Boff a us???
Nope, that's not a misspelling, it's the punch line to a dirty racist joke that I can't shake out of my head.
The point is, I am going to be more focused in 2011. Yet another New Year's resolution is to have a meatless day. Imagine, me the vegetarian (for a day). Well, aside from the obvious health benefits of spending a day grazing, there is an historical and global precedent. America diet is killing a nation. We are getting fatter with every study. We are also getting diseases in ever increasing proportions. Diabetes is skyrocketing. Allergies that were very rare are now commonplace. America has the finest health care system in the world. America has little preventative care policy.
I am not a nutritionist, and I hesitate to play one on my blog. But I do have a sense of history and a view of global eating habits. What we as a nation are doing to ourselves is not working. Maybe a look back (or across the Pacific) will help.
Historically, meat was a treat. More often than not, it was served to accent foods. Stews, soups, salads even pizzas were mostly vegetables with a side of meat. America instead started serving meat dishes. Big slabs of steak (yum), roasts and pork loin became the norm instead of the special occasion. I am as guilty as anyone.
But a little knowledge, a health scare, a weight concern can provide motivation. So 2011 is my year to have a meatless day at least once a week.
It does the body good!
Vegetable tip #1
SPICES! Don't skimp on the spices. Eating your vegetables is not a punishment. Adding spices to the dish makes it sing... And a pleasure.
I like to make my own spice mixes. I have several different recipes, but I always keep in stock 3 different favorites. I have my nearly legendary (in my mind at least), "Not Your Grandmother's Herbs de Provence" (a mixture of the usual suspects, combined with fresh lemon zest and minced garlic), "Sodom and Gomorrah" Sesame seed, Garlic and a very rich flavorful course sea salt (a tasty way to add color, flavor and less salt to your diet. Makes an amazing salt substitute). Either of these would work in this dish, adding a little extra pop. But I chose to use my "Big easy in a Jar" Cajun spice mix. Making your own and having them on hand makes fast work of seasoning your meals. Of course, substituting prepackaged mixes does work, but be very careful of the salt content. Ingredients are usually listed in order of their volume in the mix. So, if salt is the first ingredient, it is better to find a more health friendly alternative.
This dish is terrific. LOTS of different tastes, different textures and very filling. On another day, I might have added some pork chops, but honestly the meat was not missed at all. As far as the recipe, this is more of a tossed together dish, using items I had on hand. but, as it turned out... I would repeat this exactly as is. It was terrific!
For the base and to garnish...
2 Roma Tomatoes, sliced thin
4 Green Onions, sliced, green and white parts of the stalk
Parmesan Cheese freshly grated
generous pinch "Big easy in a Jar" Cajun spice mix
For the Polenta (I made a pretty big batch for leftovers during the week)...
4 cups whole Milk
1 stick of Butter
1 TBS Sugar
2 tsp Sea Salt
1 1/2 cup Polenta Corn Meal
1/2 bag of fresh spinach
1 TBS Extra Virgin olive Oil
4 ounces of Blue Cheese, crumbled
For the Sautéed Vegetable Melange
1 cup Frozen French cut Green beans (thawed)
1 sweet Onion
20 Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half
2 TBS Butter
2 TBS Brown Sugar
1 TBS "Big easy in a Jar" Cajun spice mix
First, make your Polenta... Heat the milk and butter until it begins to bubble. Meanwhile, remove the stems from the spinach, heat the oil in a saute pan and add the spinach until it just heats up enough to wilt the greens. Do not over cook the greens. you want just a little bite to them. Back to the milk, add the sugar and salt. SLOWLY, add a bit of the corn meal and stir to insure there are no lumps. If you add too fast, you will get cooked lumps of corn meal instead of the smooth constancy of well mixed polenta. Continue to slowly add the corn meal and continue to stir until mixed. Once the corn meal is all in, the dish begins to thicken up, add the spinach. If you are serving the polenta immediately, dish it out now with a spoon and top with the blue cheese. If you are serving later, pour the polenta into a serving dish and then top with the blue cheese, cover to keep warm (or put in the oven at the lowest temperature).
For the Sautéed Vegetable Melange, first, caramelize the onions. Slice them into rings. In a saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the onions and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions will just begin to brown and the sugar is starting to caramelize. Add the tomatoes and green beans now. Continue to saute for about 5 more minutes to get everything hot, and flavored with the butter and sugar.
And, just make a bed of the raw tomato slices, add half the green onions. Add about a cup of the polenta, top with a cup of the Sautéed Vegetable Melange. Top with some grated cheese and a pinch of the Cajun spices.
it's warm, filling, flavorful and incredibly tasty. like I said, if you must have meat, serve with a pork chop. But, for at least this night...
I am a vegetarian and happy about it!