RK Treats for Toys 5

I’ve officially given up on the gingerbread house. Making them, that is – not that I’ve ever been a fan of eating them, after sitting out on our mantle gathering dust (and the occasional spider) for weeks – not that dry, molasses-heavy gingerbread designed for its structural integrity has ever been particularly known for its deliciousness. But this – this I can work with.

RK Treats for Toys 2

We’re making a different kind of edible treat this year – the folks at Rice Krispies reached out to ask if I’d help spread the word about their Treats for Toys program, which turns homemade treats into real toys for kids in need. This is a win-win scenario: I get a fun project to take on at the kitchen table with W (and any of his cousins and friends who might be over), working with a medium I can actually handle, and want to eat afterward. The idea is that if you transform marshmallowy Rice Krispie treat mixture into toy shapes – robots, cars, building blocks… we even came up with a top that actually spins, built around a chopstick and moulded in a plastic funnel – and share a photo on TreatsForToys.ca or through social media using the #TreatsForToys hashtag, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies will donate $20 (!!) to The Salvation Army to buy a real toy for a child who may otherwise go without. Now in its fifth year, the #TreatsforToys program has contributed more than $130,000 to date to make the holidays happier for kids across Canada.
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Castello Cheese board 2

One afternoon a few weeks ago, a few friends and I strategized a last-minute get-together by text: Friday night? Allison’s house. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and something for the cheese board. These kinds of spontaneous get-togethers always seem to work out best—there’s no checking of schedules weeks ahead of time, no pressure on any one of us to plan a party and menu. A cheeseboard can be assembled in minutes, and makes any gathering of people seem more official, with a focal point to gather around and nibble from.

Castello Cheese Board 16

The best part: everything goes on a cheese board, from nuts to dried fruit. I can pick up a cheese or two at the store en route, or rummage through my pantry and grab a ripe pear, a bag of crackers or cashews, half a jar of olives and the last of the crabapple jelly to contribute. Once everything is piled onto a board, it looks wonderfully appealing—a sort of mini potluck, and no one has to cook.

Castello Cheeses & Chutney

These impromptu parties are some of the best, the evenings I look forward to, getting the chance to spend time with people I don’t get to see often enough. But even when get-togethers are planned, I generally have a cheeseboard on the menu—because who doesn’t love cheese? It’s low-maintenance, and requires only putting things on a board or tile or platter, which can be done as people are ringing the doorbell.
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Parsnip Soup

It’s funny how people have this thing about parsnips, like it’s one of the world’s most unrecognized (and despised) root vegetables, yet when you mention a recipe with parsnips people say oh! I love parsnips! I figured I’d best get this recipe in before the imminent onslaught of butter, sugar and mincemeat.

This was my contribution (along with all of the photos!) to the latest Soup Sisters Cookbook, this one geared toward families and getting your kids into the kitchen. Soup is, after all, the ultimate starting point for the beginner cook – measurements don’t need to be precise, and you can play around with ingredients that are in season or whatever you happen to have in your fridge, and if veggies were wrinkly going in, no one will know. I’m a particular fan of soups you can purée and sip at your desk or take in your insulated to-go cup when you’ve had altogether too much coffee. And you’ll feel like you’re winning at this grown-up thing when you’re driving around with sippable parsnips in the cup holder of your car.

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Cherry Pavlova

I know the first few frosty weeks of winter isn’t the best time to present late summer cherries, but although I made this in August, my freezer is still loaded with the remains of this same case of now pitted and halved dark BC cherries, and it’s occurring to me that it would make a pretty fab holiday dessert. I mean, look at it – the meringue and cream all billowy and snowy, with brilliant red, juicy cherries on top – it could be raspberries or cranberries, or a combination of any or all of the above, you just want berries that are juicy and tart to contrast with the sweet, soft and crunchy cream and meringue. And although these are fresh cherries, tossed with just enough sugar to help them release some of their juices, I typically simmer fruit just briefly enough to start it breaking down, and releasing more juices, then setting it aside to cool (or refrigerate ahead of time) before pouring it over the pavlova.

Cherry Pavlova 7
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Jason's Grandma's 2 hour buns 3

Our across-the-street neighbours moved away a few years ago. They were fun to hang out with on our front step, our collective little kids playing on the sidewalk. They were good eaters, and toward the end of one summer shared the recipe for the soft, sweet buns he told us his Grandma used to make. Homemade dinner rolls made with a recipe procured from someone’s grandma are my favourite. For awhile, I made these with my niece across the street, and she’d bring them to school in her lunches.

Jason's Grandma's 2 hour buns 5

Homemade buns on the dinner table is about as old-fashioned as it gets, and yet immensely satisfying – this is one of the recipes we included in the new Best of Bridge Sunday Suppers, which hit store shelves a few weeks ago. If you like, you could pay closer attention to how you shape them, forming them into smooth-ish balls, then bake them on a sheet instead of in a tray, spaced apart so that they don’t snuggle up to each other in the pan and instead bake into stand-alone buns with tanned sides, perfect for homemade burgers. (If you do this, brush their tops with a bit of water or milk and sprinkle with some sesame seeds before you bake them. It’s positively glee-inducing to pull a pan of homemade sesame-topped burger buns out of the oven.)

