Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Apricot Cardamom Breakfast Bars

Are you noticing a pattern here lately? Salad, bar, salad...and here you go another bar. It's summer, and I'm still cooking for one. What can I say. I'm all about cooking things that I can eat all week.

These little beauties combine a few of my favorite things: cardamom, dried fruit, nuts, o and food shaped into a bar. Perfect.

They're chewy and little sweet, with some crunchy and some crumb. I made these a few weeks ago to take with me to Chicago. That's how I learned that they don't really travel well. They kind of turn into breakfast bar dust. So if you want to make them and take them, individually wrap them. Don't throw them into a gallon ziplock and put them in the bottom of your lap top bag. Just sayin.

I first saw these as marathon cookies on 101 Cookbooks (of course I immediately starred them), and after looking at a few other versions online, I came up with this combination. Then I turned them into bars, because that just sounds more appropriate for breakfast than cookies.

Apricot Cardamom Breakfast Bars
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

You can change the combination of the dried fruit and nuts and/or the spices for a different flavored bar. Next time I think I'm going to go with ginger, pepitas, and dried cranberries.

2 cups oatmeal, divided
1 cup whole wheat (or white whole wheat) flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
zest of one large lemon
15 oz. can white kidney or navy beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup agave nectar (or real maple syrup)*
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup chopped dried apricots

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 1 cup of oatmeal until it resembles a course flour. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt and pulse to combine. Pour dry mixture into a large bowl, then add the other cup of oatmeal and the lemon zest and stir.
-In the bowl of the food processor, pulse the beans until they are pureed. Add the butter, agave nectar, egg, and vanilla and pulse to combine.
-Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Stir in the pine nuts and the dried apricots.
-Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside a baking sheet. Dust the parchment paper and your hands lightly with flour. Scoop the dough onto the parchment paper and shape into a long rectangle using your hands. The dough is sticky, but move quickly and it will come together fairly easily. (Another option if to refrigerate the dough for an hour.) Using a sharp knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise, and then into six sections top to bottom (for 12 total bars). Don't separate the bars, just make the cut with the knife so they will be easier to separate once they are baked.
-Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. 5 minutes before they are done, separate the bars so the edges will brown. Use a knife if they are not coming apart easily.

*You can substitute 1 cup packed brown sugar.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Bean Salad

I have a serious thing for vinegar. I can't get enough of it. It took Nic years to get used to eating my salads because of the amount of vinegar I put on them. In middle school, our science teacher asked who wanted to volunteer to drink a tablespoon of straight vinegar, and obviously I volunteered. (I have no idea what that had to do with science, or what it was supposed to teach us.)

I think my love of vinegar was ingrained in me as a child. My great grandmother used to make green salads that had so much salt and vinegar on them, they made your jaw ache just to eat them. Her salad was always my favorite: romaine leaves, salt, red wine vinegar, olive oil. I don't even think she put black pepper on it. It was glorious.

I've been making this bean salad all summer, ever since string beans showed up at the farmer's market. I make it every week, and eat it for days until I finish off the batch. It gets better every day, as the beans soak up the vinegar. This weekend, I finally made myself measure what I put in the salad so I could share it with you. I toned down the vinegar to a respectable half of a cup, still quite strong, but I think most people can handle it... Then I secretly added more.

Summer Bean Salad
Sort of a riff on this recipe, I posted last year.
Serves 6.

You can use string beans or a combination of green beans and wax beans (yellow) for this salad. I like to have both for the color if I can find them. You can also sub out some of the chick peas and kidney beans for cannelloni beans, if you prefer.
10 oz. string beans
15 oz. chick peas
15 oz. kidney beans
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 scallion, minced (or 1/4 cup minced onion)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 2-3 tbs. dry parsley)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3 tbs. olive oil

-Steam or blanch the green beans, cooking for only a few minutes. They should still be crisp and brightly colored.
-Rinse the green beans with cold water, and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.
-In a large bowl combine all of the ingredients. Let sit for at least one hour in the fridge to let the flavors meld.
-Serve cold or at room temperature. Lasts for 2-3 days in the fridge.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Brown Rice Crispy Bars w/ Fruit and Nuts

I'm ashamed to admit it, but a decent percentage of my meals/snacks come in bar form. I stock up on Luna Bars and other packaged carb bars like it's going out of style. I'm just happy that bar-food (not to be confused with the other type of bar food, as in the kind that goes with happy hour) has improved since those original protein bars that were approximately the consistency of cardboard and glue. At least they're better than a candy bar for a late afternoon snack before my run.

