Thursday, February 26, 2009

Polenta, Food for the Poor

Because of certain circumstances (ahem, lack of jobs), The BF and I have been eating out less and less, which means our kitchen is getting put to good use. Whereas once we might have cooked one or two exceptional meals once a week, supplemented by take-out, now we cook a lot of basic weeknight dinners and one pot wonders, with a truly stellar, time-consuming meal once every other week. Our bellies are angry, but our bank accounts thank us!

I whipped up this hearty meal of polenta topped with a spicy tomato sauce for myself when I was enjoying a night alone. It's simple, delicious, cheap, and something that I love to make for myself: no fuss and just the flavors I enjoy. Plus, these rainy days have left me longing for foods that I can enjoy in a dim-lit room, curled up on the couch. The sauce is as basic as it gets and very forgiving--I don't think it's possible to screw up tomatoes and garlic!--so feel free to add your own mix of ingredients.

Oh, and don't let the anchovy scare you off! It cooks down into nothing so that all you're left with is a nutty undercurrent.

Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce, for one

1/2 cup polenta, and water for cooking
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 anchovy, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 14 oz. can tomatoes, chopped.
Salt & pepper, to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp. parsley (basil would be just as appropriate, but it's far better in the

1. Cook the polenta according to package instructions. This will take about 25 minutes, unless your using quick-cooking polenta, which I've found to be just as good for a small meal such as this one. If you choose the latter, you may to keep it warm while your sauce is cooked.

2. Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan over medium might heat. Once hot, add in the garlic, anchovy, and red pepper flakes. Gently stir and allow to cook for a minute or two. You want to anchovy to melt into the oil and the garlic's aroma to ignite.

3. Once the anchovy has all but disappeared and the oil has taken on a rich yellow color, add your chopped tomatoes. (If you're adding in any other hearty ingredients, like mushrooms or kale, you may want to give them their own turn in the garlic-pepper oil before you add the tomatoes.)

4. Allow the tomatoes to simmer for a good 15 minutes. It's important your flavors have time to meld together. Add a hefty pinch of salt and bit of pepper, and taste for flavor. If you need more salt, don't be shy. You want the flavor to be distinct against the polenta.

5. Finally, hit the sauce with the lemon juice and the parsley. Let it cook three to five more minutes, just long enough for the acid of the lemon to develop. Spoon your hot polenta into a bowl and top with your sauce. Enjoy!

Monday, February 23, 2009

No Chopsticks Needed

Anyone who knows me is probably well aware of the fact that I can be fairly controlling. Control freak may be too strong of a title, but I could do with a little loosening of my grip, which is what I decided to do today!

The BF and I cook a lot together, but he often has his own projects, which are usually spicy (as in lots of spices, not necessarily heat) and involve red meat. So in honor of one of his more recent fabulous dishes, I decided that he should be allowed to guest post. So here I go, relinquishing control . . . Take it away, BF. And don't screw it up (just kidding!)
My first exposure to this type of Asian-style ribs came when I was taken on a trip to Jennie Low’s Chinese restaurant in Marin County when I was about 8 years old. Thinking back on my first encounter with Chinese barbecue spareribs, I remember how thrilled I was at the prospect of being allowed to use my hands in what at the time seemed like such and\ exotic restaurant. No chop sticks are needed to devour this type of pork rib preparation as the beauty of this dish comes in the form of the sticky, sweet resin of barbecue sauce that accumulates on your fingers while enjoying.

These mouthwatering baby back ribs deliver all the same bright flavors as traditional Memphis-style ribs, only with a pungent Asian twist. However, don’t expect them to taste like your typical barbecue spare rib; these are a bit more refined. Delicious meaty pork baby back ribs are rendered fall-of-the-bone tender as they are continuously lacquered in a tangy and sweet Mongolian marinade over two and half hours of slow cooking in the oven.

Sticky Asian-Style Baby Back Ribs adapted from Cindy Pawlcyn’s Big Small Plates

Mongolian Marinade:

½ cup hoisin sauce
1 ½ tsp. sugar
2 ¼ tsp. tamari or soy sauce
2 ¼ tsp. sherry vinegar
2 ¼ tsp. rice vinegar
1-2 scallions, white and light green parts only, minced
½ tsp. hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
¾ tsp. black bean chili sauce or hot garlic sauce
2 ¼ tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger
2 ¼ tsp. fresh garlic, minced
¼ - 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
2 tbsp. minced cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 ½ tsp. sesame oil

1 slab pork baby back
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2-inch piece of ginger, sliced into coins
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1.Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a bowl.

2.Slather half of the marinade over the ribs and wrap snuggly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate over night.

3.Preheat over to 275ยบ. Remove the ribs from the fridge, and allow them to rest for a half an hour at room temperature.

4.Meanwhile bring a half cup of soy sauce and half cup of water to a simmer, with the remaining garlic and ginger. Set aside.

5.Set the ribs on a rack in a roasting pan larger enough to accommodate the length of the ribs. Pour the soy sauce mixture into the bottom of the roasting pan. Place in oven and roast, basting every hour with remaining marinade, for approximately four hours.

6.After four hours, remove the ribs from the oven and preheat your broiler to high. Caramelize the ribs under the broiler, turning and basting several times, until you’ve used up all the remaining marinade and the ribs are sticky and have formed a crust. Slight burnt patches only add to the flavor.

7.Allow the ribs to rest ten minutes before slicing.