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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Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Coconut Milk Soup

I’m really starting to get into this whole ‘living in a house’ thing – being able to walk two paces without tripping over or bumping into something or someone is a refreshing change. Previous to living in the RV I’d been a condo and apartment dweller for the better part of two decades, since I moved away from the parental nest at age 18. This span of time gave me plenty of experience in the art of making do with limited closet space (which always proved to be the ultimate first world problem for this clothes hoarder), living in close proximity to others (including cats and their littery, feathery, toy-mousey paraphernalia), and of course, cooking in very small kitchens – which I waxed on about ad naseum during those 7 sanity-testing months at the trailer park!
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So yeah – I grew more than accustomed to confined interior living spaces. Those years of living in high rises also inured me to life without access to immediate outdoor space. Yes, there were public parks around where I lived at various points, and a couple places had a small patio (one of which accompanied a 26th-floor suite and was so high off the ground it caused vertigo if you dared look over the edge). But living above ground level as I did meant that having access to an actual yard just wasn’t on the menu. I didn’t mind too much at that point – convenient access to a million coffee shops, restaurants and places to shop was more of a priority. In my mind, yards were the mein of suburbanites – and goodness knows I wasn’t one of those!
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It was only when we moved into the house – in the suburbs, the horror! – that I realized how out of touch I was with the notion of having a yard – an actual plot of grass that only we (and assorted neighbourhood wildlife and possibly the odd eccentric searching for cans) have access to. The first couple of weeks we were here I only went into the backyard for practical reasons – i.e. to pick up dog poop. Partially it was the rain, but the real issue was that I didn’t know what to do with all that space! I’m not making this up – it had been such a long time since I’d been privy to a backyard that at first all I could do was shuffle around uncertainly back there, ineffectually contemplating the dilapidated shed.
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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve impressed myself. Determined to overcome my silly yard trepidation, I suited up in a pair of garden gloves and rubber boots, and armed with a spade and rake undertook the process of weeding the garden beds. Fifteen minute backyard sessions have gradually lengthened into one and two hour weed-pulling fests. Despite various squirrels giving me the stink eye, at moments I’ve even felt quite peaceful and meditative back there, ankle deep in dirt!
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Earlier in the week as I gazed into the produce drawer in the fridge, I got to thinking, ‘I should grow some of these vegetable things myself’. For a time I was really into playing Farmville – it can’t be that much different, right? Who knows, maybe this time next year this blog will have done a 180 and feature dishes that use produce grown in my own backyard – more improbable things have happened (did I mention I have a baby and live in the suburbs?)! In the meantime, why not try this easy, vegan and super flavourful soup on for size? Yes, it’s STILL  soup weather here on the West Coast, where Spring showers continue unabated. This recipe features caramelized roasted carrots, spices, fresh ginger and smooth coconut milk was the ideal reward after all my labours out back, tilling the soil 🙂
Recipe: Roasted Carrot, Ginger and Coconut Milk Soup
Makes 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 green onions, chopped (optional for garnish)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Place carrots in an oven-proof dish and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in oven for 20-30 minutes – turning carrots over half way through – or until carrots are tender and caramelized. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

2. In a large saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shallots and saute until soft and translucent.

3. Add garlic and ginger and saute just until golden brown.

4. Add red pepper flakes, cinnamon, paprika and coriander and stir until spices coat other ingredients.

5. Add vegetable stock and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce to a simmer.

6. Once carrots are cool enough to handle, chop into smallish pieces, discarding of ends. Add to saucepan.

7. Let soup simmer partially covered for 15-20 minutes.

8. Using an immersion blender, puree until soup is smooth. Alternately you can transfer soup to a conventional blender to puree, then return soup to saucepan.

