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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Crunchy Slaw with Toasted Almonds, Granny Smith Apples and Miso-Lime Dressing

Well we’ve been living in the Gypsy Roller for exactly one month and I’m pleased to report that none of the doomsday premonitions I talked about in my first dispatch¬†have materialized. For instance, I’ve yet to add a caftan to my wardrobe. That being said – maybe it’s the sartorial choices of my geriatric neighbours are rubbing off on me; every day there is a virtual parade of tent dresses mere feet from my doorstep – I have started to see the practicality of owning one, especially given the recent spell of super hot weather. Also, while the same can’t be said of wine or beer (or cider), nary a single rum-and-coke has graced my lips – hard proof that I’ve managed to avoid joining the ranks of my¬†Canadian trailer park compatriots, as initially feared.¬†Check back mid-winter, however, when the temperatures have dropped below zero and I’m entirely confined to the RV, and I could be describing a completely different state of affairs.

Hideous brown upholstery aside – which I’ve managed to distract myself from with the aid of five strategically-placed accent cushions and one leopard print scarf –¬†I’m actually quite fond of our little house on wheels! I’m accustomed to small living spaces, having spent my entire 20s shacked up in bachelor suites and puny one-bedroom apartments (with even punier kitchens), so I haven’t had to adjust much in that regard.¬†Even my worry that I’d feel cut off from civilization¬†(i.e. food/art/fashion/coffee) moving from a condo in downtown Vancouver to a trailer park in Lake Country has turned out to have little basis in reality. Notwithstanding a scary foray into the local take on Chinese food, every restaurant meal I’ve eaten here has been outstanding. There’s even a coffee shop nearby that makes EXCELLENT coffee. By ‘nearby’ I’m talking about a half hour walk from the trailer park, but when it comes to caffeinating myself I’m willing to go the distance. Maybe the area doesn’t boast quite the same array of fashion and art, but what it lacks in these departments it makes up for in scenic beauty and easy access to local seasonal produce. And beaches where you can drink a beer without fear of it getting dumped by the municipal police booze patrol.

Maybe there’s something mood-altering in the water at the trailer park, because the same ardent fervour I experience at, say, the annual Army and Navy Shoe Sale¬†I now experience at the farmers’ market. You should see me grabbing at all that fresh produce! Shoving my way toward cheese! I’m exaggerating a little, but seriously, the availability of fresh food here really does make me glad we moved to the area. As I think this salad shows, with a few simple, fresh ingredients something pretty awesome¬†can happen. I definitely haven’t been this excited about a bowl of vegetables in a long while.

Just a quick tip: the key to the success of this recipe is ensuring all the ingredients are chopped as finely as possible.¬†Ideally I would have used a food processor to complete this task, but given the limited counter space in the RV’s kitchenette – there’s hardly room enough for a coffee maker and toaster let alone other appliances – I had to chop everything the old fashioned way! I love cabbage, but I find the texture a little tedious if eaten in larger chunks. Sliced finely, however, and combined with crunchy slivers of celery, shallot, apple, carrot and toasted almonds, it adds the perfect texture and colour to this salad. The miso-lime dressing – salty, sweet and citrusy – nicely complements the Granny Smith apples and is mild enough not to overwhelm the other ingredients.

Recipe: Crunchy Slaw with Toasted Almonds, Granny Smith Apples and Miso-Lime Dressing 

Makes 4 meal-size portions

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups purple cabbage, shredded
  • 2 cups savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 2 stalks celery, finely sliced
  • 1 small shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 carrot, finely sliced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup natural sliced almonds

Miso-Lime Dressing

  • 1/4 cup white miso paste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • Juice of 1 small lime, divided
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast almonds – tossing periodically – until just golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Place sliced apple in a large salad bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Add shredded purple and savoy cabbage, along with sliced celery, shallot, carrot, and toasted almonds (once cooled). In a separate bowl, whisk together miso paste, olive oil, honey, remainder of lime juice and water. Drizzle dressing over vegetables and gently toss to combine. Serve salad, topping each portion with a few cranks of freshly ground black pepper. Eat!

White Zinfandel Spritzer with Okanagan White Peaches

I’ll admit it: When it comes to desecrating a bottle of wine, I’ve got it in the bag. By ‘desecrating’ I’m talking about combining wine with another beverage, something which probably gives offence to¬†sommeliers, but given the title of this post there likely aren’t too many of those around.¬†What is it with so many wine drinkers and their unfun attitude toward their libation of choice, anyway? An anecdote: Once I announced, quite innocently, to a gaggle of self-styled wine experts¬†that I prefer my Pinot Grigio straight from the box, in a pint glass, in response to which they glared at me – silent and aghast – as though a convicted kitten-torturer were in their midst. Whatever! The box is a more economical purchase compared to the bottle and keeps longer in the fridge, does it not? Shouldn’t I at least get credit for chilling my wine before drinking it? And who of my generation doesn’t have fond memories of their parents strangling the last droplets of Dry White from a crinkly foil sack for their pre-dinner drink?¬†I can concede that the pint glass thing is hedging toward the socially unacceptable, but alas.

