Monday, July 23, 2012

Chopped Challenge #1: Sausage & Herbed Polenta Cakes with Citrus-Tequila Rosé Sauce

Justin and I spent a lot of time watching Chopped on Food Network when we were living in Indiana. At some point, we decided that we should give it a try ourselves, but we never actually got around to it for whatever reason. We thought about it again recently and decided to actually try it this time. Our plan is to alternate who cooks and to do this once per grocery list (every two weeks or so).

For the challenge, one of us selects four ingredients that the other must use to cook dinner. We can use whatever other ingredients we want, and because right now we're telling the cook what the ingredients will be when we're making our grocery list, we can buy whatever extra supplies we need while we're at the store. (We don't have a lot of pantry space here, so we don't have a ton of extra, basic ingredients on hand usually.) The only two guidelines we really set up are that the four ingredients all have to be something we both eat--I can't make him cook with peas, and he can't make me cook with pumpkin--and they can't all four be super calorific, meaning we can't pick butter, bacon, heavy cream, and maple syrup. Lol.

For our first challenge, I cooked and Justin picked the ingredients, choosing ground Italian sausage, polenta, tequila, and lemons/limes. Aside from having to drive all over town to find polenta--the stores all seem to have the pre-made kind, but not the kind you cook yourself--I was pretty happy with that set of ingredients. I knew that I wanted to make some sort of citrus-tequila sauce and was thinking of making it a cream sauce, but I wasn't really sure how that would come out. That's the point of the Chopped challenge though! Sometimes we might end up having to throw the food out and order pizza, but we'll at least have an adventure along the way.

Every time that we've had polenta before, I've cooked a super creamy, slow-cooked version of it, and Justin hasn't really liked it that much. I knew I needed to do something different this time, so I knew right away that I wanted to make polenta cakes. You could just buy the pre-made polenta for this, but I like cooking things myself. I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do with the sausage, maybe just crumble it over the top of the cakes, but I'd figure it out later.

The night before I cooked, it occurred to me to make the sausage into patties so that they mimic the shape of the round polenta cakes. Then I could stack them all up together. Once it came time to actually cook everything, I had a pretty good plan in place. I made the sauce by cooking down some tequila, lemon juice, and lime juice. Then I added salt, garlic, poblano peppers, tomato, and green onion. I added flour and some milk to make it into a cream sauce. However, it was just so tart. I tried adding sugar, but that didn't help enough. I ended up reaching for the open jar of spaghetti sauce in our fridge and making it into a rosé sauce, which worked out really well. It was still a bit tart, but the flavors melded together better and paired really nicely with the sweet Italian sausage. All in all, the dish was a success! Now I just need to figure out what ingredients to pick for Justin next time...


1 c quick-cooking polenta
3 c water
1 tsp salt, divided
Pinch of black pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/3 c tequila
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 Roma tomato, seeded and diced
1/3 c chopped green onion
2 tbsp flour
3/4 c milk
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 c spaghetti sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil
16 oz sweet, ground Italian sausage


Add polenta, water, and 3/4 tsp salt to a pot, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add pepper, Italian seasoning, parsley, and garlic powder, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring often. (Add extra salt to taste.) Pour cooked polenta into a wax paper-lined, square 8"x8" or 9"x9" cake pan and place in the freezer to cool.

Bring tequila, lemon juice, and lime juice to boil in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until liquid is reduced by half. Add garlic, poblano, tomato, and green onion to the pan, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Whisk in flour, and then slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Add sugar, spaghetti sauce, and 1/4 tsp salt. Heat through.

Remove cooled polenta from the freezer. Lift the wax paper and polenta from the pan. Use a biscuit cutter or round cookie cutter to cut out six round sections of polenta. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Fry polenta cakes in oil for 2-3 minutes per side. Meanwhile, divide Italian sausage into four 4 oz portions, and form each portion into a patty. Remove polenta cakes from frying pan when they are done, and add sausage patties to pan. Brown on both sides. Reduce heat to medium, and cook through, 7-10 minutes depending on patty thickness. To assemble, spoon a layer of sauce onto the plate and then stack two sausage patties between three polenta cakes.

Servings: 2

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