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Blackberry Gateau Basque

I’ve made this a few times over the years, and like that it’s sort of half cookie half pie, yet called a gâteau. I made it when I have a glut of homemade jam in the house, or all-fruit mincemeat in December. This year I seem to have a surplus of blackberry jam in my freezer, so pulled some out to use in this big sweet sandwich, with jam spread between pieces of buttery cookie-pastry and baked as one giant cookie-pie, and served in thin wedges. You can nibble these out of hand, like a cookie, or serve them on a plate topped with a scoop of ice cream, like a far fancier dessert. The fact that it’s called a gâteau Basque rather than a big cookie-jam sandwich just makes you feel so much more sophisticated as a cook.

Blackberry Gateau Basque

Most gâteau Basque, named for the region in France, is tucked into a shallow tart pan, but I figured a) less than 50% of the population owns a fancy fluted tart pan, and b) it’s not necessary for this gâteau to taste delicious.

See? It doesn’t even have to be perfectly round. Just round-ish.

Gateau Basque 9
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Nigel Slater's fruitcake

Currently bedside: Nigel Slater’s latest, The Christmas Chronicles. He’s one of my all-time favourite food writers, and Christmas is my favourite time of year, and the two are packaged together perfectly. (Here’s a taste from the Guardian.) I love how much he loves the “crackle” of winter, just like I do, how he finds the cold brisk and invigorating. He makes me want to get up early and write by candlelight, then build a fire and slice crisp apples into a pot and simmer them with warm spices, a clementine and some brandy while a pork belly roasts in the oven. He perfectly encapsulates why I love these short, cold, cozy days, particularly in early winter – and even (especially?) the grey ones. Who better to refer to when seeking out a new fruitcake?

Nigel's fruitcake 8

Over the years, I’ve short-sightedly been thinking of fruitcake in black and white, or light and dark, always drawn toward the dark, sticky fruitcake of my childhood – specifically the one from the 1977 edition of The Joy of Cooking. (They aren’t the same, if you look at the dark fruitcake recipes in more recent editions.) It has been a fine recipe, and served us well for decades, but in recent years my results have varied, and although my mom always baked hers in an assortment of oddly shaped ring pans of various sizes, which I wound up doing as well, necessitating varying cooking times and producing too many hard edges, I like the idea of settling on one round cake, or a couple loaf pans. (In fact, Elizabeth Baird told me a few weekends ago that she bakes hers in a 9×13-inch pan, using Rose Murray’s recipe, and cuts it into 6 logs. It cooks quickly and evenly, and the logs are the perfect size for slicing.)
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Smothered Chicken 1

It’s the most eating-est time of year, but not just because of all the shortbread and turkey dinners and Turtles—some of our favourite December things are the weekend morning we gather around my mom’s dining room table to make crackers for Christmas dinner, the afternoon Christmas carol jam, and the night we invite everyone over to watch Elf and Christmas Vacation, and plunk down a big pot of meatballs, or my grandma’s beef carbonnade, or something easy we can all dig into, in the middle of the table. I love that there are just more people around for dinner more often these days, which means those one-pot meals that are so comforting (and genuinely satisfying to make) are pulled into service for home entertaining of the more casual sort—the ones where everyone brings their own slipper socks.

Smothered Chicken 7

Smothered chicken is an old, classic recipe. I love the idea of it. You can make it with a whole spatchcocked chicken, like Craig Claiborne wrote about in the New York Times, or you could do chicken pieces, which is I think the most common, or you could just do chicken thighs, which I’m a fan of for their flavour + price point. It’s quicker than stews or braises, but tastes like it has been in the works all afternoon—you brown the chicken, then brown some onions and mushrooms, and make a quick gravy right in the pan with a splash of cream, then return the chicken to the pot, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for another 15 minutes or so, until the chicken is ridiculously tender. Best of all, smothered chicken is an excuse to boil some egg noodles. And even if you didn’t grow up with it, it comes with built-in nostalgia.

Smothered Chicken 9
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RK Treats for Toys 5

I’ve officially given up on the gingerbread house. Making them, that is – not that I’ve ever been a fan of eating them, after sitting out on our mantle gathering dust (and the occasional spider) for weeks – not that dry, molasses-heavy gingerbread designed for its structural integrity has ever been particularly known for its deliciousness. But this – this I can work with.

RK Treats for Toys 2

We’re making a different kind of edible treat this year – the folks at Rice Krispies reached out to ask if I’d help spread the word about their Treats for Toys program, which turns homemade treats into real toys for kids in need. This is a win-win scenario: I get a fun project to take on at the kitchen table with W (and any of his cousins and friends who might be over), working with a medium I can actually handle, and want to eat afterward. The idea is that if you transform marshmallowy Rice Krispie treat mixture into toy shapes – robots, cars, building blocks… we even came up with a top that actually spins, built around a chopstick and moulded in a plastic funnel – and share a photo on TreatsForToys.ca or through social media using the #TreatsForToys hashtag, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies will donate $20 (!!) to The Salvation Army to buy a real toy for a child who may otherwise go without. Now in its fifth year, the #TreatsforToys program has contributed more than $130,000 to date to make the holidays happier for kids across Canada.
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Castello Cheese board 2

One afternoon a few weeks ago, a few friends and I strategized a last-minute get-together by text: Friday night? Allison’s house. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and something for the cheese board. These kinds of spontaneous get-togethers always seem to work out best—there’s no checking of schedules weeks ahead of time, no pressure on any one of us to plan a party and menu. A cheeseboard can be assembled in minutes, and makes any gathering of people seem more official, with a focal point to gather around and nibble from.

