Sunday, October 3, 2021

Polenta Lasagna-Fall's Comfort Food

Local corn is harvested and tomatillos are still on the vine. Crisp fall air prompts us to bring on blankets and hot dishes. Here's a perfect comfort food fit for an October supper.

My "lasagna" is baked in a 7-inch spring form pan with two layers each of polenta, cheese and vegetables and three layers of marinara. The brown sides and top of the triangular cut serving heightened the flavor and visual appeal of the dish. Reheating leftovers were easy and ever as tasty.

My polenta is made with grits cooked in skim milk. The vegetable layers has sauteed and drained tomatillos, peppers and onion. My marinara is home canned with no added salt and tomatoes. The cheese is a mix of what I had on hand. I browned and drained 1-2 ounce Italian sausage to crumble on the cheese layer for an added treat.

Here's how I made it:

Polenta Lasagna

(8 servings)

Heat milk with crumbled bouillon cube over low heat. Stir in corn grits. Cook slowly, stirring often for 20-30 minutes until thick. 
2 cups corn grits
2 1/2 cups skim milk
1 bouillon cube no added salt chicken
Vegetable Layer
Combine vegetables in small saucepan on stove top. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes. Drain.
5 ounce tomatillos, parchment covering removed and diced
1/4 cup onions, diced
1/4 cup sweet pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
Crumble and brown sausage. Drain.
2 ounce Italian sausage 

2 cups shredded cheese

Marinara Sauce
1 cup no added salt marinara 

To assemble:
Grease inside sides and bottom of 7 inch spring form pan with olive oil spray.

Place layers of ingredients in pan in this order:
1/3 marinara sauce
1/2 polenta
1/2 cheese
1/2 sausage
1/2 tomatillo-vegetables
1/3 sauce
1/2 polenta
1/2 cheese
1/2 sausage
1/2 tomatillo-vegetables

Bake uncovered in 375 F oven for 30 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before releasing sides of pan. Cut in 8 cake-like servings.




Friday, September 10, 2021

WV Buckwheat -a Flavorful Fall Festival

The first signs of fall make this West Virginian think of the Buckwheat Festival. Memories of horse shows, carnival rides and craft exhibits come to mind. Then there's the aroma of sausage cooking and the hot buckwheat cakes on the griddle. Once seated, we lathered the cakes with maple syrup and passed large bowls of applesauce around the table.

The timing of the fall festival coincides with the harvest. The blooming buckwheat fields shown above at the start of August are now plowed, dried and milled. The hardy buckwheat crop was first introduced here during the Depression, then later accepted as a staple when late frosts killed other grains. Buckwheat withstands cold temperatures and has a short growing season. The farm shown above has buckwheat fields "anyplace they could be planted" around and among other grains and produce.

The buckwheat kernel is a triangular shape. It is not a wheat, but a pseudo cereal related to rhubarb. It is a gluten free grain. 

I was suspicious of the traditional buckwheat cake recipe displayed on a historical site yet decided to give it a try. I liked that it called for only buckwheat flour. While I cut the salt in half, the end product was still too salty for my tastes. After fermenting overnight, I did not add more water to the batter prior to baking. Besides mastering my technique- I was also testing a new griddle. Thus I have no idea how many servings the recipe would make. We both enjoyed our meal and will try the recipe again. Here's how I'll make it the next time:

Buckwheat Cakes

(2-3 Servings)

Mix yeast and water together in a large bowl. Allow to sit a few minutes, then add salt and flour. Cover and allow to sit overnight.
7 grams dry yeast
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 quart water
360 grams buckwheat flour
Just prior to baking, add soda, powder, salt and sugar to the batter.
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon sugar
Heat griddle to 375 F.  Grease inside of 4 inch English Muffin rings. Set the rings on the griddle, then portion 3 tablespoons batter into each ring. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.
Remove rings, turn buckwheat cakes and cook covered for 3 more minutes on the other side. 
Serve with local maple syrup, sausage and homemade chunky applesauce.




Saturday, August 21, 2021

Pepperoni Rolls-the Official Food of West Virginia


It's been almost 100 years since Fairmont baker Joseph "Guiseppe" Argiro created the pepperoni roll. This year our West Virginia legislature declared the humble pepperoni roll the official food of West Virginia. 

Guiseppe created the portable immigrant lunch in 1927 when he ran a pop bottling business and the Peoples Bakery. He'd immigrated from Italy to work in a Clarksburg area coal mine. The miners needed shelf stable and portable foods to carry in their lunch buckets.  At the bakery, Guiseppe made the rolls, tested in beer halls, then supermarkets.  These days pepperoni rolls are found in restaurants, gas stations, festivals, weddings and stores throughout the state.

Here's mine made with one of my no fail yeast doughs. The dough can be mixed and refrigerated until time to shape. I ground the pepperoni before placing inside the dough and baking.

Egg Dough

(Makes 12 rolls)

Combine whole wheat flour, dry yeast (active dry or bread machine) and sugar in bowl of electric mixer with dough hook in place.
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon yeast
2 teaspoon sugar
Slowly add warm milk to the bowl and beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.
1 cup skim milk, heated to 125F.