9. Add coconut milk and stir to warm through. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

10. Serve, topping each portion with chopped green onions. Eat!

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Springtime French Green Lentil and Pearl Barley Soup

In my last post I detailed a few of the nefarious finds we’ve made at our new house: the elaborate spider’s nest in the wall, the sketchy crow bar marks on the front door, the kitschy linoleum underlying the lurid teal carpet in the bedroom, both of which are now on their way to the municipal waste station. The weirdness of this flooring situation didn’t hit me until last night. Why was there linoleum in the bedroom to begin with – was that a thing in the late 1960s? And was covering it with teal carpet really the best solution? Oh well, there’s no accounting for taste. That being said, the creative mind responsible for said carpet would likely be equally offended by my design sense .

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It’s not my intention to sound like a big old squeaky wheel about the house – believe me, I am more than relieved to be out of the RV even if it means dodging the odd Black Widow and seeing various shades of teal wherever I look. But there’s one last undesirable feature of the house I’d like to mention. The toilet. Yes, I bring up toilets way too often on this blog. But it’s worth mention that, in a cruel twist of fate – after 7 1/2 months of persevering with the clog-prone septic system in the RV – the toilet in the house is… well, I’ll be nice and say it has personality. Indeed, it makes disturbing gurgling sounds, its water surges threatening toward the rim, it flushes ‘normally’ only if you hold the lever down just so. I’m starting to think I must have been an incompetent plumber in a previous life, and am paying my due now via a series of faulty toilets.

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The house has also coughed up some pretty cool booty (as in stuff, not the other kind). My SO has actually owned this house for several years, but was renting it to his sister until we moved in last month. Evidently he’d used the cupboards in the laundry room as a dumping ground for miscellaneous junk before he moved out years ago, because when I went to clean out said cupboards I unearthed – amongst several pieces of ancient Tupperware – an ice cream maker straight from the 1980s (remember when these were all the rage?), an unused wok (score) and bafflingly, a single leather glove – which made me wonder if I had a piece of forensic evidence on my hands.

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Over the weekend we had a very welcome spate of warm, dry weather here in the Lower Mainland ,which prompted everyone to simultaneously shed their fleece and Gore-Tex and flee into the out-of-doors. This week, however, the Spring showers returned, putting me back in the mood for warm food. The seasonal ingredients that are beginning to make an appearance in grocery stores inspired me to whip up this easy springtime soup featuring French green lentils, pearl barley, sweet carrots, shallots, leeks, white mushrooms, spring onions, lemon and fresh basil! Apart from asparagus (which I’ve yet to come across unfortunately), nothing heralds the arrival of Spring like lemon and fresh herbs 🙂

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Recipe: Springtime French Green Lentil and Pearl Barley Soup

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup french green lentils, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley, uncooked (omit or substitute lentils if you’re GF)
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 medium leek, finely chopped (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 2 small carrots, diced into 1/4″ thick medallions
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 5 cups vegetable stock (I used low sodium)
  • 2 green onions, chopped (dark and light green parts only), plus a bit more for garnish
  • 4-5 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Place dried lentils and barley in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cover saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 20-30 minutes or until lentils and barley are tender, but still firm. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside until needed.

2. In a large saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add shallots, leeks and carrots and saute until tender.

3. Add in garlic, red pepper flakes and paprika and stir just until garlic is golden brown.

3. Add in cooked lentils, barley and zucchini and stir until everything is combined.

4. Add vegetable stock and bring to a gentle boil.

5. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook until zucchini is tender (or preferably longer to let flavours develop). Taste and season with salt and pepper.

6. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice, green onions, and basil.

7. Serve, topping each portions with chopped green onions and lemon zest. Eat!

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Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Casserole | With Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Sauce

We’ve been back in the Lower Mainland for a month now, and already I’ve fallen back into an annoying habit. It’s the same habit many locals also seem to be guilty of: the tendency to feel utter shock over the weather conditions. Those who know the Vancouver area know it rains A LOT here. That being said, one would assume we would have an irreverent, or at least cavalier, attitude toward the wet stuff. However, I’ve lived in the area most of my life and can say that for the majority of us, this simply isn’t the case.

