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 🙂
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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‘Bloody Mary’ Tortilla Soup

While I’m not much of a drinker at this point in my life – apart from the odd box glass of wine or pint of beer – I’ve long been an aficionado of fancy cocktails. By ‘fancy’ I’m not referring to the neon-coloured concoctions served in sugar-rimmed martini glasses that have gained popularity amongst women drinkers, nor drinks that use – and it pains me to write this – Red Bull, or any energy drink for that matter, as a mixer. By ‘fancy’ I’m talking about the cocktails popularized in and around the mid-20th century – the Manhattan, the Gimlet, the Negroni, to name a few – prepared stiff and poured into elegantly garnished glasses full of ice.
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On the trashier (or kitschier, if you want to be nice about it) end of the fancy cocktail spectrum are tiki drinks, which I also have a real soft spot for. These tropical cocktails were also big in the 1950s are traditionally served in ceramic Polynesian-themed vessels with a flamboyant garnish of some description – think mini paper umbrellas and plastic cocktails swords plunged through pineapple wedges and Marascino cherries. Tiki drinks tend to be ultra-sweet and always contain staggering amounts of alcohol – come to think of it, they’re the perfect beverage  for hot summer nights at the trailer park, once the Coors Light runs out!
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I think what draws me to cocktails from this time period is lore surrounding them – specifically, formal cocktail parties and the idea of taking time to relax at the end of the day with a nicely-prepared drink. I’m sure popular culture has done much to romanticize the consumption of alcohol during this era, and surely it was used and abused as much (if not more) then as it is now. Regardless, I love reading old cocktail recipes and plan on someday putting together a well-stocked cocktail cart with all the necessary accoutrements!
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One of my favourite cocktails is the Bloody Mary. Here in Canada at least, the Bloody Mary seems to exist in the shadow of its more popular cousin, the Caesar. The latter – which is actually a Canadian invention – consists of Clamato juice (clam-flavoured tomato juice), vodka, lime juice, Worchestershire and Tabasco and is normally consumed with brunch as a hangover ‘cure’. Regardless of my vegetarianism, anything clam-flavoured strikes me as WRONG and as such I’ve always opted for the Bloody Mary, which is basically the same drink but with tomato juice used in place of the dreaded Clamato.
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Truth be told it’s been a couple years since I drank my last Bloody Mary, but my favourite boozie libation was top of mind when I created this tortilla soup recipe. Its tomato-based broth and Mexican spices lend themselves perfectly to the flavours found in the Bloody Mary: fresh lime, tangy Worchestershire (I used the vegan kind as conventional Worchestershire contains anchovies), and Tabasco added  to taste for some extra heat. Diced avocado, fresh cilantro and lime zest provide a cool counterpoint to the soup, and blue corn tortilla chips add a fantastic crunchy texture. This is definitely my favourite recipe of late – and I promise it won’t leave you with a hangover!
Recipe: ‘Bloody Mary’ Tortilla Soup
Makes 4 servings
Ingredients:
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced small
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 small zucchini, diced small
  • 1/2 cup of corn kernels
  • 1 cup cooked pinto beans
  • 1 398ml can of diced tomatoes, preferably organic
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (I used low sodium broth)
  • 1 teaspoon vegan Worchestershire sauce
  • Juice and zest of 1 small lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • 2 cups blue corn tortilla chips
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • Salt to taste

Method:

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add garlic, jalepeno and red pepper flakes and saute just until garlic begins to brown. Add paprika and chili powder and stir until spices coat other ingredients.

Add diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, zucchini, corn and pinto beans and stir until everything is combined. Bring soup to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and let soup simmer, partially covered, until zucchini is tender – about 20 minutes, or preferably longer to let flavours develop. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Remove from heat and stir in Worchestershire sauce and lime juice.

Serve, topping each portion with tortilla chips, avocado, cilantro, lime zest and Tabasco sauce to taste. Eat!

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