taking the labor out of labor day

freestyle friday
notes from maggie's farm

You get that call around 10 a.m.  'We're having a few friends over and we'd love for you to come!' and  'Could you bring a little something, too?'.  They ask because you are known for being at home, and at peace, in your kitchen.  And because they know you'll pull something together that delights all.  

That's just you. 

And you have a reputation to uphold, so there will be no stopping at the local supermarket for a limp and pallid vegetable tray. 

That's just not you.

You likely have a lovely platter that you'll get dressed to impressed without any outside help, and without any heavy-lifting, either, because, after all, this is your holiday, too!  You've got about 3 hours to get something together, you hope to shine, and you'd rather not blow your budget in the process.

What do you do?  What DO you do?

Well, friend, it's time like these that a well-stocked larder saves the day. And it keeps your labor out of Labor Day. So let's get to it. You're in a hurry!

We've got three luscious little bites; Polenta cakes topped 3 ways. A Crispy Caprese with pesto and a marinated mozzarella salad, a BBQ Pulled Pork with quickie slaw, and a southwestern Black Bean, Sun Dried Tomato with Bacon bite. No-cook, no-bake ('cause who wants to heat up the kitchen?) with ingredients you'll find, if not already in your pantry, no further than your closest grocery. 

Our Shopping List

  1. For Crispy Caprese Topping
    prepared polenta cake or roll, whole lemon, cherry or grape tomatoes, prepared pesto, mozzarella balls marinated in herbed oil (available in cheese department), sugar snap peas, fresh basil for garnish, optional
  2. For BBQ Pulled Pork Topping
    prepared polenta cake or roll, prepared pulled pork (available in meat section), prepared cole slaw (available in the deli case), favorite barbecue sauce, chives for garnish, optional.
  3. For Black Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato, Bacon topping, 
    prepared polenta cake or roll, sour cream, sun dried tomatoes marinated in oil, prepared crumbled bacon, refried black beans, rosemary for garnish, optional.

Prepare polenta by cutting into the shape and size you desire  (think individual bites, or even larger, serving sized cakes) with a knife or biscuit-type cutter. In a smidgen of butter, lightly brown squares (or rounds, or whatever) on each side, just until warmed.  Transfer to platter to dress.

1. Crispy Caprese Topping

Chop sugar snap peas in small dice, by slicing lengthwise in thin strips, then crosswise.  Halve tomatoes and mozzarella balls. Zest lemon. Toss all together with a little drizzle of the mozzarella marinating oil, and season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and a splash of lemon juice, if desired. Top polenta with prepared pesto, and mound salad atop. Garnish with fresh small basil leaves.

2.  BBQ Pulled Pork topping

Toss prepared pulled pork with barbecue sauce. Top polenta cake with a small spot of cole slaw, twist a chive into a loop, with tails, and top cole slaw, allowing tails to extend beyond slaw. Finish with a dollop of meat. Garnish with a bit of red cabbage and carrot from coleslaw.
3.  Black Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Bacon topping

Chop sun dried tomatoes and season with chopped rosemary, salt and pepper. Cream black beans, at room temperature, with a little sour cream, to yield a spreadable consistency. Top polenta cake with black beans, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkling of tomato herb mixture, adding chopped bacon on top. Garnish with a small sprig of fresh rosemary.

Of course, this is just the beginning. Chopped basil with white beans, lemon zest, and sardines or tuna, Pinto beans, paper-thin slices of red onion, ground sirloin, chopped chile peppers on cabbage, Cubed chicken, capers, artichoke hearts, all ways we've dressed these same polenta squares or wedges, and all very well received among friends who've gnoshed with us.  Served with beer, wine, a spicy bloody mary--it's a party!

About Polenta:
Polenta is a coarse meal of whole grains, eaten as soft mush, or as a mush that is dried and then fried. In Italy, polenta may also be made with other ingredients (farro or chestnut flour, for example)– but to most people, polenta conjures up a dish made with coarse corn meal. While polenta and grits have some similarities, polenta is usually made with flint corn, while grits are usually made with dent corn or hominy.
The gelatinization of starches in cornmeal results in the smooth, creamy texture associated with polenta, as shown here. After it cools, polenta can be sliced in wedges or sticks, and pan-fried or oven-baked in a little olive oil, providing a lovely base to put under stews and thick sauces. --from Whole Grains Council.

stocking the larder

The ingredients we've used, above, are all items that are great to have on hand, stocked in your pantry for quick, yet accomplished, appetizing party foods, side dishes, salads, or last minute meals.  While we don't recommend prepared foods for every meal, they certainly can be useful in emergencies.

We've started with prepared polenta, which is shelf stable and is available in tubes and cakes, and can occasionally be found with added seasonings.  You'll find them on your grocer's shelves, usually in the whole grains section or gourmet foods aisle. Though our gardens usually provide us fresh vegetables, most of which we enjoy in season or preserve by canning or freezing, however we often pick up some of the nicest seasonal, organic produce available in our fresh produce section, or, alternately, buy from the frozen aisles, when we're experiencing less than abundant harvests, like during these hot, hot days of late summer. 

We keep fresh herbs growing in pots and in our gardens year long (and it saves us scads of money!), but you can also find these common herbs in the produce department. We might have the cole slaw fixings already in the fridge, and tossing together the slaw takes no time with a little dressing, but of course you can pick that up already prepared, or even have someone hit the drive thru at the closest local chicken place, to simplify even further.  

We have home-canned barbecue sauce in our pantry, but some bottled sauces are quite tasty, and that goes for pesto, too. You can choose your favorite--they both keep in the fridge, the sauce is vinegar-based so it keeps for quite a long time.  Pesto can be frozen after opening if you don't plan to use it within a few weeks. The prepared bacon and pork, and marinated mozzarella cheese are all commonly available in the market; I keep a container of prepared meat in my freezer for just such occasions. 

No pantry is complete without several types of canned beans.They are lifesavers for so many quick salads, soups, stews, and other dishes. Lastly, fresh lemons can always be found by the bowlful on our counter. They smell fabulous, they are beautiful, and zested, sliced, or juiced, can dress up a dish like no other fruit. If we've been a little over zealous in their purchase, we handle the overstock thusly, and we're happy with those results, too!  And cheese?  Oh, we always have cheese.  Always.

Keeping your pantry well-stocked saves a lot of time and energy for times when you have little to spare. It'll help you keep labor out of labor day, so you can spend it doing those things you look forward to all week long, for at least one day longer than usual......

Wishing you a wonderfully relaxed no-labor, Labor Day.


  1. Love it! I thought I would have to go on hiatus (while I am doing detox ) from your blog. It's just to hard for me to look at. But like all beautiful things I am drawn in by the pictures first and your stories second. Atlas if I have to be weak let it be your blog. ~sigh~

    1. Hi doll! I am rooting for you through your detox! I know you are feeling GREAT right about now!
      Thank you for being such a sweetie and dropping by, anyway!

  2. I love this! I've never tried polenta, but I've always wanted to. This is perfect for all the upcoming holiday parties. Thanks, Maggie!

    1. Hi there, Molly Jo!
      I've made the polenta from scratch before, then cut out the squares, so any way you choose to do it, it works nicely. Thanks for dropping by. Hope you had a GREAT weekend!


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