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Eggs Benny 4

I realize it’s Monday morning and you’ve likely started the day with something practical, like steel-cut oats, having got all the bacon and whatnot out of your system over the weekend. But we all dream of sleeping in and lounging over brunch, right? It helps to have that golden beacon shining from the end of the week.

I seem to be in Easter mode early this year – perhaps because it hasn’t snowed since the day W received his much-coveted snow tube in the mail sometime mid-January (it still sits sadly in the front hall, unused) – and maybe because Easter arrives so early. Two weeks! Easter or not, the warm and suddenly longer days jolt me into brunch mode – and although most weekend mornings I like to spend extra time in the kitchen baking something to nibble with coffee, this past weekend there were more crammed around our little table in the kitchen (even though I (finally!) managed to clear some surface area on the dining room table) and I used it as an excuse to make a batch of hollandaise. Which is really just mayo made with melted butter instead of oil, and which you can dip literally everything in your kitchen into. Even a spoon, or your finger. Anyone within eyeshot will understand.

Eggs Benny 3

I was waffling – get it? – between eggs Benny and waffles when I realized we could, in fact, have the best of both worlds, and that the divots in said waffles would be perfect for capturing any drips attempting to escape from the eggs. I love a good, drippy egg, and although poached eggs on toast has been our breakfast/lunch/dinner standby since we were kids, they’re easy enough to make for a crowd, too.
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Drumheller 2

I’m all about the road trips. (Often, it’s just an excuse to buy Cheetos and gaze out the window.) Some weekends, they’re just short hops – and that’s fine, almost better than long hauls. It feels like there’s proper separation between you and the obligations of home, you still get to sleep in a hotel room bed, and there’s barely time for passengers to ask if we’re there yet. Also – I never get tired of the diversity of our prairie landscape. Drive in one direction (west) and you hit the Rockies. Drive in another (northeast) and after an hour or so of rolling fields, it suddenly opens up to this. Badlands!

drumheller 1

It’s different in winter, with a skiff of snow instead of almost intolerable heat, no hum of crickets nor risk of tripping over a rattlesnake. And no crowds at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of palaeontology, which W is now fully and completely preoccupied with. Although we, as relatively good parents, purchased multiple expensive and realistic plastic dinosaurs for our now ten yer old during his toddler and early school years, he didn’t care at all about them until the past half dozen months. He’s just now discovering the jurassic jackpot we have in Drumheller -the dinosaur capital of the world- and that all these bones and fossils are only an hour away from our house.

drumheller 3

I always enjoy the challenge of finding places to eat when we’re in unfamiliar towns – the internet is a great resource for this, and I discovered that John had been to Bernie and the Boys and so we followed suit, lured by a (somewhat horrifying) video and the promise of burgers, shakes and poutine, which they delivered. It’s a great family spot – the kids’ menu, which costs $3-4 per item, full of grilled cheese sandwiches and other things they tend to love. And the milkshake menu is, as W described it, epic.

Bernie and the Boys 1
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beet & sweet potato soup 2

It hardly feels as if we’ve had winter this year – sorry if you live somewhere where it does, with blizzards and sleet and such – but I actually love the winter, sticky snow and sleet and all. The coziness of it, the open invitation to hibernate, the lack of pressure to get out and do something while it’s nice out. Not that I’m complaining about the sunny days either – people have been hanging out on patios on the regular – it just feels weird.

February is normally soup month, and root vegetables and winter squash. And now suddenly it’s March! And this brilliant red soup – made so by the combination of orange squash (or sweet potato) and purply beets – is bright and citrusy with orange juice, or a bit earthier without. That’s the beauty of soup – you can toss whatever it is that needs cooking into your pot without much need for precision.
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Fish sauce Brussels sprouts 1

Veggies love heat – especially the intense heat of the grill, cast iron skillet or oven (or yes, deep fryer) that’s hot enough to caramelize their sugars (vs the heat of a pot of water, which historically has boiled poor Brussels sprouts to the point of being grey and spreadable). Quickly, crisply-fried Brussels sprouts are taking over restaurant menus, and I love them all. Roasting is easier to do at home, of course, although if you don’t mind i getting a bit splattery, you can do it in a shallow pan of oil. And so after W was invited to a friend’s house for dinner and we made an impromptu escape to Anju on Friday for gochujang wings, Korean fried chicken and Brussels sprouts in lemongrass and fish sauce that are so good, I rummaged around the fridge and came up with enough B. sprouts to give it a go at home.
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Labneh-1

I’m a sucker for instant gratification – or at least big rewards for minimum effort – but mostly that feeling like I’ve actually accomplished something that didn’t take any time at all, like when you write “revise to-do list” on your to-do list, so that you can cross it off immediately.

Labneh – or yogurt cheese – is thick, creamy and pricey if you buy it in the store – but really all it is is good plain yogurt, strained until enough whey runs off to give it a consistency somewhere between Greek yogurt and mascarpone. Leave it to strain even longer and it will get firm enough to roll into a log, or wee balls. Some people store marbles of labneh in a glass jar with fresh herbs and citrus strips, covered with olive oil. I kind of like it spreadable – you can even sweeten it, with a bit of maple syrup or honey.

Monogram Toast 2

If you go to Monogram Coffee in Altadore (conveniently located by the dog park), they spread it thickly on good toast, then smatter it with toasted hazelnuts and drizzle the whole thing with nice honey. Which is totally a thing you could do at home. (I just wish I could do the lattes as well.)

