Cheesy Chile-Spiced Polenta with Habanero-Infused Olive Oil

Cheesy Chile-Spiced Polenta

We’ve been eating a lot of polenta around here lately.  I thought it was time to expand my ground cornmeal palate beyond my Horseradish Cheese Grits and my Dijon Cheesy Grits (read this if you’re confused about the difference between polenta and grits and masa).

I finally ran out of Henry Langdon’s amazing Sea Salt Rub (as featured in my Shrimp and Grits recipe); my pals Mike and Laura brought a big jar of it back from their trip to Australia a few years back, and it was like magic cooking dust.  I wish I had some more (hint, hint, Shalini).  In the meantime, here’s my attempt at replicating its flavor profile with some rich, cheesy polenta, which, it turns out, is the perfect vehicle for the
Habanero-Infused Olive Oil
we made after our recent, massive chile harvest.

Make a whole big batch of this and then enjoy it reheated for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

2 cups polenta
8 cups water
4 Tbsp butter
1 tsp prepared horseradish sauce
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 tsp fresh cilantro, finely diced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp dried and chopped kaffir lime leaves
sea salt, or to taste
Habanero-Infused Olive Oil, to taste

1. Bring water to boil in a large saucepan with a little salt.

2. Add polenta. Stir, and reduce heat to simmer. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes, or until water has been absorbed.

3. Remove pan from heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly until well-mixed. Taste and salt as desired.

4. Spoon out and serve immediately, drizzled with
Habanero-Infused Olive Oil
, or spoon polenta into a bowl, refrigerate, and serve later in slices. You could also use the firmed-up leftovers for my Fried Polenta with Creamy Mushrooms.

Or you could top it with homemade bacon bits.

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Stella’s Stuffed Poblanos

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

This isn’t a proper chile relleno recipe, as my poblanos aren’t battered, nor are they served with a typical tomato-based sauce. But they are super flavorful and deceptively easy, and I’m positive you’ll be as hooked as we are if you try this recipe!  We’ve been making these often lately because they’re is so quick and painless; I was prodded by followers on Instagram to share the recipe.

Of course, you can play around with the fillings, but these are my favorites. The rich, mature flavor of the asiago cheese pairs perfectly with bacon and cream cheese, and this hearty, slightly spicy beef transforms humble chiles into a meal.  Feel free to top with salsa or crema mexicana for extra decadence.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

6 large poblano chiles
4 bacon rashers
1/2 white onion, finely diced; halved
1/2 lb. ground beef
2 Tbsp Cholula or other hot sauce
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
splash Worcestershire sauce
2 cups asiago cheese, grated
4 oz. cream cheese

Also needed:
latex gloves
toothpicks
broiling pan or cookie sheet
aluminum foil

1. In a large skillet (I used a cast iron), cook bacon over medium heat until crispy, turning a few times. Set bacon aside on paper towels to drain. Pour bacon grease into a mason jar and save for future cooking, reserving about 1 teaspoon in the skillet.

2. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about two minutes. Remove half the oven from the pan and set aside. To the rest of the onion, add beef, breaking it up with your spatula, and continue to sauté until cooked through, about ten minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and add spices, Cholula, and Worcestershire sauce. Continue to cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

3. Meanwhile, wearing latex gloves, cut the tops off the poblanos and seed them. Cut out the ribs, as well. Rinse thoroughly with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

4. Once the beef is done, drain the juices and set the meat and onion mixture aside in a bowl. In another medium mixing bowl, combine the previously cooked onion, 1 cup of the grated asiago, and the cream cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon, then crumble bacon into the bowl. Continue to stir until thoroughly combined.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

5. Stuff the poblanos: take one pepper, and stuff it full with the cheese and bacon mixture, compressing the cheese down with a spoon as you stuff. Place the top back on the pepper and secure it with two toothpicks, pushed through the flesh of the pepper’s side and cap (see below). For the other four poblanos, alternately stuff with the plain grated asiago and beef mix until they are also full. Secure tops with toothpicks.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

6. Carefully move all the peppers to a broiling pan or foil-lined cookie sheet. Set oven to broil and cook on each side for two to three minutes, turning over once (again, carefully) with a large spatula. The peppers will darken and bubble a bit.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

7. Remove the pan from the oven and allow peppers to cool for a couple of minutes before gently removing them from the pan. Plate as-is and serve immediately with any garnish desired.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

To eat, simply remove the toothpicks and dig in!

