I went back and forth on whether or not I should write about these rhubarb Danishes. The trouble is, they're fussy. The dough requires a start the night before you want to bake, and so does macerating the rhubarb, and that's still only two of the three components done. And that dough, one that usually accepts a boost of whole wheat, demands all-white flour for truly gratifying puff and flake in this free-standing rendition. What's more, the quantities are awkward; in regards to the volume of rhubarb, there is the need for a certain surface area, not really weight, making it difficult to pin down a specific amount. A batch of the almond cream  (the last piece to this puzzle) yields more than needed; in light of which, there's the option of making only a half recipe with clumsy math, or doubling the pastry and rhubarb, or accepting that there will be leftover and making almond croissants with what remains.

After the details and wait, these Danishes are frustratingly good. The pastry is crisp at the edge but tender still. The almond cream is fragrant and ever-so-slightly-gritty, providing delineation between the smooth layers of the pastry below and the yielding rhubarb above; rhubarb which, only lightly sweetened, retains a glinting sharpness, cutting back the richness of the overall bite. 

WIthout naming names, there's a few folks who have made habit of putting away two (two!) per sitting, with no crumb neglected on the plate. By all accounts these Danishes are worth the trouble. 


Scratch that. It's not trouble to make these, it's work. Not even difficult work, only an involved process. 

There was a reason behind the endeavour, besides really liking the idea of rhubarb Danishes, and that was the rhubarb itself. Sean brought bunches from a farm stand, two big bundles of stalks a few feet in length with leaves attached. He laid them in my arms in much the way a bouquet is handed to a crowned beauty queen, cradled in the crook of the elbow. These hot pink lookers, firmly pliant and none wider than my index finger, they called for similar pageantry. 

They needed a proper stage, not hidden under a crust or crumble, but left as they were for the most part and shown off. Danish dough as backdrop to neatly rowed rhubarb would do exactly that.


I also know myself well enough to admit that I made these Danishes because I was avoiding another job I should have been doing. As I have a tendency to do when I'm daunted. I look for a different challenge to skirt around the one that really scares me.

I finally got around to listening to the audio copy of "The War of Art" (Warner Books, 2002) by Steven Pressfield that Sean put on my phone. When I've been playing it for a while and stop, I feel as though I've broken the surface after being underwater. It's an immersive listen, as Pressfield accounts the process and pitfalls of a creative life. I've been thinking of getting a hard copy, wanting to have the words laid out before me instead of rewinding and replaying the recording as often as I do. 

The first chapters of the book are about resistance, about what it means to commit yourself to work. In talking about the difficulties in getting started and the dangerous fear of coming to the end of a project, I thought about aiming for the middle. That comfortable place when momentum is behind you and you're not thinking yet about the sprint to the finish. It's when we fall into stride. Infuriatingly, despite anxiety of beginning, the only way to get there is by putting your head down, setting your shoulders, and simply do the work. 

There's no way around it; the following recipe reads long and boring and far too much effort to be worth it. It's doable. Promise. I've made them once a week for the last three.  As Pressfield says: 

"Set one foot in front of the other and keep climbing."

(I keep repeating that part.) 



A collection of recipes. The ingredients for the almond cream (with added vanilla bean) come from Bouchon Bakery (Artisan, 2012) by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel. It is a book you want on your shelf when it comes to anything baked, full of insights and tricks, and essential recipes. With great respect to the authors, I've rewritten their instructions — with larger capacity stand mixers, I find the small batch of almond cream (as this amount is called in the book) easier to make by hand, especially if you chose to halve the recipe. What's below reflects that.


  • Approximately 1 1/2 pounds (700g) fresh rhubarb, trimmed of leaves but left whole
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean, plus the pod


  • One recipe quick Danish dough, with white bread flour used to replace the same quantity of whole wheat

FOR THE ALMOND CREAM (makes approximately 1 1/2 cups, more than needed)

  • 1/2 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons (73 grams) almond meal
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2.5 ounces (73 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (73 grams) powdered sugar
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (44 grams) lightly-beaten eggs, see note


  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash, see note
  • Granulated or sanding sugar for sprinkling


Up to 24 hours before you want to bake, trim the rhubarb stalks to fit in a 9x13-inch dish. Combine the sugar, water, vanilla bean and pod in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until the sugar is fully dissolved. Pour the hot syrup over the prepared rhubarb, turning the stalks to coat. Leave at room temperature to cool, then cover and place in the fridge at least overnight and as much as a full day, shuffling the rhubarb around in the syrup now and again.

The night before you want to bake, start the Danish dough. (You will complete the folds and finishing in the morning.)

The next day, about 2 hours before you want to bake, make the almond cream. Sift the almond flour into a medium bowl; break up any lumps in the sieve, and add to the bowl. Sift in the all-purpose flour and whisk together. 

