Jan 242011

I didn’t know about  polenta during my midwest upbringing.  I had heard of cornmeal. We made cornbread. We used cornmeal as a breading on fish, but polenta entered my life when I was in my late 20’s. I had gone to a high end Italian restaurant and they served me a warm, creamy, cheesy polenta on a plate with a beautifully seared veal chop on top. Wow. I had never had such a delight. I wanted to know everything about polenta. I knew corn was involved and for years that is all I knew. Now I know polenta is simply cornmeal. If it has the word “polenta” on the package, it will be priced a lot higher.

So for all things Italian I go to my dear friend, Anna Romeo Fiore. If you have not quessed by her name, she is Italian. First generation here in this country. Her parents were born in Salerno, Italy. I loved and still love my friendship with Anna for all the laughter, loving spirit and warmth she gives me as a friend. When I first met her, I had never had an Italian friend. Anna had never had a WASP friend from the midwest. We were just fasinated by each other’s cultures. We grew up a little over 200 miles from each other, but it could of been a ocean that separated us.

Now back to polenta…I told Anna’s mother, Theresa,  about my first polenta experience and she laughed. “How much they charge you for that? It is nothing but peasant food. You got robbed.” What? She went on to explain to me that when they did not have eggs for pasta, they would make a pot of polenta along with the ragu. She had a oblong board that she would put in the middle of the table and pour the steaming polenta down on the full length of the board and then pour the ragu over the top. Everyone would  have their own paddle and scoop the filling, tasty mix onto their own plates.

These days the way I make polenta is to make up a batch during the day and let it cool in a pan in the fridge. We then cut a slice to heat up and top with something delightful. One of my favorites is a great recipe by Arielleclementine for Food52. She taught me to put carmelized onions, feta cheese (she used goat, but I always have feta), and drizzled it with honey. You can not believe how addicting all these salty sweet flavors are to me. I will even make this for breakfast for myself. Start out with polenta you have on hand and then throw on various toppings. From Italian meat sauce to sauteed veggies, they all taste great on top of the polenta.


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup polenta aka cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Bring the water, milk, and salt to a boil. Slowly whisk in the polenta. Turn heat to low, and continue whisking for 5 minutes, or until polenta is smooth and creamy. Spread the polenta in a 9×9 baking dish or loaf pan, and set aside to cool. It can be refrigerated for about 5 days.
  • Note: I also like to add some herbs (thyme is one of my favorites), stir in a couple of knobs of butter to smooth it out as you are pulling the polenta off the stove.
  • Different toppings:

    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 yellow onion, halved and sliced in 1/4″ slices
    • 2 ounces feta or goat cheese, crumbled
    • honey, to drizzle
  • While the polenta is setting up, add the butter and olive oil to a heavy-bottomed skillet set to medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions and a sprinkle of kosher salt, cook, stirring occasionally until soft, golden, and caramelized- about 20-25 minutes.
  • Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into another skillet, set over medium heat. Cut squares or slices of  the polenta and place in the heated skillet. Cook until slightly browned and crusty on one side, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other sides another two minutes.
  • To assemble the polenta cakes, place on a plate, add one tablespoon of caramelized onions to each cake, top each with about a teaspoon of crumbled goat cheese, and drizzle with honey.
  • Mushroom topping: I love making this for Meatless Mondays

    • 1 T. olive oil
    • 1 T. butter
    • 1 heaping cup sliced mushrooms (variety of whatever you have)
    • 1/2 cup thinnly sliced onions
    • 2 gloves garlic, finely chopped
    • fresh thyme, a few sprigs
    • 1/4 cup white wine
    • 2 T. creme

    * Heat up oil and butter in a saute’ pan over medium heat.
    * Place onions and mushrooms in pan until softened, then  add thyme, wine and garlic and simmer until wine has been absorbed.
    * Add creme, stir and taste.
    * Add salt and pepper to your taste.

    When I assemble this one I usually grate parmesan cheese on the top with a microplane. For my son with allergies or your vegan friends I replace milk with rice milk , butter with Earth Balance.

