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roasted-tomato-soup-1

Even though buds are popping out in the back yard as we speak, I’m in a comfort food state of mind – and really, for many of us grilled cheese and tomato soup are about as nostalgic as it gets. I got it in mind awhile ago to take the gooey toasted bread that typically lids a baked French onion soup and apply it to tomato soup using cheddar, and save us all the trouble of dunking our grilled cheese sandwich into our soup. I mean, look at it.
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Patty melts 8

I partnered with Jarlsberg to bring you this cheesy goodness.

I’ve seen mention of patty melts here and there, and each time I see one I wonder why it is not number one on my all-time favourite foods list. A mash-up (truly) of grilled cheese and burger – two of my favourite things, yet mysteriously missing from restaurant menus (at least in my vicinity), and not something I’ve clued in on enough to attempt to make of my own accord. I’ve been meaning to rectify that, and Jarlsberg came along and gave me reason to finally jump in.

Jarlsberg-wedge

A patty melt, if you’re unfamiliar, is an American thing – I’m not sure of its origins, but won’t bother Wikipedia-ing it because it doesn’t much matter – all that matters is that onions are caramelized, a burger patty is smash-cooked in your skillet afterward, and it’s all piled between two slices of bread (to make it grillable) with plenty of meltable cheese to glue the whole thing together. Jarlsberg is about as melty-gooey as they get, with a mild, buttery, nutty flavour that goes so well with the beef and onions. I stuck with the traditional rye bread, not wanting to stray too far on my first try, but you could use just about any good-quality, sturdy loaf you like. (You just don’t want the slices to be unmanageably big, or for the insides to have too many holes.)

Patty melts 7

Can I walk you through it, instead of laying out a recipe? Because you don’t need precise measurements and instructions any more than you would for a grilled cheese sandwich.
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Lunar rhubarb cake 9

This lunar rhubarb cake is a thing – do you know of it? It has made the rounds of Canadian kitchens for decades and generations, far before the internet and Pinterest made it easier to share, back when great aunts and neighbours scribbled down the formula for that cake they always make that’s so good. Everyone seems to remember this.

Lunar rhubarb cake 8

It’s called lunar cake because its surface resembles the pocked surface of the moon, only in this case it becomes irregular and uneven because of the fruit and buttery brown sugar that sinks into the top. (Any fruit will work here – I love these recipes that you can use no matter what’s in season. I already can’t wait for plums.) I’d heard of it but never made one, thinking it was the same sort of fruit-topped cake I’d made dozens of versions of, but when it popped up in the new cookbook by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, whose lives I would quickly adopt if I could just dial back 20 years or so, who hopped in a car and ate their way across Canada and then compiled their journey in FEAST: An Edible Road Trip, I knew I had to give it a go. (Also, I’m still trying to use up last year’s epic stash of frozen rhubarb before this year’s crop starts to spring from the ground.)

Lunar rhubarb cake 7

Spoiler alert: this is much better than any like-minded cakes I’ve baked in the past. Of course Elizabeth Baird knew what she was doing when she took it out and brushed it off for the masses back in 1989.
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pork-lettuce-wraps

We took off for Tofino for spring break – a quick trip shortened considerably by a bout of pneumonia (I know!), and with my limited appetite and the abundance of good food to be had out there, I wound up not cooking much. But it occurred to me that these have been sitting in my drafts folder, not shared due to lack of photos, which is a shame because pork lettuce wraps are fast and easy and insanely good, and fit the bill if you have to come up with something gluten or dairy free, or to eat with your hands in front of the TV (but you still want it to have some sort of nutritional value). I cook the ground pork (cheap!) and veggies in a skillet, add enough hoisin sauce and cilantro to make it taste good, scrape it into a bowl and stick it on the table with a head of lettuce (if you’re feeling fancy, separated into leaves) – it’s also the best thing, besides Cheezies, to have on the table when you’re playing cards or Scrabble or working on a puzzle. (All spring break things, especially when your spring break involves snow and/or rain.)
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One egg cake

When I was a kid, maybe 9, I had a cupcake company. (I know, I was way ahead of myself.) I took out a $20 loan from my mom, bought ingredients and labeled them, and made the One Egg Cake out of The Joy of Cooking, and turned the batter into cupcakes to sell to neighbours on our street. After my loan was paid back, I think I made $7. (Most of the profits were eaten up.)

One egg cakes 3

I still have a soft spot (OK, many) for homemade cupcakes with straight-up buttercream frosting, applied in no particularly fancy order, just spread on with a knife. I think of the one-egg cake often, but have never revisited it – until late this afternoon, when I really really just needed some cake. And a short distraction from the computer. I stood and stared at the mixer beating butter, sugar, eggs, flour, milk – this is as basic a formula as they get – then poured the batter into tins, slid them into the oven and returned to the computer. No matter how gloomy a day you’re having, it’s brightened by the smell of vanilla cake baking in the middle of the afternoon.