Place the butter in a medium bowl and beat with a silicone spatula or a hand mixer until the butter lightens to about the consistency of mayonnaise and holds a peak when the spatula is lifted. Sift in the powdered sugar, stir to incorporate. Once blended, beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy, around 3 minutes. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the almond mixture in 2 additions, stirring to combine, then stir in the vanilla. Pour in the eggs and mix until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container, pressing a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. (The cream can be made up to 4 days ahead of time.)

30 or so minutes before you want to bake, finish the Danish dough by completing 5 turns (folds). Chill for 20 minutes. (Dough can be made ahead and frozen, then defrosted in the fridge before using.)

To assemble, preheat an oven to 375°F / 190°C. Line a baking sheet or half sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.

On a lightly-floured work surface, roll the Danish dough to a 11x22-inch rectangle. Cut the dough into eight 5 1/2-inch squares. Refer to this diagram, and decide which shape you want to make. If making the vol-au-vent or envelope as I did, working one at a time, fold each square diagonally onto itself (forming a triangle, with corners lined up neatly). Leaving a thin border, cut a thin line starting from the bottom right corner of the triangle, parallel to the edge, almost up to the top. Repeat on the other side, leaving the tip attached. Unfold the package, brush with egg wash, then pull one of the cut edges over the other, lining it up with the interior edge of the square. Do the same with the other side, pressing lightly to seal, then place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining squares.

Spread the well of each shaped Danish with about 1 tablespoon of almond cream. Remove rhubarb from the sugar syrup, draining any excess liquid back into the dish. Trim the rhubarb to fit the pastries and line them up to cover the almond cream. (There may be rhubarb left over, do not discard.) Sprinkle entire Danish with sugar. Set aside to rise in a warm, draft-free area for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, pour the rhubarb sugar macerating liquid into a saucepan along with any remaining rhubarb, cut to into chunks. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring, but not breaking up the rhubarb, until the liquid has thickened to a light syrup. With a slotted spoon, remove the rhubarb from the syrup. Turn off the heat but leave the syrup on the stove to keep warm.

Bake pastries in the preheated oven until puffed and golden, around 20 minutes. With a pastry brush, glaze the rhubarb and almond filling with the syrup. Remove the pastries to a baking rack to set for a few minutes, then serve warm. 

The Danishes are best eaten the day they are made. 


  • You may have egg left over from making the almond paste.  This can be kept aside and used for the egg wash. (If amount looks scant, you can bulk it up with a bit of heavy cream.)
  • The rhubarb removed from the syrup can be recombined with any extra glaze and served over ice cream or yogurt.  
  • If process shots will be of some aid, here is one, and another
25 CommentsPost a comment

It was Tara (Austen Weaver) who introduced me to the idea of pie for breakfast.  She's a smart lady, that one.

cranberry blueberry breakfast cobbler

cranberry blueberry breakfast cobbler

She serves hers at room temperature, with milk, the day after things like Thanksgiving dinner. It makes perfect sense, as fruit and pastry and dairy are hardly unheard of a.m. foods, and I like the carryover of continuing celebrations.

And, as it happens with the best conversations you have with friends, that idea of hers got me thinking. I wondered about those times when you don't happen to be so lucky as to have a pie in the fridge, but wanted something similar.  Since pastry-making doesn't easily lend itself to spontaneity, cobbler was my proposed answer — one that could be thrown together the morning of, even, with some whole grains in the mix, and less butter and sugar than the usual. 

But breakfast cobbler required some thought. My instinct when it comes to cobblers it to lean towards the biscuit ones, the kind that has a velvety stew of fruit beneath a crisply crusted and golden top. However, that breed of cobbler requires cutting butter into flour, often enriching that with cream, and then either rolling out the resulting dough or dolloping it over the pan of fruit. And biscuits mean not only some work, but also a considerable cooking time, neither of which suited my breakfast aim. 

So we came to batter-style cobblers, a subject upon which I am no expert. Thank goodness I know some folks with opinions on the matter.

Batter cobblers are entirely different from the biscuit variety. Some have the batter on top, in a cakey, even layer. I've seen some  that are close to clafoutis, which soufflé up when baked, and are almost custardy at their middles. I chose to concentrate on recipes with a quick bread-like mixture poured into a skillet of melted butter, as in the procedure for Dutch babies or Yorkshire pudding, with then the fruit on top. 

berried breakfast cobbler

berried breakfast cobbler

I was stuck on the hope to keep baking time short, and the prep time even shorter. I nixed the consideration of any fruit that required cutting, pitting or hulling, or any that were so dense or rich with juice as to require long cooking. I had hoarded cranberries through December, so pillaged my frozen stash. In the freezer was also the last of the local blueberries I'd saved from last summer, tiny and wild ones still dusky indigo with bloom, so out they came too.