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Whenever it rains I’m inevitably drawn into a reflective state where I’ll marvel at the rain’s various attributes: its duration (‘It rained all night and it’s still raining this morning!’), intensity (‘I couldn’t sleep last night the rain was hitting the roof so hard’) and type (‘Is it just me or is it raining sideways right now?’). From Winter to Winter the rain is always the same but somehow it never succeeds in losing its novelty. Just the other day my SO – who works outside, the poor bastard – walked in the front door of the RV and asked, ‘Is it always this wet here?’. To which I responded, after taking a moment to think, that I couldn’t remember. It’s like we have weather amnesia.

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This time of year we’ll get the odd break in the weather, but somehow these days pass through our consciousness – if not unnoticed, then without regard as to their freak nature. Last Tuesday was gorgeous here – 10C and sunny – but somehow I made it through the day without being struck in any meaningful way by the appearance of the sun. But surely enough, when the rain started up again the next day, I found myself dully remarking to no one in particular that I couldn’t believe it was raining again – like I’d suffered a personal affront – before stepping into my Hunter Wellingtons and hauling my laundry over to the laundromat.

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The upside of the soggy weather in these parts is that I get to work on creating lots of comfort food dishes, like the casserole featured here. I love a good casserole but casserole recipes that are both vegetarian AND healthy are a rarity. Often they’re laden with cheese and cream sauces, both of which taste good, don’t get me wrong – but usually leave me feeling like I’ve maxed out my salt and cholesterol intake for the year. Wanting a healthier but still hearty alternative, I tried my hand at a simple cashew-based cream sauce – with resounding success, I must say!

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The texture is similar to a dairy-based sauce, and the taste has the same richness, but without the bad fats. I added roasted red peppers to give the sauce a subtle sweetness and paprika for smokiness – and when baked in the oven with sweet potatoes, cauliflower and shallots, a thing of comfort food beauty was born. This recipe got an enthusiastic stamp of approval from my staunchly omnivorous SO, who was fully shocked that what I’d given him to eat was vegan. I like being tricky like that!

Recipe: Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Casserole | With Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

Roasted Red Pepper Cashew Cream Sauce

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste

For the rest

  • 1 medium sweet potato, sliced into thin medallions
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped into small florets
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh cilantro and parsley for garnish (optional)

Method:

Soak cashews: Place cashews in a medium bowl and cover with 2 cups of cold water. Refrigerate for two hours. Remove from fridge, drain and set aside until needed. While cashews are soaking, prepare roasted red peppers:

Roast red peppers: Preheat oven to 400C. Place quartered peppers in a baking dish and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and arrange peppers into a single layer. Place in oven for 45 minutes or until flesh is tender and skin is blackened, tossing twice. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once peppers are cool enough to handle, carefully peel off skin and discard.

Finish sauce: Place cashews, roasted peppers, vegetable broth, water and spices in blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Set aside until needed.

Assemble casserole: Preheat oven to 375F. In a casserole dish with lid (I used a circular dish that’s about 8″ in diameter and 5″ deep), ***layer 1/4 cup of cashew cream sauce. Layer 1/3 of sweet potatoes and 1/3 of shallots. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Layer another 1/4 cup of cashew cream sauce, then layer 1/3 of cauliflower. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Repeat from *** another two times, ending with the remainder of sauce.

Cover casserole and place in oven for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tenders and sauce is hot and bubbly. Remove lid, set oven to broil and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until cauliflower is brown and caramelized.  Remove from oven.

Serve, topping each portion with fresh cilantro and/or parsely and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

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{Lazy} Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

The way we keep track of and catalogue recipes has changed remarkably over the last twenty odd years. When I was younger – and for generations preceding mine – recipe boxes were the standard system of organization. I distinctly remember the one in our household, made of a vintage plastic and stuffed to the gills with well worn index cards and recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines. The recipe box method offered a tangible, phsyical artifact – but this artifact was at the mercy of being lost, destroyed or stolen. When a recipe box disappears, a lot of history and tradition necessarily disappear with it.

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These days things are different – with more people going online to source recipes, the recipe box has become somewhat obsolete. Larger sites like Epicurious and Martha Stewart allow you to save favourite recipes to a digital recipe box, which is handy (unless you’re like me and can never remember the password for your account). But what if you visit a number of different sites and blogs to access recipes? What’s the best way to stay organized then?

