Sunday, September 19, 2010

Polenta Triangles

I had an Event to go to last Friday that involved hanging around a bunch of people I barely knew and Making Nice. I don't do either of these things well, especially recently, when I've been most comfortable hiding as far away from Other People as humanly possible. When confronted with an Event of this nature, I tend to go into hyper-cook mode ("Hey! I may be socially awkward and visibly uncomfortable, but at least I cooked something tasty for you!"), and last Friday was no exception. I made: hummus, red quinoa salad, meringues (which turned out to be cookies. Oops.), sandwiches, crudités, and these polenta triangles. There are lots of takes on these flavorful bites out there; this one was adapted from a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe on The Guardian, but I left out the gooseberry relish nonsense in favor of a schmear of zahatar spread and a dusting of grated parmesan. I think you should use whatever gooey yumminess strikes your fancy - cheese, some sort of tapenade or relish or chutney or syrup, etc. Whatever you think would complement your other appetizer selections the best.


750ml water

3 t. salt, divided into 1 t. and 2 t.

170g quick-cook polenta

Grated zest of 1 lemon

About 3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 - 1 t. each of paprika, freshly ground pepper, cumin

Schmear, cheese, or chutney of your choice


  • In a small pan, bring the water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil and, stirring with a wooden spoon while you pour, slowly add in the polenta.

  • Reduce the heat and keep stirring until the polenta forms a ball and comes away from the edge of the pan – three to five minutes.

  • Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, the rest of the salt, other seasoning, and a tablespoon of the oil, and tip into an oiled, heatproof dish or roasting pan (I used wax paper on one of those cookie sheets with a 1/2 inch edge, but use whatever you can find that works). Level with a spatula so you get an even, 1cm-thick layer. Leave to cool completely.

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Tip the set polenta on to a board and cut into six triangles (or 12 half-size ones, if you prefer). Or just cut it in the pan, taking care not to scratch the surface, because those things are expensive to replace.

  • Heat a frying pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil until it starts to smoke, then fry the polenta in batches for two minutes a side, until golden brown, then transfer to a tray lined with baking paper.

  • Crumble or grate cheese over the polenta if you wish, then bake until the cheese begins to melt – two to three minutes. Transfer to plates, spoon a tablespoon of chutney, relish, or schmear of something or other on each wedge and sprinkle with an herb, perhaps. Like chopped parsley or basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Red Quinoa Salad

Quinoa's a funky little grain. It looks like a bunch of tiny round balls. With tails. Little curly-cue tails. It tastes a little bit nutty, a little bit grainy. Originally from South America, this weird little grain is an ancient source of high-quality, unusually complete protein (at 12-18%, with a high concentration of amino acids compared to wheat or rice). It's also a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron - and is gluten-free. But the best part about eating quinoa is that it goes really well with feta cheese. Mmmmm...cheeeeeese....

The trick with quinoa is that, in order to make it palatable for human consumption, it has to be processed to remove the bitter saponin coating. You really want to soak or rinse the grain well before you cook it, to remove any lingering bits of the coating that weren't removed in industrial processing (especially as the soapy nature of saponin makes it act as a mild laxative! Ulp.) Rinsing can be on the annoying side, as quinoa when it's wet is kinda sticky and gets everywhere. I recommend using a strainer with tiny holes, or maybe some cheesecloth. I can report that uncooked quinoa grains spilled on a hot stove smell alarmingly like burnt microwave popcorn. If any of my .83 readers have suggestions or tips for how to rinse quinoa without it getting everywhere, I'd love to hear them!

This salad is adapted from a recipe on Tara Austen Weaver's award-winning blog Tea & Cookies. I dumped in perhaps a bit more feta cheese than is really required, and I added diced cucumber to the mix (mostly because I was short a few that's an interesting euphemism!). I also reduced the olive oil and upped the red wine vinegar, because 1/3 cup seemed a bit extravagant, especially with the cheese I' If you find your salad a bit too dry, however, add another drizzle in.

1 c. organic red quinoa
2 c. water
6 radishes chopped in a medium dice - about 1.5 cups
Half a small red onion, cut into small dice
1 large tomato, diced, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters (or halved, depending on their size)
1/2 cucumber, diced
3/4 c. crumbled goat cheese (or the majority of the container, which somehow miraculously slips from your fingers and dumps the contents into the salad bowl. Oops!)
2 T. capers, chopped coarsely
2 T. chopped fresh oregano (I used parsley, which was really good)

For the dressing
1 T. Dijon mustard (I used stone-ground, 'cause that's what I had on hand)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
3 T. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa well in whatever manner you choose.