I cobbled together a simple batter, one that can (and has in our household) be whisked together by a child with minimal supervision or an adult who hasn't yet shaken off the ragged ends of sleep. It uses the muffin method of wet ingredients into dry, stirred only until everything is incorporated, but without any worry for lumps, and then it is scraped into a preheated skillet. Handfuls of fruit are spread on top, then a shimmering, scattering of demerara sugar, before all goes to the oven.

30 minutes later without any attention, and granting time enough for a shower and getting the table set and kettle on, the cobbler is done.

To borrow Tara's line, if pie and milk is like cereal (only better), a breakfasty batter-style cobbler with yogurt is like a pancake and muffins and cream of wheat mashed together into something unquestionably wonderful ( and not the mess that that sort of sounds to be).

By using a blend of white and whole wheat flours, the cobbler ends up with the best qualities of both. It is toothsome at the edge where it meets the pan, but plush where it cradles the fruit. The tart berries seep and relax into the batter, and the candied ginger and orange zest grant personality and fragrance to their twang. It is generous, gratifyingly warming eating, especially when spooned into bowls with dollops of yogurt or a pour of cream.

The cobbler is moderately healthy, managing somehow to giving the impression of being decidedly less so. It is sweet, but not too sweet, a firm possibility for breakfast, but also in the afternoon with a cup of tea, broken into pieces and eaten with your fingers, as a skinny snacking cake. If hard pressed, come dinnertime, I'd bet it could even be dessert.

As you may have noticed, there's been some renovations here. Fingers crossed, it's all gone smoothly and fiddly things like subscriptions should be maintained. That said, please excuse any wonky bits as the dust settles. Feel free to poke around and please let me know what you think.



In working up this recipe, I spent a lot of time working down the quantities of butter and sugar. The butter I think is at a good place; there's enough to get the edge of the cobbler nice and crisp, with a hint of richness even, but without superfluous weight. The sugar, which is already reduced in comparison to a dessert cobbler, is what I'm still unsettled upon. The next go round I might try to lose those two pesky tablespoons and cut the sugar to 1/2 cup — maybe split between cane and golden brown, or maybe using golden brown entirely, I've not decided yet.

Enough for 6-8.

For the cobbler

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup natural cane sugar, plus two tablespoons
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • zest scraped from 1/2 an orange or a whole clementine
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups frozen cranberries, thawed a little
  • scant 3/4 cup frozen blueberries, partially thawed if large
  • 1 tablespoon demerara, or other coarse sugar

To serve

  • Yogurt, sweetened or unsweetened, or milk or cream. I like Greek yogurt thinned with the juice of the clementine left from zesting.
  • A few tablespoons hemp hearts, sliced almonds, pepitas, toasted, or other crunchy add-ons for sprinkling. Granola, even.

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, then set in the oven to melt. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, crystallized ginger, and zest. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, beat together the milk and the egg. Whisk the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. 

When the butter in the pan has melted, carefully remove pan from oven. Pour batter into the pan and, without stirring it into the butter, coax it into the edges of the skillet with the back of a spoon. (For the record, the batter will look a stingy amount; have faith that it will be enough, as it does indeed swell and spread as it bakes.)  Scatter the cranberries over the batter, followed by the blueberries and the demerara. Bake until the batter browns, and the centre of the cobbler springs back when gently prodded, around 25-30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving with whatever toppings suit your taste.

23 CommentsPost a comment

I'm terrible at Christmas. Birthdays too. When it comes to gift giving, it is rare I make it to the finish before dropping hints to the recipient as to the present that's been purchased with them in mind. In dire cases of eagerness, I end up breaking down and giving presents early. It might be smart for me to purchase two sets of gifts at the get go.

The trouble is, I get so excited at the giving, that I fail miserably at the waiting. 

In the case of sugar buns, I waited as long as I could. That ends today.

I was hesitant to mention another butter-sugar-and-oh-have-some-more-butter bread when we were on with brioche so recently, but when those brioche were welcomed with such enthusiasm I tucked such qualms aside. 

Plus, sugar buns don't need my help. They state their own case.

sugared swirls

I've been making sugar buns for a good while now. And before that, I had a long history with cinnamon rolls, including a dark period in high school involving a scandalous fling with those monstrous ones they sell at the mall. I'm not proud. I returned to homemade for a time, until we parted ways after a disappointing batch one Christmas morning.

They only returned to our circle when Benjamin, my eldest, had a less-than-impressive meet-n-greet with a cinnamon roll from a shop. I attempted to salvage their burgeoning friendship by baking cinnamon rolls with him, thus rekindling my affection anew ... which was stoked ablaze soon after with an introduction to Tartine's morning buns. That proved the tipping point; cinnamon-sweet breakfast breads and I were back to spending time in each other's company.

