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Rose wine jellies

I figured some of you could use some pink gummies this week. Yes! Homemade gummies you make yourself! I can hear you eye-rolling, but it’s about as easy as making a batch of Jell-O. Bonus: you get to use wine, even more than they use in those fancy champagne gummies that cost $20 per quarter pound. Rosé has good colour and flavour, but these work with white or red too—a great way to use up the last cup in a bottle (it can happen!), or some prosecco that has gone flat. And if you don’t want to use wine at all, you can swap in your juice of choice – cherry is delicious. Apologies for the lone photo, but I’m realizing that a short and sweet recipe share is better than none at all. Amiright?

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Popcorn Chicken and Waffle Bits

Since it seems most of this part of the world is in a polar vortex, I thought I’d offer up a consolation prize to being stuck outside: popcorn chicken and waffle bits, from last year’s Brunch Life: Comfort Classics and More for the Best Meal of the Day by Matt Basile and Kyla Zanardi. Because I truly cannot think of a more suitable brunch scenario than a weekend with a high of -30.

This version of chicken and waffles is brilliant—bite-sized fried chicken pieces are far less intimidating to make and cook, and are perfect for nibbling with bites of crisp waffle, all drizzled with a spicy Sriracha maple syrup butter. I love that everything can be eaten with a fork or fingers, and you don’t have to balance your plate on your lap to maneuver a knife. And it’s very conducive to sharing, if you find yourself in the vicinity of other people in their pyjamas.
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Happy new year, guys! Technically it’s still a new-ish year, yes? Even though now suddenly it’s almost the end of January? Apologies again for the radio silence – I’m working on some new design tweaks here, or have hired some fine folks to as it’s one of the many things I’m almost completely clueless about, and of course there have been obstacles to be sorted out. Nothing seems to be as straightforward as it is in my mind.

Vij's Family's Chicken Curry

Except! This chicken curry, which looks like it has a lot of ingredients, and I suppose technically it does, but once you get to know it, has a very satisfying routine to it: build a thick, brick red masala with oil (or ghee!), onions, ginger, garlic and spices, nestle in some chicken and let it simmer. Vij once told me that at his restaurant people complain with some regularity that “the curry isn’t the same as it was last time”, and he says “it’s not supposed to”, because it depends on the day, the ingredients, and most notably the mood of the cook. I think of this every time I make it – it has become my go-to chicken curry, something I make with some regularity, no matter what form of chicken I have around.
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Chocolate Tahini Rugelach

You guys! This was one of my favourite cookies of the holiday season, and I wanted to share it with you while there are still baking days before Christmas. (Although, I’m a firm believer of the entire Yuletide season being a time to celebrate – we’re all so busy leading up to Christmas day. The Yuletide this year runs December 21-January 1. Perfect, right?0

So rugelach seems super finicky, but I’ve kind of discovered it’s an easy way to make fancy-looking cookies without a whole lot of effort. You roll the dough, which is this beautifully soft sugar cookie dough made with butter and cream cheese, into circles and spread them with apricot jam or Nutella or in this case, tahini, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and/or chopped nuts and/or chopped chocolate, cut the dough into wedges and roll them up, and they’re really perfect for making when you have little hands in the kitchen.

Chocolate tahini rugelach 4
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Pimento Cheese

You guys! I’ve been holding out on you. I had the most amazing pimento cheese at a Christmas party last weekend, and although I haven’t had or made it in years, it was like a rebirth into the world of pimento cheese. I had forgotten how much I love its intensely cheesy, mayo-y, briny deliciousness.

I immediately requested the recipe from the friend who had brought it, who had found it on the conversation thread of a makeup tutorial YouTube channel she frequents. Ah, the internet. Remember when you got recipes from your neighbours and small collection of cookbooks, or clipped it out of the newspaper? So this particular pimento cheese came from a woman who got it from her southern mother – pimento cheese is a southern thing, not surprisingly from the same era as the cheese ball. At its core, it’s extra-aged cheddar and mayo, with a hit of spice in the form of cayenne or chili flakes. I instantly asked my Facebook crowd if anyone made this and had their own formula, and someone pointed out that Dorie Greenspan’s latest cookbook, Everyday Dorie, which was happily sitting on my desk, contained a recipe for pimento cheese. And so the next morning, before I had digested the excessive quantities of pimento cheese I had consumed the night before, I set about making two batches – Dorie’s and Tara’s internet friend’s mother’s – for a little taste test.

Pimento Cheese
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Anna Olson's Raspberry Wreath

It’s a Christmas miracle!

