polenta that rocks

Many have followed the basic polenta recipe (polenta, water & salt) and wondered...
what's the big deal? Well, it's called "basic" because every home or restaurant puts
their own spin on it.

Two main ways to get more flavor out of this mush with the use of bullion & dairy.
You can use just one of the two, or for a real punch, both. I use both and turned my
polenta-hating-husband into an eager polenta eater.

While you're boiling the water, before starting to drizzle the polenta grains, throw a
bullion cube in the pan. Then, once all the grain is drizzled and you're starting to
see some thickening, take a look at the dairy section of your fridge and go to town.

Got left-over sheep's-milk yogurt? Throw it in. Got a small piece of smoked Gouda? Throw it in. Got some cheese to grate? Grate it in. The polenta is starting to get really thick and you need to thin it? Add some milk.

My number one secret for making my polenta super-flavorful is with something you probably throw away. Next time you finish grating your triangle of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, throw the "crust" in a Ziploc bag and put it in your freezer. When you're boiling water for your polenta, throw the cheese crust in there too! A good five minutes should get enough of the delicious, flavorful fat out of the crust to enchant your diners. Don't forget to scoop it back out of the water before adding the grain. You can stick that crust right back in the freezer and flavor another couple of polentas with it. You might not actually want to do this in front of any guest who is not enlightened in the cheese-making process (ie. where the milk protein migrates to the outer layer of the form thus making a crust).

You can also get additional flavor by throwing just a touch of dried herbs (while the water is boiling so the flavor is evenly distributed) or - as I mentioned to a stunned professional chef - salami. Cut about two inches of a salami log in very small cubes, and toss them in while you're boiling the water. You want to melt the salami fat and evenly distribute it throughout the polenta (so don't use the fake reduced-fat-salami for this technique).

Please, fellow home cooks, do everyone a favor and don't use all four of these techniques (bullion, diary, herb, salami) at the same time. The whole point to making delicious flavorful things is to use quality ingredients and higlight the flavor of each, not to empty your refrigerator and sprice rack.

Finally, if the polenta is the star of the show you'll want to either serve it top-less, or use some very simple uncomplicated flavors so you don't take any of the spotlight from the polenta.

Truffle Salami Polenta Topped with Sauteed Onins & Mushrooms
Use alot of restraint with the salami - the truffle flavor is strong so you want to hilight it, not dominate dinner.

for the polenta:
3 1/2 cups cold water
1 chicken bullion cube
1 cup cornmeal
1 inch thick slice of Black Truffle Salami

for the topping:
2 Large Onions sliced in rings or sticks
16 oz (500 grams) of sliced mushrooms
2 tbsp chopped parsley
olive oil

Make the polenta first. Then, pop it in the oven to keep warm while you make the topping.

To make the polenta, pour 3 1/2 cups of the water into a large sauce pan, add the bullion cube and the truffle salami in very small cubes (1/8" or 1cm). Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat. While the water is boiling, start stirring with a wooden spoon clockwise in one hand, while slowly pouring the polenta in the water with the other. Stir briskly until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring until mixture begins to get stiff quickly. When the polenta begins to come away from the sides of the pan and the spoon stands up by itself in the center of the polenta, it is ready to pour in individual bowls. Put the bowls in the oven and turn on at a very low heat (200F or 100C) to keep warm.

To make the topping, add a little olive oil in a sautee' pan. Add the sliced onlins first. When they begin to get translucent add the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste. Stir infrequently so that some of the mushrooms and onions start to get a little crispy. When the contents of the pan are evenly cooked, pull the individual bowls out of the oven, and put a little bit of this topping on each plate.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with a strong red wine!


whispering sisters

This is one of my favorite scenes in Graz. These houses, all different ages, heights and colors, seem to be snuggling close to whisper and giggle the city's secrets to eachother. The Schlossberg clock can be seen peeking from behind - trying to listen to their gossip.


impolite outsider

I had my first "outsider" moment today. I didn't think it would happen at the English Speaking Playgroup, but it did.

It was all quite natural.

I was sitting at the table sipping tea with three other mommies and the helper. I hadn't even noticed that I was the only "primary" English speaker there.

First it was one word, then short phrases and pretty soon... two simultaneous German conversations were taking place and I didn't understand a darn thing. I couldn't even come up with a joke like, "Hey, what happened to the English speaking playgroup?!?" I just got up from the table and moved over to the couches by myself where Tortellino joined me to look at picture books.

They must have gone on like that for at least 45 minutes (felt like more) until it was near time to go.

As the relocation agent told me, "When Austrians get together, they speak German!" That's what motivated her even more to learn the language quickly.

After postponements and reschedules I finally get my first German lesson, next week; but, for the moment I feel like a lonely outsider.

