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Kataifi torte

I realize plums aren’t in season right now, but focus on what’s underneath: a crunchy shredded phyllo-wrapped ricotta cheesecake of sorts, which like other cheesecakes can be topped with just about anything, including whatever fruit you currently have in the freezer, simmered with a bit of sugar or honey and spooned overtop.

Kataifi torte 3

I wasn’t sure what to call this – it’s not really pie, nor cake; I settled on torte (as have others) because it’s a sort of blanket term for a dense cake, and it is baked in a pan and served in wedges. What makes it unique is the kataifi, finely shredded phyllo pastry you can find alongside the frozen phyllo at any Middle Eastern grocery, and even in some grocery stores. It’s lovely to work with.

Kataifi torte 2
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Fondue for Two

Chocolate should really be declared the official food of February, since at some point long ago someone decided it defined love, or professed it, or otherwise made people feel as good as love does. It’s always chocolate season, of course – but in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day I tend to want it more. The power of suggestion is strong with me.

Chocolate fondue for two 2

Of course Valentine’s Day is all about sharing the things you love with the ones you love. The folks at Green & Black’s asked if I’d play around with some of their bars and make a fondue for two, and I was more than happy to oblige. You hardly need a recipe for chocolate fondue, but a little guidance helps, and the ratios of cream:chocolate vary from bar to bar. Once you get the formula down – heat cream, add chopped chocolate, stir – you can play around with it a bit, adding a shot of booze to the cream, or infusing it with flavours. Of course Green & Black’s has already thought of this, and come up with bars spiked with mint, salt and ginger on top of a wide range of cocoa percentages. It’s a bonus that the chocolate is delicious, and ethically sourced.

Chocolate fondue for two 4

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Ester & Aebleskiver 4

Earlier in December I met Ester, my new 93 year old Danish friend who showed me how to make Æbleskiver. Or rather brought out her cast iron pan and recipe and watched as I made it, offering tips and encouragement and told stories as I folded the whipped egg white into buttermilk batter and turned the dough balls in the pan as they puffed and turned golden. I kind of grew up with Æbleskiver – my best friend Sue’s mom would make them sometimes when we had sleepovers at her house in our teenage years, and I’ve been on the hunt for an Æbleskiver pan ever since. Pierre found one for me at a second hand store in BC around the same time I was making them with Ester, and so yay – I am now officially a person who makes Æbleskiver on weekend mornings. Particularly after sleepovers.

Making aebleskiver dough

If you’re not familiar with Æbleskiver, they’re most often described as pancake balls, often spiked with cardamom because of their Danish heritage, and not usually made with apple despite their name. (You could, of course, tuck bits of apple into the middle of the balls as they cook.) I’ve most often eaten them warm, with jam and sometimes whipped cream, but Ester’s mother, who had 12 kids and turned her Æbleskiver with the tip of a knitting needle, served hers with a dish of sugar for each person to roll their pancake ball around in, like a warm doughnut. With jars of jam and preserves for spreading once you split them open.
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Roasted Cauliflower + Squash with Kale + Tahini Dressing

If I had one of those weekly menu calendars – meatloaf Mondays, taco Tuesdays, pork chop Thursdays – some version of this would be on my roster. I tend to gravitate toward it every January, when I sit down and make a list of dishes made up of mostly vegetables that I really, truly love to eat, and decide that I’m going to make an effort to eat them more often, rather than always load up on bagels and toast. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that… there are just too many things right with it.)

This salad of sorts is also the perfect example of how we don’t always need a recipe per se, sometimes all you need is a general guideline. I can definitively say I’ve never measured out feta for a salad, but just crumbled some over, measuring by eyeball. Yes, I picked up some lacinato kale (the smooth dark green kind, also called Tuscan or dinosaur kale) and a thick-necked butternut squash to make it, but those small, dark-fleshed sweet potatoes would work just as well. And I thought I’d roast some chickpeas along with the squash until I realized I had half a cauliflower in the fridge waiting to be used. It occurred to me later than roasted new potatoes would be equally delish.
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Breakfast sandwich 1

(Look at kindergarten W! Sniff.)

I’ve always been a fan of breakfast. I don’t function well without it, and neither do kids. Particularly W – he’s lucky enough to have access to breakfast every morning before school, but 1 in 5 Canadian kids don’t. Among immigrants and newcomers, the risk is 2.5 times higher.

