Category Archives: Autumn

The Polenta Puzzle with some extra pieces {CtBF}

I have mixed feelings about polenta.  It’s something I always hope I’ll like, but I’m never wowed.  I think it’s a texture thing, probably stemming from my mother’s strong distaste for hot cereal, which she passed along to her children.  I’ve been practicing with oatmeal for years.  I can manage toothy steel-cut oats but only when masked by dried fruit and a healthy dose of turbinado sugar and honey.

David Lebovitz considers polenta topped with bitter greens and an egg to be comfort food.  I would choose something hot, cheesy and gooey, like mac-and-cheese.  Comfort food is a personal thing, so he’s entitled to his opinion.  I’m also open to trying (and to some extent, retrying) new foods or new food combinations, so I added Buckwheat Polenta with Braised Greens, Sausage, and Poached Eggs to this week’s menu.

This version of polenta included some cracked buckwheat to add a bit of texture.  I love the bulk bins at Whole Foods where I can purchase the small quantities of polenta and buckwheat needed.  I started with whole buckwheat and slightly ground it in the mini-chopper.  When I’ve cooked polenta in the past, I remember it being tedious and temperamental like risotto.  I was pleasantly surprised that the polenta cooked easily with frequent but not obsessive stirring.

A mix of radicchio and escarole is braised until wilted. I was a little disappointed that the vibrant colored greens turned a shade of gray when cooked. Pan-fried slices of herby sausage and some slivered olives bulk up the topping.  The final bowl is sprinkled with some feta cheese and topped with a poached egg.

Escarole and Radicchio (Much Prettier Before)

This made a hearty meal on a cold winter’s night, but it also confirmed that polenta just isn’t a favorite in our house.

I completely skipped Cook the Book Fridays in October, so I made an effort to catch up.

I can’t give enough praise to the Individual Chocolate Cakes with Dulce de Leche and Fleur de Sel. We’re huge fans of molten chocolate cakes, and this was an excellent variation.  It’s nice to have a flourless (and gluten-free) option.  And the dulce de leche filling hiding inside pushed this version over the top.  I was happy to figure out that these little cakes can be assembled in advance and chilled until you’re ready to bake.  Great for entertaining or just having a weeknight treat ready to go.  There’s lots more dulce de leche in the fridge, so I’ll be making these again soon.

When the October recipe schedule was posted, I’ll admit that I was ambivalent about the Indian Cheese Bread (Naan au Fromage). I bought the Laughing Cow cheese, but never felt excited about preparing the recipe.  Laughing Cow cheese did make me feel nostalgic.  When I was growing up, this was most exotic cheese my mother bought.  At that time, I think it was made in France.  It was somewhat bland, but the individually wrapped wedges traveled well in my lunchbox.

Finally, I found a day where the timing would work to make these flatbreads to accompany soup for lunch.  Minimal work is required to prepare the dough, especially when using the stand mixer.  Most of the time is spent waiting for it to rise.  The dough was supple and glossy (from the butter) and rolled out easily.  I was skeptical after wrapping the first flatbread around the cheese.  Roll out this brick?  The cheese is so soft that it was no problem.  Surprise!

Though smoky, it only took a minute or two to toast the bread in a covered cast-iron skillet brushed with clarified butter.  The bread puffed up beautifully (though it flattened almost instantly).  The folding and rerolling created layers so the bread was subtly flaky.  I only had 8 wedges of cheese, so I made 4 with cheese and 2 plain.  I folded the plain ones too to ensure the flaky effect.  The flatbreads reheated nicely in the oven the next day.

When I try new recipes, after evaluating the results, they end up in one of the three categories: Will Make, Might, and Won’t Make Again.  The end results here is one of each.

Will Make Again: Individual Chocolate Cakes with Dulce de Leche and Fleur de Sel

Might Make Again: Indian Cheese Bread

Won’t Make Again: Buckwheat Polenta with Braised Greens, Sausage, and Poached Eggs

If you want to try any of these recipes, you can find them in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.

My friends at Cook the Book Fridays also share their reviews of the same recipes.  If you want more opinions, look at their comments on Buckwheat Polenta, Individual Chocolate Cakes, and Indian Cheese Bread.

Wishing all my American friends a Happy Thanksgiving!  It’s my favorite holiday, and I can’t wait to prepare and enjoy the feast.

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Serve Me for Thanksgiving, Please! {CtBF}

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Crisps, also known as Crumbles in places where crisps are potato chips, are among my household’s favorite desserts.  I give them a mix-and-match approach, choosing the fruit based on season and the topping based on mood.  There’s an infinite number of combinations.

I never considered the possibility of a SAVORY crumble.  However, this week’s recipe choice for Cook the Book Fridays is exactly that.  David Lebovitz presents a recipe for Butternut Squash Crumble in his book My Paris Kitchen.  I was very intrigued.

This is the perfect recipe for the season.  Local butternut squash has just started to be harvested around here.  All the fresh ingredients were part of this week’s CSA share, farmers’ market purchases, or growing in my backdoor herb garden.  Delightful!

[Side note: One of the most popular varieties of butternut squash is the “Waltham” which was developed in Waltham (the town next to mine) in the 1960s, by the Massachusetts Agricultural Extension Service.]

To create this savory side, first you cook the squash.  Diced squash is sautéed with shallots and seasoned with a generous amount of fresh thyme leaves until the squash starts to soften.  Then the squash is further roasted in the oven.

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While the squash bakes, the flavorful topping is prepared.  Bread crumbs, stone-ground cornmeal, and grated Parmesan cheese stand in for the flour you’d find in a sweet version.  The butter is cut in until it’s crumbly.  At this point, the topping had a familiar texture, but the addition of an egg ensures that it stays bound together.  The crumble is sprinkled on top of the tender squash and baked some more to crisp up and brown the topping.

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Well, the verdict is that butternut squash crumble is delicious!  The tender squash and the crunchy topping works well together.  My only quibble is that the two-step cooking of the squash seems fussy.  When I make this again, I’ll either saute the squash until it’s completely tender OR roast the vegetable mixture until tender.  I’ll skip the other step.

As is, the crumble screams “Serve me for Thanksgiving, please!”  Variations on the crumble will also be in the cards.  I’m imagining that roasted root vegetables, singularly or as a medley, are worth a try.  Different herbs in the topping could be extended for a mix-and-match for savory crumbles to complement my dessert combos.

If you want to try this, you can find the recipe on page 215 in My Paris Kitchen.  To see what the other Cook the Book Fridays members thought of savory crumble, check out their links here.

And a very Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends!