Monday, January 7, 2013

Creamy Polenta with Sautéed Mushrooms & Dark Leafy Greens

It wouldn't be considered a proper start to the new year without the obligatory post-New Years healthy(ish) recipe post! Every year as the holidays wind down and life begrudgingly slips back into reality, I always seem to find myself in a very self reflective mood. I think about the year we just toasted to leaving behind, the mistakes that were made, the leaps of faith that were taken, the accomplishments I can feel proud of, and the year that is just beginning, what I want to gain out of the year, how I can make that happen, and where I want to be at this time next year. There's a lot of writing involved, in more than just my blog, with journal pages covered in my my-brain-is-moving-too-fast-for-my-hand-to-keep-up scribble writing, not to mention torn envelops and paper scraps with thoughts and inspiring words scrawled across them. I write to find the root of my problems, trying to understand why exactly I'm feeling the way I'm feeling, digging to try and reach that moment of epiphany, that "aha!" moment, where it seems to all make sense. 

This is the first year in a long time where I'm not beating myself up over finding those answers, analyzing each and every mistake I have made over the course of the year, and every flaw I must conquer over the coming year. This is the first year where it all just seems to make sense. Although I still don't exactly know where I'm going in terms of my career path, I have found a new sense of trust in both myself and my life, finally seeing with my own eyes the clichéd truth that everything truly happens for a reason. I now trust that as long as I'm true to myself and my values, I'm headed in the right direction. I have come to accept my imperfections, embrace the qualities that make me who I am, and have a newfound confidence in the person that I have become. This New Years isn't about jotting down a list of resolutions, things that I will inevitably neglect and abandon within a few weeks, it's about looking at each day and each action I make as a means to become that person I've always wanted to be, that best version of myself that I can be proud of, that person that I would want to be around. 

In classic Danielle-fashion, I seem to be going off topic, but I assure you I have a point! I look at this recent recipe as a sort of metaphor to where I'm at right now.  I wanted to make a healthy dish to kick start the new year, working with ingredients previously foreign to me, forcing me out of my comfort zone. Not exactly "healthy" in most peoples books, my idea of healthy still contains bacon and comforting carbs. As much as I've tried doing the complete 180º, saying I am going to only eat healthy from now on, I know that's just not me and that's not going to stick. I love food way too much, and believe life is way too short to compromise on flavour. Yes, I'm sure you could make this dish quite tasty by omitting the crispy, fatty bacon and creamy, buttery polenta, but really why would you, when it adds so much to the final dish in terms of adding a whole other layer of flavour and textures. That's just not me, and I'm not going to try and force myself in a direction that I know isn't right for me. I'd say that a healthy portion of mushrooms with their high level of Vitamin D (a must in gloomy January!) and dark leafy greens with their alkalinizing effect is a pretty good compromise. I took a chance by trying my hand at polenta for the first time, and, quite frankly, it didn't go so well. My "creamy" polenta was more gummy in consistency, but I wouldn't have understood how to achieve that silky texture if I had not taken a bit of a risk by trying something I had never done before, and really, knew next to nothing about. I showed confidence in my food photography by plating the dish in an old, ugly, scratched up bowl, that no one in their right mind would serve to guests. The final dish was imperfect, flawed, but still very tasty and enjoyable, with complimenting flavours and textures, and full of potential once the tricky technique of creating a silky smooth polenta is achieved. 

Maybe I never did get my point across, and maybe I did stray a little too far off topic. But this new year has me thinking that maybe I should embrace the fact that I feel compelled to share these strange, confusing, and almost entirely self-indulgent musings about myself. Maybe it's obnoxious to some (and for those of you who feel that way, feel free to skip right on to the recipe!) but maybe, just maybe, there's a few of you out there who will connect with what I'm feeling, and find comfort in the fact that there's someone out there who feels exactly like you. 

Note: Cookin' Greens Athletes Mix is a frozen blend of chopped collards, spinach, kale, sweet red pepper, and white beans. You can find it in the frozen health section at your local grocery store.
*If subbing in another dark leafy green for Cookin' Greens Athletes Mix, add 1/4 red pepper, chopped to step #3.

Tip: After failing achieve the creamy polenta I has hoping for, I realized a few things that I did wrong. The first was that I was cooking my polenta on too low of a heat. You want your polenta to be on low heat, but not so low so that the mixture doesn't bubble. Secondly, I was much more concerned about timing my polenta rather than feeling when it was done. Have a rough timeline in your head, but don't rely on that. Turn your polenta down to low (low enough so that it does not bubble) or remove from heat when the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan, that's when it is done. 

Serves 2
2 cups milk
1 3/4 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
1 cup polenta 
3 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
olive oil, for frying
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups cremini mushrooms
1 cup Cookin' Greens Athletes Mix, thawed (may sub with any other frozen dark leafy green*)
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp fresh thyme
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar 
2 tbsp unsalted butter
generous amount of parmesan cheese, grated, to taste

  1. Bring milk and water to a boil in a large saucepan. When mixture is boiled, whisk in salt and pepper. While continuing to whisk, slowing pour in the polenta in an even steady stream. Reduce heat to low enough that the polenta mixture bubbles ever so slightly, and whisk constantly for the next 5 minutes straight. After the 5-minutes of constant whisking, continue cooking over low, whisking often until mixture thickens and begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. This can take anywhere from 15-25 minutes. At that point keep heated on very low until ready to serve.
  2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat, until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon remove bacon transfer to a paper towel to drain. Pour out bacon fat  leaving 1 tbsp remaining in the skillet. 
  3. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to skillet and garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Add the onions and cook until just beginning to soften. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and begin to colour. Stir in Cookin' Greens Athletes Mix and cooked bacon. 
  4. Stir in the chicken broth, reduce heat to medium-low until slightly reduced. Add the thyme and lemon zest. Turn heat to medium-high and stir in the balsamic vinegar, cooking for 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Whisk butter and parmesan into polenta and divide among plate. Top with mushroom and greens mixture. Serve immediately.

Listening To:
Odd Future - Oldie

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