Baked Cheesy Polenta with Tomato Sauce

27 12 2011

As I’m writing this, my boyfriend is stuffing a shirt into a burning fireplace. We are staying at my bosses house all week, looking after his incredibly needy/flaky dog and a mysteriously absent cat. We decided to light a fire, only to discover that the fireplace is stuffed with household trash; the burnable, the probably-non-burnable. All I know is that my boss gave the OK on lighting fires, so I’m blindly praying that none of this stuff is too toxic. This is either very ghetto and incredibly hazardous or totally sustainable. Leaning towards the former…

Speaking of fires, I was very much on the verge of burning this cookbook. I’ve made a few recipes from it and frankly, they have all been flavorless and weak. Cursing these butter-substituting, fat-free nazis, I reluctantly gave the book one last try after Ryan dug it up one day.

And lo and behold, cookbook gets to live another day because of Cheesy Polenta. I haven’t cooked with polenta that much, but when I have, the results have not been too exciting. But this casserole dish fits the texture and taste of polenta perfectly. It soaks up all of the flavorful sauce and matches very well with the mellow Gruyère. Serve with a salad, a side veggie and a good chunk of bread .

New beer reviews are also up! Check out Smuttynose Winter Ale and Ayinger’s Celebrator.

Baked Cheesy Polenta with Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Fat-Free Vegetarian

1 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups quick-cooking polenta OR one of those round mold packages of pre-cooked polenta that Trader Joes sells
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsps. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 14-oz cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tb. tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup Gruyère cheese,

If using quick-cooking polenta: Lightly grease an ovenproof dish and set aside. Line an 11 x 7 in. baking pan with plastic wrap. In a pan, bring 4 cups water to boil with the salt. Pour in the polenta and cook, stirring continuously for 5 minutes. Beat in the paprika and nutmeg, then pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Leave to cool.

If using pre-cooked polenta: cut into 2 inch squares and sprinkle both sides with paprika and nutmeg.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet and cook the onion and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and other spices. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place half the polenta squares in the prepared baking dish. Spoon over half the tomato sauce then sprinkle with half of the cheese. Repeat the layers. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until golden. Serve hot.

Fettuccine Margherita

5 12 2011

So I recently joined to try and manage my budget. All I can say is, don’t do it. It makes you horrified and extremely disappointed in every single one of your spending decisions. Every. Single. One. I had to buy floss today and felt like a jerk.

But what mainly gets me is the amount I spend going on out to eat. I just love trying out new restaurants and all sorts of types of cuisine. But now instead of trying other peoples food, I will be trying out my own skills in the kitchen A LOT more. This month has been dubbed No Spend December. I am not going out to eat once. Home-cooked goodies all around. My wallet and tummy will be thanking me.

Starting NSD off, we have this lovely pasta dish. The original recipe called for one pound of pasta, but I kicked it down to half a pound. I don’t know if anyone else has this issue with pasta recipes, but the sauce:pasta ratios are always way off. A full pound of pasta is just going to absorb all of the sauce, leaving nothing  for me to dip my bread in or slurp from the bowl. So either double the amount of sauce or reduce the amount of pasta.

This sauce is really exquisite. Mushrooms browned in butter, mixed with tangy tomatoes, wine and silky cream blend together perfectly to make a dish that is ideal for a cozy night in. Pair with crusty bread and a glass of red wine and you wonder why you dish out cash for someone else to make this stuff for you.

On a different note, if you’re into beer, I have a few new reviews for brews you need to try over in the Beer Section: Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale, Anderson Valley’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout and Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin, to name a few.

Fettuccine Margherita
Adapted from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures

1/2 lb. fettuccine
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. unsalted butter
12 oz (about 4 1/2 cups) sliced mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 28-oz. can plum tomatoes, well-drained and chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the fettuccine until al dente in a large pot of boiling, salted water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they brown and the juices begin to evaporate, about 7 minutes.

Add the garlic and red pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and wine and boil 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the cream and salt and boil 1 minute.

Drain the fettuccine thoroughly. Place in a large bowl, then pour on the sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Toss quickly and serve immediately.

Fried Green Tomato Po’Boys & Vegan Caesar Salad

20 09 2011

I always imagined green tomatoes as being tart and well, green tasting. I pictured the disappointment and agony in our faces as we spit them out in unison, cursing the unripe fruit. But lo! Not was the case! Succulent and flavorful, with a tobasco-kick and my bacon portobellos melting over everything, these sandwiches are anything but agony.

Try pairing with this *vegan cesar salad (almost vegan, minus the Parmesan I added..) Vampires beware. This dressing packs a garlic whollop. Love it.

