TJ’s Gourmet: Polenta with Kale, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and White Bean Puree

There are few more masochistic things about me than my desire to do most things The Hard Way. If there’s an easy way out… I’m probably not going to take it. There’s definitely some flawed thinking here, though I’m not sure exactly why it happens. Maybe I don’t like to feel lazy? Maybe I like to feel put-upon? I don’t know. It’s probably not good.

But.

Sometimes, even I have to admit that the easy way out is totally awesome.

Like prepared polenta.

And canned beans.

And prepared sun-dried tomatoes.

And organic kale… in a bag.

And getting all those things at a single store.

Yes, I practically live at Trader Joe’s these days. Other than Giant, it’s the nearest grocery store, and it has a good selection of vegan and organic products. Do I miss my Madison co-op and feel horribly guilty for buying non-local bagged kale? Yep. Am I willing to drive to the nearest ridiculously busy Whole Foods and spend absurd amounts of money instead? Nope.

So yeah, we have a lot of TJ’s products in our pantry. Last night, I put a bunch of them together to make an easy dinner with a surprisingly gourmet feel. Sun-dried tomatoes add a pleasant chewy counterpoint to the crunchy kale and soft polenta, and the puree ties everything together.

This is a lazy meal that doesn’t taste lazy. Whizzing up the puree was the hardest part.

Instagram photo of a bed of kale and sun-dried tomatoes with half-moon polenta pieces topped with a white bean puree.

Early sunset = bad lighting = iPad Instagram photos galore!

Polenta with Kale, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and White Bean Puree
Serves two

For the puree:

  • 1 can (15 oz) Great Northern beans (or any soft white bean)
  • Scant 2/3 cup vegetable broth or water
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3/4 t dried thyme
  • 1/2 t garlic powder (I would’ve used fresh garlic, but we were out!)
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and paprika to taste

Everything else:

  • A few large handfuls chopped Tuscan kale
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (the kind that’s packed in oil)
  • Half a tube of prepared polenta, cut into rounds and then sliced into half-moons.

Combine all puree ingredients in a food processor and process until you have a smooth puree. Taste for seasonings and adjust to your preference. Transfer to a small pot and heat on medium-low while preparing the rest of the meal.

In a large non-stick pan, heat a small amount of olive oil on medium. Add the kale and sun-dried tomatoes to the pan and cook for three to four minutes. You can add some of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes for added deliciousness. (Minced garlic would be yummy as well, but we were out.) After the kale cooks down and shrinks a bit, add the polenta to the pan. It will be crowded, but you can make room! Cook for another five to seven minutes, flipping the polenta once, until the polenta has a bit of a golden crust.

Turn off the heat and serve: make a layer of kale and tomatoes and top with the polenta. Ladle on a healthy scoop of puree and serve!

What’s your favorite easy “gourmet” dinner? Which Trader Joe’s products do you love? 

Seasonal Fruits Gone Savory: Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Bake


This week has been an odd one, work-wise. I took Monday off (since I was in RI) and then went in a bit late on Tuesday after flying back from RI in the morning. Wednesday through Friday is my 90-day orientation, a three-day blast of info that new hires don’t receive until they’ve been at my organization for about three months. Truth be told, I already know most of what we’ve been covering, so my mind has been wandering a bit, particularly today. This afternoon, I started thinking about what I was going to make for dinner. A worthy use of my brainpower, I think!

I decided to use that lackluster pumpkin fauxsage in a pasta bake. Not just any pasta bake, though—a creamy pumpkin pasta bake! A few quick Google searches convinced me that I was on to something promising. The results did not disappoint.

 

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My bake featured fusilli pasta, diced pumpkin fauxsage, and a well-drained can of diced tomatoes. I topped it all with a creamy sauce. I don’t have a very precise recipe, but here’s what I whizzed up in my blender:

  • Pumpkin puree
  • Non-dairy milk
  • Yellow miso
  • Nutritional yeast
  • A glug or two of olive oil
  • A few small splashes of tamari and Bragg’s
  • Spices (herbed garlic salt, paprika, and black pepper)

I tossed my cooked pasta, tomatoes, and fauxsage with the sauce and baked it all, uncovered, for about 15 minutes at 350˚. It was a no-fuss, fairly easy, and very delicious dinner that prompted S to “remind” me that he always loves pasta bakes. Noted.

What’s your favorite type of pasta bake?

P.S. Yes, this is the second day in a row I’ve used an Instagram photo. I got a bit behind in my posts after my vacation this weekend, meaning that the past two nights I’ve needed to cook something, photograph it, and blog about it in the same night. It’s getting a little late in the month for good natural lighting, so Instagram it is!

Easy Unbaked Apple Not-Quite-Crisp

There are a few foods that I will always and forever associate with my childhood. Somewhere near the tippy-top of that list is apple crisp. My mom took my siblings and I on near-annual outings to the apple orchard every fall, and I always knew that the bounty we brought home would soon find its way into dozens of delicious recipes. My favorite was apple crisp. I liked helping Mom bake it, if only because I could swipe the occasional spoonful of topping. After Mom put it in the oven, the crisp’s warm cinnamon-y smell wafted through the house as I waited anxiously for the oven timer to ding. Then, when it did, we all dug in. With five people in the family, we were lucky to get more than one serving. “Seconds” usually meant a few paltry slices of apple and maybe a crumble or two of topping. And that was with Mom making a double batch!

These days, S and I have lots of crisp to share when I make it. But when the weather’s warm and I don’t feel like turning on the oven, I opt for an unbaked stand-in that captures all the flavors of traditional apple crisp with none of the heat. It’s a little less rich, too, because you don’t bake the apples. And that means it comes together in no time—no more waiting for the oven timer!

 

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Easy Unbaked Apple Not-Quite-Crisp
Makes one large serving or two small

  • 2 T Earth Balance or coconut oil (you can substitute applesauce for one tablespoon if you want to keep the fat content down)
  • 2 T spelt flour or other flour of your choice
  • 3 T rolled or quick oats
  • 1.5 T dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Dash cloves
  • Dash salt
  • 1 large apple, peeled and cut into thin slices OR diced into cubes

In a small bowl, melt the Earth Balance or coconut oil. Add all other ingredients (except the apples!) and mix with a fork until it forms large crumbles. Move your diced or sliced apples into a second bowl, top with crumbles, and enjoy.

Note: I prefer Earth Balance in this recipe, but it’s not bad with coconut oil! Half and half would probably work well, too.

What’s your favorite quick dessert recipe?