Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I wish I could say that I am one of those people who randomly pulls ingredients out of the fridge, gracefully throwing them together to create a masterpiece. I'm not really, and I'll tell you why: I think I may be one of the most easily distracted people on the planet.

Yesterday for example, I was making one of my favorite salads, one that requires the boiling of lentils and bulgar, which normally isn't a problem for me. But yesterday, something caught my eye and I left the lentils to boil madly away on the POWER BURNER for way, way too long. I had nearly forgotten about them entirely until I smelt something incredibly unpleasant, and apparently on fire. My lentils were toast, and so was my dad's favorite pot (sorry dad!). So lesson of the day: the power burner is not for the faint of heart.

I should really give myself the benefit of the doubt, though. I know what flavors taste good together, and I can create some wicked things off the top of my head, but more often then I'd like to admit things go awry, especially as of late. Without the guidance of a cookbook, I daydream, I sit down and do homework, and I wander off into another room while my grilled cheese sandwich dies a horrible death on the stove. My head, MY HEAD people, is in warp speed 24 hours a day, trying to plan and organize how I am going to get done what needs to get done. During the school year I am always one step ahead in my mind... I have to be. Whist reading chapters from my Psychology textbook, I am thinking up thesis statements for English essays. And while boiling lentils for my salad, I am watching What Not to Wear on TLC.

This goes to say that even though these days my head if often up in the clouds, sometimes I am able to focus. And when that happens, I am able to create. And sometimes, if I'm lucky, I end up with a masterpiece.

Speaking of masterpieces, my dad, for those of you who don't know him personally, is clinical counsellor by day and a gourmet chef by night. Anything and everything I know about food, I learnt from him. I am a shameless"food snob" because he made me that way. He is one of those people who you could set loose in a cookbook-less kitchen blindfolded and you would, without a doubt, be in for one of the most incredible meals of your life. He is the first person I share my kitchen tales with and the only person I know who gets more excited about food then I do.

In my house, my dad is the one that does the cooking every night. He rarely ever cracks open a cookbook, which in my opinion is an incredibly enviable skill. Every single night, without fail, we are served an incredible meal. His food is elegant, beautiful and simple. "Less is more," he always says. He believes in eating local, something more of us should strive for, and last year for the first time ever we started our very own vegetable garden in our backyard. It was our pride and joy, with many a meal being focused on the fruits, or vegetables in this case, of our labor. He is never without an idea, or a plan. He knows what he is doing and he is never, ever distracted.

A few days ago he suggested I make myself fried polenta with a slow-cooked tomato sauce for dinner. I've never made polenta in my life, and to say I am slightly afraid of the stuff is an understatement. I feel polenta has the tendency to be tasteless, starchy, and gluey in texture, making it the perfect candidate for my loathing. But my dad assured me it would be good, and I mostly always consider his word as the gospel truth as far as the kitchen is concerned. He gave me a fool proof ratio: 4 cups water, 1 cup cornmeal, and don't stop stirring, even if your arm feels like it is about to fall off. He told me to add a healthy dose of parmesan and black pepper for flavor. Then for a sauce, he told me to slowly heat diced Roma tomatoes, adding basil and garlic until it was thick and flavorful. It would be simple, but simple is often best. And so I improvised (improvised!) the whole thing, with major props of course, to my brilliant father.

What followed was bliss, sheer bliss. After a quick fry in hot pan, the polenta turned golden brown and had a thin crisp outer layer. It held up wonderfully against the ridiculously tasty tomato sauce that was spooned generously, messily over it's top. It was charming and homey- the perfect meal for a late winter's night.

It's amazing what comes about when we take the time to focus. No burnt lentils, wrecked pans, or fleeting thoughts. Just simple little masterpieces.
Black Pepper Parmesan Polenta with Tomato Sauce

For this recipe, I didn't really use any measurements, especially for the sauce. What I have given below are approximations. I don't think you can really go wrong with a pan filled with roma tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, so fear not. Improvisation isn't all that scary...

