Canning, condiment, Main dishes

Glazed Pork Roast with Chinese Plum Sauce

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I had the great good fortune to be allowed to pick some Santa Rosa plums from a mature tree this past summer.  I wrote about that experience in an early post:  Scavenger.  I made a lot of red plum jam, which just might be my favorite jam of all time, and I made some Chinese plum sauce.  The sauce turned into an experiment because I was disappointed in the original recipe, but after working with it, I came up with a sauce I love and have used it as a barbecue sauce for chicken with delicious results.  This week, I decided to try it with pork, and I might just have created my new favorite dish: Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce.  Dennis really enjoyed this juicy, flavorful pork roast.  I asked him if the recipe should go on the blog, and he mumbled “yes” with his mouth full.

Now, I realize that now is not the time to be making plum sauce from scratch because plums are not in season.  But I am going to give you the recipe below so that you can make your own plum sauce when plums are in season.  In the meantime, if you want to make this dish, or if you are not a canner, you can buy Chinese plum sauce.  If there are no stores near you which carry it, you can actually order it online from Amazon.  And if you happen to have some homemade plum jam on hand, I’m sure you could concoct some Chinese plum sauce using your jam as the base and adding soy sauce, onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and Chinese five spice powder.

But first, the recipe for the roast.  You might want to try it without the plum sauce, or you might want to try it with another sauce for glazing or dipping.  Sweet and sour sauce with pineapple would be good, or a sauce made with orange marmalade would be delicious too, with a little soy sauce, red pepper flake, ginger and five spice powder mixed in.  Any of these sauces would be excellent with the rub and braising liquid.  Think about the Chinese flavors you enjoy and get creative with your sauce.  But I do recommend the plum sauce.  It is sensational.

Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce

1 jar Chinese plum sauce for glaze and dipping (see recipe below)

Pork Rub:

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon powdered ginger

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder

½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

2-3 lbs. boneless pork tenderloin or sirloin tip roast

Olive, vegetable, peanut, or safflower oil

Braising liquid (see note):

12 oz. ginger ale or lemon-lime soda (or any slightly sweet liquid will do—see my notes on braising liquids in my pulled pork post)

¼ teaspoon of dried ginger or three thin slices of fresh ginger root

¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

Mix rub ingredients thoroughly.  Pat meat dry with paper towel; oil meat.  Sprinkle all sides of meat with rub; pat into meat.  Wrap meat in plastic wrap, store in refrigerator to marinate 2-8 hours.  Bring meat out to warm up to room temperature about 20 minutes before searing.

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Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of preferred oil in heavy Dutch oven.  On high heat, sear meat on all sides.  Reduce heat.  Add ginger ale (follow the link if you want to make your own homemade ginger ale, and if you use homemade ginger ale, you won’t need to add any ginger to the braising liquid), dried ginger or fresh ginger, and five spice powder slowly to the pan.  (Note:  Because pork tenderloins and sirloin roasts are typically very lean and have no fat on the outside to keep the meat moist, they can’t be roasted in an open oven without drying out, thus the braising liquid is needed to keep the meat moist and tender. This is not a recipe for a piece of meat that still has a thick rind of fat on it.  That piece of meat should be open-roasted on a rack.)  Bring braising liquid to boil, loosening all the brown bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon. Cover with lid and cook in oven for 30 min. per pound or until internal temperature registers 160-165 degrees.  (I recommend checking the temperature with a probe type meat thermometer after 45 min. with a two-pound roast.)

Remove lid from Dutch oven.  Spread ¼ cup Chinese plum sauce over top of meat.  Turn broiler to high, broil for about 5 minutes or until glaze is bubbly and caramelized.

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Remove meat from Dutch oven to carving board.  Let rest, loosely covered with foil, about 20 minutes. Carve in ½ inch slices, arrange on platter.  Drizzle with braising liquid from pan.  Serve with additional Chinese plum sauce for dipping.  Alternatively, you could slightly thicken the pan juices:  stir a teaspoon of cornstarch in a ¼ cup of water, add that to the au jus, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, for a glaze and sauce.  The pan juices are wonderfully flavorful, so whatever you do, don’t waste them!