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pork shoulder satay 2

I love it when a tub of cooked lentils and bowl of leftover rice in my fridge inspires me to leap out of my usual routine. (Wait, do I have a usual routine? Mike likes to say we never get the good stuff twice – as in, I’m always testing and experimenting and cooking things out of season or pre-holiday for magazines that come out two seasons from now. Peaches in January and pomegranates in July.) That said, I do have culinary habits I too easily fall into. I didn’t shake them completely; I love turning cold rice into fried rice (a vehicle for just about every other leftover in your fridge) and so kind of morphed fried rice and mujadara – a Lebanese rice-lentil-onion-cumin dish that isn’t much to look at on the page, but is so much better than the sum of its parts. Typically the onion is caramelized and the the rice and lentils cooked pilaf-style in the pan with lots of water, but since mine had a head start, I did the whole thing fried rice-style. Since you have to get the pan blazing hot to caramelize your onions anyway, I’m not sure I’d do it any other way.

pork shoulder satay 3

Although I write recipes more or less for a living, I sometimes think they’re detrimental – that if I provide a recipe for something, you may think you need exactly a cup of rice and a half teaspoon of cumin, when it rarely has to be that precise. And when you’re working with leftovers, you never know how much you’re going to have. So sometimes I’m just going to walk you through how I made something, because measurements don’t much matter. With mujadara the ratio of rice:lentils:onions doesn’t matter.

lentils and rice 2

Here’s what I did: chopped an onion and a half, because I had two and one was looking a little squidgy on one side. Set a cast iron skillet over the heat, added a good glug of oil and a pinch of cumin seed, and cooked the onions until they were dark and crispy on the edges. Then I tipped in some cold rice – a cereal bowl full – and about a cup of cooked lentils (although canned would have been fine too). I stirred them around to heat through, adding another big pinch of ground cumin and a good grinding of salt, and tasted, and it was delicious. The dark, crispy onions made it, I think. And the cumin. And there’s something satisfying about just cooking, rather than following a recipe.
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Sprinkle doughnuts 1

These don’t have to be sprinkle doughnuts, but since the cousins were over this weekend, I thought there ought to be sprinkles. I figured their young minds were at their memory-storing prime, and if I was to instill fond memories of making doughnuts from scratch at their aunt’s house, who let them cook the holes and scraps and douse them in cinnamon sugar to eat while the doughnuts were cooking, I’d better get on it.

cutting doughnuts 2cutting doughnuts

Doughnuts aren’t difficult; the yeast-raised kind (these) are made with a simple dough enriched with butter and eggs, then patted and cut (I can’t resist doughnut cutters when I see them) and cooked in a shallow pot of oil – no need for more than an inch or so. Some grandmothers cook theirs in lard or shortening; I’ve never done this, but someday I’ll give it a go just to say I did. For now, I find canola works perfectly.

cooking doughnuts

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Despite how things might sound, we don’t get out a whole lot, just Mike and I. Partly because of life and stuff, and being the parents of a 10 year old who would rather go to McDonald’s – but also because my job involves a whole lot of cooking. So lately we’ve been making an attempt to get out more, investigate new places and taste new things, and at the same time support our (currently stressed-out) independent restaurants. Of course eating out can be pricey, so as believers in both love and money we’ve been seeking out ways to try new spots without spending too much. Here’s how we’ve been attempting to maintain a manageable Visa bill.

Native tongues interior

They’ve been popping up around the city, offering great deals to bring people in before the dinner rush – we used to go to Cibo all the time after school (they have $5 pizzas weekdays between 3-5) but recently stumbled onto happy hour at Native Tongues, the new(ish) taqueria on 12th Ave beside the Beltliner Diner. Their happy hour and late night menu are available from 2-5 and 11-1, and you can get one of their antojitos (traditional street and market foods) and a beer for $15.

Native tongues interior 2

They make their own corn tortillas and everything too, of course. And the guac is amazing. But.

native-tongues-guacamole

I know it sounds crazy, but even though they specialize in tacos, the burger is my new favourite thing at Native Tongues. (Also: their donas -homemade glazed doughnuts.) I mean, just look at it – it’s smaller than your typical restaurant burger, with two patties, melty cheese and a brioche bun, packaged up with chips drizzled in not-too-hot sauce. (And when we went last week it was their Mealshare item. Bonus!)

Native tongues 3

That burger though. (And the red drinks? Hibiscus water!)

Native tongues burger

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buffalo chicken potato skins 1

For the record, I’m not a football fan. I am, however, a fan of the gooey-cheesy-crunchy-dippy food that seems to accompany it, particularly during the playoffs. I couldn’t help but get all caught up in it. I read somewhere that we’ll collectively eat around 1.3 billion chicken wings today, and it occurred to me that a potato skin would make the perfect vehicle for buttery-peppery Buffalo chicken topped with melty cheese.

So I combined the two.

FullSizeRenderbuffalo chicken potato skins 2

Potato skins are easy to make – start with smallish russets; their sturdy skins make the best vehicles for any number of fillings. (Traditionally they’d be topped with bacon, green onion and cheese, and you could go that route too.) Bake them as you normally would – baking them makes for a crisper skin than the microwave – then scoop out the flesh and load them up with leftover roasted chicken tossed in equal parts melted butter and Frank’s Red Hot sauce – the secret formula for most Buffalo chicken wings. Precise measurements don’t much matter – you just want them to be nice and saucy. Go by your gut.

buffalo chicken potato skins 1

Top with grated mozzarella – or white cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda or Fruilano – and pop them back into the oven until the cheese melts. That’s about it.

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