Butternut Squash Polenta

Somehow polenta has gotten the reputation of being difficult to cook. That you have to stand over it and stir and stir, and if you stop for even one moment, your lovely silky cornmeal will turn into a brick of yellow concrete. To that I say “pshaw!” [Matt says: I don't know where she gets these expressions, I really don't.]

The truth is, make sure the liquid (which could be water, milk, broth or a combination) is hot, and whisk the polenta in slowly, making sure it doesn’t clump. Once it’s all mixed in, you can cover the pot and just stir it every ten minutes or so, and it will be perfect and ready to serve in 30 to 40 minutes.

This recipe, which was inspired by Melissa Clark, has grated butternut squash in it, which gives it a lovely vegetal sweetness. We used it to make Polenta With Sausage and Onion, but it would be great for any dish that you would have polenta with. I’ve changed the recipe slightly because I like using coarse rather than finely ground polenta. I also added a little milk to the liquid, increased the amount of squash and decreased the butter.

Don’t use quick-cooking polenta for this. Not just because it doesn’t taste the same, but it also won’t give the squash the time it needs to cook.

Nerd Tips:
  • Avoid de-germinated cornmeal (the germ has been removed to increase its shelf life), as it’s not a whole grain. We really love Wild Hive Farm‘s Polenta but use any long-cooking brand you like.
  • Traditional polenta is made with water but you could substitute a portion with broth or milk if you want a richer flavor.
  • We sometimes add mascarpone which makes it especially creamy and rich.
  • Leftover Polenta will solidify into the shape of the container in which you store it. You can slice or cube it and then roast, grill, or pan-fry it. To make it creamy again, warm it slowly over low heat with a little broth, milk, or water, and stir. It won’t be quite as creamy as it was originally, but it should still be pourable.

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Butternut Squash Polenta With Sausage and Onion

This is the topping that we made to go on the Butternut Squash Polenta. It’s one of those really satisfying, but incredibly simple recipes that barely takes any prep. Once you’ve got the polenta going, you can relax, have a little wine (since you’ve already opened it to make the sauce so, why not?), do a little chopping, and you’re ready to cook.

There aren’t a lot of ingredients in this so use the best quality sausage you can get. It works well with pork but I really love using turkey sausage from DiPaola‘s. You can get it at several farmers’ markets around New York City but sadly, we have’t seen it around here yet.

A great vegetarian option would be to use cannellini beans. Rinse them well and sauté them with a little olive oil, garlic, rosemary and chile flakes. 

This was adapted from Melissa Clark’s version. I wanted a bit of a sauce to go with it so I added the wine and mustard. The result is a delicious, savory, quick and easy dinner.

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Spring Salad with Eggs

When it comes to things like fashion*, I’ve never been accused of being too colorful. As a born and raised New Yorker, my idea of wearing a rainbow consists of black, dark gray, heather gray, and maybe, if I’m feeling particularly spring-like, medium gray.

(*One exception: hair color. I’ve pretty much done them all, including green, blue, pink and many, many iterations of reds, blondes and blacks).

Somehow though, nothing makes me happier than a big, bold, colorful salad. It’s so satisfying to see nature’s bounty, all tossed together in a pleasingly chaotic array of hues.

While it’s still kind of slim-pickings at the a farmer’s market, we did manage to find some lovely red and yellow cherry tomatoes. Combined with avocado, hard boiled eggs, and best of all,  Quick-Pickled Red Onions and Sweet & Sour Pickled Radishes, this salad is as pretty as it is delicious. 

Spring Salad with Eggs

The nice thing is, if you’ve gone to the (minimal) trouble of making the pickles, you can use some of the seasoned vinegar to make a delicious, simple vinaigrette.

Nerd Tips:

  • Don’t over-cook the eggs! That will prevent the gross sulphur green ring around the yolk.
  • If you use bacon, you can also make a warm bacon-vinaigrette. Yum.
  • Want more protein? Add beans (I love cannellini beans best)
  • Like lots of crunch? Add 2 tablespoons toasted walnuts (or pecans, hazelnuts or even peanuts).