Fried Green Tomato Po’Boys
Adapted from Vegan Planet

3 small green tomatoes, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-in. slices
Salt and black pepper
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning (or if Old Bay can’t be found, some Cajun seasoning will work)
3 tbs. olive oil
Tempeh Bacon (my substitute for tempeh was to take 2 portobello mushies, slice, marinate in my tried & true “Bacon” marinade: equal parts liquid smoke, real maple syrup and soy sauce)
2 romaine lettuce leaves
Mayo (or soy mayo)
Hot sauce, to taste
Bread/sub roll of choice

Cesar Salad
Adapted from Vegan Planet

1 loaf crusty bread
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tb. tahini
1 tb. white miso
2 tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Romaine lettuce
Parmesan cheese, shaved (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the bread into 1-inch. cubes and spread on a baking sheet. Coat in olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake, turning occasionally, until lightly toasted on all sides, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl or food processor, combine the garlic, tahini, miso, lemon juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil until blended. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the romaine leaves into bite-size pieces and place in a large serving bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until evenly coated. Add the croutons and cheese, if using, toss again and serve.

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad

25 07 2011

Ignore the steak slapped on top of this crappy photo. I misplaced my cameras memory card in the move from Falmouth to my parents house (It’s temporary, I swears.) and the only decent image that came out from my phone was the boyfriends meaty portion.

I’ve been putting off writing this blog for the past hour because the second I typed “Bloody Mary” into the subject line, my brain sidetracked and went all out looking up Bloody Mary recipes. Bookmarking tons of them. Making note of restaurants nearby who claim to have the best. Give me all of them. Spiced with srichacha, stuffed with olives, glasses rimmed with Old Bay, garnished with delicatly carved jalapenos, lemons, limes, pickles, cheese, I don’t care. Give me! So this is the first, but definitely not the last, post based on my favorite drink of all time.

I pretty much doubled the amount of seasonings in this recipe to give it that familiar kick. You can always use less horseradish and hot sauce if it ain’t yo thang. Or you can just make me proud and make it your thang. I ate this with some homemade grilled seitan on top. The savory seitan juices blending into the tomato goodness were probably one of the best things I’ve tasted this summer.

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup chopped red onion
3 tbs. red wine vinegar
2 lbs. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup chopped celery hearts (inner stalks and leaves)
1/2 cup green olives, chopped, plus 2 tbs. reserved brine
3 tbs. prepared horseradish
1 tb. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Pour one tablespoon of the red wine vinegar over the onions in the bottom of a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes to help temper the onions bite. Add the tomatoes, celery and olives. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, olive brine, horseradish, Worcestershire, hot sauce and celery seed in a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly until combined. Pour over tomatoes, add salt and pepper to taste, toss to coat. Refridgerate until ready to eat.

Tomato-Basil Lasagna Spirals

1 04 2011

I love checking off a movie classic that I finally get around to seeing a little bit too late. I had never seen the movie Alien so Ryan proposed a dinner/movie night. Netflix and vegan lasagna, how middle-class! I thought a chunky red tomato sauce would pair nicely with watching people being eviscerated by space creatures, but turns out, the movie doesn’t play out as the typical gory movie of modern day, and instead, relies more on suspense. You barely even see the damn Alien. Who woulda known. Apparently everyone else who saw the movie twenty years ago. Oh well.

Highlight of the night though, the creamy filling of this lasagna. Oh my lord. Eat it with a spoon-good. The sun-dried tomatoes and pesto add such a savory depth of flavor, with just a tiny kick of heat from the pinch of cayenne. You can hardly believe that it’s tofu and not some heavy cheese/egg blend.

The only thing I really changed is to double the amount of sauce, otherwise there wouldn’t be any left for plating or for leftovers the next day.

Tomato-Basil Lasagna Spirals
Adapted from Vegan Planet

2 tbs. olive oil
4 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Box tofu, drained & crumbled
2 tbs. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup pesto
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne
3 tbs. tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
One 28-oz. can plum tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, minced
12 whole wheat lasagna noodles
Whole fresh basil leaves for garnish

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add half of the shallots and all of the garlic, cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and add the tofu, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, bread crumbs, salt and cayenne. Process until smooth then refridgerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining shallots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the tomato paste. Remove from heat and add the wine. Return to heat and add tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes then stir in the minced basil. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the noodles and spread out on a work surface to prevent them from sticking together. Pat dry.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide the filling among the noodles, spreading evenly over the surface of each noodle. Roll each one up tightly into a spiral-shaped roll. Place seam side down in a lightly oiled baking dish. Cover the rolls with 1 cup of tomato sauce. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes.

To serve, spread a small amount of warm sauce on each plate and stand 2-3 rolls upright on the sauce. Spoon the remaining sauce over the rolls and garnish with the whole basil leaves. Serve with warm focaccia bread and roasted asparagus.