Foodie Friday: The start of something delicious

July 29, 2011 | Food, Foodie Friday

If you’ve been reading Not Strictly Spiritual with any regularity, you know when I veer off the spiritual posting path, it’s often to talk about food — food I’m making, food I’m eating, food I’m craving. You get the idea.

So, today I’m launching my new weekly food-focused post: Foodie Friday. Every Friday I’ll write about food. Some weeks it will be a recipe, some weeks a review, some weeks a picture. This doesn’t mean I can’t blog about food other days of the week, just that I’m committing to blog about food at least one day a week. This week you’ll get all three — recipe, review and photo. What a deal.

I thought today was the perfect day to launch Foodie Friday since it’s the feast of St. Martha (Look at that! It’s about spirituality AND food. It just gets better and better.) You remember St. Martha. She’s the one who gets a bad rap for cooking and cleaning and serving dinner while her layabout sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet and just listened. Okay, maybe that’s not quite scripturally accurate, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I may be a Mary in name, but I am absolutely a Martha in spirit.

Today I wanted to tell you about my foray into a basic Italian food that is so simple and yet so overlooked: polenta. It’s peasant food, really, but as with so much good, cheap peasant food (see last week’s zucchini blossom post), our society manages to remake its image and charge way too much for it. But you can make delicious polenta at home for very little money, especially if you buy it in bulk at a health store like the Honest Weight Food Co-op (for Capital Region folks).

Here’s how I made my polenta. It’s a recipe I adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, my food guru. I changed it up a bit and served it topped with broccoli rabe that I blanched briefly and then sauteed in olive oil with sliced garlic, which is how I cook almost all of our vegetables. (What can I say, I’m Italian and my kids fight over who gets the garlic slices.)

Creamy Polenta with Garlic and Cheese

1/2 cup milk, preferably whole, although I used skim with a splash of half and half
2 cups water
Salt
1 cup coarse cornmeal
I tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 spring fresh rosemary chopped, or a teaspoon of dried rosemary
1 teaspoon of chopped garlic
1 tablespoon of butter
Grated Parmesan cheese

Combine milk and water with large pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. When it’s close to a boil, add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking the whole time to keep away the nasty lumps. Add the rosemary.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and keep whisking until the polenta gets thick — about 10 or 15 minutes. If it starts to look too thick too soon, add a little water. (I did this. I was fine.)

Add the butter, cheese, garlic and stir. Grind some pepper into it to taste. Serve immediately as a side dish or main course. I doubled this recipe for my hungry family and used it as a side dish with baked salmon and sauteed broccoli rabe.

Variation: You can make grilled or fried polenta by decreasing the amount of water and making a thicker mixture. Don’t add the butter, cheese. I’d probably skip the garlic and rosemary as well for this version. When it’s done, spread the polenta on a board and let it cool for a while. Then cut it into slices — about 1/2 inch thick. Now you can brush the slices with olive oil, salt and pepper and throw them on the grill or into a frying pan.

Mini Restaurant Review of the Week: Swifty’s in Delmar

Swifty’s
replaced Beff’s in Delmar a while back. While we’d been to Beff’s with some regularity, we hadn’t ventured into Swifty’s until last weekend. After church at historic St. Mary’s in Albany, we tried to find a lunch spot downtown. No luck. Albany is like a ghost town on a Sunday afternoon. So we headed back to Delmar and into Swifty’s. We got there around 1 p.m. when a small lunch crowd was starting to arrive. Very small.

First we asked about what beers were on tap (since this is a pub). We were told that no beers were on tap, as the beer was warm and they didn’t want to serve warm beer. Well, I applaud them for not wanting to serve warm beer, but, really, NO cold beer on tap in a bar at the start of a lunch hour. Then the waitress didn’t even bother to tell us about any good bottled beers we might want to try instead. So we drank water, which was better for us anyway. (Another beer-related pet peeve: They didn’t separate out local or regional beers on the blackboards, so if you’re from out of town, you might have no idea that Ommegang is Belgian beer made nearby.)

I ordered the fish and chips, as did Dennis. Noah got the cowboy burger. Chiara got the chicken fingers and fries. (Olivia was weekending in the Cape. Excuse me.) So…the fish and chips tasted good at first, but with every oil-soaked bite my stomach began to feel more and more like I was eating lead. At one point when the waitress came over to check on us, both Dennis and I had pieces of fish in napkins, trying blot up some of the grease that was, quite literally, dripping from the fish and from our hands. Not good.

I love a good side dish of coleslaw, but I took one bite of this and warned everyone else off. I thought it might be bad. Perhaps the mayo had suffered the same fate as the beer. Noah’s burger — stacked with onion rings and bacon, yow — was good, but he said his mac salad tasted weird. I think the only one who didn’t complain about the meal was Chiara. Then again, she ate only three or four bites, so that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Bottom line: We have no plans to return to Swifty’s, even if they decide to chill the beer. Too many other better options.

Okay, that’s a rap for the first Foodie Friday post. We’ll be back next week with more food fun. And possibly a review of Lombardo’s in Albany.

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