Saturday, January 26, 2013

Baked Polenta with Black Beans and Veggies

Polenta is a cheap, delicious, and endlessly versatile foodstuff that lends itself to any number of interesting applications: in a breakfast scramble, as a side dish or a bed for stew, or as the topping for a casserole, this creamy cornmeal concoction is simultaneously light and hearty, nutritious and comforting. Today's recipe is essentially a variation on the theme of baked polenta, this time with a Mexican vs. Italian-inspired topping, which proved an enormous hit at my house. We had it with guacamole, salsa, vegan sour cream, and a green salad with roasted sweet potatoes, and it was so popular that the vasty quantities of leftovers I'd originally envisioned proved to be nothing but a pipe dream. (Which is perfectly fine when it means that everyone is eating their veggies with such enthusiasm!)

Baked Polenta and Veggies
~ 6 cups vegetable broth
~ 1.5 cups polenta (I use Bob's Red Mill)
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 bell pepper, diced
~ 1 large zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 tsp. each: cumin, chili powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cilantro, marjoram, smoked paprika
~ 1/4 tsp. each: cinnamon, cayenne pepper
~ 1 15 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes (I like the ones with jalapeños)
~ 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
~ 1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast

~ Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole or baking dish with cooking spray.
~ In a large pot, bring the vegetable broth and olive oil to a rapid boil. Add the cornmeal in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Cook for about 10 minutes - whisking all the while - until thickened but still soft.
~ Transfer the polenta into your prepared casserole, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the bell pepper, zucchini, garlic, and seasonings, and cook another 5-7 minutes, until the vegetables are beginning to soften.
~ Add the tomatoes and beans, stir to combine, and cook another 5-10 minutes, until most of the liquid has cooked off.
~ Distribute the bean/vegetable mixture evenly on top of the polenta.
~ In a small dish, combine the crushed tortilla chips and nutritional yeast, and then sprinkle on top of the casserole. Cover the whole business with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
~ Remove the foil and bake about 10-15 minutes more, until the topping is delectably brown and crispy.
~ Allow to sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lavender Blueberry Tea Bread

It strikes me that my last few posts have all been baked goods, which is kind of funny because I generally think of myself as more a "cook" than a baker. And I haven't actually been baking more than usual; it's just that the meals I've been making have been tried and true standbys and/or nothing particularly blog-worthy. But anyway, here I am with another quick-bread, and at the risk of being immodest, it's a really good one. 

Today's recipe came about because I wanted to play with the culinary lavender I scored at Cardullo'sone of my all-time favorite shopping destinations. Fresh blueberries seemed like a natural pairing, and together they produced a loaf with a distinctly desserty vibe that's perfect with afternoon tea, but nice for breakfast as well. Most importantly, it is delicious, and the flavors of lavender, blueberries, and fresh lemon provide a welcome whiff of summer in the bleak midwinter. (NB that the topping is completely optional; it ups the sweet factor a little, but the bread would be every bit as good without it!)

Lavender Blueberry Tea Bread
~ 1 cup nondairy milk (I used almond)
~ 1 tbsp. culinary lavender, crushed or chopped to a powder
~ 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1/4 cup applesauce
~ Juice of one lemon
~ 1 tsp. each: vanilla extract, lemon extract
~ 2.5 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
~ 1 tsp. each: baking powder, baking soda
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon, ground ginger
~ 1/4 tsp. mace or nutmeg
~ 1 cup fresh blueberries
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 2 tbsp. brown sugar

~ Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit and coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.
~ Combine the milk and the crushed lavender and heat to nearly boiling (I did this in the microwave). Cover and set aside to steep for at least 15-20 minutes.
~ In a bowl, combine the sugar, oil, applesauce, lemon juice, and the vanilla and lemon extracts. Add the lavender/milk mixture and mix thoroughly.
~ In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and mace. Add the blueberries and toss to coat (this gives them some "grip" in the batter so they don't sink to the bottom).
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture; combine thoroughly and transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan.
~ In a small bowl, combine the Earth Balance, flour, and brown sugar and distribute on top of the batter.
~ Bake in the middle of the oven at 350° for 50 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for about ten minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Wait another 15-20 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Savory Sweet Potato Bread

Happy New Year!

Let me start out by saying that I have no idea what's going on here. One assumes that it's some sort of sweet potato sports event/community activity/rave/love-in, but it's really none of our business what root vegetables get up to on their own time ("what happens in Sweet Potato Land..." etc.). Ours is not to reason why: suffice to say I found the image of tuber shenanigans diverting, and thought it might make an amusing accompaniment to this recipe. (The other association that pops into my head when I think about sweet potatoes is this song from A Mighty Wind. You're welcome.)

So. Of all good days in the year, this recipe was conceived on Christmas Eve, when I needed to use up existing leftovers in order to make room for the ones that would be filling the refrigerator the following day (welcome to my November-December world). There was a bowl of mashed sweet potatoes just sitting there looking needy, and a savory loaf seemed like an appealing change from all the sweet breads and muffins with which we are surrounded at this time of year. So I basically took my usual pumpkin bread, switched up the seasonings, and exchanged nuts for raisins or chocolate chips. Et voila! This bread is delicious served warm, at room temperature, or - perhaps best of all - toasted, with a little Earth Balance and Marmite on top for a perfect winter breakfast.

Savory Sweet Potato Bread
~ 2.5 cups white whole wheat flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, garlic powder, onion powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: white pepper, smoked paprika, baking soda
~ 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
~ 2 cups mashed sweet potato (or pumpkin)
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 3/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy or rice milk

~ Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
~ In a large mixing bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients, making sure the walnuts are well coated with the flour mixture.
~ Combine the wet ingredients (sweet potato through soy milk) and mix thoroughly.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the sweet potato mixture; combine thoroughly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
~ Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan, and bake at 375 in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Ovens vary wildly; mine tends to be a bit slow, so just keep an eye on things!)
~ Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing.