Listen, if this post looks strange at all, or I misspelled things, or something else is out of whack, here’s what: I’m working on a foreign laptop and you all know how I am with change. It took me roughly 384 hours to type this and get it all situated and published, and at this point, I’m just thankful it worked.
So I’m in Florida right now…surprise! We’re all down here for my grandma’s 90th birthday, which was a surprise, but now it’s not, and I couldn’t say anything because she reads this. So I’ll be busy doing that this weekend, but I managed to eek out the second half of my Feast article breakdown for “Well-Seasoned,” my ode to what gorgeous things can come from seeking out some quality local products. Let’s talk about the rest of them, yes?
This Creamy Popcorn Polenta with Smoked Cheddar and Caramelized Onions was my staunchly traditional offering; so totally classic and literally like you put on a big fluffy down jacket of cheese, onions, and corn. that sound gross, but you know what I mean: it basically just wraps you in winter and would be best eaten smack in front of the fireplace on the coldest, gloomiest day of the season. make plans. the popcorn polenta from McKaskle Family Farm is more coarse than even the coarsest regular polenta, and has a super satisfying grit to it that is delightful. Evidently this is due to the presence of a moisture-resistant hull unique to popcorn versus (regular corn doesn’t have this) which gives this creamy version of polenta texture and body. Use any cheese in polenta and you’ll be happy, but a smoked cheese like cheddar (or even a smoked gouda) in a winter polenta dish is a nice balance to the sweetness of the caramelized onions on top. Nothing fancy to the onions, either, except that you coddle them through a low and slow, hour-long cookfest and they turn out like melted heaven. Popcorn polenta is essential to getting the texture right in this dish, so seek it out.
So…jalapeño bacon. I was wary, two reasons: one: totally not what someone would refer to as “a bacon person” and I abhor “gratuitious baconing” of things like cookies, or ice cream…just unnecessary and I’m super not into it. also, jalapeno: I love jalapeno when it’s appropriate, but again: that, like chipotle, can be used so incorrectly in things when products are trying to achieve that weird “dude factor” with always-awful results. You know what I’m talking about; the “OMG bacon jalapeno chipotle potato chips you are only a man if you eat these regularly and with vigor” pitch. I hate that. so imagine my surprise when I loved this bacon at first bite, right? I mean “loved” like intense love – not just that it was okay, but that it was fabulous. People, if you are buying cheap, crappy mass-produced bacon, stop right now b/c you have zero idea what actual bacon tastes like. The guys at Naked Bacon make their bacon the same way as their great-grandfather did over 150 years ago, and you can tell. It’s beautiful, and it is worth the price, ten times over. Uniquely flavored, so crispy, and it adds so much to these Jalapeno Bacon-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Apples. And if you’re apprehensive about introducing jalapeno flavor into your side dishes, fear not: there’s definitely heat and spice here, but it’s not the in-your-face jalapeno you find in nacho cheese dip: it’s got a darker feel to it, more smoky than punchy, and intense, but not in a crass way. Still afraid? Okay: some people aren’t fans of jalapeno, and I get that. This is where I’ll beg you to try their regular bacon, which is equally amazing but minus some of that smoky heat. Use either bacon here (I did in my recipe testing) and you’ll be thrilled: it’s like veg and fruit and meat in perfect harmony, and I’ll probably eat this many times this winter b/c it’s nothing to prepare.
Ohhhhhh, this Chocolate Cake with Winter Spices; let me just tell you about this cake. I’m not kidding: were it bigger, I’d bounce on it like a trampoline. Do you see frosting? I don’t see frosting. you know why? Because no frosting is good enough for my cake. Only chocolate shavings, because honestly, I wanted more reasons to use Askinosie chocolate in my cake but I couldn’t fit anymore in the actual cake itself. Have you heard of Askinosie? They’re only like, Jeni Britton Bauer’s (of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams) favorite chocolate purveyor, no big deal. If you haven’t had their chocolate, you are crazy: its silky smooth, and each bar has its own special set of flavor notes (rather than just “mmm, chocolate”) that make baking with it an adventure. I’m a huge fan of their single-origin chocolate, and my favorite is the one I used for this cake: the 70% Cortes, Honduras Dark Chocolate. It’s got this clear, glowy sort of thing going, with a little bit of a citrus note on the back end. Why I used it for this cake: the clear flavor cuts through the muddle of winter spices with ease, the citrus amplifies the citrus notes in the chocolate, and the bright flavor of the chocolate keeps the murkiness at bay. Infusing chocolate cake with spices can have mixed results due to the flavor of the chocolate itself; it’s like the spices and the chocolate are vying for position and you never quite know who’s winning when you eat it. With this chocolate, there’s none of that: everything works in the way that it should, no arguments amongst the ingredients. I’m not a big cake person for Thanksgiving, but I daresay this would be a welcome and appropriate addition to your table this year. And by “table,” I also mean breakfast table alongside your coffee, no judgement.
If the idea of cheese in ice cream strikes you as weird, I feel bad for you. I’ll also remind you that cheesecake ice cream, goat cheese ice cream, and all the Jeni’s ice cream (cream cheese base, y’all) are some of the best ice creams out there, period. We talked about Green Dirt Farm when we talked about the pastry pockets; your remember how amazing their Dirt Lover cheese was, right? Well, they have a whole line of fresh sheep’s milk cheeses in a plain and flavored; I opted for the nettle fresh cheese, because I had never tasted it. Nettles are mysterious and amazing: from what I read, they’re treacherous to work with, but absolutely delicious once you get past all the danger. As a thank you gift to them for introducing me to nettles, I spun their nettle cheese into Nettle Ice Cream, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Nothing to it, really: the cheese has such great flavor that it needs no accompaniments, so the recipe was just a matter of getting the sweetness right. The final product is lightly sweet, grassy, and just a little bit lemony: if you haven’t had nettle, this is a fine way to be introduced to the whole idea of it.
And what better way to eat ice cream than by having a little snackaroo to go with it, right? Just because the nettle cheese ice cream needs no accompaniments doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be fun to have one. Trust me here: Rosemary Caramel Popcorn on its own is a fantastic snack, but alongside the nettle ice cream? Crazy good. Two desserts who don’t need each other; rather, they just want each other, even though they’d be perfectly wonderful on their own…a match bound to work out in the long-term, I’d say.
So there you have it: finally I’ve slogged through all my Feast recipes for this month (hi! Find them here), which leaves the rest of November open for heaven knows what. Your guess is as good as mine, because news flash: I’m not even making Thanksgiving this year.
More on that in a few days: I have some pressing things to take care of, like the eating of fresh caught fish, walking around on the beach, and basking in 70-degrees-and-sunny weather while many people are surrounded by their first brush of wet wonderpowder we call “snow.” I’m sure just saying that will cause me to be met with some freak ice storm when I return, but for now…beach.