Polenta with Decadent Mushrooms


Remember when I wrote last week about being so inspired by recipes in magazines? It happened again, all because of the glorious picture I’ve posted above. The recipe, once you look at it closely, is nothing fancy or complicated at all. Polenta, made a little richer with milk rather than all water. Mushrooms, both fresh and dried, sautéed with an extra hit of butter, soy sauce, and cream — just a tablespoon of each, but that makes all the difference between a meager sauté and something a bit more special to cook for your family.

Unless, of course, your family includes people who cry at the sight of sautéed mushrooms, don’t like anything mushy, and shy away from salt.

My first step was biding my time, waiting until the mushroom-loathing eight-year-old was out (at a basketball game with his dad and grandfather, who would have loved the dinner, but tough; I had a recipe to try and I was getting impatient). Step two was selling the no-mush twelve-year-old on the idea of broadening his palate to consider new textures, not just the new flavors I am usually peddling. As for the salt, to which my mother is acutely sensitive; well, I hoped the single tablespoon of soy sauce wouldn’t be too much, but it concentrates so much as it cooks down, I needed to thin the sauce with extra mushroom-soaking water. It’s a little less decadent that way, but she liked it. The twelve-year-old liked it. And I, sitting at the table with them, talking and eating, I didn’t really care what it tasted like…but I liked it, too.

image source



I have over a hundred cookbooks, but there’s something so enticing about a recipe in a magazine. It’s beautifully photographed. It’s alone — not buried in a book full of other recipes — and yet often accompanied by recipes to make a whole meal. And did I mention the beautiful photography?

I tear recipes out of magazines all the time. I don’t even (currently) subscribe to any food magazines, but they come in the New York Times magazine section and other less likely sources. They accumulate on a particular spot on the kitchen counter until I gather them up and rest them above the cookbooks on the kitchen shelf (I don’t put them into my binder of torn-and-saved recipes until I have tested them.) When I grab a cookbook off the shelf, the loose recipes often tumble off the shelf, floating down to the floor like so many onion skins. Periodically, I sort through them and wonder what seemed so special about pasta with walnut-parsley pesto, anyway? (Probably the photograph).

But recently I went from tearing to testing very quickly, and have now made Mark Bittman’s easy tortilla recipe so many times, I know it by heart. We keep a lump of dough in the breadbox, and Eli smooshes some out every morning and makes himself a fresh tortilla for breakfast.

It’s not revolutionary, eating tortillas, but making them by hand is, for us. It turns an everyday element of our weekly dinner routine into something a little more special. It makes us plan ahead a bit (the tortilla dough takes all of five minutes to bring together, but is best if it rests half an hour or so before cooking), and makes us slow down a bit as we roll (or smoosh) and cook. It gets the kids in the kitchen and gives the adults time for a leisurely cocktail before dinner. Win, win, win.

My favorite way to eat them is as I’ve shown above, with some sautéed chard and roasted sweet potatoes, a dollop of guacamole, and a drizzle of salsa.

Now excuse me while I go sort through my recipes and find something to make for dinner…

Something from Nothing: Rice Salad with Orange-Sesame Dressing

My parents have lived in San Francisco long enough now that it doesn’t feel like an occasion for them to join us for lunch, but not so long that I feed them totally unadulterated leftovers. Recently, though, I barely even had leftovers; I had this:

photo 1 (4)

And so I turned it into this:

photo 2 (2)

Any grains would do, though I happened to use rice. Any chopped vegetables are nice, and fresh herbs and/or toasted nuts would liven it up. The key was the bright, orangey dressing, which I failed to photograph as individual ingredients, but at least I do remember what I did:

Orange-Sesame Dressing

Combine 1 tablespoon each
orange juice
soy sauce
rice vinegar
sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil

A tablespoon of miso would be a nice addition, too, if you have it, but this version was very much about what I had immediately at hand.

Mix well, pour over your salad, sprinkle with sesame seeds if you’ve got them, and serve.

Peanut Butter and Jam After School Cooky Bars

pbj bars

Third grade.

Third grade was walking to school with Anne, April, Nicky, and Jennifer; it was my mom back at work full time. Third grade was Miss Gibson and her flame of red hair, her long nails, her “math minutes,” and a big project on Alaska. And third grade was coming home after school, my parents still at work for a couple hours, and making PB&J cracker towers with my brother, seeing who could make the tallest stack, laughing as we stuffed the crumbling towers into our mouths.