Polenta: A Winter Supper

A winter supper: polenta with tomato sauce and Italian sausage.


The charming town of Petaluma is surrounded by the history of Italian ancestors – farmers and ranchers who raised the food that fueled the growth of San Francisco and the North Bay in the late 1900s. Third and fourth generation growers and ranchers continue this tradition today, and many have been able to sustain their heritage through the community actions of MALT and the Sonoma Land Trust. This recipe makes me think of their history, and it is a favorite dish. It’s simple, and yummy. My two requisites.

Polenta

Ingredients:
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups polenta
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

Add salt to water in medium pot and bring to a low boil. Slowly stir in polenta, turn heat down to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The polenta should bubble gently – you don’t want the bottom to burn. You can’t over stir this recipe, so relax, listen to some music and in the meantime brown the sausages.

After the polenta has finished cooking through, stir in the butter (optional, but very good). Top with shredded Parmesan when you serve this creamy dish – I often serve it with goat cheese crumbled or Chèvre spread on top. You can also serve the polenta with tomato-basil-garlic sauce, or your favorite pasta sauce. I like to serve Polenta with Italian sausage. (See recipes below.)

You have a choice of how to serve the polenta: Creamy or browned. I usually serve it creamy and then place what is left over in a bowl or storage container and place it in the ‘fridge. I take it out later, cut it when it’s cold, and brown it in olive oil as a delicious “left-over.”

Italian Sausage

Buy your favorite Italian sausage – Mild or Hot. These are uncooked sausages, therefore you need to properly heat them through as you cook them and brown them. To serve 4, place 4 sausages in a deep sauté pan with a lid with ¼ to ½ cup of water. Poke each sausage, 2 to 3 times, with a knife. At medium-high heat, bring the sausages and water to a good simmer, then lower to low-medium heat and cover for 10 minutes. Add water if needed as the sausages cook through. Take the lid off and brown both sides on medium heat.

Tomato-Garlic-Basil Sauce

This quick sauce goes with almost anything!

Ingredients:
1 small can stewed tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, crushed and finely minced
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried Basil

In a small saucepan, sauté the garlic in olive oil until just golden. Add stewed tomatoes with juice and crush tomatoes with a “potato masher” in the pan. Simmer 5 minutes. Add dried Basil and simmer 5 minutes. Voila . . . it’s ready.

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Prawn Tacos

Nicole, Mark and Zoe

Family Night

Mexican food has been a long time favorite of mine. I can still smell the rice pudding from Gonzales’ in Richmond. My parents would take me there, as a toddler, after church every week to meet my grandparents for a family meal. I thought of it as my reward for quietly enduring another Sunday service. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. Every part of the food we eat has a story: from the earth it’s grown on to the farmer who tends it all the way to the table on which it is celebrated. I like to know as much of the story as possible and I believe the fewer steps involved between the farmer and my table the better.

We had Kelly’s kids, Mark and Nicole and Nicole’s friend Zoë for Prawn Tacos last week. Kelly refers to them as my Mexican Spring rolls for the fresh veggies used. While we loved the meal, the conversations TacoVeggiessparked by the food were truly a highlight of the evening. Kelly captured Zoë on video sharing the role food plays in her family.

The Prawn Tacos were very simple to make and largely influenced by what we’d picked up at our CSA that week. Many of my favorite recipes arise from the challenge to use all of the bounty in our refrigerator, this meal was no different. We had frozen prawns from Trader Joe’s on hand a vegetable bin full of wonderful produce from Tolay Valley Farms and some corn tortillas. Hmmm…. what to do with it all?

Ingredients:
Corn Tortillas
Prawns- 1.5 per taco seemed sufficient
Carrots- shredded or chopped very thin
Mustard Greens- shredded
Red Onion- diced
Cucumber- sliced thin
Tomato- chopped

YogurtSauceYogurt Sauce
Yogurt (we like Straus Whole Milk Plain) – about a half cup
Chipotle Sauce (I love the Frontera Enchilada sauce) – to taste (I used about 6 tablespoons)
Hot Sauce- to taste

Begin with the yogurt sauce. Pour the yogurt into a bowl, mix in your favorite sauce or salsa to taste then add the hot sauce of your choice. You can put out in a serving bowl along side some tortilla chips and use this sauce as a dip as well as a topping for your tacos.