I tried the Tartine recipe with croissant dough. I saw somewhere the suggestion of swapping in Danish dough, and thought it an excellent one. Then I found a like-minded individual who suggested a cheat's method for Danish dough, and it proved to be what I was really looking for. Laminated doughs, rather than the bread dough usual for cinnamon rolls makes for a pull-apart delicacy that traditional buns sometimes lack.

Over all those twists and turns, there's been tweaking and fiddling, shifting and settling into the relationship. And, wherein through the course of such intensive decided companionship, it was determined that the balance of butter in the dough and swirl is crucial — a too generous of a quantity much makes these buns open up between their swirls and crisp, with a sharp shattering of the crumb. I prefer softness at their coiled centres, a doughiness beside the crunch of sugar. (That is not to say that these buns include only a miserly serving of butter, as the proportion could hardly be called stingy.)

An addition of whole wheat bread flour encourages softness and adds weight, and almond extract contributes a mellow something or other that reminds of bostocks when it meets up with the orange zest that spikes the filling. I double down on that nuttiness, upping the ante with browned butter too.

Speaking of that filling, it's rare I go for cinnamon alone when baking. Which is surprising, as again back in high school I was big time crazy for Big Red gum, and thought cinnamon hearts better than chocolate. In those dramatic years, it was the full hit of cinnamon and nothing else. At present, however, I consider cinnamon best in combination with the other aromatic, warm-bodied spices that share a shelf by our stove. And so, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger tag along. 

And thus we began a kinship with these sugar buns.

morning baking

As for the moniker, sugar buns comes from Benjamin; who, in his six-year-old wisdom, declared the final tumble in granulated sugar is what makes these buns his favourite. Since he was part of the reason I welcomed cinnamon rolls back into our kitchen, he deserved the honour of naming.

That said, if it floats your boat you could call them "mixed spice rolls with brown butter and orange zest," but sugar buns is less of a mouthful. And, well, easier to say when your mouth's full. (That's the type of joke that makes my boys giggle, it might even get a real belly laugh, so excuse the pun. It's for them. But the buns, I'm giving those to you.) 


With inspiration from a variety of sources. They're cinnamon rolls mashed up with the morning buns from Tartine Bakery and Café, along with a touch of a bostock, in accordance with the specifications of the sort of pastries my family likes. Just a head's up, the Danish dough requires at least an overnight rest — so plan accordingly. 


  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/3 cup golden brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange, depending on taste (if you happen to have 3 clementines, use them)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • A good pinch of kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 3/4 stick) browned butter, cooled
  • All-purpose flour for dusting 
  • 2 pounds quick Danish dough, recipe below

Combine sugars, zest, spices and salt in a small bowl. Set aside. 

Brush the wells of a 12-cup muffin tin (see note) with a thin film of browned butter, using maybe 1 tablespoon in total. Set aside the rest. Coat the wells generously with granulated sugar, tapping out excess. Set aside.

On a lightly-floured work surface, roll your Danish dough to an 8x20-inch rectangle. Brush the remaining browned butter across the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border on the long sides. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly atop the butter. Press the sugar lightly into the dough. Starting from the long side closest to you, carefully roll the dough into a tight log. Once completely rolled, pinch the seam to seal. Turn the rolled dough onto its seam and cut into 12 equal portions. Turn each slice onto one of its flat sides, and press down lightly to level. Place slices in prepared pan. Set aside to rise in a warm, draft free spot until just about doubled in size, around 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C).

Bake the buns until puffed and golden, around 20 minutes. Immediately turn the buns out onto another sheet pan. Carefully flip buns right side up, cool until just manageable to touch, around 5-10 minutes. One by one, roll the hot buns in a small bowl of granulated sugar, coating completely but shaking off excess. 

Best when eaten still warm. 

Makes 12.


  • For ease of baking, 12 buns work best. However, my preference is to make 14, cutting the dough into 1 1/2-inch slices and dividing the buns between two muffin pans  — one 12-cup and one 6-cup. I like this size as they stay neat in the tins, and make for the (slightly) more modest bun as seen in the photos.

Quick Danish dough 

The is a whole wheaten adaptation of Nigella Lawson's Food Processor Danish Pasty Dough from How to be a Domestic Goddess, which I make by hand (a modest effort for less dishes). It can, of course, be pulsed together in a processor instead. 

  • ¼ cup warm water
  • ½ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten 
  • A few drops almond extract, optional
  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ¾ cup whole wheat bread flour
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup (8 ounces, 2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small dice

In a small pitcher or measuring cup, stir together the water, milk, egg and almond extract, if using.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, sugar and yeast. Scatter the cubed butter across the flour mixture. With two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry mix, as you would in making biscuits or pastry. Stop cutting once the butter is distributed but chunks still visible.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture,  then pour in the milk/egg mixture. Stir quickly to bring everything together into a messy dough. It won’t be pretty, it will be shaggy and sticky and uneven. Not to worry. As long as the flour is all combined, it is ready to go. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight, or as much as two days.