But over the last couple of months I've been trying to make my own bars, to varying degrees of success. Granola bars were not my friend. (They went from bar to crumble in about 2 seconds.) These brown rice crispy bars are very friendly on the other hand. They come together quickly, require no baking, and are done in less than an hour.

And even though they're healthy (well other than those marshmallows, but something has to hold all those nutrients together), they're still amazingly chewy, with a little sweet/tart kick from the dried berries, and a good crunch from the almonds. No one will even realize the rice is brown, the sugar is reduced, and the fat is the healthy kind. Trust me. I've eaten them for dessert, snacks, and breakfast. But mostly I pack them up and bring them to share with my running group.

Brown Rice Crispy Bars w/ Fruit and Nuts
Adapted from Alton Brown, Food Network

Brown puffed rice is not the same as brown crispy rice. I've made these with both, but if you do use brown crispy rice, the measurements will be off. I remedied this by adding the crispy rice to the marshmallow mixture slowly until it felt like the marshmallow goop couldn't absorb any more crispy rice. You also probably don't need to toast the crispy rice, although I'm dubious of the need to toast the puffed rice too.

3 oz. (6 cups) puffed brown rice
3 oz. (3/4 cup) almonds, toasted and chopped
4 oz. (1 cup) dried fruit (I prefer half cherries, half cranberries)
7 oz. (4 cups) mini marshmallows
3 tbs. flax seed oil, plus more for pan
1 tbs. honey

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Line a 13X9X2 in. pan with foil, and lightly coat with oil.
-Spread the brown puffed rice on a sheet pan and toast for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
-Combine the rice, almonds, and dried fruit in a large bowl.
-In a metal mixing bowl over a pot of gently simmering water, combine the marshmallows, flax seed oil, and honey. Be patient. You don't want the flax seed oil to get too hot or it will taste terrible. So keep stirring, keep the heat low, and don't try to do this in a pan directly on the burner.
-When the marshmallow is thoroughly melted and the oil is well mixed in, add the rice mixture and store to coat evenly.
-Coat the back of a spatula or a wooden spoon with oil and use that to press the mixture into the foil-lined pan evenly.
-Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days. (After that the flax seed oil can make the bars taste bad.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Keen-WHAT?! Keen-Waaaaaaah (Quinoa)

I have been waiting to use that headline for a blog post for almost an entire year, basically since right after I started this blog. Say it out loud. Isn't it great? (For a time I walked around the apartment saying it out loud whenever I was making quinoa. I favored a sort of rap-esque cadence.)

So why did I wait so long to write a post about quinoa, the tiny little grain from South America? Because every time I made it, it tasted like poo. But don't worry! I have finally found a few fool proof ways to make this healthy, crunchy, protein-packed little grain delicious. *

But first, two indispensable prerequisites to any cooking with quinoa.

1) Soak it! The box won't tell you you need to do this, but if you don't, it will have a decidely bitter taste. (If you like that kind of thing, I guess you don't need to soak it.) The longer the better. I like to drop it in a bowl, cover it with water, and let it sit for an hour and a half or longer if I'm out of the apartment. But if you're short on time, at least soak it for 30 minutes.

2) Red quinoa is better than "traditional" or white quinoa. Ok, so that isn't really an indispensable prerequisite; I suppose it is a matter of taste. But what I'm getting at is, they taste very different, so if you try one variety and don't like it, still try the other.

So here is quinoa two ways. One for breakfast, the other for lunch or as a side with dinner.

Breakfast isn't so much a recipe. I just cook about 1/4 cup of quinoa, mix in a very small amount of butter while it's hot, then let it cool and store it in the fridge. I add a scoop to the top of my oatmeal in the morning. The heat from the oatmeal is enough to heat up the quinoa. Add some nuts and berries and you have lots of vitamins, whole grains, and protein.

