Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

At the beginning of July, I applied for an international rotation at work.

Well at the beginnning of August, I found out I didn’t get the rotation. It’s one of those things where the chances were slim to begin with but you start talking yourself up and then dreaming that the dream comes true.

That dream within a dream thing. And then none of the dreams become reality. Yeah… that kind of thing.

So, then I made the executive decision that I would be going to Ireland and Scotland anyways. Of course, on my own dime.

That’s after my trip to  Denver in September, Puerto Rico in November, Orlando for some work & fun in January and Houston early next year when my cousin has her baby.

Okay, okay… I can’t be too upset, the rest of this year and next is looking to be pretty fantastic.

But sometimes when you’re in the moment, there is nothing that can make it better, no matter how many times you tell yourself “there’s always next year.”

So here’s what usually happens to me when something goes awry 1) I completely shut-down. This include tears (complete sobs) and a phone call to my mother. 2) I decide to challenge myself in another way. And hope that I succeed. 3) I do both in that order.

This time I decided to try a new, somewhat daunting (or so I thought) recipe. Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce.

When this recipe says polenta… it means homemade by me (and you), not the kind from the tube.

Woah, wait, what?!?!  You said make your own polenta? Yeah, that’s right. This is the part I considered completely out of my league.

But don’t fret, dear friends, this was so much easier than I ever thought it could be. And I even cheated a little on the recipe to make it even easier.

Start with frozen corn. (This is where I cheated) Or 6 fresh ears kernels removed, as the recipe recommends. Bring it to a simmer with some water and then strain the kernels with a slotted spoon into the food processor and let her rip.

My food processor is a girl.

Pulse and process until it becomes a fine paste.

After processing, the recipe says to place back into the saucepan with the cooking liquid. I’m not so sure I would keep the cooking liquid. You want a mashed potato like consistency and when I added the cooking liquid, there was no way it was going to thicken up, even after the 10 minutes of simmering.

Thank goodness for my southern roots and always having instant grits on hand. I added 2 packets and voila, it thickened right up to the perfect consistency.

Once you simmer the polenta and get to the right consistency and apply the instant grits band-aid, in my case. Add in 3 tbsp. of butter and 7 oz of Feta. Or 8. Unlike alcohol, an extra ounce of Feta never hurt anybody.
For the sauce, start with Eggplant. Duh. Get her all diced up in about 1/2 inch cubes.

Apparently, my eggplant is also a female.

Then you’ll need some tomato and tomato paste.

This tomato paste was only 99 cents at Trader Joe’s… and it’s easy to keep in the fridge and use a teaspoon here and there. No more wasted, partially used cans!

After letting the eggplant cook up and soften, add tomato paste and a little white wine. Let that all meld and add in the tomato and some oregano with a little water, and cook it down for ten minutes or so.

Once the sauce has simmered, it is ready to pile on top of your polenta and enjoy.

This is so so good. And the homemade polenta blows the store bought polenta out. of. the. water. I would greatly appreciate you trying this out for yourself. K, thanks.

Here’s how to do it:

Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and the WSJ.

Serves 4-6 depending on meal size.

Polenta: 

4.5 cups frozen corn kernels (6 ears fresh corn kernels)

2 1/4 cups water

7-8 oz. Feta, crumbled

3 tbsp. butter

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Place corn kernels in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Start eggplant sauce below. Using a slotted spoon, remove the kernels to the bowl of a food processor. Reserving the cooking liquid, to adjust consistency, if necessary.

Return the corn paste to the pan and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes to get a mashed potato like consistency. Fold in the  butter and feta, salt and pepper, and cook for 2 more minutes.

Eggplant Sauce:

1 medium eggplant, 1/2 inch diced

1/4 c. vegetable oil

2 tsp. tomato paste

1/4 c. white wine

1 tomato, diced

1/2 c. water

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. sugar

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped (1 tsp. dried)

Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan at medium heat and cook the eggplant until softened and browned. Add 2 teaspoons tomato paste, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add white wine, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato, water, salt, sugar, and oregano and cook for 5 minutes.

To serve, divide the polenta among bowls and top with eggplant sauce.

