Cheesy Polenta with Swiss Chard

Cheesy polenta with Swiss chard is one of my favorite recipes for several reasons.  This dish is quick, simple to make, and smells incredible while cooking.  The greens, reds, and yellows in this dish are beautiful.  I also like how easy it is to create variations of this recipe based on what is fresh in the garden or what I have on hand in my pantry; Kale or spinach can substitute for Swiss chard and the Cannellini beans can be replaced with black beans, garbanzo beans, or virtually any other type of bean.

To make this dish, you will need the following ingredients:

  • Polenta or yellow corn grits (I used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Polenta)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1 15.5oz can Cannellini beans
  • 1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
  • 4 chicken sausage links (I used Aidells Chicken and Apple Sausage)
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (I used Organic Valley Vermont Sharp)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
Ingredients
The ingredients

To prepare the Swiss chard, run a knife along each side of the chard stems to remove them. With the stems removed, cut across the leafy pieces in about 1.5 inch intervals.  Wash the chard pieces in a salad spinner or under cool running water.  Drain and rinse the Cannellini beans, grate the cheddar cheese, and slice the chicken sausage in half inch rounds.

Prepared Chard
Prepared Swiss Chard

Prepare four servings of polenta according the directions.  For Bob’s Red Mill polenta, this was adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt to three cups of boiling water before adding 1 cup of polenta and cooking for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the polenta is cooked, add 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese to the polenta and stir well over low heat.  If the polenta begins to look too thick before you finish cooking the rest of the meal, you can add a little butter or a little extra water and stir well.

While the polenta is cooking, heat about 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Cook the chicken sausage rounds in the oil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.  Add the Cannellini beans and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes with juices and cook for another minute.

Pre-chard mixture
Chicken sausage, cannellini beans, and diced tomatoes

Add two handfuls of Swiss chard to the chicken sausage, Cannellini bean, and tomato mixture and gently mix until the chard is wilted.  It will look like too much chard at first, but chard wilts quickly.

Add the chard
Add the chard

As the chard wilts, add two handfuls at a time and stir gently until all of the chard is incorporated into the mixture.

Post Chard
The chard will wilt quickly

Spoon one serving of the cheesy polenta into a bowl and top with the chicken sausage, beans, tomatoes, and chard mixture. Garnish with extra grated cheddar to taste and serve.

Serve and Enjoy
Serve and enjoy

Biking and Eating Our Way Along Scenic 30-A

Due to being on the road, our vacation posts are a little bit out of order, but our beach trip included some great food that is definitely worth sharing.

Usually when I make the trip to South Walton (known by locals as SoWal) it is for business instead of recreation, so I was excited by the prospect of going to Scenic 30-A for vacation.

Last Sunday, we arrived at the beach house at Santa Rosa Beach and unpacked our bags and our bikes, took a scenic drive along 30-A, and went to the Publix in Watercolor for some food staples. Later in the evening, we decided to have a light dinner. We drove over to Watercolor for tapas. At Wine World, we each enjoyed a glass of 2008 Aventus Chardonnay. It was a nice velvety Chardonnay with hints of pineapple.

Aventus Chardonnary
Aventus Chardonnay

The next day began with a bike ride along the Timpoochee Trail. We made it from Santa Rosa Beach to Grayton Beach just in time to stop and have breakfast as the rain began. I ordered Waffle Wonderful (a delicious waffle covered with peanut butter, fresh fruit, and honey) at the Hibiscus Cafe and we waited for about an hour before the rain stopped.

Hibiscus Cafe Grayton Beach
Hibiscus Cafe Grayton Beach
Waffle Wonderful
Waffle Wonderful

When the rain allowed, we biked on to Seaside (where The Truman Show was filmed) before heading back to Santa Rosa Beach.  We ended up biking about 20 miles which isn’t bad considering how much it rained.

Later in the evening, we went back to Seaside for dinner at The Great Southern Cafe where we both ordered the famous Grits à Ya Ya and shared a slice of key lime pie.

Grits à Ya Ya
Grits à Ya Ya

The grits were perfectly creamy and paired nicely with the shrimp. The unique spinach sauce sets this dish apart from other shrimp and grits. The bread served alongside was a bit redundant given that most of the meal was carbohydrates and neither of us ended up eating the bread.

Key Lime Pie
Key Lime Pie

The key lime pie had a great taste, but the texture was more like cheesecake than custard.

