Branching Out

Tonight BIV was inspired by a luxurious potato soup recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Potato Collection. The West African Potato Peanut Soup reminded us of a recent book we had both read - Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible". We both read the book late in 2009 and were captivated by the story. We jumped at chance to pay homage to the book with a great meal.
Our appetizer was a simple recipe comprised of minimal ingredients and minimal preparation. This is worth the 15 minutes it takes to prepare - we promise you will not be disappointed.

Polenta Rounds With Black-eyed Pea Topping (myrecipes.com)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes minutes
Cooking Time: 11 minutes minutes

1/2 (16-oz.) tube refrigerated sun-dried tomato polenta, cut into 6 even slices
Vegetable cooking spray
1 (15-oz.) can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup light sour cream

1. Cook polenta rounds in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

2. Wipe pan with paper towel, spray with cooking spray, and cook peas and next 4 ingredients over medium heat 3 minutes or until water evaporates. Remove from heat; stir in tomatoes and 3 Tbsp. cilantro. Spoon warm black-eyed pea mixture over polenta rounds, and top evenly with sour cream. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp. cilantro.

Our inspiration was the West-African Potato Peanut Soup. This soup was easy to prepare with basic kitchen staples, yet the result was truly a special treat. The soup was creamy, yet contained no dairy product (well - we did add a dollop of sour cream for flair) and had several layers of flavor - Yum :). We paired the soup with a simple green salad topped with roasted root vegetables and a slice of crusty bread.

To finish out our African theme this evening, we made baked bananas gabon. These simply prepared bananas were dipped in egg, coated with graham crackers and baked to achieve a crispy coating while keeping a moist, warm interior.

Another successful night!


An Embrace of Color

To overcome our winter doldrums and to contrast our "white-out" meal last week, tonight we used the wonderful colors of nature to brighten our evening. Our night started with a wonderful smoky cheese and sun-dried tomato spread made by SB. This was a great appetizer served with crostini that provided both a touch of color and a burst of flavor.

Our main course veered into both the orange and green portions of the color wheel. The butternut squash and leek gratins were light, flavorful and provided a nice warm feeling on another cold night. A side dish for the gratins was the surprising star of the evening. The sugar snap peas were prepared simply and are an awesome go-to side. These peas were boiled briefly then simply stirred with some butter and lemon then adorned with a handful of toasted almonds.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add peas; cook 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain peas in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1 teaspoon cooking water.

Combine peas, reserved cooking water, butter, and lemon rind, tossing gently to combine. Sprinkle with almonds, salt, and pepper; toss gently to combine.

The dessert of the evening was another simple, yet surprisingly good dish. The eclair cake is simple to prepare, yet provides a luxurious flavor. This no-cook dessert is a great little trick to have in your pocket when you need a quick dish to impress others.


A White Out (Almost)

The weather in southwestern Virginia has been abysmal this past week. We have had two separate snow storms, scattered snow showers on the"off" days and now wind gusts of 50+ MPH. To say the least we are a little tired of the ever present force of Mother Nature, but we have no other choice than to succumb to her power over us. Our dinner tonight pays homage to the weather in general and even more our current state of mind. Unintentionally almost all our dishes were in the white color palate - very much like our mood. Yet BIV are always optimistic and we dared to include a bit of green with our white dinner, our hope of a better future. We know it is nearly mid-February and spring is not that far off, but will admit right now that a 40-degree day would be a welcome treat.
So, onto the exciting stuff - The FOOD! We again broke into new culinary territory this week. We made our own crackers....yes, we really made crackers from scratch. These were made from a combination of cornmeal and flour and the crackers were flavored with Parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper. These were time consuming to make and while I was in the midst of making them, I wondered "why I am making crackers - there is an entire aisle at the grocery store full of crackers". But, these crackers were better than all of those you see in the store and with a little practice - they are (relatively) easy to make. Here is the recipe (from 101Cookbooks.com) and if you have any interest I would suggest giving it a try.

Spicy Polenta-Cheese Crackers

Heidi notes: Don't burn them, cooking time will vary depending on how thin you've actually rolled them - they can burn in no time. I started watching these in the oven at 6 minutes, mine were really on the thing side, so I pulled them out after eight minutes.