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Ally 2.0 and Bell Pepper Pots

This past week, I’ve been in Denver having a fantastic time with old and new friends. I was there to celebrate one of my best friends weddings. You saw her bachelorette party here.

Rebecca and I met in college. We were always the “mature” ones. We were both in very different stages of our lives than we are now. We’ve both grown and matured even more than we already had up to the point of our meeting at Gonzaga.

During all of our reminiscing, laughter and tears (happy), we kept referring to our “old” selves, which brought me to a revelation of sorts…

This “old Ally” was still me with just a little (maybe a lot) more beer, late nights, and possibly irrational decisions (even with my “maturity”). Not necessarily bad, just different and younger…

The “new Ally” has a head more squarely on her shoulders. While I still might be uncertain about what the future holds (and still drink a few beers here and there, the wedding included 🙂 ), I am so much more certain than ever before that I have the faith and strength through Christ that he will take my hand and lead me where He has planned me to be. That doesn’t mean it’s any easier, I still struggle daily with being aware of His work and direction in my life (my self guidance and doubt often takes over).

But one thing I do know is that I don’t think I could have gotten to this new and improved (in my humble opinion) Ally, without the “old Ally.”

Really, what I’m trying to say is… we all go through seasons in our lives. Some of us (me especially) are lucky enough to be able to transition through the changes with the same wonderful, loving, and endlessly supportive people.

Woah… That was deep. And I was writing in the third person.

Now let’s eat.

This recipe is adapted from a cookbook my sister got me for my birthday. Cooking with Trader Joes. It’s a brilliant idea, recipes with most of the ingredients from Trader Joes. That being said, I don’t think I bought any of this from Trader Joes… it’s just a bunch of really good recipes.

I tweaked this a little and added some spiced crumbled sauteed tofu for a little extra protein.

When planning to crumble tofu, it’s always best to lightly compress and let it drain for 20 minutes or so. Wrap it with a clean dish towl and the weight of the fruit bowl will do the magic!

Then place in a hot pan to brown on both sides and start to break apart.

After its completely crumbled, add the taco seasoning.

Next add in the drained black beans, salsa, and rice to meld the flavors and heat through.

I think I need to start making prettier food.

While the tofu cooks and the mixture sits on the back burner, slice the peppers in half and clean out the seeds. I like using the variety pack of peppers, the colors are so vibrant and fun!

Scoop the tofu/rice/bean mixture into the pepper halves and place in the oven for 30 minutes.

Top with a little extra salsa and crumbled cotija (Mexican) cheese. And eat with your eyes, your tummy, and your fork!

It’s such an easy, filling, simple recipe and the other good news?!?! Two halves only has 420 calories. The original, no tofu, version only has 320 calories! Serve with a nice side salad and you’ve got a fantastic meal for less than 500 calories! Tastes even better now, right?!?

Here’s how to do it….

Festive Spicy Pepper Pots

Serves 4-8. (8 is the perfect side dish and 4 is a nice hearty meal)

3 C. cooked brown rice

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (16 oz.) block of extra firm tofu

2 tsp. olive oil

1 small (4 oz.) can green chiles

1/2 sweet onion diced

3/4 to 1 tbsp. taco seasoning

4 bell peppers, sliced in half length-wise, stems and seeds removed

1 (16 oz.) jar of Salsa (mild to medium works best)

Cilantro, optional (for garnish)

Cotija Cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start by opening the tofu and drain the liquid. Wrap in paper towels or a dish towel and compress for 20 minutes to remove any excess water.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the diced onion until translucent. Place the block of tofu in the pan, allowing each side to brown before beginning to crumble.

Using your spoon, begin to break the block into bite size pieces, alot like crumbling ground beef. Let the pieces lightly brown and then add in the taco seasoning. Cook the tofu with the seasoning for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, allowing the taco seasoning to flavor the tofu.

Add in the cooked rice, salsa, black beans and green chiles and stir to combine.

Stuff the mixture in the pepper halves and place in one or two baking dishes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the peppers are tender, about 30 minutes.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days (I made it just fine to 6-7) or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

It was a very productive Sunday. I checked quite a few things off of my to do list.

Take out the garbage – Check.

Work-out – Check.

