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Celebrate the season with these delicious Polenta Cakes with Stir-Fried Spring Vegetables! It’s the perfect recipe for entertaining. Speaking of which, I’m also sharing five tips for hosting a sophisticated dinner party … without losing your sanity!
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Spring has sprung, and I am super excited to see all the fresh spring vegetables that are popping up at the grocery store. It’s hard to resist filling my basket with everything I see!
I decided to showcase all those delicious veggies in a recipe that’s perfect for entertaining: Polenta Cakes with Stir-Fried Spring Vegetables. This is one meal that your guests will love!
As I count down to my Dallas move, I’m looking forward to living in a larger apartment where I will be able to entertain more. It was rare that we had guests here in NYC, which is sad, because I love cooking and entertaining.
Does the thought of entertaining a crowd make you nervous? I can recall a few occasions where I got a little overwhelmed, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Check out my tips for hosting a sophisticated dinner party … without losing your sanity!
1. Define what sophisticated means to you. When you entertain, do you like to haul out the fine china and crystal, or are you more laid back? I’m a pretty casual person, so no china for me … I don’t even own any!
Don’t try to be someone you are not. By all means pull out your beautiful collection of plates and glasses, if it makes you happy. But don’t try to force things if that’s not you, or if you’re serving a more laid back crowd. You’ll just feel uncomfortable and so will your guests.
Even if you’re not going super fancy, make things special by serving water in bottles or pitchers, using cloth napkins, lighting some candles, and taking the time to cook an amazing meal.
2. Prepare as much ahead of time as possible. Set your table the night before. When planning your menu, select a few dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. You’ll have more time to spend with your guests, and you won’t need to juggle everything at once.
For example, if you are making my Polenta Cakes with Stir-Fried Spring Vegetables, prepare the polenta and chop all the vegetables the day before. On the day of the dinner party, brown the polenta and stir-fry the veggies.
It’s also important to choose recipes that you’re comfortable cooking. I’ve never made a souffle before (although it’s on my list), so I wouldn’t cook my first one for a party. Test recipes out first or stick with tried and true favorites.
3. Choose the right dinnerware and cookware. So you’ve planned an amazing menu, do you have the right cookware to make preparing your meal a success?
Take an inventory of your cupboards. Do you own enough wine glasses and plates to serve everyone? Are there enough pots and pans to cook all of the dishes you plan to serve? Do you have something to serve each dish in? If not, plan to stock up before your dinner party.
If you’re working with old cookware, this is the perfect time to upgrade. It’s amazing what a difference a high quality pan makes! Personally, I love the quality of Calphalon Signature™ Nonstick cookware. It’s the only cookware than combines nonstick convenience with stainless steel cooking performance, so you can master all those cooking techniques typically reserved for stainless steel. The surface is so durable that you can use metal utensils (definitely a no no with most nonstick cookware), it has a lifetime guarantee, and it’s dishwasher safe for easy clean up after your party.
I have been slowing upgrading all my pots and pans, so I picked up a Calphalon Signature™ Nonstick 12″ Flat Bottom Wok for this recipe. This wok is perfect for everything from stir fries to sauteed vegetables. I love it!
A theme doesn’t have to be over-the-top or kitschy, although that could be fun, too! Choose something that will elevate your table from basic to beautiful. The theme could be as simple as all blue, summer beach, or springtime flowers. You could also do something more elaborate, depending on your time or imagination.
Gather decorative items and experiment with the table arrangement. Pick up an inexpensive bouquet of flowers and arrange it in a few small vases. Select napkins and dishes that complement your theme. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money. Instead, pull together your theme by shopping your home for everything you need.
5. Don’t stress about selecting the right wine. Are you planning to serve wine? For me, no dinner party would be complete without it!
Browsing the aisles of a well-stocked wine store can certainly be overwhelming. Get familiar with different types of wine by attending free tastings offered at your local wine shop. The host can also make recommendations for you.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Light vs. heavy foods. As a general rule, rich, heavy meals like red meat are best served with full-bodied reds. Conversely, lighter meals may work better paired with whites.
- Sauces. Let the sauce dictate the wine. For example, if your entree has a rich, tomato sauce, choose a red. If your entree has a cream sauce, then choose a white. Is the sauce wine-based? Keep it simple and serve that same wine during the meal.
- Acidic foods. Serve salads and foods with zippy vinegar or lemon-based dressings with Sauvignon Blanc and another white that’s been aged in stainless steel.
- Spicy foods. Serving something with a little kick? Pair it with an off-dry white, like Riesling or Gewürztraminer. The lower alcohol content and touch of sweetness in these wines balances the heat, making them perfect for serving with your favorite Thai or Indian dish.
- Salty foods. Serve salty foods like french fries or potato chips with sparkling wine, such as champagne.
- Earthy foods. Are you serving wild mushrooms or gamey meats? These foods pair well with an earthy wines, like Pinot Noir.