This weekend, the Grocery Foundation launches their #Toonies4Tummies Campaign in support of student nutrition programs in western Canada and Ontario – the Foundation has raised over $88 million over the past 38 years, which has supported over 250 organizations that address health and wellness, including healthy breakfasts and snacks for school-aged kids. When kids start school with breakfast, it improves not only concentration and academic performance, but social skills and self-confidence – and there are fewer incidents of bullying.

Heart pancakes
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Winter Squash Curry

Is it too much of a cliche to jump from bread pudding and cinnamon knots to a veggie-heavy curry in the early days of January? I crave stewy, spicy things after so many weeks (OK, months) of butter cookies and Toblerone. And I inevitably get all excited about the piles of gnarly squash over the winter and buy more than I get around to actually using. Sometimes it’s because I go for the bumpiest beasts, the ones you have to tackle with a cleaver to access the insides of. Sure, you can go for smooth-skinned butternut with thick necks, or even buy a bag of squash cubes – in fact, they work extra well here, cooking down quickly into a curry. But if you have a bit of a monster on your hands, one that refuses to be peeled, simply hack it into pieces and roast them in the oven until the flesh is tender enough to scoop or peel away from the skin and throw into the pot. Yes, a microwave works just fine for this too.

Winter squash curry 3
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Panettone Bread Pudding

Full disclosure: I’ve never really been a bread pudding fan. I want to love it, but haven’t really – until I tried this one, the version I made with Elizabeth Baird when pitch-hitting for Emily Richards one weekend at Christmas in November. Partly it’s due to the bread that was the starting point – a divinely light, buttery panettone baked by a company in Edmonton that’s nothing like the heavy, dense loaves shipped from Italy with a year-long shelf life.

Panettone bread pudding 3

You don’t need to seek out this particular loaf – a mish-mash of raisin bread, fruited holiday bread and even croissants or cinnamon buns would work well here. And the finished pudding would be delicious for a holiday brunch or even dessert – they upped their bread pudding game with a crazy simple marmalade sauce you whisk together in about three minutes and pour overtop – spiked with brandy or Grand Marnier, if you like. This is easy to cover up and take with you if you’re charged with bringing something somewhere, and would be perfect for Christmas morning as you can let the bread soak up the eggs and milk overnight. (It’s not necessary though, you could just let it sit for an hour or so if you haven’t planned to make it the night before.)
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Cranberry Meringue Roulade

In general I’m not a very gadgety person, but there are a few kitchen tools I can’t be without, and one is a stand mixer. I was asked to take an Oster® Brand stand mixer for a spin (see what I did there?) and used it as an excuse to also test out a dessert I’ve been meaning to try for ages – a rolled meringue roulade, which sounds far more fancy and sophisticated than it actually is.

Cranberry Meringue Roulade 3

A roulade is really anything rolled up, and in this case, meringue is spread out and rolled into a log around tart berries and cream – essentially the same ingredients as a pavlova, which just might be my favourite dessert ever. As much as I love plum pudding and the chocolate bundt cake old family friends bring over every holiday, after a big turkey dinner I don’t want something heavy – I love the sweet-tartness and acidity of something made with meringues and tart fruit and cream. This would be fab spread with lemon curd or filled with berries, but I wanted to make it festive – and what’s more sweet-tart than cranberries spiked with orange?

Meringue for roulade
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Stollen

Yeah, I like to bake during the holidays. And every year I make stollen. It’s a dense, sweet German fruited bread, yeast-risen although some refer to it as a cake. The best thing about it is ease of shaping – you pat the dough into a rough oval, fold it over itself (and a log of marzipan, if you like), brush with a little beaten egg for a glossy sheen, and bake it until it’s deep golden. Then you get to shower it with icing sugar from a shaker or through a sieve, which is one of my favourite things. And no matter how wonky you think you’ve made it, it always comes out looking (and smelling) awesome.

Stollen 5

Use any kind of dried fruit, but make sure it’s moist, or it will suck the moisture out of the dough—if your raisins are like little dried-out pebbles, cover them with hot water, tea or even booze and let them sit until they plump up a bit, then drain well before adding to the dough. (You don’t want them too soft, or they’ll break apart as you knead them in.) Stollen is supposed to be dense, on account of all that butter and fruit weighing it down, making it tough for the yeast to do its job. If you want your stollen a little lighter, let the dough rise on its own for an hour or two, then punch it out and add the fruit, folding the dough over it and gently kneading it in.

Stollen 4
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