Add flours, oil, egg and salt to bowl.  Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl down.
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup olive oil
1 egg (warmed to room temperature)
2 teaspoon salt

Gradually add additional flour to the mix, beating on low speed after each addition until the dough forms a ball and leaves the side of the mixer.  Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula throughout the process to combine the flour.
1 cup all-purpose flour

Mist a large bowl (twice the size of the dough bowl) with an olive oil spray.  Turn the dough ball so that all sides are greased.  Cover.  At this point, I refrigerated the dough until ½ hour before shaping.

(For Pepperoni Rolls) 

Punch egg dough down.  Divide into 12 pieces (I used a 1/4 cup scoop).  Form each piece into a ball.
On floured surface, pat dough into flat round. 
Center 1 tablespoon pepperoni filling on the dough round.
Pull up the sides around the filling.
Pinch the two sides closed.
Flip and gently roll into an oval.
Place on parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush with egg, mixed with milk.
1 egg
1 teaspoon evaporated skim milk
Bake at 350F for 12 minutes.


Tuesday, August 10, 2021


The Black Amber Plums may just be my favorite fruit, and they're only in season for a few weeks. When we make the 160 mile trip to Thurmont, Maryland in August to buy the fresh picked fruit, I buy the biggest size basket. That means I can enjoy as much whole fruit as I desire, with plenty more for desserts and smoothies. First, let me share my go to recipe for fruit sauce:

Fruit Sauce

(1 1/2 cups) 

Combine fruit, sugar and juice in saucepan and cook over medium low heat for 5-10 minutes.
2 cups diced fruit or berries
2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Off heat, combine cornstarch and cold water.
2 tablespoon non-GMO cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Slowly add to saucepan and cook only until thickened. 
I've used this sauce many times as a pie filling when I make my sourdough starter crust. 

Fruit Smoothie

(1 serving)

Combine all ingredients in blender and pulse until mixed.
1/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1 plum, diced
1/4 cup fruit sauce
1/2 banana

I try to limit the total added sugar I eat daily, and keep it at the American Heart Association's limit of 24 grams (for women-it's more for men and less for children). Thus I aim to keep my desserts and snack foods to 2 teaspoons of added sugar per serving (that's about 8 grams of added sugar). That's a little tart for some. Added sugar includes granulated, brown, confectioners, honey, maple syrup and any syrups (like molasses, agave, rice syrup).

Plum Ricotta Cake

(Serves 12)

Mix flour and sugar.
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup sugar
Heat milk, zest, spices and butter to 180 F. 
2 cup 1 1/2 tablespoon skim milk
4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 teaspoon butter
Off heat, slowly stir in semolina sugar mixture. Return to heat for 3-5 minutes.
Beat eggs. Add cheese, juice, vanilla and beat.
1 cup 1 tablespoon ricotta cheese, part skim
3 eggs
4 teaspoon orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Add 1/3 semolina milk mixture and mix until incorporated. Add remaining semolina milk mix in 2 additions and mix until smooth, 3-5 minutes.
Pour batter into greased 9 inch springform pan. Place pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 F for 50-60 minutes. Leave the pan on the sheet and cool 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of springform pan. Unlock pan and cool 1 1/2 hours. Refrigerate overnight.
Remove from pan. Serve with fruit sauce. 


Friday, July 30, 2021

My Pioneer Woman Adventure


Rhee Drummond is a trailblazer and creator of recipes, a television show, cookbooks and wares. I'm now the proud owner of the very pan the Pioneer Woman used on the set. Here's how that happened:

On a trip home to West Virginia from Colorado, we made a side trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit her Mercantile and Bakery. 

I'd read that the Drummond Ranch Lodge, where the Food Network segments are filmed, was open for tours certain weeks of the year. "Ask for tickets and directions at the Mercantile". We then followed the printed directions first 12 miles along the highway, then 7 miles more on gravel roads. The directions are sweet like the woman herself. "The sign was knocked over by a cow not long ago, so we're not sure it's there, but it's literally the first right you can take off the county road".

The Drummond Ranch is huge and we enjoyed the view. The 120,000 acre ranch is home to wild horses and grass-fed cows with calves.

When we arrived at the Lodge, the hostesses answered our questions along the self guided toured.

At the entree-way is the kitchen where the demos are filmed. In the back is a prep kitchen and a large room with props. The hostess told us "Ms. Rhee" has just cleaned out her props and set a table of ones she was giving away. "One item per family". That's how I got this pan.


The cookbook I bought at the Mercantile is "A Year of Holidays'. There are many selections of recipes for 12 holidays in the year. While the recipes are seasonal, many can be made at other times of the year.

I chose recipes from summer celebrations. Since the quantities are large, I decided to use it as an opportunity to do some canning for later. 