I’ve been talking about launching a podcast for years, and I finally did it – it’s done, it’s up! Anna Olson was in town promoting her new book, Set for the Holidays, last month, and I knew that she a) would be a perfect first conversation for the kind of podcast I had in mind, and b) totally up for sitting down for a chat with me. And! As a bonus, it was Christmas, which meant a self-imposed deadline: after recording it, I’d have to get it up before the holidays. It was a steeper learning curve than I thought – beyond the editing itself, which involves multiple tracks, smoothing out hot posts and awkward cuts, balancing the EQ and all that jazz, it weirdly enough is not as simple to upload a piece of audio as it is to post a video on YouTube. We talked to some pros who were far more elaborately set up than we are (Garage Band on my laptop) and took pages of notes (which I now can’t decipher), and we (Mike and I) have kind of figured out the editing and EQ and MP3 files, RSS feeds and all the technical stuff that goes on behind the scenes that I’m blissfully unaware of when recording things over at CBC. (I’m also not used to being on the interview side of the conversation, and hopefully I’ll get better at that!)
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lunch at fifteen 1

A week or so ago (why is time moving so FAST?!) I spent a day getting on top of holiday prep, thanks to Virtual Vino, and got so caught up in the possibilities of what can be done ahead that I stopped at about 2600 words and promised to follow up with a few ideas about how to get a head start on all the cooking obligations of Christmas Day. Everyone wants a luxurious breakfast without cooking, and a stress-free dinner that doesn’t require spending half the morning getting the turkey in. And the orchestrating of sides and appetizers and dessert can be exhausting. But really – feeding everyone for the whole day doesn’t have to be daunting, even if you don’t have everyone pitching in to get dinner on the table. So much can be done well ahead of time, and doesn’t necessarily require freezer space.

First! Order wine. I love having a couple well-curated six packs on standby for parties and dinner duty. Liquid assets.
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Croque Monsieur 1

Following the unexpected runaway success of a random Facebook post of a sheet pan full of grilled cheese sandwiches – yes, you can simultaneously cook as many as you can fit on a sheet by baking them at 450F for about ten minutes, flipping them halfway through, and they’re perfectly evenly melted and toasty – I decided to do the same with a batch of croque monsieur. It was perfect timing, as Grimm’s is currently doing a holiday campaign in which they ask food writers across Canada to cook with their products, and in return donate $500 worth of Grimm’s Fine Foods products to their charity of choice – so I made these to share in support of Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids (BB4CK), an organization that feeds 4,400 kids in Calgary every school day. It seems fitting to share our lunch in exchange for providing so many kids with a lunch they might not otherwise get.

Grimm's Ham

The folks at Grimm’s sent us a couple Honey & Maple Flavor Ham Halves, and W was thrilled. Ham is literally his favourite food, and when he was little and asked if he could make his own breakfast one day, I went downstairs to find him happily chowing down on an entire ham shank with a glass of chocolate milk. It’s also perfect for making croque monsieur – a ham and cheese sandwich smothered with cheese sauce, then given a few minutes under the broiler to get all bubbly and golden. So you have to put them in the oven anyway – they’re perfect for cooking by the sheet pan. (To turn your croque monsieur into a croque madame, top it with an egg.)
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Virtual Vino bottles 1

I’m all set. Well, mostly.

I have to start this post with a huge thank-you to Virtual Vino, a small Calgary company that operates out of Rocky Mountain Wine, Spirits & Beer, which is next door to Long & McQuade, so I’m always poking around while Mike shops for drum skins. I ordered and picked up all this wine last week, after discovering last year that doing so made December far easier, and saved a ton of time and money.

But what I really appreciate is that they’re familiar with what I do, and they reached out and asked if I could help spread the word about they do by doing more of what I do—coming up with some holiday food ideas to share with you guys-and they would sponsor it. Because what I do it fits so well with what they do – curate good wines and package them up in fun six-packs you can peruse online, order at an amazing discount (the kind generally reserved for buying single wines by the case), and pick up or have them delivered to your house. (Also! You can order wine for someone else and have it delivered to them, which is just about the best present I can imagine.) I know some people get squirmy over ads, but the truth of it is the lack of them is what’s killing print media and small publications. I really appreciate the support, as I’m about to drop another $3500 on a site redesign, hosting costs money every year, and while I love spending time here, other story assignments tend to get prioritized because they pay the bills. So yay for companies like Virtual Vino for supporting local producers and local media, and especially for just letting me run with my ideas, without asking for special messaging – it means I got to spend a day doing what I love most—cooking and baking, and sharing it all with you guys. With wine. Win-win-win-win-win! (Wine-wine-wine-wine-wine-wine!) I posted a bunch of these recipes and ideas over on Instagram stories, and highlighted them so they’ll stick around for awhile.

So. The way I see it, there are a number of holiday situations that require food, and all of them can be made easier by having done some advance prep and planning. There are the parties, of course, that require a nice bottle of wine and something for the host and often an appetizer/dessert/nibbly thing as well. There’s the big feast, and sometimes more than one if you have more than one set of relatives or friends close enough to call family. There may be extra people hanging around the house, maybe even sleeping over, and kids home from school for two weeks. There are teachers, coaches, mail delivery people, and a million scenarios in which I want to grab something for someone I see over the holidays to let them know I appreciate them. And there are cookie swaps and Christmas carol sing-alongs, and Christmas Eve. And you always want something special for Christmas morning, but don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen (thus the invention of Christmas Morning Wifesaver, which was never a thing in our house). And OMIGOSH I LOVE CHRISTMAS SO MUCH, and we haven’t even got to New Year’s Eve.

So let’s go through them all, because I feel like there are things – frozen cookie and pastry dough, spiced nuts, preserves, antipasto – that can be tucked away to address any number of the above scenarios.
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