Friday, December 28, 2012

Real Food Friday: On Cornmeal...and Cooking Failures

Well, I branched out a little this week.  I normally find all my whole food recipes online, mostly at two blogs that I just adore, 100 Days of Real Food and Heavenly Homemakers, but I got a new cookbook for Christmas that I decided to try out!  It's one of those, what I would call, "gourmet" cookbooks, where it's difficult to find a lot of the ingredients and recipes call for unusual combinations of things.  It's the kind of cookbook that would have scared me off a few years ago because I didn't really know how to cook!  However, I think I've done pretty good at branching out in terms of what I'm willing to eat in the last few years.  I do a lot of cooking too, so I was feeling pretty confident I could handle this.  This cookbook is all about cooking with whole grains, which I'm into, so I was excited!  So, this week, I set out to make a few new recipes.

And one was an epic failure.  The other one...looked like it would be a failure, but it turned out it was only a slight failure.

First up: "Rustic Fall Polenta with Fontina and Sun-dried Tomatoes."

Last week, my family went out for our annual Christmas holiday event, where we go out for a nice dinner and then to some kind of show.  This year it was a country concert (and was fabulous), but the dinner menu was a little...unique.  I ended up ordering the sirloin with polenta, not really knowing what polenta was, other than that I had tried a recipe years ago when I was just out of college that called for that polenta in a tube stuff and it was gross.  But I had high hopes since it was a nice place, and I was not disappointed!  It was fantastic, and I was hopeful I could make polenta like that at home.

Lo and behold, I get this recipe book and it's loaded with polenta recipes!  So, I made up my little grocery list and headed out to the store.

My first clue that this experiment in cooking was destined for disaster should have been that our grocery store does not sell polenta.  I guess there's not much demand for polenta in small town America.  My cookbook said it might be called "corn grits" or "coarse stoneground cornmeal," so I settled on the huge 5 lb bag of simply "stoneground cornmeal" I found next to the flour.  The next clue was that I could not find fontina I settled on using up the Havarti cheese that I already had from a recipe last week.  I was then looking for mascarpone cheese for a breakfast recipe...I even asked someone working in the cheese section and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  Okay...we'll hold off on that one then.  Anyway, I made it out of the store and headed home with my goodies.

The next day, I decided to try my fall polenta recipe for lunch.  Hubby Blue was getting ready for work and said it smelled really good and I thought to myself, "Yes!  A winner!"  I was cooking this polenta, following the recipe carefully, stirring away, thinking it tasted a lot like the restaurant polenta, with a different texture since it wasn't actually polenta, but still good.  And then I added the Havarti cheese.  And the loads of spices.  And topped it with shredded parmesan.

And it was disgusting.

Hubby Blue tried a spoonful just before he left and I could tell by the look on his face that he was thinking, "Please don't put this mush on the dinner table and try to get me to eat it."  Hubby Blue has suffered through some pretty gross meals of mine and even asked for seconds to make me think it was good (that was when we first started dating and I made him my infamous "crisis casserole"...he really did take a second helping and I didn't find out until years later that he actually thought it tasted awful but didn't want to hurt my feelings).  I tried to eat a bowlful of it before I decided this just wasn't worth it, and the whole pot went in the trash.

It's pretty annoying when you spend a decent chunk of money on food and it's no good.  But I tried not to think about it and just moved on.

Next up: Cornmeal Pancakes with Cherry Sauce

First off, I don't know why I was so into cornmeal on this day.  But anyway, that night, I had decided to make this pancake recipe because Hubby Blue was working and he doesn't like breakfast for dinner. I could eat breakfast for dinner every night of the week but HB prefers regular dinner food.  So again, I measured out my ingredients, even going so far as to WEIGH THE FLOUR AND CORNMEAL as the cookbook suggested, I pour them into the pan expecting perfection...and they came out as runny, flat, impossible-to-flip pancake-atrocities.  I made a second batch, thinking maybe it was just the first batch coming out poorly: same thing.  Finally I decided to add a few heaping spoonfuls of whole wheat flour to the batter to thicken it up and voila.  Success.  They came out like pancakes should, thick, fluffy, beautiful pancakes.  I added my cherry sauce on top and took a bite...Not bad.  They tasted very corn-ish (obviously)...and then I got a whole clove in my bite of cherry sauce.  The cookbook said not to bother taking them out but whoa!  Yikes.  Anyway, I cooked up the rest of the pancakes and froze the leftovers.  So, they were decent, but not my favorite pancake recipe ever.

So, in the end, my two new recipes were not stunning successes, but I'm not going to give up.  I obviously can't convince Hubby Blue to love whole foods if they are gross, but I'll keep trying!  Partially because I already have the ingredients for a few other recipes. :)  Partially because I'm still interested in cooking with more whole grains!  There are tons of health benefits, but I also just like the flavors of them.  Maybe next week I'll write about how the bulgur turns out!!!

And just so you don't think I'm a complete failure in the kitchen, I want to share that I DID make some whole wheat bread from scratch that actually came out looking like a real loaf of bread!  Maybe when I figure out how to add pictures to this blog you'll get to see it.  That recipe made two loaves, so one was the perfect loaf shape, and the other was a not-perfect-looking-on-the-outside-but-cool-looking-on-the-inside cinnamon swirl loaf.  Hopefully next week you'll read about some successes here. :)


And, now, for the grocery budget!

Aldi 12/26
Apples, red onions, green peppers, multi-color peppers, carrots, 1 lb ground beef, dry pinto beans, raisins, 2 cans diced tomatoes, honey, sliced cheese, bananas, avocado, garlic, milk, pomegranate..........$31.40

Grocery 12/26
White whole wheat flour (5 lb bag), pineapple ($1!), cornmeal (5 lb bag), bulgur, fire-roasted tomatoes (2 cans), frozen cherries, parmesan cheese, lunchmeat, parsley, eggplant, 2 limes, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, sun-dried tomatoes (dry)............$36.56

Total for the week: $67.96

We were significantly under budget this week, but we also had Christmas Eve and Christmas, which we did not cook for and in fact had leftovers from dinner at my parents' house for one meal this week.  I also obviously have plenty of cornmeal and flour to cook with in the next few weeks!  So dinners this week were leftovers, pancakes, and chili (of course with cornbread muffins :)).  I also have all the ingredients for vegetarian fajitas and another cookbook-recipe I want to try, fire-roasted tomato stew.  Those will probably go into next week's menu!

Until next week!  Thanks for reading!


  1. I must admit, I giggled. My hubby has graciously eaten some flops too. I'd try quinoa. My oldest daughter is gluten intolerant so 5 years ago I had a crash course in gluten free baking & cooking. Quinoa was a lifesaver. Cook it in a rice cooker, treat it like couscous, but it's a complete protein.

    1. I love quinoa! Although...the one time I tried giving it to my hubby, it was a recipe with mandarin oranges and dried cranberries. He ate it...but maybe only because he was hungry. :)

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  3. I dice up some roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, cucumber, tomatoes (fresh or sun dried) & toss it with cooled quinoa. Then I make a simple dressing with lemon juice & olive oil. Crumble some feta over the top & my hubby is in heaven.


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