Help! I don't know how to eat anymore!

Help! I don't know how to eat anymore!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book my face!

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Creamy Fresh Corn and Mascarpone Cheese Polenta

I have a few very distinct memories of my sister and I when we were little being forced to eat polenta. It was never the delicious cream-of-wheat-ish stuff I have these days, it was somewhat hard rounds of inedible sick that I assume came from something like this:

Appetizing, eh? When I asked her about it today, her response was, "I thought that was one of the worst foods ever thought up ever."
Our mom was a fairly decent cook, not extremely inventive but she could cook. It was always horrifying when we heard she was making polenta because we knew we wouldn't be allowed to leave the table until we ate some. It was so dry and rubbery that it was vomit-inducing to chew up so we always swallowed our mandatory bites whole. I remember whining a lot, "how many morrrrrrrrrrrrre?"

It was just last year that I rediscovered polenta, finally getting over my childhood anger and trying it again. There is a restaurant in town that makes a fabulous baked polenta appetizer and after spending a bit of money ordering that several times, I decided to try it on my own.

I knew I could make it on the stove but heard it took 45 minutes and when you've cut your gym session short because you've been thinking about food the whole time because all they play on their TVs is The Food Network and your stomach will eat itself if you don't eat soon, who has time to stand for 45 minutes stirring? Not I. I don't even like to make it all that much when I do have the time because it needs such constant babying.

However, I have discovered the secret. My good friend Karen gets all the credit for introducing this to me, but she gave me permission to post it because she's not quite internet savvy. She and her husband had a few friends over for an impromptu BBQ potluck last weekend and she made this along with Grilled Mustard Chicken and I've been dreaming of polenta ever since.

While I've bought tube polenta and sliced and fried it, I never knew you could mush it up in a pan with some kind of thickener (butter, milk, cheese) and make it taste exactly like the time consuming corn meal. Karen proved me wrong, and in the most delicious way possible. Enjoy the heck out of this, I made it last night for two friends and we definitely enjoyed it all the way through the end of the pot. I've omitted the sugar the original called for, as well as half the mascarpone cheese, and used tube polenta rather than corn meal.

Creamy Fresh Corn and Mascarpone Cheese Polenta
1 tube original polenta
dash of salt and pepper
1 ear of freshly pre-cooked corn
about 1/4 mascarpone cheese

Throw an ear of corn still in the husk and wrapped in foil onto the BBQ. I've heard you can forgo the foil if you just soak the corn in water for 10 minutes, but I don't like soaking veggies in water as they get very watery. So, foil. Cook for about 15 minutes on medium-high heat and then flip over for another 15. Remove foil and husks, and cut kernels off the cob. Set aside.

Cut tube polenta into cubes and throw in a pot over medium heat. Mash with some kind of instrument (I used a wooden potato masher/pestle), add salt and pepper, mascarpone cheese, and corn. Cook until everything looks blended and creamy and remove from heat. The nice thing about tube polenta is it's precooked, so all you're basically doing is warming it. 

This served three, though reluctantly. We all wanted a lot more than we got, so I'd say this serves two and you should double the recipe if you add more people. We ate the polenta with some grilled Aidells Cajun Style Andouille sausages and a simple spinach salad with pomegranate dressing. FanTAStic, not too filling, and easy.

Bon Appetit...just not wheat!

Summery Chipotle Tequila Shrimp Tacos

How many is too many Panda licorice sticks in one sitting? Because I'm stuck in a cubicle and just snarfed down three of them and might have a problem.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was in a food rut (perhaps I still am...see above). My diet consisted of mostly yogurt and fruit and Mexican food and I felt like that might not be the healthiest way to live. Mexican food is the easiest thing for me to fall back on because I always have taco or quesadilla ingredients and pretty much everything but flour tortillas is wheat-free. Hence, our house has approximately this many corn tortillas on hand at all times:

I tried to lay off for a while, but the craving came back hard this time and I decided to try and switch it up. I was at the gym thinking about how hungry I was and how I didn't want to cook anything that would take forever because I was getting close to that my-stomach-is-eating-itself stage that I've mentioned before. I knew I had a ton of shrimp and black beans and taco junk so I began brainstorming.