Serves 3 as a main, 6 as an appetizer or side.

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

Stella's Stuffed Poblanos

Southwestern Chicken Salad with Homemade Mayo

Southwestern Chicken Salad

I’ve been thinking about making homemade mayonnaise for a long time.  But I hadn’t gotten past thinking about it until I used my Barnes and Noble Christmas giftcard to buy Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain.  Not only do I highly recommend the latest cookery book (as they say in the UK) from the good-natured Essex maverick, but I also insist that you make this mayo immediately!

Other food-obsessed friends had been telling me for years.  But I don’t eat that much mayo, and figured it wasn’t worth the trouble.

I was wrong.

Not only was it quick and easy, the result was so rich that Eric and I were desperately trying to think of things to use mayo on or in!  We ended up making a huge bowl of chicken salad, and it was so good, I had to share the recipe (see below).

I also used Eric as a food taster, making him do a blind test.  It was quite simple to tell the difference between the mass produced, processed mayo in our fridge and this stuff.  I was afraid the olive oil would be too overpowering (you can cut it with half rapeseed oil for a less robust flavor), but we really liked it.  I’m going to make some of Jamie’s variations soon: basil, garlic, and curry!  Mmm, curry.

Somehow, I didn’t take any pictures of the process; but it’s so straightforward (really, stop worrying and just whisk!).  Here it is.

Stella’s Homemade Mayonnaise
adapted from Jamie Oliver
3 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1.5 cups extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
juice of one lemon
salt, to taste

1. In a medium mixing bowl, lightly whisk egg yolks and Dijon mustard. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, only a little bit at a time, while continuing to stir. It’s best if you take up to ten minutes to do this, so the ingredients won’t separate.

2. As the mayo begins to thicken, add the vinegar and lemon juice while continuing to whisk. Continue until it is well mixed and smoothly textured.

3. Add salt to taste; scoop mayo out into a Mason jar or other sealable, refrigerator-safe container.

Yields approximately two cups of mayonnaise. Will keep for two weeks in the fridge.
 

Southwestern Chicken Salad
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup homemade mayo (see above)
1/4 white onion, finely diced
handful cilantro, roughly chopped
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp Cholula hot sauce
dash of balsamic vinegar
2 tsp chili powder, plus more to garnish
4 Tbsp crushed pecans
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.

2. Bake chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet for approximately 30 minutes, or until fully cooked through. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about five minutes.

Southwestern Chicken Salad3. Chop or shred chicken to desired consistency. Sometimes, I pull it by hand; for this dish, I cubed it on a cutting board with a knife. Place cubed chicken in large mixing bowl.

4. Add mayo, onion, cilantro, and lemon juice, and mix thoroughly. Then add hot sauce, vinegar, and paprika, and stir again. Taste, then add salt and pepper as desired.

5. Spoon out chicken salad onto serving plates and garnish with a dusting of chili powder, crushed pecans, and additional cilantro sprigs. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6. Refrigerates well; eat within a couple of days.

Southwestern Chicken Salad

How to Roast a Duck

Roast duck

Yes, that’s a duck’s beak.

1. Procure a duck.

8403790201_72db80a5fe_nWe’d been talking about how great it would be to get a whole duck and roast it. Our friend Jeff has recently taken up duck hunting, but hasn’t had much luck so far.

We heard that there might be a duck purveyor at the Mueller Farmer’s Market, so we went there one Sunday morning. We grabbed some coffee and cash and spent a good hour browsing the stalls; they have so much good stuff!

After fearing we’d have to settle for an eight dollar jar of duck fat, we finally noticed that the Countryside Farm stand was selling duck in addition to chicken, eggs, and charcuterie. Sebastien Bonneu sells whole ducks (complete with their heads, as above), breasts, and legs.

We pondered the options for about ten seconds before putting our money down on a whole duck. It was $42.00 and weighed nearly seven pounds. Keep in mind as you read on that duck fat usually runs about a dollar an ounce, and duck broth goes for about three dollars per ounce!

2. Roast the duck.

If your duck is frozen, let it thaw out overnight (or up to 24 hours, depending on its size) in a refrigerator, in its original wrapping.

