Miso Polenta with Spring Vegetables and Poached Egg (GF / DF)

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In Boston last week for a design conference (shout out to HOW Design Live!) I recharged my batteries with a ton of creatives, and also enjoyed a good amount of the culinary delights Bean Town has to offer.

A long-time lover of Barbara Lynch, I'd secured my reservation for a birthday dinner at Menton, and I'd brought along my Myers + Chang cookbook in the hopes I'd be able to score autographs from Joanne Chang and Karen Akunowicz (who just won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Northeast!). I strategically booked my hotel literally two blocks from their restaurant so I could "camp out". I was also looking forward to scoring dining tips from the locals.

Mass transit in Boston isn't spectacular, and while I did uber several times that week, I mostly walked the South End. The weather was beautiful and it seemed like every tree and shrub was blooming and/or budding. By the second day of the convention, I had my 30-minute jaunt to the John B. Hynes Center nailed and felt like a local as I ordered my small drip and The Fix breakfast sandwich at Pavement Coffeehouse.

 
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Two awesome things about downtown Boston: there are trashcans on nearly every corner, and pedestrians truly have the right of way.

Growing up and living in a small, isolated town, I try to take advantage of every opportunity I can when I'm out in the "real" world. But that's not always easy for me. I struggle with shyness in unfamiliar environments. I'm an introvert at heart and hanging out with over a thousand people for 8 hours a day (as kick-ass as all their shoes were ... creatives are some of the best dressers!) just made me want to head for the hotel and watch television.

Luckily, my never-ending quest for the next, best food experience keeps me from totally hermitting it up. A recent subscriber to Christopher Kimball's newish Milk Street magazine, I was checking out the current May issue online when it dawned on me they did cooking classes and demonstrations. I clicked on the "school" link and starring me in the face was longtime chief culinary consultant of Serious Eats and cookbook author, J. Kenji Lopez- Alt, scheduled to do a cooking demonstration with Christopher.

Thursday, May 3rd.

In Boston.

And I would be there.

I pounced on the "buy now" button but was disheartened that ticket sales had already ended for that event. But when you live in nowheresville, you have a tendency to look a little harder for opportunities. I dropped Milk Street an email, suggesting that if they had any cancellations I'd love to attend the event.

As I was boarding my plane for Boston on Sunday morning, I got an email from Rosemary, Milk Street's Director of Education and event planner. They did indeed have a cancellation and they'd love to have me if I still wanted to attend. It was like James Beard himself was smiling down on me ...

My last class at HOW ended at 3 pm that Thursday so I took my time walking toward 177 Milk Street, stopping at coffee shops and lounging about in parks along the way. In addition to being shy and introverted, I'm also a bit of a control freak. Not wanting to leave anything to chance (what if I couldn't find the place and arrived late?) I arrived on the doorstep of 177 Milk Street an hour early. Satisfied I was somewhat in control, I bounced across the street to Central Wharf Company to enjoy a leisurely cocktail, but not before noticing a guy looking suspiciously like J. Kenji Lopez-Alt sitting outside of Milk Street, checking his phone. Of course it was him, it had to be him, but I kept starring at him as I walked by - completely fangirled out over the fact I was walking past J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

He looked up and caught me staring. Like an idiot. So I did the adult thing and smiled, blushed, and kept walking directly into oncoming traffic before stumbling into Central Wharf and ordering a stiff Old Fashioned. 

I've followed Kenji and Serious Eats for a long time. Cooking from an insane amount of cookbooks, you'll come across a recipe or two from time to time that for one reason or another, simply doesn't work. Is it you? Is it the recipe? Any time that happened I would head over to Serious Eats to find a solution for the technique in the book I couldn't seem to understand or master. When he came out with his cookbook, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, my cooking rapidly improved. No more guesswork, no more hoping I'd get lucky enough to produce the same solid dish twice. "Nailed it" became a phrase I was actually able to say. To myself. Under my breath of course.

The evening was spectacular, of course. Christopher Kimball and his memorable bow-tie were on point, his staff was amazing, and watching two chefs I've admired for a very long time cooking together in real life was truly a gift. 

 
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I do have Kenji's book in hard cover, but as I scored my ticket last minute, I wasn't able to bring it with me. I wouldn't have an autograph to take home, so I should have approached him before the class. Or even after the class, standing on line with everyone else. This is where the shyness ALWAYS gets the better of me. It is still my white whale ...

But here's the kicker: I HAVE WRITTEN TWO SMALLISH ARTICLES FOR SERIOUS EATS. I totally had an in! It would have been perfectly acceptable for me to walk up to him, stick out my hand, and introduce myself. "Hey, I've always wanted to meet you! I'm taking your class tonight. Oh, and I wrote a couple articles for SE, so, yeah. Can I sit here with you and pick your brain?"

