Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa

Parents make a fairly accurate claim when they say that having a kid is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I’m not even talking about the pushing-the-baby-0ut part – although I still stand by my assertion that being in labour feels (in my experience) like being hit repeatedly in the abdomen (and back) with a sledge hammer. The real work comes with figuring out just how to handle the darned thing once he or she pops out as a fully-formed infant.
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I used to roll eyes derisively behind my Ray-Bans when a parent would bemoan to me their toddler-induced exhaustion. But now that I have a toddler of my own I know only too well what they’re talking about: the non-stop night nursing, the refusal to eat certain foods (and the subsequent hurtling of said foods across the room or in the direction of the dog), the panic-inducing (for me) thrill seeking (my little guy loves to scale to the highest heights unassisted), the obsessive manhandling of only the filthiest household items (plunger and toilet brush), the seemingly unprovoked, back-arching tantrums. I could go on and on. I love the little sucker to bits and am growing more obsessed by the day – I even look at pictures of him on my phone while he’s napping – but HOLY COW does he put me through the paces at every conceivable moment!
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At a certain point one gets to thinking about taking a bit of a vacay, especially on days like today when the dog woke you up at 2am in the throes of diarrhea. Oh wait, except as a parent of a young child a true vacation – one where you can kick back with your oversized cocktail of choice and not have to worry about the proximity of your kid to the pool, and other potentially life-threatening considerations – isn’t really an option. Neither is leaving him with the in-laws, because as burned out as I feel at times the thought of not being around him for even a few days puts a very large and sappy tear in my eye. At any rate, we’ve decided to attend a friend’s wedding in Puerto Vallarta – although it’s not until November and I’m sure I’ll spend 99 percent of my time there chasing the little guy around with a tube of sun screen and worrying about the possibility of shark attacks, kidnappings and other statistically improbably occurrences. Being a parent has transformed me into the ultimate worry wart!
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While our sojourn to Mexico is still 6 months away (will I still be sane by then?), as soon as I was finished booking our seats with the travel agent my mind reverted to its favourite topic: food. And in this instance, Mexican food. My favourite item of Mexican cuisine, apart from a big old Mission-style burrito cram packed with fresh veggies, is also the most simple: fresh cut salsa paired with crispy tortilla chips (and an ice cold bottle of Sol, of course).
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Fresh cut salsa typifies the notion that food doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious. I love how the ripe tomatoes, cilantro, the mild bite of sweet onion and fresh lime juice come together and form something so bright and balanced on my taste buds. The salsa in this post deviates from the traditional by replacing tomatoes with strawberries, whose juicy sweetness is tempered perfectly by lime juice, minced shallot and jalapeno. It tastes great with tortilla chips (of course) or tossed into a green salad, but here I’ve made it into a nice light lunch and served it over baked polenta wedges – golden and crispy on the outside; warm and tender of the inside. Our vacation is still merely a dot on the horizon, but dishes such a this will do a decent job of tiding me over ūüôā
Recipe: Crispy Baked Polenta Wedges | With Fresh Cut Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
Serves 3-4
Ingredients:
Baked Polenta Wedges
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan margarine
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil
Strawberry, Cucumber and Lime Salsa
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, skin and seeds removed and diced small
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, diced small
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and diced small
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 medium lime, juiced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

Prepare Salsa

  1. Place lime juice and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Add cucumber, strawberries, cilantro, jalapeno and shallot to bowl and gently toss until everything is combined.
  3. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator until needed.

Prepare Baked Polenta Wedges

  1. Lightly grease an 8×8 pan with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Place almond milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Whisk in cornmeal then switch to a spoon as mixture thickens. Stir until liquid is fully absorbed.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in margarine and nutritional yeast (or parmesan), and a bit of salt and pepper.
  5. Immediately transfer polenta to prepared pan and smooth top with a wet spatula.
  6. Place in refrigerator for 45 minutes, or until firm.
  7. While polenta is in fridge lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
  8. Once polenta is firm, remove from fridge and preheat oven to 375F.
  9. Flip polenta onto a cutting board and cut into wedges.
  10. Transfer polenta wedges onto prepared baking sheet and brush tops with a bit of olive oil.
  11. Place in oven for 45 minutes or until tops are crispy and golden brown.

