Tag Archives: polenta

Designing with Food and Plants

This past Tue I was fortunate enough to meet the force of nature that is Richard Moody, local go-to fashion maven and man about town. I provided a light repast for the monthly meet & greet of the Twin Cities’ chapter of Fashion Group Int’l, a design networking association. Richard serves on its board.

FGI event 4-16-13 at Phillips Garden.

Guests at FGI “Kick Off Your Heels and Come Into the Garden”  4-16-13. I’m way in the back, top left. Richard in green teeshirt is in front of me and Matt is next to him. Photo by Phillips Garden.

He brought the event to the gorgeous tropical-industrial office of Phillips Garden, winner of Minnesota Monthly magazine’s 2012 Best of the Twin Cities – Landscaping award, in the heart of Mpls’ Phillips neighborhood. [Full disclosure: I’ve been a close friend of Matt the general manager at Phillips for decades.]


The brightly colored marinated salads, full of oranges, reds and greens, perfectly complemented Phillips’ incredible table display. Photo by Phillips Garden.

Guests enjoyed some lovely herb-infused wine (courtesy of Phillips) and the gluten-free whole-foods spread I brought:  Kalamata Olive Polenta Squares, Roast Sweet Potato & Black Bean Salad in Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette, SuperFood Slaw in Grapefruit Ginger Vinaigrette, roast almonds, gluten-free crackers and fresh organic Pink Lady apples and navel oranges. I chose not to serve sweets or cookies this time. Feel free to use this menu for your next party!

Until I figure out how to snatch pix from Instagram, for close-ups of dishes, see Richard’s http://instagram.com/p/YLyfS8wXNX/  and  http://instagram.com/p/YLs5Q7QXGZ/ .

Incredibly lush, and partially edible table display. See how many edibles you can spot.

Incredibly lush, and partially edible table display. See how many edibles you can spot. Photo by Phillips Garden.

Phillips Garden staff discussed their aesthetic, their design process, and how its business is based on listening carefully to its clients. They also talked about how to bring the garden inside your home with terrariums and using herbs & veggies decoratively indoors, as well as in outdoor landscaping.

In fact, Phillips Garden and I make a great team. We share an aesthetic of ‘clean’, high-contrast and sustainable creations. We’re not into masking with embellishment, which often devolves into kitsch. (Sugar, cheese, and creamy dressings & sauces can all mask flavors & textures).

Tracy presenting at Phillips Garden 4-16-13.

Tracy presenting at Phillips Garden 4-16-13.

When it was my turn to talk about One Dish at A Time, I related my mission to connect people to real food, my whole-foods & 5-senses aesthetic, and how I customize for clients with different needs. Since the theme was a look forward into summer, I recommended marinated salads as the perfect summer meal — fresh, locally available, inexpensive ingredients in endless combinations that are easy to make in bulk for the whole week. (Easy, that is, if you maintain a sharp knife. See below.)

Pretty in Pink: assembled salad of sliced cauliflower, cooked beets, kohlrabi that was marinated with beet, and albacore tuna, on romaine/spinach, with fresh mint vinaigrette. Any vinaigrette will do.

Pretty in Pink: assembled salad of raw cauliflower, sliced cooked beets, kohlrabi marinated with beets and albacore tuna, on bed of romaine & spinach, drizzled with fresh mint vinaigrette (any vinaigrette will do.)

Designing with Food.  Every time you make a meal or a dish, you are designing.  What results depends on your goal and priorities: ease, quickness, comforting vs “new” tastes, nutritional value, and purpose (family dinner vs cocktail party). We’re not on a reality TV show, so don’t worry about being judged harshly.

For FGI, I started with a goal of serving a healthful, light meal that is all gluten-free and mostly vegan, and, not too much work. 


My design tool box consists of 

  1. Whole (unprocessed) foods: beans, grains, tubers, veggies, meats, nuts, fruits and a bit of dairy. Butter & small amounts of good cheese to enhance, but not to take main stage. Same with cream and sugars. (That’s what desserts are for.)
  2. Palette of flavor, texture, color and seasonality. Velvety polenta and a crunchy slaw. Soft sweet potatoes, black beans and crisp bell peppers all spiked with tart lime juice offers sweet and savory in the same bite.  Deep green kale and bright orange carrot.
  3. Nutritional factors: total complementary proteins, complex carbs, fiber, and good fats. Lots and lots of fiber.
Another marinated salad, Broccoli Edamame Salad, paired with Sesame Roasted Eggplant & Black Rice. (my photo)

Another marinated salad, Broccoli Edamame Salad, paired with Sesame Roasted Eggplant & Black Rice. (my photo)

The great thing about whole foods is that which pleases all our 5 senses also happens to be the most nutritious!  So just go for the color and texture and it will be fine.


