Creamy Mushroom Polenta

Creamy Mushroom Polenta

Creamy Mushroom Polenta

It’s odd how certain foods can elude me for years. Not that I’d been avoiding them, simply that they just didn’t come up. Like old colleagues you always meant to keep in touch with but sort of forgot about as you got on with your life. (If any of those colleagues are reading this, know that I don’t mean you!)

Polenta: pour cornmeal into boiling water Polenta: whisk

Polenta: simmer Polenta: stir in butter

I’ve always enjoyed polenta but have never gotten to know it all that well. I rarely order it in restaurants – it’s not often on the menu in these parts – and don’t often prepare it for myself. But suddenly this week I found myself craving polenta, and not the kind that has been fried, although that’s good, too, but the rich and creamy version.

Mushrooms: render bacon Mushrooms: drain bacon

Mushrooms: saute garlic and mushrooms Mushrooms: deglaze with vermouth

And I wanted it with mushrooms! And bacon! And parsley and wine! Oh, was it good. Polenta, my friend, welcome back!

Here’s the recipe:

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Bison Ragù

Bison Ragù & Homemade Tagliatelle

Bison Ragù & Homemade Tagliatelle

Spaghetti with meat sauce is something I never order in restaurants. The few times I’ve tried it I’ve always found the flavor shallow and bland. But that’s not to say I don’t like meat sauce. I do, I just prefer when it’s homemade.

I’ve made meat sauce, or ragù as it’s known in Italy, many times before but usually with ground beef or a combination of beef and veal. But this time I wanted to try it with bison, which is one of my favorite proteins both for it’s beef-like taste and healthy properties (see Bison-Barley Stuffed Peppers). In a nutshell, bison is nutrient-dense, especially in iron and essential fatty acids, and is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol than chicken.

Bison Ragù: sweat carrots and onion Bison Ragù: brown ground bison Bison Ragù: pour in red wine

With all the positive traits and delicious taste of bison it shocks me that people still see it as an “ew, gross,” food, which is the exact response elicited from my sister when I invited her to dinner. I keep forgetting she’s a recovered vegetarian so I’ll go easy on her, I just hope her views don’t reflect the majority because that would be very sad.

Back to the sauce. I was a little unsure of how it would work to use bison because it’s such a lean meat, meaning very low in fat. I didn’t want the sauce to be dry and was concerned I’d have to add more oil to make up for the lack of natural fat, which would defeat the purpose of using bison in the first place. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue at all. I used a generous two tablespoons olive oil to sweat the vegetables and brown the bison, and then added a good amount of liquid from the wine, tomatoes and juice. The end result was a rich, tasty, long-simmered bison tomato sauce that was fantastic served over homemade tagliatelle.

Bison Ragù: stir in tomatoes Bison Ragù: add herbs Bison Ragù

The tagliatelle was made from frozen pasta dough (see fresh pasta video) by rolling it thin using a pasta roller, gently folding into thirds, then hand-cutting the dough with a knife in 1/3-inch wide strips. Separate the noodles immediately and sprinkle with flour to prevent them from sticking together.

Tagliatelle: fold rolled pasta dough into thirds Tagliatelle: cut pasta 1/3-inch thick

The tomatoes used in the sauce were fresh but of course it’s fine to use canned tomatoes with their juices (omit the tomato juice from the original recipe). But if you do decide to use fresh tomatoes, you will want to remove the core and the seeds.

Core the tomatoes Remove the seeds Dice the tomatoes

Here’s the recipe for Bison Ragù:

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Recipe: Seared Sea Scallops & Purple Asparagus

Seared Sea Scallops with Purple Asparagus, White Wine Sauce & Balsamic Glaze

Seared Sea Scallops with Purple Asparagus, White Wine Sauce & Balsamic Glaze

When cooking for myself I rarely go to the grocery store with a specific list of ingredients. Yes, of course I have an idea of what I want, like if I’m out of yogurt or my favorite dark chocolate raisins. But I usually try to buy what looks good, and hopefully what’s on special.

Purple asparagus stalks

Blanch purple asparagus Shock and drain purple asparagus Reduce balsamic vinegar

Yesterday I went to Whole Foods just to see what was new. I’m happy I did because I discovered large dry-packed scallops, something I don’t see too often, at least not at an affordable price. I purchased eight scallops (about 5 ounces) with no plan on how I would prepare them. But I knew the farmer’s market was coming up so I decided to wait and see what I’d find, then decide what to do.

Pat sea scallops dry Heat the olive oil and butter Sear the scallops

Luckily I discovered some beautiful purple asparagus, a great match for scallops. Purple asparagus is a little sweeter and slightly more tender than traditional green asparagus but turns brilliant green once cooked.

I gave a lot of thought to this meal: I wanted it to be fairly healthy. I wanted to highlight the natural sweetness of the asparagus and scallops. And I wanted the dish to be special but not too complicated.

Check. Check. Check.

Please don’t be intimidated by the plating; the whole dish takes just 20 minutes but presents and tastes like it came from a high-end restaurant. Here’s the recipe:

Reheat asparagus with garlic and shallots Make sauce with white wine and butter Asparagus shavings

Shave thick asparagus stalks

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Pot Roast

Pot Roast

A childhood favorite for many, pot roast was something I’d rarely eaten. Maybe once or twice growing up then again in culinary school during the braising lesson, and finally a few weeks ago at Nookies, a neighborhood restaurant featuring standard breakfast and lunch fare. It was one of the featured specials and seemed like a good idea as I slowly peeled off my hat, gloves and heavy winter jacket, still shivering from the frigid and blustery weather just outside.

Sadly, that pot roast was a disappointment (I’ve got to stick with pancakes there). The beef wasn’t tough but certainly wasn’t as tender as I’d been expecting, and the broth was extremely bland even after I’d added salt, something I rarely do at restaurants. At least the winter vegetables were alright.

I figured with all the talk about pot roast being a comfort food that it had to be better than this – surely I could do better. Now that I’d issued myself a challenge, I set out to do just that. And boy did I.

I did my best to keep the ingredients simple and use mostly what I had on hand – celery, onion, garlic, sweet potato, a few new potatoes, thyme, and a Roma tomato (this was a last minute substitution as I was certain I had canned tomatoes but didn’t), along with chicken broth and red wine. The key was to build flavors by slow cooking and then letting the ingredients sit together overnight, which would make the beef melt-in-your-mouth tender and bursting with flavor.

Despite the long cooking time, this is an easy one-pot meal that is best made in advance. It is rustic in nature so you don’t even have to spend a lot of time precisely chopping the vegetables. There are no excuses with this dish and it shocks me that my standby neighborhood restaurant could get it so wrong.

Here’s the recipe:

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“Pairing Food & Wine: In search of the perfect match”

I spent my early 20s not realizing there were actual differences between the types of red varietals and white varietals. All I knew was that I only drank white. Then I took a food and wine pairing class during my last quarter of culinary school and my drinking world turned upside down – there was this whole world of different wines, each with unique flavors, aromas, and even textures.

So, for my first job after culinary school I decided to learn more about wine and took a position as the chef and events coordinator for Sam’s Wines & Spirits, a local wine retailer. While there I wrote an article about food and wine pairing which was just released in their magazine Toast. You can read it here along with my original introduction.

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