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Pulled-Pork Sandwich with Pickled Onions and Radishes

I’m not going to tell you that slow-roasting a pork shoulder is the quickest path to dinner – far from it – but, for a weekend cooking project, it definitely pays off in spades. 

There are actually two different cuts that get called pork shoulder: “Boston butt” and “picnic shoulder.” Either is fine for this, but do get bone-in and if possible, pasture-raised. Boston butt is easier to find but I tend to look for picnic because it’s usually sold skin-on and I like to make crackling.

True, there is a bit of planning involved here but most of the time is inactive and the end result is so worth it. It’s perfect for a relaxed kind of party (the best kind, in my opinion) where people don’t mind getting messy or sparring over bits of crunchy pork skin. 

I combined two recipes here, one is Momofuko-style with a sweet/tart glaze from Bon Appétit (I love the flavors but it didn’t include crackling). The other is a Jamie Oliver recipe which I used mainly as a technique to get crispy skin. 

What you wind up with is a huge pile of delicious pulled pork with a tart vinegary glaze and a sheet of crackling that you can cut up and distribute as you like (or eat by yourself when no one’s looking). This would be perfect on its own or in tacos, quesadillas, grilled-cheese sandwiches (try one with bleu cheese!).  I definitely recommend making something pickled to go along-side (we made both Quick-Pickled Red Onions and Sweet & Sour Pickled Radishes). We also made a version of this Asian Cabbage Salad, but without fennel since we didn’t have any. 

We meant to take a picture of the pork coming out of the oven, but Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 1 was just starting and … well, there are some things you just don’t trust your DVR with.

We also meant to take a picture of the crackling … but we ate it. 

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Quick-Pickled Red Onions

Guys, I’m seriously worried that I might actually be living in a Portlandia sketch. Sometimes I watch it, and I laugh and laugh and then look around nervously to see if anyone is giving me the “um, that’s you” side-eye. I think it was the Battlestar Galactica episode that hit a little too close to home. 

Nerd aside: some of you may remember my little black cat, Special Ed. Oh how I loved that boy. So Special Ed, being much adored, had about a hundred nicknames (mostly having to do with the fact that he was a skinny, scrawny, wee little gentleman). So during the height of my BSG obsession,  his name became “Edward James ALMOST” (another fave was “Roger PALTRY”). Still makes me laugh. 

If you haven’t seen Portlandia, you’re probably wondering what the bleedin’ hell I’m on about, but one of their sketches is about people who pickle everything (a dropped ice cream cone, a used band-aid, a broken high-heel). Well, stop laughing immediately because pickles are delicious! 

Quick-Pickled Red Onions

(Yes, it’s true that I’ve mentioned Portlandia before in the Spiced Pickled Grapes post).

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Sweet & Sour Pickled RadishesAlong with Quick-Pickled Red Onions, these radishes are my go-to if I’m making tacos, quesadillas, or really any kind of  sandwich.  They are so quick and easy and are just the perfect thing to perk up anything slow-roasted or long-simmered. Best of all, they’re ready in under an hour and last for weeks. 

You can also add herbs (I like thyme, bay leaf and tarragon best), chili flakes or whole dried chilies for spice.  I had a big tin of pink peppercorns that I picked up from Sahadi’s last time I was there so I added them as well. 

Black peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mustard seeds

Black peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mustard seeds

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Brownie Bites with Vanilla Mascarpone FillingWhy is a teeny-tiny version of just about anything so much more fun than a regular-sized version of that same thing? For instance; regular wool hat? Mmm, nice. Ridiculously tiny hat that sits on top of an egg cup? Oh-my-god-adorable-but-why-is-it-so-expensive?