When ready to proceed, bring the dough to room temperature. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough to a 20-inch square. (The dough may be hard to work with on the first rolling, but it will get silkier and easier with each turn.) Fold the dough in thirds, as with a business letter. Turn the package 90 degrees counter-clockwise, so that the closed ends are to your left. Roll out again to a 20-inch square, and fold again, then turn. Repeat the process of rolling and turning 3 more times, 5 folds and turns in total. If the dough seems to be getting sticky or greasy, chill briefly in between turns.

Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 minutes before using, or freeze for a later date.

Makes 2 pounds.

40 CommentsPost a comment

This isn't the story of cookies. Although, there was a cookie the approximate size of my hand involved.

Nor is this the account of astounding breads baked in wood-fired ovens, though we had some of those too. Nor is it about Schmuffins, teeny cakes that want to be doughnuts, which are not only exceedingly tasty, but are also the most adorably-named breakfast ever.

It's not even about Texas-style beef brisket tacos, with meat that's been smoked long and low for hours. Or the crispy jalapeño rings that set fire to that smolder, and matched dangerously well with tall, skinny glasses of Lynchburg Lemonade. It could be about the waiter we met, with his shock of blond hair and high cheekbones. He talked really fast and he knew his stuff. But it's not.

It's really a story of an unexpected friendship that became one of the most important in my life. And how, last fall, that friendship took us to Louisville, Kentucky.

More years ago than I'll mention, I was sitting in a university Canadian Lit lecture. It was the first day of class. I was next to a friend, and he and I were chattering away, waiting for things to get started when, right before the professor began to speak, this lanky guy wearing a baseball cap plunked himself down in the chair on my other side. He had a grin that took up nearly three-quarters of his face.

In one of those painful exercises of "getting to know everyone", the professor decreed we were to introduce the person we were sitting beside to the rest of the class. I looked to my buddy and laughed at the prospect of how I could embarrass him in front of the girls assembled. But then, she added "you're talking to the person on your left." 

That would be the random boy in the hat. And that's how I met Brett. Thanks, Professor Rose.

Years later, years of postcards and basketball games and cups of coffee, Sean and I had the honour watching Brett marry Kathryn, a woman with a smile that somehow manages to overshadow even his, and who is far more vivacious, talented, sharp and funny than he probably deserves (and I say that with honest affection). She's a gem.

I only wish they lived closer. They settled in Kentucky, and had two of the cutest children you'll ever see. Those two imps call us Miss Tara and Mister Sean, and it is knock-you-over sweet.

I've not told Brett this, but Louisville suits him. His Canadian accent has changed, so that certain words now sound deeper when he speaks them. There's a hint of drawl, a warm rumble in tone that sounds the way Bourbon tastes.

I wrote about the trip we took to see him and his family in UPPERCASE magazine, issue 12. There, I share the details of our adventures. Adventures, and a recipe for buttermilk biscuits.


I don’t have any direct biscuit heritage; I am without pedigree when it comes to those storied biscuits of the American south. My only claim, the only reason I hold the making, eating and sharing of biscuits so high in nostalgic regard is the simple fact that I like biscuits a whole darn lot.

It’s a bit of an obsession. The trouble is, biscuits are one of those things that you can spend a lifetime perfecting. Close cousins to a scone, the type of biscuits I’m talking about are a simple quickbread; the purest forms are flour, a levener, a fat and a liquid. My recipe isn't bang-on traditional; it instead borrows from a few sources, and has a few tricks, in the aim of assuring those of us who didn't grow up making biscuits the guarantee of success. 


Although the biscuits are saved for UPPERCASE, I do have a recipe to share. Let me introduce you to the Hot Brown, what's usually an open-faced sandwich of roasted turkey and bacon, under a blanket of Mornay sauce (a cheesed-up version of Béchamel) that's then broiled until bronzed and bubbling. It was invented in the 1920s at the Brown Hotel in Louisville by one Frank K. Schmidt, as a late-night offering to their guests who'd tired of the dance floor. It is a divine mess of salt and richness and gooey cheese that doesn't suit every day, but is gluttonously welcomed once in a long while. Thank you, Mr. Schmidt.

While a Hot Brown is usually served with sourdough toast, you can see that's not the direction we're taking today. And, much like a journey down south to catch up with old friends, it's a good trip to take.

Kentucky Hot Brown on a Biscuit

My variation on a classic, inspired by a slew of recipes, including that from the Brown Hotel. Use your favourite sturdy biscuits here, as they're the base to an impressively weighty filling. 