Some of my fabulous sitting-in-the-pool friends had left me a plastic Parmesan container full of tequila, the lovely people that they are, so somehow that had to come into the mix. There was also a container full of chipotle chillies that looked oddly suspicious to anyone who didn't know what they were so those needed to go as well. I bought some creme fraische and the meal was born.

I also had the pleasure of feeding this to one of my good friends, and she had some feedback for you:
She said they were nice and light yet filling, spicy but not too spicy, and a perfect summer meal. We each scraped every bowl and plate clean of everything we made and I will be making these again.

And hey, fun news. Who What Wheat just got it's first non-person-i-know-or-am-friends-with-or-related-to follower! Welcome, apparently I'm doing something right.

Summery Chipotle Tequila Shrimp Tacos
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 lime (the original recipe wanted thanks, lime does the job and tastes WAY better)
Dash of salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 large chipotle chili (the kind that come in adobo sauce), chopped
1 Tbsp adobo sauce
2 Tbsp tequila
about 1 pound frozen shrimp (this can be adjusted based on what kind of shrimp you use and how big they are...frozen was all I had and the extra water made for a delicious sauce for them to simmer in)
1 tsp olive oil
6 6-inch corn tortillas
2 cups shredded iceburg lettuce
1 avocado, sliced
creme fraische
guacamole (optional...some people don't like avo as much as I do and the slices plus guac could be too much)
1 can low sodium black beans
1/4 onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

Combine chili powder, lime, salt, ground cumin, chipotle chili, adobo sauce, and tequila in a bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add shrimp.

Here's where things can vary a little. I used frozen shrimp, so my cooking time was much longer. Even though they were partially defrosted, they still let out a lot of water which combined with the tequila and lime and spices to make a nice sauce. I covered with a lid and let the shrimp simmer until the liquid had evaporated, leaving behind a kind of paste and giving them the ultimate spice kick with lots of flavor.
If you use fresh big fresh shrimp, your cooking time should only be about a minute and a half on each side. If you use small shrimp you can probably just stir them around the pan for a few minutes until they're all nice and pink.
You could also add about half a cup of water to the pan when using fresh shrimp if you want the simmer effect. Cooking is an imperfect science.

While the shrimp are cooking in whatever way you want them to, throw the black beans, chopped onion, minced garlic, and some salt and pepper into a pot and let it all simmer until the shrimp are done. The longer the better as the beans will take on a delicious flavor from the garlic and onion the more time they spend over the heat together.

Heat tortillas in the oven or a skillet for a few minutes until warm and soft and throw three on each of two plates. Add beans, shrimp, lettuce, avocado, salsa, guac, and creme fraische on top and oh my yum.

These shrimp are spicy, but with all the fresh cold toppings the heat gets subdued quite a bit. I never understood what they meant on cooking shows when they said the heat builds, but it definitely does with these bad boys. By the end of the second one you definitely want to keep eating because they aren't super filling but you kind of need to keep eating to keep the heat at bay. It's lovely.

Serves 2 if you can eat 3 tacos (which we did as these aren't extremely filling), 3 if you can't.

Bon Appetit...just not wheat!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cherry Balsamic Chicken Thighs

I've never been a big fan of dark poultry meat and until a few months ago purchased exclusively skinless boneless chicken breasts to cook with. I guess you could call it a fear of change. However, a recent foray into bone-in breasts with adobo sauce and chipotle chilies shoved under the skin has opened me up a bit to take more risks.

This summer I have been absolutely obsessed with cherries, but that wasn't always the case. I spent a month one summer during college in Romania working at an infant orphanage for two weeks and then traveling the countryside for two weeks. It was an incredibly intense and emotional experience and not just because of the children. During our travels, we visited a farmer's market and were highly ecstatic at the thought of fresh produce after weeks of nothing but meat and bread and potatoes. We grabbed a bag and stuffed it full of plump red cherries and sat in the sun to enjoy. Half a bag later another girl in our group came walking by and when we offered her some she said she always had to bite them in half, remove the pit, then pop the whole thing in her mouth.