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I served this glazed pork roast with stir-fried vegetables (carrots, celery, red peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, garlic), tossed at the end with a glaze made of ½ teaspoon cornstarch mixed into 1 tablespoon of water and ¼ cup of the au jus from the pork.  I put a dollop of Chinese plum sauce on the plate as well, for dipping.

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I also cooked some rice for Dennis, but the pork and vegetables were enough for me.  We had leftovers, so I put the sliced meat in a zipper-top bag and poured the leftover braising liquid over them.  The meat was even better the next day after soaking 24 hrs. in that braising liquid.  Never before have I had roast pork be better the next day!

Now, for the Chinese plum sauce.  There are lots of recipes for plum sauce out there, but this is the only one I have tried, and I love it so much I will never make another.  I have altered it to suit my tastes and make it my own.  This recipe calls for whole spices tied into a spice bag and cooked down with the plums.  It would be possible to substitute Chinese five spice powder for the whole spices.  I would start with a teaspoon of five spice powder and then taste, adding more until I liked what I had.  This is what I did with the sweetness and salt levels when I made my sauce.  I worked with it until I got that tart-sweet, slightly salty, spicy, plummy goodness that is great Chinese plum sauce.  Use your taste buds as you are cooking!  That’s what they’re for.

A word about the plums.  I think the type of plum you use is all-important.  Some recipes call for black plums, and others use Italian prune plums.  Both of these are sweet plums, and given my experience making jam with both of them, I don’t think they would make the best sauce.  I think red plums, like Santa Rosas, with their tart-sweet flavor profile, make the best sauce.  Santa Rosas have red skins and reddish-yellow flesh, and they make a bright red jam.  When you use red or Santa Rosa plums to make this sauce, you’ll get a deep burgundy color that is absolutely beautiful, not to mention delicious as well.

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Homemade Chinese Plum Sauce:

(Makes about 4 pints of sauce, enough to can or freeze for later!)

4 lbs. red plums, pitted and chopped

½ cup pitted prunes, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger root

½ cup rice vinegar (must be at least 4% acidity)

3-6 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or more to taste) *see note

1 ½-2 cups packed brown sugar (or more to taste) *see note

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste) *see note

1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces

2 star anise

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

Pitting plums isn’t a lot of fun, but it must be done.  (If you are working with plums that aren’t freestones, you will have a lot of pits with flesh left on them.  Consider saving these for making plum vinegar.)  Once the plums are pitted, they can be chopped coarsely in a food processor.  The onion, garlic, ginger, and pitted prunes can also be chopped in the food processor.

Tie the spices into a spice bag or several layers of cheesecloth.  Place the spice bag, the chopped plums and other ingredients into a large, non-reactive pan (stainless steel or porcelain/enamel-coated or glass).  Note: Start with the lesser amounts of soy sauce, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking.  Reduce heat and simmer until onions and plums are soft, about 30 minutes.

Remove the spice bag.  Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor (watch out for spitting steam—use a towel over the vent) in as many batches as necessary.  Don’t overload your blender or food processor.  You will just make a mess, waste your sauce, and possibly burn yourself.  Pour the sauce back into the pan and simmer, stirring to prevent sticking.  Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar, more soy sauce, or more red pepper flake if desired.  More rice vinegar can also be added if desired, and at this point, if you want to taste the sweet spices more, you can put the spice bag back in or add some Chinese five spice powder if you wish (start with a ¼ teaspoon and work up until you like the flavor).  Your sauce should be tart-sweet, slightly salty with the soy, and spicy but not hot.  You should be able to taste the sweet spices and feel just a bit of heat on your tongue from the red pepper flakes as well.  I added enough soy sauce and brown sugar to equal the larger amounts given in the recipe, and an extra pinch of red pepper flake, and I added some Chinese five spice powder, about 1/4 teaspoon as well, until the sauce tasted right to me.

Cook the sauce until it thickens slightly.  It won’t be as thick as jam, but almost.  A good consistency is that of canned tomato sauce.

At this point the sauce is ready to use.  You should have about 4 pints of the stuff but you might have less, depending on how much you cooked it down.  The sauce can be frozen in plastic containers or zip top bags or freezer safe jars, but I like to can mine in half-pint jars in a water-bath canner.  I’ll use half of the jar, typically, for one dish, and the other half for another dish in a week or so.  (It’s excellent on grilled chicken as a glaze.)  The sauce keeps well in the fridge even after being opened.