Quinoa and Herb Salad
Inspired by 101 Salads

This is the quantity that I make. It is enough for two people for lunch, or for four people as a side. It can easily be doubled, and it keeps really well in the fridge for a few days. I like it even better the day after it is made.

1/2 cup red quinoa, soaked and rinsed (or traditional quinoa)
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup chopped red onion (or to taste)
1 cup canned or cook chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about half a can)
1/2 tsp. salt
juice of one lemon
fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Cook the quinoa according to the package directions with the chicken stock or water.
-Drain any excess liquid when the quinoa is finished cooking and stir in the olive oil to prevent it from clumping.
-Chop your vegetables while the quinoa cools.
-Add all the remaining ingredients to the quinoa and stir.
-Serve at room temperature or cold. Keeps for several days in the fridge.

*Some notes about quinoa: It contains more high-quality protein than any other grain, it is the only complete protein grain, it is gluten free, and it was so important to Inca culture that they called it the Mother Grain. This is all according to the box, but I've read similar descriptions of this "superfood" elsewhere.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coffee Fail

I knew my morning was going to be a crapfest when I failed at making coffee...twice.

First, Nic calls me at like 4 in the morning from Egypt to remind me to wire him money since he lost his ATM card. I briefly consider letting him starve as retribution for calling me at that hour. Instead I wake up at 7, put on the coffee pot, and try to use Western Union's website. The stupid thing is loading so slow you would think I had dial-up and AOL and it was 1998.

While I wait for a page to load, I go to get my coffee, throw in some stevia (my attempt at using less artificial sweetener, because stevia is supposedly an herb, and obviously all herbs are good for you), and some milk. And the milk curdles. I throw out the coffee and the carton of milk, and put the coffee pot back on for take two.

I go back to the computer to continue with the Western Union website. I get all the way to Step 5 Receipt, but there is no receipt. So then I have to call Western Union, at which point they tell me the system cancelled my money order because I entered something wrong, and I need to start over. Obviously this is going to be a morning with a lot of take twos.

I go back for my coffee. I have another carton of milk in the fridge, so I grab that and the stevia. The milk curdles AGAIN. Seriously. I throw the chunky coffee down the sink. Whatever. I'm having a Diet Coke, so much for cutting back on those artificial sweetners.

Anyway, long story short, it took three tries to wire the money and one more phone call. It took me three tries to leave my building because I forgot stuff/dropped my rent check in the hallway somewhere. And it took my 20 minutes to get my bagel with cream cheese at Dunkin Donuts (vehicle for delivering the remainder of my smoked salmon to my belly, I didn't want it to go bad while in Chicago).

Really too much to handle without my coffee.

P.S. I Just realized this is my second post about coffee on this blog.

Accidentally Pickled Onions

I tried this recipe for the first time when I was attempting to make something entirely different. I was trying to make this red onion salad-type thing that is served with grilled meats at my favorite Lebanese restaurant. The onion taste is tempered, but I couldn't figure out how they got that effect. I thought maybe it was slightly pickled.

That's why I made pickled red onions. These are nothing like the red onion salad at the Lebanese restaurant, but they are delicious. And they are delicious with grilled meats. (I served them with yogurt marinated chicken thighs.) They are also awesome chopped up and added to coleslaw and potato salad.

I never pickled anything before, but I was amazed at how easy it is, at least when you're not canning it. I have plans for many more pickles in the near future.

Quick post today, because I'm trying to get everything together for a business trip to Chicago. Amazingly, this will be the first time I have ever been to the Midwest. I'm excited, mainly for the hot dogs. Less so for the business. Supposedly I will be converted to Chicago deep dish pizza, according to my Midwestern friends. I highly doubt it.