We discovered six squirmy little maggots in that cherry, and after picking through several others discovered they were all infested.

I have a picture of it somewhere but can't find it at the moment to scan in. I found the one above on the 'net but it's pretty close to what we saw. You get the idea. Sick.

Flash-forward to several years later and I am finally ingesting them again, though I closely inspect each one and discard any that aren't perfect or have a weird consistency. I've made up for lost time well, purchasing over a pound at a time and consuming most of them in one sitting. This happens more frequently than my wallet thinks it should, but there just isn't anything as satisfying as cherries. They're such a portable fruit and they don't drip all over you and also YUM.

After watching an episode of Top Chef where they made some kind of Cherry Ginger Cinnamon duck breast, I began scouring for a cherry ginger cinnamon chicken dish. Fun fact: that same episode inspired the Congratulatory Homemade Cinnamon Ginger Ice Cream, which is an absolutely perfect dessert to these Cherry Balsamic Chicken Thighs. I probably could have eaten two or three of these, but I restrained myself.

Cherry Balsamic Chicken Thighs
1/2 cup cherries (original recipe called for dried cherries, I used fresh and think it was much better though slightly less tart)
1 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 1.25 lbs)
2 tsp. canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2/3 cup low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. light or reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over cherries and set aside. Combine the brown sugar, chili powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and rub mix on both sides of chicken thighs. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet and saute chicken for about 4 minutes on each side over medium-high heat. Transfer chicken to a baking sheet and bake uncovered until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. While that bakes, add onion to the drippings in the pan and sauté for about 4 minutes. Combine the broth, vinegar, soy sauce, and honey. Add to the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Drain the cherries from the water and add to the skillet.

At this point, the recipe I adapted this from called for 2 tsp. cornstarch to be mixed with 1 Tbsp. water and slowly added to the skillet. I try to stay away from cornstarch whenever possible and although I did use it, I don't think it was necessary at all. I would say just add the 1 Tbsp. water and cook for one minute, then turn off the heat and set aside until the chicken is finished.

Once chicken has finished baking, plop one or two thighs on a plate and slather with sauce. This goes really well with a simple green salad, some hot corn on the cob, or for a heavier meal try some fresh corn and mascarpone cheese polenta (recipe coming soon!). Serves 4 unless you ravage more than one thigh by yourself, which is entirely possible.

Bon appetit...just not wheat!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Congratulatory Homemade Cinnamon Ginger Ice Cream

Happy Update: I had previously stated that this was full-fat, however I remembered yesterday as I was scarfing down the rest of it for lunch that I actually used fat-free half-and-half. Long story short: Enjoy all you want without the guilt!

This morning I said a happy farewell to three more pounds and finally broke through my plateau. I've noticed that my stamina is up and, rather than continue adding to or intensifying my workout, my body has begun correcting and aligning and I feel so much stronger. I've also begun swimming again which I haven't done for a few months, and I'm able to go harder and much longer than I used to.

I equate most of this progress to my newly consistent running routine, however I can't help but thank wheat-free living as well. It's a lot harder to convince yourself to go to the gym and sweat it out when your stomach is distended and hard and has shooting pains going up one side. To celebrate, it's time for some full fat ice cream.

It's been so hot out that I've had trouble consuming anything besides smoothies or yogurt or margaritas or very cold fruit. My sister and I recently bought a cheap pool and yesterday to combat the heat some friends tried sitting on chairs in it with a boogie board floating bar:

It worked miracles.

But for those of you without a crappy unlevel pool, you can try what my cat does on the bathroom floor:

If you're unfortunate enough to not have a pool or a heat-striken kitten, there's an even better way to make it through July. It's indulgent and comforting and won't make you feel grossly full in the heat. This was probably the easiest dessert with the biggest payoff I've made and I highly suggest you try it.

Disclaimer: you will need an ice cream maker to make this thing happen, I've got an exquisite Cuisinart Automatic Ice Cream Maker that you can pickup online for under $40 bucks.

Congratulatory Homemade Cinnamon Ginger Ice Cream
I found this recipe over at and doubled it because it just didn't produce enough for my appetite.

