I love that Thanksgiving is a celebration of sameness, that it’s so deeply grounded in tradition that no one will let the turkey dinner menu they grew up with change – ever. There could be a jellied salad jiggling on the table for decades, one that everyone refused to actually eat, and yet they’d all likely freak out a little bit if it disappeared. There’s comfort in routine. At our house, as at many, there has to be turkey. We’re lucky to have Darrel Winter and Corrine Dahm raising turkeys out in Dalemead for the past forty years – a good bird is a great start. But the challenge for most is the managing of a large turkey – the thawing of it, the stuffing, and calculating the roasting time, getting it in and out of the oven – and how between all that to avoid getting up at the crack of dawn to get the bird in. In the past I’ve streamlined things byContinue reading

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The oak leaves were just sitting on our kitchen table, I swear.

Last week W and I were invited to come join a family cooking class at the Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence (yes, this is an actual place, and for anyone who appreciates beef and butchery, it’s amazing) – they were working with Canadian Living (my fave, as you know) on encouraging families to bring their kids into the kitchen – a place W has been hanging out in since he’s been alive. Publisher Sandra Martin joined us virtually on the big screen and the butchers and beef chefs – such great guys – were there to help everyone along as we cooked our way through recipes in the current issue of CL – beef stew, sliders, stir fry, an easy roast (our task – and a good one as it allowed me to give W a crash course in gravy making, something I hope he remembers this Thanksgiving weekend) and mozzarella stuffed mini meatloaves, which W has been asking me to make again ever since.

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The guilt of having to go out to another evening thing inspired me to make them – guilt can sometimes be a good motivator – but they were fast enough to pull together as I was getting dressed and drying my hair. It’s a simple meatball mixture, wrapped around cubes of cheese and baked in a muffin tin – and although I love a good meatloaf (especially with a vinegary, brown sugary glaze brushed on top) these made perfect enormous meatballs to nestle atop spaghetti (or in this case linguini – I’ve made a vow to not buy any more pasta until we make our way through the dozen or so shapes in the cupboard) – and honestly, what’s better than a meatball stuffed with cheese? This is how to win friends and influence people under 12.

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Remember this photo of W taking a picture (with an old camera that didn’t actually work) of his omelet? Sigh. It was my blog header of my blog for a long time – although the omelet was cut off and a lot of people couldn’t tell what the black box was. Anyway. I needed a photo here because you gotta have a photo, right? And it relates to taking pictures and writing recipes and the stuff I do around here.

Sometimes (oftentimes), people pay me to write stuff. Or to photograph stuff, come up with recipes, or make food look pretty so that other people can take pictures of it. This is a good thing, because I’m a professional food writer and the goal of any professional anything is to make a living doing that thing. Sometimes I get paid by magazine or newspaper editors (who get paid by advertisers) and sometimes I get paid cookbook royalties based on book sales and sometimes marketing boards or brands come directly to me to do things.

The professional part still sounds funny, even though it’s now my job – as many of you know, this is what I wanted to be even as a kid, when I wanted to be Elizabeth Baird. (I still do.) This was back when there were very few food writers, and many of them were ladies with tall hair who answered cooking questions in newspaper columns. Things have changed, obviously – the internet now exists, the playing field has flooded and food editor gigs at major magazines are rare, and still mostly take place in Toronto. And while I do (!!) have food writer/editor positions (at Parents Canada, and Western Living!) and columns, I write lots of things for different people, and get paid (or not) in different ways – but I love being here the most. And so sometimes – less often than not – when people ask me to use a product in a post and offer to pay me for it, I agree. A new recipe is better than an ad, right? (As a kid I used to cut out the Canadian Living ads that had recipes in them and put them in my scrapbook. I was a recipe nerd even then.) My favourite are the locally grown and raised ingredients – beef, pulses, cheese and the like, which I use on the regular anyway. You want me to make something with lentils? Oh, OKAY. I can do that.
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W and I stopped at a coffee shop in Lethbridge this past weekend, where they had a jar of homemade caramels on the counter. And because a large extra shot latte is not a good idea for 11 year olds, I let him have a caramel, which he carried in his pocket all day, intermittently unwrapping one end to take a nibble. “I wish we knew how to make these,” he sighed as it got to the end. At which point I told him that making caramels was easy, boosting my favourite parent points considerably.

When we got home, he suggested making caramels to bring to dinner across the street – a brilliant idea considering there was barely enough time to preheat the oven. We started measuring the butter and sugar before realizing there was no cream – but there was sour cream, and that might be delicious? So we spooned it into the pot and proceeded with great anticipation, and were not disappointed. (Phew.)

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If we were to compile a book of family recipes, this upside down pear gingerbread may just be on the cover. We have it every Thanksgiving – it’s our pumpkin pie – and although gingerbread in general is not my favourite, this cake is. It’s special but not fancy, with a soft interior and chewy, caramelly edge, and is one of the very best vehicles for whipped cream there is.

