“I’ve made croutons for salad, I’ve done polenta cakes. It also works really well for kids as a chicken nugget coating.” The benefit, Baker says, of using cornmeal in these recipes is that it’s just as filling as bread or other wheat-derived ingredients and is highly versatile. “I could even make it sweet,” she says, naming a few cornmeal-based dessert options including corn cake and ice cream with baked polenta sprinkles.
Baker even says that, if she wanted to get seasonally creative, it’s pliable enough to mold and bake into different shapes. “I could get leaf cookie cutters and put the polenta in there to make leaf-shaped polenta for the fall... I’m thinking about polenta right now, and I’m just realizing I didn’t know there were so many uses. Or how passionate I was about polenta.”
If you’ve never cooked with cornmeal or polenta before, Baker advises treating it the same way you would treat pasta. “If you can teach a 5-year-old how to make ramen, then you can teach an adult how to use polenta. In the culinary world, you see all these French classical recipes that make polenta seem like this magical ingredient that’s going to turn out horribly if you don’t follow the exact steps. But what I’ve found with cornmeal is that it’s very forgiving.” According to Baker, anyone new to cooking with polenta or cornmeal—especially as a wheat or bread substitute—shouldn’t be intimidated. “My family thinks it’s this gourmet thing when I bring it to Thanksgiving, but it’s not. It’s just an awesome ingredient.”
Take a Break this Thanksgiving and let Someone Else do the Cooking
Regardless of whether you’re using traditional wheat-based ingredients or gluten-free alternatives, Thanksgiving and the holiday season that follows can still be stressful thanks to the sheer amount of food prep and cooking that needs to be done. Even an experienced cook can get sick of Thanksgiving fare after hours of putting it all together.
If you’d rather take this year off, there’s help out there for you. Katie Baker provides ready-made meals and meal plans through The Gracious Plate. This year she is offering seasonal sides for the first time, too. “The past couple of years it’s been by request,” she says. “This fall we’ll be offering gluten-free sides as an option. Polenta will probably be one of those filler items.”
The Gracious Plate is one of a number of local meal prep and delivery businesses in southwest Missouri. Meals By Monica and Homemade.Delivered. also offer similar services with their own meal options, including specific dietary requirements. If you would prefer to skip the stress of cooking for a houseful of relatives this year, you have p(o)lenty of local options.