To can the sauce, clean jars should be sterilized for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath first, then filled with boiling sauce to within a ¼ inch of the tops, capped with hot flats and rings, and processed in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes, or longer if you live at altitudes above 1000 ft.  Consult an altitude chart for correct processing times for your altitude.

As with most good things, Chinese plum sauce requires some time and effort, but the work involved is well worth it, in my opinion.  I’m looking forward to making more this summer.

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Leftovers, Recipes

Roasted Vegetable Stock

I love finding ways to use scraps.  I’ve written about using apple scraps for vinegar making and pectin stock, and meat scraps and bones for meat broth or stock.  I’ve also explored ways to use dried tomato skins leftover from canning tomatoes and making salsa.  This week’s post is also about using scraps to make something delicious.  I referred to roasted vegetable stock with brief directions in last week’s post, so it occurred to me to devote a little more space to it.

For years, I threw my vegetable peelings and trimmings in the compost pile, or when we had chickens, into the chicken bucket.  And those are good ways to use vegetable waste.  But you can do something else with them before they go to the garden or the chickens.  You can make stock.

I remember reading, a long time ago, about pioneer women who kept stockpots simmering on their wood-heated cookstoves all the time.  The stockpot was never empty because any sort of meat or vegetable scrap went into the pot along with water to replace whatever might be used or might evaporate.  This was common practice when the woodstove was kept going nearly all the time for cooking and baking and heating purposes.

With the advent of electricity and gas for cooking, the simmering stockpot has fallen out of favor.  Most of us buy stock or broth in cans or cartons, rather than make it ourselves.  But it is so easy to make, takes very little time, and adds a flavor to soups, stews, beans, rice, etc. that you just won’t get out of a can or carton from the store.  And you don’t have to read a label on homemade stock to see if there’s anything in it you don’t to consume, like monosodium glutamate, a common additive in canned and boxed stocks.

You might not think a few carrot peelings, onion scraps, and celery bottoms and tops would amount to much, but if you follow this simple procedure, I guarantee you won’t believe the flavor of the stock you’ll get: fully vegetable with a rich roasted taste.  When you use it in a dish, this stock adds such deep flavor, it’s hard to believe it came from vegetable scraps.

When you are making salads or soups or stews, or whatever you’re cooking which requires you to prepare the holy trinity of vegetables, simply save your carrot ends and peelings (scrub the carrots first with a brush), clean celery trimmings, and onion tops (not bottoms because dirt can hide in the root ends) and any tough outer layers, and freeze them in a gallon-sized zip top bag.  When the bag is full, you have enough vegetable matter to make stock.  You can make stock out of other vegetables too.  You might want to have a bag of onion and pepper trimmings, or some other combination.  Think about the dishes in which you might want to use the stock, and bag up your vegetable scraps accordingly.

Then, when you have at least a full gallon-sized bag (it’s hardly worth it to do it sooner), thaw your vegetable scraps.  Drizzle a tablespoon of oil (I never use “vegetable” oil any more because it is mostly soybean oil, so I usually use olive oil) onto a large cookie sheet, and spread your thawed scraps out.  Drizzle a little more oil on top of the vegetables, not more than a tablespoon, and toss them to spread the oil around a little.  You may need a second sheet to get them spread thinly enough, depending on how big your baking sheets are.  Sprinkle the vegetables with about a ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon of finely-ground pepper.

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Roast your scraps at 425 degrees until they are deeply browned but not charred.  (If a few pieces char, try to pick them out.  They do not add a nice flavor to the stock.)  Stir them and spread them out again after roasting for 10 minutes.  Stir again every five minutes until the vegetables are really nice and brown.  It might take up to 30 minutes or even longer, depending on how wet your scraps are.

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Scrape the browned scraps into a large stockpot and just cover them with water.  Adding seasoning at this point is a matter of personal preference.  I like my stock very lightly salted so that I can be sure it won’t add too much salt to whatever dish I’m using it in.  You can always add salt, but you can’t take it back once it’s in the pot.  To about two quarts of water, I add one teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.  The stock will taste under-salted at first but as the liquid reduces, the salt will remain and the salt flavor will intensify.  You can add more salt if you wish, but be careful, because whatever dish you are using the stock in will likely have its own seasoning requirements, so you can get too much salt in a dish if your stock is fully salted.

