Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

So, this meal looks remarkably similar to my shrimp and grits post from a few weeks ago. And, I guess in theory, that makes sense, because polenta and grits are remarkably similar. They are, in fact, the same food- corn meal- ground to varying consistencies. Polenta is usually a bit more coarse; however, traditionally, they are really derived from distinct types of corn. But when it comes to grocery store shopping, can you really find a difference? Not usually. The more coarse, deeply yellow corn meal I purchased (from the bulk bins at Whole Foods) is labeled “polenta,” and is what I’d consider polenta to be. Contrastingly, when I make grits, I use a finely ground white corn meal, which cooks quite a bit more quickly and yields a creamier consistency. These are lot of fancy descriptions for ground corn. The biggest difference notable to the consumer is 1) cook time and 2) texture. If you want dinner on the table in under 15 minutes, finely ground corn meal, usually grits, are the way to go. If you want more deeply developed flavors, go with something more coarse and simmer for awhile, usually polenta. However, this can probably be reversed. (I believe some Southerners would turn their nose at the finely-ground, more-quickly-cooked stuff).

I purchased the polenta on a whim, eager to see what the difference really tasted like. I also wanted a classic Italian flavor profile (two Italian dishes in a row!? Too bad I actually made this a couple weeks ago), so I topped the polenta with delicate and bitter greens and rich and savory mushrooms. I pretty much love mushrooms made this way. The rosemary isn’t overwhelming, but does add to the savory-ness (that’s a word now).

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Polenta with Rosemary Mushrooms

Serves 1 (I eat alone… but this is easily multiplied)

1/4 cup coarse, stone-ground polenta

1 cup chicken stock

1/2 tbsp. butter

1 cup arugula

4 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 tbsp. flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

Pinch dried red chili flake

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the polenta, heat the chicken stock in a pot over medium-high heat until boiling. Once boiling, turn the heat to low, add the polenta, and whisk constantly, until the polenta has absorbed some of the stock and is thickened slightly. Cover the pot and simmer the polenta, stirring intermittently to avoid sticking to the pan. Cook the polenta for 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed and the polenta is creamy. It may seem “done” a bit before this, but cooking longer intensifies the flavor. Once finished, add butter and season with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate and plate.

While the polenta is cooking, heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter to the pan and melt, then add the mushroom. Cook the mushrooms until browning and releasing their juices, about 5 minutes. Season the mushrooms with salt, pepper, and chili flake, and add the fresh rosemary. Mix to combine. Toss the flour over the mushrooms and stir to incorporate. Cook the flour over the mushrooms for about a minute, until the white powdery flour is no longer visible. Add the stock, which should bubble upon contact. Stir to incorporate the stock with the mushrooms, and allow the stock to thicken and reduce. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until the liquid is quite thick and adherent to the mushrooms.

Top the plated polenta with a pile of greens. Add the hot rosemary mushrooms above the greens, which will cause them to wilt slightly and soften the flavor. Eat slowly and savor the deep corn flavor with the savory rosemary mushrooms.

I love grits, but polenta is seriously good.

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(Anyone notice my distorted reflection in the spoon of my first picture? Yes, these are iPhone photos. I love VSCOcam.)

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French Toast (Breakfast for Dinner)

I’ve already spotlighted pancakes as a perfect breakfast-for-dinner meal. I stand by those humble ‘jacks as the most iconic and cravable dinner substitute. And, to be honest, I made this french toast for brunch one Saturday. But, I thoroughly support the indulgence of creamy, custard-laden egg bread, fried until crisped and doused in maple syrup. I support it at breakfast, brunch, lunch, and, today, dinner. French toast at your favorite diner-style brunch place (or even classy and/or organic brunch restaurant) seems to be almost unachievable in a weeknight kitchen. The exterior crunch, the fluffy middle, the perfect ability to soak up maple syrup… it all seems lost when you yourself dip your bread in eggs and flop it into a sauté pan. But I’ve dabbled in French toast enough now to make a bold statement: it can be done in your own kitchen and on your own time. It does involve a bit of a splurge on one uncommon ingredient- egg bread- but from there it’s really the usual suspects that transform bread into an indulgent almost-dessert (but it’s not; it’s breakfast. it’s fine). Please, please, please so much try this at home.

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French Toast

Serves 4-6

1 loaf egg bread (or Challah or Brioche bread), sliced into 1 inch slices

6 large eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 tbsp. honey

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. salted butter, to cook

Heat a griddle to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, or heat a large sauté pan over medium heat.

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, honey, and vanilla extract. Pour the custard mixture into a wide dish. Soak 2-4 slices of bread at a time, allowing to rest in the custard for 2 minutes per side.

Butter the griddle or sauté pan and add slices of coated bread. Cook for 3-4 minutes then flip; the custard should be browning and crisping in places. Allow to cook another 3-4 minutes on the alternate side. Plate to serve, best with toppings of butter, a sprinkling of powdered sugar, and a heavy pour of maple syrup. If serving later, keep the French toast warm by placing between towels on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven.

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Pour syrup on top, watch the butter run all over the French toast, think about sleeping in maple syrup, lift fork, and dive in.