Here's my version of the Baked Bean recipe:

Baked Beans 

12 Servings (1/2 cup each)

Soak beans overnight in double the amount of water. Drain. Cook for 20 minutes in a countertop pressure cooker in double the amount of water. Release pressure and drain.
1 pound dry beans
Saute peppers and onions in saucepan over medium low heat for 10 minutes.
4 multicolored sweet peppers, seeded and diced
1 sweet onion, diced
Mix ketchup, vinegar and spices together. Combine with peppers and onions.
2/3 cup ketchup (without high fructose corn syrup)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup brown sugar  
Stir into cooked beans.
Fill sanitized canning jars. Process at 10 pounds pressure for 10 minutes. After pressure reduces to 0, remove lid. Cool 5 minutes. Remove jars and cool.
The Mercantile in downtown is a destination in itself.
The entire second floor is a bakery where we shared a pastry and coffee. I was thrilled to view the kitchen through the glass windows. There the busy bakers, wearing jeans and gingham shirts, performed their magic with dough. 

Rhee Drummond's businesses are customer centered. The Mercantile was predominately merchandise from other companies. She employees folks from the community. What I loved the most was that she shares her success with others and certainly makes you feel at home.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Constitutional Cooking Cuisine


I didn't have to harvest the corn. I wasn't milking the cow and churning butter. Nor was I fermenting apples. The tasks I'm good at-planning the menu, cooking and serving it were a success.  Seems the 1790s menu was very compatible to those served today.

Beef was a staple in both lower and middle class households. In the early 1700s, Irish and Scottish immigrants imported cattle. During the French and Indian War, farmers increased their number of cattle. When wool was required to make soldiers uniforms for the Revolutionary War, mutton slaughter was prohibited. 

Though the soldiers food intake was inadequate, farm families could enjoy beef, milk and butter on the dinner table. Crops included corn, root vegetables and legumes. Fresh bread was served at every meal.  There was plenty of alcohol. Compared to modern times, Americans consumed three times the amount. Imports were prohibited and hops for beer were scarce, yet hard cider, wine and whisky were plentiful.

The meal pattern was unique with most of the calories consumed at the mid-afternoon dinner. Breakfast was served early-usually at 7, with porridge and pancakes the norm. The large dinner was the middle meal. Supper was small-often one consisting of apples, raisins and port wine. 

Not unlike the many farm tasks, preparing and serving the food kept the staff working many long hours.

That's my Washington style meal above, with slow roasted beef, potatoes, carrots and Lima beans. While I had no hard cider and I forgot to add the jar of pickles, I'm particularly fond of my sourdough cornbread which contains both corn flour and whole corn. 

This skillet cornbread has sweet peppers, more corn, fresh ground whole wheat berries and whole corn flour, making a perfect flavor combination.  This recipe is made in a 7-inch iron skillet.

Sourdough Whole Grain Cornbread

(Serves 8)

Saute peppers in buttery spread in 7-inch iron skillet. Set aside.
2 mini sweet peppers, diced
1 tablespoon melted buttery spread

In a separate bowl, mix ground corn, flour, baking powder, salt and soda.
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon ground corn
6 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In a larger bowl, combine buttermilk, egg, honey, buttery spread and sourdough starter discard.
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoon buttery spread, melted
1/2 cup sourdough starter discard

Add corn and sauteed peppers to liquid ingredients, then stir in dry ingredients. Stir only until mixed.
1/2 cup corn off the cob, chopped in food processor
Sauteed peppers

Grease skillet with buttery spread. Pour batter into skillet. 
1 tablespoon melted buttery spread

Bake at 425 F for 25 minutes.  Cool in pan on wire rack.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Easy Summer Meal Planning


Meal planning for our seasonal cabin getaways can't get any easier.

Planning for three days, we buy three meats, one poultry, one beef and one seafood. This years' picks were a rotisserie chicken (the deli clerk called me when she took it out of the oven), an 8 ounce beef fillet, and a fresh cut of salmon. I froze these and pull just prior to packing into the cooler for a 3-6 hour trip. (It may take only 3 hours to reach the destination, yet sometimes we have to wait till the cabin is cleaned to check in). I add 6 eggs and a piece of Swiss cheese to the cooler under the ice blocks.

We take every vegetable we have (thanks to our local farmers market friends-we have an assortment) and we stop along the way to add a few more.

At our last stop about an hour from the park we get bread. This year we found a delicious multigrain boule and a 6 pack of fresh biscuits. I add a few vegetables I did not already have, a pack of frozen corn and a 1/2 gallon of milk.

Once the fire is lit, I cut and dice the vegetables. I'll pre-cook the longer cooking vegetables like potatoes, peas and carrots inside either on the propane stove or in the microwave. We fill 3/4ths of the paella cooking pan with vegetables and place the beef, salmon or chicken in the center of the pan. Grease the pan with a little olive oil, then add vegetables and meat at the same time. Occasional turning or stirring is all that's needed to cook the meal for a total of only 15 minutes.

Cooking over an open fire gives the food a unique smoky taste.


On the last day of our stay, we purchase take out desserts from the restaurant. Debbie Schoolcraft may just make the best graham cracker pie and blackberry cobbler in the state.