Monday, February 13, 2012

Super-Easy, Super Cheap, Super Nutritious Polenta

Polenta with Deborah Krasner's Red Wine-Braised Pot Roast

This polenta recipe is easy, creamy, versatile, and delicious.  I have made it so often I have the recipe committed to memory, and I don't remember any more where it came from...... This is great with pot roast, braised meats, sauces of all descriptions, or on its own with some cheese.  Kid's love it; it makes a wonderful quick meal, and leftovers reheat beautifully.  And of course, it's gluten-free!

4 cups water
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 cup polenta (coarsely ground corn meal)

2-3 TB butter
1/4-1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, asiago, or pecorino Romano cheese
plenty of freshly grated pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil over medium heat in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Add the milk and salt, and bring it back up to a simmer.  Gradually whisk or stir in the polenta.  Stir constantly until the polenta begins to thicken, about 5-10 minutes.  If (or when) the polenta starts to "spit" at you, reduce the heat to medium-low or low.  Continue to stir frequently until the polenta is very thick, another 25 minutes or more.  If you wish it to be very, very thick, so that you can fry it later, cook it even longer. When it is smooth and very thick, turn off the heat and stir in the grated cheese, butter, and plenty of freshly ground pepper.  Stir well to incorporate the flavoring.  Serve.

Wholly Cow! Deborah Krasner's Wine-Braised Beef Pot Roast

I bought a whole grass-fed steer.  As usual, it was from my friend Mary Pettis-Sarley (  It was so big that when I checked the load specs for my Prius, I realized that I couldn't bring it home by myself unless I could teach the steer to drive.  Naturally, I was sharing the cow with Ondine and several other people.  Ondine has a big station wagon, so she drove and I navigated, and we both watched in amazement as the guy at Ibleto's cut and wrap facility in Cotati loaded over seven hundred pounds of beef into the back.  Phew.

Mary's beef is unusual in that she raises if for several years before it gets harvested; most animals don't stick around that long.  Then the flavor is really fully developed; really, really beefy.  Oh, and by the way, really, really BIG.  So, even with several friends sharing the wealth (and boy, were they happy when they picked up their shares!) there are a lot of white-paper wrapped packages in my freezer.  So far, everyone who has cooked some of their share has said the same thing - this is the best beef we've ever had in our lives.  That being the case, one really wants to use recipes that do it justice.

I swear by my Bruce Aidell's cookbook, The Complete Meat Cookbook, (which I lovingly refer to as the "big book of meat.")  It gives you a ton of information about beef, lamb, and pork, how to cook the different cuts, maps of the animals, cutting charts, all the different cut names you might run across.  I really think everyone who eats meat should have a copy.  But when I wound up with the pork belly, trotters and pig's head I've mentioned in my earlier post on scrapple, I wanted something on pastured animals and more recipes for the funky cuts, so I wound up buying Deborah Krasner's Good Meat.  I highly recommend that you buy her cookbook as well; it's full of good, creative recipes (bacon popcorn! e.g.)  Meanwhile, here is a taste of her wares: her recipe for wine-braised pot roast is one for the ages. 

Red Wine-Braised Pot Beef Roast with Porcini, Rosemary and Cloves

This is the essence of good home cooking, the food your children will remember you for, and any friend lucky enough to eat at your table will reminisce about this meal for years!  Have a coffee filter ready to strain the mushroom water, and plan to make polenta while the stew cooks.  Use a good red wine here; it doesn't need to be great - the flavors do come through.
Can't you just smell that?

Serves 6-8

1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced onions
2 TB pancetta or bacon
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup shredded carrots
6 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
2 sprigs rosemary
3-4 pounds grass-fed beef round or other pot roast cut
1 TB tomato paste
1 bottle (750 ml) good red wine
1 cup coarsely chopped drained canned plum tomatoes
6 cups beef or chicken stock

1.  Heat about 1 cup of water and soak the porcini in it until soft, about 1/2 hour.  Strain the soaking liquid through a paper coffee filter and reserve the liquid for later.  Dice the mushrooms and set them aside.

2.  In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over low heat and sweat the onions and pancetta or bacon until golden, about 7 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and pepper, add the carrots, bay leaves, cloves and rosemary and stir.  When the carrots are wilted, remove the contents of the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3.  Blot the meat, season with salt and pepper, and add it to the fat in the pot.  Over medium-high heat, brown the meat on all sides, about 15 minutes in all.  Reduce the heat, return the onion mixture to the pot, add the tomato paste, and stir well.  Add the wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, turning the meat occasionally.

4.  Add the tomatoes, porcini and their liquid, and about 5 cups of the stock, or just enough to reach close to the top of the meat.  Bring to a simmer and cook, covered (setting a piece of parchment paper just above the level of the food), until the meat is tender, about 2 1/2 hours.  Alternatively, you can start the meat on the stove top and and then place it in the oven at 350 degrees for 2 hours.) The meat should be pretty tender when done.

