July 24, 2007

An Improvisational Success

My mom prides herself on being able to wander a grocery store, choose ingredients that look good and come home and make a fantastic meal without a recipe. It’s a pretty neat trick and it usually turns out well. I decided to make my own attempt last night. I stopped at Trader Joe’s on my home and meandered through the aisles over and over again until I found some inspiration. I had a craving for polenta (inspired by my mother), but I needed some supplements to the meal.

By my third lap of the store, I had a vision. I picked up a log of goat cheese, a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, a bag of spinach and a package of prepared polenta. Then I went home to cook.

I definitely consider myself a recipe cook (as opposed to a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook), so I was a little nervous – especially considering I was feeding R too. I decided to do a chicken dish with the tomatoes and spinach and have the polenta on the side. Recipes are below and I really must say I’m quite proud of myself. They were absolutely delicious!

The chicken was very easy and I loved the smoky fire-roasted flavor that the tomatoes brought to the dish. It maybe could have used more seasoning, but with the recent move my spices are limited.

The polenta was a no-brainer: how much easier can a pre-cooked log of cornmeal get? Sliced and sizzled in a pan of oil and garlic, it browned up beautifully. With goat cheese and toasted pine nuts sprinkled on top it was just right!

Do you cook by the book or make it up as you go? I’m beginning to think I can happily sit somewhere in the middle.

Chicken with Fire Roasted Tomatoes



4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 bag baby spinach
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
3-4 leaves fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil



Salt and pepper raw chicken on both sides. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large fry pan. Add chicken and let cook about 20 minutes, turning once. Chicken should be almost cooked through, but not completely. Remove chicken and keep warm.

Pour tomatoes and sauce into the same pan and stir occasionally over medium heat. Add spinach to sauce and stir. Let spinach cook for about 10 minutes.

Add chicken back into dish and add basil. Cook for another 5 minutes or until ready to serve.

Polenta with Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts



1 log pre-cooked polenta
1/2 log goat cheese
1 handful pine nuts, toasted
Oil for frying



Slice polenta into circles about 1/2-inch thick. Place in fry pan with oil and cook for about 30 minutes, turning once. Make sure both sides are brown and crispy. Plate slices and crumble goat cheese on top. Add pine nuts and serve.

May 31, 2007

5 Minute Prep

When my grandma decided that she wanted to host the family Memorial Day dinner, she went through a series of menu dilemmas. First, she wanted to do a Mexican theme with a taco bar, rice, cornbread; the works. Then, she thought maybe it would be fun to make a paella and have sangria. After that, she considered making lasagnas and doing Italian. Luckily, my great aunt saved her from her menu planning confusion when she said, “Lasagna? Who wants lasagna on Memorial Day? I want a hot dog!” So hot dogs it was. Along with skirt steaks, brats (chicken and veal) and barbecue chicken.

As a fun side dish, my mom thought it would be a nice change to make Polenta Fries to go along with the oven-baked potatoes. My family loves polenta because it’s so versatile; we’d made these once before and they were such a big hit, we decided to make them again. It’s really the simplest recipe ever with only five minutes of prep work!

I got a few nice shots of these skinny cornmeal beauties before they went into the oven, but they disappeared so quickly during dinner, I never got an “after” shot. You’ll just have to make them and see for yourself. What I love about these “fries” is that they get nice and crunchy on the outside, but the inside stays soft and mushy. All we add is a little salt and pepper, but I’m sure you could get creative with other spices if you like.

Polenta Fries


2 packages polenta in log form
Non-stick spray
Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut polenta into sticks about 1/4-inch wide and a 1/4-inch thick. Spray baking sheet(s) with a non-stick spray and scatter polenta sticks around pan – use two if too crowded. Salt and pepper polenta to taste. Heat in 400 degree oven for 1 hour, turning about half way through. Polenta is done when the outside is crispy and the inside it mushy. Serve hot.

May 2, 2007

Clean the Fridge Night

You know those nights when the fridge is full, but it doesn’t seem to have anything of real value? I had a late lunch yesterday, so I was poking around for something light, yet with enough substance to keep me away from the carrot cake my grandma had brought over. What I created was a masterpiece in polenta and veggies. Though many people are unfamiliar with the name, polenta is simply the Italian’s take on cornmeal. Different cultures use cornmeal in all sorts of ways: muffins, tortillas, loaves, grits, etc. But one of my favorites is polenta. I like to buy it in log-form, although it is available in a more cream of wheat-ish texture as well.

In skillet number one, I added a bit of oil and placed the sliced polenta in to brown. In skillet number two, I added all the nutritious elements of my refrigerator that I could find. This included broccoli, red peppers, edamame soy beans and Trader Joe’s roasted corn kernels. I sauteed these ingredients while some pine nuts toasted in the toaster oven. And in under 20 minutes, I quite the colorful meal. Of course, no polenta dish would be complete without a healthy chunk of goat cheese on top.

For a last minute creation, I was really quite pleased with the results. I know the picture isn’t much to look at, but you can see how colorfully delicious the whole thing was. Of course, you could use whatever veggies you have in the fridge – which is the beauty of the dish. And you need very little seasoning since the goat cheese is so flavorful. I actually used one that had been rolled in herbs and spices, so that helped as well. It could certainly be served as a side dish to a meal as well. Now go and empty your fridge and see what you can make!

Max’s Masterpiece in Polenta and Veggies


1 log polenta
1 small log goat cheese
1 C. broccoli, cut into small florets
1/2 sweet red pepper, diced
1/2 C. edamame beans
1/2 C. Trader Joe’s roasted corn kernels
1/4 C. pine nuts, toasted


Slice polenta into disks about 1/4-inch thick and saute in oil, flipping once to brown both sides. In a separate skillet, heat oil and saute remaining ingredients except the cheese. When ready to serve, place 3 to 4 polenta slices on each plate. Put a thin slice of goat cheese on top of the polenta and spoon veggie mixture over each.

Yield: 2-3 servings as main dish

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