Friday, November 17, 2006

Cooking for an audience

When you change your diet it takes time to adjust. Not just your body, but your way of thinking. You read labels, scour your cookbooks for suitable recipes (or ones you can modify), and experiment...alot. I love cooking. The kitchen is my laboratory. Spices, grains, proteins. I love to mix and match. Usually the dish turns out pretty good. I'll eat all the leftovers, but don't always write down the recipe. Other times something just does not work. The flavoring is off, the dish is over/under cooked. These attempts are quickly dumped and forgotten. Then there are the occasions where you strike just the right balance of flavor, texture, and that indefinable something that make a fantastic meal. You write those recipes down. You share them. You make them over and over. Yum!

As I mentioned, I love to cook. Even more, I love to cook for other people. One of my favorite things to do is to host a dinner party or a potluck. Filling your home with friends and good food feeds the soul. I have done this only once since my diagnosis. The Ginger-Glazed Ham. I lucked out, managing to not overcook it and created a glaze that was delicious. (If I may say so myself.) Other than that I have not dined much with others. Partly, I am hesitant to put them through the run around of finding a restaurant that is sensitive to the needs of a gluten-free diet. I myself have barely begun to tackle that monster. While I can appreciate the learning experience of a "failed" gluten-free meal experiment, a friend invited to dine with me may not. I am adventurous in my spicing and nontraditional food pairings. I have friends who are down right picky. Polenta? Asparagus? Pasta made from corn? Quin..what? They would be polite and supportive, but would choose not to partake in the meal. That is fine. Depending on the meal, I may not blame them. It has made me hesitate to invite other to dinner. And quite frankly, cooking is getting expensive, what with the organic, specialty, and not-on-sale products that happen to be gluten-free. If I am going to cook, I want to make sure it will be eaten.

That being said, I cooked a meal for someone tonight. This was actually the first time I had ever cooked for him. Never mind the gluten-free part, first time ever. Slightly nerve wracking. He, being the great supportive guy he is, cooked dinner for me last week. This is the same person that surprised me with a visit to the gluten-free cupcake place. Prior to cooking he went over the list of ingredients with me to assure there was not accidental glutening. I brought along the needed chicken broth (Pacific Organics since I had just purchased a case of it at Costco.) He prepared a very simple, yet tasty Roasted Chicken and Potatoes. Meat and potatoes. What a guy. :) Tonight's menu was a bit different: Parmesan Polenta along side Italian Sausage, Yellow Peppers, and Sweet Onion with Pesto. I need to come up with a shorter version of that name. Perhaps, wow-yum-polenta-goodness. I did not measure. That may be a problem when figuring out the recipe. I am going to have to estimate some of the ingredients, but that's ok. The verdict from the guy? "That was very good. You're a good cook, little girl." :) (ok, the "little girl" part was annoying, but he likes to tease me about being young.) The most rewarding part of this was that I made him a satisfying gluten-free meal and introduced him to the world of polenta at the same time. I have found an element that will increase my cooking for friends love, cooking for them and introducing them to new ingredients/recipes/food ideas all at the same time. The only problem with such good food? You eat so much you end up in a food coma.

So, in the vein of sharing food ideas with friends, here is tonight's recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as he did.

2 cups Pacific Organics Chicken Broth (GF)
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/2-1 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup quick-cook polenta
olive oil
2 yellow bell peppers, sliced
1 Vidallia or other large sweet onion
1 package Trader Joe's Sweet Chicken Italian Sausage, sliced
pesto (to taste)
In a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, pour olive oil into the hot pan (enough to coat the bottom). Saute onion and pepper until they begin to soften. Add sausage and saute until heated through. Add 4-6 heaping tablespoons of pesto to the pan. Mix until food is evenly coated. Add more if needed (or if you like your pesto dished nice and strong.)
As the peppers and onion are sauteing, bring chicken broth and milk to a boil in a medium sauce pot. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk the Parmesan into the pot. Slowly pour polenta into the pot, whisking constantly, until all polenta is incorporated. The mixture may be thin. DO NOT ADD EXTRA POLENTA. Continue whisking. Remove from heat when polenta begins to thicken and set. Serve a heaping scoop (or three) of polenta with the sausage mixture. Season with salt (if needed), and top with extra grated Parmesan.
I have no picture just yet, but will post one as soon as I take one (when I eat some leftovers.) If anything seems unclear in the recipe directions please let me know. I am super sleepy and not sure if the directions are coherent.

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