    In the end, polenta can be used to fill those holes in your food repertoire. This peasant food has come a long way, but it is still easy and cost effective.
    Oh, I want some with feta, carmelized onions and honey right now. I told you I craved this stuff.

    Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

    Nov 022010

    Beets! Yes, you read it correctly. They have to be the most beautiful of the root vegetables and I just adore them. These samosas have a nice flaky crisp when you bite into them. The beets are so naturally sweet that is almost could be served as a dessert. Then you put some mint sauce with it and you have fresh taste with a big kick. Being a member of the spinach family its loaded with tons of nutrients, fiber and low in calories and fat. Without even trying, I made a wonderful vegan dish. It is always good to have a few of those up your selves.

    I had my youngest son’s two best buddies and their families over for Sunday dinner and I served these. The samosas were a hit with the kids because they were sweet and then with the addition of the mint sauce… it makes it far more sophisticated for the adults. One of keys to successful entertaining is to have your most of your meal prepared ahead of time. These take a little time to prepare, but hold wonderfully while you are pulling together your meal.

    We gobbled down the leftover samosas the next morning with lots of strong tea and it was a fabulous breakfast.

    Makes 12

    Beet Samosas:

    2 beets, medium size
    3 cloves garlic
    3-5 tablespoons olive oil
    salt & pepper, to taste
    8 sheets of filo
    1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated
    1 lime, juice of

    1. Peel beets and quarter them, placing in foil.

    2. Add garlic, salt & pepper, then cover beets with oil. Secure foil around beets.

    3. Cook in foil at 400F for about 40 minutes. Make sure the beets are tender.

    4. When beets cool, grate them and place in a bowl.

    5. Add soft garlic from foil, grated ginger, and lime juice. Then salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

    6. Place 1 filo sheet on work surface, brush with olive oil, place next filo sheet on top, brush with olive oil, repeat for a total of 4 sheets of filo.

    7. Cut filo into 6 equal strips along the width.

    8. Place a heaping tablespoon of beet mixture on one end of strip and fold like a flag, forming a triangle. Place on baking sheet.
    Repeat with the next four sheets of filo.

    9. Bake at 350F for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown and flaky. Serve with mint sauce.

    Mint Sauce:

    1/2 cup mint, fresh
    1/4 cup cilantro, fresh
    1 jalapeno, deseeded & deveined
    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    1 1/2 tablespoon white onion
    1 1/2 tablespoon Water
    1 teaspoon sesame oil
    salt & pepper, to taste

    1. Add mint through water in food processor and blend until finely chopped. Put in bowl.

    2. Add sesame oil, salt and pepper. Serve with beet samosas.

    This dish is inexpensive to make, but packs a bunch in presentation and flavor. It is a little labor intensive on the beginning end, but super easy to make in advance. I love how everyone was so appreciative of the effort I made for the meal. Everyone felt so taken care of. Now that is what makes entertaining fun for me.

    Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

    Sep 202010

    The neighbors have congregated on the back porch of our three flat while we chat and watch the kids run around the yard and alley… typical Saturday afternoon in Chicago. Beer and wine are a part of this meet up, but man, I could use a little bite of something and I have nothing. Wait, I always have something. Hmm, I have leftover rice. My mind started racing… I told the congregation to hold tight and I would be out with a quick bite in about ten minutes.

    What I found in the fridge:

    cooked rice
    sofrito (blend of green pepper, garlic, onion, & cilantro)
    fresh hot pepper
    baking soda
    Mexican melting cheese
    bread crumbs
    canola/vegetable oil

    The amount of ingredients depends on how much leftover rice you have.

    1. Place rice in bowl. Separate with hand.

    2. Chop up hot peppers and add to rice. I like mine spicy, so I put almost a whole one in.

    3. Grab the sofrito. I am lucky that I live close to nice size latin grocery store. I buy a nice amount of super fresh sofrito for about $2. I use it in a lot of things. From soups to chicken dishes. It works perfect here, but you can easily make up your own a batch to use yourself. This is my idea of a convenience good. Totally fresh. I add enough to add some color to the rice.

