Pasta all’Amatriciana

Who needs some comfort food? I do. Even if I have to make it for myself.

It’s been a nutso day/week/month.. year, really. For all of us? A couch and some slouchy socks and a big bowl of pasta is a realistic salve when sleeping in isn’t an option. This is one of those recipes that I know, that I glaze over when I see because it’s just too familiar and I know how to make pasta and give me a more unique idea already, but occasionally I just stick to the directions and am amazed at how delicious something is. My friend John Gilchrist sent this to me as I was gathering recipes for the Calgary Food Bank that uses ingredients on their wish list, and having half a package of bacon and half a can of tomatoes in my fridge, I gave it a go.

Pasta all’Amatriciana 2

Pasta all’Amatriciana is traditionally made with guanciale and Pecorino, but bacon is just fine. And you can use any type of tomato It was crazy delicious, and cooked in the amount of time it takes to boil the pasta. Cheap, fast and easy – that’s my kinda dinner.
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Babka 7

It’s time for some chocolate babka, I think. To celebrate the time of year when you can turn the oven on to warm the house. If you’re only familiar with babka thanks to Seinfeld, it’s a sweet, rich yeasted dough that some call cake—but really it’s a loaf of sweet dough with the texture of a soft cinnamon bun, rippled through with so much chocolate (or cinnamon, which is considered a lesser babka, but it’s on my list to make next—who wouldn’t love a loaf-shaped cinnamon bun?) as to make slicing the rolled log (which you do lengthwise, before twisting it into the pan) a challenge.

Babka 12

I took babka for a spin a few times to get a feel for it, in the name of research of course—the soft, rich dough is lovely to handle, and it’s like assembling a cinnamon bun, up until the dough is filled and rolled into a log. Some of the chocolate fillings out there are crumbly, others smooth, which I found easier to handle when it comes to the twisting part, which I find ridiculously satisfying.

Babka 13
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Cold + Creamy Beet Soup (Chlodnik)

Making soup is simple, but there are some who make truly fantastic soup, and my friend Dorata is one of them. She’s been doing my hair for over 20 years, and every time I see her we spend all our time talking about food. Eventually I convinced her to invite me over, and she fed me this brilliant pink chilled beet borscht (and a thick, creamy white borscht too, and peroghies, and croquettes, and crepes…), something you can make by just throwing stuff in, she says. Except that hers somehow comes out tasting unbelievably delicious. I’ve never really appreciated the appeal of cold soup, until I tried Dorata’s on a 30 degree day – it’s like a creamy bowl of salad I just wanted to pick up and drink like a savoury smoothie.

Dorata & beets
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Rhubarb Plum Crumble Pie

Do we have time for one more pie? Thanksgiving is early enough in Canada that I can often squeak by with the last of the stone fruits, and often plums, which make a mighty fine (yet mostly overlooked) pie. They get along well with apples and berries and of course rhubarb, and so when we had an impromptu pie party on a recent Sunday morning (I invited some pals over for coffee and pie), I rummaged through the fridge and came up with this combo. It was a winner. I am a huge fan of sweet-tart fruit pies, still warm enough that the ice cream or whipped cream creates rivulets of melted cream finding their way through the nooks and crannies of fruit, landing in pools on the plate.

plums & rhubarb

These two – they really get along. And if you have some plums in your fridge that are starting to go squidgy, you won’t be able to tell at all once they’re cooked. And if you want to skip the pastry part and call this a crumble, that’s cool too. I really love having the best of both worlds – and it excuses the baker from any obligation to make the top lid of pastry look pretty.
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Chocolate Zucchini Snack Cake

Hey, hi. I figured you, like me, might need some chocolate zucchini cake to help get you through the week. The moist, not-too-sweet kind you just stir up in a bowl and bake in a pan and nibble from when you need it – a cake you could get away with having a chunk of with your coffee in the morning, for filling up lunchbags and the after-school gap. And here’s some good news: if you also have far too many zucchini in your kitchen, you can grate a bunch, as if you were going to make brownies or muffins or a loaf or this cake, and just freeze it in ziplock bags, pushed flat to get the air out and so that they barely take up any space, to use in the aforementioned baked goods at a later date.
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Taco sandwich 1

It’s no secret I’m a bread fan. I love all of it – some more than others. Toast (in all its forms) is perhaps the world’s most perfect food. Toast and jam. Cheese toast. Raisin toast. Peanut butter toast. Yes, even avocado.

