Pantry Polenta and Beans

There really was nothing in the kitchen. Nothing that I could cook quickly, anyway. So it was either order in (which we do every couple of weeks) or starve (perhaps I’m being dramatic here…) By the time I got home from a busy clinic day, it was 9pm, and honestly I wanted to order in. I really did. But I was famished and I thought even ordering in would take too long. So I whipped together this filling, spicy, bowl of polenta and beans. (I really do cook a lot of polenta, right?) It definitely helped that I had a ripe avocado and pickled red onions to inspire me! And even though this epitomizes a throw-it-together-pantry dinner, I will definitely make it again. The whole thing took 15 minutes from start to finish!

Polenta and Bean Bowl

  • 1 cup coarse corn meal
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • Jarred salsa (we usually buy Green Mountain Gringo Hot or Medium)
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Pickled red onions
  1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and add 1 cup cornmeal, turn down heat, and stir for a few minutes until cornmeal magically turns into polenta. When thickened, stir in 1 T olive oil, and 1-2 cloves chopped garlic.
  2. Meanwhile, heat beans with the salsa until heated through.
  3. Serve the polenta topped with the bean mixture and garnished with sliced avocado and pickled red onions.

A note about canned beans: There has been A LOT of press about the safety of the Bisphenol-A (BPA) content of canned products lately. While I do tend to use BPA-free tomatoes in cartons (Pomi is my favorite), I do keep canned beans in my pantry for nights like this, and I probably will continue to do so. However, as part of our CSA this summer, in addition to our veggies, tomato, herb and garlic shares from Golden Earthworm, and a fruit share from Briermere, we signed up for a grain, bean and flour share from Cayuga Pure Organics. Actually, we were so excited that we signed up for 2 shares of each–we’ll be getting 2 pounds of beans, 2 pounds of grain, and 4 pounds of flour per month. So I will be experimenting with cooking many more dried beans over the next 6 months. I am super stoked to have virtually ALL of our food needs met by local, organic, sustainable producers. Go Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA!

Can Jam May: Spicy Pickled Asparagus

As some of you know, I have committed to [hot water bath] canning one seasonal ingredient per month for all 12 months of 2010 as part of The Tigress Can Jam. For the May Can Jam, we were given a choice between asparagus and rhubarb. I was STOKED to make rhubarb preserves, but since my CSA doesn’t start until June 1st and the grocers around here are limited, I couldn’t find any rhubarb. So, asparagus it is…. The asparagus I’m using is from Peru, though, so it’s not that seasonal, and certainly not local. Lately I’ve been making super-small batches for my Can Jam entries, and it’s for just that very reason–why preserve something that isn’t really worth preserving? Once my CSA starts on June 1st, I’ll be getting a bounty of fresh, local, organic produce weekly, and I hope to increase the yield of my recipes. The below recipe yields 1 tall jelly jar–what is that a 12-ouncer?

Recipe modified from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving. If you are new to canning, ONLY use recipes in published books and follow canning instructions rigorously.

Spicy Pickled Asparagus

  • Enough asparagus to fill 1 12-oz jar (trim off woody end)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling salt
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  1. Clean jar and lid; prepare canner. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read THIS post from Tigress.
  2. Bring to a boil in a saucepan: vinegar, salt, pepper flakes, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and garlic. When boiling, add asparagus and simmer for 2 minutes.
  3. Pack asparagus tip side down into jar (this way the pretty tips don’t get damaged when removing them later–a Ball trick!). Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar leaving 1/2 inch headspace; remove air bubbles with a chopstick, and adjust headspace as needed. Clean rim, and place lid on center of jar. Screw on band until fingertip-tight.
  4. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner; then turn off heat. Wait 5 minutes, remove jar, cool and store.

In Chinese medicine, the Spring season corresponds to the sour flavor. I have really been craving sour, vinegary foods lately, and I’m hoping that with the super vinegary pickling brine and ample spices these will be a spicy-savory Spring time treat. I will report back when we eat them.

Alexäbars: Homemade Laräbars

I was famished and running late for a meeting the other day, so I ducked into a health food store for a snack. My go-to on-the-go snacks are Laräbars since they are all natural, delicious and filling. I grabbed an “Apple Pie” Laräbar; the ingredients are dates, almonds, apples, walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon. That’s it–no preservatives or flavorings! It was then I had an epiphany: Laräbars are really just Sephardic Charoset, the traditional apple and date spread eaten on Passover to symbolize mortar used to build the pyramids. And it was then I had my second epiphany: I can make this at home! The next day the experimentation began…

Homemade Alexäbars

  • 15 dried, pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnimon
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Put all ingredients into the bowl of a sturdy food processor and pulse until blended well; the mixture should be able to stick together in a ball if you take a bit and roll in your hands.
  2. Line a small baking sheet or pie tin with parchment and place date/nut mixture on it, with another piece of parchment on top. Smooth out the mixture with a rolling pin or the back of a large spoon. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from refrigerator, and peel of the top layer of parchment. Cut into desired shape. Wrap individual bars in plastic wrap and store in fridge.