Quick Pickled Onions
From David Lebovitz

3/4 cup white vinegar
3 tbs. sugar
pinch of salt
1 bay leaf
5 allspice berries
5 whole cloves
a small, dried chile pepper
1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced into rings

-In a small saucepan heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling.
-Add the onion slices and lower heat. Simmer gently for 30 seconds.
-Remove from heat and cool completely.
-Transfer the onions and the pickling liquid into a clean jar and refrigerate. The onions will keep in the fridge for well over a month, but I ate most of them the day after they were made.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Quiche isn't my favorite brunch food (that would be home fries). It's not even in my top three favorite egg dishes (poached eggs, egg salad, egg sandwich). But it is a really handy recipe to have in the repertoire. 1) It's French, so you look fancy. 2) You can serve it for any meal. 3) You can empty the contents of your veggie drawer.

You can make a quiche in an hour, and most of that time the little egg pie is just hanging out in the oven. The hardest part is making your own crust, but as my mom says "Why would you make your own crust?" (I did this time, but I've bought them premade in the past.)

This recipe is infinitely adaptable, so I wrote a few of my favorite combinations below. This pretty little piece here is tomato, basil, mozzarella, which couldn't be more perfect at this time of year.

And even though quiche isn't my favorite, me and two friends managed to take down almost the whole thing for lunch yesterday. We left a little in the pan, for good measure.

Quiche, Several Ways
Serves 6...or 3 hungry

I use 2% milk most of the time in this recipe, and I think it gives the quiche a lighter texture. You can use whole milk or even cream if you prefer, for a richer more decadent quiche. I would not recommend skim milk. For the crust, I usually parbake my homemade crusts for 15 minutes on 350. With a store bought crust I usually don't.

one pie crust
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk or cream
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
vegetables and/or meat
1/2 cup cheese*

-Preheat oven to 450.
-Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper.
-Stir in the cheese.
-You can either stir the vegetables and/or meat into the egg mixture and pour the mixture into the pie crust, or you can layer them in the crust and pour the egg mixture over them. It all goes to the same place in the end.
-Bake on 450 for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 and continue to bake for about 30 minutes or until done. (The quiche will be set in the center and golden brown on the top.)
-Cool for 15 minutes and serve.
-1/2 cup mozzarella, 2 tbs. fresh basil, one medium tomato sliced or chopped.
-1/2 cup gruyere, 2 tsp. fresh thyme, 1 cup mushrooms lightly sauteed.
-1/2 cup sharp chedder, 4 pieces cooked bacon, 1/4 cup chopped green onion.
-1/2 cup feta, 1/2 to 1 cup lightly sauteed spinach, 1/4 cup chopped tomatoes (optional).

*This makes a lightly cheesey quiche. For more ooey gooey cheesiness, up the cheese to 3/4 cup or 1 cup, but be careful. I wouldn't recommend increasing the cheese for certain strong flavored types, like feta.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chocolate-Cherry Crumb Cake Muffins

Hey you guys! How have you been?


O, there's no one left? That's too bad. I guess I'll just have to eat these muffins all by myself. I can't say I mind. They're pretty ridiculously scrumptious. Not too sweet, but just decadent enough to straddle the line between a tame desert and a generous breakfast.

I recently decided that muffins are my favorite thing to bake. They're super quick, and they're in individual portions, which is perfect for taking to work, or my running group, or just to prevent myself from eating an obscene amount in one sitting.

They're also extremely versatile. My "regular" muffins lately have been a blueberry bran muffin. I make half a batch every week and have them for breakfast. Those ones are a tad healthier, but I'll tell you about them later. You can't come back from such a long absence with a bran muffin. If I did that, the one soul out there still reading would head for the exit.

No you need a peace offering, which obviously means chocolate. Then some fresh fruit, since summer is in full force. And how about a little nutty, brown sugar topping, just for good measure.

Cherry season is almost over, so go and make these soon! Or it will be another 12 months....

Chocolate-Cherry Crumb Cake Muffins
Makes 12

You don't have to have a cherry pitter to make these. I don't. Just carefully use a paring knife. It will take about 5 to 10 minutes to de-pit and quarter a cup. Also, I grind my almonds in food process, until they're somewhere between oatmeal and flour in consistency. Feel free to use a rougher chop, and bigger pieces, if you prefer.

