One big <3 for polenta!

I was pretty nervous about this homework (Homework 2 was a bit of an ordeal for me!) until I noticed that polenta is on the list of whole grains that we can choose. And thank goodness for that! Small confession: polenta is basically the traditional food of the people where I come from (Romania), and after dabbling unsuccessfully last week into the unknown yucca and chayote squash territory, I decided to listen to the calling of my roots and pick the road more traveled. That being said, all these recipes were still new to me, so some amount of experimentation remained.

I usually have a hard time finding good corn flour (I like the coarse kind), but there are a couple of places in the Twin Cities that carry it. One is Bill’s Imported Foods in Uptown (I LOVE that place, it’s like taking a stroll down memory lane every time I go there), and another one is a Polish deli in Northeast Minneapolis. The corn flour I used for this assignment was from the latter.

Recipe 1: Polenta with mushroom stew

The first recipe I prepared is a mushroom stew with a side of polenta, recipe found here (sorry it’s not in English): https://pofta-buna.com/tocanita-de-ciuperci-cu-mamaliguta/ . The recipe consists of sautéing onions, carrots, peppers, then add the mushrooms, then diced tomatoes, and at the end some chopped garlic (it’s apparently sacrilegious in Romanian cooking to add garlic from the beginning – legend has it all its flavor will be lost :P) and spices (salt and pepper), and garnish with fresh dill and parsley. Result: DELICIOUS!

Recipe 2: Moldovan “Tochitura” à la Diana

When I heard that one meal has to be breakfast, I immediately thought about a traditional dish of polenta (or “mamaliga” as it’s called in my motherland)) with eggs, pork, bacon, sausage, and grated feta cheese. Traditional recipes tend to be a bit more involved as far as the pork cooking goes (for example: https://www.petitchef.ro/retete/felul-principal/tochitura-moldoveneasca-fid-1194335 requires to fry pork in a complicated way with lard, bacon, some dry wine and garlic) but that seemed like too much work for breakfast, so I decided to do a simpler version where I just fried some smoked Polish bacon and Spanish breakfast sausage in a pan and pretended that’s the pork loin. I did follow the tradition of frying an egg to top the polenta with, grated some feta cheese, and also sided with some pickled red peppers, pickled cucumbers and Calabrian peppers (seems like traditional Romanian cuisine is quite fatty, and pickles are often used to counter-balance the grease :D). Health concerns for fat intake aside,  it was the best brunch I had in a while :D.

Recipe 3: Fried Polenta with vegetables and bacon

For the third recipe, I originally wanted to grill the remaining polenta with some veggies to make something similar to: https://www.gustos.ro/retete-culinare/triunghiuri-de-mamaliga-la-gratar-cu-legume-coapte.html . One small problem: I didn’t have a grill handy. But I decided to go ahead and use frying pans. I chopped some onions, peppers, and zucchinis and tossed them in a frying pan. My husband demanded some meat, so I caved and added some of the bacon left over from the brunch – turns out it was a fabulous idea! Towards the end, I added some halved cherry tomatoes. The end result was too watery to be called “grilled”, but it was very good nonetheless. The polenta was cut in slices and friend in a second pan to warm it up.

 

Overall, all three meals were a success! Thanks for a great class!

Yucca drive me crazy!

First of all, I have to admit that I found this week’s assignment quite challenging – barely found the time to cook three times, and cooking new recipes was daunting to say the least.

I approached this assignment by going to Cub’s and staring at their produce aisle in search for something that doesn’t sound familiar. My search soon narrowed to three vegetables (?): yucca, chayote squash and tomatillos. Smartphone in hand, I searched for recipes with each as keyword (thank God for Google!), and seeing that tomatillos go pretty much only in green salsa – and being much too hungry to be content with that for my dinner – I decided on the spot to pick the first two as my go-to vegetables (or whatever the heck they are) this week.

Recipe 1: Yucca in garlic sauce

The first recipe I attempted was yucca in garlic sauce from this website: http://www.food.com/recipe/yucca-with-garlic-sauce-yuca-con-mojo-148632. Admittedly, duration was my main criterion for choosing this recipe, as 55 minutes seemed reasonable. It ended up taking me almost twice that time 😐 . Turns out this recipe required some mind reading in addition to the plain reading I learned in school – the recipe doesn’t explicitly say to cover the darn thing with WATER (not just lime juice) and bring to boil but guess what – yucca won’t get tender if you just saute it! I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the yucca to get softer to no avail. Finally, I listened to the little culinary instinct I could muster and added some water, and voila!  – tenderness at last! Only an hour later than scheduled – and probably still not tender enough. The mix of garlic, lemon juice, onions and olive oil heated until bubbling released a mouth watering aroma, and in the end I decided that the thing was, after all, edible. My only problem with it was that it was too oily for my taste (perhaps I should have adjusted the quantities in the recipe?), and a few bites were enough to make me feel full (I normally don’t use so much oil in cooked food) and craving for a pickle.