I like to serve this as a light meal, all on it's own with a nice mixed greens salad on the side. My family sauteed up some Halibut with lemon juice, salt, and pepper last week and ate polenta on the side, which was also lovely.

For Polenta

4 cups water
1 cup polenta
1/2 teaspoon salt
a hefty dose of black pepper
1/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter

Boil water in a medium sized pot and add cornmeal. Stirring constantly, cook cornmeal for 15 minutes, or until fully cooked. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, parmesan, and butter, stirring well to incorporate. Working quickly (polenta will begin to firm up) pour polenta into a greased 9 inch square baking dish. Allow to cool. Polenta will become very firm.

For Tomato Sauce

8-10 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
A generous splash of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. Add balsamic and sugar, stirring to incorporate. Cook for another 5-10 minutes. The sauce should start to thicken. You want the flavors to have time to mix and mingle and the tomatoes to become soft. Add the basil, salt, and pepper and remove from heat.

To Serve

Heat a large sauce pan with a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Slice cooled polenta into squares (depending on how big a pan you used to let the polenta set, you should get 8 or so small pieces), remove from dish, and place in heated pan. You want the polenta to become golden and slightly crisp on the outside. Cook for 2-3 minutes and flip, allowing polenta to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve. Top with generous spoonfuls of tomato sauce and enjoy.

Yeild: Serves 3-4 as a main dish, and 5-6 as a side


  1. oh yum! this looks and sounds soooo tasty!
    As for the lentil burning incident...may I remind you of the time a certain someone left NAIL CLIPPERS on the stove for too long...hahaa
    Very well written, enjoyable, and smooth reading.

    p.s. polenta has never been my favourite, but maybe after this it will change my mind!

  2. Jane Jones: I seriously appreciate your comments! I like knowing at least one or two people actually reads this thing!

    Oh yes, the infamous nail clipper incident! Hahaha I told my whole family about that. Thank you Danielle for the good laugh. You and I are truly one of a kind.

    Polenta has never been my favorite either. I've come to the conclusion that it is much more bearable, tasty even, when combined with parmesan cheese, black pepper, and fried until crisp.

    Well yeah! T-O-M-A-T-O-E-S!!!!!!! <33333

  3. Okay,
    reading your blog makes me hungry girl!!

    Your uncle Brad was suggesting some new recipes I should try.
    Polenta came up and now I know why.

    You mean to say your dad doesn't even get distracted when sports are on TV? I am impressed.

    I still get distracted when I cook and for the first time the other day actually prepared the meal while the company was sitting around the kitchen island. A huge accomplishment for me.
    Dinner was a huge success as well.
    fennel and celery salad with orange zest
    mushroom artichoke and pancetta pizza on a spelt flour crust
    bbq chicken pizza
    Mmm can still taste it :)

    But there I go getting distracted from remembering my greatest distraction, which was reading while I was making breakfast for my brothers.
    Bacon was on the stove and well, long story short, the cupboard turned black, the counter was permanently stained, the lino on the floor melted and when the pan ended up on the grass outside, I realized my hand was so badly burned that you could see the flesh sizzle and bubble as if it was bacon...



  4. Auntie Angela,

    I LIVE TO MAKE PEOPLE HUNGRY! Or something! I have such a passion for the things I create in the kitchen, and I love having people to share them with! MAKE THIS POLENTA! It's unique, in the sense that it is not a typical creamy, soft polenta. It firms up and then gets slightly crisp on the outside from a quick fry in a hot pan. It is sooooo good this way!

    Oh sure my dad has a weakness for sports!!! But he practices pretty good self control: he puts on some John Coltrane and keeps the tv OFF when he's preparing a nice meal!

    The dinner for your guests sounds INCREDIBLE!

    Also, I laughed soooo hard when I read the story about the burnt bacon. That is terrible, but I'm convinced that those kind of situations only happen to the best of us...

  5. It sounds like your dad cooks like I do, except with much more finesse.