2 cups all purpose flour (I used cake flour when I was out of AP)*
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg
3 tbs. melted butter or oil
1 cup milk (2% works well)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup quartered cherries
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Crumb Topping
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbs. melted butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup ground almonds (rough chopped, if you prefer)

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare a 12 cup muffin tin with liners or cooking spray.
-In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
-In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter, and vanilla.
-Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gentle fold together. The batter does not have to be smooth, so mix only until combined.
-Stir in the cherries and the chocolate chips.
-Combine the crumb topping ingredients in a small bowl.
-Divide the batter in the muffin cups, sprinkle the tops with the crumb topping.
-Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire wrack.

*Remember that engagement cake I made monttttths ago? I was a little overzealous buying cake flour for that, and since I bake like one cake a year, I still have several boxes left.

In case you want to know, although you might not, I calculated the total calories for the ingredients, and I came up with about 230 calories per muffin. This is not scientific by any means, but it's a rough estimate. Fat? Protein? Fiber? I don't have that much time on my hands. I'm sorry.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Quest for the Perfect Scone

I tweaked, and I tested, and I tweaked some more, and I found it! My go-to whole wheat, reduced fat, lightly sweetened scone recipe. Sounds about as appetizing as cardboard, huh?

Well, you would be wrong my friend. Trust me, if you don't believe that you can make scones without heavy cream, or a ton of butter, or mounds of white sugar, try it just once. These are amazingly light and the whole wheat flour gives them a great flavor. The agave nectar (or maple syrup if that's what you have) adds just a hint of sweetness, and if you want to guild the lily, the sprinkling of raw sugar adds a sweet outer crunch. They are infinitely adaptable to add-ins--like cranberries and orange zest in the fall, or more apropos for the coming months, blackberries with lime zest.

One of the most popular posts I ever wrote was about my all-time favorite scone recipe. (Although by popular, I mean my aunt made it and liked it a lot, but that is likely to be the height of my fame, so I'm going to go with it.) And that recipe is fantastic. Too good in fact, because it uses an entire cup of heavy cream and quite a bit of sugar. It's a recipe that I reserve for holidays. This recipe is for the other 10 months out of the year, when I'm doing penance for my holiday extravagances.

I started with this recipe on 101 Cookbooks, the hands-down ruling blog of natural cooking. I loved the whole wheat pastry flour and the oats but holy cow 11 tablespoons of butter! That put a kink in my "healthy" scone quest...

So I tweaked, and I tested, and I tweaked some more, and I found it. About half the butter, much more milk, and a little bit of egg later, and I had it.

Whole-Wheat, Everyday, Scones
Makes about 9 large scones or 18 little ones

2 tbs. lemon zest (optional, but highly recommended)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 1/2 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg
1 cup 2% reduced fat milk*
1/4 cup agave nectar (or real maple syrup, preferably grade A)**
turbinado sugar (raw sugar) for sprinkling on top (optional)

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Zest the lemons or orange with a grater or use a vegetable peeler, then finely, finely chop the zest.
-Combine the zest, flour, oats, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a course meal. The easiest way to do this is to dice the butter very small and make sure each piece is separated before you add them into the flour. The flour will keep them from sticking back together so shake the bowl before adding in more pieces. Then use two knifes to cut the butter pieces even finer. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
-If adding berries, nuts or other mix-ins, add to the dry mixture at this point.
-In another small bowl beat the egg, milk, and maple syrup together.
-Mix the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, just until combined. (There can be a few small dry spots, it will come together when you have it on the counter.)
-On a lightly flour surface, dump the dough out, knead it once or twice and press it into a 1 inch thick rectangle with your hands. (If it too sticky to do this just sprinkle it with a little more flour).
-Cut the dough into nine squares or cut each square into two triangles. (It helps if you put a little flour on the knife so it doesn’t stick.)
-Brush the top of each scone with a little milk if you want to sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
-Place the scones an inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake in 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until they start browning on the edges.

NOTE: You can freeze the scones before you bake them, then bake them as you need them. If freezing, place baking sheet in the freezer after you shape the scones for at least one hour or until the scones are hard and frozen. Place the scones in a freezer bag until ready to bake. Defrost in the refrigerator on a parchment-lined baking sheet for a few hours then bake.