Equipment: A food processor or a blender; 2 nonstick baking sheets; a 1 3/4-inch round biscuit cutter or a glass.

1 cup bread flour (hs note: white whole wheat flour works as well)
1 cup instant polenta
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk, shaken to blend

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a food processor or a blender, combine the flour, polenta, sea salt, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and cheese. Process to blend. Add the butter and process just until the mixture resemble coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and process until the dough just forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for a few seconds. Wrap in plastic and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Cut the dough into quarters. Set one quarter on a lightly floured surface; cover the remaining pieces with plastic. Roll out the dough 1/16 inch thick. Using a 1 3/4-inch biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out rounds of dough and arrange them on a nonstick baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake until the crackers are golden and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Once cool, transfer to airtight containers. The crackers can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Makes 75 crackers.

To go with the crackers we had a white bean dip flavored with mint and lemon, a Danish blue cheese and a feta cheese spread. The crackers were really great with all the spreads, but the saltier fare of the blue and feta really paired well with the crackers.

The main dish tonight was a combination of cauliflower and asparagus. We made a creamed cauliflower, perfect for the whiteout conditions outside and a perfect comfort food for that tired winter feeling. The cauliflower was really great and would be a great side dish or a vegetarian main dish at any seasonal gathering. Our accompaniment to the cauliflower was a wonderful roasted asparagus with a browned butter sauce. This is my favorite way I have ever had asparagus and it was an easy dish to put together.
Now onto dessert....We had a super easy (no-cook) dish. We made a parfait layered with lemon yogurt, blueberries and ginger snaps. Easy to put together, but a wonderful combination of flavors and crunch. We used a thick, creamy lemon yogurt which really added to the success of the dish.


Into the Future!

Tonight BIV did something different, we cashed in some gift certificates to feed us for the evening while we made food that will feed us in the future. Our take out was enjoyable and provided a nice break, as we were not rushing to finish our dinner for the evening. Tonight we were able to eat yummy food we didn't have to make while also making yummy food that would be the basis for many dinners yet to come. In general a great night and we hope to incorporate the basics we made tonight into our future recipes and we would recommend that if you are interested you should look into these homemade staples, too.
First we made granola- an easy combination of rolled oats, sweetener,nuts and fruit that will facilitate many early mornings and make a great starter to the day. Here is the recipe from Food Network with our modifications:


  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries


Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, and brown sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add cranberries and mix until evenly distributed.

We also made a large pot of marinara sauce that will be frozen for future use as pasta sauce, pizza sauce and in soups and stews. This Cooking Light recipe had a wonderful smell and will be a great resource as we (hopefully) head into spring.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onion (about 3 medium)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 (28-ounce) cans no-salt-added crushed tomatoes


Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add sugar and next 7 ingredients (through fennel seeds); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in vinegar; cook 30 seconds. Add broth and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat for 55 minutes or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally.

To store in the freezer: Ladle room-temperature or chilled sauce into plastic containers or zip-top plastic bags. Seal and freeze for up to four months. Consider freezing the sauce in one-cup increments (two servings' worth). That way, you can pull out exactly as much as you want for future meals.

To thaw sauce: Try one of three methods.

1. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

2. Place frozen blocks in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a low simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

3. Place frozen blocks in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave at HIGH one minute at a time, stirring after each increment until thawed.

To boost taste: Long stints in the freezer can dull the taste of tomatoes. To perk up thawed sauce, add one-half teaspoon finely grated lemon rind or one teaspoon balsamic vinegar while reheating.

The recipe that inspired our entire "stock the freezer" night was one from 101 Cookbooks.com, the site that is most frequently a inspiration to BIV and one that you should check out for yourself. This recipe was simple in ingredients and technique, yet completely captivated us. This recipe was for vegetable bouillon, you know that stuff you buy in the cubes in the grocery store that you never really want to use, but you know your recipe needs some sort of lift. Well we read this recipe that incorporates real vegetables, preserves them with salt and is then stored in the freezer. We were captivated and moved it to the front of the must make list. It turned out wonderful and we can't wait to include it in future blogs.