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Cinnamon babka 9

This! Is what Easter weekend is all about. Sweet breakfast breads (waffles! crêpes! cinnamon buns! babka!) and trying to outsmart the nephews (who are smaller, bendier and wilier than I) for Mini Eggs. I gave cinnamon babka a go early – I’ve wanted to try it for awhile, and figured chocolate babka on top of the Easter hunt may be a bit over the top. Truth: cinnamon is not a lesser babka.

Cinnamon Babka 14

Also! I had a jar of Rosen’s Cinnamon Bun Spread on my shelf, and it suddenly seemed as if it was made for babka. It was – if you can get your hands on a jar, a small one was perfect for two babkas, and I warmed it for no more than 10 seconds in the microwave first just to give it added spreadability. Otherwise, mix brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, and a bit of honey or maple syrup for added stickiness.

Cinnamon Babka 13

Really, I just wanted to make another babka so I could take pictures of it. They’re so ridiculously satisfying to make – all the twistiness makes it look finicky, but it’s really not – it’s forgiving, and once you cut and twist and tuck the dough into the pan, no matter how wonky it is, it will look fabulous coming out of the oven. Which is what I love about the chemistry of baking.
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Baker Creek Cabins

My new favourite getaway is an escape to a not-so-back country lodge in the Rocky mountains – one you don’t have to access by ski or snowshoe with your stuff strapped to your back, but can in fact drive right up to, park your car, and be sitting in front of a crackling wood fire in five minutes. Although it’s spring break and my feeds are full of friends dipping toes into pools and sitting on beaches, to me this is the stuff dreams are made of. And it’s pure Canadiana.

These not-so-back country lodges are a little off the beaten path (literally), and so tend to not be as front-of-mind as the usual Banff/Canmore/Lake Louise hotel destinations. I’ve been to a few, but once I started seeking them out I realized how much I love them, how they embody coziness and encourage unplugging, how (unless you ski – I haven’t for years) they offer a true hideout from modern day life. And while all have access to wireless, it’s usually a challenge to get a good signal, so you’re almost forced to disconnect.

Storm Mountain Lodge

Last summer I was doing some filming at Storm Mountain Lodge. I had never been, and completely fell in love with the place. Constructed in 1922 as one of eight Bungalow Camps built by Canadian Pacific Railway to promote tourism in the Rockies, the original log lodge and dozen bungalows are still in use. It was built with the perfect vantage point, with a panorama of mountain peaks as a backdrop; in the early 1920’s, Canadian Pacific named this driving route the most spectacular motor trip on the continent.

I mean come on – how could you not completely adore this place? It’s like the ultimate family cabin.
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Moroccan Braised Lamb Pie

This was all that I salvaged from the show this morning – we all stood around the plate at the studio and stabbed at it with forks at 8:30 am.

Alright, so it’s not really a *pie*. But it was baked in a pie plate and is technically topped with pastry, so I call it fair game to celebrate Pi day. Plus it’s unbelievably delicious, and outside my regular wheelhouse – normally I would have celebrated by clearing the last of the rhubarb out of my freezer, but David put in a subtle request yesterday for CBC this morning, and so I went ahead and made it. Which is why I have these photos taken on my phone in the dark of late last night and early this morning – not ideal, but you get the gist. I wanted you to see what the stewy part looked like, and the crumpled phyllo on top.

Moroccan Lamb Pie 4

It’s pretty straightforward, as far as braises go – the original instructs tossing the meat in flour, but I prefer to brown the meat itself, and get some good colour on it before shaking some flour overtop to thicken the stewy sauce. Beyond the spices – I had ras el hanout, but either ran out or couldn’t find it, and didn’t miss it at all – and I left out the cloves because I’m not a fan, and the saffron because I don’t expect anyone to have it in their kitchen. In went a tin of tomatoes, two lemon halves, squeezed and zested and tossed in whole, along with a cinnamon stick and some honey and a pour of pomegranate molasses, and oh, was it delicious. I made it last night and topped it with scrunched-up buttered sheets of phyllo this morning for the show, and although I tend to glaze over when I see crumpled phyllo-topped things, it was perfect – crunchy and buttery and light, giving you the sensation of eating pastry without being heavy. A shortcrust lid on this lamb stew might have put it over the top, but a few sheets of phyllo was brilliant.

Moroccan Lamb Pie 3
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Hamantaschen 2

I have never made a batch of hamantaschen, those triangular cookies closesly associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim, and although I’ve always been familiar with them, I can’t clearly recall eating one before today. Traditionally filled with thick poppyseed paste, date, prune or apricot preserves, they could contain just about anything — I’ve come across versions filled with marzipan and sprinkles, Nutella, and hazelnuts and apricots with a browned butter cookie base. You could, in fact, fill these hamantaschen with just about any sweet filling that could be contained by the edges of the cookie and would stand up to the heat of the oven — fruit compote, sweetened cream cheese or pie filling.

Hamantaschen 5Hamantaschen 6

Hamantaschen is like the cookie version of a galette, with sugar dough rolled and cut into circles, then folded over whatever filling you happen to come up with. (I used some blackberry jam from last summer, and some thick date filling I made in the same way I would to fill those date squares that look kind of like this. I’m thinking now that some cooked saskatoon pie filling would have been a fine choice.