5.  Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside for the moment.  Pour the sauce through a sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all the goodness.

6.  Return the meat and strained sauce to the pot, and simmer slowly, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by about a third and the meat is extremely tender, another 30-60 minutes.

7.  Rest the meat on a cutting board fro 15 minutes, then cut it crosswise and on an angle into 1/4 inch slices.  (An electric knife is great for this.)

8.  Arrange the meat on a serving platter on top of the polenta, and pour the sauce over it.

Notes from Christine:  I did not have a coffee filter to strain the mushrooms.  Oh well.  It was fine.  I followed her instructions to cook the vegetables first, rather than brown the beef first (which is how most recipes would have done it) and didn't see a compelling reason to do it that way.  Next time I will brown the meat first.

She also has you discard the stems of the porcini and only use the caps; I used the whole thing.

I followed her instruction to strain out the solids, which I hated to do.  After having dumped most of them into my none-too clean sink, I took a few bites of the remaining solids.  They were delicious, and I regretted throwing the rest away.  Next time, I will set them aside for a special treat for the cook.

And finally, while this sauce is unbelievably flavorful, I found it thin, even after all of the reductions.  I dissolved a few teaspoons of tapioca starch in some cold water and added the slurry to the pot to thicken the gravy.  Yum.

Friday, February 3, 2012

(High Protein, Low Carb, Low Sugar) Almond Butter Thumbprint Cookies

Almond Butter Thumbprint Cookies

 In my family, marzipan (almond paste candy) is considered one of the yummiest treats possible,  so my latest cookie recipe holds a special place in my heart.  These cookies are so delicious, so moist, so flavorful.... oh, my!  It's like eating a piece of marzipan, or of linzer torte. Divine! They have received rave reviews from everyone who has sampled them so far.  You will find it hard to believe that you can eat them and still feel virtuous; as always, they are super high-protein, super low carbohydrate, and super low-sugar.

Almond Butter Thumbprint Cookies

1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) roasted, salted, unsweetened, creamy almond butter
 (well stirred)
1 stick salted (or unsalted; your choice) butter, at room temperature

6 TB coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup erythritol
6 TB xylitol
8 tiny scoops stevia extract powder

2 TB unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 large egg, at room temperature

3 TB flax meal
6 TB soy protein powder
2 TB unsweetened, unflavored whey powder (or milk powder)
3 TB almond meal
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

V.  Sugar-free jam; preferably raspberry or apricot*

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Step 1:  cream the butter, then add the almond butter and cream them well together, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure they are well incorporated.

Step 2:  measure all of the sweeteners into a small bowl, and whisk them well together.  Then add them to almond butter/butter mixture, and cream until they are well combined, again scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Step 3:  Add the egg, applesauce, vanilla, and almond extract to the butter/almond butter/sweetener mix.  Mix until well combined.

Step 4:  In a medium sized bowl, measure all of the flours and meals, salt and baking powder, and whisk to combine.  Add them to the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined, again scraping down the sides of the bowl and the beaters to make sure everything is well mixed.

Line two baking sheets with silpats (silicone baking sheets) if you have them.  If not, don't worry; these are fine without.

Scoop a heaping tablespoonful or so of the batter and roll into a ball, placing it on the baking sheet.  Repeat, spacing the cookies.  You should be able to fit all the cookies onto the two baking sheets, a dozen plus a few more per sheet. (The dough does not run much as it bakes.)  Using your thumb, press a dimple into the center of the cookie, flattening the ball slightly as you do so.  Repeat with all of the cookies.

Place both baking sheets into the pre-heated oven.  Bake for 15 minutes, until just beginning to become golden brown all over.  Remove the pans from the oven, and if the dimples have leveled out too much, press them in again using a spoon or the handle of a wooden spoon.  Spoon a 1/2 teaspoon or so of the jam into the depression in each cookie; a tiny espresso spoon works well for the task.  Don't skimp on the jam, but don't get carried away, either, as the jam will melt and run during the baking. Return the sheets to the oven, switching the location of the baking sheets to ensure even browning.  Bake the cookies for another 5-8 minutes, until the cookies are evenly golden all over and the jam has melted into a pool.

Cool on the pan, then remove and store in an airtight container.  These will keep for a week or more (theoretically - they don't tend to stick around long!)  However, they are at their very tastiest when they are very fresh.

* If you are going to use apricot jam, it really needs to be homemade; commercial sugar-free raspberry jam is pretty good, but commercial sugar-free apricot jam just tastes like... nothing at all. The Foodier Than Thou recipe for  Tangy Sugar-Free Apricot Jam is awesome! Make a bunch when the apricots are ripe, and you will be all set for the year.