Fontina and Mushroom Polenta Panini

 

panini 6A couple of months ago, my friend Cheryl and I went for a cheese making class.  Cheryl is my quirky friend… you know, the girl who I talked about in my post about my tomato tartlets, when she took me to a quaint little cooking school in the midst of a peach orchard! And then one time went to see Bobby Flay, and we stood outside his exit like a couple of little foodie groupies, hoping to get an autograph from him! Another time she hosted an Iron Chef competition at her house… We have taken quite a few cooking classes together.  I just never know what she has up her sleeve, but it’s pure craziness and I’m always game!

grilled polenta 3This really isn’t about the cheese making class at all, but about the drive to the farm for the class. It was about an hour drive, and she gave me a silly little hat to wear in her convertible…. And she pulls out iced coffees for us to enjoy during the ride… and says: “Oh, and I grabbed a few cookbooks for you to read on the way…”

Seriously… Does that girl know me, or what?

So, while I was flipping through the cookbooks, I was making mental notes of the books that I wanted to order when I got home. There was one in particular that I really liked…. It is called “The Great Big Butter Cookbook” by Diana C. Von Glahn.. First of all, this book doesn’t really even pertain to butter at all…but is filled with some really appealing “comfort” recipes. Ok, recipes that look really good, but I know that I would definitely add my own “comfort” touch.

grilled fontina on polentaI did find that cookbook in used section on Amazon for $3. Yes. Three dollars. Three bucks. Three smackaroos. But I’m not kidding when I tell you that the book arrived within a couple of days… it was brand new! The book was in absolutely perfect condition, but alas, no notes or markings from the previous owner! Bummer.

And now, it sits on my coffee table, with bookmarked pages of all of the recipes that I will be trying in the near future. Like these Polenta Fontina “Paninis” with Mushroom Sauce.

As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew that it was the first one that I would try. But you know, I can’t leave things well enough alone… The original recipe called for sun dried tomatoes…which….I should say would have been delicious….but I thought that it needed something more substantial…something with “oomph”… so I made a caramelized onion and tomato jam that is simply out of this world, and that took the place of the sundried tomatoes. I  sautéed mushrooms instead of a sauce, and I made my own polenta, rather than purchasing a tube.

grilled polenta 2Oh yeah, I made the right choice. The sweet, yet savory jam brought so much “happy” to the dish… it was like an instantaneous friendship with the mild, yet tangy fontina… the earthy mushrooms, and the crisp buttery polenta. They just belonged together.

The paninis are perfect for a brunch… serious…poach an egg and throw it on top. Delicious. They’re perfect for lunch…they’re perfect for appetizers…or would make a lovely light dinner!

And….you can be sure that I’ll be making notes in this book for the next owner….whomever that may be…

Oh yeah, and I’ll be sharing a couple of the things I learned from cheese making very soon!

Life is good. It’s a “One man’s old cookbook, is another man’s treasure” kind of good…

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 Fontina and Mushroom Polenta Panini 
Serves 4
Adapted from the Recipe: “Polenta Fontina “Paninis” with Mushroom Sauce from the cookbook: The Great Big Butter Cookbook by Diana von Glahn

16 Polenta Rounds (Recipe below)
Caramelized tomato and onion jam (Recipe below)
5 oz fontina cheese (1 oz grated, 4 oz sliced into 8 slices)
2 tbsp butter for polenta rounds plus 1 extra tbsp butter for sautéing mushrooms
8 oz whole baby bella mushrooms
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 ground black pepper
A few sprigs fresh thyme for garnish

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large frying pan. Add 8 polenta rounds to the frying pan. Fry until golden browned, and flip. Fry on the other side until browned. Remove from pan, and set aside on a cooling rack. Add the remaining 8 polenta rounds, and repeat the frying until both sides are browned.

Leaving the second batch of polenta rounds in the pan, reduce the heat on the stove, and add about a tablespoon or so of the caramelized tomato and onion jam to the tops of each of the 8 polenta rounds that are still in the frying pan. Place a slice of fontina cheese on top of each of the jam topped rounds. Place the reserved rounds on top, as a sandwich. Sprinkle each sandwich with the grated fontina. Top the pan with a lid, and let sit until the cheese has melted.

