Until just a few years ago, I thought that all polenta came precooked and wrapped firmly in plastic. When I was in college, my roommates and I would occasionally buy it packaged that way. Once we sawed through the wrapper, we’d cut it into thick rounds and cook those slices in butter until they were crisp and warmed through. Topped with some jarred marinara sauce, we thought it was QUITE the sophisticated meal.
There is nothing wrong with that kind of polenta, but once you taste the freshly cooked kind, all creamy and enriched with Parmesan cheese and a dab of butter, well, there’s no going back. It’s one of my pantry staples, because it can help unify a few leftover odds and ends into a really good meal. My favorite thing to do is top polenta with some pan-wilted spinach and a couple poached eggs. It’s an almost-instant dinner.
I’ve also found that polenta dishes are excellent to share with new parents. They reheat well, last for days in the fridge and are edible comfort for the sleep-deprived.
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During my childhood years in Southern California, Mexican food was something we ate only at restaurants. Sure, we’d occasionally have burrito night at home, but there was nothing authentic or traditional about those overstuffed and rolled tortillas.
It wasn’t until I moved to Philadelphia and became friends with a woman who had lived in Mexico until the age of 14 that I discovered how truly approachable this cuisine was. Thanks to Angie, I learned to make authentic tamales and carne asada. She even shared her grandmother’s recipe for mole with me.
In recent days, it’s been harder to find a chance to get into the kitchen with Angie. She has twin toddlers and so keeping them out of trouble is her primary focus. Still, I want to keep nurturing my still-nascent Mexican cookery skills, so last weekend I went in search of a new recipe to try.
What I found was Melissa d’Arabian’s version of Chiles Rellenos. Though labor intensive, this dish was a huge winner in terms of flavor. It was just the thing for a lazy Sunday meal and The Weekender.
Before you start broiling your peppers, read these tips »
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that unless you live on the same block or work in nearby offices, it becomes harder and harder to ensure that you’re seeing friends on a regular basis. Add babies to the mix (as many of my generation have been doing lately) and it becomes even more challenging.
To combat this, I help organize a monthly potluck for some of my favorite folks, to ensure that we see each other with some regularity. Each month, we gather around one of our dining tables with dishes in hand and spend a few hours eating, drinking and catching up.
Because I’ve known this collection of couples for nearly a decade, they’ve eaten all my standby recipes, sometimes many times over. I regularly feel like I have to step up my contributions to our community table to keep things from getting boring.
For this month’s gathering, I went in search of a recipe that would feature the oranges, lemons and grapefruit currently in season. What I found was Giada’s Citrus Crostada. It’s a shortbread tart crust, filled with slightly sweetened mascarpone and topped with a homemade citrus jam. It was a hit with my friends and is perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start cooking your jam, here are a few tips »
I spent the first 25 years of my life entirely afraid of yeast. I wasn’t fearful of bread, mind you. It was scared of yeast as an ingredient. I heard it was very easy to kill and I lived in terror that if I took even the smallest misstep with a recipe, I’d ruin the whole thing and wind up with a bowl of flaccid pancake batter in place of a batch of bread dough.
And so I stayed away. I learned to make quick breads, scones and biscuits, and kept my distance from yeast. That is, until the no-knead bread craze swept the scene about six years ago. It was such a novel and approachable concept that I tried it. I ended up with a beautiful loaf of bread and was entirely infatuated with the process. It opened me up to yeast and we’ve been friends ever since.
These days, I bake some form of bread at least once every other week and have become so smitten that I even have a sourdough starter that I carefully tend to. Still, yeast is my first bread baking love and there’s nothing like it for a reliably light loaf for sandwiches and toast.
The most recent yeasty recipe I took for a spin was the Focaccia recipe from Anne Burrell. It’s a blessedly simple version, with just six ingredients (and that includes the water). For those of you who still harbor a bit of yeast anxiety, it’s just the thing to help you over that hump. And on a Sunday afternoon, there’s nothing nicer than having a bit of warm, tender bread to dip into a bowl of soup. Just the thing for The Weekender.
Before you start kneading, here are a few things you should know.
When I was in college, I had a friend who insisted on wearing all black on Valentine’s Day. It was her way of protesting the hubbub and commercialization of the holiday. Though I could see her point, I didn’t follow suit. I remained utterly charmed by a day devoted to love.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I have become a little disgusted with how much money people think it takes to do Valentine’s Day right. If you believe the marketing, you need a second job to make your sweetie feel loved. Restaurants take particular advantage of our expectations and raise their prices for the day. A meal that would regularly cost $50 doubles to $100. Wine and cocktail prices ratchet up precipitously, as well.
Here’s my suggestion. Instead of blowing through wads of cash on a meal out, treat your honey to a special-occasion, home-cooked meal. You’ll spend a fraction of the cash you would on a fancy-pants dinner and with just a few carefully placed candles, you won’t lose even an ounce of the romance.
A recipe that works really well for a cozy dinner for two is Giada’s Short Rib Lasagna Rolls. It can be made over the weekend (this is The Weekender, after all) and stashed in the fridge for February 14. All you have to do when you get home from work is pop it into the oven, make a salad and pour glasses of something bubbly.
