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I had been fidgety about the unseasonably warm weather around here, and then winter went and showed up all at once. Temperatures hovering around -32 with the windchill is the perfect reason to have a pot of something or other simmering on the stove, and I had been meaning to make a pot of feijoada – a thick Brazilian black bean stew, simmered with miscellaneous cuts of pork (and sometimes beef). The beauty of it is that dried beans take a few hours to soak and simmer, just like tough, flavourful cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and ham hocks. If you’ve never worked with smoked pork hocks before – it’s the ankle bit – this is a perfect reason to; you toss it in the pot and it does its thing, flavouring the beans with smoky meatiness, and then the chunks of tender meat fall off when you pull the bone and leathery skin out of the pot. Once you’ve cooked one, you’ll notice all kinds of delicious applications come up.
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cereal-milk-panna-cotta-3

It’s true – cereal milk is a thing. Momofuku Milk Bar made it so for anyone over ten. In essence, cereal milk tastes like the bottom of the cereal bowl – it pulls you straight back to childhood, to that spot where you sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV, watching Saturday morning cartoons. It’s the reason W always asks for a straw along with his bowl of cereal. I had been contemplating how to use cereal milk in a way that puts it at the forefront – just the flavoured milk itself, no gritty, soggy bits – and panna cotta seemed like just the thing.

Also, I was challenged to make something using cereal. Which in a twist of what’s-old-is-new-again appears to be trendy these days – who knew cereal was so retro? There are cafés dedicated to it, even!

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As I may have mentioned in the past, panna cotta is about as simple as dessert gets – it’s basically sweetened cream, set with gelatin. It’s an Italian thing, and verging on fancy, depending on where you get it and how you serve it. It seemed like the right move to bash up some crunchy cereal to sprinkle on top in order to texturally deliver the best of both worlds – smooth, sweet milk with crunchy-sweet cereal suspended on its surface.
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cranberry-lemon-bars

I can’t remember the first time I made these. I make them every year – and now, on the verge of cookie month, when I went to look up the recipe here, I couldn’t believe I haven’t shared it yet. Sorry, guys.

For fans of the sweet-tart, these are it – a double whammy of pucker, with a layer of cranberries suspended in lemon filling. A smattering of coconut adds some sweet chewiness. I like that I can make them ahead of time and stack them in the freezer – in fact, freezing them first makes it easy to cut them cleanly, and they thaw nicely while sitting out on a plate. All they need is a shake of icing sugar.
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mashed-potato-doughnuts-8

Yes! You can turn mashed potatoes into doughnuts. As if you needed another good reason to make more mashed potatoes than you need – these doughnuts are what you make with the leftover mashed potatoes you haven’t yet eaten with butter and salt.

So… the leftover leftovers.

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The recipe comes from my friend Caroline, who sings and plays in a retro pop rock band called the Lovebullies, and whose family makes enormous batches of these mashed potato doughnuts every Christmas. Christmas doughnuts seem like a great idea to me – not only are they delicious, you could, if you were so inclined, probably hang them on the tree. And making doughnuts is more of a production than one would generally take on on a regular weekend – which is really what the upcoming holidays are all about. Staying in your PJs until noon, and spending an hour making homemade doughnuts, to be doused in sugar and eaten with large cups of coffee and hot chocolate.

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They’re cake doughnuts – that is, a quick dough risen with baking powder instead of yeast – like banana bread is to a white sandwich loaf, texture-wise. Cake doughnuts (think of the sour cream glazed at Tim Hortons) are denser than yeasted ones, but far easier to stir together, pat and cut while an inch or two of oil heats in a small pot or shallow pan – you don’t need a deep fryer, honest. Nor a thermometer, really – I have one, but rarely pull it out – heat your oil until it’s hot enough that a small scrap of dough sizzles when you dip it in. My aunt would test the oil for her croquettes by dipping the handle of her wooden spoon in – if the oil bubbled around it, it was ready. (If you have a thermometer, aim for around 350F.)
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peanut-butter-oatmeal-cookies

When there’s nothing else you can do, bake. I feel like baking the world a batch of cookies.

Is Halloween far enough in the rear-view mirror to warrant a chewy peanut butter-chocolate chunk cookie?

Related: If I add some oatmeal, does it classify more as lunchbox/afternoon snack than holiday cookie platter fare?
We’re about to embark on cookie season, but although this is the very friendliest kind of cookie, it’s not particularly festive.

(Or is it? For the record, a stack of these would be well received by me any time of year.)

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Peanut butter and chocolate are two of my favourite things, together even better. Chewy in the middle, with a crispy edge and big puddles of chocolate. This is the type of workhorse cookie I bake when I need a good stash of something to have on hand for the hungry and sad, for lunches (W’s school has no nut allergies), and to freeze for another day when we might need more of the above – the balls of dough can be scooped and frozen, then set out on a parchment-lined sheet to wait for the oven to heat, because cookie emergencies do exist.
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korean-nachos-1

Last week at this time we were collectively stress eating – and cooking – me doing my best to distract myself in the kitchen, simultaneously trying to come up with something munchy-snacky-comforting we could eat on the couch in front of the TV, when this passed through my Instagram field of vision. A pile of nacho-style fried wontons topped with salty-sweet bulgogi beef, kimchi and cheese sauce. Brilliance? I think so.