I apologize for the egg on top. It's not conventional, and I seem to be fallen into an unintentional theme:"if it's tastyput an egg on itIt'll be even better." For once, the blame is not entirely my own. On our last morning, with Brett and Kat and their charming children as company, we went out for breakfast. Sean ordered a Hot Brown, and the waiter suggested two eggs on top (Louisville's got some great service). He is a brilliant man. Seriously. Crack an egg and don't look back. It's the business.

For the Mornay sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups 10% cream

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, divided

A grating of fresh nutmeg, less than 1/8 teaspoon, optional

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To assemble

2 eggs

2 buttermilk biscuits, split

1 medium tomato, a good meaty variety, sliced

2 thick slices roasted turkey breast, maybe 4 to 6 ounces total

2-3 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked crisp and kept warm

1 recipe Mornay sauce, kept warm

Flat leaf parsley, to serve

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Slowly whisk in the flour, incorporating fully so there are no lumps. Continue to cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for a minute or so more. In a slow, steady stream, pour in the cream and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring often to make sure the sauce isn't catching, until the sauce comes to a boil, around 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low, and stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese. Season to taste with kosher salt and ground black pepper, and nutmeg if using. Keep the sauce on the lowest heat to keep it warm, stirring occasionally.

Preheat a broiler. Cook the eggs to your liking; my preference is either fried sunny side up, or poached. At most, over easy. But, it's your breakfast so do what you'd like. My only note is that they can be slightly undercooked as they'll be blitzed under the broiler and nobody likes rubbery eggs. Get them ready and then set them aside for a moment. Place the two bottom halves of the biscuits on a small baking sheet or an oven proof plate. Top each bottom with a few slices of tomato. Place a slice of turkey on top, then divide the bacon between the two (breaking the slices in half to keep things neat, if needed). Place your eggs on top. Pour over some of the Mornay sauce and sprinkle the reserved cheese on top. Keep the rest of the sauce hot for serving. Put the biscuit tops beside the filled bottoms, cut side up. 

Toast the sandwiches under the broiler until the sauce starts to bubble and the cheese begins to brown. This should take maybe a minute. Remove from the oven, garnish with whole parsley leaves (which bring a much-needed, fresh crunch), and top with the second half of the biscuit. Serve immediately, with the remaining Mornay sauce passed alongside.

Makes 2, which should serve 2, but I won't bat an eyelash if you don't want to share.


  • Of course fresh, vine-ripened, fragrant-as-all-get-out tomatoes are the ones you want for a sandwich, especially one of such lineage. That said, there comes a time in darkest winter when said sandwich is on your mind and there's no such beauties to be had. I realize I've not helped matters by talking about Hot Browns in January. In these desperate times, I wish I could be so steadfast as to say to wait until September, but I can't. I'll tell you to get yourself some local offerings and roast them in a low oven to concentrate their sweetness to at least a suggestion of summer's best. I roasted my slices, seasoned with salt, pepper and a miserly pour of olive oil, at 300°F (150°C) for about 2 1/2 hours. You can go lower and slower, about 200°F for as much as 4 hours, if you're that patient. 
  • A few drops of hot sauce, dripped over before the biscuit lid is squished on, is how I like to do things.

Places and people

The Original Makers Club

21 C Museum Hotel

Proof on Main

Garage Bar

Blue Dog Bakery and Café

Doc Crows Southern Smokehouse

Hillbilly Tea

Cake Flour

Jack Fry's

32 CommentsPost a comment

It is an unglamourous, unoriginal statement to declare I adore baked beans. But I do.  

Since I have a habit of imaging our conversations as dramas in my head, I can hear you saying "those aren't beans, Tara. Those are lentils." And maybe then you'll tilt your head to one side and pat me on my hand in a kind, but vaguely pitying manner. You might cluck your tongue in a soft "tsk, tsk" as what a shame it is that I've obviously lost any and all of my marbles over this holiday and new year season. 

You may even put up the kettle for some tea. You're really very nice to me.

However, please have faith in my madness, because look at that -  right there, lentils that look like baked beans. 

These brilliant beauties are from Frédéric Morin and David McMillian, and the book they wrote with Meredith Erickson, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef (Ten Speed Press, 2011). Morin and McMillian are behind the Montreal-based restaurant Joe Beef, and two other establishments - Liverpool House and McKiernan Lunchonette. The book is more than a cookbook, more of a treatise, a perspective on food and quality of life. That said, it's not mired down by overly-saccharine missives, but instead kept buoyant by bravado and enthusiasm, as evidenced by the included history lesson of eating in their city, a pullout insert of the most majestic smörgåsbord, and a romantic dissertation on train travel.