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Butter chicken soup 1

Most people wonder why they didn’t come up with the billion dollar idea for the Post-it or the flask tie/ping pong door/hairy stockings or the Instant Pot, but when I was first presented with a bowl of butter chicken chowder, I wondered why the idea had never occurred to me before. I mean, butter chicken is all about the sauce, right? So why not cut straight to the chase and serve up a bowl of essentially butter chicken sauce with enough chicken, potatoes and peas to make it count as soup? Better yet – chowder, in all its hearty, creamy glory.

Butter chicken soup 3

I’ve been meaning to make a pot of this since the launch of the latest Soup Sisters cookbook, for which the 11 year old daughter of two chef friends came up with this creation. It’s truly sublime, and the sort of thing you can pull together quickly for dinner. Often when I make butter chicken I streamline things with leftover roasted chicken, and sometimes I just pick up a deli roasted chicken and, when W was not a fan of curry, he’d get the legs while the rest of the meat was shredded and chopped and stirred into the sauce.

I still do this sometimes, not only because it’s fast, but because chicken roasted on the bone has much more flavour. In this case, I used chicken breasts – something I very rarely buy, but for some reason noticed at the grocery store last week that they were almost half the price of thighs. I wonder if the tides are turning and with everyone appreciating a good, flavourful, less expensive thigh, price has actually increased along with demand?
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Kataifi torte

I realize plums aren’t in season right now, but focus on what’s underneath: a crunchy shredded phyllo-wrapped ricotta cheesecake of sorts, which like other cheesecakes can be topped with just about anything, including whatever fruit you currently have in the freezer, simmered with a bit of sugar or honey and spooned overtop.

Kataifi torte 3

I wasn’t sure what to call this – it’s not really pie, nor cake; I settled on torte (as have others) because it’s a sort of blanket term for a dense cake, and it is baked in a pan and served in wedges. What makes it unique is the kataifi, finely shredded phyllo pastry you can find alongside the frozen phyllo at any Middle Eastern grocery, and even in some grocery stores. It’s lovely to work with.

Kataifi torte 2
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Fondue for Two

Chocolate should really be declared the official food of February, since at some point long ago someone decided it defined love, or professed it, or otherwise made people feel as good as love does. It’s always chocolate season, of course – but in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day I tend to want it more. The power of suggestion is strong with me.

Chocolate fondue for two 2

Of course Valentine’s Day is all about sharing the things you love with the ones you love. The folks at Green & Black’s asked if I’d play around with some of their bars and make a fondue for two, and I was more than happy to oblige. You hardly need a recipe for chocolate fondue, but a little guidance helps, and the ratios of cream:chocolate vary from bar to bar. Once you get the formula down – heat cream, add chopped chocolate, stir – you can play around with it a bit, adding a shot of booze to the cream, or infusing it with flavours. Of course Green & Black’s has already thought of this, and come up with bars spiked with mint, salt and ginger on top of a wide range of cocoa percentages. It’s a bonus that the chocolate is delicious, and ethically sourced.

Chocolate fondue for two 4

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Ester & Aebleskiver 4

Earlier in December I met Ester, my new 93 year old Danish friend who showed me how to make Æbleskiver. Or rather brought out her cast iron pan and recipe and watched as I made it, offering tips and encouragement and told stories as I folded the whipped egg white into buttermilk batter and turned the dough balls in the pan as they puffed and turned golden. I kind of grew up with Æbleskiver – my best friend Sue’s mom would make them sometimes when we had sleepovers at her house in our teenage years, and I’ve been on the hunt for an Æbleskiver pan ever since. Pierre found one for me at a second hand store in BC around the same time I was making them with Ester, and so yay – I am now officially a person who makes Æbleskiver on weekend mornings. Particularly after sleepovers.

Making aebleskiver dough

If you’re not familiar with Æbleskiver, they’re most often described as pancake balls, often spiked with cardamom because of their Danish heritage, and not usually made with apple despite their name. (You could, of course, tuck bits of apple into the middle of the balls as they cook.) I’ve most often eaten them warm, with jam and sometimes whipped cream, but Ester’s mother, who had 12 kids and turned her Æbleskiver with the tip of a knitting needle, served hers with a dish of sugar for each person to roll their pancake ball around in, like a warm doughnut. With jars of jam and preserves for spreading once you split them open.
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Roasted Cauliflower + Squash with Kale + Tahini Dressing

If I had one of those weekly menu calendars – meatloaf Mondays, taco Tuesdays, pork chop Thursdays – some version of this would be on my roster. I tend to gravitate toward it every January, when I sit down and make a list of dishes made up of mostly vegetables that I really, truly love to eat, and decide that I’m going to make an effort to eat them more often, rather than always load up on bagels and toast. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that… there are just too many things right with it.)

This salad of sorts is also the perfect example of how we don’t always need a recipe per se, sometimes all you need is a general guideline. I can definitively say I’ve never measured out feta for a salad, but just crumbled some over, measuring by eyeball. Yes, I picked up some lacinato kale (the smooth dark green kind, also called Tuscan or dinosaur kale) and a thick-necked butternut squash to make it, but those small, dark-fleshed sweet potatoes would work just as well. And I thought I’d roast some chickpeas along with the squash until I realized I had half a cauliflower in the fridge waiting to be used. It occurred to me later than roasted new potatoes would be equally delish.
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