Slowly, I pick up the pieces. There are still calls to make, jobs to do, but everyday life is coming back. And in the long run, my daily life doesn’t change, it’s just… Every so often something hits me – this morning it was a reference to a movie that was a family favorite (our Family Cult Movie, we joked) since we were teens. There is no one left to quote it to me, or know what I mean when I refer to it… But that’s how it goes. I’ve lost people before, I know that normal life continues. It’s just a new normal. Continue reading →
All right, yes, I’m jumping on the bandwagon… In just the last few months, Pinterest and the blogging universe has suddenly bloomed with a vast collection of Infused Waters. Every time you turn around, someone seems to be touting the benefits of water with some combination of food soaked in it.
Waiting. Sometimes hurry up and wait, but usually, just waiting.
Waiting for legitimately very busy people to return phone calls. Waiting (it turned out) for an answer from someone on vacation to a question that had landed on his desk, not that of the person covering for him. Waiting for other people to find 30 year old (or older!) records and documents. Waiting to cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s…
Enough of that. I still had to eat…
I’ve been feeling scattered, and glad of the food I cooked ahead last week. I’ve been doing the tasks on the blog that needed me to sit down and sort, or go through things – not that took creativity. So I’ve cleared a few To Dos off my plate…
Breakfast was my bean tacos – refried pintos and egg. I cooked a batch of eggs up in the fry pan, and cut them in strips, so I could just pull a few out and microwave the whole thing. One of the fastest and easiest breakfasts around.
I forgot to take pictures of my lunch – but this is Rich’s half eaten one… Salad, hard cooked eggs (I cooked up a dozen to have on hand) and marinated chick peas. No pictures but I ate tortilla chips on the side.
Dinner – was better than it looks! That sort of brown beige sauce isn’t very pretty, but when I tell you it’s part of one of the projects I’ve been working on – instant mushroom sauce (to replace the cans so many of us use) – you’ll understand that it did taste good, with ham and kale…
Short post today, but there we are…
And we are going over to Laura’s for Jenn’s WIAW party. She got to the All Star Game! You know, I’d actually wondered, watching – she’s the only baseball fan I (kind of) know in San Diego. (She may be the only person I even sort of know in San Diego…)
When I started using whole grains exclusively, I found the shelf stable packages of polenta sold at the supermarket to be a very convenient food – whole grain but even faster than cooking pasta. I could just slice and microwave it! And then, when I also went off gluten, it was even more valuable. I always have a package on the shelf.
But it does cost more than the old wheat pasta did (though still less than much gluten free pasta) and it does have some preservatives. I don’t really want it to be a staple in my kitchen. Besides, I know that polenta is pretty easy to cook. I can make just enough for a meal. Served at once, it is the mamaliga that was served at almost every meal when I traveled in Romania, very like grits in the American South. But if you let it cool, it sets up quite firmly, just like the polenta in the package, ready to heat and eat. Or you can pop slices in a bag, so they doesn’t take too much room, and freeze them. I finally started to make larger batches to have the convenience of microwaving.
Start with the corn. A somewhat coarser corn is ideal, but it does not have to be labeled as Polenta. For baking, I use a stoneground cornmeal that is really a flour. I could use that, but it would be annoying to cook it without lumps, so I don’t. I have in the past bought a very coarse grind from a farmer at Greenmarket. I had to make it ahead and let it set, as that softened the corn – if I just cooked it and tried to serve it at once, it was too gritty to eat. (This is an issue with corn, which is much harder than wheat, and cannot be handled the same way.) Something in between, which may (or may not) be labeled as polenta, or as grits, works well.
Use a pot that is larger than you think you will need – the stuff spits and spatters. And take out something to mold it in. I like a loaf pan, because then it is easy to slice evenly.
Mix one cup of coarsely ground corn with two cups of water until completely mixed in and smooth. Then add another two cups of water. You can do it all at once, but I find this method easier. Add the salt.
Now bring it to a boil, while stirring. This part is key – as it comes to a boil, the corn sort of blooms. If you don’t stir, it can settle and get lumpy, but stirring prevents that. You will see the change. One minute, you have a pot of water with wet corn that rises and swirls as you stir, the next you have a pot of yellow liquid, with the corn completely suspended in the water. (Remember high school science, and the difference between a solution and a suspension? Corn does not dissolve, but as it cooks it does suspend.)
When it comes to a boil, lower the light, and let it simmer for half an hour, stirring every five minutes. I know you think polenta is difficult because we’ve all heard stories about Italian Nonnas stirring the pot constantly for hours. We really don’t have to do that. (Nonna probably had corn too coarse to easily cook soft, and no way to keep the cooked product for a full day or more to soften.)