2 pint half-and-half or light cream
6 egg yolks
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 dashes salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup diced candied ginger

Scald half-and-half or light cream on high heat. Mix egg yolks, sugar, salt and cinnamon in the top of a double boiler and set over simmering water. Slowly pour in scalded half-and-half, whisking constantly over low heat until mixture is slightly thickened and smooth (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool completely (I put it in the fridge overnight as I couldn't find the lid to my ice cream maker and it still came out delicious). Pour cooled mixture into ice cream maker and begin processing, adding candied ginger when mixture becomes slushy.

Makes about 5 cups, but they go faaaast (I had the rest of mine for lunch today while standing in the pool).

Bon Appetit...just not wheat!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Happy Accident Pesto Pasta

I'm baaaaaack!

It's been quite a depressing hiatus. My sister and I bought a new stove that was delivered a few weeks ago, 5 burners with 17,000 BTUs of pure cooking joy.

Coasting on a high from finally starting a blog I was willing to show people (there have been two other failed attempts that will never be revealed), I was so psyched to fire up the new stove and keep on writing. But the fates/California Earthquake Law had other things in mind for me...


Due to the lack of a stud along the bottom of one of my kitchen walls, there was no way for the guys delivering my precious shiny stove to install it because California requires anti-tip brackets be screwed into a stud on the rare occurrence that my small town in Northern California have some earthquake so powerful it knocks my stove out from between the two cupboards it's wedged between and because there was no stud they wouldn't reinstall the old stove so lucky us we got to use a hot plate!

The English major in me isn't even appalled at that run-on, the whole thing was that annoying.

I spent most of the following week out of town, racing between San Francisco and Fort Bragg and Vallejo for a movie premier and camping and my birthday celebration, so I was eating out most of the time anyway. Then the fates threw me a couple curve balls in the form of three mailings to Apple to have my computer fixed twice and my power cable replaced and then a broken camera. The three things I need to run a blog are a computer, a stove, and a camera.

But here I am, newly 27 and everything fixed and ready to get back on track.

Or something.

My biggest problem when cooking isn't usually skill or lack of ideas, it's lack of funding for the proper ingredients to make the things I want to make. See also: laziness. The grocery store can be so far away sometimes and often I let my hunger get to a point where I can't function unless I shove something in my mouth immediately, which can lead to some not so gourmet choices.

I've been successfully growing my own basil the last few weeks which is totally astounding to me as I tent to kill everything green I try to nurture. My parents were both landscapers and apparently none of the genes were hereditary because my thumb has never been any shade but skin color. I digress. I'd been itching to make my own pesto for a while since the basil appeared to be thriving, but I lacked the other ingredients to make it work. My sister came home from work one night in a fit of hunger and we decided to try it out.

We first had a slight hiccup in our plan as we boiled up some orzo, thinking incorrectly that it was, it's pasta and is sitting sadly in our fridge waiting for someone to come over and eat it. No cook is perfect.

I grabbed some gluten-free vegetable spiral pasta and boiled that up real quick (more BTUs equals intensely fast boiling time) and we were on our way. We threw handfuls of makeshift ingredients into a food processor and kept tasting and adding until it finally tasted surprisingly delicious and voila, Happy Accident Pesto Pasta. Don't be freaked out that it looks like baby food, it tastes much much better.

Happy Accident Pesto Pasta
About two handfuls of fresh Basil
Two heaping spoonfuls of sun dried tomatoes with oil
Handful of walnuts
A few almonds
Dash of Salt
Gluten-Free Spiral Pasta (or any gluten-free pasta)

Throw all ingredients into a food processor and grind up. This is not at all an exact science and we kept adding different things to get the taste right. If needed you can add more oil to get the consistency more saucelike. It was quite a lovely summer evening dinner as the pesto cooled down the pasta and it was nice and light. It's also super quick to make, only about 10 minutes, so if you find yourself in the middle of an i'm-starving-and-must-shovel-food-into-my-face-right-this-second-or-my-stomach-will-eat-itself fit, just whip this sucker up. Lastly, I think this could be stellar with some grilled chicken thrown in as well if you want to make your meal a little heartier.

Bon Appetit, just not wheat!