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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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Umm Ali 5

I made this for last week’s Swerve column, wanting to break out of my usual baking habits – the scones, loaves and cookies I’ve been making for decades – things I can play with, mix and bake in semi-sleep without a recipe but with a predictable outcome. I’ve had middle eastern flavours on my mind lately – spiced desserts made with toasted nuts and sweetened with honey – and so I baked Um Ali, an Egyptian dessert (also known as Umm Ali and Om Ali – translation: mother of Ali) people often compare to bread pudding, but I find far more interesting and complex – for starters, it’s not as heavy and doughy; it’s soft and creamy in the middle, almost like rice pudding, with chewy edges and crunchy bits of pastry and nuts poking through.

Pastry for Um Ali

It begins with a piece of puff pastry, baked while the oven is on (just unroll a piece of thawed frozen puff, that’s it) and torn into a shallow dish with chopped almonds / pistachios / walnuts / pine nuts and raisins (if you like raisins in things) and some thickly shredded coconut. I imagine there’s plenty of room to play here.

Umm Ali 11
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Apple pie scones 18

As you may have noticed, I’m a fan of the scone. I’m also a fan of apples, and pie, and sweet-but-not-too-sweet carby things to nibble with coffee, and warming up the house from the kitchen out. Enter the apple pie scone – an amalgamation of all of the above.

A slab scone is simply biscuit or scone dough – you could use whatever formula you like – for this recipe I’ve used this dough and this dough and both work just fine – and rather than roll or pat it an inch thick to cut, you roll it into a 10-inch square. In the past I’ve filled slab scones with jam and other preserves – there is potential to get creative here – but this time I tossed some apples with sugar and cinnamon, as you would if you were making pie, and loaded those in a strip down the middle instead.

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Bacon Double Cheese Peroghies 1

Peroghies are a prairie staple – these little dumplings have been feeding families affordably for generations, and are the epitome of comfort food around our house.

W recently pointed out that most peroghies are more potato than cheese, and nowhere near as cheesy as they could be. I can see his point – unlike other dumplings, peroghies tend to be more starchy and potato-heavy, when in fact the potato should act more as a carrier for other ingredients. I sometimes transform leftover roasted chicken, gravy and potatoes into peroghies, but it’s cheese that goes best with the bacon and onions (which, let’s face it, are the best part), and so I set to making a batch of extra cheesy peroghies using chunks of the Alexis de Portneuf cheeses currently residing in our fridge.

Bacon Double Cheese Peroghies 2

The beauty of a peroghy is that you can add just about anything to the filling – it’s a great way to use up the last of the cheese ends. I generally use aged cheddar or Gouda, but there are no limits when it comes to cheese – if you love blue, crumbled blue cheese in a peroghy would be divine. Ditto a mild goat cheese like semi-soft Paillot de Chèvre or firmer Caprano chèvre, or even a super creamy brie, La Sauvagine or Sir Laurier – any cheeses that go together on a plate would definitely get along nestled in mashed potatoes and wrapped in dough. (Depending on where you live and what’s available, Pacific Rock is a hard ripened cheese with rich, nutty, buttery flavour – and if you’re a fan of smoked Gouda, its creamy texture and smokiness is surprisingly fantastic in a peroghy – try adding some sautéed mushrooms and a pinch of rosemary to the mix, too.)
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Apple Ricotta Fritters 5

I love homemade doughnuts, but don’t often make them. And when I think about it, when I do make them it’s the small pieces I end up picking at and nibbling – the holes and the scraps, with interesting shapes and lots of craggy edges and crispy bits. Which is why I’ve decided that for the aforementioned reasons, and the fact that the vast majority of the population does not own a doughnut cutter, fritters are the way to go. In fact, fritters are a quick alternative to muffins, quickbreads and all manner of breakfast baking; the batter takes a few minutes to mix up, and there’s no need to preheat the oven – the fritters themselves cook in just a few minutes, not 20 or 30.

Apple Ricotta Fritters 2

I can justify most morning baked (and fried) goods. Making them saves time!

When most of us think of fritters, we default to those sticky, bigger-than-doughnuts apple ones you see at coffee shops, or the corn fritters that come with fried chicken. These ones are small, two bites big, made with ricotta for a smooth, creamy dough, and coarsely grated apples which get more evenly distributed and make for a slightly shaggy fritter. Drop the dough in small spoonfuls – I like to scoop them from the side of the spoon, running up the side of the bowl so that it runs the length of the spoon and makes a slightly long shape that cooks through more quickly. No perfection required here – the wonkier the better.

Apple Ricotta Fritters 3
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