When it’s fully thawed, preheat your oven to 325°.

If necessary, gut the duck.

After much hand-wringing and YouTube-video-watching, we finally stuck a hand in our duck and realized that it had been gutted, its guts stored neatly in plastic bags inside the cavity. We took those out and set them aside for later (duck pâté, anyone?).

Rinse the duck and pat dry with paper towels.

Slice off any excess fat (with special attention to the duck’s hind quarters). Set aside for later.

Grease a large roasting pan (we used olive oil).

Place the duck in the roasting pan, breast up.

Stuff the duck with the spices or other foodstuffs of your choice. We used lemon, orange, roughly chopped garlic, and sprigs of homegrown rosemary and thyme, tied with twine. Do not overstuff your bird, like a Thanksgiving turkey. You want air to get in and around the seasonings for even cooking.

Truss the duck with twine. Grab both legs, pull tight, crossing one over the other, and tie. This will still leave an opening to the cavity, which is what you want, as previously discussed. You can also tie the wings, if desired; I left the wings and head as they were.

A note about the head: You can remove the head before cooking, if desired. There’s not much use for it, as it has little meat (aside from the brain and tongue), and, if used in a stock, will impart a slightly metallic taste (or so I hear). We decided to leave the head on, Chinese style.

Score the skin diagonally as below—just through the skin, not into the flesh. Then use the tip of your knife to poke a few tiny holes in the skin, like you would a potato! This will allow the bird to release more fat, making for a crispier skin.Trussed duck

Add a light glaze of olive oil to the skin using a medium pastry brush, and roast the duck in the oven for an hour.

e. basting the duckRemove the pan, and turn the duck over so that it’s breast-side-down.

Baste the underside in the juices from the pan, and roast for another hour.

Remove the pan again, turning back over so it’s breast up, as it to serve.

Your duck will now be getting nice and crispy. Remove most of the liquid fat from the pan and set aside.

Glaze the duck. We used a mixture of orange glaze: the juice and zest of one orange and one lemon, 2 tablespoons of raw honey, salt, and pepper. Again, baste in any remaining pan juices.

Return the pan to the oven and cook for another 30-60 minutes, depending on bird size.

After a total cooking time of two and a half hours, check the internal temperature periodically using a meat thermometer. The duck is fully cooked and ready to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°. This will probably take at least three hours.

Roast duck

3. Render your own duck fat.

While your duck is roasting, you can make your own duck fat!

First, strain the liquid fat from the pan. We strained the fat into a wide mouth Mason jar, using cheesecloth to separate the fat and crispy pieces from the liquid. If your fat is still a little cloudy, feel free to strain it again. Leave the resulting liquid fat uncovered while you render the rest of the fat from the bird.

Take the solid pieces of fat you sliced off the duck earlier and chop them up into smallish pieces. Place these in a pan with a little water—enough to entirely submerge the fat. Simmer over medium low heat until the liquid is a nice golden color.

Rendering duck fat

Time will depend on how much fat you have, but it took me about 30 minutes to render the fat from our seven pound duck. Watch the fat boiling, and note the color. It will get darker, and the simmering bubbles will get much smaller as the water escapes the pan. Be careful not to burn it—this stuff is premium.  Our bird resulted in about a cup and a half of rendered fat!

Duck fatFollow the same process from earlier, straining the fat through cheesecloth, allowing it to cool for at least a half hour, then seal and place in the refrigerator.

Now you have delicious duck fat, which can be used for any high temperature frying for which you’d use bacon fat or schmaltz (like my Schmaltz Roasted Potatoes with Crunchy Sage). It should keep for a few months in the fridge, or up to a year in the freezer (however, you’ll eat it way before you get to that point!).

4. Carve the duck.

When you’ve determined that the duck is done—golden brown and crispy on the outside, 165° and juicy on the inside—, remove it from the oven and turn off the heat.

Duck carvingAllow the duck to sit for about ten minutes.

Carve the duck as you would chicken or turkey. Everyone wants the succulent breast pieces first, and I don’t blame them!

If using a sauce, drizzle it over your duck (I whipped up a quick, thin sauce using additional orange juice and honey, plus a little tamari), and serve immediately.

