Some days it’s all about the finger food. Cynthia Nims’ new book, Gourmet Game Night is all about bite-sized, mess free eating for board-game parties and other social situations, where you need easy to please food with lots of flavor and not too many utensils. She has tips on shortcuts, menu planning and menus suited for different crowds such as game night for two, game night for a crowd and game night for up to 8. When I received a copy to review of Cynthia’s new book, I breathed a sigh of relief. Why?
Since my venture into motherhood, my cooking time is limited to when baby E naps, I carefully put him down to sleep and scurry into the kitchen. I hesitate to try new cookbooks for the fear that my 1 hour of cooking will result in a flap and I will have to let baby E tear up the kitchen so I can make something else.
With Cynthia’s book, I had no doubt in my mind that whatever I made would be a success. The reason is simple. Cynthia is the mastermind behind some of the most amazing cookbooks in town. She has authored or co-authored twelve cookbooks including Memorable Recipes, Rover’s and the Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series.
I decided to try some recipes for a Sunday night. I would make a few things and when the babe goes to bed, husband and I will sneak into the living room, for some snacks and some cuddling. Essentially, I almost always make recipes that require only foods that I have on hand. I made the oven-baked potato chips with onion dip. Not the powdered onion dip that our moms used to make, this dip had so much flavor that my husband asked if there were mushrooms in it. Nope, onions and garlic though. I washed some iceberg lettuce so I could keep dipping into the onion without eating too many potatoes. (Note: I used low -fat mayo and low- fat sour cream and it was perfect.)
I also made the polenta squares with spicy sausage. The polenta squares are topped with baby spinach, spicy sausage and a ricotta cheese. The filling squeezes into a little indentation in the square which makes for a neat and classy appetizer.
The flavors popped and husband and I had a great time, racing for the last bite. I strongly recommend this book for anyone looking for appetizers for a party or just some interesting bites for a game night. I wish I could say that we played a board game with the snacks but the truth is we fell right asleep on the couch.
To order the book, click here
For Cynthia’s website, click here
Wait! Before I give you the recipe, how about a giveaway?
I am giving away a copy of Gourmet Game Night. The winner will be chosen at random on Monday the 15th. Leave a comment with your favorite board game below and your name will be entered into the drawing.
Polenta Squares with Spicy Sausage and Spinach
This filling is on the hot side, so start with just 1/4 teaspoon of the hot red pepper flakes if you prefer less heat. Just be sure that your filling is cohesive enough to hold its shape in the shallow indentation of the polenta.
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup coarse polenta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 pound bulk pork sausage meat (unseasoned or just lightly seasoned)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
3 cups packed fresh spinach leaves (about 4 ounces), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
To make the polenta, bring the water and salt to a boil in a saucepan. Gradually whisk in the polenta and when all has been added, reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until the polenta is thickened and tender to the bite, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally at the beginning, more regularly toward the end. Take the pan from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan cheese and oregano. Transfer the polenta to a lightly oiled 9-inch square pan and smooth the top. Let sit for about 15 minutes.
When the polenta is partially set but still warm, use the tip of a knife to score the polenta into 12 portions: 3 strips in one direction, 4 strips in the other. Find a spice or condiment jar on your shelves, or a shot glass, that has about a 1 1/4-inch base. Clean and lightly oil the bottom of the jar and use it to press an indentation about 1/2 inch deep in the center of each polenta portion. Cover and refrigerate the polenta until fully chilled.
To make the filling, cook the sausage in a skillet over medium heat until no longer pink in the center, 5 to 7 minutes, breaking up the sausage into small pieces as it cooks. Drain off any excess fat, then add the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, cooking until the spices are aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 1 minute. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Drain away any liquid that may have accumulated, then stir in the ricotta. Season to taste with salt.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly oiled foil.
Cut the polenta where it was scored and transfer the pieces to the baking sheet. Spoon the sausage-spinach filling into the indentation on each piece of polenta, mounding it slightly. Bake until heated through, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a platter and serve; set on a warming tray to keep warm, if you wish.
Makes 12 squares
(up) Double all the ingredients, forming the polenta squares in 2 pans.
(down) Best not to halve.
(advance preparation) Make the polenta squares and filling up to 1 day ahead. Store the polenta, well-wrapped, and the filling, covered, in the refrigerator. Fill and arrange on a baking sheet up to 2 hours ahead and refrigerate; bake shortly before serving, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time if direct from the refrigerator.
*In the recipes in this book, there are up and down arrows which give you an idea of how the recipe can be adapted for different gatherings. Up meaning for more servings and down meaning for less servings.
“Reprinted with permission from Gourmet Game Night: Bite-Sized, Mess-Free Eating for Board-Game Parties, Bridge Clubs, Poker Nights, Book Groups, and More by Cynthia Nims, copyright © 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”