I also talked about my literal tool box: sharp knives and wide wok spatulas (to toss those marinated salads). Brandishing my $5 Asian chef’s knife, I sliced a raw beet very thinly and peeled a grapefruit. Then, I told everybody to take those cheap coarse-grained tubular sharpeners that come in the block sets and STICK ’em… in the ground as stakes for straggly seedlings. Or tents. More about knives and sharpener recommendations in my post “Tools Make the Man (Person)”.

Aunty Oxidant and friends at Moving Planet 9-24-11

Demoing slaw at Moving Planet event 9-24-11

To see these me in action with knives, sharpeners and boldly colored vegetables, come to the Brooklyn Center EarthFest this Sat, 1-4pm, at Brooklyn Center High School; and at East-Side St Paul Neighborhood Green Fair on April 27, 12-4pm outside City Academy school.  I’ll be demoing and handing out samples of my famous superfood Firecracker Slaw (see recipe). More on my community demos.

Thanks again to Richard Moody & Hazel Matthys of FGI-Mpls and to Phillips Garden for a lovely evening. That greenery is balm for the soul — especially now that it’s snowing again.


New Photos!

Roast Beet & Lentil Salad in Balsamic Vinaigrette (photo by Alicea Rose Photography). Vegan & Gluten-free.

Here are some lovely photos by Alicea Rose Photography. Alicea shot these at the 50th Anniversary party that I catered earlier this month, and has kindly shared these with me. Food is difficult to photograph well, so I really appreciate these. Thanks, Alicea!

See www.alicearosephotography.com; her FB page is https://www.facebook.com/AliceaTomshine?ref=ts.








Polenta Squares w/ Sun-Dried Tomatoes — gluten-free!


Potluck-Ready; Polenta Tips

I have been microwaving this week’s polenta artichoke spinach strata with a little gorgonzola on top, or red sauce. FANtastic! Even better, slice and pan-fry both sides to get a crisp bottom and sprinkle bleu cheese on top.

In fact, I’m making basil polenta squares as appetizers for a large BBQ party this coming weekend, as well as “Firecracker” Slaw (beets, carrots, apples in chipotle vinaigrette) and many other delectable things. The next day I’ll be demo-ing Thai-curry mushroom & TVP bruschetta, pineapple cilantro cabbage slaw and other starters.

For those of you who are curious about polenta, I’ve found that the difference between instant polenta and the organic ground polenta I buy at the co-op is that the co-op’s is more yellow, more coarsely ground and tastes more corn-y.

Ground Polenta Corn Meal

Dry Ground Polenta (corn meal)

Its cooked texture is more glutinous and ‘creamy’, especially after it cools and sets. Yes, it takes an hour to make, but, you do NOT have to constantly attend it, despite what they say. In fact, I find it very easy. NYT’s Mark Bittman’s sage instructions: You stir w/ a squared wooden spatula every 10 min while it’s simmering. If after 30 min simmer it seems too thick to stir, add 1/2 cp water & mix well. Don’t want it too thick & dry bc the grains need to break down further. Later after the texture is no longer grainy, if it seems you added too much water/ it’s too thin, then simmer at a slightly higher temp.

I believe Bob’s Red Mill brand packaged ground polenta is similar to the bulk stuff at co-ops, although ground a little bit finer. There’s nothing wrong with instant polenta and it’s certainly works in a pinch*. So does the cooked polenta that comes in a tube (nice fine texture). It’s just not as lovely as whole grain polenta.

* Package instructions say 5 min but the texture is grainy, so I simmer for another 15.

COMING MENUS  (see more descriptions on DDoW Menu Archive)

Nopales Cactus Salad

Nopales Cactus Salad (internet photo)

 June 13 – 19

1) Chipotle Rum & Molasses Baked Beans. Vegan & Gluten-free.

2) Southwest Nopales Cactus & Rice Salad in Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette. Vegan & Gluten-free. 