    4. Add beaten eggs. Add one at a time until your rice is covered like mayo covers tuna for a tuna salad. Mix well.

    5. Mix in grated Mexican melting cheese or any nice melting cheese through out the rice mixture.

    6. Add about a tablespoon of baking soda. You will see a little bubbles forming. That is great. It is working at making things puffy. Salt and pepper to taste.

    7. Scoop up a nice little patty of rice and then roll in bread crumbs.

    8. Heat up a saute’ pan over medium high heat, then add oil. Let that get hot, then place patty in oil.

    9. Brown both sides. Should not take long and you may have to turn your burner down to medium. Salt when you take them off the heat.

    10. Serve immediately. I served mine with salsa verde. They would taste great wrapped in a little lettuce and cilantro as well. Yum.

    This literally took ten minutes. I came back outside and was huge hit. Oh, I mean my spicy rice cakes were a huge hit. An ice-cold beer and good conversation were the perfect accompaniment to this amuse bouche on a Chicago Saturday afternoon.

    Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

    Jul 072010

    My bag was filling up. My gramma and I were on a mission… get enough peas for the whole family to eat with dinner that night. Our garden had a whole row of them. After our bag was filled enough, we would sit on the patio and shuck the peas from their shells, sneaking a few sweet morsels into my mouth.The weather always seemed perfect in my memory. Not too cold nor too hot. I can not remember our conversation, but my minds eye sees her hands so perfectly as she shucked the peas, I remember the feeling of happiness I had that my gramma was visiting me (not the rest of the family, mind you) and how I loved her.

    On this day, after my son and I shucked peas together that we had bought at the market, we made peas and pasta with a little bacon, of course. Plenty of parmesan shredded on top. Fabulous. Perfect summer meal. Perfect moment. Perfect memory.

    Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

    Jul 012010

    This is a flavorful mouth full. I served these to a bunch of World Cup viewers the other day and they were gone in a matter of minutes. I did decide at that moment that I will need to double this recipe next time. The zucchini is fresh, the lime tangy, and the chorizo is spicy… a flavor blast in every bite. It tastes great with beer. I made them in the morning and baked them up when my guests arrived.

    Serves 4

    Zucchini & Chorizo Bite:
    1 sheet, puff pastry
    4 ounces cream cheese
    3 tablespoons chorizo, mexican style, cooked off and drained
    1 tablespoon parmesan
    2 tablespoons green onions, finely chopped
    3/4 cups zucchini, shredded
    1 lime, juice of
    2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
    canola oil for greasing tins

    Cilantro & Lime Pesto:
    1 hefty handful of cilantro
    1 garlic clove
    2 limes, juice of, approx. 1/4 cup
    1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
    pinches sugar
    dashes hot sauce, a few more, depending on heat level

    1.Brush mini muffin tins with canola oil.

    2.Roll out puff pastry sheet thin enough to get 14-16 rounds out of it. Use a round cookie cutter that was slightly larger then the opening of the muffin tin.

    3.Line puff pastry rounds in tins and set aside.

    4.Mix cream cheese, chorizo, parmesan, green onions, and 1/2 cup of the zucchini in a bowl. Taste at this point. It usually does not usually need salt because of the cheese and chorizo, but add if needed. If you want more heat, add some hot sauce. Maybe just a little pepper. Make it to your taste.

    5.Fill pastry shells with filling.

    6.Take what is left of the zucchini and divide in half. Press a few shreds of zucchini on top of each tart. You are looking for them to add another layer of zucchini taste plus an added crispiness when the bites are finished. Leave the other half to top when finished to add a fresh zucchini element to the appetizer.

    7.Bake bites in a preheat oven set at 400F for approximently 25 minutes. Every oven is different, so keep an eye on them. You are looking for your pastry to be cooked and your top to be crispy.

    8.While your bites are cooking, make the pesto. Set up food processor.

    9.Add cilantro and garlic. Chop.

