Possibilities of Polenta -- Polenta Spoons with Caramelized Mushrooms

     Taste of Home’s 2011 Christmas Cookbook arrived in the mail this last week. Since I had not placed an order, I was suspicious! Consequently, I carefully opened the letter that was stuck on the box and discovered that it wasn’t a gimmick after all, but a complimentary copy! Seems that my recipe was selected from inclusion and this was my “prize”.
     Frankly, I didn’t even remember submitting a recipe so I searched my trusty computer files. Yes, I had sent a recipe on May 18th.
     The final version of the recipe in the book (p. 7 with a photo on both that page and on p. 5) is titled, Polentna Mushroom Appetizers. Below is the actual recipe I submitted for consideration.
     Last year’s entry was Mini Cheese Balls. Both editions of the book are filled with easy-to-make recipes that use ordinary ingredients; the books also offers some unique ideas for presentation.

Recipe Title: Polenta Spoons with Caramelized Mushrooms  
Recipe Description: Spoons are a trendy way to serve hor d’ oeuvres and I came up with this recipe for an upscale cocktail party that I was catering. I’ve also varied the recipe—Baked Polenta w/ Caramelized Mushrooms becomes a first course plated appetizer. Serve the basic recipe as a vegetarian entrée or as an accompaniment to grilled steak. Both recipe variations are included below.

2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup polenta  (coarse-ground cornmeal)
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound button mushrooms, thinly sliced
Finely ground salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons dry white wine, optional

Polenta:  Cook the polenta: In a medium-size heavy pot, over high heat, bring the milk, stock, and salt to a boil. Add the polenta gradually, whisking constantly. 

When the mixture thickens, switch to a wooden spoon and adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook, stirring often, until thick, smooth, and creamy, about 15 minutes; the polenta will also begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Add the Parmesan and stir. Keep the polenta warm over low heat, stirring occasionally. If the polenta gets dry as it sits, stir in about additional stock or milk.

Mushrooms: In a medium skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sprinkle in the mushrooms in a single layer. Don't stir them! Let them sizzle until they have caramelized on the bottom, about 2 minutes. When the bottoms are caramelized, toss them once and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to cook without stirring for about 5 minutes or until moisture is absorbed. Add the butter and cook until it begins to brown, then add the garlic and thyme and cook just until the garlic begins to soften. Add the lemon juice and wine and cook until the liquid evaporates.

TO assemble & SERVE:  Place or pipe about 1 tablespoon of warm polenta onto a soup or tablespoon. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of the mushroom on top of the polenta. Arrange spoons on a tray and garnish with additional grated Parmesan and thyme leaves if desired.  Serve immediately.  Makes about 40 to 50 spoons.

For a first course, plated appetizer . . . with make ahead polenta shapes: Prepare polenta ahead following directions above. Press the polenta into a small parchment paper-lined pan, to the desired thickness and chill in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 350 ° F. Remove polenta from pan and cut into triangles, squares or use a cookie cup shape of your choice. Arrange them on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool.  Top with caramelized mushroom before serving and arrange on serving trays.

For an entrée or side dish serving: Spoon creamy polenta onto a serving plate, top with a generous spoonful of caramelized mushrooms and top with 1 or 2 slices of crisp bacon.

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