How to cook the Polenta Vegetable Bake with no oven

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Last weekend, I took my daughter, son-in-law and two Danish girls (my former foreign exchange student and a friend who were back for a visit) to the lake while I was in Oklahoma. Pleasing everyone at mealtime is always a challenge, partially because my daughter is a vegetarian who cannot eat gluten. To make matters more difficult, one of the Danish girls is not big on vegetables. I knew we’d be out and about quite a lot, and would therefore want to make something quick and simple. Additionally, I never know how well the kitchen in a rental will be stocked, or with what. 


I was beginning to get stressed out over the whole thing and decided we should just eat out. However, when I searched the internet for restaurants, I found that eating out would probably be even more of a problem than cooking! What to do?


Perusing the section in my cookbook for Vegetarian Meals, I ran across the recipe for Polenta Vegetable Bake. This is one of my favorite vegetarian meals, a spin-off from a crockpot recipe I tried once. I made up this version to fit in an 8” x 8” baking dish, which is the recommended size for The Cookbook target audience. I knew my daughter would like it, and I thought everyone else would too, except perhaps my foreign exchange student. I decided to buy some chicken, knowing I could easily grill them outside or bake them inside if we didn’t want to light a grill. The polenta bake would be a side dish to the chicken or a meal on its own. I wrote up a grocery list, and we stopped at a grocery store along the way. We bought our supplies and happily continued to the lake with our menu all set.


We found our cute little cabin—the key word being “little.” Well, it was cute too, in its own way. 


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There were some issues though. For a cabin that supposedly sleeps up to 10 people, it had only one small table with 3 chairs that barely fit in the kitchen/dining room/living room area. The girls were thrilled though. It had wi-fi, satellite and a large screen TV on the wall. All would be well.


The kitchen was stocked like a tiny camper might be, except by someone who clearly does not cook. Our search first revealed that there was no corkscrew, nor wine glasses. In fact, there were no “real” glasses—just 8 bright green plastic glasses and 6 coffee cups. 


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Our first night, I cooked pasta. That’s when I discovered there was no colander to drain it. That’s no big deal, but it would have been nice. There was only one knife, a medium-size serrated knife which has limited functionality. And, no cutting board. We worked around this, but cutting a watermelon with a relatively little knife on a slick plate instead of a wooden cutting board really requires complete attention and patience, let me tell you!


The big surprise came when I looked for a baking dish. What? No baking dishes? That wasn’t even the worst news. I discovered why there were no baking dishes. No oven! Yes, that’s right. How had I missed that on the description of the cabin? (See the ladder on the side of the refrigerator? That led to a small loft area with two mattresses on the floor and nothing else. The girls slept there.)


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Now I really needed to get creative. I thought through the recipe and came up with a plan for making the dish on the stovetop.


I cooked up the vegetables in a skillet on our little 2-burner hot plate. I stirred in the fresh spinach and feta cheese, then covered it and set it aside. Luckily, there were 2 skillets. I sautéed the polenta slices in the second one…


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… while Nick lit the grill. The only pantry item in the kitchen was a lonely salt shaker. Luckily, I brought olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some herbs, so I was able to make a simple marinade for the chicken, and Nick took care of the rest! He did a great job lighting the charcoals and cooking in the quickly diminishing light of day.


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Since there was not enough seating inside for all of us, we decided to eat at the picnic table outside, while taking advantage of a gorgeous evening.


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Rebecca (with Nick’s help) make a nice, smoky fire in the fire pit to keep the mosquitoes and flies away. It worked very well!


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By the time Nick and I got everything ready, it was very dark, and we discovered another crazy thing. There were no lights on that side of the house! Luckily we had some citronella candles, the fire pit and 5 phones. Cell phones are the new flashlight, I’ve realized!


I was very proud of my stovetop version of the Polenta Vegetable Bake. I placed the sautéed polenta in the bottom of the ONE bowl provided. Next, I poured the vegetable and bean mixture on top, and then I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese over it. 


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Served with the chicken, broccoli and watermelon, there was something for everyone and no leftovers! Perfect! Click here for recipe.


As they say, necessity if the mother of invention. I might even prefer the recipe made this way! It was a good reminder for me that my cookbook is geared toward young adults who might only have a 2-burner hot plate and one bowl. 


This experience forced me to come up with options for preparing and cooking this dish, so anyone could make it, in an oven or on the stove. I’ll have to review some of my other recipes and see which ones could work either way.


In spite of no oven, a tiny kitchen, 3 chairs, and some weird sleeping areas, we ate well, slept well, relaxed, laughed and enjoyed the lake.


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Our little cabin may have been a funky place, but we had a wonderful time together. And that’s what really matters!


Next, I might write a “recipe” for s’mores, the delicacy we made for dessert! The Danish girls loved them! 


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© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™