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i may have a touch of the (spring) fever

Recipe: steak and mushrooms on polenta

I’m back from California and this time I’m home for a good few weeks which makes me more than just a little giddy. It’s not that I don’t love California – because I love the hell out of California – but this was my fifth trip in just over seven weeks and at some point I start to long for my routine again. The trip was totally worth it though. Have a looksee.


expansive fields of tidy tips

classic combo: lupine and poppies

cherry tree blossoms



It’s spring and that means green grasses and a glorious rainbow of wildflowers in the Golden State. Timing is everything and it’s hard to get that right when you book travel a few months in advance, but we make due. You can find the full sets from day 1 and day 2 on my photo blog. On our third day, the weather forecast was for rain. California poppies don’t open when it rains, so my shooting pal and I drove north up the coast to Big Sur (beyond Big Sur, the road was closed due to a landslide). As our dumb luck would have it – the skies opened up for us!

elephant seals take a group nap

hummingbird checking me out

magical beach



The rest of day 3 along the Central Coast is on the photo blog. We rolled into Big Sur shortly after noon and stopped at Nepenthe on the recommendation of several friends for lunch with a view. Despite the cool temperatures (50s) we opted to sit out on the patio to soak up the sun and gaze out onto the Pacific. After our meal we continued up the coast and dropped by The Big Sur Bakery. We got a browned butter strawberry tart on a whim. Wow… WOW! Finest browned butter tart I’ve ever had. EVER.

dining outside at nepenthe in big sur (with a view!)

salmon appetizer

*amazing* browned butter strawberry tart from big sur bakery



On our last day we drove into Los Angeles and met with Todd and Diane and Allison and Son for ramen at Mottainai, crispy cream puffs at Marukai Market, and ethnic shopping safari. Diane loaded us up with some Vietnamese green mango pickles before we left to catch out flight back to Colorado.

ramen at mottainai: the reward at the end of the trip

diane insisted on a dozen fabulous crispy cream puffs to share



This is the second year in a row I’ve gone to shoot the spring bloom in Southern California. It’s a visual shocker to return home to snowfall, brown and crunchy dead grasses, bare aspens, and dark pine trees. But it’s home and it’s wonderful! I have a hankering for spring-like dishes lately so I figure I should get to posting the dish I made for our anniversary back in March.

simple: polenta and salt

pour in the polenta when the water comes to a boil



The first time I had polenta was in the field in Argentina and despite the project leader’s best efforts, it wasn’t so appetizing. That’s saying a lot because most things you wouldn’t think to eat at home actually taste GOOD in the field. I kept away from polenta for nearly a decade. But eventually I had it prepared properly and well at friends’ houses and restaurants. So I figured I’d give it a try at home… with mushrooms and steak.

luscious chanterelle mushrooms

thick slices



This is actually a common combination at some of the fine dining establishments in Boulder. You know me – I love trying to re-create this kind of thing at home for a fraction of the cost and no dress code! Turns out that making polenta is easy peasy. Just don’t walk away from it. I left mine fairly plain with just a smidge of butter because I knew the other parts of the dish would provide plenty of flavor (and fat).

stirring in a pat of butter

pan-seared amazingness (chanterelles)



You can use whatever mushrooms you like, but I’ve been on a kick for chanterelles ever since Danny whipped them up with egg and quinoa for breakfast last summer at Shauna and Danny’s house. They cost me an arm and a leg at my local Whole Foods.

salt and pepper the steaks

pan searing steaks (and making a huge mess)



The steaks… Originally I used dry-aged filet mignon (from Whole Foods) and they were heavenly buttery melty-in-your-mouthy good albeit pricey. This time around they only had regular tenderloin. Still good, but not as good as the dry-aged beef.

slicing the steaks after they’ve rested

spooning out some polenta



Timing it all is something I could use more practice doing. I kept the polenta and mushrooms warm while the tented steaks rested for a few minutes. Meanwhile I used the fond in the pan to make a port reduction. Slice the steaks (or go whole steak if that is your desire) and serve it up on a creamy bed of polenta with heady mushrooms. Prepare to lick your plate clean.

don’t forget the reduction

that’s about as romantic as we get here



Seared Steak and Mushrooms on Creamy Polenta
[print recipe]

polenta
3 cups water
1/3 tsp salt
1 cup dried polenta
1 tbsp butter

the rest
2 tbsps butter
2-3 oz. chanterelle mushrooms per person, wiped clean and sliced thick
pinch salt
salt and pepper
one 6-8 oz. steak (filet mignon works well) per person
vegetable oil for pan-searing
port reduction sauce

In a medium saucepan, bring the 3 cups of water and salt to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and pour the polenta into the water in a steady stream while stirring constantly. Stir for about 20-30 minutes until the polenta becomes thick and tender. (If it dries out too quickly, you’ll need to add some hot water). Stir in a tablespoon of butter.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat until the butter is melted. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned. Flip and brown the other sides. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the mushrooms. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of the steaks, rubbing to distribute evenly. In a sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil over high heat. When the oil shimmers, place the steaks in the pan (but don’t crowd them) and cook until the base is nicely browned. Flip and cook the other side. I like rare, so this takes about 2-4 minutes per side for 2-inch thick steaks. Remove the steaks from the pan and tent them under foil for 5 minutes. Use the fond (the browned bits) in the pan to make the port reduction sauce. When the steak has rested, slice the meat on a diagonal (against the grain) into 1/4-inch thick slices.