I probably should have said something... but I can't imagine what would be appropriate for this kind of situation without seeming inappropriate or impolite.

copy & paste: the general

Hey, I post for the Graz Metroblog, now. Here's one of my posts from there..

The General is for sale in a little shop on Burgergasse for 100E. He's at a discount, though, because the owner is switching his art stock from traditional and landscapes to modern art. I thought the subject of the painting expressed the store owner's quandry as well as the artist's point of view of traditional versus modern (values, architecture, fill-in-the-blank). A cuple of store windows up, is a modern art gallery where the current artist on exhibit features spalshed-on stick-figure people with blank faces. I tried to talk my husband into adopting The General and taking him home with us, but we agreed that the shocked look in his face would be a little difficult to take every day - it makes me jump every time I walk by it.

Sorry for the grany photo (I took it at night, with reflections on the store window), the live version is much more colorful!


I do protest!

There is a certain beauty in moving to a new country. Half the time it's an adventure, and the rest of the time you don't know what the heck is going on - like last night when we stumbled onto a protest in Hauptplaz on our way to go grocery shopping.

There was someone speaking, lots of cheering, one boo and whistles being blown. All the signs had their back to me but I'd forgotten my dictionary anyway so I shrugged, pulled out my digital, took a few snaps, and went on my merry way...


a shout-out to my peeps

After several attempts to get noticed by the Graz Metroblog, through my suggestions with the Party Pad, SEWA, Schnitzel, Immobillien, Kindess and Devil posts as soon as they were fresh off the hopper and finally shooting off an email to the founder of Metroblogs saying something to the effect of,"Hey we can't all be young, hip and single posting graffiti photos and making quick witty double entendres here. There are some just off the plane, stay-at-home mommies who also have a valid local experience (and Schnitzel Recipes) to share" and I finally got some action.

They did respond, by-the-way saying that maybe their submission widget didn't work and they were considering my submissions.... oh great!

I probably pissed off the number one poster on the Graz Metroblog, who is posting from Vienna anyway, by suggesting in one of my submissions that they should consider more local content.

So, I went all out and made a short, witty post with local graffiti, even, and I either wore them down or the finally liked something. Hey, the number one rule of writing, or maybe it's the second, is know your audience. And here's another one... don't offend the gatekeeper - even if it's the truth (oops! more trouble for the muckraker).

Ok, so without any further adue... I proudly referr you to the Graz Metroblog- where you can find lots of local graffiti, commentary, historical tid-bits and sometimes even events happening in Graz - but no Schnitzel recipes.


fake pesto...

I was hunting around my kitchen for ingredients to make a new sauce for the gnocchi that Tortellino has been happily devouring (they're easy to get on the fork for a 19-month-old). I was tiered of making goat-milk, olive-oil based bechamel with prosciutto and peas (it's a bit of work) and I didn't want him to overdose on tomato sauce (with hidden veggies.. heheh), so what to do?

It's the middle of winter and basil is pretty darn expensive and difficult to find. In the back of my freezer I found a box of frozen pureed spinach.

Hmm... things came together pretty quickly. At first Tortellino objected to the green sauce but after he tasted it he said, "mmm hmmm goood!" He was right, when he was done eating I made some fake spinach pesto for myself. It's quick, easy and delicious so you can't go wrong throwing this together on a busy weeknight.

Here's the recipe for a whole pack (16oz or 500g) of spaghetti or dehydrated gnocchi...

fake spinach pesto
It won't taste like the Genovese Basil pesto - but it's green, it's cheaper than buying basil in the winter, it's delicious and it's good for you!

1 cup of pureed spinach
3 tbsp. of Olive Oil
4 lg. cloves of garlic - pressed
1/4 cup of whole or chopped pine nuts
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese
(optional) juice from 1/4 of a lemon

In a large saute' pan, add the olive oil and put on a medium flame. Then, add the
spinach (frozen if you like), add the salt and pepper and when all is well mixed, press the garlic and sprinkle on the pine nuts. When the pasta is finished cooking, strain it and put it directly in the sautee pan with the spinach. Stir to coat the pasta and, if you like you can add the squirt of lemon and a squirt of fresh olive oil. Top with grated cheese and serve!

A word of caution. I found this dish quite "energizing". That is, I made it late at night and I couldn't sleep! According to Symbio's Food Effects Index, garlic is "rich source of iodine, which is necessary to produce thyroid hormone, which regulates the body's energy level;" and, it was regulating my energy alrgiht! So if you're a late eater, save this pasta sauce for an energizing lunch.


The Bull (aka Der Bulle Von Tölz)

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Once a week I try not to miss my new favorite program: Der Bulle Von Tölz.

