Sunday, October 2, 2011

I Take My Own Meal Madness Challenge

So a few months back I announced Food Wonk's Meal Madness, an iPhone app that I cooked up (with some serious technical assistance from my husband).  Meal Madness is really more of a novelty than a tool: you press a button and it spins up three totally random ingredients.  Sometimes it's a perfect combination.  Sometimes it's lutefisk, Velveta and Nutella.  Trick or treat.

Since the app launched we've had some downloads and a few comments, but not nearly enough.  After some badgering from Steven to lead the charge, I decided to do a no-holds-barred Meal Madness throw-down (props to Bobby Flay for the term).  One spin, one meal.  One chance to gross out the nation.

To keep me honest, I had my husband and daughter oversee the selection process so I didn't "accidentally on purpose" spin again. The rules were simple (1) we had to make a dish containing all three ingredients; (2) we had to eat it; and (3) we had until dinner tonight (it's noon) to come up with our dish.

The big debate was which categories to pick. Katie wanted beverage, fruit, and cheese; Steven wanted meat, spice, beverage; and I wanted starch, veggie, and meat.  We decided that each of us got to choose a category. Katie choose cheese (not surprising she loves cheese); Steven choose spice (how boring food would be without spice?); and I choose (oh! the pressure) starch (my comfort food).

Ok, here were go.  A drum roll please... And the winners are: colby cheese, garam masala, and polenta. Hmmm... Er?  Wow... Ummmm... Really????

Oh what to do? What to make? I love polenta and colby together but with garam masala?  I love garam masala.  Garam ("hot") masala ("mixture") is  a pungent spice used in Northern Indian dishes. There are tons of different ways to make this spice combination. One of these days, I will make it from scratch. In the meantime I have the Spice Hunter's garam masala which is a mixture of cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and cardamon.  (Yes, it would be great in an Indian apple pie.)

I am going to go out on a culinary ledge here and state that polenta is the same thing as grits (at least the grits I make). I hope that doesn't burst anyone's foodie bubble, but it's true. I don't believe in instant grits so they don't count. True grits are just polenta.

I have warm feelings for colby cheese, but then I have warm feelings for all cheese. Colby is a cow's milk cheese that is milder than cheddar. So mild in fact that it is seldom used in cooking. I now think this may be an oversight. It is a delicious moist cheese that melts well.

Before I go any farther, I must add that I whined about the ingredients on Facebook and two other foodies, I mean people, decided to take the challenge with me. I am amazed at what they made.  Tristan Barnum, who is a food goodness, took a vegan slant and switched out the Colby cheese for tofu and created a beautiful and healthy masterpiece: broiled polenta stacked with spiced creamy spinach with tiny cubes of tofu standing in for the traditional paneer cheese (and colby in the case of the challenge) on an heirloom tomato slice, served with mango chutney, garam masala, and fresh coriander leaves. Her dish and directions for recreating her masterpiece are here.
Polenta stacks
Kevin, a computer mastermind by day and foodie by night, created garam masala rubbed duck breast, pan-roasted mushrooms, creamy ziti with colby and sweet curry polenta 'breadcrumbs'.  Fantastic! It looks beautiful.
Garam masala rubbed duck breast with creamy ziti with bread crumbs
So enough about the three chosen ingredients. Now to the dish(es). I decided on polenta baked with colby cheese and garam masala.  Kinda like Indian-style cheese grits. That would go great with pork. Garam masala would go great with apples. We have apples! So, cheese garlic grits with garam masala and pork steaks cooked in apple cider with onions, apple sauce and garam masala.

My meal of garam masala grits and pork steak cooked in apple cider
One more thing or confession if you like. I like grits that have strings of cheese that stretch from your mouth to your plate. How to achieve this extra dimension in cheesiness? It is easy. Add pieces of string cheese to your grits. I am completely serious.  I discovered this my accident; well, laziness. I was making dinner and I had a small amount of cheddar cheese left but lots of string cheese (Katie was a toddler). I didn't want to drop everything and go to the store; so I just added the string cheese instead. I loved the stringy messy result. If you have issues about the stringiness of your cheese, just omit the string cheese.

Garam Masala Cheese Garlic Grits (I mean polenta)

6 Cups (1440 ml) of Water
2 Cups (360 g) of Grits
1/2 Cup (113 g) of Butter
8-9 Oz. (227 to 255 g) of Colby Cheese, Grated
3 Sticks of Mozzarella String Cheese, Cut into Small Pieces (Optional)
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 Tsp of Garam Masala
1/2 Cup (120 ml) of Milk
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Preheat oven to 350F/176 C/ Gas Mark 4. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and add grits. Lower heat and cook slowly until thickened about 8 to 10 minutes. Add butter and colby cheese and stir to combine.
Grits and butter
Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined.
Grits with everything else
Pour into a 2.5  quart (2.4 L) casserole dish. Bake for 35 minutes.
Ready for the oven
Pork Steaks

 2-3 Tbsp of Oil
1.5 Lbs (.7 kg) of Pork Steaks
1/4 to 1/2 Tsp of Garam Masala
Salt and Pepper, To Taste
1 Cup (240 ml) of Apple Cider
1/2 Cup (118 g) of Applesauce
1 Medium Onion, Thinly Sliced

Sprinkle pork steaks with garam masala, salt, and pepper.
Frying pork steaks
Heat oil in a saucepan. Fry pork steaks for 2 to 3 minutes a side. Remove the pork steaks and add onions to the pan. Saute onions until tender. Return pork steaks to the pan and add the apple cider and applesauce.
Pork and apples.
Lower heat and cover. Cook until pork reaches 145 F/62C.
The finished pork steaks
The next day, I took some of the polenta and topped it with an Italian sausage tomato sauce and mozzarella. I then placed it in the toaster oven until heated through. It was glorious. I would have topped it with more colby cheese but we ate it all.
Polenta pancake topped with sausage tomato sauce and cheese
 The bottom line: Will I play Food Wonk Meal Madness again? Yes!  The whole family had fun with it. We discussed possible dishes and each of the ingredients. I was amazed at how this "game" expanded my thoughts about food and what goes well together. Thanks to this game I have found my new favorite cheese garlic grits recipe. I will be serving this for Thanksgiving when we do our not so traditional Southern style dinner.

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