Bring the water to a boil and pour the quinoa in. Reduce heat to just-above-simmer and cook until all water has been absorbed and the quinoa is done - about 15-20 minutes. You can also cook quinoa in a rice cooker.

Let the quinoa cool and then toss with all the salad ingredients except the cheese.

To make the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together until smooth. Drizzle the olive oil in, whisking constantly, until the mixture is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Alternately, dump all the dressing ingredients into one of those Hidden Valley cruet thingies or into a container with a lid that you trust will stay tight on, and shake the hell out of it 'til it's all blended nicely.

Pour dressing over salad, toss to mix, adjust seasonings. Fold cheese in carefully at the end. Or dump in a bunch unceremoniously. You know - by "accident."

Serves 6-8 at about 3/4 cup apiece.
175 calories, 7.8g fat, 19 grams carbohydrates, 6.9 grams protein.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls

Mmmm. Chicken soup. The weather's getting a little cooler, a little rainier, the nights growing incrementally longer...time for soup. I loves me some soup, and this recipe (despite its many steps) is actually very easy and relatively healthy. If you're not into the matzo ball thing, add noodles if you wish - my preferred method is to cook the noodles according to package directions, but halve the cooking time and add to the soup when you add the chicken to finish off.

Ingredients for Soup
2 T. olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
8-10 cups of
chicken stock (or 4 cups chicken stock plus water)
2-3 cups of roasted chicken, cut or broken into bite-size pieces
2 t. salt
1 T. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped
Dash of cayenne pepper (
Ground black pepper, to taste
Bay leaf or two

Matzo Ball Ingredients
Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix (1 packet)
2 eggs
2 T. vegetable oil
2.5 quarts cold water|
2 t. salt (

Chicken Soup Method
1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic and slowly cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until onion and celery are translucent but not browned.

2. Add stock and/or water, potatoes, salt and pepper, bay leaf and other seasoning, and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Add chicken last and simmer another 10 minutes (you don’t want the chicken to cook too much, just warm through, because it’s already cooked, and tough chicken is a wasted bird).

Matzo Ball Method
4. Meanwhile, make your matzo balls. I use packaged mix, but you can make your own mix if you’re feeling super-authentic. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and oil. Add the matzo mix and stir with a fork until evenly mixed.

5. Place bowl in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a LARGE pot (okay, the next-largest one you have, since the largest one’s holding the soup) with the salt. Matzo balls will EXPAND in the water, so you really want to use a big pot.

7. Take the mix out of the refrigerator and spray your hands with cooking spray (you can try with just wet hands, but trust me – it makes for a sticky mess!). Form batter into balls about 1 inch in diameter and drop into the boiling water. You should get about 9-12 balls out of the batter.

8. Reduce heat, cover tightly, and simmer for 20 minutes. Matzo balls can be made ahead. Lift out of the water with a slotted spoon and store, refrigerated, until soup is done. Re-warm gently just before adding to soup.

9. When you’re ready to serve, put a couple of matzo balls into your soup bowls and ladle soup on top.

Chicken Stock

I never really thought I'd be the kind of person who makes home made chicken stock, yet here I am. There's something very...cosmic and "Whoa! Dude." about using very bit of a chicken, giving that bird one last chance to shine, with the parts we'd normally throw away. It takes a bit of time with the simmering, but honestly, the putting together portion of making stock is really easy. This is only the most basic of recipes, as well - you can save up all sorts of veggie scraps to add to stocks. That said, it's not recommended to use celery leaves in stock, as it imparts a bitter taste, as do certain chicken internal organs. So if you're using the leftovers from that chicken you roasted for Sunday dinner and from which you carefully saved the plastic baggie of innards (rather than cooking it IN the chicken, as....someone, I don't know who...has actually done...ahem), use the gizzard and heart, but save the liver and kidneys for another use.*

That said, PLEASE don't think you have to be all Annie Pioneer and actually use organ meat for making stock! The batch I made most recently was the final resting place of a rotisserie chicken the Bald Guy had picked up on a night when we both were too tired to bother with cooking.

1 chicken carcass, any size, plus any chicken bits, skin, or bones you might have saved from previous cooking adventures (minus liver or kidneys)
1 onion, cut into quarters, skin still on
4-5 (or more) garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 carrots, cut into large chunks
2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
Some whole cloves (8-10ish)
Some black pepper corns (10-15ish)
2 bay leaves
Fresh herbs if you have any – some stalks of rosemary, for example
Optional secret ingredient: black cardamom. This isn’t the sweet green cardamom you might use in baking desserts, this is the black insect-looking pod that gives nightmares to small children and smells like a house that’s recently burned down. Popular in Indian cooking. Amazing stuff!