Assemble

  • Transfer polenta wedges to serving plates and top each portion with a few scoops of salsa. Eat!

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Avocado and Mango Salad Sandwich | With Sauteed Baby Arugula

Now that I’m caught up on posting the last of the recipes I made before we moved out of the RV, I finally got down to business and whipped up a dish for the blog in my new kitchen! When I say ‘new’ I mean new to me – the kitchen itself, as I mentioned in a previous post, is far from new – in fact, I’d describe it as an abomination straight from 1989. Aesthetics aside, however, it works just fine and it’s a real luxury having more space to move around when I’m cooking. I no longer feel like a giant jammed into a toy-sized kitchen!

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Another auspicious aspect of being out of the RV is that I have a far less awkward photo-taking set up. In the RV, in order to get decent natural light when taking pictures, I’d have to fling open the front door of the RV and set the dish to be photographed on the FLOOR just inside the front step. There was nothing glamourous or professional about it – far from it! It worked well enough when the weather was good but in the Fall and Winter things got a little treacherous. If you look closely enough at some of my photos you can actually see snowflakes, droplets of rain, even hail that had blown in the door and onto the food. And if there were an auditory component to the photos you’d be able to hear Mike yelling at me to hurry up and shut the door, that I was letting all the heat out of the trailer.

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My new set up here at the house is still far from professional (and won’t be until I invest in something better than the point-and-shoot camera I currently use), but at least it’s a little more streamlined. We have a big sliding door that lets in plenty of light, so all I need to do is place my dish on the dining room table and I’m good to go. No more letting in of the elements! And no more nudging of curious toddler out of the way with my leg.

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Where I live, finding affordable mangos is a rare occurrence so I was pleased to come across some on my last trip to the grocery store (they were 76 cents a piece versus the usual $2.50 – $3.oo). I try to buy locally-grown produce as much as possible but when it comes to some things – citrus and ‘exotic’ fruit in particular – I make an exception. Sometimes a girl just has to get her mango on! I also snagged a few avocados and thought these two ingredients ought to be paired together in some way. I was in the mood for a sandwich – when am I not in the mood for a sandwich – so I decided to make an avocado-y version of an egg salad – with lots of zesty fresh lime, jalapeno, a dollop of vegan mayonnaise and a bit of scallion and celery for some crunch. A little diced mango adds nice colour and the perfect amount of tart sweetness. And I loved the sauteed baby arugula on top! It’s peppery flavour and delicate texture worked really nicely with the avocado salad. As a matter of fact, I nominate arugula as the NEW leafy green. Kale, you’ve been overthrown!

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Recipe: Avocado and Mango Salad Sandwich | With Sauteed Baby Arugula

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches

Ingredients:

For Avocado and Mango Salad

  • 4 pieces of bread or 2 bagels
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 a small lime
  • 1 stalk of celery, minced
  • 1/2 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 thin scallions, minced (light and dark green parts only)
  • 1/4 cup diced fresh mango
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For Sauteed Baby Arugula

  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare Avocado and Mango Salad:

  1. In a medium bowl, mash together 1 avocado and vegan mayonaise.
  2. Add salt, paprika (if using) and lime juice and stir until everything is combined.
  3. Fold in celery, scallions, jalapeno and mango.
  4. Dice second avocado and fold gently to combine with other ingredients.
  5. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate until needed.

Prepare Sauteed Baby Arugula:

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add baby arugula and season lightly with salt and pepper
  3. Sautee just until wilted (this should only take a minute or so).
  4. Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl (this will prevent arugula from overcooking)

Assemble sandwich:

  1. Lightly toast your bread or bagel of choice.
  2. Spread Avocado and Mango Salad onto each piece of toast.
  3. Top with Sauteed Baby Arugula.
  4. Eat!

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