To serve, spoon polenta onto a plate, layer slices of mushroom, and then arrange slices of steak in a fan. Pour reduction sauce on top or serve on the side.

35 nibbles at “i may have a touch of the (spring) fever”

  1. Stacey says:

    I strongly dislike polenta, but you make it look down right delicious with the steak and mushrooms. I may have to give it a try.

  2. Kitt says:

    Yum! And oh my, those springtime photos are such a tease! And that hummingbird shot: WOW.

  3. Mrs Ergül says:

    Jen, thank you for the amazing photos of Mother Nature. They are just what I need to remind myself that life is still beautiful despite all the bad news I have been receiving about people I know falling very very sick. For two weeks I have been utterly depressed and lost faith about the good things in life. So, thank you so much for sharing… They do wonders.

    On a happier note, if only I could whip this dish up as beautifully as you did for our anniversary. Lovely meal!

  4. My Little Expat Kitchen says:

    Those photographs are so beautiful. I loved the sea lions (they are so cute) and the hummingbird (great photo!)
    The steak looks good but I particularly like that port sauce. Looks quite thick, just the way I like it.
    Magda

  5. Katie says:

    The creme puffs look yum!

  6. sandy says:

    now I’m craving a trip down the coast to big sur… I love the patio at Nepenthe and those views! Happy anniversary, that dish looks wonderful.

  7. Margie says:

    Lovely, lovely dish. I can see serving a nice red wine aside this beauty.

    (daughter, M1, and I are going to try our hand at your recipe for mango pickles this week!)

  8. Michelle says:

    This dish looks amazing! I am craving some meat and this might just fit the bill! The photos, as always are stunning and well worth your adventures. Enjoy the CO Spring!

  9. The Café Sucré Farine says:

    Amazing photograpy!!! I’m not sure which photos are making me drool more; the outdoor photos or the food photos! Love the idea for port reduction sauce – I have a huge bottle of port that I bought recently for a recipe and only needed a few tablespoons. Can’t wait to try this!

  10. Melissa says:

    Mmmm Big Sur Bakery. They serve a killer dinner menu as well.

    Can’t stop loving on your Central Coast stuff! :)

  11. Dianne says:

    As always, amazing photos. I love Big Sur as it holds a special place in my heart. Today my husband and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary. We had a picnic at Big Sur on our first date. Afterwards we stopped at Napenthe where he bought me wind chimes. They are still hanging in my garden today although we live 3,000 miles away now. I always think of the Napenthe breeze when I hear their chime. I am making filet mignon for dinner tonight. I was undecided what to make with it…you have solved my dilemma. Thank you once again!

  12. Cookin Canuck says:

    I will admit I was not feeling any bit of spring fever up until about 5 minutes ago (never-ending snowfalls will do that to a gal). However, your pictures got me so excited about the flowers trying to poke their heads up throw the snow and the imminent arrival of the hummingbirds. Gorgeous photos, Jen! And the steak…wow!

  13. johanna says:

    wonderfully romantic, I’d say! looks gorgous – I wish I could get my hands on mushrooms like those!
    I love polenta – I have experimented a lot and have finally settled on cooking it in half water, half whole milk… makes it a lot creamier without having to add tons of butter.
    and i LOVE brown butter – to make pastry with it is genious, I have never tried a tart base with it, though, must do soon.
    loving your shots, as always! that beach looks like heaven to me (and that’s no small feat, as I am surrounded by tropical beaches here!)

  14. Boulder Locavore says:

    I’m really speechless. Your photography is always extraordinary but the hummingbird? Unearthly. Loved the Nepenthe photos too. Have spent many an occasion there. Who would think dry polenta could look so good either?!

  15. Sherry says:

    By any chance, are those cream puffs from Beard Papa? I ask because that box seems familiar, as does those cream puffs…

  16. Paprika&Paprika says:

    Wonderful photos!!! Can i take a cream puff ?

  17. Kath says:

    You are such an amazing photographer, Jen! I love the photo of the hummingbird. Wow! And the composition of the elephant seals is perfect – a jumble of bodies with the one towards the bottom looking like she’s smiling in her sleep. Love it!

    I also love steak, and your presentation of it with chanterelles and polenta looks oh-so good!

  18. Lisa says:

    my mouth is totally watering – and I don’t eat beef!!!

    That coast line is one I am so very eager to drive….. one day soon….

