Some Finer Things of Life

A young professional resident of the Washington, DC metro area shares some of the finer things she encounters around her. The finer things in her life include a love of cooking and all things food as well as travel and adventure, be it local, regional, or further afield.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Crockpot Polenta

I love my crockpot. Anyone who knows me well will immediately concur with this statement. With an hour commute to work, my crockpot often keeps me in good stews and soups. I was very excited to try making cornmeal 'mush' in the crockpot. It is a beautiful thing! Polenta is a luxury that has been out of reach because of the time needed to prepare it on the stovetop. No more standing over the hot pot stirring or worrying about burning.

I use a plain yellow cornmeal (American grind), but a true polenta grind cornmeal will also work equally well. Rub butter on the inside of a 3 quart crockpot (or spray with a cooking oil - olive oil spray works well for a more flavored italian polenta.) Sprinkle 2 cups of dry cornmeal into the bottom of the crockpot and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir in 7 cups of boiling hot water, stir until lump free. Cook on high for 2-3 hours or on low for 7-9 hours. No stirring required!

I have made half of the above amounts with success. You may also replace some or all of the water with boiling chicken stock (omit salt if you use stock or broth as it contains salt.) Sage or other favorite dry herbs may be added as well. Whatever additions you make to your polenta while cooking on the stovetop may be incorporated into crockpot preparation.

To use your cornmeal mush/polenta -

1) Eat plain cornmeal mush for breakfast or brunch, adding some milk, butter, and some sugar or honey.

2) Pour into a large shallow bowl or platter and top with a ragu type of tomato sauce, sauteed mushrooms, or stewed meat, tender and falling off of the bones, with vegetables.

3) Pour into a buttered loaf pan and allow to cool completely. This firm loaf can be sliced and fried or made into a polenta lasagna.

4) Prepare a portion of the polenta using Clotilde's suggestion at Chocolate & Zucchini for a tasty polenta appetizer.

5) I like to separate my prepared polenta using some to make these great polenta squares and the rest for serving more traditionally or if it is early in the day as my breakast.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Evening under the stars

The sky is above us every day. With the internet, there are many resources to help us learn both the more familiar and well-known constellations as well as more advanced stargazing. Super cheap and quite fun, head to an unlit park with some friends or family after dark and enjoy the stars. No fancy equipment needed, particularly for beginners.

Stardate is both a radio program and a website that provides weekly highlights for the night sky.

Stardate also has a primer with suggestions for beginners.

One of my favorite resources is Starmaps. Here you can find monthly evening sky 'pdfs' that clearly outline what you will see when you look up.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Afternoon pangs

Weekend afternoons almost always involve some type of rummaging through the refrigerator or the pantry shelves in search of nibbles. Sometimes the craving/need is rather specific - sweet or savory, hot or cold. Sometimes it simply 'is.' A well stocked pantry of staples is definately the first line of defense.

Today, when mid-afternoon rolled around, the scavenging began. I first encountered the leftover roast vegetables from last evening's dinner (roast eggplant, onions, and sweet bell peppers with garlic and herbs.) This was immediately tasked to serve as the base of my afternoon creation. I placed 2/3 cup of these roast vegetables in the food processor. To this was added 1/3 cup shelled edamame and 1/3 cup peas (these came out of the freezer and were microwaved for 4 minutes before adding to the food processor), 2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes packed in oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon homemade ketchup (this could be omited or substituted with tomato paste and red pepper paste.) This processed into a very thick tapenade that was wonderful spread over wheat thins and pita triangles.

Healthy, savory snack attack solved! (photo not included because, of course, the spread disappeared before the camera could be employed.)