After this I set up the chopping board and got busy with my vegetables while I preheated the broiler. Once done with my chopping I popped the prawns into the broiler for 7 minutes and Nicole started heating some oil to ready the tortillas. Pop the prawns out of the oven and remove the shell, breaking each prawn into several pieces.

Place your prawns on the warm tortilla, top with the vegetables and a few dollops of the yogurt sauce. Many substitutions can be made. The ingredients for this meal were dictated by what we had on hand. Many different types of greens would work. I found the bitterness of the mustard greens was balanced nicely by the sweetness of the carrot and cucumber.PrawnsOnBroilerPan

Tacos Try ours or make your own. We’d love to hear about your creations and the stories around your dinner table.

Transitioning to Fall: Vegetable Soup

The key to great soup of any kind is really good stock. You can use a vegetable or chicken stock from the grocery store to make this soup, but if you are inclined and have the time to simmer your own, it will make all of the difference. I like to use chicken stock because the flavor is richer and balances the vegetable flavors.

Chicken Stock Ingredients

2 medium or one large yellow onion
1 red onion
2 heads of garlic
3 stalks celery
3 large carrots
2 roast chicken carcasses
Salt

Cut onions into quarters, leaving the skin on; Cut garlic heads in half; wash and coarsely chop carrots and celery into large pieces. Place vegetables into large stockpot, place two roasted chicken carcasses on top, and add water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to full boil, lower to simmer with lid on for 1 ½ hours. Let cool a little, then strain stock into another stock/soup pot, bring to boil, then lower to a simmer to reduce the stock liquid about 1 inch. Add salt to taste (i.e. 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons).

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Ingredients

12 to 16 cups chicken stock depending on how much soup you want to make. I make extra and freeze it for a busy winter week. (See above recipe or use your favorite store bought)

3 carrots – medium to large
3 medium red potatoes
3 turnips (peel outer skin if winter turnips – it’s bitter)
1 medium star squash
1 medium to large zucchini
1 to 2 small crookneck yellow squash
Bunch of washed spinach with stems removed
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Wash and dice carrots, turnips and potatoes in large bite sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Wash and dice the rest of the vegetables and set aside. In soup pot, bring stock to low boil and lower to simmer. Carefully add carrots, turnips and potatoes with large spoon (so you don’t get splashed with hot stock) and raise heat to bring back to a simmer, then lower to hold at a simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and the dried herbs and simmer 5 more minutes. Test/taste the vegetables which should be al dente, like pasta – not too soft. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and good local bread.  I made one of my favorite fall/winter recipes for cornbread from the Joy of Cookings recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. An easy addition to this soup is to add cooked pasta (don’t cook the pasta in the soup), which makes it a hearty main dish.

You Can’t Beet a Good Story

Don't miss a Beet

Beet photo from ourhomeworks.wordpress.com

Garden beets have been a nutritious cultivation of human kind for a very long time – since the second millennium BC, when the pharaohs of Egypt ruled and chariots were the latest and greatest in transportation. Berkley and I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and since they are in abundance right now we are researching recipes that feature these deep purple beauties. The best place to get them is at your local farmer’s market.

Both the leafy greens and the roots are edible. The greens can be sautéed with onion or garlic in olive oil, much like spinach or Swiss chard (a close cousin of the beet) and are high in vitamin A (needed for good vision), while the roots are a great source of vitamin C (needed for a healthy immune system).

Beet Season is here!

Beet photo from blueheronlocal.wordpress.com

Beets grow best in a cool climate. Perhaps this is why we see so many delicious beet recipes from Russia and nearby countries, i.e. cold beet borscht soup.  (Not to be confused, however, with Russia’s large production of Sugar Beets, used for making sugar and not for eating.)

 

Hotties

To serve garden beets as a hot side dish, Berkley roasted beets in the oven,and after they cooled a bit, removed the skins, cut them into large chunks, and served them with a warm, buttery balsamic vinegar sauce. I highly recommend this yummy recipe to beet lovers as a good contrast to the large variety of cold salad recipes.

