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Apologies for the uninspired portrait of this lasagna; it was taken in haste as it came out of the oven and sat for a few minutes while we gathered plates and forks and tore off paper towels in lieu of napkins for everyone around the table who had come to celebrate Mike’s birthday. W chose lasagna for dinner, and the next day my friend Emily Richards’ beautiful new cookbook arrived in the mail – a book of recipes from the kitchens of her extended Italian family. When I make a lasagna – not that I have for ages – I generally make a big pot of meaty tomato sauce, grate piles of mozzarella and then wing it, starting with tomato sauce spooned over the bottom of the pan, then noodles, more sauce, spoonfuls of ricotta, grated cheese, and so on. I used fresh lasagna sheets this time, which are as inexpensive as dried noodles if not as convenient to keep stashed in your cupboard, butContinue reading

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We have the very first gathering of our cookbook club tonight – a real-life club in which we collectively choose a cookbook to cook out of, or a theme to stick to, and everyone makes something and brings it and we eat and laugh and cheers our good fortune that we all get to enjoy each others’ company on an otherwise regular Tuesday night. Our first theme is family recipes, to celebrate our diverse pasts and presents, to recall where our parents and grandparents were born and raised and what they ate and how they got to be here, and how our families’ daily meals have evolved or stayed the same. (In fact, we started compiling our collective recipes into small eBooks, to raise funds for the UN Refugee Agency.) I made my grandma’s Belgian beef carbonnade – a Belgian stew in which not-so-tender cuts of beef are braised slowly in stock and beer, creating an intensely flavorful sauce – and the only recipe IContinue reading

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Hockey playoffs! You’re gonna need some poutine. Rather than make a packet of gravy (St Hubert is authentic), I like to just go ahead and make a big pot of sloppy pulled beef, which generates its own gravy. You’ll need a pot roast or brisket – something that has tons of tough connective tissues that requires a low, slow braise to break down. At the end it will be ultra-tender and flavourful, soft enough to pull apart with forks.

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Brisket! ‘Tis the season. I mean to make brisket more than I actually do. I keep hoping a smoker will magically appear in my back yard, so that I might spend a day in a lawn chair like a lady in waiting to an enormous brisket, mopping it hourly, in pursuit of the perfect smoke ring. But braising will do too. Because brisket comes from the lower chest of the animal, it contains plenty of connective tissue, requiring a long, slow braise to break it all down. Because smokers have not yet become a common household item, braising is by far the most common way to cook brisket – and there are as many ways to do it as there are people making it. Braising is simple – all you need is a heavy pot, a chunk of meat, low heat and some liquid. I love my enamel-coated cast iron braising pots – you can set them on the stovetop, brown your meat and veg,Continue reading

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Beef stew was, sadly at the time, a staple of our childhood. My mom would buy stewing beef and my dad, clearly unaware of the benefits of cooking such cuts low and slow, would brown the meat, add tomatoes and potatoes and green things and serve it up for dinner – and it was a long, meaty chew. Nowadays, I appreciate the flavour potential of inexpensive cuts of beef – and I love a good dark, sticky braise. A recipe that calls for a few hours’ cooking time sounds daunting, but dishes like beef stew and carbonnade can be slid into the oven after school and be done by dinnertime. Of course, starting with the proper cut of beef is important, which is why so many people panic in the meat aisle, why Mike dreads me sending him to the store with vague cuts of beef on his list, and why having a good butcher is a very good thing. But when there isn’t someoneContinue reading

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Apparently, the world is divided into two types of eaters: those who want to segregate everything on their dinner plates, and those who like everything mixed together in a big jumble, like pad Thai or a rice bowl topped with all manner of meat, eggs and veggies. That’s me. The grill continues to rule our world. I’m amazed how much I don’t miss my oven. (This will change in the fall, I know. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.) Thinly sliced, intensely marinated steak cooks almost instantly on the grill while you do any number of veggies alongside – sliced zucchini, peppers, eggplant, asparagus – anything goes. Totally different from the usual barbecue fare, but perfect for eating outdoors – a pair of chopsticks is all you’ll need.

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I know, cooking a $50 prime rib is scary. Trusting it to cook properly on the grill can be even scarier. But once you get the hang of cooking on your grill over indirect heat – there really is nothing to it – it’s very liberating to realize you can use your backyard barbecue much like your indoor oven. Prime rib is a classic – the marbling means it will be juicy, the bone means one lucky person (or a few, if you get a 2 or 3 bone roast) will get to stretch out in the grass and gnaw on it afterward. This is a single bone roast – almost like an enormous steak. A beautiful cut of meat I do not want to screw up. So here’s the trick: once you prep your roast however you like it – I just pat it dry with paper towel, then rub it with a cut garlic clove and sprinkle with salt and pepper – aContinue reading

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If you live somewhere where there are actually things growing out of the ground already, lucky you. Here in Calgary, there are still small glaciers on most streets and in yards, but this weekend the temperature finally crept up past zero. Way up past ten, even! Hello, barbecue. It’s been awhile. Last week I had lunch with a local rancher (one who supplies our Calgary Co-op stores with beef that’s born and bred in Alberta), and was given a gorgeous T-bone steak to take home, which we used as an excuse to fire up the grill (which since October has been subbing as an outdoor freezer). When you get a taste of spring, even when there’s still snow on the ground, you gotta jump on it.

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When we were kids, my dad fancied himself a pretty good beef stew maker. I did not agree – he used big chunks of flank steak, which I suspect weren’t cooked quite long enough to break down in its tomato-ey sauce, because while it was certainly lean and healthy, it had the texture of chewy meat rope. (Sorry Dad – it’s not you, it’s me. And the meat rope.) Fortunately, he’s so fantastic that it’s easy to overlook his stew. But it’s funny how childhood food preferences stick with you – I keep thinking I don’t like beef stew, but really I do. (So long as the meat is cooked long enough.) Any tough cut of beef (or bison) makes a good stew – even those chunks of “stewing beef”; the trick is to simmer it first, giving the connective tissues time to melt and the gravy a chance to develop, before adding the potatoes and carrots, which you don’t want to break down toContinue reading

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