 

 Recipe 2: Yucca in coconut sauce

Armed with more patience and the valuable knowledge that yucca needs to boil in water, the next recipe I decided on was yucca in coconut sauce: http://abc.go.com/shows/the-chew/recipes/cassava-in-coconut-sauce-mahogo-wa-nazi-carla-hall. The short declared time duration again made this one very appealing, plus I was secretly hoping it would be as yummy as the thai coconut curries I sometimes have when eating out. Wishful thinking!

I ended up cutting the amount of coconut cream and coconut milk recommended in half because it just seemed too sweet and too fatty to me – to not much avail – the dish was still too sweet and too fatty for my taste when dinner is concerned. I cut corners with the toasted coconut flakes and fresh jalapeños for garnish (used plain coconut flakes and pickled jalapeños – since I’m not much of a fan of them anyway), so my end result looked like a disappointing caricature of the picture on the recipe website. But it was edible, and only ended up throwing a little bit of it :\ .

Recipe 3: Chayote squash

After my incursion into the realm of sweet coconut yucca delights, I decided I needed to return to the familiar grounds of savory food for dinner, albeit with an unknown vegetable.

The last recipe I tried this week was chayote squash with onions: http://www.food.com/recipe/chayote-and-onions-8902 .

This was probably my favorite out of the three (although still a bit too oily), and the recipe was just as I like it: quick and easy. I only replaced the oregano with an Italian mix that had some other herbs in addition to oregano, but other than that followed the recipe closely. For some protein, I grilled a sausage on the side.

 

Conclusions: Not sure I will cook any of these recipes again, since I wasn’t blown away by any of them. To be honest, I prefer my go-to fresh tomato salad and feta cheese dinner over all three. So from this perspective, I think my “healthy/ veggie” eating has possibly gone down this week – perhaps due to poor recipe choices. As for purchasing fresh produce in bulk, I don’t think that can work for me since I don’t cook so much at a time and they’d go bad.

Home Assignment 1

  • How does meal planning generally work for you?  Do you have a routine or strategy, or is it spontaneous?  Without judgment, talk about what works, and what doesn’t work about it. 

I don’t have much of a routine for meal planning. I don’t usually cook, my go-to foods are some sliced vegetables (I’m obsessed with tomatoes – LOVE the heirloom ones, and I like green onions a lot too) with feta cheese (preferably imported from Greece and made from sheep milk – the feta from regular grocery stores is usually garbage), and bread (but not the artificial thing that tastes like plastic and lasts for months without going bad, the fresh one that’s usually called “artisanal” and costs twice more 😐 . Raised in Eastern Europe, I grew up eating bread all the time, so I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to bread eating). Salmon with bread and butter or heating chicken sausage is also the extent of my ‘cooking’ a lot of the time.

I’m fine with my standard diet, but I’d like to branch out and start adding some more recipes to my repertoire. I cook sometimes, but not very often, and when I do I need to plan it because very seldom I’d find all the ingredients lying around in my pantry, especially fresh vegetables.

  • How does your pantry inventory look?  Do you think you have what you need to prepare food the way you want? What do you still need?  What do you have that isn’t necessary?

My pantry is well stocked in terms of spices, oil and vinegar, as well as some frozen veggies in the freezer, tomato paste, pasta, dried beans and lentils. Fresh veggies on the other hand not so much. But I don’t think the inventory in my pantry is as much of an issue for me as finding the time to actually cook. I find that cooking usually takes at least an hour no matter how simple the recipe is, and sometimes I’d rather spend that time differently.

 

Recipe 1: Polenta with feta cheese and sour cream

Boiled water, added a teaspoon of salt and  gradually added polenta flour while stirring to avoid lumps until desired thickness was reached.  Sided with feta cheese (cottage cheese could work too) and yoghurt or sour cream. (Ate this pretty often when growing up in Romania).

 

Recipe 2: Green Pea Stew

Sauted some onion in sunflower oil until glassy-looking. Added frozen peas, then covered with hot water. Added some carrots. When peas got softer, added some tomato paste and let simmer for a few more minutes. Added salt to taste, dill, parsley, pepper, thyme and bay leaves.