On Tuesday morning, we planned to bike the trail to Alys Beach (about 17 miles east of the beach house) and back. Once again we waited out the rain at Hibiscus Cafe (the food was so good we went back for a second Waffle Wonderful breakfast) and when the rain subsided, we set out to bike 35 miles.

On the way back from Alys Beach, we stopped at Queen Bee Cupcakes in Seaside.  Whenever I come to Seaside for work, I bring Jill a salted caramel cupcake.

Queen Bee Cupcakes
Queen Bee Cupcakes

Although they did not have salted caramel cupcakes on Tuesday, after this:

2 hour point
Two Hour/25 Mile Mark

this vanilla cupcake with pink frosting and vanilla frozen yogurt:

Vanilla Cupcake with Pink Frosting and Vanilla Ice Cream
Vanilla Cupcake with Pink Frosting and Vanilla Ice Cream

became this:

The aftermath
The Aftermath

in about two minutes flat. It was the perfect mid-ride snack.

After our bike ride, we hit the beach only to have our flip flops soiled with oil (we look forward to coming back despite the oil), got cleaned up, and stopped and P.F. Changs for dinner before heading back to Tallahassee.

If you are in the area, we highly recommend Wine World, Hibiscus Cafe, Great Southern Cafe, and Queen Bee Cupcakes for delicious eats in the Grayton Beach/Watercolor/Seaside area.

Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry

Back in college, Jill’s favorite food was broccoli. As noted in a previous post, Jill’s current favorite food is eggplant. This current favorite is followed closely by tofu. In honor of these favorite foods, I created this stir fry.

Ingredients
The Ingredients

To make this stir-fry, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant, diced into small cubes
  • 14 oz extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry with paper towels, and diced into small cubes
  • 6 oz broccoli florets
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh Cilantro (optional)
  • Lemongrass (optional)
  • Cashews
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Low sodium soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Vegetable oil
Extra Firm Tofu
Extra Firm Tofu

Although I have a well seasoned wok, I always have better luck cooking tofu in a non-stick pan, so I made this stir-fry in a large non-stick pan instead of a wok.

To make this stir-fry, first cook the the tofu: heat 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat.  Add four cloves of minced garlic and about 1/4 teaspoon of finely chopped lemongrass stalk. I added the fresh lemongrass because I have it growing in my garden, but it can be left out of this recipe. Let the garlic and lemongrass infuse flavor into the oil for a minute or two, then, with a slotted spoon, remove the garlic and lemongrass from the oil and set aside in a small bowl.  Gently sauté the tofu cubes in the flavor-infused oil until they turn golden brown.  Once golden brown in color, remove the tofu from the skillet and set aside.

Golden Brown Tofu
Golden Brown Tofu

Add the broccoli florets to the pan and stir-fry for about two minutes.  Add the eggplant and cook together for about three minutes before adding the yellow pepper. Stir-fry the broccoli, eggplant, and yellow pepper together for another two minutes until the vegetables are cooked but the broccoli and pepper are still slightly crispy. Add the garlic and lemongrass mixture and the tofu to the vegetable mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine three teaspoons of Sriracha sauce, six teaspoons of low sodium soy sauce, six teaspoons of water, and one teaspoon of sesame oil. Add the sauce to the stir-fry mixture and stir gently to combine.  Top with a chiffonade of basil and cilantro and cook until the sauce is absorbed, about two or three minutes.

Stir Fry
Stir-fried vegetables and tofu

Serve the stir-fry over brown rice and garnish with cashews, basil, and sriracha sauce. Since the sriracha sauce is somewhat spicy, I added a little more to mine than I did to Jill’s.

Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry
Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry

Square Foot Garden

Maybe it’s in my genes or maybe it’s in my blood, but I love growing things. I have fond memories of digging up sweet potatoes with Papa Burnum and riding in the field checking on the cows and the garden with Papa AE. In school I enjoyed putting dirt and seeds into mason jars and learning about plants while watching the seeds sprout and grow.

Perhaps trying to recapture some of childhood wonder, I decided earlier this year to build a square foot garden in my backyard. It is called a square foot garden, because the grid layout results in individual one foot by one foot squares.

Creating the Grid System
My knot work

Since my garden is four feet by four feet, I have sixteen cells to plant. After constructing the garden, I filled it with a mixture of compost, potting soil, and garden soil. I then planted a variety of herbs and vegetables.

