Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Roasted corn and jalapeno cheddar polenta

Polenta is like the red head step child of the side dish world. Most people don't even know what polenta is here in the US. Its only when its referred to as grits, as most southerns know it as, that it gets any recognition. And, unfortunately, the recognition isn't that warm or welcome. Why, I wondered, are people so frightened of polenta. Is it the name? Do people just not know what it is? Could it be the texture? Could it be that maybe they've just never had good polenta? My best guess is a combination of all the above. I hope today that I can demystify polenta and introduce some of you to a new and tasty side dish.

Polenta is corn meal that's been slow cooked to rehydrate it. As mentioned it is known as grits in the south. But please, don't let the name grits turn you off. Yes there is a texture to polenta. However if it's cooked properly it won't be gritty or rough, rather the corn meal softens and becomes al dente and delicious. It has a great corn flavor and stands up well to rich and hearty dishes. There are different grinds to polenta, from instant (not recommended) to coarse grind super slow cooking ones, the choice is yours. Most supermarkets will have 'quick cooking' polenta available and the Kitchen Witch feels that this is a great place to start. After you've made it and decide you love its wholesome corny goodness then please try the coarser grinds, I hear they're loads tastier. I have a bag of Bob's Red Mill coarse grind polenta in the pantry and can't wait to try it! The quick cooking variety will take about 20 minutes to cook up into a creamy corny pudding. What you add to it to flavor it is pretty much endless!

When I created this side dish it was to accompny green chili pork stew. I was looking for something that would go well with the stews liquidy part and what pairs better than corn? I had an ear of corn in the fridge which I roasted under the broiler - you could of course do this over your grill - knowing that the sweet corn would add bursts of flavor as well as a roasted smokiness. Jalapenos seemed natural, they go well with corn as well as the green chili. Onions & garlic add the background flavors to make it more dimensional and the cheese adds the final layer of deliciousness. I left most of the seeds and veins in the jalapeno and honestly it was NOT hot at all. I could have used another 2 peppers before any heat was felt. Use your discression on how hot you want it for your family. I served this polenta in its creamy puddling like form but polenta is the master of make overs! If creamy pudding isn't your thing, no worries, simply pour your polenta into a sheet pan lined with plastic wrap and allow to cool. Once cooled you can slice your now firmed up polenta into any shape you desire and pan fry it in a bit of oil until its golden browned, flip and brown on second side. The exterior has a crispy brown exterior and the inside is a smooth creamy treat. This is a great way to use up left over polenta and its awesome with eggs.

I hope you try polenta in the future and embrace it as a quality side dish that the whole family can enjoy! Play around with the ingredients and add ins, making each batch as individual as you are. Happy cooking!

Roasted corn and jalapeno cheddar polenta
makes 4 servings
1 cup polenta (coarse corn grits)
3 cups chicken broth
1 ear of corn roasted and kernals cut from cob
1/2 onion diced
1 jalapeno diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 c cheddar cheese
2 T butter
1 t kosher salt
black pepper to taste

Begin by roasting the corn in the oven. Set your oven rack on the highest setting and put it on broil. Place the shucked corn cob on the rack under the broiler. Roast until you have a few blackened kernels, rotate and roast evenly all over cob. Don't be alarmed if you hear popping, this is normal if your corn is very fresh. Its the liquid in the kernel expanding as it heats and essentially 'popping'. The popping is usually my indicator that I need to check the corn. Once roasted remove from oven and allow to cool, then cut the kernels off the cob once cool enough to handle.

In a sauce pan heat the butter over medium high heat. Add onions and sautee for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and diced jalapeno, sautee for 5 min longer until the garlic starts to toast slightly and the onions have softened. Add the roasted corn kernels and stir well to coat in the fat.

Add the chicken stock to the veggies in the pan. Using a whisk slowly whisk in the polenta. Whisk until all polenta is incorporated then switch to a wooden spoon. Bring the polenta up to a boil then reduce the heat to low. Cover polenta and cook for 15-20 minutes (or to instructions on package) stirring often to avoid scorch spots and lumps. Once polenta has cooled remove from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese, serve and enjoy.

