Saturday, November 17, 2007

Food Column -- Polenta from Death Valley

unedited nov. tahoe mt. news food column

By Kathryn Reed

Looking at the Panamint Mountains and the other breathtaking views of Death Valley from her kitchen is how Chef Mic gets inspiration for many of the delectable concoctions she whips up each day for guests at the Furnace Creek Inn.
“I dream of food. I think of food all of the time,” she said while taking a break from her duties in the kitchen. This is her ninth winter at the inn; summers are spent at Crater Lake.
Sitting on the terrace just off the dining room she talks about using local ingredients such as tapping into the nearby date orchard. Date is one of two breads served with meals. It’s whipped into butter as well. The general store sells loaves of it.
Wild sage, salt, quail, prickly cactus and rattlesnake (until it became endangered in the state) are all on the menu at this four star resort.
Though the 44-year-old was born Michelle Hanson, she goes by Mic – as in her voice is so loud she doesn’t need a microphone. She has her grandfather and mom to thank for her culinary wizardry. At age 9 she knew she wanted to be a chef.
The duck is her favorite dish on the menu. Her untraditional pork tamales are a close second. My dining partner would rank them the same way.
A nice change from South Lake was that I actually had multiple vegetarian options to choose from. The following is one of the dishes I had. I highly recommend it. If you find yourself at Furnace Creek Inn, the vegetable lentil soup is a must. Then see if a dozen truffles can last the entire six-hour drive home.

Roasted Vegetable Polenta

2 cups polenta corn meal
2 cups water
1 cup milk
¼ cup diced zucchini
¼ cup diced yellow squash
¼ cup diced eggplant
¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup chopped mushrooms
2 T oil
Toss diced vegetables together with oil and roast in oven for about 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Set aside. (You may use any vegetables that are to your taste.)

1/3 cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1/3 cup shredded jack-cheddar combo
4 dashes Tabasco
½ tsp minced garlic
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1T salt
½ tsp ground pepper
Pinch of cumin
Bring milk and garlic to boil. Add polenta. Stir constantly for about 15-20 minutes -- should be no lumps. Fold in roasted vegetables and slowly add cheese. Stir well. Add remaining spices and cook for about 5 minutes more -- it should be bubbling. Take polenta off the heat and spread on a sheet pan or large cake pan sprayed well with pan spray. Let cool on counter for about 30 minutes, then place in refrigerator overnight or up to 4 hours before serving uncovered. When ready to serve, cut into manageable pieces -- squares, circles or triangles. Roll in season flour and sauté or pan fry in a very small amount of oil. Cook to a crispy outside and warm inside. Serve over a bed of tomato sauce or roasted pepper sauce.
For something different you can also grill this on the barbecue. Make sure pieces are coated well with oil or spray. Do not use flour if grilling.

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