In the meantime, in a separate frying pan, melt the 1 tbsp butter. Add the bella mushrooms, salt, pepper, and chopped thyme. Saute for about five minutes, or until the mushrooms are golden brown.

Top each panini with the mushrooms, and garnish with the fresh thyme.

Serve hot.

Quick Polenta Rounds

Makes 16 rounds, 8 panini sandwiches
1 cup quick polenta
3 cups water
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the polenta, simmer for about three minutes, or until the polenta pulls away from the side of the pan. Remove from heat, and stir in the Romano cheese.

Pour into a buttered 9″x11″ pan, and let sit until cooled. Once the polenta has set, cut into 2-1/2″ – 3″ circles. Set aside.

Caramelized Onion and Tomato Jam
Makes One Cup

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1 large onion, sliced thin
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp water
1 pound assorted cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet. Add the onions, and sauté until a dark golden brown. Add the water, cherry tomatoes, brown sugar, salt, crushed red pepper, vinegar, and lemon juice. Cover and simmer until the tomatoes have burst, and using your wooden spoon, gently press down on the tomatoes to break them up. The skins will start to separate from the tomatoes. Remove them if you want, but it’s really not necessary! (the skins on cherry tomatoes are so thin, they will break up when ground in the food processor). So honestly? Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to remove them!

Simmer until all of the juices have caramelized, and the sauce has thickened.  Let cool. Add the cooled tomato and onion mixture to the food processor, and process until smooth. This can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Enjoy!

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Twisted Tuesday: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Recreated

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I have a great twist on a favorite comfort food for tonight’s Twisted Tuesday.  Thanks to Matt (Katie and Ryan’s friend), who suggested that I make a grilled cheese on cornbread.

Genius…my friend…pure genius.

I know that a lot of people love to dunk their sandwich into their soup… I also know that some of you are in complete disagreement about the sandwich dunk…I understand, I’m with you.  I’m a non-dunker.  I know, right?  Prudy, who always claims how much she loves a million flavors popping with every bite, doesn’t dunk her sandwich.

Until tonight.
I am now a certified dunker.

While I was strolling through the cheese shop at my beloved Wegmans trying to decide on a cheese that would go well with cornbread, one of the girls who works there, Caitlyn, came up to me and asked if she could help me.   I told her what I was doing, and without hesitation, and complete confidence… she said “Fontina”.

Fontina? I admit it, I was taken aback.  It’s cornbread.  I had Monterey Jack on my mind.   But Fontina?  I took her advice, and bought it.  I’m glad I did.  Caitlyn knew exactly what she was talking about.

What would go well with Fontina and cornbread?   I thought that roasted tomatoes and peppers would bring great flavor.  While Fontina is a semi-soft cheese, it has a pretty strong flavor… a sharpness to it that could hold up very well with the tomatoes and peppers.  Caitlyn likened it to Swiss.  Spot on.

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But what soup? The first question that came to mind was, what is the most favorite companion to grilled cheese?  That’s easy. Tomato soup.

Since I already planned on tomatoes for the sandwich, and because it was Twisted Tuesday, I didn’t want to do tomato soup. It had to be the same meal, but different. Instead, I went with a roasted red pepper soup.

The soup was the perfect complement to the sandwich.  The flavors were all meant for each other…and the next part is all a blur…it happened so fast, I didn’t know what was happening….and I’m not even sure how long it was going on before I realized that I was dunking the sandwich.  I was dunking my grilled cheese in my soup. And loving every minute of it!

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The sweetness of the red pepper soup, along with the background pepper jack taste went so well with the sweet cornbread, and the tang of the Fontina cheese and tomatoes. One might argue that it was too much cheese for the meal, and I’d just argue back that you can never have too much cheese! The roasted pepper on the sandwich brought a slightly mild heat, almost as an afterthought. It changed my whole way of grilled cheese thinking, and honestly?  I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my old ways again.

Life is good.  It’s melty-tangy cheese mingling with a sweet red pepper kind of good.

