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Sticky toffee fondue

Fondue seems to be a thing again – perhaps because it’s not only a dish but an event, bringing people closer together around the table and giving them something to do – fishing for hunks of bread swimming in cheese, or strawberries in chocolate… or marshmallows in warm toffee. Yup. Why should chocolate get all the attention? Swirling together some butter, sugar and cream couldn’t be easier – it’s inexpensive, and if you root through your cupboards, I’m betting 90% of the things you find would taste divine dipped in sticky toffee. (Try the cheese popcorn. Do it!) And if you’re not in the mood to have a small crowd over for fondue, you can keep a jar of it in the fridge to pour over ice cream or baked apples, or to dip into with a spoon when you’re aching for a little something sweet.

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Muhammara-2

Like most people, I like to dip one kind of food into another kind of food. My goal, usually, isn’t to treat said dip as a condiment, but to trowel out as much as my dipping vehicle can structurally tolerate. (Crispy toasted pita chips are great for this – just cut them in wedges and bake them until golden. If you like, brush them with oil and sprinkle with dried herbs and/or salt first.)

Unfortunately (or fortunately, however you want to look at it) the dip world is highly populated with mayo and sour cream-heavy dips of the French onion sort, which while delicious, don’t have much in the way of nutritional virtue. This Syrian dip of roasted red peppers, walnuts, garlic and pomegranate molasses, however, is worth treating like more than a condiment.

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Lemon-bars-1

I keep buying bags of lemons, thinking one day I’ll make a pan of lemon bars. They used to be in regular rotation – I’d make them so often I knew the recipe by heart – sometimes plain, sometimes with cranberries, coconut, blueberries or chopped rhubarb scattered over the base before the filling went on top. Everything goes well with lemon – especially a buttery shortbread base.

I offered to bake a few things for a small memorial service – a little something to go with coffee and tea – and lemon bars seemed a good fit. The occasion reminded me of my grandma’s funeral, and of the small group of ladies in the old, high-ceilinged, whitewashed church kitchen, baking and arranging small squares – dainties – on trays. Nanaimo bars, matrimonial slice, those peanut butter marshmallow bars, butter tarts, triangles of egg salad sandwich on white bread and tuna on brown. I imagined how many times they had done this over the years – my grandma included.

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IMG_3280

Wouldn’t this make the best wallpaper?

I believe all vegetables can be significantly improved by roasting; this isn’t to say they aren’t delicious raw, on their own, but apply a drizzle of oil, salt and a hot oven and any veggie you can think of is elevated to new levels of deliciousness. This is delicata that has been halved lengthwise, the seeds scooped out with a spoon and the squash sliced – it has a thin skin, sort of halfway between acorn and zucchini, that is perfectly edible and requires no significant upper body strength to wrestle a knife through.

roasted-squash-brussels-sprouts

Not only is it manageable, it’s a good size – sort of twice a zucchini; manageable in your grocery basket, and enough for dinner for a handful of people without significant leftovers. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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Cheese-cream-biscuits

Everyone seems to need some comfort this week. I can think of few better delivery vehicles than a warm biscuit, especially on grey days when the snow falls in big, wet flakes and there are too many cases of the sniffles and the sads. I turned on the oven almost absentmindedly this afternoon, not having a clue what I was going to make, but sure that whatever came out of it, including the warmth and good smells, would make us all feel a bit better.

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fried-rice

When I started this place back in 2008 and posted dinner each night, it wasn’t always a recipe – because who follows an actual recipe each night? More often than not it’s a matter of shuffling through the fridge and constructing something out of what’s there – what needs to be cooked, revamped or salvaged, or what’s comfortably in your repertoire, like the scrambled eggs and brown beans my mom always fell back on when we were kids, or the eggs on toast. A lot of proper dinners don’t require a recipe – and when it’s the sort of thing that makes use of whatever scraps you have in your fridge, it’s not helpful to adhere to a strict formula.

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lentil-scones

You probably won’t be shocked to hear that I tend to use this space as my own personal recipe file, and it always surprises me when I look up something I make with some frequency and find it’s not here. Case in point: these nubbly, crunchy-edged scones, which are made with oats and – red lentils! Which turn a pale yellow as they’re cooked and mimic oats, blending right in as if they were meant to be there. If you don’t tell anyone they won’t even know – I promise. I brought some in to CBC this morning, and even though the topic was pulses, no one guessed they had lentils in them. Of course lentils are nutritional superheroes, bumping up protein and fibre like crazy – far more than whole grains do. And isn’t that what everyone wants for breakfast? A good dose of protein and fibre, but also something delicious you can nibble with your coffee?

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Tuscan bread & white bean soup 3

Today seemed like a good day to have a pot of beans simmering on the stove. As a sort of comforting reminder that we’re home, that the house is being warmed from the kitchen out, steaming the cold windows, and that we have time to let them take their time. And because a pot of beans provides potential for more – for a pot of something bigger and more nourishing that will feed a handful of people who are important in our lives. It means a starting point for me to experiment with without any particular plan. Yes, I can read a lot into a bean.

What happened to this particular pot of beans had, as usual, a lot to do with what I had in the fridge. The thing about kale is that three and a half bunches of it take up a lot of space in the crisper, but you can cook it down to hardly anything. And the thing about leftover crusty bread is that it makes fantastic French toast, which I need to shake the morning habit of. And so I remembered a hearty vegetable-bean-crusty bread soup-stew of years past – one that, if memory serves, you refrigerate and then reheat by baking it the next day – the top gets all crusty and golden, the soup itself transforming into a thick stew as the liquid gets soaked up by bread that would otherwise be too hard to do much with. If you have a Parmesan rind in your fridge, toss it in as the soup simmers.

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cocoa-brownies-2

It’s nice to have go-to recipes you can pull into service on those days when you’ve been invited somewhere for dinner, or someone could use a little cheering, or you want to score a few brownie points with your editors/doctor/teachers. Most of the time, I’d choose a brownie over a cake or cookie. But it has to be the right kind of brownie – dense and fudgy, with a crackly top. Generally I prefer no nuts in mine, nor chocolate chunks or chips, or even frosting. I like my brownies straight up, preferably warm, straight from the pan.

cocoa-brownies

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