Castello Cheese Board 16

The best part: everything goes on a cheese board, from nuts to dried fruit. I can pick up a cheese or two at the store en route, or rummage through my pantry and grab a ripe pear, a bag of crackers or cashews, half a jar of olives and the last of the crabapple jelly to contribute. Once everything is piled onto a board, it looks wonderfully appealing—a sort of mini potluck, and no one has to cook.

Castello Cheeses & Chutney

These impromptu parties are some of the best, the evenings I look forward to, getting the chance to spend time with people I don’t get to see often enough. But even when get-togethers are planned, I generally have a cheeseboard on the menu—because who doesn’t love cheese? It’s low-maintenance, and requires only putting things on a board or tile or platter, which can be done as people are ringing the doorbell.
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Parsnip Soup

It’s funny how people have this thing about parsnips, like it’s one of the world’s most unrecognized (and despised) root vegetables, yet when you mention a recipe with parsnips people say oh! I love parsnips! I figured I’d best get this recipe in before the imminent onslaught of butter, sugar and mincemeat.

This was my contribution (along with all of the photos!) to the latest Soup Sisters Cookbook, this one geared toward families and getting your kids into the kitchen. Soup is, after all, the ultimate starting point for the beginner cook – measurements don’t need to be precise, and you can play around with ingredients that are in season or whatever you happen to have in your fridge, and if veggies were wrinkly going in, no one will know. I’m a particular fan of soups you can purée and sip at your desk or take in your insulated to-go cup when you’ve had altogether too much coffee. And you’ll feel like you’re winning at this grown-up thing when you’re driving around with sippable parsnips in the cup holder of your car.

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Cherry Pavlova

I know the first few frosty weeks of winter isn’t the best time to present late summer cherries, but although I made this in August, my freezer is still loaded with the remains of this same case of now pitted and halved dark BC cherries, and it’s occurring to me that it would make a pretty fab holiday dessert. I mean, look at it – the meringue and cream all billowy and snowy, with brilliant red, juicy cherries on top – it could be raspberries or cranberries, or a combination of any or all of the above, you just want berries that are juicy and tart to contrast with the sweet, soft and crunchy cream and meringue. And although these are fresh cherries, tossed with just enough sugar to help them release some of their juices, I typically simmer fruit just briefly enough to start it breaking down, and releasing more juices, then setting it aside to cool (or refrigerate ahead of time) before pouring it over the pavlova.

Cherry Pavlova 7
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Jason's Grandma's 2 hour buns 3

Our across-the-street neighbours moved away a few years ago. They were fun to hang out with on our front step, our collective little kids playing on the sidewalk. They were good eaters, and toward the end of one summer shared the recipe for the soft, sweet buns he told us his Grandma used to make. Homemade dinner rolls made with a recipe procured from someone’s grandma are my favourite. For awhile, I made these with my niece across the street, and she’d bring them to school in her lunches.

Jason's Grandma's 2 hour buns 5

Homemade buns on the dinner table is about as old-fashioned as it gets, and yet immensely satisfying – this is one of the recipes we included in the new Best of Bridge Sunday Suppers, which hit store shelves a few weeks ago. If you like, you could pay closer attention to how you shape them, forming them into smooth-ish balls, then bake them on a sheet instead of in a tray, spaced apart so that they don’t snuggle up to each other in the pan and instead bake into stand-alone buns with tanned sides, perfect for homemade burgers. (If you do this, brush their tops with a bit of water or milk and sprinkle with some sesame seeds before you bake them. It’s positively glee-inducing to pull a pan of homemade sesame-topped burger buns out of the oven.)

Jason's Grandma's 2 hour buns 4
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Braised Beef Short Ribs with Lentils

With the launch of the new Best of Bridge Sunday Suppers book a couple weeks ago, I’ve been talking a lot on TV, radio and various interviews about the idea (and significance) of Sunday supper – of getting as many people as I can around the table for dinner to regroup and reconnect and get ready for the week. It’s an idea I always intend to get behind – to put out a standing invite for everyone, every Sunday forever – but haven’t quite managed to. This Sunday we cobbled together a quick sit-down around the table and although we could collectively only manage an hour between this and that, it did the trick.

I feel like not enough people know beef short ribs, or recognize them in the grocery store – they’re short and square, unlike typical ribs, and are best braised (cooked low and slow) to break down the tough connective tissues. I often throw on a pot of beef short ribs when there’s leftover beer in the house – which is to say there’s been a party, and as we’re doing the minimum kitchen sweep before bed, putting away chunks of cheese and filling the dishwasher, we come across a few nice craft beers that have been cracked open but not drank. Because I hate to waste nice beer, this always means beef stew or short ribs in our immediate future – and I like having flat beer to work with as it it seems equally odd to crack a nice cold, fizzy one straight from the fridge and pour it into a Dutch oven to braise with beef and onions.
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