There is a common misconception that crabapples aren’t good for much, merely because their size prohibits easy peeling and coring. And their name characterizes them unfairly. (W used to call them “crap apples”.) But in reality, having all the flavour and tartness of a full apple packed into such a condensed space is a good thing; and the fact that they are ripe and ready right at harvest time can’t be a coincidence. Loaded with flavour and pectin (especially the cores, so you don’t want to core them anyway), crabapples are delicious insurance that your jams and jellies will set, without buying and upending a packet of powdered stuff into your pot. Apple is delicious with berries, plums, or any other fruits you want to toss in – but there’s nothing wrong with straight-up crabapple, either. I happened to be gifted with a bucket of equally tart and tiny plums – crabplums – which were equally impossible to pit. And so they joined the partyContinue reading

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Just when I thought straight-up cherries by the handful couldn’t be improved upon. Applying heat to just about anything – but particularly juicy fruit – makes it better. You can roast cherries, of course. They get along well with balsamic vinegar, and a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, and a good grinding of black pepper. And the heat of the oven until the slump over and into each other, and give up their juices, which then caramelize on the parchment papered-pan.

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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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I made mincemeat from scratch last night. And again this morning. What took me so long? I mean to do it every year, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t managed to for at least a decade. (I’d remember. And I won’t make that mistake again.) I adore mincemeat, applied liberally by spoon or by tart. And yes, it likely has a lot to do with the season during which they’re eaten – I can’t think of another food so exclusive to Christmas as the mince tart – but what’s not to love about a dark jammy mix of dried fruit, citrus, apples and spices? And of course most things are their best selves when they’ve been homemade vs. mass-produced. I started with grated apples and chopped pears, along with raisins (two kinds) and currants, the zest and juice of a lemon and orange, some brown sugar and spices. Nevermind the suet – I used a bit of butter instead, which when you think about itContinue reading

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THIS. Baked brie with Christmas preserves: it’s what’s for dinner. And breakfast, probably. I’ve embraced this season of chocolates, cookies and leftover party food as in place of our regular meals, or at least as supplements. I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten more baked brie in the last few weeks as I have all year – and I’m counting on more tonight. About twenty years ago, I was in my early twenties visiting a friend in Saskatoon – she lived in a corner bungalow that back then cost so little these days I could probably put it on my credit card – and she had two small kids, a work and soccer schedule, and the whole scenario seemed so grown-up, especially when we decided one day to make a big pot of preserves to divvy into jars and hand out as Christmas gifts. We came up with this mishmash of holiday flavours – citrus, cranberries, nuts and spice – and made a special run to theContinue reading

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This is a rerun from Day 16 of this blog. Day 16! I can hardly remember it being a demanding newborn. But really, this is a recipe I’ve been making since I was about 16, and before that my mom made it, and my grandma, and great aunts, and regular aunts, and I’m pretty sure it was/is in the Art Gallery of Windsor Cookbook, circa 1970something. (My relatives on that side were/are from Windsor, and so a handful of our family recipes can be found in or came from that book.) Everyone has a few things that taste like Christmas to them – or Hannukah, or Festivus – and this is one of those edibles that can’t not be made in December. It’s so ingrained in our holiday psyches that I can’t really tell if it’s something I’d eat or not if I was introduced to it now (the ingredient list may make me shudder), but every year we make an enormous potful.

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It’s getting to be that time, you guys! Party season! Baking season! The time of year when it’s a good idea to have a stash of something delicious and homemade to bring along to parties and get-togethers and to give to people who are an important part of your life. I made a batch of vanilla earlier this year, but the time is right to get a batch started now – whether it’s for your own personal use or to bottle and give as gifts. Fresh vanilla beans + vodka (or bourbon) = pure vanilla extract. So easy. One of you gave me a bag of fresh vanilla beans a year or so ago – last time we had a potluck (we need to do that again soon, don’t you think?) – and as I always do with vanilla beans, I tuck them away in the back of the cupboard to save for something special, then inevitably recover them when I’m back there digging forContinue reading

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I’m in Jasper all this week, doing cooking demos at Christmas in November – this year, the theme is Alice Eats, so we’re talking tea parties. This recipe isn’t in the book, but marmalade is an essential component of a true high tea (or is it strawberry jam?) – I love tart marmalade in the winter, and it reminds me of my grandma, who made great scones and served them with Robertson’s Thick Cut. I know rhubarb is associated with spring, being the first out of the ground when it thaws, but this year it was the last one standing in my garden, and I managed to harvest a bunch from back by the garage and pilfered my mom’s plant too before it decided to dump with snow, so a good part of my freezer is taken up by chopped stalks.

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Bread & Butter Pickles 1

I admit I fell in love with bread & butter pickles because of their name; had they been labeled “thin and floppy sliced pickles” I might not have been as drawn to them. The reference to bread and butter made me curious – did they go with bread and butter? Are they as mellow as bread and butter? I tried eating them atop bread and butter once, treating them like slices of jam. Mostly I loved them for their tangy sweetness; as a kid, I’d stick a fork in the jar and impale several layers, then steal a sip of the brine as a chaser. Pickle brine is perhaps the most underutilized ingredient out there – once the pickles are gone, the brine can be turned into vinaigrette, and I just recently learned that Earls adds a splash of pickle brine to their Caesars, which is perhaps why they are the very best ever. Those who make their own pickles tend to default to dillContinue reading

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