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Grilled Fontina on Cornbread with Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Serves Four

Just a quick note:  I chose cornbread muffins tonight, thinking that not only would they make a cute little round sandwich, but they’d be the perfect portion size.  You can use a loaf of cornbread, or any kind of bread for that matter!

You will be slicing the tops off of each muffin.  You can save them for another day… eat them right then and there…or freeze them for when you want to make cornbread stuffing!

To blacken the peppers:
Slice the tops off of the peppers, and clean out the seeds. Place the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet.  Preheat your oven to broil…and broil the peppers until they are blackened.   Remove from the oven and place in a paper bag to steam.  This will help the skins to come off easier.   After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers from the bag, and peel the skin off of them.  Discard the skin.

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To roast the tomatoes:
Slice 3 large tomatoes into ¼ – ½ inch slices.  Let drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast at 350 degrees until the tomatoes are softened and browned, about 15 – 20 minutes.

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The Roasted Red Pepper Soup:
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, whole
3 tbsp olive oil
6 Red Peppers, roasted and blackened, skins removed
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
5 sundried tomatoes (jarred, in oil)
½ cup pickled banana pepper rings (drained)
3 cups chicken stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 tsp hot pepper sauce
8 oz pepper jack cheese, cut into small cubes
½ cup sour cream
Sour cream and hot pepper sauce for garnish

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Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent.   Add the chicken broth, red peppers, potatoes, carrots, sundried tomatoes, banana pepper rings, thyme, salt, black pepper, and hot pepper sauce.   Cover and simmer until the potatoes and carrots have softened.   Remove the thyme sprigs, and discard.  Remove the soup from heat, and in batches, pulse in food processor until smooth. Return to stock pot, and heat to a slow boil. Turn off heat, and stir in pepper jack cheese until melted. Stir in the sour cream until well blended and creamy.

Serve immediately…garnish with droplets of hot pepper sauce, and a heart of sour cream.

The Grilled Fontina on Cornbread:
4 cornbread muffins
12 oz wedge of Fontina cheese, cut into thick slices
8 slices roasted tomatoes
4 Anaheim peppers, blackened, and skins removed
2 tbsp butter

Slice the top of each muffin off.  Slice the base of the muffin in half, as shown in picture.  Layer the cheese, tomatoes and peppers on the bottom half of the muffin.  Place the other half of the muffin on top.

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Melt the butter in a large frying pan, over medium-low heat.  Place each sandwich in the frying pan, and fry the one side until golden brown.  Flip, and fry the other side until golden brown, about five minutes on each side.  If the cheese hasn’t melted by the time that each side is golden, place a lid on the frying pan for a couple of minutes until the cheese has melted.   Remove from pan.

Serve with Roasted Red Pepper Soup..Enjoy!

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Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Sandwiches!

Today is Black Friday, and I don’t care.
That’s not entirely true.
I do care.

I care because the retail stores of today have let the almighty dollar dictate the destruction of the true meaning of Christmas, while their hunger and greed have created such a calamity of what was once a quiet and peaceful Thanksgiving.

I had absolutely no plan, nor desire to go out into that madness, and instead, I spent a quiet and peaceful Black Friday, listening to Christmas music, and put decorations up, while a big pot of turkey stock simmered on my stove.  With my strong convictions about Black Friday, I totally kept my fingers crossed hoping that my Christmas lights all worked, and I didn’t have to go out for replacements.

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Maybe it’s because I’m older, that I don’t have the desire, drive, or yearning that I used to have, to go out and try to grab those promised deals that were almost always sold out by the time I arrived at the store. And that’s because they only would have one or two of the wonderful bargains in stock to begin with!  So yeah, don’t let me lead you on…I was totally caught up in that hype for a lot of years.

But today, I stayed in my warm cozy house and remained stress free while I put my trees up and hung the ornaments…and while Sophie stood guard over the stove to make sure that no one came close to that pot of turkey stock.

Life is good.  Life is cozy good inside my house, while the Black Friday crazy world swirls around me beyond these quiet walls.