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Pinterest offers a decent solution – whenever I come across a recipe I like I automatically pin it to one of my boards. But seeing as all it takes is a click of a button to pin a recipe, I tend to go overboard – meaning I have hundreds (possibly thousands) of recipes pinned, and the ones I’ve tried and liked tend to get lost in the morass. And what to do with the recipes my mum emails to me – the ones I intend to try at some point in the future? With so much of our recipe-sourcing happening online, how do our favourites – the tried and true recipes we go back to time and time again – get passed along to subsequent generations now that handwritten recipe cards are mostly a thing of the past?

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I suppose we could print our favourite recipes and store them somewhere for posterity – a nice idea, but one that smacks of something I’d probably never get around to doing. I’m not particularly technologically inclined, so maybe a solution already exists to these questions and I’m just not aware of it. Regardless, in the coming years it will be interesting to see how recipes get passed down through generations, and whether this happens as regularly as it once did.

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I bring all this up because a variation of this shepherd’s pie recipe once existed in handwritten form – likely copied from a newspaper or magazine and mailed to me by my mum 10 or so years ago. This is probably the last time I recall receiving a hard copy of a recipe from anyone – after that the Internet took over and we began emailing recipes back and forth. It’s for this reason that this recipe is a favourite of mine – that and the fact that it’s relatively quick and easy to prepare, and a consistent crowd pleaser for vegetarians and omnivores alike. I’ve made several changes to the original recipe over the years – specifically, adding veggies where there once were none – but the secret ingredient has remained unchanged: a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup – fancy, I know – but it does a winning job of moistening up and adding flavour to the veggie ground round base. With a smashed potato topping this shepherd’s pie is the ideal mid-Winter dish. Serve with a side salad and/or sourdough rolls and you’re good to go 🙂

Recipe: {Lazy} Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

For smashed potato topping:

  • 18-20 white and/or red mini potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the ground round base:

  • 340g package of vegetarian ground round
  • 284ml can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (I used the low fat variety)
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (plus more for garnish)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare smashed potato topping: Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender all the way through, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and return potatoes to saucepan. Using a potato masher, mash potatoes until broken into small pieces. Put saucepan over low heat and add butter/margarine and milk. Stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare ground round base: In a casserole dish (the one I used is about 9″ in diameter and 5″ deep), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot, carrot, celery and green pepper and saute until tender. Add garlic and saute just until garlic is golden brown. Add paprika, cumin, coriander and cayenne and stir until spices coat other ingredients. Add crumbled ground round and fresh parsley and fold to combine. Add water and stir until everything is thoroughly combined.

Finish shepherd’s pie: Preheat oven to 350F. Spoon smashed potato topping on top of ground round base and spread out evenly. Sprinkle grated cheese on top of potatoes. Place casserole in oven until warmed through and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Set oven to broil and cook for another 10 minutes, or until cheese on top has browned. Remove from oven.

Serve, topping each portion with fresh parsley and freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs | Served on Creamy Polenta

I can’t believe it, but the three of us have been holed up in our 30 ft. recreational vehicle for a full four months now. I’m not mathematically inclined, but I was paying enough attention in elementary school to know that that’s an entire third of a year, folks! Those who read my initial posts on this blog may recall my many anxieties about making an RV – and by extension a trailer park – our temporary home. For instance, I anticipated taking on the ways of my neighbours and making polyester caftans my preferred leisure wear. That hasn’t happened, although I do find myself forfeiting skinny jeans and other such restrictive articles of clothing for track pants with increasing frequency, which suits me just fine. I also had a disproportionate fear of having to ignite a pilot light in order to use the oven. This I now do with an expert flick of the Bic lighter, and without visions of a ball of flame spewing forth from the oven and singeing off my eyebrows.