I flipped through the book for a few minutes one day, then spent a solid two luxurious hours reading it at the kitchen table the next, from beginning to end, while munching a chewy baguette with a smear of sinus-clearing mustard and wafery slices of salty ham. That was a fine morning, and this is a fine book. It's been on a whole whack of "Best of" lists for the year, with good reason.

Recipe origin given it's due, let's return to the lentils.  

These lentils run all the same bases as baked beans - a humming balance of acid, fat, sugar, salt and bite (an equation cribbed from Morin and the pages of the book, I should say). The mathematics make sense, and are brought to best potential in a lidded pot. While the sludgy pleasure of baked beans is nothing new, the substitution of lentils in the place of the beans changes the effect entirely. The stewy, starchy charm is kept, but the flat density of the lentils shift and slip across the spoon, and make for a less claustrophobic bite. While not light per se, the lentils have a looseness, an almost hearty delicacy (which makes no sense, I know). 

It's a home run. 

Of all the ways one can enjoy a bean that's been baked these lentils can play quite admirably; alongside a golden-crisp sausage, or with cabbage that's been lightly braised, or as a part of a Full English Breakfast (the plate in the back). I've nicked some inspiration from the last, by grilling some bread on a cast iron pan, letting it catch and scorch in places, topped the toast with lentils and a frizzled-edged fried egg with the yolk left runny, and then spooned more beans atop that. It's that hearty, glorious fare that works well with coffee, morning, noon, evening and latest night. 

The flavours are pretty much the regulars: fat and smoke from bacon, a low sweetness from browned onions and garlic, aromatic roundness from maple syrup, mustard's heat boosted by vinegar's twang. The structure upon which all the other ingredients play upon is, funnily, the ketchup - the combination of tomato and vinegar and sugar - is what gathers everything together. Which is to say it's like a curving, hunched backbone to the dish, as one looks when hunkered over a bowl at the table. 

After a quick sauté on the stove and a longer stay in the oven, you are rewarded with a ruddy mix of lentils; it is awfully orange, here and there rusty brown with bacon and a single garnish of a dusky bay leaf. There's a comforting calm to the monochromatic scheme, but it's not fancy-pants stuff. If you'd rather, close our eyes and then grab your fork, or maybe grab the fork first, that might be easier. Either way, make these, eat them, and be happy. 


There's a superstition that lentils are eaten on the new year because they resemble coins and this bodes well for prosperous days ahead. While I'm three days overdue in my wishes to you, the lapse does not diminish the sincerity of the sentiment. I hope your days have been brightly merry, and nothing but best wishes to you and yours for this year to come.

A quick mention, Donny Tsang invited me to chat about the photographs I take. If you'd like to read the interview, it's at Great Food Photos. Thanks so much Donny for the kindness!

Lentils Like Baked Beans

From The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. "This great side dish has a bit of a Quebecois-lumberjack-in-Bollywood taste. It is red lentils cooked like dal, seasoned like baked beans. It is a pork chop's best friend or will mate with a hefty breakfast."


  • 4 slices bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups (500 millilitres) red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 4 cups (1 litre) water
  • 1/4 cup (60 millilitres) ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 2 tablespoons Colman's mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

In oven proof pot with lid, fry bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.  

Add the lentils, water, ketchup, maple syrup, oil, mustard, vinegar, pepper and bay leaf. Stir well and season with salt. Bring to a boil.  Cover, place in oven, and bake for 45 minutes, or until lentils are tender.

Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, maple syrup, and vinegar. Serve hot now or later.

Serves 4.

Notes from Tara:

  • When it comes to lentils, they need a good wash - a quick rinse in a sieve doesn't always do the job. I cover them with water in a bowl, give them a swish with my hand, strain, and repeat, until the water is no longer cloudy.
  • The bacon I had was rather thick cut, and so produced a good amount of fat. As a result, I didn't use the full 2 tablespoons of oil. I also squirreled away a few of the bits of crisp bacon before adding the lentils, reserving them to add at the table.
  • I used some homemade ketchup, which has things like celery seed, clove, mace, allspice, cinnamon, chili flakes in it; for those so inclined, you could make up a sachet of these spices and steep them into the liquid for the baking. I've not tried it, so fair warning. Sounds like a nice idea though.
34 CommentsPost a comment

If you, like me, were the recent recipient of an armload of blue-ribbon-at-the-county-fair-worthy summer squash, then most certainly you are, like me, currently thinking yourself spectacularly spoiled.

But then, if you're one of those industrious types that grows their own squash, then maybe you're looking for a way to use up the proliferous buggers.

In either case, if need be, I may have the means to the end of your zucchini supply, specifically by way of chocolate olive oil zucchini bread.

I had some difficulty with this bread, not in its making but in its naming, as while the sum of the parts is what we're all here for, each of those parts has an indespensible role to play.