Nutrition Facts provided by SparkPeople recipe calculator
Amount Per Serving
Calories 296.9
Total Fat 12.0 g
Saturated Fat 6.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1.0 g
Monounsaturated Fat 3.5 g
Cholesterol 30.4 mg
Sodium 1,685.6 mg
Potassium 183.3 mg
Total Carbohydrate 38.5 g
Dietary Fiber 1.6 g
Sugars 1.7 g
Protein 9.0

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer Squash Gratin

The Witch has some SERIOUS over achievers in her garden right now. Yes folks, its that time of year again, ZUCCHINI and CROOKED NECK SQUASH is here!! Yay says the Witch as she pulls her first veggies out of the garden. Hooray for my beloved green zucchini and tasty yellow crooked necks! My mind swims with ideas on how to prepare these treats from the garden. But after a few weeks the song changes from YAY zucchini! to UGH! more freaking zucchini?? What the hell am I supposed to do with all of these???? After your friends and family have taken on their fair share you're still left with TONS of green and yellow fruits and the usual prep method of planks sauteed in olive oil until golden brown just isn't seeming as delicious as it did 2 weeks ago.

So after some serious squash overload I went to my favorite go to place for recipes, blogs! While browsing I saw that Siri over at Siriously Delicious had posted one for Summer Squash and potato gratin. Gratin you say? Hmmm...I like cheese. Yes, gratin it is! Cheese is a key component to gratin. A quick trip through the fridge shows Emmental Swiss cheese, something the Little Witch picked out (she has great taste! What can I say?), a small chunk of mozzarella and as always Asiago. Those 3 cheeses sound pretty darn good together, the swiss for a robust cheese flavor, the mozz for the melting factor and Asiago has a pungent flavor that's just delicious.

When seasoning the dish I kept it simple, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Powder?? Yes, powder. I used garlic and onion powder fairly often, in specific dishes, mostly because I like the way they perform in some ways. In dips, sauces and dressings the powders are great because you don't get a sharp bite that you can get from fresh garlic and onions. I like it in marinades too, as the garlic powder won't burn like fresh garlic will. The main reason you'll see me use onion powder or dehydrated onions in place of fresh is because my Witchy Sissy has an onion allergy, poor thing, and can't have fresh onions. Powdered or dehydrated is fine, however. So when I know she'll be eating a dish I'll use the powdered stuff. In the case of this gratin I used it for 2 reasons: I wanted a light flavor of onion, this is a squash gratin, not an onion one and I feared a fresh onion would overpower the squashs' delicate flavor. And 2, my Sissy was going to be eating it. 'Nuff said! The simple seasonings really highlighted the flavors of the squash and cheese resulting in a delicious side dish that makes me excited to pull more zucchini and crooked neck squash out of the garden. Thank you, gratin!

Summer Squash Gratin
makes 8 side dish servings or 4 main dish servings
1 zucchini
1 yellow crooked neck squash
3 oz good quality Emmental Swiss cheese
2 oz mozzerella cheese
1 oz Asiago or Parmesean cheese
1 t Kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t onion powder
4 sprigs thyme OR 1t dried thyme
about 1/2 c heavy cream (a little less is just fine)
1/2 c fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350F

Slice crooked neck squash in half and remove the seeds if desired. The larger the squash get the more pronounced the seeds are. Its a personal preference, if you dislike the seeds, remove them, if not leave them in.

Using a food processor with a slicing disc OR a mandolin slice the zucchini and yellow squash into thin rounds. Place slices on paper towel to absorb moisture. You will want a single layer of squash on each towel, yes you'll go through quite a bit. Don't skimp on this step or you will have a watery gratin.

Shred cheeses and reserve cheese.

Spray a casserole dish with non stick spray.

Begin assembling the gratin

First layer: yellow squash first. Use about 1/2 of the yellow slices in the first layer. Sprinkle squash with about 1/4 t kosher salt, some black pepper and a light dusting of garlic and onion powder. Next layer 1/4 of the shredded cheeses on top of the seasoned squash slices.

