What We Have on Hand

As I’ve been stocking up our pantry and freezer for winter, I’ve been thinking about all the good things we will get to eat when everything outside is frozen and the farmer’s market is long gone. Most of all, I want to make sure that we do actually eat it all and use what is on hand in our cupboards. Lately, with this great market right around the corner I have been guilty of dashing out to buy extra ingredients to stay true to recipes or components of dinner. Sometimes you just can’t make things without the essential ingredients, but I love the idea of being so well supplied that we can open the pantry or the freezer and see what we should make with what we have on hand.

I try to keep stocked with some of the staples we use most often and my cooking style tends towards modifying recipes with the ingredients I have rather than dashing out quite so much. I’ve been inspired to read recipes by Melissa Clark and Mark Bittman in the New York Times in which the authors pull together quick and satisfying meals with what they have on hand. It seems somehow rewarding to see them publishing recipes that came from something they threw together for a weeknight meal. Cooking at home of course saves money and allows you to eat better and it can be really relaxing to put something together that doesn’t require a trip to the store (of course many people are probably better than I am at planning ahead with grocery shopping!).

The other night I realized I was hungry and, in looking through the cupboard I decided to make a batch of polenta. Its not the fastest meal possible, but I also had some slow roasted tomatoes and ricotta cheese and greens which I thought would be fabulous on polenta. The recipe that I use is a combination of a classic polenta recipe and a vegan one which includes quinoa, adding protien, texture and flavor. The recipe can, of course, be modified depending on what you have available and it can be used in many different ways: as a soft, porridge style polenta, a cooled and then pan fried version, or baked in the oven. All of these versions can be covered with toppings ranging from grilled vegetables, sauces, cheeses, sausage or other meats or whatever you have available.

Quinoa and Corn Grits Polenta

There are a lot of options here: You can make a recipe without dairy, adding toasted sunflower seeds instead of cheese, or you can use some milk and cheese to the recipe for a slightly richer taste. Both ways are delicious!
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
3 cups of water OR 1 3/4 cups water and 1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/2 cup corn grits or polenta (basically the same thing)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese and or 1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds

Heat a sauce pan to medium high. Add the oil, let it heat up, then add the onion. Cook the onion until it is fragrant, then add the garlic. Reduce heat if necessary to cook until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the water or milk and water. Stir once or twice and allow it to come to a boil. Add the polenta and quinoa, reduce the heat to medium low. Stir frequently until the quinoa is cooked and the mixture begins to pull away from the edges of the pot while stirring (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat and add salt and pepper, cheese and or sunflower seeds.

At this point you can spread the polenta onto an oiled sheet pan and allow to cool until firm. Once cooled you can cut it into pieces and gently crisp it on a skillet in olive oil. You can also cover the cooled polenta with sauce, cheese and other toppings and bake in the oven. Or you can eat the polenta while it is still soft and hot with whatever toppings or accompaniments appeal to you.

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