Whenever I am having friends or family over, I like to make things that don’t have me cooking the whole time they are visiting. Mainly it’s because I like to drink wine and talk about how hot Ryan Gosling is, but I also think it’s rude to ignore your guests and be stuck in the kitchen the entire night.

Usually this means we throw a lot of Mexican-themed dinner parties at my house. With chips and guacamole, enchiladas and flan all being the perfect dishes to be made ahead of time, it is a no brainer.

But lately I have been trying to mix it up and discover some new cuisines that are also easily made ahead!

Last week I was lucky enough to get to try some of the already prepared pastas and sauces from Monterey Gourmet Foods.

Their Spinach and Cheese Ravioli†is one of my favorite easy week night meals. Most prepared pastas come with more servings than Jorge and I need, which means we either over eat or end up throwing some away. Thankfully the Monterey Gourmet Foods Ravioli come in packages of 2 perfect servings, which helps to save my budget and my diet! There is also a larger family size, which is great for when you’re preparing a meal for a group of people.

While I am obviously a fan of their awesome pasta products, I really love their ready-to-go Basil Pesto with Almonds and Pine Nuts! It is so versatile I have been able to use it on pizza, sandwiches, and a wonderful fresh tomato pesto salad.

But my favorite new way to use Monterey Gourmet Foods pesto has been in these Pesto Polenta Cakes with Caramelized Onions! After I wrote this post, I learned that they also offer polenta in two varieties.

These polenta cakes are by no means traditional. Before trying my idea, I searched and searched for a recipe with ingredients mixed inside of the polenta cakes, but all I could find were recipes with caramelized onions placed on top.

So I took a shot in the dark and mixed the pesto and caramelized onions into the polenta before pan frying them. I am SO glad I did! These were a delicious appetizer for the dinner party and were perfect to make ahead of time.

As our friends arrived, I quickly pan fried these babies and was able to actually sit down and catch up instead of slaving away in the kitchen!


Pesto Polenta Cakes with Caramelized Onions

Yield: Yield 9 Cakes

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1 cup of Polenta (Fine Corn Meal)
Pinch of salt
2 oz parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons Monterey Pesto
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

Butter or spray a 9X13 baking dish. Set aside.

Add the olive oil and butter to a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add brown sugar and a pinch of salt and lower heat to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and a deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, in a large sauce pan bring milk and water to a boil. Season with salt and gradually stir in the polenta. Reduce heat to low, stirring often, and continue to cook until mixture thickens, about 30 minutes.

Once polenta has thickened, stir in caramelized onions, parmesan cheese and Monterey Pesto. Transfer polenta mixture to prepared baking dish and cover with saran wrap,†smoothing it down directly on top of the polenta. Place into the refrigerator for about one hour to set up.

To make polenta cakes:

Remove from fridge and use a large round cookie cutter to make 9 polenta cakes. (You may also just cut the polenta into rectangles to not have any waste.)

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, place†the polenta cakes into the pan. Cook until a golden crust has formed on both sides, flipping as little as possible.

Transfer polenta cakes to a paper towel lined plate and let cool for 1 minute. Serve immediately with extra Monterey Pesto or grated parmesan cheese.

Giveaway!

I was lucky enough to try Monterey Gourmet Foods, and one of you will be too!†One of you will win the following:

(1) $100 Visa gift card and VIP coupons for free Monterey Gourmet Foods products!

To be entered for a chance to win, please tell me what you would make using a Monterey Gourmet Foods pasta or sauce product.† If youíd also like to share a recipe, feel free to post it on your blog/website and include a link to it in your comment.

Rules:

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

b) Tweet about this promotion and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post

c) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post

d) For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 4/11/2012-5/31/2012.

Be sure to visit the Monterey Gourmet Foods page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers reviews and find more chances to win!

Monterey Gourmet Foods is a registered trademark of Pulmuone Foods USA, Inc.