2nd layer: zucchini rounds. Use 1/2. Season as above (salt, pepper, onion & garlic powder) then top with 1/4 of the cheese. Pour 1/2 the cream over the squash on this layer.

3rd layer: Yellow squash, seasoned as above and add the thyme, then cheese.

4th layer: Remaining zucchini slices, seasoned and the remainder of the cheese. Pour remaining cream over top of the cheese. Top the cheese with the bread crumb.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until browned on top and bubbly. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving so the cheese has time to solidify before slicing. Enjoy!

Nutrition Facts provided by SparkPeople recipe calculator
Amount Per Serving
Calories 127.3
Total Fat 9.6 g
Saturated Fat 5.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.2 g
Monounsaturated Fat 1.2 g
Cholesterol 30.2 mg
Sodium 372.7 mg
Potassium 169.7 mg
Total Carbohydrate 4.2 g
Dietary Fiber 0.8 g
Sugars 1.3 g
Protein 7.9 g

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vanilla Bean pudding

My friend Kelly requested a good vanilla pudding recipe. I immediately started thinking about what a good vanilla pudding would be; rich and creamy, solid but not gummy, complex in vanilla flavor, not just sweetened milk. Its a lot harder to come up with a GOOD vanilla pudding than you'd think! The Witch tried a few different variations, one version was too eggy in flavor, one wasn't sweet enough. Simple fixes resulted in a smooth, velvety, rich, sweet and vanilla is the flavor with all of its complex deliciousness. And I absolutely love the specks of vanilla bean and how they burst when you chew them releasing even more vanilla. Delicious!

Guess what else I learned while making this pudding? The Witch learned that sometimes its not a great idea to recycle plastic things. Why?? Well, allow me to explain. The little Witch sees the pudding cups at the grocery store and of course asks for them. I politely decline, telling her that mommy can make pudding that tastes a lot better than what comes in those cups. Then she says "yeah, but what about the cups? I want the plastic cups Mom." Great...but wait! Then it hits me! Just save the little plastic bowls that mandarin oranges and fruit cocktail come in. Done! "Sure sweetie, Mommy can make it in cups, no problem!"

I make the vanilla pudding. I strain the pudding to ensure its velvety smoothness. I lovingly ladle the pudding into said cups, cover and refrigerate them. We wait 4 hours before tasting them. Finally! I take a bite excited to taste my rich vanilla flavor...why does it taste like fruit? Like mandarin oranges...oh wait...this was a cup of mandarin oranges and guess what? Plastic absorbs flavors. And when plastic gets hot it releases those flavors. Right into my vanilla pudding! So, the lesson here is that unless you want fruit and odd flavors in your vanilla pudding, use glass or porcelain for your pudding. I now use tea cups and they work perfectly, and lets be honest, they look a lot better than plastic cups.

Vanilla Bean Pudding
makes 8 (1/2 cup) servings
1/2 c + 2T sugar
1/4 c corn starch
3 cups 2% milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped out
1 t vanilla extract
pinch salt

In a heavy bottom pan add 1/2 c sugar, cornstarch and the salt. Whisk well together to break up starch.

Over medium high heat add the milk and cream along with the scraped vanilla seeds AND the pods, whisking well to dissolve sugar and cornstarch. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes whisking often to avoid hot spots and burning.

Whisk up the egg yolks with remaining 2 T sugar. Add 1 cup of hot pudding to the yolk, whisk well, quickly. Add the yolk mixture to the boiling pudding whisking to incorporate. Bring back to the boil and cook for 2 minutes longer, whisking to avoid scorch spots.

Turn heat off. Add the vanilla extract, stirring well.

Pour cooked pudding through a fine mesh sieve to strain out vanilla pods as well as any lumps or egg pieces. This will ensure a velvety smooth pudding. Pour strained pudding into tea cups and cover with plastic to avoid a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

I just love all those vanilla beans!

