Grilled Polenta with Tomatoes and Olive Tapenade and Perfectly Perfect Artichoke

Come on, get appy! No, not an iPhone app, not an appendectomy…an appetizer!

I could eat appetizers all day long. Cheese boards. Baguette. Hummus. Artichoke and spinach dip. Everything just seems to be more decadent and taste better when it is in amuse-bouche form (in fact, quit what you are doing right now, and do a google image search of amuse-bouche. ooooooohhh, aaaaaahhhh). And quite honestly, if I were on Top Chef, this would be my specialty, because I LOVE hors d’oeuvres.

Fun fact about me: I once co-hosted a book club with my best friend just for the appetizers.

Any way, I am sure you can imagine that I try to pass off appetizers as “dinner” from time to time. For some reason, I always feel like it would be transformed into a “meal” if we added a simple salad. Here are some from my repertoire:

Polenta and Artichoke

Left: Grilled Polenta with Tomatoes and Olive Tapenade
Right: Perfectly Perfect Artichoke

Perfectly Perfect Artichoke

Ingredients:
  • 2 Artichokes
  • About 2 cups veggie broth (home made or store bought)
  • 2 Cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/3 cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic Aioli Mustard
  • 2-3 Tbsp Reserved veggie broth liquid
  • pinch of salt and pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp basil  (optional)
  • 1 tsp oregano (optional)

Directions:

  1. To prepare the artichoke: rinse them, cut the stem off, trim the top of the leaves (because they can be a little prickly.) Cut each artichoke in half and remove the bitter, flower-y part in the middle, between the leafs, and the “choke.” (This also helps get flavor throughout and cook faster.)
  2. Store Bought is Fine

    Store bought is fine

    Place the artichoke, cut side down in a pot. Add two cloves of garlic, two lemon slices and two bay leafs and cover with veggie broth. You can easily make your own, which will be coming in a future post. However, in the words of my favorite celebrity chef, Ina Garten, store bought is fine.

  3. Cover and simmer until artichokes are tender. Then remove and serve along side of sauce (but don’t toss the veggie broth just yet! You’ll need that for the sauce)
  4. To make the dipping sauce: combine mayonnaise, mustard, and then a few tablespoons of the veggie broth mixture you just boiled the artichokes in. I think I also added a couple other spices, but I really can’t remember. Maybe some dried basil and oregano? Salt and pepper? I don’t know, but it was delicious. I am sure whatever spice you put in there would be delicious.

Perfectly-Perfect-Artichoke from The Fearless Flying Kitchen

Grilled Polenta with Tomatoes and Olive Tapenade

This is REALLY easy to make and will seem very gourmet. I have done this with home made polenta as well as store bought polenta as well as different varieties of olive tapenade. They are all delicious, and it really just depends on how much time you want to invest into this.

Ingredients:

  • Home-made polenta (like this Rosemary Polenta recipe) or the store bought Organic Polenta
  • Approx 1 Tbsp Olive oil or Butter
  • 3-4 Tomatoes (“on the vine” or Beefsteak varieties are best)
  • 1 container of Olive Tapenade
  • 1 container of creme fresh or sour cream
  • Handful of fresh basil, chopped

Directions:

  1. Preheat griddle over medium high heat and spray with some cooking spray, butter or a little olive oil. Slice polenta into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces and place on grill. Cook on each side for 2-3 minutes, not very long because it is already cooked. Just until heated through and has some delicious looking grill marks. Remove form heat and arrange on dish.
  2. Slice tomatoes into thick slices and grill like you did with the polenta.  Once it gets beautiful grill marks, place on top of each polenta slice. Top with a half Tbsp of Olive Tapenade of your choice (I have used three different Olive Tapenades from Trader Joes, and all are excellent, probably leaning more towards the one found in the refrigeratedsection), a dollop of Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream (or, on that note, Greek Yogurt if you are really trying to make this healthy) and then a sprinkling of fresh basil.

Grilled Polenta and Olive Tapenade from The Fearless Flying Kitchen

Rosemary Polenta, Tomato Confit, Carmelized Bacon and Eggs

Polenta Caramelized Bacon Eggs

In order to become a dietitian, you have to go through a minimum of a bachelor’s program in nutrition (and not just any program, one that is officially a “Didactic Program in Dietetics”). Then after that, you have to complete a 1-2 year (approx.) internship program, and then you can sit for your national exam.

My internship was at the VA Medical Center, and there were six of us interns who grew to be like sisters over that year (or, 10 months, to be exact). We would carpool, share food, spend holidays together, fight, complain, some even lived together. I really adored all of my intern-mates, and will have a special spot in my heart for them for the rest of my life.

One time, my intern-mate, Hai Van, invited the girls over to her place for brunch. It was probably the best breakfast I had ever had in someone’s home. I kept asking her what she did, and have tried to re-create the meal, but every time, it just isn’t the same. I shouldn’t be surprised, because this girl would come up with THE MOST creative menus, and was also a professionally trained chef. I mean, how can you live up to that??

I remember being very intimidated by this meal, not only because Hai Van was an incredible chef that made magic in the kitchen…but it called for Polenta. I had never made that before, and my only experience was seeing the log at the store. But my friend walked me through the entire process, and it ended up being a success.

Rosemary Polenta

This was adapted from The Barefoot Contessa. Believe it or not, I actually reduced the amount of butter, half and half and milk by quite a but. It still turned out creamy and delicious. If you are short on time, you can always use the pre-made Organic Polenta from Trader Joe’s. (Side note, I don’t think Trader Joe’s carries cornmeal, at least I have never purchased it from there. Does any one know?)
 

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan
  • Flour, olive oil, and butter, for frying

Directions

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary, salt, and pepper and saute for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, half-and-half, milk, and water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly sprinkle the cornmeal into the hot milk while stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for a few minutes, until thickened and bubbly. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan. Pour into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch pan, smooth the top, and refrigerate until firm and cold.

Cut the chilled polenta into 12 squares, as you would with brownies. Lift each one out with a spatula and cut diagonally into triangles. Dust each triangle lightly in flour. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large saute pan and cook the triangles in batches over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, turning once, until browned on the outside and heated inside. Add more butter and oil, as needed. Serve immediately.

The rest of the meal was fairly easy. You can make the polenta the night before and in the morning, just slice some of it up and pan fry it in a little butter and oil. To make the Tomato Confit, combine a container of little grape tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake in a glass dish at 325 for 40 minutes.

The bacon is partially cooked on the stove then finished off in the oven @ 425 (until done, it all depends on how much you cook it on the stove). Before putting in the oven, sprinkle with pepper and brown sugar.

The eggs were just simply fried over medium. Then the dish was assembled with the polenta cake on the bottom, tomato confit and then topped with the egg. Bacon was served on the side.

When Hai Van made this, she sprinkled some fresh basil on top and served a side salad of field greens with balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese, which was perfect for a brunch. It also added some more color to the plate. She also had a bloody mary bar, which is always a fan favorite (Side note – Trader Joe’s has a great bloody mary mix!)