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So Katie and Jessica had to work until 1pm today. Mike got home from work at 1am (yes, 1am) last night, and had to go back in at 1pm today. Jessica came home and went straight to bed, not wanting to eat anything because she had to go in at 3am last night, and had been loading up on caffeine and sugary foods to stay awake. Yes, 3am…don’t get me started on the Thanksgiving/Black Friday thing again! You know that really bad hangover feeling that you get from staying awake for 24+ hours?  Jessica was suffering from that, so food wasn’t even on her mind.  But Katie mentioned that she might stop in after work.  I decided that if she does, I thought that I’d make some sandwiches from the leftover turkey for the two of us.

The first sandwich is inspired by Sprague’s Maple Farms in Portville, NY.  It’s about 30 minutes from our cabin, and we go there quite a bit when we’re down there. I kind of do the “craving-visioned” thing when I’m at Spragues, because they make this turkey, stuffing, cranberry/horseradish sandwich in which I can’t seem to see anything other than that sandwich on the menu. I order it every time.  They make it with wheat berry bread; which is so, SO fresh that it sticks to the back of my teeth as soon as I take a bite. It is insanely delicious.

I have wanted to make this sandwich at home, and today was the perfect day to do just that.  I had the ingredients, but changed it up a little, using my mom’s cranberries and leftover stuffing, but added some two-year old Vintage Farmhouse Cheddar, and used fresh Marco Polo bread that I bought from Wegmans.

I wasn’t sure that Katie would be a fan of the horseradish, but I knew that she would enjoy a grilled cheese type of sandwich, so I thought that I’d make her a grilled brie, with cranberries, turkey and clover sprouts, also on the Marco Polo bread.

As it turned out, Katie was willing to try both sandwiches, so I cut each of them in half and we shared them. Katie said that she loved each one separately, and couldn’t say that there was one that she liked better than the other. I have to say that I agree; and guess it depends on what you’re in the mood for. The grilled brie and turkey is definitely more mild, and much lighter, while the grilled cheddar, turkey and stuffing definitely has a sharp bite, and a much heavier texture. I think if both of these sandwiches were on that menu, I’d have a very difficult time choosing.

I’ll make the sandwich for Jessica tomorrow…since she’s still sleeping.. And if you’ve been following my blog, then you know if I offered one of these sandwiches to Michael, he’d look at me as if I had lost my mind. He wouldn’t even consider tasting either sandwich.. Hey, I’m just keeping it real here!

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Grilled Cheddar, Turkey and Cranberry Sandwich
For each sandwich:
2 slices Marco Polo Bread, sliced thick
3 oz turkey breast, or chicken breast, sliced thin
1/3 cup stuffing
¼ cup cooked cranberries
¼ cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp horseradish
About 1 oz or more sharp white cheddar cheese, such as Vintage Farmhouse Cheddar, sliced thick
2 tbsp butter

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Melt one tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Mix the cranberries, mayonnaise and horseradish in a small bowl until well blended. On one slice of the bread, layer the cheddar cheese, turkey, stuffing, and cranberry/mayonnaise mixture. Top with remaining slice of bread, and spread the remaining tablespoon of butter on the top slice of bread.

Place the sandwich in frying pan with the melted butter, and fry until the one side is golden brown.  Flip the sandwich, and fry until the opposite side is golden brown.  If the cheese isn’t melted before the sandwich is fried to golden, remove from heat and place a lid on the pan until the heat melts the cheese.  Serve immediately.

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Grilled Brie, Turkey, and Cranberry Sandwich  
For each sandwich:
2 slices Marco Polo Bread, sliced thick
3 oz turkey breast, or chicken breast, sliced thin
¼ cup cooked cranberries
¼ cup mayonnaise
About 1 oz or more mild brie, sliced thick
½ cup clover sprouts
2 tbsp butter

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Melt one tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Mix the cranberries and mayonnaise in a small bowl until well blended. On one slice of the bread, layer the brie, turkey, cranberry/mayonnaise mixture, and clover sprouts. Top with remaining slice of bread, and spread the remaining tablespoon of butter on the top slice of bread.

Place the sandwich in frying pan with the melted butter, and fry until the one side is golden brown.  Flip the sandwich, and fry until the opposite side is golden brown.  If the cheese isn’t melted before the sandwich is fried to golden, remove from heat and place a lid on the pan until the heat melts the cheese.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!