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Somehow, it got to be November. For the past 14 years, I’ve spent this first week out in Jasper at Christmas in November, and I have to admit I’m going through some severe withdrawal. I made a list of things that have been hanging over my head for far too long to take care of with this time that would otherwise be spend driving/dancing/eating/spa-ing – organize the basement! organize the office! get teeth cleaned! sort out the garage while it’s still nice out! – but while I am making some progress, it wasn’t doing much to fill the hole left by the usual ten days of festivities. And so when I was asked if I might go pick up some things at Willow Park Village and make some party food out of it, I said hell yeah, immediately invited some friends over and went shopping.

Willow Park Village is a bit of a haul south for me, but I spent a lot of time there during the three seasons we filmed It’s Just Food in the Kitchen at Willow Park Wines & Spirits, and when I am down in that end of town I always pop in because I love the cheese shop, the seafood shop, the butcher shop, the cupcake shop, and my pal Judy Wood owns Meez, where they carry hard to find locally made products (and Lyle’s Golden Syrup in a tin!) and a buffalo chicken dip that will make you weep with joy. I love that you can park and walk between them all, and everyone is extraordinarily friendly and helpful.

cobs-bread

We slept in, stopped for coffee, then went to shop, starting at Cobs for cinnamon buns. My mom goes to Cobs quite a bit, and picks up this crazy delicious loaf packed with dried fruit. I grabbed one of those, not for the get-together but for toast the next morning – it was so warm, it steamed up the bag, and I nibbled it as we shopped.

I also picked up a cranberry-pistachio baguette, a few pizza crusts (I like tossing a few pizzas into the oven for the kids – although the grown-ups always wind up eating them too) and a chewy focaccia, topped with coarse salt. (In the past I’ve thinly sliced these to make grilled cheese, and sliced the long, thin sandwiches lengthwise diagonally or crosswise into gooey two-bite pieces and set them out right on the cutting board.)

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Next door, one of my favourite stops is Springbank Cheese, where Adrian & Carie Lee Watters carry over 365 types of cheese. They carry fresh curds for poutine, fresh mozzarella from White Gold, and Sylvan Star Gouda; they’re super knowledgeable, and are always sampling something tasty – I generally leave with something I hadn’t tried before. I picked up the above, plus some applewood cheddar, raclette, feta, a tub of Angela’s olives, a box of Raincoast Crisps (ADDICTED) and some Valbella prosciutto. I have a bunch of boards at home, but love using a kitchen tile to set cheese out on – they stay cool, and are easy to clean. I pick them up for a couple dollars at Home Depot and put a couple felt pads on the bottom to keep them from scratching the table. Cheese is wonderfully low-maintenance, and everyone loves it – the only thing I did was add a glug of olive oil, a few strips of lemon zest, a pinch of thyme and red chili flakes to the baby mozzarellas. I grabbed a jar of rosemary-fig jam made by CRMR and some thinly sliced cured bison at Second to None to fill in the gaps.

butter-chicken-dip

Ah! And some aged white cheddar to scatter overtop a wide dish of butter chicken dip. Butter chicken dip! Which is really just saucy butter chicken (with the chicken – from Second to None – finely chopped), baked under a layer of cheese, and scooped up with wedges of pita or naan. All anyone really wants is the sauce, right?
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kale-squash-pomegranate-salad-3

I feel a little sheepish offering this up as a recipe – most of the time you don’t need a recipe for a salad – but I still struggle with creative salad combinations, and so here it is. It’s getting to be the season for winter salads made with kale, Brussels sprouts and winter squash, and I particularly love roasted squash in just about anything – not least of all doused in something vinegary. And I love bowls filled with a jumble of tasty things, and having some cooked quinoa in the fridge to turn into lunch at my desk, and how brilliant pomegranate arils look scattered over just about everything. I’m having a wee panic that we’re a week (A WEEK) into November already, and am trying to resist calming my nerves with copious quantities of raisin toast.

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Delicata has a thin skin you can eat, so there’s no need for peeling – you can swap in just about any squash, roasted by the slice or cubed and doused in oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then roasted until tender. You can do this while you’re making dinner – or for dinner, planning on leftovers to keep in the fridge for the next day’s lunch.
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sheet-pan-chicken

I’ve never been one to build dinner around a large meaty foundation, adding pots of starches and veggies to simmer on the side – I like things all together, not least of all because cooking everything in one big pot minimizes dishes.

The thing about soups and stews and other one-pot wonders is that they’re all – stewy. Which is fine, but I firmly believe and will shout from the rooftops (does anyone ever do this?) that roasting is the best cooking method of anything ever, particularly vegetables. I can’t think of a vegetable that isn’t at its crunchy-sticky-caramelized best roasted: tomatoes? Yup. Broccoli? For sure. Squash? Obv. Cauliflower? Totally.