Nutrition Facts provided by SparkPeople recipe calculator
Amount Per Serving
Calories 228.1
Total Fat 13.4 g
Saturated Fat 8.2 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.6 g
Monounsaturated Fat 3.9 g
Cholesterol 73.7 mg
Sodium 69.2 mg
Potassium 24.9 mg
Total Carbohydrate 23.7 g
Dietary Fiber 0.0 g
Sugars 19.3 g
Protein 4.0 g

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Curried chicken salad

Chicken salad is another one of those classic foods that the Kitchen Witch wouldn't even try until last year. Why?? Mayo! Let me be the first to tell you when you decide you don't like something like mayo it really really really limits your food choices, especially in summer. Potato salad? Nope. Tuna salad? Oh heck no! Chicken salad?! Don't even waste my time. That's how it used to be around here until the Witch put on her big girl pants & got over her mayo aversion. Ok, sure, I still don't love mayo, but I'll enjoy some chicken salad and not be grossed out about it. How mature of me! When the weather is hot outside who wants to stand in an even hotter kitchen and cook? Not this Witch, that's for sure!! Enter the wonder that is chicken salad. There are so many versions of chicken salad, its as varied as your individual tastes. Recently my tastes were telling me curry, and rather than heat up the kitchen making a curry base I decided to just make a curried chicken salad.

Now, as you may or may not know, the Witch is a all about keeping on a budget. this chicken salad was the brain child of wanting curry, stuff on sale & what I had in my pantry. Here's how it came together and its approximate costs. Rotisserie chickens were on sale for $4 each, so I got one and picked it clean and used half of it ($2). About a month ago the store had a BOGO sale on dried fruit: I picked up some dried mangos with no real intent of how or where to use them. Seeing as how I enjoy a burst of sweetness in my chicken salad and mango is awesome with curry, I decided to dice some up and add it to the salad ($3 a bag, BOGO, $1.50 a bag, used less than 1/4 bag so about .25). Walnuts and pecans, what I had on handalong with a rib of celery added a nice crunch and nutty flavor (approx $.50 in nuts and celery). Curry powder and cardamom were in my pantry already, along with garlic and onion powders (cost less than .25 total for all spices). Lastly the mayo and sour cream were already in my fridge, I'll approximate their costs at .50 total. All in all my lunch for 2 people cost $3.50. And no heating up the kitchen, bonus!!

The flavors on this salad was so good. The cardamom and curry powder set the base flavors, spicy but not hot, rich and complex and just plain delicious. The creamy mayo and sour cream round out the flavors. Bursts of sweetness came from the mango which was a delightful contrast to the crunchy nuts and celery. And the rotisserie chicken provided its own savory delicious flavor. Next time I make this, and there WILL be a next time, I think I'll make some naan too. The curried salad on fresh soft naan would be out of this world good. If you don't have naan you can use regular bread, crackers or just eat it plain. Enjoy!

Curried Chicken Salad
makes 2 servings
1/2 rotisserie chicken, picked of its meat including wings, skin & bones discarded
1 t curry powder
2 cardamom pods ground and green pod discarded
1/8 t each garlic powder and onion powder
1/2 t kosher salt
pinch ground black pepper
1/3 to 1/2 c mayo
1/4 c sour cream
1 rib celery diced
1/4 nuts, walnuts and pecans
4 slices dried mango, diced

Mix the spices with the mayo and sour cream. Stir until very smooth and allow to rest for about 20-30 minutes.

~*~Kitchen Witch Tip: When ever I'm making a salad or dressing I like to use powdered or granulated garlic and onion. You get all the flavor with out the sharpness that fresh can give you. It is important to let your dressing rest for about 30 minutes before eating it as this gives time for the garlic and onion powders to rehydrate and achieve maximum flavor.~*~

Dice the mango and celery. Chop up the shredded chicken meat. Chop the nuts and add everything into a mixing bowl.

Pour the spiced mayo blend over the chicken and veggie/nut mix. Stir well to coat everything well. Best if allowed to rest for 30 minutes before serving as this will rehydrate the mango slices as well as the onion & garlic powders.