Meh - I'm a sloppy work in progress. 

The demonstration at Milk Street was all about eggs. It's an ingredient that, if treated well, produces some spectacular dishes. Chris and Kenji battled it out over scrambled eggs (Chris won), we discussed the benefits of steaming vs. boiling eggs (definitely steaming) and we watched Kenji basically drop the mic on us when he made hollandaise in under 5 minutes using an immersion blender, than proceeded to poach, like, what seemed to be a dozen eggs at one time. Kenji's tip (and I also read about this from Michael Ruhlman) is draining the looser, runnier egg white away from the firmer egg white before lowering the egg into the simmering water. I detail it below in the recipe. (Insider tip: You can find information about all of the above techniques and recipes in either his book or at the Serious Eats website.)

Poaching eggs has always intimidated me, but walking away with a bit of scientific explanation, I felt ready to tackle the technique again when I got home. And after clipping a recipe for a miso polenta with spring vegetables from Bon Appetit's Healthyish website, I decided to replace the tofu with a poached egg.

For folks needing gluten-free and dairy-free dishes, this miso polenta has come to save you. Where you would normally get creaminess and flavor from milk, butter, or Parmesan cheese, the miso steps in and gives you all of that, with no dairy needed. I'm completely hooked on using miso to bump up the savoriness of a dish. Plus, it gives you probiotics, aids in digestion, can have a positive effect on blood pressure, and is said to have anti-cancer effects. I've been enjoying this for breakfast, but it works for any meal of the day.

 
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Coming home and making this dish provided me with a kind of recap of just what a wonderful time I experienced in Boston. Fresh spring veggies (sugar snap peas, spring onions, asparagus) sauteed in a garlicky bean sauce on a bed of umami-bombed polenta topped with a poached egg brings back walking the streets of Boston in the spring, on my way to dinner somewhere spectacular.

Miso Polenta with Spring Vegetables and Poached Egg

Adapted from Bon Appetit and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt / Serious Eats

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup polenta (the real deal, please, not the quick-cooking)

  • 2 Tbsp. white miso

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 bunch spring onions or scallions

  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

  • 4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced if large

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 8 oz. asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1"–2" pieces

  • 4 oz. sugar snap peas

  • 2 Tbsp. black bean garlic sauce

  • Chili oil and toasted sesame seeds (for serving)

  • 4 poached eggs (recipe below)

 

Foolproof Poached Eggs

Recipe from seriouseats.com

Ingredients: 4 Eggs

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer, then reduce heat until it is barely quivering. It should register 180 to 190°F on an instant-read thermometer. Carefully break 1 egg into a small bowl, then tip into a fine mesh strainer. Carefully swirl egg around strainer, using your finger to rub off any excess loose egg whites that drop through. Gently tip egg into water. Swirl gently with a wooden spoon for 10 seconds, just until egg begins to set. Repeat straining and tipping with remaining eggs. Cook, swirling occasionally, until egg whites are fully set but yolks are still soft, about 4 minutes.
  2. Carefully lift eggs from pot with a slotted spoon. Serve immediately, or transfer to a bowl of cold water and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To serve, transfer to a bowl of hot water and let reheat for 2 minutes. Serve immediately.


Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the polenta and miso and whisk vigorously to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking frequently in the beginning and less often as it thickens, until polenta is tender, 30–35 minutes. This is negotiable. I found I liked the consistency of my polenta after about 22 minutes of cooking. So taste often and when you like what you taste, the polenta is done. Season with salt. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. (notes on reheating polenta below)

While the polenta is cooking, cut the dark green tops from the spring onions and thinly slice them; set them aside for serving. Cut the white and pale green parts into 3" pieces, halving them lengthwise if they're thick; set aside. 

Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the mushrooms, tossing occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and reserved white and pale green parts of the spring onions and continue to cook, tossing often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and peas and cook, tossing occasionally, until bright green and beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the black bean sauce and ¾ cup water and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring once or twice to incorporate the sauce, until vegetables are crisp-tender and liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

Transfer polenta to a platter. Top with the vegetables and spoon the pan sauce over, then drizzle with chili oil. Finish with sesame seeds and reserved spring onion tops, and top with your gloriously poached egg.

*Note: If you're a singleton like me, you often don't eat all of the food you make in one setting. It's easy to reheat the polenta, you just want to do it over low heat. If it appears quite dry, try adding 1/4 cup water (or milk if you don't care about being dairy free) for every cup of polenta you're re-heating. Heat the polenta either in a pot over medium-low heat, or gently in the microwave at 30-second bursts, then whip until the polenta becomes smooth again. Viola!

Post Script

One of my dearest east-coast friends, Hanna, surprised me for my birthday with six gorgeous hand-made plates! Thank you so much, Hanna - they are beautiful and each one has it's own little unique characteristics. I'll treasure them forever.

 
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