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Bring the stock to boiling and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for at least an hour.  The longer you cook the stock, the richer the flavor will become as it reduces, but of course, you don’t want it to boil down to nothing!  If you want a reduction, you can strain off the stock, pressing well on the scraps to get all the liquid out of them, then pour the stock back in a clean pan to boil down by half or more.  This will make a highly concentrated stock that you would use in a dish that doesn’t require much liquid but needs strong flavor.  If you want to make a reduction, you need to be very careful about how much salt you add to the stock at the beginning of the cooking process because none of it will go away, and your reduction will become saltier and saltier as the liquid evaporates.  I don’t typically make reductions because most of the dishes I use stock in require more liquid than a reduction provides.

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When you’re satisfied with the color and flavor of the stock—and remember, unless you are making a reduction, it won’t taste salty, so what you’re looking for is intense vegetable flavor—you can strain it through a wire mesh strainer or a cheesecloth-lined colander.  I strain mine into a 2-quart measuring cup to make it easy to pour into freezer bags after it has cooled.  You can use the stock right away, refrigerate it for a few days, or freeze it.  It can also be canned, but I don’t bother because I don’t make that much at a time, and I know I’ll use it up fairly quickly.  I freeze my stock in 2-cup measurements in quart zip-top bags, laid out flat on a cookie sheet, so they stack nicely in the freezer when frozen.  Sometimes, I gather four or five quart bags together into an old, washed, gallon-sized bag, to keep them together and make it easier to find them in my over-stuffed freezer.

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Most vegetable stocks are light in color and flavor.  Because the vegetables in this stock are roasted brown, this stock has more color and more flavor than what you’ll buy in the store.  This will affect the color of whatever dish you put it in, so if you’re going for a light-colored dish, you won’t want to use this stock.  If you’re going for richness and flavor, this stock is a winner.

I made two quarts of roasted vegetable stock two weeks ago, and I have already used three bags of it.  I used one bag in my Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta, one bag in another batch of my Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup last week, and one bag in Bear Stroganoff with homemade sour cream, which will probably be the subject of next week’s blog.  I only have one bag of frozen stock left, and I’m itching to make more.

Of course, after the stock is strained, you can still feed the scraps to your chickens or pigs or add them to the compost pile.  I think that’s something to feel pretty good about.  Waste not, want not.

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Main dishes

Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta

Here’s a nice dish for a special, stay-at-home St. Valentine’s Day dinner.  Don’t be afraid of the bear.  I make dishes with the meat I have on hand, which is usually bear or venison, or sometimes, when I’m really lucky, bison, or if I’ve found a good deal, grass-fed beef.  You can make this recipe with any red meat, including elk or goat.  It could probably be adapted for pork or chicken as well.  Changing the kind of meat will of course change the flavor of the finished dish, but it will be good no matter what kind of meat you use.  The original version, from Scott Conant’s Scarpetta cookbook (the recipe was posted on the Food Network), was meatless.  You might want to follow the link to the original recipe to decide whether or not you’d like it without meat, but I can guarantee you that even with the addition of meat, my adaptation is simpler.

Why add meat?  Well, if I’m going to consume as many carbs as polenta contains (and I really shouldn’t even so), I have to balance those carbs with plenty of protein, more than mushrooms provide.  And bear, according to my expert hunter son, contains the highest levels of protein of all red meats.  I have not been able to find a scientific study confirming this, but it makes sense to me since bears are constantly on the move, and their bodies are all muscle.  The black bears in our California mountains are omnivores, but few of them reach the huge size of bears with a more plentiful food supply, like Alaskan salmon.  Our bears typically eat little fish, but lots of grubs, berries, and some carrion.  If they haven’t been raiding campground dumpsters, they are very lean, and very good eating.  Take a look at the picture below of the bear round steak (deboned by the butcher, darn it), and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised.  There’s not a bit of fat on that meat.  It’s all lean muscle, which means it’s going to take some low, slow cooking.