Anyway, back to the issue of desecration. The day after we arrived in the Okanagan my boyfriend thoughtfully presented me with a bottle of Pinot Noir from one of the local wineries (which shall remained unnamed lest a local¬†vintner¬†takes offense and declares fatwa). Checking to see that it was past noon (I’m a lady), I opened the bottle and poured a few ample glugs into my plastic tumbler. I even swirled it around a bit like I think you’re supposed to do, then took an eager sip. Well, blame my na√Įve palette – and I can see those wine experts or whoever they were casting looks of aspersion in my direction again – but the stuff tasted dangerously similar to¬†red wine vinegar. The terms ‘acrid’ and ‘rat’s blood’ (as a now defunct Vancouver restaurant used to call their cheapo House Red) also came to mind. Not wanting to let the remainder of the bottle go unconsumed ¬†– it’s a bit of a personal motto that at the end of the day all wine is good wine – and taking inspiration from a friend who recently told me he likes to augment his red wine with a splash or two of Coke, I opened the mini-fridge (everything in the RV is mini) to see which ingredients I could use to perform a little alchemy. Spotting a can of Orangina (a slightly less synthetic-tasting version of Orange Crush) sitting on the shelf, I grabbed it along with a handful of ice cubes and returned to my lowly tumbler. In went the ice, followed by a long, fizzy pour of Orangina. The results? Well, a marked improvement, that’s for sure. A poor man’s sangria? Maybe, but it went down much smoother than the Pinot Noir in its original state. It certainly wasn’t gourmet by any stretch, but think I was on to something.

The recipe below came about not from the need to mask the less palatable notes of a bottle of wine but rather a craving for an icy, effervescent happy hour cocktail on a very hot day – and as I talked about¬†here, holy crap is the Okanagan hot right now.¬†Indeed, the White Zinfandel I use for this recipe is both cheaper and more drinkable than the one involved in the experiment described above. Such is often the way with wine, at least in my (admittedly limited) experience straying from the bottom shelf at the liquor store. The kitschy pink hue of the White Zinfandel make me think to throw in a few juicy slices of Okanagan white peach – so ample here this time of year along with cherries, plums and nectarines – and the end result was so impressive to look at I almost (not quite) didn’t want to drink it. So I say the wine cult could do well to to follow in the footsteps of its beer-drinking better half – which seems more open to the concept of beer-centric¬†cocktails and even desserts¬†– and loosen up a little. Dionysus would have expected as much! And after all, it doesn’t have to be fancy to be good.

Recipe: White Zinfandel Spritzer with Okanagan White Peaches

Ingredients:

Directions:

In a tall tumbler, layer ice cubes and sliced white peaches, sliced side facing out. Fill tumbler half way with your carbonated beverage of choice. Fill tumbler the remainder of the way with your White Zinfandel of choice. Sit back and admire your creation, then drink! It’s happy hour at the trailer park…

Lemony Bowtie Pasta Salad with Summer Veggies and Bocconcini

Excuse my language – or at least empathize with it; I live in a trailer park, remember – it is f*cking hot here in the Okanagan right now. To anyone who has lived in the area for longer than a year I’m likely stating the obvious, but as a recent Vancouver ex-pat, where temperatures in the summer rarely exceed the mid-20s, this is a seriously newsworthy issue. The heat here is dry, searing and desert-like, bringing to mind cacti and deeply creviced cowboy skin – a heat very different from, yet much more bearable than, the energy-sapping, hairdo-sabotaging, humid kind (which almost never fails to make an appearance without its best pal, smog) standard in parts of the country further East (ya Toronto, I’m looking at you).

The thought of preparing an elaborate meal on a day as hot as this – well, that’s just pure crazy talk, right? ¬†So pasta salad it is. But not the monochromatic, mayonnaise-laden variety available in the deli section at the grocery store. Hell no. That stuff ¬†just screams ‘food poisoning,’ especially after it’s been sitting in the sun for any length of time. The recipe offered here falls on the refreshing, crunchy and colourful end of the pasta salad spectrum (if such a thing exists!) and trumps its deli section counterpart with its light, lemony dressing. Sure you have to turn on the stove to make a portion of the recipe – a tall order on a hot day, I know – but only for a few minutes and the results are well worth the sweat. If you’re looking to round out your meal with a nice summery dessert, I’d recommend whipping up Ezra Poundcake’s smooth, cool and awesomely delish¬†Peanut Butter Icebox Pie.

For this pasta salad I pretty much used what I had available in the fridge, but if you want to make it even more of a party in a bowl – think your boss drinking too much at a staff function and ending up with the proverbial lampshade on his head – go ahead and throw in any or all of the following:

  • quartered artichoke hearts
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • cherry tomatoes
  • ribbons of fresh basil
  • sliced radishes

Recipe: Lemony Bowtie Pasta Salad with Summer Veggies and Bocconcini

Makes about 6 side servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice and rind of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 225g farfalle (bowtie) pasta
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup sweet peas, fresh or frozen
  • 10-12 green beans, cut into thirds
  • 8 pieces cherry bocconcini, quartered

Method:

In a skillet over medium heat, saute onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook for another few minutes, until fragrant and golden brown. Be careful not to let garlic burn. Remove onion and garlic from heat and set aside to cool.

Place green beans, sweet peas and corn in a vegetable steamer over boiling water and steam until tender crisp. Transfer steamed vegetables to an ice water bath for 1 minute then drain and set aside.

Cook pasta according to package instructions, or until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice and rind, coriander, salt and pepper. Add in sauteed onion and garlic (once cooled), pasta, green beans, sweet peas, corn, red pepper and bocconcini. Gently fold together all ingredients, add an extra drizzle of olive oil if desired, and serve!