Square Foot Garden
My Square Foot Garden

For the initial spring garden, I planted rainbow chard, kale, cabbage, parsley, lavender, oregano, and a bird eye pepper.

Parsley
Parsley

The bird eye pepper died almost immediately, but the chard, kale, and oregano grew incredibly well. Basil quickly replaced the bird eye pepper spot.

Rainbow Chard
Rainbow Chard

In about a month, the cabbage grew from this:

Baby CabbageTo this:

Adult Cabbage

The garden fresh vegetables have been used in a variety of dishes ranging from Scallops with Chard Risotto to Cheesy Polenta with Kale. Check back for garden updates and recipes featuring our garden fresh herbs and vegetables.

Zucchini and Tomato Risotto

When we went to Georgia for my Grandma’s birthday, we received an abundance of zucchini my parents grew in their bountiful garden.  Not totally sure what to do with all of the zucchini, Jill and I started looking through cookbooks for inspiration. I came across a recipe for risotto. While I did not make the recipe I found, I did get inspired to make a risotto. This is my blending of two classic foods:  zucchini with tomatoes and risotto.

To make this risotto the way I did, you will need the following ingredients:

Ingredients on display

  • 1 and 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 5.5 oz tomato Juice
  • 5 shallots, finely diced
  • 5 zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chardonnay
  • 15oz can diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted)
  • salt and pepper
  • parmesan cheese

To create the liquid for the risotto, I poured the vegetable broth, tomato juice, and liquid from the can of diced tomatoes into a pot over medium heat. Before the liquid began boiling, I turned the heat down to low and let the liquid simmer.

In a large skillet, I heated a nice glug of olive oil over medium heat. I didn’t measure the olive oil, but it was probably about 2 tablespoons. I sautéed the shallots until they were soft and add the zucchini and Chardonnay. I cook this for about 5 minutes, while stirring often.

Zucchini and Shallots
Zucchini and Shallots

I then added the arborio rice and cook the mixture for another minute. I added about a cup of the warm vegetable stock-tomato juice liquid to the zucchini, shallot, rice mixture and stirred until the liquid was absorbed. I then added about a half of a cup of the liquid and stirred until it was absorbed. I did this until all of the vegetable stock-tomato juice liquid was absorbed. I then added the diced tomatoes to the risotto and stirred for a few minutes.

Risotto Cooking on the StoveI turned the heat down to low and seasoned the risotto with salt and pepper. I then shredded parmesan cheese over the top of the risotto.

Risotto plated

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup

Jill’s favorite food is eggplant. At least it was last time I checked. Combining her love for eggplant with her childhood stories of watching David the Gnome while eating tomato soup, I ventured to make this recipe. I also had the good fortune of being given some fresh eggplant my parents grew.

This recipe begins with ingredients shown below:

Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onion, Garlic, and Chicken Stock
Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onion, Garlic, and Chicken Stock

The two japanese style eggplants from my parents garden were supplemented with an Italian style eggplant from Publix. Olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro (from my garden) and goat cheese are not shown in the photo.

After slicing the veggies in half, they were all seared in a little olive oil before going into the oven to roast.

Searing the eggplants

After about 25 minutes in a 350 degree (F) oven, the roasted veggies should be caramelized nicely. After making this recipe the first time, I could definitely roast more garlic. Much more garlic.

Roasted Veggies
Roasted Veggies

Before pureeing the vegetables in a food processor, the eggplant pulp should be pulled away from the skin. If your vegetables have roasted enough, this should be easy to do. Blend the roasted vegetables in a food processor with some of the chicken broth until smooth. Pour the puree into a pot over medium heat. At this point, it probably will not look overly appetizing and will resemble baby food like the photo below.

Roasted Vegetable Puree
Roasted Vegetable Puree

As the puree heats up, gradually add more of the chicken stock and stir to incorporate. I ended up using a total of four cups of chicken stock, including the stock used while blending the vegetables. After incorporating the stock, the soup looked like this:

While the soup simmered, I decided to add goat cheese. I lightly browned the goat cheese in a small amount of olive oil, but would probably add unheated goat cheese next time.

Warmed goat cheese
Warmed Goat cheese

To finish things off, I added cilantro from my garden to the soup as a garnish and served.

Soup in bowls
Soup and Goat Cheese Garnished with Cilantro

This recipe was adapted from “Charred Eggplant-Tomato Soup with Cilantro” from Cat Cora’s cookbook Cooking from the Hip.