One egg cakes 2
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Cinnamon Raisin Apple Irish Soda Bread 3

I don’t know why it takes March coming around again to remind me that an Irish soda bread is a good and simple thing to make, as versatile as a scone (which essentially it is), and the perfect, craggly-edged sort of thing to mix together and serve with soup or stew or chili, or in wedges slathered with butter and jam on weekend mornings. I am an enormous fan of raisin toast in all its forms, and of chewy oats, particularly when you get the satisfaction of kneading them into a loaf. For some reason, I forget all this for approximately 11 1/2 months of the year.

Cinnamon Raisin Apple Irish Soda Bread 1
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flapper pie 11

Flapper pie! As always, I’m late to the party – I’ve made two of these in two days, and only managed to eat a slice this afternoon. I’m a sucker for recipes with unusual names, particularly Canadian ones and anything that has to do with pie – if you haven’t heard of it, flapper pie is a prairie thing, although no one can say whether or not it was invented here. It’s a graham crust filled with vanilla custard and topped with meringue, and was popular in the prairies because its ingredients are easy to find on farms and don’t depend on seasons – there is nothing more exotic than sugar, milk, eggs, cornstarch and a box of graham crackers that were easily obtained at the corner store. (In fact, some say this recipe was originally printed on the box.)

flapper pie 5

There are plenty of flapper pie recipes out there, and most of them are very similar, with small tweaks to the quantity of each ingredient, and often a pinch of cinnamon added to the crumbs sprinkled overtop. I couldn’t resist going with a recipe shared by Amy Jo Ehman, whose grandmother won first prize for her flapper pie (among others) at the Saskatoon fair in 1957. I consider any Saskatchewan grandma to be the preeminent expert on flapper pie – or all pie, really. I made a few tweaks – reducing the crumbs slightly to allow the crust to hold together a bit better, and upped the sugar from 2 Tbsp to 4 in the meringue, making it closer to the ratio I usually use to top a pie. Other than that, it stayed true to the 1957 version.

flapper pie 8

It’s simple, truly – a press-in graham crust (I like bashing Digestive cookies into crumbs, too) quickly baked while you stir sugar, cornstarch, milk and three egg yolks into pudding on the stovetop. This reminded me of how delicious plain vanilla pudding is, and made me wonder why I never make it. You pour the custard into the shell – this part can be done a day ahead of time if you like – then top with meringue and pop it back in a hot oven for a few minutes to brown. You don’t have to worry about your pie being too juicy or runny or stodgy – there’s a reason everyone on the prairies relied on flapper pie.

graham crustflapper pie 1
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beef & guinness pie 8

-27 with the windchill in Calgary today, not making it feel at all like spring as we approach daylight savings time and spring break. But! We’re taking comfort in the fact that new microbreweries are popping up all over the place, one just a couple blocks from our house, and that lagers, stouts and ales are perfect for simmering with beef to make the ultimate cold-weather comfort food: beer and ale pie under a puff pastry lid. This is what parka season is all about – warming yourself from the inside out.

beef & guinness pie 1

To make a beef and ale – or Guinness – pie, start by braising the beef with onions, your choice of brew, stock and a pinch or sprig of thyme – I like to add a glug of Worcestershire and a spoonful of tomato paste or puree as well, and a shake of flour to thicken the lot. (A note on browning beef with flour: most recipes call for you to douse the beef chunks in flour before browning, but I find that it then browns the flour rather than the beef itself. My preferred method is to brown the meat, then shake the flour over the pieces and stir them around to coat in the pot. It totally works.)

beef & guinness pie 2
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Ten Foot Henry's whole roasted cauliflower

People who love to cook are my favourite kinds of people (and people who love to eat, too). The best part of my job is getting to hang out with cooks in their kitchens – home cooks, chefs, butchers, bakers – anyone who likes to make delicious things. Last fall, the chefs at the still relatively new veggie-heavy Ten Foot Henry shared the recipe for their whole roasted cauliflower with me for a Thanksgiving story, and I’ve been meaning to share it here ever since. I mean, how beautiful is this? If you’re looking for something stunning as a main event that isn’t a chunk of meat, this is it. I just want to look at it.

There are several layers here, but they’re easy to stir together – I love the idea of a whole cauliflower, but you could do the same thing with cauliflower steaks: cut thick slabs of cauliflower and cook them in butter (or oil! or ghee!) in a hot pan for a few minutes per side, or until just tender all the way through and golden on both sides, then top with the lemony yogurt sauce and salsa verde. (I’m always a fan of things with crispy edges.)
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