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In addition to adding meat, I had to change the original recipe because I’m not a rich chef.  I don’t have access to some of the ingredients Scott Conant uses.  (Boy, would I love to try this dish in his restaurant and compare it to my bear and mushroom fricassee!)  The original recipe calls for shallots, which are pricey where I live, so I used a sweet white onion.  The recipe also calls for a Chicken Reduction, which sounds amazing, but I didn’t have time to make that and didn’t want to use my homemade turkey stock (I have other plans for it), or my homemade chicken stock (because it has chicken meat in it for soup), nor did I have access to the substitutes mentioned in the original recipe.  So I used some of the roasted vegetable stock I made last week:  3 bags of frozen onion, celery, and carrot scraps and peelings, roasted at 425 degrees with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, and then covered with water in a pot, cooked down, and strained.  This stock is so rich and delicious, you’d never know it was made with scraps, and I doubt the Chicken Reduction could be that much better.

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The original recipe also calls for a mix of half milk and half heavy cream.  Well, that’s half & half, which I can get for half the price of the same amount of milk and cream.  Scott Conant’s recipe used a mix of domestic and wild mushrooms.  When I priced mushrooms in our little town, the few exotic species were something like $8.99 for 4 ounces.  I can’t afford that!  But I did find a deal on sliced crimini mushrooms (baby portabellas), and I stretched those with some sliced white button mushrooms, the red-headed, bastard stepchild of mushrooms according to many famous chefs, but button mushrooms will still give some flavor and good meatiness.  Of course, the recipe calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano.  My budget can’t handle that, even if I knew where to get it where I live, but I can get tubs of freshly-grated domestic parm at Grocery Outlet (sometimes I can get chunks of it fresh and grate my own, but not this time), so that’s what I used.  My chives aren’t up in the garden yet, and I wasn’t going to make a special trip to town to buy chives for a garnish, although it would have made the dish a little dressier.  Finally, I cut the polenta recipe in half.  The fricassee serves 4, but the polenta recipe said it made 8-10 servings.  That’s a lot of polenta, and while there are a lot of things you can do with leftover polenta, I don’t need the extra temptation, nor did I need to buy that much milk, cream, or half & half.  And the altered proportions worked perfectly: it made the right amount of polenta to serve with the amount of fricassee.

Even though I’ve simplified this recipe and used less expensive, more common ingredients (except for the bear), it still is not something I’d want to make and serve to guests because it is pretty time-consuming (although well-worth the time), and requires quite a bit of attention.  But if you’re staying home on St. Valentine’s Day and thinking about a special meal for your sweetie, this one qualifies.  You do have to tend the polenta, stirring it every 15-20 minutes for a couple of hours.  The fricassee simmers away on its own after you get all the ingredients together.   I hope you’ll set aside some time to try this dish, because it is truly memorable.

Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta

For the fricassee:

1 lb. of red meat, such as round steak (you can use any of the meats mentioned above, but beef will probably be the choice of most).

Mix the next five (or four) ingredients together for the rub for the meat.

¼ teaspoon crushed dried thyme

Pinch of red pepper flakes OR 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used my Nigerian ground red pepper)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder (optional, will discuss a replacement below)

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6 tablespoons of olive oil (I used my rosemary-infused olive oil and omitted the rosemary below)

1 clove garlic, minced finely

1 sweet white onion, chopped

10-12 oz. cleaned, sliced mushrooms (I used crimini and white button)

Several sprigs of fresh thyme, one bay leaf, and one sprig of fresh rosemary

½ cup of dry white wine

2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (I used the vegetable stock I made last week—see above)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon butter plus ½ tablespoon olive oil for searing meat

For the polenta:

4 cups half & half

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup coarse polenta

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

Pat meat dry, trim off any fat or silver skin, cut into cubes.  (Because my bear round steak was so lean, I left it to marinate whole and cubed it up just before searing off.)  Mix rub ingredients together, sprinkle on meat, wrap in plastic or place in zipper top bag, refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to 8 hours.  Remove meat from fridge at least 15 minutes before ready to sear.

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Heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat in large heavy pan (I used my old cast aluminum Dutch oven) with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the chopped onions and sauté until they begin to turn golden.  Add garlic and mushrooms, cook and stir until mushrooms have begun to release some liquid.  Remove mushrooms and onions from the pan, scraping out all the little pieces; set aside.

