Bulk is Beautiful (How To Make Polenta)

October 17, 2011 7:00 am
Posted in: Strategies
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Janelle Maiocco’s blog, Talk of Tomatoes,  has become an excuse for her to follow all of her food curiosities, a reason to push herself to learn home-canning, and ultimately was the impetus for her to go to culinary school. She “oozes happiness” at the thought of having a huge urban garden, and has been known to wield knives, pitchforks, and the occasional martini.  You can also catch up with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Buy in bulk!

When Andrew asked me to contribute a post, I kept bouncing ideas off of him. Shall I write about my urban farm? Backyard to table? Healthy snacks? My struggle coming home from being abroad (or shall I say: My stomach’s rejection to a lot of U.S. foods)?

There are so many ways to upgrade and insert unprocessed into your diet/life/way-of-being that I almost didn’t know where to start. The best part of October Unprocessed for me has clearly been an increased awareness of “unprocessed” choices. Like when you are pregnant and all of a sudden, all around you, you notice all sorts of pregnant women. Or when you are riding a bike, you notice far more cyclists — or see someone driving a Euro-van just like yours. October Unprocessed has given me a new lens – spectacles for the choices I can make to upgrade my diet, update my habits and learn more about “unprocessed.”

Unprocessed to me increasingly means: Do my own processing. Or maybe “self-process.” It gives me more control, reduces unnatural or bad-for-you preservatives and pulls me into each season. You can process with home-canning, process your own grains, and reach toward making things from scratch.

Jar of Corn Meal

I find some choices are small and easy, and others more time-consuming and deliberate. One of the simplest choices is to skip the boxes and buy in bulk. The week of Oct.16 – 22 is National Bulk Foods Week. Who knew? Because of my new unprocessed lens, I took time to browse the Bulk is Green Council Site.

Grab the rice, grains, seeds, beans and/or myriad flours from the bulk section and broaden your culinary horizon. It is inexpensive, you can buy organic, and easily take the plunge with a cup-full of green lentils, quinoa, or emmer flour. It’s easy to add new, unprocessed foods into your diet – sans the boxes.  Think outside the box, can, tube, and bag, and next time you are in a store take a jaunt down the bulk aisle. Leave the containers on the shelf and you will spend less, reduce waste, and eat better!  Here are a few “bulk” ideas to get you started:

Snacks. The bulk aisle is full of dried fruits, nuts, organic crackers, trail mix, and cereal. (Just be sure to check the ingredients! Those “yogurt pretzels” aren’t covered in actual yogurt.)

Rice. Don’t spend too much buying rice! If you buy it in a canister it will cost too much. I refill quart jars with bulk arborio and make vanilla rice pudding and risotto weekly.

Spices, Dried Herbs, and Vanilla Beans. Many people don’t realize that buying bulk spices is less expensive than buying in those tiny little overpriced jars.

Corn Meal. Make your own polenta at home! Here is a fantastic recipe for DIY polenta — and here are five things to do with leftover polenta.

How To Make Polenta

Basic Polenta
Author: 
Serves: 6 to 8
 
Ingredients
  • 4 cups Liquid (I use 2 cups chicken broth, 2 cups cream; feel free to adjust ratios)
  • 1 cup Corn Meal/Polenta
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2-4 Tbs. Butter
  • Sea Salt and coarse Pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, bring stock and cream to a simmer.
  2. Vigorously whisk in corn meal.
  3. Lower heat and stir frequently for 10-15 minutes until corn meal softens (taste it!). You may need to stir in extra stock to achieve your desired soft-or-firm consistency (I use a wooden spoon).
  4. Remove from heat and stir in Butter and Parmesan. Adjust seasoning with salt and coarse pepper (white pepper won’t make black specks).
  5. Serve immediately… or plunk into a tray to firm up for shapes the next day.

9 Comments on "Bulk is Beautiful (How To Make Polenta)"
  1. Comment left on:
    October 17, 2011 at 7:32 am
    Jo says:

    I wish someone would do a starter list of things to buy in bulk to cover recipes for us newbies. I get to the whole foods market (a days drive away) and I get overwhelmed.

    • Comment left on:
      October 17, 2011 at 9:58 am
      janelle says:

      Jo: BRILLIANT idea! I can do a roundup of ‘bulk ideas’ in NOV. Start small: just a few items. Maybe look bulk items up online before going to Whole Foods? Look up: arborio, couscous, a few diff. kinds of grains and flours, lentils. Then you will have ‘recipes’ going into your shopping trip! Esp. since it is such a long drive!

  2. Comment left on:
    October 17, 2011 at 8:01 am
    Jo says:

    Hah! Good start is and thanks for listing all your contributors nicely on the side.

  3. Comment left on:
    October 17, 2011 at 8:02 am
    Susan Young says:

    First thing I bought in bulk was glass containers to hold the bulk food in! I have removed as much plastic from my kitchen as possible at this point.

    • Comment left on:
      October 17, 2011 at 9:55 am
      janelle says:

      Susan: Isn’t it such a feel good? I found huge jars at a garage sale this weekend and in went: cereal, arborio, sugar… well done!

  4. Comment left on:
    October 17, 2011 at 8:16 am
    Jean Layton says:

    Bulk foods are truly a boon to the budget for all people, reducing both costs and the hidden costs of packaging and increased transportation. Think about how much heavier all those tiny jars are for spices! You can get as many bay leaves for 25 Cents as you will pay for a $4 jar.

    But one word of caution if you have a food allergy or sensitivity, the bulk bins are land mines of cross contamination.
    All it takes is one person using the wrong scoop to get wheat mixed into polenta or nuts mixed into dried fruits.

    And is isn’t just the patrons who do this kind of mixing. At our local coop, the flours get dumped into the high bins, letting loose a cloud of flour that spreads to all the bins.

    This is why I encourage anyone following a gluten-free diet to source their foods from dedicated mills, labeled as such on the individual packages. Lucky for us, Bob’s will ship a #25 pound bag of gluten-free polenta :)

  5. Comment left on:
    October 17, 2011 at 10:00 am
    janelle says:

    Jean: Thank you thank you! Huge and important point!! We love Bobs!! If #25 pounds seems like a lot: consider ‘group buying’ with friends and/or store in a number of containers: polenta, grains et al will last for years if properly stored.

  6. Comment left on:
    October 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm
    Valerie H. says:

    You mentioned Vanilla Beans which reminds me of my favorite money-saving unprocessed trick – it’s incredibly easy to make your own Vanilla Extract. All you need is a bottle of vodka (it can be pretty cheap) and a handful of good vanilla beans. Slice 5-6 vanilla beans mostly in half, leaving them attached at the top. Drop them into the vodka, screw the top back on, shake well. Label the bottle with the date you started the extract, keep in a cupboard and shake every few days. It takes about 4-6 weeks for it to be ready.

    When I made mine, I bought a small bottle of vanilla extract to tide me over and by the time I was done with the store-bought stuff my homemade extract was ready. I cleaned out the little bottle and filled it from my big bottle. After using and refilling it several more times, I topped off the big bottle with more vodka and another bean or two. It’s never-ending and it just keeps getting better!

  7. Comment left on:
    October 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm
    janelle says:

    Valerie: me too! I often make vanilla extract for holiday gifts! And buying bulk vanilla beans is so, so much less expensive. One little trick: after shaking your vanilla beans plus vodka, you CAN top with a Tablespoon or two of dark rum for color sake. Vanilla extract is just one more brilliant example of processing things yourself!!!

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