Thursday, May 3, 2012

Recipe Challenge: Beefy Polenta Bake

A few weeks ago, Jena, a fellow WW boardie, enlisted some boardie bloggers for a recipe challenge.  The challenge is similar to (or entirely based on, you pick) Food Network's Chopped.    On April 16th, Jena sent us a list of 4 ingredients and challenged us to create a recipe from those ingredients.  We had until May 1st to create and post the recipe.  Once all recipes were in, each of the "contestants," would check out each other's blogs and vote for the recipe we each think is the best.  The "judging" is supposed to be based on creativity, point-friendliness, and attractiveness.  (My best guess is that attractive means, would you make/eat this?)

As you can see, it's May 2nd, and I'm clearly late in posting.  Oops!  I was on vacation the week the list was sent out and completely forgot about it last week.  I remembered at the very last minute and yesterday was the only time I had to cook.  Luckily, I had an idea!

You know that Mexican dip that's served at almost any party? It's made by spreading cream cheese at the bottom of a pie pan, covering with a can of chili (Hormel's, no beans, duh!), and topping with Mexican blend cheese, then baking until it's all bubbly and melty and delicious.  It's pretty awesome.  Our ingredients for this challenge are kale, broth, cream cheese, and polenta.  The cream cheese immediately made me think of Mexican dip, but the polenta had an Italian feel.  I decided to make an Italian-inspired version of this dip on top of polenta.

(Of course, polenta is really just corn meal.  Corn meal is common in Mexican cuisine, so it's possible, I might try this with a Mexican flare soon.)

I gathered all my ingredients and set to cooking.  But by the time I started cooking it was after 8:30, and my dish wasn't out of the oven until 10:30.  I'd eaten dinner and was completely exhausted, so I wrapped it up, stuffed it in the fridge and decided I wouldn't have it until lunch today.

I was nervous.  I had to post this recipe as I had no time to try to doctor or re-create it.  I just hoped it would be good.  Well, I just had it for lunch and my only regret is that I didn't heat it up longer.  I was very happy with the flavor of the beef (or rather the gravy), especially mixed with the tanginess of the cream cheese.  I'm excited to have leftovers tomorrow, which I can reheat at home in the oven for extra cheese meltiness.  I will give credit where credit is due, and say that I was inspired to make the gravy based on 2 recent recipes I've made: Skinny Taste's Salisbury Steak and Martha Stewart's London Broil Marinade.

So, without further ado, I now present

Beefy Polenta Bake

8 Servings, 8P+ per serving

Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil

Add beef to skillet with veggies and cook until browned through.

Cook polenta.  Chop kale and add to cooked beef. Once kale cooks down, add sauce over beef.

Spray casserole dish with non stick spray.  Spread polenta in dish.  Top with cream cheese, saucy beef mixture, and cheese.  Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted and browned.

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 medium Vidalia onion, chopped
1/2 lb 93/7 lean ground beef
2 stalks kale (about 3 cups, chopped)
1/2 cup beef broth
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 lb instant polenta
4 cups water
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup Kraft 2% 3-cheese Italian blend


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Heat olive oil in a small pan.  Once hot, add garlic and onion.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic.  Then add beef and cook until browned.  When beef is cooked, add kale an cover so that the kale steams and cooks down.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.  Once water is boiling, reduce to a simmer and stir in polenta.  Mix constantly, until lumps and graininess disappear.  Polenta only needs to cook about 5 minutes.  Taste when done.  Polenta can be pretty bland, so feel free to season to your tastes.  
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and beef broth.  When flour is dissolved, add vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce.  Mix together and pour over meat and kale mixture, allowing to simmer for a few minutes.
  5. While gravy is simmering, coat a casserole pan (I used 9x13) with non-stick spray.  Spread polenta over pan.  Now, this is the tricky part.  You're going to spread the cream cheese over the polenta.  Don't worry if it's not super soft yet, because the heat from the polenta will basically melt the cream cheese and help you spread it out.  Then top the cream cheese with the beef.  Finally, sprinkle with the shredded cheese.
  6. Put dish in oven and bake 20-30 minutes (depending on your oven, I took mine out at 25, but that's because I was falling asleep on the couch and forgot to check at 20).  The cheese should be browned and and the beef and cream cheese should be bubbly.  Enjoy!

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