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One of the biggest selling points of an upside-down cake is the fact that it needs no decorating. When you invert the cake the pear slices end up on top, making it look gratifyingly complete with no need for frosting. It does, however, scream for ice cream or whipped cream – provide a bowl of it alongside for people to serve themselves, or put a dollop on each slice. Pear gingerbread is also perfectly suitable for breakfast – in wedges with hot coffee, or smothered in thick Greek yogurt.
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I’m starting to go back and revisit some of my early recipes, the ones I posted in my toddler stages of blogging, with super-up-close photos (what was I thinking?) and plenty of stories of life with an actual toddler. This was one of the first, posted back in 2009, and if you look back on it, I was all HOW CAN IT POSSIBLY BE OCTOBER? Which I literally said to someone ten minutes ago about it already being almost October.

It’s one of those recipes people regularly tell me has become part of their regular repertoire, and so I thought it deserved a do-over.

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With turkey, winter squash, tomatoes and apples, can you imagine cramming more fall into one bowl? Back in ’09 I made this in the slow cooker, but nowadays I prefer the stovetop – either will do. (You’ll need less liquid overall in the slow cooker, since it’s all contained and won’t cook off.) And while you could use any kind of winter squash, butternut are easiest to handle – and peel. As with most chili recipes, it tastes even better after some time in the fridge, so this is the sort of thing to pick when you want to make something ahead of time to have ready for busy days, freeze or bring someone who’s sick/busy/having babies.
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I thought I had figured out the ideal chocolate chip cookie, that the perfect formula had been squared away and would never need revisiting. I made a batch to bring to CBC earlier this week, and since we were discussing the science behind chocolate chip cookies, I decided to make a thinner, chewier batch to contrast my thick, chewy portraits of perfection. For the sake of radio conversation. Guess which plate most everyone in the studio and newsroom went for? The thin ones with the rumpled edge. It’s like everyone had been replaced by thin cookie loving aliens who just didn’t know any better. It turns out there is no one true chocolate chip cookie – just a few favourites you can keep tucked away in your wardrobe of chocolate chip cookies.

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My current favourite, a mash-up of recipes (sometimes I just alternate) by Anna and Ashley, has been in such heavy rotation that it hasn’t occurred to me to this version in years. I forgot how addictive they are – it’s like the entire cookie is made up of a dark, crisp, almost candylike edge. With a higher ratio of butter and sugar to flour, they melt and spread and caramelize more drastically than those made with more eggs and flour. Some think it’s a failure when their cookies spread thin and smash into each other, but they’re the kind my mom likes best. I just ate four, and had to give the rest away to save me from myself.
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The squash are here! Oh all the piles of squash, arriving during the second week of school, at precisely the same time leaves start falling, some so big you have to cradle them under one arm like a small child. Sometimes, there’s such comfort in predictability. Especially when it necessitates wooly socks.

I called this butternut squash soup, but it doesn’t have to be butternut, which is familiar and easy to handle, readily available, smooth and far more clean and manageable when it comes to peeling and cubing than the gnarly monsters you see in farmers’ market bins at this time of year. But feel free to use any kind of winter squash you like – even if you can’t identify it. And because peppers are piled high at this time of year too, it seems fitting to deliver a double whammy of beta carotene.

Also? I’m trying to cut back on my caffeine consumption, and I’m hooked on having something warm to sip out of my plethora of favourite mugs at my desk. This fits, and is actually good for me. (Not that coffee isn’t, just perhaps not in the quantities of cream I’ve been consuming.)

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The text came in early one Saturday morning. “The tomatoes have spoken,” it said. “It happens today at 11am.”

It was my friend Victoria, alerting me to the specific time her in-laws would be putting up their tomatoes this year, something they’ve done since they moved to Calgary from Sessano del Molise, a small town just outside Naples, in 1967. When I heard it was an annual thing, generally a major production involving 20 cases of tomatoes, a dozen friends and neighbours, tables set up in the garage and a hot tub-sized pot set over a single burner in the driveway, I begged to tag along.

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Putting up tomatoes is largely a lost art, what with the availability of good-quality canned tomatoes just about everywhere food is sold, for a dollar or three. But I love the idea of picking up cases and doing it myself, and of letting the tomatoes determine when they’re ready to go. If you’re going to do this kind of thing, turn your basement or kitchen or garage into some sort of tomato crime scene, it needs to be done when they’re at their absolute peak of ripeness – not under-ready, not squishy. Mike and Pasqualina cover them in blankets and wait until the stem end starts to wrinkle. Then, says Pasqualina, they’re ready.

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The beauty of putting up your own tomatoes, besides the shelves of backyard or farmers’ market tomatoes you could potentially wind up with in your pantry, is that you could do one jar, or ten, or fifty, depending on your appetite for such a project and the size of your biggest pot. On this particular Saturday there were buckets and cases of tomatoes, and an enormous plastic colander set over an even more enormous bowl, another of cold water and a stockpot of simmering water. Here’s the process: start with Roma or plum tomatoes, which are meatier with less juice and seeds. Blanch them quickly, for about 20 seconds, so that once plunged into cold water, their skins will slip off in your fingers. Pasqualina would cut out the stem end and any unripe bits, and thickly chop them into the colander to drain any excess juices and some of the seeds. Mike would then grind them in a small hand-cranked food chopper – a blender processes them too much, they said. You could pulse them in a food processor with a gentle hand; you want some chunks, but not too big. The chunkily blended fresh tomatoes would then go into the gigantic pot to be simmered with fresh basil from the garden and some salt, cooked just long enough to go two fingers’ worth down the side before going into jars.
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