June 20 – 26

1) Soba Noodle Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing. Vegan; soba noodles contain wheat gluten; sweet potato noodle option avail; soy-free option also available w/ notice.

2)  Edamame & Shitake Salad. Vegan & Gluten-free. 


June 27 – July 2 (week approaching Independence Day Holiday)  Since that next Monday is July 4th holiday, you can order these dishes for July 3rd Fri or weekend delivery, however, you must special order by June 26th.

1) Firecracker Slaw. Vegan & Gluten-free. 

2) Fireworks Wheat Berry Salad. Vegan; contains gluten.

Cornucopia of Comforting Corn Dishes

Ahh, the first snowfall of the season and a doozy at that! We awoke to a world seemingly dipped in whipped cream. Heavy, nearly clotted cream, in fact. And thus the season of serious tea drinking commences. How appropriate, then, is my choice of the Delivered Dish of the Week, Posole, which I have been promising for a few weeks. What is better on a wet wintry day than a spicy tomatoey soup?

Posole is a Mexican stew of posole corn (dried field corn), pureed peppers, onion, etc (traditionally with pork or chicken) served with shredded raw cabbage, sliced radishes & fresh cilantro on top. Posole corn is hard to find, so whole kernel hominy is usually used. Hominy is whole corn whose hull and germ have been removed by soaking in a weak lye solution, then beating it and drying. This process preserves corn for later use. (A modern factory method is to boil in dilute sodium hydroxide then put through rotating cylinders with running water.)

Hominy comes in cans or frozen and looks like giant, swollen, white kernels of corn, and has a nice chewy texture.   FYI, “grits”, also known as “hominy grits”, is dried hominy kernels stone-ground & sifted.

Without the hull, hominy has less fiber but, in some ways is more nutritious than plain old corn, including having more easily absorbable niacin and more calcium.  And it’s still good carbs.

Continuing the ‘cornucopia’ of corny comfort foods is Corn & Quinoa Pudding for Thanksgiving and Corn & Sweet Potato Casserole in December.


1)  Posole Stew with Hominy, Peppers, Collard Greens, Cilantro, Cabbage. Vegan, gluten-free. Mildly spicy. Top with squeeze of lime & hot sauce and serve with rice, quesadilla, corn bread, a tamale, or, #2 Dish below.

2) Black Bean & Wheat Berry Salad with Carrots & Radish. Vegan. Hearty entree or side. Do notice how these two high-fiber, cholesterol-lowering dishes are prepping you for the excesses of the following week. ;^)


1) Roasted Beet & Lentil Salad in Balsamic Vinaigrette. Vegan, gluten-free. I’m offering this again (last time was July 4th) b/c it is the perfect holiday dish, both gorgeous and tasty — plus it caters to vegans. Its sweet-sour-earthy flavors & textures especially complement traditional American Thanksgiving menus.

2) Sweet Corn & Quinoa PuddingNo gluten, but, has dairy. Another great side dish for holiday tables. [Whatever. You had me at ‘pudding’.]

NOV 29 – DEC 5
No deliveries. I will be on a short out-of-town family vacation.

DEC 6 – 12
TBA. I’m wanting spicy exotic flavors to contrast with upcoming traditional American holiday fare.  So, possibly Jamaican stew and ‘green’ barley made with minced kale.

A peck of peppers — and tomatoes, zucchini, basil…

Deciding the coming “Delivered Dish of the Week” menus has been really tough. Too many choices. Local bounty is overflowing — now is the time to can, pickle, stew and freeze.

You can also freeze many vegetables raw, such as tomatoes (whole or chopped), to be cooked later. Then you’ll have that irreplaceable garden-fresh taste in dishes you make in January. If you have enough freezer space, then you can do without the bother of canning.

Once again, I’ve chosen interesting, colorful, nutrient-dense dishes for you to show off at Labor Day holiday potlucks. They’ll nicely complement potato salad, burgers and other BBQ fare.

This Week Aug 16 – 22
1) Basil Polenta. Vegetarian, gluten-free. (Will contain cheese unless you ask otherwise.)
2) Ratatouille with Beans. Vegan, gluten-free.

Fresh peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, parsley

Fresh from the Farmers' Mkt!

