I don’t meal plan. I’ve tried, but it never works well for me. I don’t know if it’s that I’m too spontaneous, or just not disciplined enough. I’ll end up buying all the ingredients for the meals, then each night making what I “feel” like anyway.
I also hate grocery shopping, so I don’t do it very often.
I do, however, cook dinner most every night.
I think it goes way back to my roots. I loved to cook as a kid, and as a working mom (and single much of my childhood), my mom was happy to let me make dinner whenever I wanted. She didn’t keep cookbooks around, and of course we didn’t have the internet, so I usually just experimented with what was on hand. And I was good at it. Some meals were epic fails, and some turned out amazing. I invented an “enchilada lasagna” when I was in 8th or 9th grade that my family all raved about. And that was long before I saw Rachael Ray do it.
So, fast forward to today. Cooking, I think, is a creative outlet for me. I like to experiment, I like to follow spontaneous whims, and if you take my rebellious spirit into account, it makes sense that I like to break the rules.
Sometimes I use recipes (usually as a spring board or as inspiration more than as a standard), sometimes I cook my go-to dishes that I’ve made so many times, I know them by heart. Most of the time, however, when it’s time for me to make dinner, I start scanning the pantry, the fridge, and the refrigerator for ingredients, and wait until they start morphing into a meal in my mind. (I usually pull things out and line them up, moving them around like puzzle pieces until they make sense. It makes a mess, but I still recommend trying it sometime.)
Tonight, my fridge and cupboards were pretty barren. I mentioned that I hate going grocery shopping, and the truth is I usually wait until I absolutely have to go out of desperation. I had canned beans, a container of tomato sauce, a freezer stocked with meat from my meat CSA, a butternut squash, an onion, and a jar of Bronco Bob’s Raspberry Chipotle Sauce. (Man, that stuff is good! Try spreading cream cheese (or vegan cream cheese) on a plate, pouring Bronco Bob’s over it, and serve it with crackers. A friend brought it to one of Charlie’s epic parties the first time I tried it, and it was literally amazing.)
I started looking for recipes using Bronco Bob’s, and just couldn’t find anything inspiring. Then, I saw a recipe for cornbread where you pour the sauce over the top, and poke holes in the mix before baking it, and it hit me. Mexican(ish) polenta casserole. (This is how my brain works. Don’t be jealous. Ask Lindsay and Charlie, it gets me into all kinds of trouble.)
Spicy Raspberry Chipotle Polenta Casserole with Butternut Squash
1 lb ground beef
1 can black beans (kidney would be great)
1 can tomato sauce (diced would work, too)
1/2 cup Bronco Bob’s Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce (see note)
2 Tb olive oil
1 med. onion
1 cup diced raw butternut squash
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp diced, canned jalapenos (or .5-1 fresh jalapeno–start with less, then taste)
2 Tb chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of dried polenta, cooked to package instructions, plus a few minutes to get it nice and firm.
OR 1 package of pre-cooked polenta
(If you can have dairy, do me a favor and add 8 oz of cream cheese. It would be incredible in this. Add it to the meat mixture right before you layer it with the polenta. And be sure to describe to me in detail how it turned out. I like to
live eat vicariously through others.)
Preheat oven to 350°.
Heat skillet over med to med-high heat. When it’s hot, add olive oil, onions, and butternut squash. Cook until onions soften.
Add 1/4 cup of water to skillet, and cover with lid until water is absorbed. This will soften the squash. If you are not using butternut squash, omit this step.
Add ground beef and cook until browned. (If you’re using fresh jalapeno, add it with the ground beef)
Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute longer.
Add tomato sauce, Bronco Bob’s, canned jalapeno, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a bubble, then reduce heat to med-low and let simmer, uncovered.
In the meantime, cook your polenta. Remember to cook it for a few extra minutes to get it nice and stiff. Stir regularly so it won’t stick. I whisk throughout most of the cooking time. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, don’t worry, you can’t really screw up polenta.
Layer ingredients in an 8″ square glass baking dish starting with half the meat mixture, then half the polenta, the rest of the meat mixture, then the rest of the polenta. It will fill the dish completely. In fact, in mine, the meat filled it to the rim, then the last of the polenta piled up over the top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until it’s bubbly and the top is golden, or until you can no longer stand the cries of, “I’m HUNGRY! When is dinner gonna be ready?!” And trust me, they will say that, ’cause it smells incredible while baking.
I didn’t need to ask my family if they liked it, ’cause everyone’s plate looked like this:
Note: If you can’t get ahold of Bronco Bob’s, I’d use 2 Tb raspberry jam, and 2 Tb adobo sauce, and use a chipotle pepper (in adobo sauce) in place of the jalapeno. Taste, and adjust as necessary.