Saturday, June 26, 2010

Oven-Baked Chicken Polenta Florentine

We love polenta in my house, whether it's the kind in a tube, which I slice, brush with garlicky olive oil, and grill or saute until crisp, or the kind I make from scratch from finely ground cornmeal. I used to stand over the stove stirring the dangerously hot and sputtering mixture, until I discovered a fool-proof oven method, which I'll share with you below.

After cooking, polenta can be enjoyed plain as a side dish, in place of rice, pasta or potatoes, or it can be used as a base for your meal. For this recipe, I sauteed spinach, chicken sausage, onion and garlic and layered it on the polenta. You can change it up using any ingredients that appeal to you. This recipe is naturally gluten-free, and can be made dairy-free by substituting non-dairy cream, butter and cheeses where indicated.

Oven-Baked Chicken Polenta Florentine
Serves 6 - 8

6 cups water
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup cream (soy cream can be substituted)
4 tablespoons butter
pinch Parmesan cheese -- grated or shredded

16 ounces baby spinach -- stems removed (my personal preference - not mandatory)
1 pound ground chicken or chicken sausage, removed from casings
1/2 small sweet onion -- minced
1 clove garlic -- minced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or poultry seasoning
salt and pepper
1 jar pasta sauce or 2 cups homemade marinara
12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (soy cheese can be used)
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425. Grease a 9x13 glass baking pan for the polenta (use a 9x9 pan if you cut the recipe in half).

In the greased baking pan, whisk together the water, cornmeal, salt, and pepper. Cover tightly with foil, and bake 30 minutes, stirring halfway though. At 30 minutes, the polenta should still be loose enough to whisk but not watery. If it's still too watery, let bake an extra 5 - 10 minutes.

Remove polenta from oven and add cream, butter and a pinch of parmesan. Whisk briskly until smooth. (This can be done hours ahead of time. Let polenta cool in pan and then proceed by topping with cooked ingredients.)

While polenta is baking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add damp spinach in batches, stirring frequently, until wilted. Pour mixture into a sieve and let drain.

Reuse the same skillet to saute chicken or sausage and onion until cooked through. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add seasonings and stir to combine. (This can also be done ahead of time. You can set the filling aside until you're ready to assemble and bake the dish.)

Layer all of the spinach and then all of the chicken mixture on top of the polenta. Top with sauce and cheese. Bake about 30 minutes, or until cheese bubbles and is beginning to brown. Use a big spoon to serve portions to your very grateful family and friends.

NOTE: I've had equally good success using Quaker Corn Meal (very finely ground) as well as Bob's Red Mill Polenta (a coarser grind) for making the polenta.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toffee Bars

We interrupt our usual healthy recipes to post this sweet treat. I've got two birthdays + Father's Day at my house this weekend, and one of the celebrants requested Toffee Bars as a special treat. I obliged, and was sampling one (for quality-control purposes) before I took the photo. Busted.

Toffee Bars
Makes 24

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/8 t. salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1 Skor bar, chopped (about 1/3 cup)

Beat butter at medium speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, egg and vanilla and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Beat in the flour and salt until combined.

Pat the dough into an ungreased 9x13 pan. Using wet hands will help with this painstaking process. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes at 350 degrees, or until edges are light brown and top is dry. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips on top. When chips have gotten melty, about 2 - 3 minutes, spread with a spatula over the entire surface of the crust. Sprinkle nuts and toffee pieces over the chocolate and cut into 24 bars. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Note: These bars get better with age, so prepare a day or two before you want to serve them if possible.

Recipe adapted from the New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cantaloupe, Prosciutto and Blue Cheese Salad

Inspired by a recipe I saw in Cooking Light, I shopped for a ripe cantaloupe, arugula and prosciutto on my last trip to the market, and put this summery salad together tonight (I had some blue cheese in the fridge already). In a matter of minutes, I had a flavorful side dish that everyone loved. I hope you do, too.

Cantaloupe, Prosciutto and Blue Cheese Salad
Serves 4

1 ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-size cubes
1/4 lb. thinly sliced imported prosciutto, torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup arugula (if you don't like arugula, I think flat leaf parsley would make a fine stand-in)
drizzle of sherry vinegar
drizzle of best-quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper

Combine the cantaloupe, prosciutto and blue cheese in a bowl or serving dish. Top with arugula. Drizzle with sherry vinegar and olive oil. Grind pepper over the top. Serve.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tex-Mex Chicken Salad

This dinner is my fallback on those evenings when I really want to eat dinner at home, but don't want to stop at the grocery store or spend a lot of time on my feet cooking. I usually have all the ingredients needed, or some variation thereof, in my fridge and pantry. Plus, I know everyone likes it.

*Warning*: This is not as "clean" as my usual meals, but I consider it our home-made version of fast food, and feel that on an occasional basis, it's OK for a family to have a meal like this.

My husband, daughter and I eat this salad as is. I sometimes add avocado to my plate as well. Picky Teenage Son is happy with the chicken strips, his salad on the side, some ketchup and a glass of milk.

Tex-Mex Chicken Salad

Buffalo-style Chicken Strips (frozen or homemade)
Salad greens of your choice
1 can Mexi-Corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained
cherry tomatoes
fresh cilantro leaves
chopped bell peppers
shredded cheddar or jack cheese
equal parts barbecue sauce, ranch dressing and salsa, combined

Bake the chicken strips as indicated on the package.

Meanwhile, toss the greens with the corn, black beans, tomatoes, cilantro, bell peppers and cheese.

Place the warm chicken on top of the salad. Drizzle with the dressing. Serve.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Grilled Chicken with Cucumber-Melon Salsa

Fresh fruit salsas and relishes are a wonderful way to make a summery statement at dinnertime. Jazz up broiled tilapia, shrimp or grilled chicken with warm-weather fruit salsas made from mango, strawberries and melon. Add some fresh herbs, a bit of citrus zest or juice, and red onion, scallion or chives for bite, and your tastebuds will be singing a summer tune. Taste as you create; you might want to add a natural sweetener such as agave nectar, or a pinch of salt or red pepper flakes, depending on your taste.

Here's a tried-and-true recipe to get you started.

Grilled Chicken with Cucumber-Melon Salsa
Serves 4 - 6

2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed honeydew melon, canteloupe and/or watermelon
1/2 cup diced peeled cucumber
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for chicken
2 teaspoons minced jalapeƱo pepper
1 teaspoon light agave nectar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
4 - 6 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Cooking spray
Mint sprigs (optional)

1. Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

2. Combine first 9 ingredients; stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, tossing well to combine.

3. Place chicken in a shallow dish and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place chicken on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done. Serve with salsa; garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light