Classic French stew of eggplant, tomato & zucchini, plus bell peppers, red beans and fresh herbs. Good room-temp or hot, very satisfying yet low-fat. Enjoy by itself, with polenta (go figure) or any kind of pilaf, pasta and crusty bread; add capers, olives, cheese, hot sauce…go for it!

Aug 23 – 29
1) Indian Dal with Cauliflower & Broccoli. Vegan, gluten-free. A multi-combo split lentil stew, including split yellow and split white (urad dal). Perfect with rice, quinoa, barley or bread.
2) Indian-flavored Slaw with Peanuts. Vegan, gluten-free. A crunchy salad of cabbage, carrots and more, infused with coriander, fenugreek and other fragrant spices.
Aug 30 – Sep 5 (Labor Day Weekend)
1) Collard Greens stir-fried with Red Peppers, Raisins and Almonds. Vegan, gluten-free. The intense sweetness of peppers and raisins contrast with and complement these strong-flavored slightly crunchy greens. Note that fresh collards are not bitter. Simply one of the best collards dish ever! Recipe courtesy of Carol B.
2) Cherry Tomato Edamame Salad. Vegan, gluten-free. My zippier take on a chopped salad from Linden Hills Co-op.

Sept Dishes will include Grilled Eggplant in Sesame Dressing, Roasted Beets, and much more.

To place an order & arrange delivery to your home/office, simply contact me at tracyksyue@yahoo.com. More details on the “Dish of the Week” page.

Next Post: about cow peas and mayo coba beans.

Catering to vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free eaters

I knew it had been a while but how is it possible that I haven’t posted since June??  I will try to make amends.

chicken & peppers, beet & lentil salad meal

Clockwise from bottome: Roast Beet & Lentil Salad in Balsamic; braised chicken in peppers capers & wine broth on wild & brown rice; greens and carrot/jicama/radish salad in grapefruit juice; lemon poppyseed pound cake.


While I will make nearly anything a client wishes — with the exception of things including mini-marshmallows — I try to offer menus with multiple options for vegans and those avoiding gluten.  This means lots of my marinated salads and savory appetizers that don’t depend on cheese.

Lately I have catered graduation parties, wedding brunches, family reunion picnics and political fundraisers. Coming up in Sept is a vegan wedding dinner. Here are some sample menus for you to chew on.

Menu for Keith Ellison’s Birthday Party: farmers’ market veggie tray; creamy vegan curry dip; wasabi dill veggie spread; roquefort green olive cream cheese; baguettes & gluten-free crackers; ginger cilantro quinoa daikon salad; coconut curry chicken chunks; green beans marinated in sesame black-bean dressing.

Menu for Summer Picnic: French lentil & roast beet salad in balsamic dressing; tossed green salad w/ heirloom tomatoes; chicken tenderloins with sesame sage butter; pesto potato salad; vegan chipotle rum baked beans; baguettes; fruit salad.

Low-fat Creamy Dilled Smoked Trout Potato Salad with Green Beans

Menu for Bride’s Luncheon: Low-fat Creamy Dill Smoked Trout & Potato Salad with Marinated Green Beans (vegetarian option has no trout); Tossed Green Salad; Parmesan Polenta Squares; Spicy Carrots & White Beans; Fruit with Chocolate Sauce.

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

I practice abstinence in the winter. Garden-fresh produce has now spoiled me, so I restrain myself regarding raw tomatoes and certain other veg until they’re available locally (and are less expensive). Yep, no fresh tomatoes, nada, zip. (I) just say no.

So yes, spring is most definitely in the air, but, local produce is still months away.  SIGH. All the glossy magazines are featuring asparagus, peas, berries, even (oh please). It’s just plain cruel for us in Zone 4.

So, I’m excited about what the local hothouses will be able to provide in April and May.  I’m mulling over menus for upcoming catered events this spring. Asparagus, here we come!

****** Upcoming Dish of the Week  Selections*****

garbanzos w/ veggies in vinaigrette

Garbanzo beans aka chickpeas are called "channa" in India

March 14-20

1)  Channa Chaat (Spiced Indian Chickpea Salad) bursts with spices, cilantro & lime.

2) Coconut Rice
organic brown rice, coconut,  and a little minced greens.

March 21-27

1) Lima Beans with Capers and Sun-dried Tomatoes

2) Creamy Organic Polenta layered with Spinach
Pls specify if you would like polenta without cheese.