I was excited to try a recipe for "Polenta with Wild Mushroom Saute" from a cookbook my parents gave me for Christmas. The New Best Recipe Cookbook is put out by America's Test Kitchen, which doesn't publish their recipes online, otherwise I would link to it. I wanted to make something tasty since Michael and I had the day off, but I wanted it to be easy since I'm in the middle of making a wedding cake. More on that later!
This was my first experience with polenta. For those of you who don't watch the Food Network (they make it all the time), polenta is essentially grits made from yellow cornmeal. That simple. I should mention I've also never made grits. I've made a five-layer Bavarian torte, but not grits...
I decided to cook the polenta while I was prepping the ingredients for the mushroom saute. Without thinking, I dumped all of the cornmeal into boiling water at once, only to later read that I was supposed to pour it in a slow stream while stirring vigorously. Whoops! The result was boiling water with a ton of sticky yellow clumps that, try as I might, I just could not break up. As the polenta continued to cook, it got thicker and clumpier, and ended up looking like this. Yuck!
My polenta crisis took my attention away from everything else, so when the sticky stuff was done, I still had to make my mushroom saute. The recipe calls for a total of two pounds of mushrooms. That's a lot of mushrooms! When I was planning my prep time I forgot to factor in wiping the dirt off each mushroom individually.
In case you're wondering, it's not recommended to wash mushrooms because they absorb water. Also, the dirt on them has a tendency to form a sludge that won't rinse off without wiping.
As I prepped my mushrooms I stewed over what I'd done wrong with the polenta. Deciding that I wouldn't be mastered by such a simple dish, and that cornmeal is incredibly inexpensive, I decided to make another batch. It was even more disastrous than the first! I managed to move it to an eye of the stove that wasn't actually on, and after 10 minutes of subjecting it to a firm beating, I discovered it was cold.
At this point, I abandoned my second batch of polenta, which was stone cold and just as lumpy as the first, and made the wine sauce to drizzle over the sauteed mushrooms. It was horrid! It should be known that neither of us likes the taste of wine, but I've had enough good wine sauces at restaurants to have high expectations. This was sour and purple and tasted like feet! I shuddered and immediately poured it down the sink. Sorry, I was too miffed to take a picture!
Here's a look at the finished product, which I served with some steamed sugar snap peas. Thank goodness for frozen veggies, which really are quick and easy! The verdict: the mushroom saute had good flavor and texture, but was a little salty. Even for someone who really loves mushrooms in the right context, it was a little too much fungus. The flavor of the polenta was nice thanks to plenty of butter and salt, but the gummy balls of uncooked cornmeal were not appetizing at all.
Are there any seasoned polenta-makers out there?
What the heck did I do wrong??
I'm sure some of you have had a similar kitchen catastrophe, so dish!