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In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter and ½ tablespoon olive oil; sear meat cubes until brown.

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Deglaze the pan with ½ cup dry white wine.  Add the stock, the fresh herbs, and add the mushrooms and onions and all the collected liquid back into the pan.  Add the tomato paste and stir well to blend.  (I used my dried tomato skin powder again, 2 tablespoons of it, but the tomato paste will give a similar, even richer flavor.)

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Reduce heat to medium low (you want a good simmer) and cover with the lid, leaving it cracked just a bit to let the sauce reduce.  Keep an eye on this, and add a little more stock if it cooks too dry, then cover tightly and reduce heat to low to hold it.  Simmer until meat is tender, about 1 ½ – 2 hours, and there is still enough sauce to coat the meat and mushrooms.  This should be saucy but not watery, and now is the time to taste the sauce for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.  You can see from the photo below what the consistency of the sauce should be after it reduces and just before serving.

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When the meat is simmering, start the polenta.  This is a slow-cooking polenta, but boy, is it worth it. It does take a bit of attention, especially at first.

Creamy Polenta:

In a medium-sized saucepan with a heavy bottom, heat 4 cups of half & half on medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it begins to steam, then whisking until it gets foamy and is about to boil.  When the half & half is foamy, whisk in 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, and slowly sprinkle in polenta a little at a time, whisking until all the polenta is in the pan.  Continue to whisk the polenta until it thickens, about 8 minutes.  Switch back to the wooden spoon, turn the heat down to medium, and stir the polenta until it is bubbling and getting thick, about 5 more minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and continue to cook, stirring every 15 minutes or so.  If it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, lower the heat a little more.  The polenta should cook on low for about 1 ½ hours, at which time, the fricassee should be ready as well.

Just before serving, raise the heat under the polenta to medium and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and ¼ cup of parmesan cheese.  When the butter is melted and the cheese is incorporated, remove from heat.  It will be very thick and rich and almost sweet.

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To serve, place about ½-1 cup of cooked polenta in a wide bowl or deep plate.  Make a well in the center, and fill the well with about ½-1 cup of fricassee and sauce.  (I have more plates and bowls than I can possibly use unless my entire extended family comes to visit, but I do not have big, restaurant-style, shallow bowls, which would be perfect for serving this dish, so I used a deep plate.)  Dennis and I had a green salad to start, and I poured a glass of wine.

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And then, I closed my eyes on the first bite and had a moment.  I deserved it.  And so do you.

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Gluten-free, Recipes

Grain-free Granola and Hot “Cereal”

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I’m new to the grain- and gluten-free world.  I’m not a celiac, but I wanted to cut carbs, lose weight, and feel better.  So I’ve given the grain- and gluten-free diet a chance.  I’ve been eating this way for over six months now, and I must say, I feel better.  I haven’t lost much weight, but my digestive system is very happy with the new regime, and if I do eat grains (which happens occasionally), I feel uncomfortable, especially when I’ve eaten wheat.

You know how it goes when you’ve been cooking for a long time.  Well, maybe you don’t, so I’ll tell you. You might start with a recipe, but you just can’t resist tweaking it.  I was fortunate to learn the basics as a child, in 4-H classes taught by Mrs. Arlene Bennett, where I learned the science behind leavening, and the reason why measuring for baking is important, which cooking methods are appropriate for various cuts of meat, and which herbs and spices are complimentary and which conflict with each other.  I’ve loved playing with my food ever since.  The grain- and gluten-free diet has given me a whole new arena of creativity, and I’m just getting started.

I love granola.  I used to make it for my kids, but it was really, really sweet.  (I found that old recipe not long ago, and my goodness, the amount of brown sugar and honey in it was appalling!)  One of the things that often happens as you get older is that your sweet tooth starts to turn sour.  Overly sweet things don’t appeal anymore.  Most granola is so sweet, I can’t bear it.  A few years ago, my good friend, Karen, gave me a recipe for traditional, oat-based granola, and it wasn’t too sweet.  I made gallons of this stuff, and I still make it for my husband.  But when I stopped eating grain, there went the granola.  So I set about finding and tweaking recipes for grain-free granola.  Here’s my version, and I think it’s pretty darn good.  In addition, you can turn it into a hot cereal lickety-split.