- Classic dishes. Pair old school favorites, like classic Italian or French dishes, with wines from the area where the recipe originated.
- Multiple wines in one meal. If you are serving multiple bottles, start with the lightest wines and end with the heaviest wines, just as the menu will most likely progress from light salads to heavier entrees.
- Wine with dessert. If you are serving wine with dessert, choose a bottle that’s sweeter than the dessert you are serving. I love Port paired with high quality chocolate.
- Still overwhelmed? Visit your local wine shop. Go over your menu with the purveyor and ask for appropriate wine selections.
There really are no set in stone rules when it comes to pairing food and wine. As long as you are drinking a wine you enjoy and eating food you love, chances are everyone at the table will be happy.
You’ll start with the Polenta Cakes. Polenta is a fancy word for cornmeal mush, and it’s made by cooking cornmeal and water together until thick and creamy. For this recipe, you’ll cook the cornmeal in vegetable broth and stir in butter and Parmesan cheese at the end for extra flavor. A word of warning: bubbling polenta is super hot, so use a long handled wooden spoon when stirring and adjust your heat if it starts splattering.
After the polenta is cooked, it gets spread in a baking pan and chill. After it firms up, cut the polenta into squares and saute until golden. If you want to save some time, skip the chilling part and serve the Stir-Fried Vegetables over hot, creamy polenta instead. It will still taste amazing.
Have you ever wondered if a wok was a worthwhile purchase? It’s more versatile than you think. I use mine all the time for everything from quick side dishes to Chinese food to braised greens. One thing I love about the Calphalon Signature™ Nonstick 12″ Flat Bottom Wok is that it comes with a lid, so it’s even more versatile.
This recipe gets cooked over a medium-high heat and things will move quickly, so prep all of your vegetables before you start cooking. To ensure the veggies cook evenly, you’ll add the denser ones (onions and carrots) first and the less hearty vegetables (tomatoes) will be added last. I like to give my pan a good shake to flip my veggies (rather than stirring) when stir-frying. First, it’s fun! Plus, the shape of the wok is made for this.
This is no ordinary stir-fry! The seasonings are garlic, lemon, and herbs, rather than a heavy Asian sauce. It tastes light and fresh … perfect for springtime. This recipe is flexible though, so swap in your favorite seasonal veggies and cook this meal year round.
To serve this meal, you’ll top the Polenta Cakes with the Stir-Fried Spring Vegetables, then sprinkle everything with fresh basil, fennel fronds, and crumbled goat cheese. Yum!
Serve these Polenta Cakes with Stir-Fried Spring Vegetables at your next dinner party. You’ll enjoy an amazing meal and impress all your friends!
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 1 3/4 cups cornmeal
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced crosswise*
- 2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 1 orange bell pepper, sliced
- 1 fennel bulb, cored and sliced (reserve fronds for serving)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 lb. snow peas
- 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed, sliced into 2 to 3-inch lengths
- 1 pint grape tomatoes (or small cherry tomatoes)
- 3-4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- handful sliced basil, plus more for serving
- 1 lemon, cut in half, then cut one half into quarters
- salt and pepper
- 4 oz. goat cheese
- Lightly oil a 9x13-inch baking pan. Set aside.
- Bring broth to a boil in a large pot or dutch oven.
- Slowly whisk cornmeal into broth.
- Return to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until polenta is thick and creamy (about 25 to 30 minutes).
- Turn off heat, then stir in Parmesan, butter, and salt.
- Taste and adjust seasoning with extra salt, if desired.
- Spread polenta in an even layer in the baking pan.
- Refrigerate polenta until cooled and firm, about 2 to 3 hours.
- Slice polenta into 12 squares.
- About 10 minutes before serving (shortly after you begin stir-frying the veggies), heat the olive oil in a large skillet.
- Cook polenta squares in oil until browned, then flip and brown the other side. Set aside until ready to use.
- Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a wok until hot.
- Add onion, carrots, bell pepper, fennel, salt, and crushed red pepper to oil.
- Cook until veggies begin to soften, tossing wok often.
- Add snow peas and asparagus to work.
- Stir-fry veggies, tossing often, until they start to brown.
- Mix in tomatoes cook until they begin to burst, tossing often.
- Add garlic to wok and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly.
- Toss in a handful of sliced basil and cook for a few seconds or until wilted.
- Remove veggies from heat, then squeeze juice from half a lemon over pan.
- Mix lemon into veggies, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To serve, place 3 pieces of fried polenta on each plate.
- Top polenta with veggies.
- Sprinkle veggies with additional basil, chopped fennel fronds, and crumbled goat cheese.
- Serve immediately. Enjoy!
Turn this dish into an appetizer, by serving it in smaller portions (one polenta square per person).
*To slice an onion crosswise, start by cutting it in half through the root end. Then, slice onion in half horizontally, stopping just before the root. Thinly sliced the onion from the top to the root end, then slice off the root and discard.
What is your favorite entertaining tip?