I swear, I usually have an allergy to things that are “cutsey” but a wee little Eames chair just pokes me right in the awww-bone (which, oddly enough, is right next to the eeeew-bone).

NERD ALERT: Speaking of the eeeew-bone, as I was “researching” miniature stuff (also known as wasting time on the internet), I came across the work of Lisa Wood who makes Miniature Insect DioramasI am officially obsessed with these. My favorites are “Caterpillar having an Eye Exam” and “Ants Looking into a Crystal Ball”

So, back to mini-edibles. Especially when it comes to sweets, something that would be way over the top when full-sized can be a perfect little bite when scaled down. This idea worked well with our Lemon Squares so I thought, why not try it with something chocolaty? 

Well… ahem, *breathes on nails and buffs them on shirt*, these, my lovelies, are really good. Think whoopie pie meets brownie meets sandwich cookie and then scale it down to its adorable nexus. It’a a diminutive delight! A mini marvel! A Lilliputian lovely … okay, I’ll stop now. [Matt says: "I can't believe you didn't use the phrase 'dessert sliders' "]

But I mean, come on! Look at that thing! 

Brownie Bites with Vanilla Mascarpone Filling

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Potato, Spinach & Cheese FrittataYou know those times when you look in the fridge and think, “meh”. You might have a little bit of this and a little leftover that but seemingly not enough of any one thing to actually make something? Well, that’s me about 75% of the time.

While I definitely get inspired and enjoy the process of shopping and cooking (and photographing and blogging), there are many more days when I’m just really busy and can’t even think about what to make for dinner until I’m fifteen minutes past being really bloody hungry. 

That’s when I like to make a fritatta. Seriously, you can pretty much throw anything in it and it will work. (Edible, anything edible). Have a potato or two? Great, chop it up! A bag (or frozen box) of spinach? That’ll work. Weird little bits of several kinds of cheeses? Why not. No one’s looking. As we say in Brooklyn, “do you”. (I’m so, so sorry). 

The great thing about a fritatta is that as long as you have enough eggs to bind it all together, pretty much anything is going to work. Sure, you have to think a bit about what flavors go together. That really stinky, pungent bleu cheese may not work so well with, say, shrimp but would be delicious with bacon and onion (and shrimp would be fantastic with corn and scallions).  Just think about what you have available, what tastes good together and don’t overthink it. 

Potato, Spinach & Cheese Frittata

This particular recipe is just what I had on hand (and it’s a nice combo) but you should feel free to substitute any ingredient you want (except the eggs, of course). 

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Nerds Anniversary

Well, well, well. And they* said it wouldn’t last.

*Me, I said that.

I’m so very happy to be wrong! It’s been a full year of Nerds with Knives (actually a bit more than a year but what is this “time” concept anyway, and why are such slaves to it? At least that’s what Matt theorized when we went out for my Halloween birthday in December. Something about “Wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff“. Who knows what he was going on about). 

So like the fancy mothercluckers we are, we celebrated with a couple of fantastic beers from The Hop, a nice chunk of delicious clothbound Cheddar from our new local favorite Beacon Pantry, and drank out of engraved Nerds glasses given to us as an AWESOME christmas gift by our dear friend Ian. 

As a life-long freelancer, I figured I’d post a few recipes, take a few photos and eventually get distracted by some other shiny new project, but somehow, for some reason, that didn’t happen. Honestly, this year has been amazingly fun and has re-kindled my love, not just for cooking and writing, but also for photography, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. 

By far, the most surprising thing about the blog has been the response from you. Don’t look behind you, yes you, specifically! Honestly, I figured our audience would be about ten people or so — my mom, Matt’s mum, a few friends and family and maybe one or two strangers who landed here accidentally and weren’t sure how to close the browser tab (it’s the little red button on the top left, there you go, dear). Again, wrong

As of early March, we’ve had almost 49,000 views! That’s just, like, completely bonkers. And also so, so awesome. So, thank you to everyone who’s been enjoying the blog and saying such nice things about it. 

