Polenta Cakes with Roasted Tomatoes

As I studied the menu at one of my favorite breakfast spots in Chicago this past weekend, I noticed polenta cakes advertised as pancakes. To give you a look into how my mind works, that reminded me of the polenta in my cabinet, which led to a sudden urge to make polenta…into little cakes. I have no idea what the polenta cakes on the menu looked like because I go with eggs in the morning, but I am sure they would have been spectacular. You know when you don’t get something you may have wanted and that causes you to obsess over it? That is where I was. Obsessing over polenta cakes.

I opened my fridge a day later (polenta cakes creeping to the extreme forefront of my mind) to see a quart of grape tomatoes starting to wrinkle. I immediately pulled them out, attempting to rescue them. I’d never roasted tomatoes, but knew it was not hard and could possibly make a perfect addition to a polenta cake. Halved, doused in olive oil, salted and peppered and into the oven they went at 325 degrees for 2 1/2 hours (they were small grape tomatoes and didn’t need a full 3 hours to roast).

   

Since obsession was the theme, I remembered my summer-into-fall love affair with ricotta. I had found tubs of the fresh kind at Whole Foods and used it in several recipes. They became another ingredient for the polenta cakes. Basil was an easy last addition since it goes with the flavors. Together, all these pieces create polenta cakes with roasted tomatoes, perfect as an appetizer…when the need to make polenta comes about.

Polenta Cakes with Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup roasted grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 10 fresh basil leaves

How To:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease an 8″ or 9″ round cake pan. If desired, line with parchement paper.

Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add pinch of salt and polenta. Stir gently until polenta begins to come away from sides of pan. Add parmesan cheese and garlic powder, stir to mix. Remove from heat.

Pour polenta into cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until top is set. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Turn polenta cake onto a plate, remove parchement from bottom. Using a 1 inch diameter biscuit cutter, cut polenta cake into mini cakes.

While polenta cake is baking, mix ricotta with salt and pepper to taste. I use about 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Top cooled polenta cakes with about 1 or 2 teaspoons ricotta. Top with a basil leaf and three or four tomato halves. Alternatively, top ricotta with three or four roasted tomato halves and basil chiffonade (when the basil is cut into long thin strips), or as I like to call it “basil confetti”. Season with salt and pepper again if desired. I prefer these bites at room temperature, but chilled is delicious as well.

This recipe can be played with and I want to try topping the polenta cakes with mozzerella chunks then the tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes, maybe some fresh salmon and dill, perhaps some roasted vegetable layers…I’m getting too many ideas and I’ll have to post them once they finally take shape! In polenta cake form of course.

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Amazing Chicken Tenders

I formerly thought of chicken tenders as the deep-fried type found only in bars and on children’s menus that come with a side of ranch or bbq sauce. I was so so wrong. After this latest experiment insprired by the National Championship BCS game, I now think of chicken tenders as an awesome dinner with a light, flaky crust and a juicy chicken tender underneath. See, it was a blizzard out and there was no way I was going to a bar to watch two teams I can’t even claim as one of my own.

I recommend baking these tenders to keep the crust intact, but you can most definitely fry or even fry first quickly then bake to add some oil to the crunchy outside. When I first made a batch, I was literally throwing in whatever seasonings sounded good. You can do the same or use Italian breadcrumbs that have a lot of the seasonings listed below. If you prefer to use measurements to the tee and follow the below instructions, you’ll have an amazing batch of chicken tenders. Which is why I named them so.

Dip these in your bar bbq sauce and see if you like them more. You’ll definitely feel better after eating a plate-full, unless its a hangover situation, in which case grease could possibly win. But the chances aren’t good. These are after all, amazing.

Amazing Chicken Tenders

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken  breasts, cut into strips to create tenders
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (can use whole wheat)
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • pinch dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon lawry salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • sauces for dipping such as honey, ranch, honey mustard, sweet and sour, bbq sauce, hot wing sauce…the list is virtually endless… 

How To:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs and all dry seasonings. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Add milk and dijon, mix well.

Line a large baking sheet with parchement paper. Dump crumbs onto a large plate. Create an assembly line – first chicken tenders, followed by egg bowl, crumb plate, and baking sheet. Dunk several chicken tenders in egg mixture. One tender at a time, roll in crumb mixture. Set on baking sheet and proceed with the rest of the tenders. Once all tenders are breaded, bake in oven for 15 minutes or until opaque througout. While tenders are baking, pour sauces into separate ramekins or small bowls.

Serve immediately with sauces. *

*Chicken tenders are best made and immmediately eaten, but you can save them (place in refrigerator in a sealed containter) and reheat in 350 degree oven until warm/hot.

Pumpkin Potstickers

Your holiday dish didn’t turn out the way you wanted, and you’re left with something that isn’t looking good or right. Welcome to my pumpkin ravioli nightmare.  Pictures can be deceiving.

I set out to make a delightful dinner of pumpkin ravioli using wonton wrappers (you can buy these in almost any grocery). Apparently wonton wrappers do not like to be boiled, contrary to a popular tv star chef’s directions. I was a bit aggravated. When I realized this, looking over a pot of boiling water and pumpkin ravioli mush, I thought “why not try the directions on the wonton packaging- fry them?” So that is what I did with my remaining raviolis and my oh my, they turned out better than what I think the raviolis would have been (perhaps that is because food in fried form is just better). Crunchy but still doughy with a creamy dollop of pumpkin mash in the middle, the pumpkin potstickers paired well with a sour cream sauce.

While these were not supposed to be potstickers,  I learned an important lesson: work with what you have. I’m happy to say I salvaged my poor raviolis, and I believe now that dishes can have a second, if unexpected, incarnation. Don’t just throw in the towel. Work with your food, and hopefully it will work with you.

Pumpkin Potstickers

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
  • 1/2 bay leaf (or one small bay leaf)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, plus sage leaves for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or a sprinkle of dried thyme
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • kosher salt
  • white ground pepper
  • 1 package won tons (Nasoya brand works great…if you don’t boil them)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 clove garlic

for the dip

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced chives
  • salt and pepper to taste

How To:

Heat a small fry pan and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add shallots and garlic. Saute until soft and tender, remove from heat and set aside.

Pour pumpkin puree into medium saucepot. Add cream, herbs and shallot-garlic mixture and cook over low heat for approximately 1 hour. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent scorching. The puree should be thick and the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and mix in the butter. Whisk in the beaten eggs and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Open wonton package so wontons are easily accessible. Pour a couple tablespoons of water into a ramekin. Take first wonton, dip finger in water and go along the edges of the wonton. Put a dollop – about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the pumpkin mixture in the center, and cover with another wonton. Press down with fingers to seal. The water acts like a glue. Set aside and complete with remaining pumpkin mixture and wonton wrappers. When setting aside do not let the potstickers touch as they may stick. Note: Use immediately. I put a batch in a ziploc and they got very gooey and hard to handle. You may be able to store in a sealed tupperware in the freezer, taking care potstickers do not touch, but I have not tried it.

Heat a medium or large saute pan with oil to coat the bottom. Add potstickers, being sure they do not touch and let cook about 3-4 minutes or until bottom side is golden brown. Flip and repeat, another 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Continue in batches until you’ve used all the potstickers.

Serve warm with sour cream dip and sage leaves to garnish.