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Grain-free, Gluten-Free Granola

1 cup raw nut pieces (walnuts, cashews, pecans, whatever you like other than almonds)

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, shelled

1 cup sliced almonds

1 cup raw sunflower seeds

¼ cup whole flaxseeds or sesame seeds

1 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut

½ cup chia seeds

1 tablespoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil, grapeseed oil, or melted coconut oil

1-2 tablespoons agave nectar, honey, or real maple syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together.  (If using coconut oil, don’t worry if it clumps when you add it to the nuts and seeds. It will melt in the oven.)  Transfer to baking/cookie sheet, spread in a thin layer.  Use two sheets if necessary to get a thin layer.  Bake in preheated oven at 340 degrees, stirring after 5 minutes and 10 minutes, continue baking until golden brown, 12-15 minutes.

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Cool completely.  Then, if desired, add:  1-2 cups dried chopped fruit (apricots and cherries are really good, or raisins, or dried cranberries).  To minimize carbs, make sure fruit has no added sugar.  (Be aware that cranberries are soaked in a sugar syrup before dehydrating, and they can add a significant amount of sugar to whatever you put them in.)

This makes about 6 cups of granola, or about 12 servings.  Store it in an airtight container.  Serve with your choice of milk or eat as trail mix out of hand.  Or, stayed tuned for a hot “cereal” version.

Notes:  The nut and seed mixture is not very sweet, but it’s plenty sweet enough for me!  In trying to keep the carb count low, you have to keep the sugars down as well. Dried fruit adds some sweetness but also carbohydrates.  If the mixture isn’t sweet enough for your taste, add 1-2 tablespoons more of your desired sweetener before baking.

*As an even lower carb variation, try replacing some or all of the honey or other sweetener with the same amount of applesauce mixed with the oil, and a few drops of liquid stevia.  For my last batch, I used 2 tablespoons of unsweetened applesauce, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 6 drops of liquid stevia.  This mixture was a little wetter than usual, and it took 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven to brown and crisp up.  It was a little sweeter than usual as well.  Next time, I’ll try the same amount of applesauce and stevia and cut down on or eliminate the honey.

This “granola” is high-protein, low-carb, a good source of fiber from the nuts, seeds, and coconut, and full of Omega-3 oils from the flaxseed and chia seeds.  It’s actually much better for you than granola made with oats.

Since going grain-free, I’ve learned to make bread, muffins, tortillas, chips, crackers, pie crust, and now, “granola.”  But when winter hit, I was really missing hot cereal. You know, Cream of Wheat, Malt-o-Meal, Ralston Farina, oatmeal.  I wanted porridge, to use a lovely, old-fashioned word.  I set out to find some way of creating that creamy, grainy, comforting goodness without grains, and I think I have.  And it is ridiculously easy.

Grain-free, Gluten-free Hot “Cereal”

Place 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk in a cereal bowl or microwaveable glass measuring cup and heat in microwave (or if you hate mics, heat it in a pan on the stove) until foamy.  In blender or food processor, finely grind ½ to ¾ of a cup of grain-free granola (above).  (Use the lesser amount of milk for the lesser amount of ground granola. You can always add more milk if desired.)  You want a fairly fine texture, but don’t over-process, or your granola will start to turn to butter as the grinding releases those healthful natural oils in the nuts and seeds.  I use the little food processor that attaches to my stick blender, and it works perfectly for one serving.

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It looks like Grape Nuts cereal when it’s ground, but it tastes better!  (And I always liked Grape Nuts.)

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Either pour the ground granola into the bowl containing the hot milk, or put the ground granola into a bowl and pour the hot milk over it.  Let it sit for about a minute.  If it’s not thick enough, you can cook it a little longer in the microwave, for 30 seconds to a minute (don’t let it boil over!) and then let sit for a minute.  The porridge thickens a bit as it cools.  There should be no need to add sugar or any other flavor to the porridge because it already has cinnamon, vanilla, and coconut in it, as well as whatever you used for sweetener, and the dried fruit.  I think it’s delicious, and a healthful replacement for ground grain hot cereals.

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I love the fact that I can get a two-for-one deal out of one preparation:  hot “cereal” from grain-free granola.  That’s a pretty sweet deal.

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