1 1/4 cups fresh cranberries, chopped coarse (approx. in quarters) mixed with 2 tbs. sugar (or you can use dried cranberries, but don’t add sugar to them) and orange zest.

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or a combination. (I like lime zest with the blueberries and the blackberries.)

*If you don't normally buy 2% milk, I've also used 1/2 cup heavy cream with 1/2 cup skim milk.
**I've tried both, both were delicious, but I have a slight preference for the agave. But this bit of information (found on might be useful if you are deciding which to buy: "While the sweetness of agave and maple [syrup] is comparable (and agave's caloric count is higher), agave still has the lower glycemic index (between 11 and 30). The most daunting property of maple syrup may be its price. Because it takes approximately 40 gallons of raw maple sap to produce a single gallon of finished syrup, the cost of pure maple syrup can be easily twice that of agave syrup, making it prohibitively priced for regular use." So if you're on a budget buy agave.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Polenta w/ Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

I haven't cooked a lot of, what'd'ya call em...well-balanced meals, since Nic went to Egypt. I have mainly subsisted on bean burritos, tuna pasta salad (which I should really post about one of these days), and egg salad sandwiches. But when I was picking up some baking supplies at Whole Foods tonight (for an awesome scone recipe that is coming soon!), I impulsively purchased polenta. I think I was drawn in by the description:

I love that they use "also known as" on the label. Like the polenta is an 80s rock star trying to redefine its image. They wanted to draw in the southerners with the grits, but they didn't want to ostracize the northerners. What to do? Then a crafty marketer came up with the idea to throw on the fancy European term, "polenta." It's a twofer!

I came home, scrounged around in the fridge, pulled out a bunch of broccoli rabe my mom sent me home with after Easter and package of sausage that I needed to use, and I started to cook my first well-balanced meal in three weeks. Unless you count chasing bean burritos with ice cream sandwiches as well-balanced.

This is a fantastic combination of flavors--the sweet and spiciness of the sausage really balances out the slight bitterness of the broccoli rabe, and the polenta and grated Pecorino Romano cheese complete the picture. [UPDATE: This is the most awesomely delicious leftover lunch I have had in a looooooooong time. So make enough for leftovers, mmmk?] Okay, enough food talk mumbo-jumbo, it is easy to throw together, and it makes for a pretty presentation if you cut the polenta into little squares or circles after it sets...or you can just glob it on the plate if you want to skip a step and you aren't worried about such vanities.

The most difficult part of preparing this meal is prepping the broccoli rabe, but it's not that bad once you get the hang of it. My mom taught me to cut about 1/2 inch off the stem end then pull it towards the flowered end to pull off the tough outer skin on the stem. Then, using a good paring knife, you get under the edge of the skin and pull it off in pieces, moving around the stem. Some of the toughest outer leaves will come with it. The skin will come off fairly easily, and it doesn't have to be perfect, but you want to get most of it off because it makes the broccoli rabe tough.

Polenta w/ Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
Serves 6

two large bunches of broccoli rabe (it shrinks when it's cooked)
1/4 cup of olive oil (give or take)
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
6 Italian sausages, cubed (sweet or spicy, your choice)*
2 cups of polenta (i.e. corn grits)
2 tbs. butter
salt/black pepper
1 1/2 cups of grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)

-Put a large pot of salted water (about 2 tsp. salt) on to boil on high heat. Clean the broccoli rabe (see above for technique). When the water comes to a boil, throw in the broccoli rabe. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes in the boiling water, until the stems are softened. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking.
-Using the same pot, bring 6 cups of salted water (about 2 tsp. salt) to a boil on high heat. Slowly pour in the polenta and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook the polenta stirring often until it is very thick, about 25 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the polenta or it will stick and burn.
-While the polenta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and the cubed sausage and cook until the sausage is browned and cooked through. Add the broccoli rabe and cook just until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low to keep warm until the polenta is done.
-When the polenta is finished cooking, stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper, then spread in a glass baking dish. Let set for 10 minutes, then cut in squares or use a biscuit cutter (or the top of a glass) to cut individual servings.
-Place a serving of polenta on each plate, top with broccoli rabe and sausage, and garnish with a generous helping of grated cheese.

*Here I actually used spicy chicken sausage.