Pulses! You know I’m a fan. (Did you know I wrote a book on the subject?) If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to the edible dried seed of legumes, like dry peas, beans, chickpeas and lentils. Pulses are quite possibly the world’s perfect food – high in fibre and protein, low in fat, inexpensive, versatile, easy to store, and good for the environment – as they grow, pulses fix the nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for fertilizer in crop rotations. And they can be found in virtually every cuisine in the world – a pulse is as fitting in a bowl of Cacio e Pepe in Italy as in an Indian chana masala or daal, or a can of British baked beans. And they’re a huge Canadian crop – 65% of the world’s lentils come from Canada, mainly Saskatchewan – which makes me love them even more. Today is the second annual Global Pulse Day, a global event to celebrateContinue reading
Apologies for the plain photo, but this is what real life looks like – W was hungry (OK, we all were), and to be honest I didn’t plan to share this until I got several requests on Instagram. People like sloppy lentils! It was a last minute, just-drove-home-from-Edmonton-and-rummaged-through-the-freezer dinner, with a small handful of red lentils thrown in to boost fibre and other good things. Dry split red lentils cook quickly and mask themselves perfectly, soaking up the sweet-vinegary flavours of sloppy Joe sauce – no one has a clue they’re there. (If you like, you could use canned brown lentils instead – they work just as well.)
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Apparently Albertans love their turnip puff.
This is believed to have originated in the original Best of Bridge cookbook series – made with rutabaga, turnip or winter squash (or try a combination), the veggies are mashed and mixed with a bit of butter, brown sugar and egg, which makes it puff up slightly as it bakes, giving it a lighter texture. Some people assemble it ahead of time, refrigerate and bake it when they need it. I made it yesterday for the Eyeopener, and fed the leftovers to my dad, a longtime root vegetable non-enthusiast. It was a hit both times.
If you haven’t had rutabaga before, it’s a brassica vegetable also known as a yellow turnip or Swede (short for Swedish turnip) – it’s big, about the size of a coconut, and purply, making it look like a large turnip. They’re believed to be a cross between cabbage and turnip, but taste more like mellow winter squash – raw, they’re crunchy and snappy, and remind me of peppery radish. Cooked, they’re pale yellow, less starchy than potatoes, reminiscent of butternut squash with a hint of turnip.
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Banff in the winter is a wonderfully happy place, perfectly festive when it needs to be, and that cozy place to warm up, eat well and hunker down under ironed sheets after a day out exploring. It’s the place we’ve retreated to on weekends since I was a kid, a comfortable hour’s drive through the Rocky Mountains I try not to take for granted – just long enough to feel like you’re away from it all, but not so far that you have to forfeit half a day and pack snacks. (OK, I always pack snacks anyway.) We rarely venture out in that direction too close to Christmas, knowing so many other families take the opportunity to (our schedule is more flexible than most), but this year we went out for a few days the first week of winter holidays, post-school and pre-Christmas, which allowed for some gloriously quiet shopping, coffee and games by the fire, and some exploratory food research to kick me out of my old Banff eating habits.
Nostalgia is a strong draw for me in Banff – as kids, my sisters and I loved going to Magpie & Stump, and now W loves the craziness of it. For decades, Giorgio’s was our default dining location – the first place Mike ever ordered something as exotic as fettuccine Alfredo, back when we were teenagers and he was invited along with our family. I was crushed when they closed it – until they opened a distillery in its place.
Somehow, I blinked and Banff transformed into a town that’s becoming as much a culinary destination as mountain retreat. Later in January, they’re celebrating all that’s edible with a newly expanded Big Taste, the culinary component of their annual SnowDays festival, and they’ve asked me to help get the word out. It started out two years ago as a single tasting event at the Maple Leaf, but this year it includes 23 restaurants spread out over five days of collaborative dinners, one-of-a-kind tours, tastings and other special experiences – the sort of things that are fun and unique and you don’t normally get to do. It’s all very affordable (or free!) and involves some of my favourite food people.
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One day over the holidays, I asked out loud to a room full of family, “what foods should everyone eat more of in the new year?” (I was planning my first radio segment of January.)
My nephews answered, “apples!” “Vegetables!” The youngest yelled out, “TACOS!!”
Everyone continued with their vaguely healthy resolution-style suggestions. Charlie kept yelling, “TACOS!”
And so it seems fitting to start the new year with tacos. Also, we wound up with two open bottles of nice, local stout, and because no one wants to drink flat beer but it’s perfectly fine for braising meats with, I picked up some pork shoulder. (I told you I don’t like to waste food.)
And who doesn’t have at least a few squidgy mandarins at this time of year? These were juicy and sweet, but soft with drying-out leathery skins, making them tough to peel. I did it over the pot of meat, tucking chunks of peeled orange in the spaces between. It worked beautifully.
I associate trifle with Christmas – my great aunt Maud (who was British) used to make trifle – the kind with sponge cake in the bottom doused in sherry or brandy, a layer of fresh or tinned fruit, Bird’s custard and whipped cream on top – but it’s truly a year-round dessert. This is my aunt Maud’s trifle bowl, the stand long since broken off – I decided to bring it back this holiday, after chatting with a friend’s mum visiting from Worcestershire about trifle and the Great British Bake-off and the jelly-vs-no jelly debate (I say no jelly). It can be as summery or wintry as you like, and it still seems festive to me when made with a quick sponge roll spread with blackberry jam from the height of summer.
If you’re not familiar with trifle, it’s a British thing traditionally made with layers of custard poured over sherry or brandy-soaked sponge cake, jelly roll or ratafia (similar to amaretti) and jam, stewed fruit or jelly (gelatin), depending on where you grew up, and topped with whipped cream. Delicious, right? And so easy – it’s something you can assemble even if the thought of baking makes you nervous, and is the ideal solution if your cake doesn’t survive re-entry.
OK, we normally just call these “Mom’s nut balls”, which sounds a little like an old SNL sketch, so let’s go with shortbread balls – although these are more commonly known as Russian Tea Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cakes. Regardless, they’re a must every Christmas. I like that they’re lower in sugar than other cookies – 1/2 cup powdered sugar is equal to about 1/4 cup of regular granulated sugar – they’re not enormous, are easy to “decorate”, and taste like Christmas. It’s one of those recipes that comes out once a year, and I’d never dream of making in May or August.
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Ever wonder what would happen if dense gingerbread and dark fruitcake got together? This.
It was called coffee fruitcake in a 2005 issue of Gourmet, but doesn’t taste like coffee – you could swap orange juice, or grape juice, which is what my mom used when she made fruitcake decades ago. Or anything, really – but the coffee really does intensify the deep, slightly bitter gingerbread, which contrasts well with the loads of dried currants and raisins. You could, of course, stir in some other dried fruit – I was tempted to add slivered dried apricots, figs and cherries, and may next time, but it is tempting to stick with the ease of just raisins.
Fresh whole duck is becoming easier to find in grocery stores these days, and yet I’m not sure most people are quite comfortable with the idea of roasting one. If you’re duck-curious, give it a go – the only difference, really, is that you need to poke holes in the skin before you stick it in the oven, to allow the excess layer of fat under the skin to render off. (This is why ducks look perfectly content paddling around in freezing rivers at this time of year – my own built-in insulation doesn’t seem to have the same effect.) As a bonus, you get to pour those drippings off into a jar and keep them in the fridge to roast potatoes with. Duck fat is like liquid gold – in fact you’d pay more for a teeny jar of it at many gourmet shops as you would for an entire duck.
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