  19. Carla says:

    As with the other comments, absolutely beautiful. You know the photograph has captured the moment when the viewer pictures himself, herself there among the flowers. And…..the food, oh my, again, we’re sitting at the table with you.

  20. Susan says:

    Such a beautiful post, Jen. Every bit of it.
    To be healthy, and to be able to share what you do and love is truly a gift.
    Thank you for sharing your talent and experiences.

  21. Hande says:

    I took the exact same pics (# 4, 6 and 7) a month ago. Well, obviously my pics were not as lovely as yours but I mean the same place, same shot. Now wish I would have the opportunity to take the same pic like those two last ones…. yumm!

  22. Kim says:

    Oh, that hummingbird stopped me in my tracks!

  23. Diana Banana says:

    are you kidding me with that beach? seriously? a waterfall, falling onto the sand, and then going into the ocean? holy bejeesus, i don’t even know what to say.

    p.s. i almost licked my screen when it came time to the plated dish. polenta is awesome, i like to cook it until it’s thick, pop it in a square dish and let it solidify. then i dump the block out, slice the polenta and brown them up in olive oil or butter.

  24. Joy says:

    That looks great. I have yet to try to make polenta. I’m so motivated now.

  25. Manda says:

    Your photos are beautiful. I kept getting more and more wowed, especially with the jewel bright hummingbird. Then I got to the steak, chanterelles, and polenta and got hungry. =P

  26. Sally - My Custard Pie says:

    Unsure what to say after looking at those photos – it’s hard to imagine that you took them on one trip as they are almost once in a lifetime views. Amazing.

  27. SallyBR says:

    Last time I stopped by to see the sea lions, I happened to catch two males having a huge fight. Amazing, I’ll never forget, even though I got drenched to witness that… my legendary bad luck made sure it was raining cats and dogs by the time we drove by (sigh)

    loved the whole menu, particularly the Port reduction, which, by the color, you hit perfectly!

  28. Barbara says:

    Love the hummingbird photo.

    Ihave been using this easy polenta recipe since I came across it in a mag years ago. Carlo now has a blog and it is featured here. No standing at stove stirring required.
    http://carloskitchen.blogspot.com/2008/04/easy-polenta-recipe.html

  29. Shelley says:

    beautiful pictures as usual :)

  30. Su-yin says:

    I love polenta! I often use it as a substitute for mash as it’s much easier to prepare. This is a gorgeous dish, which I hope to make very soon!

  31. jenyu says:

    Thanks all! I’m glad the trip yielded some nice shots for you to enjoy :)

    Mrs. E – I’m sorry you’ve been getting bad news :( Hoping things are better now. Just remember that life is full of the good and bad and that we make the most of it xxoo

    Melissa – :)

    Dianne – happy 30 years together!

    Cookin Canuck – I have to admit that the trip to CA gave me spring fever too… and we’re still months away here!

    johanna – yes, I think adding milk would make it much creamier, but the dairy upsets my stomach :(

    Sherry – I don’t know where they were from (I wasn’t paying attention to the name of the vendor, just in awe as the woman pumped pastry cream into each puff!) Sorry – maybe Diane would know?

    Kath – I totally wanted to nap with those elephant seals. Sort of ;)

    Lisa – it’s well worth it, but be sure to give yourself plenty of time (it’s slow in places) and make sure the road is clear all the way to Monterey (that was where we wanted to end up, but the closure due to slide made it impossible).

    Hande – I knew you were traveling California, but didn’t know where! Bummer we missed each other by just a few weeks :(

    Diana – that beach is really something!

    Sally – My Custard Pie – it’s all a matter of knowing where to look (and sometimes getting lucky!) :)

    SallyBR – yep, we saw plenty of adolescent males practice fighting. The bulls were out to sea in Alaska. We were told that the bull elephant seals are HUGE compared to those adolescents.

    Barbara – thanks for that link, sweetheart! xo I always learn something awesome from you.

  32. Jenny says:

    Wonderful! I cant believe I’m so close and I didnt go up to see those flowers! We have had a lovely show in san diego, and while riding my bike round imperial beach isnt quite the same as big sur, it was still wonderful!

    I had a similar veggie dish in my favourite little bar here, roasted veggies and beans over polenta with a similar reduction and I agree that the reduction really added a rich element which made it shine.

  33. cory says:

    I love making polenta! I actually have a couple of close girlfriends who are gluten free, and even though making gluten free meals is not difficult with a bit of consideration and foresight, sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a rut with the carby things. Polenta can be dressed up in so many different ways, and I constantly find myself turning to it instead of pasta.

    This looks delish….I have wanted to buy some chanterelles for awhile now – this has inspired me!

    Thanks so much :)

  34. Jill says:

    These photos are OUTSTANDING!!!!!! My fav……poppy and lupine. OMG.

  35. The way to a man’s heart… | itty bitty bites says:

    […] adapted it from a recipe for Seared Steak on Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta and instead make it over mashed […]

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