Shred any leftover meat and save for later. We ate duck salad, duck with collards, and duck scrambles for a couple of days before freezing the remainder.

Fresh roasted duck breast

Freshly roasted duck breast, with crispy skin.  Delicious.

5. Make duck broth.

Duck carcassUsing a large butcher knife, chop up all the bones and any meat leftover from your duck carcass. Chop into medium to small pieces, to release as much flavor as possible.

Place all of this in a large stock pot, along with any vegetables or vegetable scraps (I used a mirepoix put together specifically for this purpose, purchased from Johnson’s Backyard Garden the very same morning I picked up the duck).

Add a sprig of herbs (I again used homegrown, fresh thyme and rosemary, tied with twine).

Cover with water and bring just to a boil, then immediatey reduce heat to a simmer.

Simmer, uncovered, for three to four hours.

Skim off any soapy residue as it rises to the top.

Duck broth

After three to four hours (your kitchen will smell amazing by this point), you’re ready to strain. Start by removing all the large pieces of bone and veg with a large slotted spoon. Set aside.

Once all the large pieces have been removed, it’s time to strain. I put a large plastic strainer in an even larger plastic mixing bowl, then lined the strainer with cheesecloth. I then poured the broth through the strainer. If you have a proper sieve, even better! Use that, pouring the strained broth into another bowl. As with the fat, strain multiple times if necessary. If the cloth becomes clogged with duck debris, rinse it and reuse.

Straining duck broth

If you want an even more concentrated broth, pour this first broth into a new pot and simmer down to desired strength.

Note: I did not add salt or pepper to this broth, so that the result would be neutral and useful for a variety of purposes. Salt can be added to taste in cooking.

Duck brothPour the broth into a sealed container (or containers, as at left—we ended up with more than ten cups of broth!). It will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Or you can freeze it (as I did); it should last for at least six months, maybe up to a year.

Finally, use the boiled-down bits of carcass as a fertilizer for your garden!

And that is how you make the most of a duck. I’d say it’s well worth the $42.00 and time, wouldn’t you?

Cider and Sage Pork Loin

As you may’ve noticed, I eat a lot of bacon.  But, otherwise, I am not a huge fan of pork. I’m always trying to find ways to incorporate it into dinner dishes that don’t leave me “meh.”

The boy harvested a bumper crop of herbs from our allotment this week, and I had a lot of sage to get through.  And we always have beer on hand (I’ve been on a cider kick for the past few months).  So I threw this together, and it was so delicious, I had to share. The pork turned out perfectly tender and succulent, and paired nicely with the sweet and tangy sauce.

It’s also super quick! From prep to plate should take a half hour—another great recipe for weeknights.

We used organic Niman Ranch sliced pork loin from Wheatsville; a mixture of homegrown and frozen organic green beans; fresh sage; and prepared, low sodium, organic chicken broth.

For a twist, you might try substituting coconut milk for the sour cream, and cilantro for the sage! It’s also tasty served over a bed of rice.

1 lb. sliced pork loin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 tsp olive oil, halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
~2 Tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider (alcoholic or non)
1/2 chicken broth
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 heaped Tbsp sour cream, plus more for garnish if desired
fresh sage leaves for garnish

1. In a large skillet (preferably cast iron), heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Add pork, salt, and pepper. Turn pork over in oil mixture so that both sides are coated with salt and pepper. Cook for about five minutes, or until cooked through, turning once or twice; cooked pork turns light grey.

2. Remove the pork and set aside in a warm spot; I take the medallions out when they are just done and put them in a smaller pan, covered, over low heat on another burner. For this recipe, I threw in a drizzle of olive oil and the green beans, so that they would be lightly steamed and absorb some of the pork juices. You might also simply wrap the pork in foil and set aside.

3. Add remaining olive oil, onions, and chopped sage to the original pan. Cook for just two minutes over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk vinegars, cider, broth, and mustard in a measuring cup. Add to pan. Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil.

4. Reduce heat to simmer and stir thoroughly. Remove pan from heat and stir in sour cream.

5. Plate pork (and any vegetables, as applicable) and pour sour cream and sage mixture over the medallions. Garnish with additional sage leaves (and, if you’re a sour cream fiend like me, a dollop of sour cream!), and serve immediately.

Serves 2-4.