm.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thai Sweet Meat Winter Squash Curry

In our last share from our Open Oak Farm summer CSA, we received an Oregon Homestead Sweet Meat winter squash that was about the size of my son when he was born. It felt like a big responsibility to process it. I roasted and froze some for my favorite Thanksgiving pumpkin praline pie, a second aliquot went into a spicy bean and pumpkin soup with stock made from the pulp, and the final third I used in a rendition of my favorite Thai dish: pumpkin curry. I was lucky enough to have some especially fresh and fragrant ginger and lemon grass that I picked up at last week's Saturday Market, which I blended into an approximation of a red curry paste.

A heaping tablespoon of this wonderfully fragrant, if not terribly red paste, combined with coconut milk and the cubed squash, cooked up a delicious pot of rich, thick curry. Because I had fuyu persimmon salad on my mind, we had an extra orange meal with sliced persimmons on salad greens with lime juice dressing and peanuts. And now I have a good half cup of curry paste remaining. When I'm all cooked out after Thanksgiving, and we've had our fill of cranberry turkey sandwiches, I plan to whip up another pot of Thai winter squash curry as a perfect vehicle for leftover turkey.

Thai Sweet Meat Winter Squash Curry
~6 cups sweet meat winter squash or pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
1 14 ounce can coconut milk
1 to 2 Tbsp red curry paste (recipe below)
1 red or yellow sweet pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 scant tsp sugar
thai basil leaves or cilantro leaves

1. Heat a large Dutch oven or cooking pot over medium heat. Open the coconut milk can and scoop out the thick coconut cream. Melt this in the pot until it sizzles and then add the curry paste. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, until it is very fragrant. 

2. Add the chicken pieces and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat in the curry paste. If using cooked turkey pieces, omit this step and add the turkey once the squash is cooked.

3. Mix together the remaining coconut milk, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Add this to the pot, along with the cubed squash, peppers, and onions. Bring the stew to a simmer, turn the heat to medium low, cover, and cook until the squash is tender, about 30 or 40 minutes. Uncover, taste and adjust seasonings, (add cooked turkey at this point, if using) and simmer for another 10 minutes or so until the sauce is desired consistency. Turn off the heat and stir in the basil or cilantro leaves. Serve with steamed rice.

Red Curry Paste
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
6 small dried chile peppers (such as de arbol)
1 tsp black pepper corns
2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 shallot
2 large cloves garlic
2 Tbsp cilantro stems
1 lemon grass, coarse outer leaves removed
2 inches ginger root

1. Toast the coriander seeds for a minute in a dry skillet until fragrant. Then toast the chile peppers until the puff up, but do not burn. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, grind the coriander seeds, chile peppers, pepper corns, and coarse salt into a powder.

2. If you want a good work out, you can process the rest of the ingredients in a large mortar and pestle, or combine them all in food processor and process together into a smooth paste. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator or freeze single portions in an ice cube tray. This makes enough for multiple pots of curry.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Red Lentil Pilaf with Cumin Seeds

With the end of daylight savings time, the early darkness creates a new sense of urgency about getting dinner on the table in the evening. This lentil dish from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes cooks up in a matter of minutes after you enter the house, as long as you remembered to rinse and soak a cup of red lentils in the morning. I used Camas Country Mill's red chief lentils, and was delighted to find that the soaking nicely brought these orange beauties out of their brown outer skins. You can stock up on local lentils at the Fill Your Pantry event November 18 from noon to 4 PM at Sprout (pre-order here). This recipe uses an unusual cooking technique in which the liquid from the softened soaked lentils is evaporated quickly over high heat with a minimum of stirring, creating a fluffy pilaf rather than a creamy soup. Here's the game plan: first thing when you get home, start a pot of rice cooking. Then mince some ginger and start toasting the spices for the lentils. Once you get the lentils cooking down in their water, warm some flatbread, cut up some crunchy carrots and peppers, put out some condiments like chutney, yogurt, and Indian pickles, and then sit down to enjoy a satisfying vegetarian meal.

Dry-Cooked Red Lentils with Cumin Seeds (Sookhi Dhullt Masoor Dal)
adapted slightly from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes

1 cup red lentils, rinsed well (such as Camas Country Mill's red chief lentils)
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cooked and minced beets (optional, used to give the lentils a red hue)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 to 5 dried red chile peppers, such as chile de arbol
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp peeled minced ginger
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
4 scallions, finely sliced

1. Combine the lentils, water, and beets (if using) in a bowl and allow to soak 2 hours or longer.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.Cook the chile pepper until they puff up, about 1 minute. Add the cumins and let them sizzle for a few seconds. Add the ginger and stir for about a minute. Add the coriander, ground cumin, and garam masala and cook for a few seconds until fragrant.

3. Add the lentils with their soaking water and the salt and cook over high heat until the water has evaporated and the lentils are tender, about five minutes (taste and add a little more water if you need to). Stir a few times with a fork just to fluff, but take care not to break the lentils.

4. With a fork, gently mix in the citrus juice and chopped cilantro, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the chopped scallions, and serve.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Strawberry Pinwheels

If you are tired of the cloyingly sweet Halloween candy kicking around your house, a good antidote is some fresh baked treats, such as these strawberry pinwheels from Liana Krissoff's Canning for a New Generation. The dough is flavored with ground cardamom and just a hint of sugar and is the perfect vessel for homemade strawberry preserves or some of Sweetwater Farm's strawberry spread, if you are lucky enough to have any left from the summer.

The assembly of these pinwheels may look a bit fussy, but it's actually quite simple and forgiving and a fun activity for kids who need some distractions now that the excitement of Halloween preparations is over. I let some rye flour slip into the dough (because it had proved so tasty in these cookies) and rather than chopped nuts as a topping I used this streusel, which meant these cookies could be packed for a snack at my daughter's nut-free school. These treats will fill your house with the delicious smell of baked yeast dough, and when everyone is sated, you can surreptitiously tossed out the rest of the Halloween candy.

Cardamom Pinwheel Danishes
adapted from Liana Krissoff's Canning for a New Generation

for about 24 pinwheels
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp instant yeast
1 cup rye flour
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp pure kosher salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus about 2 Tbsp softened butter for the filling
About 1/3 cup strawberry jam

for the streusel
2 Tbsp cup flour
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp white sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp butter

1. In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, yeast, and 3/4 cup warm water until smooth. 

2. In a large bowl, sift the flours. Stir in the salt, sugar, and cardamom. Then cut in the butter until the pieces of butter are about the size of peas. Now make a well in the center and pour in the egg mixture. Gradually incorporate the dry into the wet ingredients. You could also form this dough in a food processor.

3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and soft but not sticky. Clean the bowl, return the dough, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. To make the streusel, combine the 
dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to mix. Then add the vanilla and butter and pulse until it is a coarse crumb. Reserve.

5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

6. Divide the dough into quarters. Roll one out into and approximately 9 inch long and 6 inch wide rectangle and cut it into half lengthwise and thirds widthwise to produce six 3 x 3 inch squares. Take one square and cut a slit from each corner diagonal toward the center, stopping about 1/2 inch before the center. Spread a bit of softened butter in the center of each square and spoon 1 scant tsp jam on top of the butter. Bring every other point (four total) to the center of the pastry and pinch them together tightly over the jam. Transfer to a parchment paper-covered baking sheet and sprinkle with streusel. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

7. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Let cool on wire racks. Enjoy.