Special Equipment
1 large stock pot with lid


  • Put the chicken, vegetables, and seasoning into a large stock pot.
  • Cover with water so everything is immersed.
  • Simmer, with lid on but partially askew – NEVER BOIL – for hours. How long do you have? That’s how long. The longer, the better. As long as it never comes to a boil – NOT ONE LITTLE BUBBLE – you’re good. Keep it at ALMOST boiling for as long as you can. Last time I made stock, I let it sit overnight on the stove. Of course, I didn’t sleep well the whole night wondering if I was going to poison us all with salmonella or burn the house down, but the stock turned out amazing. (Why never boil? Boiling releases gristle from the chicken and creates a cloudy stock instead of a nice, clear liquid)
  • Oh fine. If you must have a timeframe, say 2-3 hours.
  • Scoop out the solid bits from the stock using a slotted spoon and discard (trust me – you don’t want to try and use those vegetables for anything else). Then get a big bowl and a strainer and strain the whole shebang to remove all the extra stuff from the liquid.
  • Let cool before you put in the refrigerator, or divide into smaller containers to refrigerate (large containers of hot meat products take too long to cool in the refrigerator and can create colonies of unsavory characters).
  • Use in risotto, soups, or other dishes that require chicken stock.

*For those of you completely squicked out now by the mention of internal organs, my sincere apologies.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stewed Victoria Plums

I don't know why I decided that stewing fruit seemed like a great idea, but the finished product turned out pretty yummy, so I guess it's a win-win.* This is the second batch I made - the first was too sweet and a little too liquid for my liking.

Top yogurt, ice cream, cakes or other bread products, or even your morning oatmeal with this slightly tart, sweet, complex concoction.

Victoria or Damson plums (or any tart early variety of plum. You don't want them too sweet or the dish will become one-dimensional)
250g sugar per kg of fruit
(what this translates to is about 1/8 - 1/4 cup for about 20 fruits, but use your judgement or your sweet tooth)
Vanilla pod
Cinnamon stick
A couple of star anise (optional. But just look at its perfectly symmetrical alien wonderfulness! Don't you want to use it??)
Some orange zest. Yes, about that much. Maybe a little more. (Okay, about 1 tsp. Ish.)
A little splash of orange or grapefruit juice. That's enough!

  1. Halve the plums and remove the stones.

  2. Put the plums in a big, heavy pan with the sugar, vanilla pod, cinnamon stick, star anise, zest, fruit juice, and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.

  3. Heat gently until the juices run, then simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the fruit is soft and pulpy. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon.

  4. Continue to simmer remaining juices and bits until it reduces and thickens, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

  5. Cool completely, pick the spices out, pour back over fruit, and serve with yogurt or ice cream. Or heffalumps. Whatever suits your fancy.
*Mini-rant: I wish the people that live along my street would use this recipe or others to cook the fruit that's falling, wasted, in the road and in their yards or turning to little zombie plums and apples and cherries on their trees. It's criminal how much is just left to rot. Starving children in Africa, people! You have a responsibility when you have a good fruit tree on your property to do something with it. Grr!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Maggie's Wise Mashed Potatoes

I really have no comment about these potatoes, except for this: they are so much better than boxed, you'll never go back. I had a moment, in the middle of a very bad day, when it occurred to me that I'd made something Good. Wholesome. Delicious. The sort of food that tastes bad for you but isn't. It certainly helped my mood. This is the sort of side dish where you want to just mound a big lump of it on your plate and call it dinner. Heck, if you want to do just that, go ahead - I won't tell.

Fat-free plain yogurt is your friend here. Don't peel the potatoes to keep the nutrition in the skins.

8 medium red potatoes, washed and scrubbed but not peeled. (I used Red Desiree potatoes. I know I'm lucky in some ways, because there are so many varieties of potato here in England, all cleverly labelled for their best use. These were marked for mash, but I didn't notice 'til after I was cooking them. How fortuitous! In any case, you don't want to use potatoes that are too small and waxy, because you won't get a good texture.)
1 cup fat-free yogurt
1 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup skim milk
3 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper


  1. 1. Boil potatoes in salted water until very tender, 20-30 minutes. Drain.

    2. Squish the potatoes into submission using a large fork or a potato masher or your fists, depending on how much catharsis you're needing.

    3. Mix in other ingredients one at a time, adding milk slowly, until it’s the consistency you want.

    4. Adjust seasoning to taste.

    P.S: They're called "wise" because they have a lot of sage in 'em. Get it? Get it?