The main charachter, Benno - a detective that lives with his mom - is so expressive that I don't even have to understand what he's saying to know what's going on in the story. The mystery is always set in a different location (a nunnery, a cooking school, a health spa, a bank) so I never get bored. Don't let his bulky nature fool you, quite a bit of ladies are attracted to him but you can count on one thing... every night he always goes home to Momma!


Seen around Graz, today...

Perfectly Placed Graffiti
Under a bridge along the Mur, there is a collection of architectural fragments. One graffiti artist got.. artistic.

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Where are they now?
Once Peter Rabbit finished with the Beatrix Potter series, he could not get any serious work as a grown rabbit in any other fairytales. He decided to backpack around Europe with Benjamin Bunny and ended up in Graz, Austria. He slummed around the streets until he cleaned up his act and opened a pub called the "Hare's Home." Where he is promently featured wearing Mr. McGregor's hat.

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Transaltion not lost..
Problem with UFO's? 24-hour service

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"Spit Happens"...

... that's what the nurse said to me quoting a popular bib to explain Tortellino's vomiting. She said it with a tone I'd heard before.

A nurse used the same I've-been-throught-this-and-I-know-more-than-you-you-neurotic-first-time-mom tone when I was in labor and asked for an epidural. "You're a first timer, it'll be a while," she said. So, I went thorugh accelarated induced labor without any pain-killers save the last ten minutes when the guy came to stick a needle in my back "stay still!" he shrilled while trying to stick the syringe in his target. "I can't, I'm contracting. Get this thing out of me, noowww!" Only ten more minutes would pass and Tortellino popped out with a bang.

This time, that tone wasn't going to work.

I wasn't going to take any flak.

"Look, he's in the 25 percemtile for weight at 3 months, while his height is 100 percentile. He doesn't 'spit-up' he VOMITS. Not just a little bit, everything. Then he arches back in pain. He keeps kicking his legs out and it seems like he's a 'talker' at three months but he's complaining about the pain. I don't have a cholichy baby. I have a sick baby. Now go get me the doctor.


That was my 7th visit in 4 months to find out what the heck was going on. I'd read-up this time and asked.. "Could this be acid reflux?" we tried a combination of medications and within three days I had a different baby. Tortellino was calm, tranquil, happy.. and quiet. He slept through the night and stopped kicking in the air.

15 months later and we're sitting in the GI specialists' office in Austria.

"He isn't getting better. In fact, he routinely gets worse when his weight exceeds the medication or when we travel to a different time zone and the rhythim of his medication changes. He starts to vomit again."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"I'm surprised he hasn't been operated on," she said. "I keep reading articles that American doctors operate for these at just three monts. We wait 'til two years, here."

Now will begin a series of tests - an x-ray to see what's going on and PH monitoring (bear modelling the procedure to the right), which involves Tortellino going around for 24 hours with a probe going down to his stomach through his nose and being attached to a little machine that is carried in a back-pack that records the acidity and number of refluxes.

These tests should tell us whether the reflux, caused by a malformed stomach valve, will either reslove itself or will need operation. Either way, he'll finally be able to get off his medication - that he's been taking fro 15 months of his life.

Sometimes it's good to be insistant and find out why spit happens.


We wish you a very sick-mass and a happy new yeaaaar!

This was a very difficult holiday for at least two of us, and maybe the third.

From the moment we arrived at my mother-in-law's home (ie. the four-story refrigerator in the Italian Alps) and spent the night with some kind of 1950's metallic refrigerating blanket things started to go down hill.

Tortellino and I shared an ear infection (first for both of us) then he had some kind of bronchial thing and I got tonsillitis. We both had a non-stop fever for six days and were coughing up things that didn't think were possible - even nose-blowing was an experience (I've never seen orange snot before!)

Thankfully, in Italy, Doctors will come to your home after-hours to give you examinations but we had to go to the emergency room to give Tortellino and x-ray and, well I don't need to tell you how often hubby ran back and forth to the pharmacy. Oh wait, I can show you how often he went back and forth...

Christmas Gifts? No, Christmas sick.

Tortellino's normal acid reflux medication, three different kinds of anti-fever stuff, two antibiotics, a vitamin syrup, aspirin, anti-vertigo stuff, and somekind of magic mucous expectorating powder (which is what I think turned my mucous orange). I had to start writing directions on the boxes to remember which medication to give to whom when.

Tortellino tried to be excited about his new tricycle Christmas morning, but he just wasn't feeling it.
tortellino motorino

At least, when he saw it he went from walking to a fast, controlled stumble so we know he was excited about it but he just didn't have the energy to do much playing.

We were going to come back on the 3rd, but New Year's morn' Tortellino had his first day without a fever and hubby's temperature was starting to soar so we hopped in the family van and headed back to Graz last night.

Anyway.... I'm ready for my nap now.