Before you start braising, read these tips »
I come from a family with hippie tendencies, particularly when it comes to food. During my childhood, the only bread in our fridge was the kind that had at least eight different kinds of grains. I didn’t know that rice could be anything other than brown for my first decade. And for years, I assumed that everyone made granola on a weekly basis.
Every Sunday afternoon, my mom would pull out her rimmed cookie sheets, a big jar of oats and jug of honey to make that week’s batch. Her recipe came from a friend who, for a time, had a granola business. It was of the kitchen-sink variety and included flaked coconut, wheat germ and sesame seeds. While it was quite delicious, it was built for nutrition more than to appeal to my six-year-old taste buds.
As it turns out, this apple hasn’t fallen very far from her tree. Once I got out on my own, it wasn’t long before I fell into the same Sunday afternoon granola habit that I grew up with. My kitchen feels quite naked without a jar of granola on the counter. I eat it with a bit of milk for breakfast, munch on a handful when the late-afternoon munchies strike and dash a few clusters over Greek yogurt for that late-evening something sweet.
Before you start toasting your oats, read these tips »
Until last weekend, I’d never made fried chicken at home. This is primarily because I grew up in a household that did not deep-fry. My mother preferred the kind of cooking that employed a nonstick skillet and the barest coating of heart-friendly olive oil. When we’d go out to eat, she would expound on the many dangers of fried foods and point my sister and me toward lighter, more healthful options. French fries were a very rare treat and chicken fingers came only in baked varieties.
It wasn’t until high school that I had my first piece of fried chicken. A dear friend’s mother prided herself on her perfectly cooked, crisp, tender drumsticks and delighted in making it for us. I gobbled it down hungrily and didn’t tell my family.
In recent years, fried chicken has gotten increasingly trendy. It’s got a pleasantly retro-kitsch appeal, so higher-end restaurants have begun to add it to their menus. I’ve taken advantage of those offerings on occasion, all the while believing that it was still something best left to professionals or those families with a serious fried chicken tradition.
Before you start heating your oil, read these tips »
Come January, I’m ready to hunker down. Finally clear of the holiday frenzy, I crave slow evenings, mulled cider and the occasional quiet dinner party with a few friends.
Late-winter entertaining is a whole different beast from the string of holiday parties that stretch out across November and December. Now’s the time for slow-cooked, rich braises and stews that need nothing more than a glass of red wine to feel complete.
Last year, I spent most of this first month making oven-roasted beef stew. The year before, I revisited a braised turkey leg dish that I grew up eating out of my grandmother’s oval aluminum pot. This year, I can’t get the idea of pork posole out of my mind.
In the past, I’ve made green posole with a tomatillo puree, which is wonderfully mild and flavorful. Wanting to try something new, I determined that January 2012 is going to be focused on getting Rachael Ray’s recipe for Red Pork Posole just right.
Before you start braising, read Marisa’s tips »
When I was growing up, my sister and I always sat down in September and set our new school year resolutions. It just seemed like the right time to initiate new habits as we entered new grades and classrooms. Of course, these lists featured childhood basics like “Be nicer to my sister” and “Remember to help Mom clean the cat box.” Nothing earth-shattering, but it was the principle of it that mattered.
To this day, fall has always felt like the more appropriate time for fresh starts to me than January. However, in my current life as a freelance writer, I need all the structure and discipline I can get. So I’m taking advantage of this new year to institute change.
Chief among my resolutions this year is to eat better (I can’t imagine I’m alone in naming this as a goal). One recipe that I’ve bookmarked for regular rotation in this new regime is this Veggie Meatloaf With Checca Sauce from Giada. It’s built on a base of brown rice and red lentils and features carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes and spinach (talk about packing in the good stuff!). It includes egg and cheese for flavor and binding and is topped with a tasty blender sauce that is good on just about anything (if you have any left over, heap it on scrambled eggs). It is a many-stepped recipe, which means you’ll want to cook it on a chilly Sunday afternoon and then eat the leftover for lunch on Monday. Just the thing for The Weekender.
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Like so many others, when the new year approaches, I begin to entertain thoughts of healthier eating. I imagine spending all of December 31 sweeping out my refrigerator and pantry, getting rid of the crackers, chocolate (even the baking kind) and oozy cheeses, and replacing them with kale, flax seed meal and dried beans.
Most years I don’t actually tackle such extreme measures. Instead I just take steps to add a few more virtuous items to our regular menu. Come January the number of leafy greens found in my kitchen will outnumber the cheeses (sadly, not the case at the moment) and I’ll start packing more lunches for my husband and me.
One way that I fill our lunch bags is with homemade soup. I cook up a batch at the beginning of each week and portion it out into microwave-safe containers each night before I go to bed. That way it’s easy to grab come morning. These soups are often bean and vegetable based. Some weeks I do a black bean soup from dried beans; other weeks I stick to pantry basics like canned white beans and boxed stock.
Recently I’ve been making a simple Lentil Soup using Alton Brown’s recipe as my guide. It makes a generous amount, is incredibly cheap to make (good if you’re watching your wallet as well as your waistline) and can happily simmer on the back burner on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. All these things make it perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start simmering, read these tips »