Jason's Grandma's 2 hour buns 4
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Braised Beef Short Ribs with Lentils

With the launch of the new Best of Bridge Sunday Suppers book a couple weeks ago, I’ve been talking a lot on TV, radio and various interviews about the idea (and significance) of Sunday supper – of getting as many people as I can around the table for dinner to regroup and reconnect and get ready for the week. It’s an idea I always intend to get behind – to put out a standing invite for everyone, every Sunday forever – but haven’t quite managed to. This Sunday we cobbled together a quick sit-down around the table and although we could collectively only manage an hour between this and that, it did the trick.

I feel like not enough people know beef short ribs, or recognize them in the grocery store – they’re short and square, unlike typical ribs, and are best braised (cooked low and slow) to break down the tough connective tissues. I often throw on a pot of beef short ribs when there’s leftover beer in the house – which is to say there’s been a party, and as we’re doing the minimum kitchen sweep before bed, putting away chunks of cheese and filling the dishwasher, we come across a few nice craft beers that have been cracked open but not drank. Because I hate to waste nice beer, this always means beef stew or short ribs in our immediate future – and I like having flat beer to work with as it it seems equally odd to crack a nice cold, fizzy one straight from the fridge and pour it into a Dutch oven to braise with beef and onions.
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Caramelized Apple Pies

So I got it into my head that I wanted to make pies. Not regular, full-sized pies you eat by the slice, but the kind you eat out of hand. The seed was planted back in (on?) PEI, when a friend and I went on a 3 day road trip and stopped at the Handpie Company as soon as we pulled onto the island (I oddly love that they made handpie all one word) and ate two ridiculously delicious pies, stuffed half-moons you could eat straight from the paper bag, the buttery pastry loaded with meat and potatoes and other things. I know hand pies are not new, but somehow it was like a reawakening regarding the possibilities of pie.

Also, it’s apple time. I haven’t managed to make a pie yet. Somehow, these pockets seemed like less of a production.

Pastry + apples

So this afternoon I turned on the oven to make pies. (My new-ish oven takes forever to heat up.) I did some things, and did a bunch of editing, and made a porchetta, and made the pastry, and turned the oven off for a bit because it was getting hot and I hadn’t sautéed the apples yet. I like sautéing apples for pie, but it seemed a particularly good idea for these-cooking chunks of apple in a piece of butter caramelizes them, cooks them down so that they’re more concentrated, with less juice to release in the oven. You don’t need a shake of flour in the filling if you cook the apples down a bit first, adding some brown sugar and a shake of cinnamon at the end. And there’s nothing like cooking apples, butter and cinnamon to make your house smell delicious.

Caramelized Apple Pies 6
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Pasta all’Amatriciana

Who needs some comfort food? I do. Even if I have to make it for myself.

It’s been a nutso day/week/month.. year, really. For all of us? A couch and some slouchy socks and a big bowl of pasta is a realistic salve when sleeping in isn’t an option. This is one of those recipes that I know, that I glaze over when I see because it’s just too familiar and I know how to make pasta and give me a more unique idea already, but occasionally I just stick to the directions and am amazed at how delicious something is. My friend John Gilchrist sent this to me as I was gathering recipes for the Calgary Food Bank that uses ingredients on their wish list, and having half a package of bacon and half a can of tomatoes in my fridge, I gave it a go.

Pasta all’Amatriciana 2

Pasta all’Amatriciana is traditionally made with guanciale and Pecorino, but bacon is just fine. And you can use any type of tomato It was crazy delicious, and cooked in the amount of time it takes to boil the pasta. Cheap, fast and easy – that’s my kinda dinner.
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Babka 7

It’s time for some chocolate babka, I think. To celebrate the time of year when you can turn the oven on to warm the house. If you’re only familiar with babka thanks to Seinfeld, it’s a sweet, rich yeasted dough that some call cake—but really it’s a loaf of sweet dough with the texture of a soft cinnamon bun, rippled through with so much chocolate (or cinnamon, which is considered a lesser babka, but it’s on my list to make next—who wouldn’t love a loaf-shaped cinnamon bun?) as to make slicing the rolled log (which you do lengthwise, before twisting it into the pan) a challenge.

Babka 12

I took babka for a spin a few times to get a feel for it, in the name of research of course—the soft, rich dough is lovely to handle, and it’s like assembling a cinnamon bun, up until the dough is filled and rolled into a log. Some of the chocolate fillings out there are crumbly, others smooth, which I found easier to handle when it comes to the twisting part, which I find ridiculously satisfying.

Babka 13
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