Nutrition Facts provided by SparkPeople recipe calculator
Amount Per Serving
Calories 604.8
Total Fat 54.6 g
Saturated Fat 11.1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 7.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat 6.6 g
Cholesterol 77.7 mg
Sodium 1,017.5 mg
Potassium 183.8 mg
Total Carbohydrate 14.3 g
Dietary Fiber 2.0 g
Sugars 8.6 g
Protein 19.8 g

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chili style stuffed bell peppers

Growing up the Kitchen Witch was NOT a pepper fan. From bells to spicy jalapenos, she hated them all. Green bell peppers might not have been spicy but they sure were bitter. And bitter is a flavor that I struggle with to this day. As the years have progressed the Witch has learned to embrace the bell pepper as an ingredient, its bitter green flavor is awesome in so many places - I can't imagine a fajita with out one! But to eat the whole bell pepper is still a bit outside of my comfort zone. Now the Witchs' husband LOVES bitter. And he loves bell peppers. And he's been clamoring for stuffed bell peppers for a while now. So when green peppers went on sale for .50 each I planned my stuffed bell pepper attack. One that hopefully even the Witch would enjoy.

It was a gloomy rainy day the day these were made so a chili style filling seemed in order. The chili style filling also gave me the perfect opourunity to use my Black Canyon chili powder blend from Savory Spice. This stuff is amazing!!! Its a blend of chile peppers, cocoa powder, garlic, toasted onion, Saigon cinnamon and Mexican oregano. The cinnamon and cocoa powder sound strange I'm sure but really they're used often in Mexican cooking, Mole is loaded with cinnamon and cocoa and its delicious!! Don't worry, your chili won't taste like a dessert, rather, it has a spicy flavor that makes you wonder exactly WHAT that delicious component is. The rich flavors blended perfectly with the ground beef, spicy tomatoes, kidney beans and rice in the peppers.

And about those peppers. The Witch decided to blanch them first, to par cook the pepper in an attempt to cook some of the bitterness out of them. It worked pretty well, the peppers were tender yet not mushy, flavorful and not too bitter. The tops of the peppers are diced up and added to the chili mix. And simply because I had it and needed to use it up, I capped each bell pepper with a crown of shredded Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese. All in all I have to say I enjoyed the chili filling a lot more than I enjoyed the entire stuffed pepper, but that's my own strange palette at work. The Witches' husband loved the peppers and really liked the chili style filling. If you're looking for a fun retro type dish with great flavors, give this one a try!

Chili Style Stuffed Bell Peppers
makes 4 servings
4 bell peppers
1/2 lb ground beef
1 can tomatoes with jalapenos
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 T black canyon chili powder blend
OR 2t chili powder, 1/4 t ground cinnamon, 1/2 t ground cumin 1/4 t cocoa powder
1/2 onion diced
3 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 c cooked rice
1/2 c water
1 t kosher salt
1/8 t black pepper
4 oz shredded Monterey jack cheese or colby jack

Bring a large pot of water to boil for blanching the peppers
Preheat oven to 350F

Slice the tops off the peppers and remove the seeds and pithy membranes. Chop up the tops for use in the stuffing. Dice the onions and mince the garlic.

Salt the water generously and blanch the bell peppers for 5 minutes.

Brown the beef in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic when been if 1/2 browned. Add the chili powder, salt & pepper, stir well to coat. Cook about 3 minutes until it smells fragrant.

Add the tomatoes, chopped bell peppers, beans and water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked rice and set aside.

In an 8x8 square pan place about 1 cup of the chili filling at the bottom. Place each of the blanched and drained peppers in the pan and fill with the chili mixture. Any remaining filling can be stuffed into the bottom of the pan to help support the peppers. Top each stuffed pepper with shredded cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before serving.

Nutrition Facts provided by SparkPeople recipe calculator
Amount Per Serving
Calories 471.4
Total Fat 21.6 g
Saturated Fat 9.8 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.9 g
Monounsaturated Fat 7.7 g
Cholesterol 72.5 mg
Sodium 1,185.2 mg
Potassium 698.4 mg
Total Carbohydrate 46.2 g
Dietary Fiber 8.8 g
Sugars 2.3 g
Protein 24.4 g
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