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But here’s the beauty: you can roast chicken thighs in about the same amount of time it takes to roast veggies. On the same pan. Spreading them out on a sheet rather than tucking them into a deep roasting pan allows the heat to circulate, which means they’ll roast instead of steam. And if they start to mingle and get to know each other, all the better.
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jack-skellington-pie-small

Had to make this. It was Sunday, and my birthday, and I wanted to stay in my pajamas. W and I saw this on Instagram and had to make one. We put on some Bowie and did some baking. Beats scooping guck out of a pumpkin.

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We had blueberries and saskatoons in the freezer – perfect for dark, brooding eyes. Other than that, it was just a matter of cutting the face with the tip of a knife. I made an uncooked filling, but find that it can wind up tasting starchy – next time I’d cook the filling first, stirring in some fresh blueberries for little pops of juice. Any dark pie filling would work.
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apple-cake-9

It’s nice when things that don’t take much time accidentally turn out awesome, isn’t it?

When apples are in season, they make me want to bake – pies are nice in theory, but I’m not always in the mood to make one. An apple cake is a lovely thing, especially when it’s more apple than cake, and when you have a buttery dough you can stir together in a few minutes and know by heart, so that in spring it can be berry or rhubarb cake, in summer it can be a peach or plum cake. This is the sort of cake I like best – I think most days I’d choose this over a fancy chocolate tower held together with ganache.

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sourdough-pizza

I get the sense that sourdough starters are starting to come back into fashion – for the most part, it’s the bakers and chefs who nurture their bubbling little jars, texting each other about feeding schedules and storage advice. I started some new starter earlier this summer – the batch I had, with a backup tucked away in the back of the freezer, finally gave up due to neglect.

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I got them going, and then left town – and on the way back from Tofino, we detoured through Edmonton, popping in to Prairie Gardens farm in Bon Accord, where chef Blair Lebsack and Caitlin Fulton of Rge Rd cook farm dinners, they teach classes using the wood-fired cobb oven – pizza, charred salads with tomatoes, arugula and beans and beans from the garden, things like charred greens, braised leeks and Brussels sprouts, roasted herbs, quick pickles, bannock, cooked on a stick over the fire, pastry for spiced apple empanadas and galettes. Christine Sandford is one of the chefs who cooks out at the farm, and she came to make us pizzas with sourdough crust topped with paper-thin yellow zucchini and edible flowers, cooked in just a few minutes in their handmade oven alongside baby corn that we unwrapped and dragged through marigold aioli.

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I’m officially hooked on these one or two day Alberta road trips – especially in fall, when it’s warm but not too hot, the shadows start to lengthen early and everything is turning shades of yellow, orange and gold. W and I hit the road a few weekends ago – we left on a Friday at noon, and I had forgotten how awesome the drive south to Lethbridge is. First stop: the Hitchin’ Post Drive-in in High River. A stand alone burger and ice cream joint in the middle of a parking lot at a roundabout in the middle of town that offers about a bazillion milkshake flavours – in every combination you can dream up. And then – the Nanton Candy Store. This is, to me, the quintessential small town candy-curios store, worth the drive its own self, jammed with enough interesting things to keep me busy poking around while W spends far too much time choosing his candies. The 100 square foot roomContinue reading

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turkey-dinner-dog-treats-2

Lou loves turkey dinner too. There’s so much in the way of turkey scraps, mashed potatoes, veggies and gravy in our fridge – not to mention gallons of stock – that I couldn’t not turn some of them into treats. Dogs are the very best kinds of beings to cook for – they’re infinitely grateful, and care not at all about the texture of the cookies you make, or if they’re a few days old.

You needn’t worry about dog cookies being chewy or crispy or soft in the middle – the harder they get, the better. And you can turn anything your dog loves into a cookie – peanut butter, tuna, cheese… even a can of sardines (so good for their coat!) – but turkey dinner leftovers blend into a perfect, non-offensive-to-the-human-baking-them sludge that can be turned into treats of any shape or size.

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cranberry-orange-muffins-1

Back in the nineties, cranberry-orange everything was all the rage in coffee shops – and when we went to those first few that began taking over our Saturday mornings, Mike always ordered cranberry orange in muffin and loaf form. Although it’s not as common a flavour combination these days, it came to mind on Sunday morning as I puttered around the kitchen and although I didn’t really need to bake anything, slush was falling from the sky outside and I wanted to warm up with the smell of something baking.

Also: second coffee.
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