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  • Blogging for Books Review: Food With Friends by Leela Cyd + Polenta Bowls with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Walnuts & Thyme

    Alright, I have started yet another...thing...here. After discovering an amazing organization, Bloging for Books, I knew I had to participate. The cookbook lover in me rejoiced! Fast forward a month or so, getting my first book in the mail, reading it, and making a few recipes from it, I am now ready to review Food With Friends by Leela Cyd.At first glance, what caught my attention was the vibrant nature of this book. The colors and pictures, the words, the food...it all screams "party time!". I mean, even the cover with magenta-stained deviled eggs screams celebration! Anyone who has the ability to make a deviled egg that exciting probably knows a thing or two about entertaining. But, know that wheen Leela says "party!" it doesn't always mean a huge, planned, extravagant gathering. She emphasizes that even the smallest gathering with just a friend or two, or heck, even just YOU, is worth celebrating with tasty, fun, but equally not complicated food. I love that she gives tips about how she personally can afford, both time and money wise, to entertain. She devotes a whole section, "Style File" to this, and for the new-to-entertainer, as well as seasoned party thrower, the tips and tricks she provides are solid. 

    The book is divded into categories: Breakfast & Brunch, Tea Time, Happy Hour, Potlucks & Picnics, Desserts and finally, Tiny Takeaways. Just reading the category names makes you want to entertain! Every section gives recipes to arm a host or hostess with tasty food options that are approachable, fun and not pretentious. It is as if Leela knows that when you want to throw a gathering, you're not going to go ahead, be like Martha, and make crackers from scratch, embark on a recipe that takes 3 days of prep to execute, or go on a multi-city voyage to find a certain ingredient. The point is to not to kill yourself over complicated food, but really to just prepare delicious and easily shared foods that inspire, delight or even thrill guests (and the host/hostess!). However, if there is a recipe that calls for an extra bedazzled step, she justifies her approach and assures that it is worth it for the "wow factor" (example: Sugar Cookies with Edible Flowers, page 55). Regardless, her goal is to keep you sane, happy and well fed, all while having a great time and delighting your guests.

    Leela gives a variety of recipes for those who would need to be gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, etc. Although, this book is not 100% devoted to any diet mantra, so if you're looking for a food entertaining book to suit that need, I wouldn't not suggest Food With Friends, just know that you're not going to find those types of devoted topics in this book. But, as I said before, the inspiration is boundless...and I bet anyone could use their imagination for most of the recipes to make them suit their dietary needs. 

    I really love that fact that she has an entire section devoted to simple treats that would serve as host/hostess gifts (always a good idea!), or simple treats to take with you to a gathering to share. I can personally endorse the Whiskey Pepper Magic Shell (page 189). While this recipe fabulously simple, the wow and taste factors are exceedingly high!

    Overall, if you are looking for a solid book for inspiration, tasty recipes for foods worth and designed for sharing, and some good tips on entertaining, I would absolutely recommend Food With Friends. If you are in the market for a complete guide on how to plan for and execute a party or event, or for a book with all plantbased/vegan/"clean food" recipes for entertaining, I would look elsewhere. Personally, I am very pleased with the book, and look forward to trying more recipes (with modifications to some to suit my needs), as well as Leela's tips for throwing a bash. 

    I have been enjoying her recipe for Polenta With Blistered Tomatoes, Walnuts & Thyme (page 132). As I mentioned above, I made some modifications as I saw fit for my needs and what I had in my kitchen (with these modifications to the ingredients noted in parenthesis). Since really, the end goal is delcious food that will bring you joy and pleasure! Enjoy!



    Polenta With Blistered Tomatoes, Walnuts & Thyme // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free; sugar-free; soy-free // makes 4 servings // 

    • 2 cups cherry tomatoes (I used mini San Marzano tomatoes)
    • 1 TB + 1 tsp olive oil (I used organic extra virgin)
    • Sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper
    • 4 sprigs fresh thyme (I omitted these due to not having any on hand)
    • 1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
    • 1 cup polenta (I used organic polenta)
    • pinch nutmeg
    • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (I used 2 TB nutritional yeast)
    • 1 TB unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance)
    • 1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt (omitted this)
    • Optional add-ints I chose to use: roasted corn & zucchini, kalamata olives, basil pesto, sauteed kale

    1. Preheat oven to 400F. Place walnuts on a baking tray, and tomatoes tossed with the olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and thyme on another sheet tray or in a baking dish. Toast nuts for 7 minutes, and roast the tomatoes for an additional 13 minutes, or until starting to blister and crack, and turn soft. Allow to cool while you get on with the polenta.

    2. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil (the original calls for 3 cups), adding a good pinch of sea salt and the nutmeg once boiling. Slowly whisk in the 1 cup of polenta, turning down the heat as necessary to prevent bubbling over. Whisk until the mixture is thick enough where the polenta will not all sink to the bottom and scorch. Turn the heat down to medium-low, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles slowly. Place a lid on, set a timer for 30 minutes. After 10 minutes, return to the pot, and give it a good stir. Do the same after 10 minute increments for a full 30 minutes. If desired, cook for 40 minutes for an even softer texture. 

    3. At the end of the 30, or 40, minutes, stir in the parman (or nutritional yeast), and butter (or earth balance). You can keep the polenta warm for about 20 minutes with the cover on, but you will need to add a splash of water or vegetable stock and give the thickened polenta a good stir over heat to get it to scooping consistency again. Serve, topping with the blistered tomatoes, toasted walnuts, and whatever else you may desire. Enjoy immediately! If you have leftover polenta, spread it out on a lightly grease baking sheet, cover, refrigerate, and enjoy slices topped with leftover toppings the next day!



    The fixins', including the roasted cherry tomatoes and walnuts. I found having all of these toppings ready made for a really fun, easy way to share the polenta! Like a taco bar...but with polenta bowls...Close up...cause they are super pretty and tasty! The roasting concentrates the tomatoe flavor and natural sweetness. Don't forget to get all that juicy, thick tomato goo off the roasting pan! It is like tomato caramel sauce!Polenta...in a bag...pretty fun stuff! Really, it is! After cooking, it becomes a blank canvas onto which you can top as you please. Perfect for a group!Scoop cooked polenta into bowls, and top as desired! Enjoy!I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review, and highly recommend the program for anyone who loves to read new books on a frequent basis!