    10.Add lime juice.

    11.Slowly add oil while machine is running. When it starts to emulsify you have added enough oil.

    12.Add sugar and hot sauce.

    13.Taste and adjust seasonings. My bites were salty and full of heat, so my goal of the pesto was to make it fresh and tangy to compliment my tart. So I did not want to add salt to my pesto until I could taste them together. I knew I could add salt, but I could not retrieve it from the dish. I fought the urge to add salt at this point and it paid off.

    14.You might want to add more lime.

    15.Remove bites from muffin tins. Place on serving tray. Drizzle pesto sauce on top of each bite. Place a few of shreds of the fresh zucchini on top of each bite.
    Place a few pine nuts on top of each bite. I put the nuts on top versus into the pesto itself is because I wanted another texture element of the individual nuts.

    16.Serve and enjoy seeing them disappear.

    Have fun with this one. Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

    Jun 022010

    When I was in France, fresh radishes came with salt and butter to dip into. When I was in Mexico, almost every meal had radishes accompanying them. I love their sharp fresh taste, but I would never dream of roasting them until I read this article in The New York Times. Roasting radishes mellows them out in a really cool way. It takes the sharp bite out and leaves it quite luscious. Esthetically, the color and texture were another surprise. Beautiful. Some cool facts about radish is that it has as much potassium as bananas and is a member of both the mustard and broccoli family.

    Flank steak with some mushrooms that had been sauteed with onions, garlic, fresh tarragon and a little cream was a perfect entree to have the roasted radishes with.

    I had a couple of parsnips that I sliced in half and stuck on a baking sheet with radishes cut in half. No peeling necessary. Coated them with olive oil, a little salt, pepper, and thyme, then stuck them in a 375F oven for about 30-40 minutes. My meal took hardly anytime or effort, but was fresh and really hit the flavor sensation highway.

    My offical taste tester, my six year old, loved the radishes roasted, but does not like them raw. I will definitely make them again. Try them out yourself. Let me know what you think? I envision lots of different ways to use this colorful healthy veggie.

    Pull up a chair, Elizabeth

    Sep 042009

    food blog 017
    I love the tang of goat cheese and I love creamy dressing, but usually the creamy dressings have a lot of fat or are the low fat options are so full of fake fat ingredients that the taste is horrible. This recipe is the exception and I am so happy. Tangy, low in fat, all natural ingredients, and super creamy.

    I found this recipe on a food blog and I am sorry I can not remember which one or I would give it credit. I tweaked it a little and found that there are a lot of variations that are super tasty. Not only do I put goat cheese dressing on salads, I put in on burgers, sandwiches, and even use it as a dip.

    1 oz. goat cheese
    2 T. buttermilk (Note: a lot of people do not know that buttermilk is low in fat and calorie. Use it in a lot of different things.)
    3T. Greek style yogurt (Note: You can purchase your fat content according to your preference. They come in full fat to 0% fat.)
    1/2 t. white vinegar
    1t. lemon juice
    lots of pepper
    salt to taste
    couple dribbles of sesame oil (Note: love to have this always on hand in my fridge.)

    Mix all together and save in fridge for a variety of things. Thin out with lemon if you want it runner and use less if you want it super thick.

    Variation 1: Use only lemon juice (Omit vinegar) and add chopped dill for poached salmon or baked potato.
    Variation 2: Use lime in place of lemon and vinegar. Add some chopped cilantro and chili powder. ( I used a adobe chili powder I had in the pantry.) This is delicious with sweet potato fries
    Variation 3: Use balsamic vinegar instead of lemon and vinegar and add some sugar. Teaspoon at a time and make a delicious dipping sauce for strawberries.
    Variation 4: Replace blue cheese for the goat cheese and you have low fat blue cheese dressing.

    Just have fun with this recipe and indulge. It won’t hurt. Now I have to go have the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich I have been dreaming about. Sour dough bread toasted with my goat cheese dressing instead of mayo. Hey, I am cutting some calories!

    Pull up a chair, Elizabeth