There are, however, a few things about trailer park life I haven’t taken so kindly too. Right up at the top of the list – and I realize a food blog is hardly the place for toilet talk so I’ll keep this short – is the special (not in a good way) ‘quick dissolve’ toilet paper you have to use so as not to clog the RV’s plumbing system. It’s one-ply, and it’s rough (although the package claims otherwise), and it’s so thin that you can’t even get it off the roll without it tearing. It’s not like I demand a luxuriant lilac-scented 4-ply tissue to be happy, but this stuff is ridiculous. Think the bathroom at a gas station and the toilet paper they provide you with there – only WORSE. There, I’ve vented. Now I’ll move on.

Another thing I’ve had to adjust to is RV’s small hot water tank. I’ve never been one to dawdle or sing or engage in protracted contemplations in the shower, but before we moved into the RV I’d take it for granted that I could lather up, wash my hair and shave without running out of hot water. It was a nasty awakening the first time I showered in the RV and the thing went cold on me in the process of rinsing the shampoo out of my hair (so not impressed). It took a few tries but finally I managed to get it down to a science, which looks something like this: Turn water on, get wet all over. Turn water off, lather. Turn water on, wet hair. Turn water off and lather hair. Turn water on and rinse hair. Turn water off and shave. Turn water on and take a final rinse. Sometimes the water still runs out on me and it kind of sucks – and don’t even get me started on the crappy water pressure – but I’m coping.

There are other annoyances I’ve detailed in previous posts – the lack of storage space, the barely long enough bed, the cold floor. But hey, we knew it wouldn’t be perfect. What the RV does have in its favour is a fully functional – albeit miniscule – kitchenette, a place for me chop vegetables and dirty cookwear to my heart’s content. And that, at the end of the day, is keeping me occupied, if not entirely sane, while forced to live in a confined space. On that note – a few words about this dish. Or one word, really: polenta! This stuff is crazy delicious, and in the process of making it today I wondered why I don’t eat it like, all the time. Its smooth texture and mild flavour makes it the perfect creamy companion for the light, fresh flavours of the stew. I love cooking with fresh herbs; they go hand in hand with the leeks, shallots and tomatoes and really work wonders to brighten up the taste of the stew. Try this recipe if you want to inject a little Spring into your Fall. I’m sure at this point we all need a little bit of that!

What are your favourite dishes that use cornmeal? Please share your recipes and ideas!

Note: I made the polenta using a combination of dairy (parmesan) and nondairy (almond milk, vegan margarine) ingredients, but depending on your preference you can make it using exclusively vegan (or lacto-ovo) ingredients. I’ve outlined both options in the ingredient list below.

Recipe: White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs | Served on Creamy Polenta

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

Creamy Polenta

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (or unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (or vegan margarine)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or vegan parmesan), grated (plus a bit more for garnish)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

White Bean and Leek Stew with Fresh Herbs

  • 1/2 cup dried white beans (I used navy beans; great northern beans would work well too)
  • 2 leeks, diced (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 small shallots, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • Pinch of red chili flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-12 grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock (low sodium if preferred)
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Prepare white beans: Soak beans for about 6 hours in a few cups of water. Drain beans and rinse thoroughly, then place in fridge until you’re ready to begin making the stew. To cook beans, place them in a medium saucepan with 3 cups of water (don’t add salt as it prevents the beans from cooking properly). Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover saucepan and cook until beans are tender but still firm, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside until needed.

Finish stew: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter (or vegan margarine) in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and shallots and saute until soft. Add garlic and saute just until golden brown. Add red chili flakes and coriander and stir until incorporated with other ingredients. Fold in tomatoes and white beans. Add vegetable broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let stew simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in parsley and oregano. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Set aside and prepare polenta.

Prepare polenta: Bring milk (or almond milk) to a gentle simmer. Whisk in cornmeal then switch to a spoon and stir until liquid is fully absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in butter (or vegan margarine) and parmesan (or vegan parmesan). If polenta is too thick, stir in a bit more liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

To serve, place a few spoonfuls of polenta in a bowl and top with stew (remember to remove bay leaf). Sprinkle with parmesan and freshly ground black pepper, then eat!