I’ve been a fan of COBS Bread since spending a few years out in Vancouver – their Apricot Delight Log makes some of my favourite toast of all time, with an impressive quantity of dried apricots, raisins and currants rarely seen in bakery bread. out supporting the hungry in our community all the time. Each time I’ve made sandwiches at the Drop-in Centre, a large quantity of bread has been donated by COBS. The Leftovers Foundation is always collecting donations from COBS.

Cobs apricot bread

This weekend is COBS’ annual Breakfast Club of Canada fundraiser – from Friday September 15th – Sunday the 17th, $1 from every loaf of bread sold will be donated to the Breakfast Club of Canada. A dollar provides breakfast for a child for a day – last year they raised over $100,000, and this year they’re aiming to raise $150,000 – that’s 150,000 breakfasts for hungry kids. In Canada, nearly 1 million kids go to school without breakfast in the morning. BCC helps launch and support breakfast programs in schools and communities across the country, and besides providing access to healthy food for kids, they train youths and volunteers, boosting community engagement and support. So when they asked me to help spread the word via a few sandwich ideas, I was happy to.

Bread + feeding kids = a cause I can get behind.

Cobs loaves
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Tomato & Corn Biscuit Pie

I’m all about pie these days. It’s the fall food, isn’t it? Although it’s time for stone fruit pies, like peach and plum and apricot and cherry and rhubarb (still) and yes, it’s almost time for apple, but while it’s still late summer, with all the ripe tomatoes and the last of the corn, this pie is it. It comes somewhat indirectly from one of my favourite food writers, and it’s really a pie unlike any other – layers of ripe tomatoes, corn, aged cheddar, fresh basil and chives, doused in lemony, garlicky mayo, wrapped up in a buttery biscuit crust, which is brilliant in itself.

Tomato & Corn Biscuit Pie 2

You roll the biscuit dough as thin as you would pastry, but it bakes up like a biscuit, only thinner. It’s all crunchy top and craggly edges – the more rustic and haphazardly you throw it together, the better. I don’t bother crimping, just tuck and fold the edge over any old way. There are no eggs or anything else to “set” the pie, but it slices beautifully. It occurs to me that you could add sausage or ham or some such, but it doesn’t need it – truly.

Tomato & Corn Biscuit Pie 6
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Pastel de Choclo

One year ago, I spent a sunny afternoon cooking in my friend Susana’s back yard, with her mom and grandma. (OK, mostly they cooked, and I watched. And then ate.) Every year, one day late in the summer, they pick up cases of Taber corn and get together to make large quantities of pastel de choclo – Chilean corn-topped beef pies in the style of shepherd’s pie. They do it out in the backyard when it’s still sunny, giving them space to shuck dozens of cobs and cut off the kernels, which are then mulched in the food processor with sprigs of fresh basil. I don’t know why I never thought to do this – the result is this creamy-sweet pale yellow mixture, brightened with bits of basil, which I was perfectly happy to eat raw by the spoonful. If you haven’t taken a bite of a good cob of corn raw, try it! ‘Tis the season.

Pastel de choclo 5

Pastel de choclo is made with a base of pino, hard boiled eggs and olives, topped with the corn mixture. Susana’s mom Catalina is known for her pino – essentially the same mixture that’s used to make empanadas, although for empanadas Catalina makes hers with larger cuts of beef, roughly chopped, and a formula she keeps secret by preparing it late at night after everyone is asleep – for pastel de choclo it’s made with ground beef and merkén– a spice blend with a smoked chili base, lots of garlic, and Catalina quickly boils the onions first, which she says makes them easier to digest and eliminates heartburn.

Pastel de choclo 7

I loved how neatly Susana’s grandma, Lela, sliced around the base of each cob before pulling off the husks and silk, leaving a neat little pale green cap at the bottom.
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Grilled Lettuce with Blue Cheese Dressing

Yes, you can totally grill lettuce! Not just romaine. And it’s stunning. Such a fun alternative to the usual summer salads.

Grilled Lettuce with Blue Cheese Dressing 10

I got a shipment of living lettuce from Inspired Greens last week – gorgeous heads of lettuce grown in Alberta greenhouses and harvested in their pots, sold not in clamshells but in sturdy thin plastic cones, with their roots attached. They’re grown to adolescent size – a bit bigger than baby lettuces, so they stay fresh for ages, especially if you store them in a short glass of water in the fridge. Honestly, I try growing greens in my garden and patio containers with limited success every year – they wilt and bolt and never grow to be big and full and robust – and this is a bit like having a micro-garden on a shelf in my fridge. Far less frustrating.

Inspired greens 5
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