About Polenta

I can remember mentioning it at least twice in passing, and it's probably pretty likely that you saw the word and thought to yourself, "Self . . . whaaaa?" MY BAD. So before I flippantly mention it once again, let's talk a little bit about polenta.

What is polenta? Well, polenta is--to put it crudely (if you happen to be Italian)--Italian grits. And what is grits? Well, as we mentioned before, grits is corms. Delicious ground corms.

If polenta is just grits, why polenta? Because polenta is Italian grits. And what are Italians other than smooth, silky, and (rico) suave. Let's face it, sometimes you need a little Gerardo in your life, amirite?

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's do this thing. There's actually two ways you can make polenta. (Well, there's probably a million ways to make polenta; I will present you with two.) You can make it according to your package directions (boil water, stir in corn meal, cook for 20 minutes, add cheese) or, if you have a little time, you can make it this way. You'll need:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup medium-ground corn meal (I've used white corn meal here because that's what I have; you'll find yellow is more traditional)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Up to 1 cup cheese (I like parmesan, but if you want a super fluffy and creamy and outrageous polenta you can use cream cheese)
  • Salt to taste

So, slightly salt the water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it's going, quickly whisk in the polenta until the mixture is smooth.

Reduce the heat to a low simmer, add the butter, and give everything a whisk occasionally for the next 45 minutes to an hour.

You'll begin to notice that, unlike grits, your polenta won't maintain individual granules of corn meal. Instead, it'll almost take on the consistency of pudding. Savory, savory pudding. At this point it's time to whisk in your cheese.

Give it a taste and add salt as needed. Then, plop that goop down on a plate.

And top with your favorite slop.

And enjoy!


About Chicken Cacciatore

By now you've probably gotten the hang of the old put-chicken-in-take-chicken-out-put-chicken-back-in cooking thing that's been going on in these parts (cf. this and this), so this recipe should be so easy I won't even have to explain it to you. But I will, because Santa knows I do like to babble (no I don't).

Like our chicken bog before it, chicken cacciatore is almost endlessly flexible, and it's almost endlessly flexible because when Italians go out into the countryside or wherever to do their hunting, they don't have grocery stores I guess? I don't know, I think something got lost in translation. But the ingredient list that follows is just the basics, so feel free to add whatever other vegetables you want depending on what's in season or what you pick up at the grocery store because I assume you're not out in the Italian countryside where they have no grocery stores. Apparently.

What you'll need is this:
  • 2 chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 1 can diced tomatoes

I also added a package of crimini mushrooms, cut into quarters. Also good: zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, eggplant, uh... other vegetables.

Now, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it gets all shimmery. Generously salt and pepper both sides of your chicken and brown them off really well for about 4 or 5 minutes per side. Then, remove your thighs and put them on a plate for later.

Add your onions and assorted veg to the pan like this:

and saute all that down until everything is softened and the onions have become translucent like this:

Add the garlic

and cook all that for up to a minute, then deglaze the pan with your white wine.

When the wine has mostly evaporated, add the can of tomatoes, with their juices. Give the pan a big stir to mix everything all up, then nestle the chicken thighs back in, skin side up.

Turn the heat down to a low simmer and braise the chicken for about 40 minutes, until your thighs are nice and tender and almost falling off the bone (TWSS or something).

Serve the cacciatore over a crusty loaf of bread or pasta or couscous or rice or polenta or WHATEVER ALREADY GOSH. And feel free to top that mess off with some fresh basil and parmesan cheese.

And as the Italian hunters say, Mangia!


About Chicken Bog

Well it hasn't exactly been quote-unquote cold in these here parts this season, but that doesn't mean you still don't need some down-home, rib-sticking, delicious Southern comfort food every now and again. And every time I'm feeling blue, you can bet this is what I'm making.

The beauty of this recipe is that it's infinitely adaptable. I mean, it's chicken and rice; every culture on the planet has a version (except those pesky vegetarians--what is UP with those people? (says the former vegetarian)). Mine started years ago with this Paula Deen recipe, and as you'll see it's morphed into something that may seem a little more sophisticated, but is really just a way to cram more vegetables in there (for the vegetarians, don't you know). Here goes.

For two hearty servings (plus lunch for somebody the next day), you'll--at a minimum--need:
  • 2-3 skinless chicken thighs
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons creole seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1 ¼ cup water, vegetable broth, or chicken stock

  • ¾ cup long grain rice
  • 2 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken stock

I generally start with a mirepoix of a carrot, a stalk of celery, and about half of a small to medium yellow onion. Oh, and some fresh thyme never hurt anyone:

And when I happen to have them on hand, I also like to add diced red bell pepper and fresh jalapeno. But as you can see, they're not essential. Tasty, but not essential.

Heat up the extra virgin olive oil in something with a lid, and saute your vegetables, herbs, and spices over medium-high heat until they've softened up. Then add your herbs and garlic and cook for about a minute more until your garlic becomes fragrant and you find yourself suddenly compelled to smear garlic all over your body but don't do that because that would be gross. And potentially deadly if you happen to be a vampire.

Next, deglaze your pan with a splash of white wine or sherry or even a little beer if you have it. If not, just go ahead and dump in your water or broth, making sure to scrape up all of those little brown crusty bits stuck to the bottom of your pan.

Bring your pot to a boil, then nestle your chicken thighs in that delicious brothy hot tub.

If you like it then you should a-put a lid on it (groan, sorry), then lower the heat and gently simmer for 30-40 minutes.

At this point your chicken should be mostly if not totally cooked (don't worry if it's not; so long as it's not still completely raw, which I'm not sure how that would happen but stranger things etc.) so you'll want to remove the pieces to a plate. Then, add the rice to the pan.

Let that bubble away for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, using a couple of forks or those folk-like things attached to your wrists, shred the chicken thighs.

When the 10 minutes are up, add the shredded chicken meat back into the rice. This is the point where I like to clean the leftovers out of my fridge, so if I have any collard greens or mustard greens or turnip greens or kale or sauteed zucchini or squash or whatnot, I add that too. And then you just let that simmer for another 10 minutes while the rice finishes soaking up all that delicious broth.

Give the pot a little fluff job and serve with a little Tabasco on the side.

And dig in!