Shave legs – A much needed Check.

Clean and change the cat litter – A much despised Check. Ps. WHY on earth is it that every time I change Ollie’s litter, he just has to use it literally the next minute?!?! We can’t just have a clean litter box for even an hour, please?!?

Phone calls to the family – Check.

My conversation with my Nanny was a real pick-me-up. It went a little something like this…

Ally: “What have you been up to lately?”

Nanny: “Oh I have been pretty busy as of late, I’ve got a new trainer at the gym (she’s 87, and she’ll probably kill me for revealing her age), I’m going to learn how to play Mahjong with a few friends this week, I’ve got a couple doctor’s appointments coming up, and my Bible study luncheon this Tuesday.”

Ally: “Geez, Nanny, it sounds like you’re going to be pretty busy for the next few weeks.”

Nanny: “But you know me, Ally… I thrive on this stuff.”

I laughed….When I’m 87, I hope I still have something I thrive on…. or even when I’m 25…. she is quite the inspiration.

Right now, I thrive on cooking and sharing with all of you… like these butternut squash enchiladas.

My parents came in town for a visit a few weeks ago, right after my mom’s birthday. I decided to take them out to dinner since I didn’t have enough time or forethought to get her a real gift. We went to this great modern Mexican restaurant Cactus. I ordered the butternut squash enchiladas and man oh man were they good. So good that I decided to try and replicate the thing at home and if I do say so myself… it worked out pretty well…. except for the enchilada part…

I made one mini-batch that was kind of in enchilada form (see above) but when I went to my larger dish, all the tortillas were breaking apart, along with my dreams of perfection…. so  my enchiladas turned into more of an enchilada lasagna….

Start with caramelizing a sweet onion in some oil (vegetable or olive) with all the spices. I went with canola because it has a higher smoking point or at least I think I heard that on some Food Network show.

Add the squash and get your cheese together and you’re now ready to assemble.

Oh yeah… did I mention there are two kinds of cheese in here. Goat cheese and Jack cheese and it all gets so melty and delicious.

You’ve got to try this.

Here’s how to do it.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Servings: 8

Ingredients:

2 c. Butternut Squash, Cubed

5 oz. Goat Cheese

1/3 c. Sour Cream

12 oz. Jack Cheese, Grated

15 oz. bag of chopped frozen Spinach

1 Sweet Onion

2 Cloves Garlic

1/4 c. Oil + more for drizzle on the Squash

8-10 Corn Tortillas

2 c. Prepared Enchilada Sauce (I used Rosarita)

A little of each of the following spices: Cumin, Chili Powder, Cumin, Salt, and Pepper. (I forgot to measure… oops.)

Instructions:

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees to roast the squash. Drizzle olive oil over the squash, add salt, pepper, a few sprinkles of cumin, a small pinch of cayenne and chili powder. Cook the squash until just softened, about 15 minutes.

While the oven heats up add the oil to a saute pan to heat up. Cut the onion in half once and slice. Mince garlic. Add onion to hot oil and cook until translucent. Then add garlic and some more of the same spices from above. You’ll want the onion to have a nice color after adding the spices. But don’t get too heavy handed.

As that softens away, grate the jack cheese. Also combine the goat cheese and sour cream. It will still be a little chunky but an easier consistency to spread.

Thaw the frozen spinach and then press out all of the liquid. There will be a lot of this and will stop everything from getting too runny.

Add the thawed spinach and cooked squash to the onions and garlic.

Assembly:

Put a little enchilada sauce on the bottom of the dish. Spread the goat cheese mixture on to the corn tortillas and lay tortillas, cheese side up, to cover the bottom of the dish. Add a little bit more sauce on top of the tortillas. Then add the spinach, onion, and squash mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and top with a little extra drizzle of the enchilada sauce. Cover with another layer of corn tortillas with the goat cheese spread, a little more sauce, veggies, cheese, etc. Top with a final layer of tortillas with the goat cheese spread face down, cover with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

I got about 2 layers out of it and my dish was about a 8X11 oval. If you want to make a larger batch or a few more layers, it would be real easy to just prep more of everything.

Bake in the oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes. It really just needs to be heated through.