Russian Beet Salad

This week’s featured dish is a cold but hearty Russian beet salad. We prepared this salad for a Sunday potluck with our friends from the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma. While we blog about cooking food to feed ourselves, families and friends, it is our UUP community that feeds our souls.

Feeding the Soul

Feeding the Soul

On that topic, if you have a recipe that “feeds the soul,” please feel free to share it with us in a comment!

Our Version: We used extra virgin olive oil instead of the recipe’s call for sunflower oil, which worked very well. There is no need to use vinegar in this salad – the root vegetables flavors of carrot, potato, and beet come alive with the fresh dill. We didn’t include peas, as the recipe calls for, and didn’t miss them, as the root vegetables seemed to go so well together. Don’t over salt – a little goes a long way with this dish. Tips for cooking the vegetables: The key to this beet salad is to boil the vegetables together so that they become just barely tender, but not soft. We recommend using Russet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut in half (or if they are really big, into thirds), use medium sized beets (or cut large beets in-half), and keep the carrots whole (use large carrots, not the baby carrot variety) and place them on top of the other vegetables.

Beet Salad
Beet Salad

We used a 1:1:1 veggie ratio for this salad (same number of potatoes, to beets, to carrots.) Place washed and cut vegetables into a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for 17 to 20 minutes (after 17 minutes test a beet or potato with a knife, which should pierce with ease, but also a little resistance.) Drain carefully, and let them cool. Take the skins off of the beets with your hands (they should slide off easily), and cut them into hearty dices (use an apron or wear clothes you don’t mind staining with the bright beet juice!). Place in a large salad or mixing bowl. Cut potatoes and carrots into hearty dices and add to salad bowl, then let them chill in the refrigerator ahead of time if you can. When you toss the diced vegetables with the onion, oil, dill, and salt and pepper, do it lightly and sparingly or you could end up with a reddish mashed potato salad.

 

Pizza Night in Petaluma

We planned our Friday night meal around our four teenagers. For those of you with teens you know that things can change in the blink of an eye. Of the four we managed to corral one.

Grateful for Mark!

Grateful for Mark!

Kelly’s 17 year old, Mark was gracious enough to hang with the “parents” on Pizza Night, and the rest seemingly had better offers. We were very grateful for Mark; he’s quite the entertainer and had us all in stitches as we cooked. Laughter is definitely the most important ingredient in all of our cooking. Everything is better with laughter. I’ve been known to say the same thing about butter, bacon and Kelly.

The Secret is in The Sauce

The Secret is in The Sauce

Tomato Sauce

I’ve (Berkley) been making the same sauce for the last couple of years. I don’t do anything unusual or extraordinary in making my tomato sauce but I always get great reviews. The secret to the sauce, as I once heard Alice Waters say, is in the tomatoes. I remember she liked the Shady Lady. I like the Heirloom. We got some beautiful Heirloom’s from Tolay Valley Farms in our weekly CSA pickup down at Ernie’s Tin Bar and added some organic Shady Ladies. I preheated the oven to 350 and cored eight tomatoes then tossed them in a mixture of olive oil and sea salt before placing them on a baking sheet. I threw them in the oven for 45 minutes and meanwhile diced half of an enormous sweet yellow onion along with five cloves of garlic. Once the maters were out and had cooled a bit I took the skins off half of them with my fingers. To make the sauce, I heated some olive oil in a sauce pan, added a dash of salt and a few quick turns with the pepper grinder then tossed in the garlic and onions. I sautéed until the onions softened then tossed in the tomatoes whole. I mashed the tomatoes with a potato masher (a trick that just came to me Friday) and mixed it all together.

Testing The Sauce

Testing The Sauce

I simmered the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, adding only salt and pepper to taste. I’ve frozen and canned this before.  It’s a great staple to have around the house – on pasta after a busy day or on toast for bruschetta to feed the unannounced but always welcome guest.

The Cheese

Searching for new employment in today’s changing economy has caused me (Kelly) to search within myself. Sometimes, this is a painful process.  Actually, it is a “yucky” process, but nevertheless it is necessary. To counteract the yuckiness, I find myself needing comfort food, and pizza is one of my favorite comfort foods. I like to bake, so I made the pizza dough while Berkley made his amazing sauce. This week’s story, however, is about the cheese because it is the cheese that makes pizza a comfort food.