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Roasted Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)A couple of weeks ago, Matt’s sister Hayli got us tickets to see Asaf Avidan at Irving Plaza (quick aside: along with The Ritz and CBGB, Irving Plaza was the place to see hardcore, punk and ska bands when I was in high school. To this day, it still feels wrong to be in there without a mohawk and zebra-print creepers on.) 

Anyhoozle, the show was great fun (thanks Hayli!) and since we stayed around Union Square, we got to walk around the Greenmarket before we headed back on the train. (I love living in Beacon, but I do miss that damn market. Seriously, there is nothing else like it). Since we were wandering, we didn’t really want to carry loads of stuff but I just couldn’t resist picking up some sunchokes, which are in season right now.

Roasted Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)Now you may be saying to yourself “Hmm, that looks suspiciously like the grizzled, terrifying hunk of old ginger I found hiding behind my refrigerator when I moved last year.” And it’s true that these aren’t the most attractive vegetable in Earth’s garden of delights but we wouldn’t let a trivial thing like that stop us from enjoying something so delicious, would we? Good answer.

Sunchokes are also known as Jerusalem Artichokes for some reason (they are neither from Jerusalem, nor are they related to artichokes. Go figure, but they are part of the sunflower family so that at least makes some sort of sense.) Whatever you like to call them, they have a lovely nutty flavor which some people say reminds them of water chestnuts. 

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Chinese Broccoli Salad with Sesame Citrus DressingAfter what has felt like a gabillion months of (bone-chilling, face-freezing, fun-zapping) winter, this past weekend the sun peeked out from the behind the clouds and warmed our little corner of New York to a downright balmy 42 degrees.

So we did the only sane thing and grabbed our sunglasses, slathered ourselves with SPF8000 and went swimming in a crystal clear lake and let the fish nibble our vitamin-D deficient toes.

Just kidding! It was 42 friggin’ degrees so we braved the mud that is quickly replacing the permafrost in our driveway and drove to the little asian market we’d been itching to check out for ages.

Sure, by NYC chinatown standards the place is tiny but it packs plenty of great products into its two crowded aisles. Among many other fun things, we bought a bottle of ponzu, some chili-garlic sauce, a big jar of sesame seeds and, best of all, a huge bag of incredibly fresh chinese broccoli.  Aw yeah! Party at the Cliftons. 

Chinese Broccoli Salad with Sesame Citrus Dressing Chinese Broccoli Salad with Sesame Citrus Dressing

Chinese Broccoli Salad with Sesame Citrus Dressing

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Sea Salt, Oatmeal and White Chocolate CookiesI don’t remember having cookies when I was growing up in Britain in the 1970s. I don’t mean to say that they didn’t exist; in all probability they were around, but in the country’s crowded biscuit industry, with its Bourbons, its  Garibaldis, and Custard Creams, its Jammie Dodgers and digestives of both plain and chocolate variety, its Rich Teas, Penguins, and Jaffa Cakes, there seemed to be no great need for American imported options. Biscuits are great, though, you can have them all year round, they have absolutely no health benefits, and you’re allowed twice as many at Christmas, because of course that’s the time when everyone is a bit low on fat and carbs. 

There are plenty of sweet baked items you can make at home, of course, but nobody makes biscuits; there’d be no point. And you see, that’s my socialist English upbringing again; of course, in America, you dream, you aspire, and yes, you SHALL make cookies, and take them to the moon, too, dammit. But the same principles apply: they’re not in any way seasonal, and people like to make twice as many during the winter months. 

Good thing, then, that just before Spring leapt into the calendar and stole an hour from us, last week I decided to make cookies. To tell the truth, I believe the conversation in the house went something like this:

Me: Do we have any cookies in the house?

Emily: I don’t think so, but you could make some! And blog it.

Me: That seems like a lot of work!

Emily: But cookies.

Me: Can’t argue with that.

Emily: And blog it.

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