This was the first batch, and it was surprisingly easy, as long as you have a sturdy food processor. For my next batch, I plan to up the seasonings, maybe adding more cinnamon or cardamom. Now, the next time I’m running late for a meeting, I’ll reach into my bag for an Alexäbar!

Chocolate Almond Anise Biscotti

Happy (belated) mother’s day! For most holidays, I like to get my creativity on and make things as gifts. This year, I made the mothers in my life these crunchy, nutty vegan almond anise biscotti. In an ideal world would have I posted this recipe before mother’s day… but I didn’t, however there are always occasions to bake, right?! I modified the recipe from Veganomicon, which is a wonderful comprehensive book and a great rescource for desserts. I changed the oil to walnut oil, substituted almond meal for some of the flour, and the biscotti in the book didn’t have chocolate on them, but I thought, hey–what ISN’T better with chocolate?!

Almond Anise Biscotti

  • 1/3 cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup walnut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds (or less, but I love the flavor)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup slivered raw almonds
  1. Preaheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. In a bowl, mix together flour, almond meal, salt, anise seeds, arrowroot and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the almond milk and flax seeds for a few seconds. Then whisk in sugar, oil, and extracts until smooth. Add dry ingredients little by little until a dough forms. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour. Then, add almonds.
  4. Split the dough into 2 halves, and form each piece into a rectangle on the baking sheet. Try to squish the sides in so it isn’t flat. They will expand when cooking, so try to not have them touch. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until puffy on top and golden on the edges.
  5. Remove and put on cooling rack for a few minutes. Then slice with a long serrated knife, cut in one fell swoop, and be careful that the pieces don’t crumble. I cut them on the bias, which leaves long, elegant biscotti.
  6. Arrange cut biscotti in a single layer on the baking sheet. Cook again (biscotti means “twice cooked”) for 10-15 minutes, until brown and crisp. If you prefer, cook for 5 minutes, then turn off the oven with biscotti inside for 30 minutes.
  7. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely. Store in airtight container.

Chocolate drizzle:

Melt about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of dark chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Put melted chocolate in a small ziploc bag, and cut off a tiny piece of the corner. Squeeze bag as you zig-zag the chocolate drizzle on the biscotti. You don’t have to do one at a time–you can see in the pic above, I did 2 or 3 at a time. Once drizzled with desired amount of chocolate, put sheet pan into freezer to set chocolate. To gift, wrap 3-4 biscotti in a plastic treat bag, or reuse a nice tall glass jar.

Grilled Polenta with Mushrooms

Another day, another barbecue! With the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer, we’ve really enjoyed making our meals outside. We had a delicious barbecue at a friend’s house on Sunday, and as a starter, we made this grilled polenta dish. We use a lot of polenta in our house, as cornmeal is a hearty whole grain pantry staple, but we rarely use pre-cooked, rolled polenta, since it’s so easy to cook cornmeal into polenta (see this recipe); however this is a great time to use the pre-cooked since it’s easy to just buy, slice and grill.

Grilled Polenta with Mushrooms

  • 1 roll pre-made polenta (look for good quality polenta with few ingredients)
  • 2 cups shitake mushroom caps, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh herbs (I used thyme and chives)
  • Balsamic vinegar, reduced*
  • Salad greens
  • Salt, pepper

  1. Preheat the grill on high. Cut the polenta log into inch-wide round slices.
  2. Grill polenta about 3 minutes per side. No need to oil the slices–the slices we oiled actually stuck more than the non-oiled slices.
  3. Separately, heat some olive oil in a sauté pan, and add garlic; cook for a few moments. Add chopped mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until mushrooms soften up.
  4. Toss salad greens with oil, vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Plate with greens on the bottom, then grilled polenta slices, and top with mushroom mixture. Garnish with chopped chives, and drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar.

This recipe can be modified with other vegetable sautées, such as cherry tomatoes and basil, or zucchini and red onion, or garbanzo beans and cumin. What other toppings do you think would be good with grilled polenta?

*Reduced balsamic vinegar is a sweet, syrupy, glorious thing. To make reduced balsamic vinegar, pour 1/2 cup of good quality (caramel color should NOT be in the ingredients!) balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until it reduces and becomes syrupy. Keep watch over the boiling vinegar, as it can burn easily. Store in a squeeze bottle to drizzle over grilled vegetables, pasta and sandwiches.