We discovered a delicious, local source for cheese in Petaluma. We were introduced to the fabulous cheeses from the Spring Hill Cheese Company through a good friend, Ellen Beeler, who made pizza to remember one night. On Western Avenue (next to their creamery), patrons can enjoy cheese tasting in Spring Hill’s store. We’ve become big fans of their organic, absolutely yummy garlic curd, firehouse Cheddar and pesto Jack cheeses.

Although Spring Hill Cheese Company was started in 1998, it follows a long tradition of dairying in the area. Spring Hill’s ranch raises a herd of 400 Jersey cows because they produce milk with high butter fat. Jersey cows were among the early breeds raised by dairymen and women in the late 1800’s when immigrant families from Italy, Portugal, and other countries made Marin and Sonoma counties active in butter and cheese making. The lush grasses along the coast stay greener longer due to the cool ocean breezes and fog, providing a natural resource that has been perfect for dairy cows for over 150 years. Other breeds, like the black and white Holsteins, later replaced the Jerseys in the dairy industry because they produce more milk. Jersey cows produce less milk, but it is the richness that owner Larry Peter needs to produce Spring Hill’s wide variety of cheeses.

The Pizza Dough

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Berkley researched pizza dough recipes online for me and came up with one I really like because it bakes into a light, crunchy cornmeal crust. The key to our pizza is the cheese; the key to this pizza dough  is the yogurt. Although I was a little intimidated at first, the pizza dough was easy to make. I doubled the recipe so that we could make two 16 inch pizzas, mixing organic whole wheat flour (1 1/2 C) and white flour (1 C), with cornmeal (1 C), baking soda (1 tsp), baking powder (2 tsp), salt (1 tsp), and dry basil (1 tsp) in a large bowl. Then in a separate bowl I stirred together Straus Family whole milk plain yogurt (1 1/2 C) and olive oil (4 T). Gently combining, I poured the yogurt mixture into the flour mix and stirred until it came together. The dough only needs to be kneaded (pun intended) for a minute or two – I just placed the mound of dough onto a piece of well floured parchment paper and used the heel of my hand (also floured) to work the dough into a ball, sprinkling a little flour as I worked it so that the dough would no longer stick to my hand. I wrapped the dough ball in the parchment paper and let it “rest” in the refrigerator for a bit. Rolling it out was easy. I cut the ball of dough in two with a knife, pressed each half of the dough with my fingers to start, and used a rolling pin to properly finish rolling each crust to 1/4″ thick. To transfer the dough to a baking sheet I lightly folded it in half to make it easier, then unfolded it onto the baking sheets.  To complete the crust, I made a 1/2″ folded edge, pressing with my fingers. We partly baked the pizza crust for 10 minutes at 400.

The Toppings

Mark putting on some finishing touches

Mark putting on some finishing touches

For the toppings, Berkley sliced green bell pepper and Italian sausage (Aidell’s) and Mark thinly sliced mushrooms and grated mounds of cheese. We chose three kinds of Spring Hill cheese for our pizzas:  Fresh Curds (crumbled on top, these become creamy when melted), Garlic Cheddar and Pesto Jack. Berkley spread his roasted tomato sauce over both pizza crusts. Mark topped his pizza with all of the above ingredients, and I made mine with the same, minus the bell pepper and plus oregano sprinkled around. These took about 20 minutes in the oven at 400.

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

While the pizzas baked, I put together a simple salad of diced roasted beets, red lettuce, and sliced cucumber with a creamy blue cheese dressing.

The Comfort

This pizza both crumbled and melted in our mouths as we ate outside on the patio.  We laughed some more as we heard about life through the eyes of a teenager. The pizza was just as comforting for breakfast the following morning and for lunch two days later on a hike.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.

Asian Fusion

A unique local stop in our town, Petaluma, has more to it than meets the eye — Ernie’s Tin Bar.  Family operated since 1923, this little bar caught Berkley’s eye because he enjoys connecting to local people and to local places that aren’t in the mainstream. Mostly, though, Berkley knows how much I enjoy a good story and you can’t leave Ernie’s without hearing one, sharing one, or creating one of your own.