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First of all: the crispy wontons, which are simply wonton wrappers, halved and fried in a shallow skiff of oil in a small skillet (you don’t need much – and they cook up in less than a minute) which transforms them into a delicious cross between cracker and chip. I am so keeping this technique in my back pocket for those nights when we need some salt and crunch with structural integrity – they would do well with a hefty, cheesy baked artichoke dip. Mental note.
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patience-cinnamon-buns-17

Somehow it came to be November – before I even managed to settle into October – and because I was out of town for much of last month – and because THIS WEEK – I just want to putter around the house and bake.

Also – this is the week we usually pack up and head to Jasper for Christmas in November for 10 days – and having spent the past 14 years with that block of holiday fun on the calendar, we’re going into withdrawal. To that end, we’ve planned some fun things to do around here, including digging out some Christmas movies to watch on a weekend morning.

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And so we pulled out the Christmas box early and rummaged through for the Grinch and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – the Saturday morning classics. And of course The Snowman, a little-known but fabulous movie based on a wordless kids’ picture book by English author Raymond Briggs. It was nominated for an Oscar, even – and the main song we played at our wedding 20+ years ago. (We got married on December 23rd.)

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fruitcake-2

Yes, it’s time. I decided that Tuesday night was as good as any to take on a large baking project – and particularly one that required me to strongarm copious quantities of batter from bowls to pans, and plenty of chopping.

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My family has been making this dark fruitcake for years; it’s a low-maintenance fruitcake, not requiring aging or brushing with liquor, loaded with dried fruit and nuts – apricots, figs, cherries, dates, citron – not a green glacé candied cherry in sight. Adapted from The Joy of Cooking, the 1997 edition – the edition is important, as there are completely different dark fruitcakes in different editions. (And no, it doesn’t call for eggs.)
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wpv-5

Somehow, it got to be November. For the past 14 years, I’ve spent this first week out in Jasper at Christmas in November, and I have to admit I’m going through some severe withdrawal. I made a list of things that have been hanging over my head for far too long to take care of with this time that would otherwise be spend driving/dancing/eating/spa-ing – organize the basement! organize the office! get teeth cleaned! sort out the garage while it’s still nice out! – but while I am making some progress, it wasn’t doing much to fill the hole left by the usual ten days of festivities. And so when I was asked if I might go pick up some things at Willow Park Village and make some party food out of it, I said hell yeah, immediately invited some friends over and went shopping.

Willow Park Village is a bit of a haul south for me, but I spent a lot of time there during the three seasons we filmed It’s Just Food in the Kitchen at Willow Park Wines & Spirits, and when I am down in that end of town I always pop in because I love the cheese shop, the seafood shop, the butcher shop, the cupcake shop, and my pal Judy Wood owns Meez, where they carry hard to find locally made products (and Lyle’s Golden Syrup in a tin!) and a buffalo chicken dip that will make you weep with joy. I love that you can park and walk between them all, and everyone is extraordinarily friendly and helpful.

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We slept in, stopped for coffee, then went to shop, starting at Cobs for cinnamon buns. My mom goes to Cobs quite a bit, and picks up this crazy delicious loaf packed with dried fruit. I grabbed one of those, not for the get-together but for toast the next morning – it was so warm, it steamed up the bag, and I nibbled it as we shopped.

I also picked up a cranberry-pistachio baguette, a few pizza crusts (I like tossing a few pizzas into the oven for the kids – although the grown-ups always wind up eating them too) and a chewy focaccia, topped with coarse salt. (In the past I’ve thinly sliced these to make grilled cheese, and sliced the long, thin sandwiches lengthwise diagonally or crosswise into gooey two-bite pieces and set them out right on the cutting board.)

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Next door, one of my favourite stops is Springbank Cheese, where Adrian & Carie Lee Watters carry over 365 types of cheese. They carry fresh curds for poutine, fresh mozzarella from White Gold, and Sylvan Star Gouda; they’re super knowledgeable, and are always sampling something tasty – I generally leave with something I hadn’t tried before. I picked up the above, plus some applewood cheddar, raclette, feta, a tub of Angela’s olives, a box of Raincoast Crisps (ADDICTED) and some Valbella prosciutto. I have a bunch of boards at home, but love using a kitchen tile to set cheese out on – they stay cool, and are easy to clean. I pick them up for a couple dollars at Home Depot and put a couple felt pads on the bottom to keep them from scratching the table. Cheese is wonderfully low-maintenance, and everyone loves it – the only thing I did was add a glug of olive oil, a few strips of lemon zest, a pinch of thyme and red chili flakes to the baby mozzarellas. I grabbed a jar of rosemary-fig jam made by CRMR and some thinly sliced cured bison at Second to None to fill in the gaps.

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Ah! And some aged white cheddar to scatter overtop a wide dish of butter chicken dip. Butter chicken dip! Which is really just saucy butter chicken (with the chicken – from Second to None – finely chopped), baked under a layer of cheese, and scooped up with wedges of pita or naan. All anyone really wants is the sauce, right?
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