Do stir every five minutes, though, so that it doesn’t settle and lump, and does cook evenly. As the polenta thickens, it will start to go into boiling lava mode. You can see in one of the pictures the little “crater” where a bubble of steam has come to the surface. Stirring keeps that from getting too bad, but be careful, it still can spit at you. The goal is to cause the starch to gelatinize, so that when it cools it all gloms together firmly. The long slow cooking with stirring causes that to happen evenly. I often do this when another job keeps me in the kitchen – it’s not a big deal if I’m also washing and chopping vegetables, mixing a meatloaf, or any other task that I can easily pause to stir the corn.
Now, as always, the exact timing will vary – the grind of your corn, the heat of your stove on Low all affect it. Once you have a soft mass that will mound, but then settles back down, you’re probably done. If you want, you can eat it now, or eat some right away and save the rest. Pour it immediately into your loaf pan or other bowl. (You do not need to grease it.) It will start to set as soon as it starts to cool.. Do not eat some and leave the leftovers in the pan to deal with later – ask me how I know…
But then just leave the loaf to cool. Once it is cooled, I usually cover it and refrigerate it to use the next day. If you want, you can use plastic wrap and press it down to touch the top of the polenta so it doesn’t dry – honestly I don’t bother, but if you have finicky eaters, or just want a fancier presentation, it may make sense.
As the polenta cools it contracts in the pan. After a few hours, it is completely cool, and will turn out easily (though I usually let it set overnight, in the fridge, to be sure.) At that point, you can wrap it as is and refrigerate it. I usually slice it for easier handling if I want to freeze it. Basically, you now have exactly what comes in the package, without additives. It is not shelf stable. You do need to keep it in the fridge, or freezer if you won’t use it in a few days.
I cut two to three slices per serving. Usually I just microwave it – the whole idea is ease, speed, and convenience, after all. I do sometimes pan fry, and am more likely to do that if I’m serving it with food that does not have an actual sauce. Last week I pan fried a few slices, then served them with Italian sausage pan and greens – delicious. Or pan fry in butter, which will help it brown, and sprinkle a little Parmesan and pepper on top as a side dish with a plain meat. I gave measurements for four servings, but it can readily be increased (just make sure you use a large enough pan!) if that makes more sense for you.
And if you want something make-ahead and decorative for a dinner party, pour the hot polenta into custard cups, or even pretty little molds, and let it cool in them. Then simply microwave when you are ready to serve!
I wrote last week that we didn’t have any holiday plans – but in fact, Rich was in the process of making tentative arrangements with friends who live in the neighborhood – just a get together in the park… When he suggested that, I said I’d fix some food – visions of potato salad, coleslaw…
Then I got one of Those phone calls. The ones that change everything.
My brother died.
Tom has had a variety of health problems (some serious, some less so but aggravating the serious ones) for at least 15 years, so this fell into the category of unexpected but medically unsurprising. Still a considerable shock for everyone who knew him. I’m the only immediate family – we have cousins scattered about the country, but no one close by, and he never married – so I’m handling everything.
I’m sure you all understand that the blog is on the back burner. I expect to keep up with it to some degree at least, just for the sake of being normal and putting my attention on something good. And there’s this post about polenta you should see soon – I’ve done most of it, it just needs to be finished. “On the back burner” is a useful phrase, here – it hasn’t stopped, it’s simmering away, but not at the front of my attention, while I wind up his affairs.
However, I still need to eat. We all, always, still need to eat – if anything, in a crisis we have even greater need of good food. And, well, not much could be done for my brother over the holiday weekend – there’s paperwork, too many offices closed – so I was home with little practical to do. So I cooked.
I know from experience that I can forget to eat unless food is put in front of me, so I made food Rich will be able to give me. I used the pressure cooker and the pre-browned beef from the freezer to make the most boring stew ever – some kind of seasoning might have been a nice idea, but I wasn’t thinking that clearly. We’ll be able to heat and eat. I made a large pot of pasta sauce. I’d already made that potato salad – used the Potato Salad with Parsley recipe but used dill instead. And I cooked a massive pot of greens, from the CSA… plenty of microwavable green muffins.
On the Fourth, I made blueberry muffins. (I’d said that’s why I needed a good muffin recipe!) I doubled the batch, so I don’t have to think about breakfast for a few days… I made a protein shake with kefir and orange juice, and coffee, none of which I thought to photograph.
No pictures at all for lunch. I was a bit out of it. I’d made some of the spinach hummus I wrote about last year – we had bags and bags of spinach – and Rich put that and cheese on rice cakes and made me eat them… and then a bit of the potato salad and some ham.
For some reason, the last few weeks every store in the neighborhood has been running great sales on Italian sausage. I like to have some in the house. We both like it, and it’s really easy to cook when I’m not feeling well, so we bought a couple of family packs. One of the things I made for the next few weeks was a big pot of pasta sauce with sausage. But Monday night, I just sliced it and browned it, then tossed in some tatsoi, and put the whole thing over microwaved polenta left over from the upcoming post.
So – I may not post regularly, I’ll be scattered. If I sound disconnected over the next while, you know why. Right now, I’m still in disbelief stage. I expect it to sink in when I can do more… I thought of skipping this post, but it seemed the most logical way to tell you what is going on.