Ernie now represents the fourth generation of barkeeps in the family.  Contemporary in his social awareness, you will find Ernie behind the bar with his iPhone sharing photos of his family, and young daughter.  Use your cellphone to talk, however, and you will be buying a round — a rule we all enjoy and honor.  Ernie’s Tin Bar is not listed in the phone book, but you will find them on Yelp and in a few articles about good beer, served locally. That’s about it — except for this:  Ernie grows delicious organic fruits and vegetables that he provides to subscribers in his local CSA.  What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  For $17 a week, each Tuesday we have the privilege of stopping by Ernie’s Tin Bar for a beer and a bag of groceries filled to the brim with produce Ernie grows on his small farm.

Ernie's Produce on the chopping block

Ernie's Produce on the chopping block

This week, our overflowing bag of goodies included sweet cantaloupe, tangy raspberries, sumptuous beets, golden carrots, roasting potatoes, crisp cucumber, lemon cucumbers, crookneck squash, crunchy cabbage, and heirloom tomatoes.  For our first entry, we planned a comforting veggie meal with savory Asian flavors and invited a special guest to share it with. What follows are the recipes using these wonderful gifts from Ernie’s garden.

Half of the fun is planning the meal – talking about it and researching recipes from old books and favorite online gourmets.  I (Berkley) went to my favorite website, Recipezaar.com, looking for an Asian dish that would utilize cabbage and Udon noodles. After sifting through 145 recipes, I found one that spoke to me, Sesame Noodles With Napa Cabbage.  Our goal for this recipe, and all others, is to use at least two local foods, regular pantry staples, and for it to be yummy. 

Since we were entertaining we wanted it to be simple to prepare, so we could enjoy our company while sipping some local sparkling wine from Mumm Napa  I created an easy sauce, whisking together some organic crunchy peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, white wine vinegar (in place of rice vinegar), white wine (in place of sherry), organic sugar and red pepper flakes.  (Kelly loved this sauce and her only request is to double it next time.)  Meanwhile, Kelly sliced the cabbage into long crunchy strips and chopped cilantro from the Petaluma Farmer’s Market grown by Taylor at Petaluma Bounty.  She then added her idea of julienned carrots to top the dish.  I simmered the sauce and prepared the Udon noodles.  One of the neat tricks to learning this recipe was using the boiled water from the Udon noodles to blanche both the cabbage and the carrots. Using two strainers (one smaller for the carrots), I poured the hot water from the noodles over the vegetables.  I mixed the sauce with the noodles in the noodle pot, and mixed in the cabbage.  After plating the dish, I topped each plate with the carrots and cilantro.

Sesame Udon Noodles with Cabbage

Sesame Udon Noodles with Cabbage

Adding to the delicious, peanutbuttery noodle dish of Berkley’s, I (Kelly) made a salad with sliced roasted beets, cucumber, and tomatoes with an Asian ginger dressing.  To top the evening’s meal, I served fresh raspberries with diced cantaloupe, topped with Straus Family Vanilla Whole Milk Yogurt (talk about yumminess, this is the best yogurt EVER.)  I love a good story and if you do too, listen to an oral history interview with Albert Straus about his experience as a dairy farmer.  This interview was done for a project I took part in with Dominican University as curator for the Marin History Museum’s current exhibit,  Growing The Future:  Farming Families of Marin. 

Enjoying our meal with a special friend makes it taste even better.

Enjoying our meal with a special friend makes it taste even better.

Local food + local couple who likes to cook = yummmm

The Cooks

The Cooks

We are a couple that likes to cook, and likes to eat — and take long walks to burn the calories from all those home cooked meals. The key ingredients? Local food from Petaluma, Sonoma county and nearby growers. Tomorrow we are collecting organic vegetables from a small garden that is tended by a fourth generation Petaluma man who runs a family bar named after his grandfather, Ernie, (also his namesake) — Ernies Tin Bar.  Following that, we will pick up fresh bread and other products at the local farmers market on Wednesday in downtown Petaluma. More to come on what we create, including recipes, stories, and hopefuly some laughs (an important ingredient in all we cook together.)