I put the chocolate first, because one glance at this quick bread and there's no mistaking the presence of cocoa. Chopped semisweet chocolate mollifies the tobacco-darkness of that cocoa powder; the irregular shards melt into the bread so that here and there within the crumb are damp pockets of sweetness. 

The olive oil is the surprise, tasting resiny and somehow green. The one I used makes me think of lemons and fields of newly-mown hay, which feels right for something you're baking at summer's height. 

The zucchini is, of course the main event, and so gets the glory of the final fanfare. There's a full four cups of it in the recipe, divided between two loaves. The pale shreds weave through the batter, so the resulting breads are gratifyingly bulging with bumps and crags, shot through and through with specks of green. It's a bread that does not pretend to be anything other than what it is, and that's an (albeit tasty) conveyance for terrific quantities of summer squash. 

All that said, I could have mentioned the walnuts. They're toasted, so that their fatty waxiness is made snappy and their aromatic bitterness is amplified. Along with the olive oil you've got a winner of a combination, so much so that the nuts were this close to headline status. 

The buttermilk too, it could have been up there in lights, because this bread would be so much less without the spring in the crumb - the crumb has weight without being weighed down, and the buttermilk's to thank for that. It steers the bread away from residence in the land of cake and clears the way for having some for breakfast. 

Exceptional with coffee, this bread's not so much suited to a fork, but instead the sort you use your fingers to break chunks off a slice, to be eaten in between paragraphs as you read the paper. 

There's what's left of a loaf on the counter and it's my plan for tomorrow morning. If you'd like, I'll set an extra place.


The method for this bread is the standard muffin or quick bread style; wet ingredients stirred briefly into the dry. No mixer required, with two bowls and a spoon and you're set.


  • Softened butter, for pans
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups fine-grained turbinado sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups shredded zucchini, see note


Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter the parchment as well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts and chocolate. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, which should be around 50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.

If you can wait long enough to let them cool to room temperature before slicing, then well done. But if you can't wait, and cut the loaves into ragged pieces while still warm, then I can't say I blame you.

Makes 2 loaves.


  • For the zucchini, I use the grating attachment on my food processor, taking care not to press down on the feed tube plunger while the machine is running - this gives a light, feathery shredding. Since we want a bread that is damp but not sodden, I sprinkle the emerald-tipped strands across a (lint-free) kitchen towel, then place another atop, patting it down gently. After a few minutes the towels will have absorbed some of the excess liquid and the zucchini is left crisp and ready to go.
  • If olive oil is not your thing, then it can be replaced by an equal amount of neutral oil or melted butter. With the latter, the bread will be denser and, as it lacks the mitigating edge of olive oil, it will taste sweeter as well.
51 CommentsPost a comment


It is difficult to come up with something original to say about Heidi Swanson, when she's such an original herself. It's even harder when everyone else is talking about her, and her fantastic new book, Super Natural Every Day, as they should be.

Nonetheless I'll add my voice to the chorus of deserved cheers and say, "wow Heidi, well done."

Like it was for countless others, Heidi's site, 101 Cookbooks, was one of the first food blogs I read. Her photographs were what caught my attention - the simple, honest styling, the softness of light - but it was her that kept me reading. And cooking. There's a laundry list of recipes from 101 Cookbooks that are part of my family's routine. Like the images she captures, the food Heidi creates is beautifully direct. There isn't a lot of extraneous fuss for the sake of fanciness; if she suggests an ingredient or method, you can be well-assured there's good reason behind it.

It is this thoughtful approach to cooking that is so appealing about Heidi; it's as obvious in her meals as it is in the words she chooses to describe them. Her tone is gentle and welcoming, convivial while instructive. 

Super Natural Every Day carries on as the elegant extension of Heidi's site, and follows up her highly-acclaimed book Super Natural Cooking. For those unfamiliar with Heidi's food philosophy, she promotes a vegetarian, whole-foods kitchen, with a detailed emphasis on unrefined sweeteners, whole grains, and conscientious choices of fats. That said, Heidi isn't one to sermonize; she lives her life, cooks her food and tells you about it. It's accessible, easy cooking that is delicious first and foremost, full stop, without asterisk or side note - the fact that it's good for you is an added bonus.

The book is an obviously personal one. Heidi shares favourite recipes from her repertoire alongside evocative photographs of her day to day. There's an intimacy to her voice that brings you into her kitchen, and her notes on each dish show an unmistakable familiarity that only comes from a heartfelt enthusiasm. Heidi moves easily between influences - there's dukkah, harissa and gribiche in here, tinto de verano and macaroon tarts. The flavours are varied and celebrated, like the well-worn bits and pieces of a treasured scrapbook, and her recipes are testaments to her affection for them.

One dish that I think serves as great example to Heidi's style is her Little Quinoa Patties. A seemingly humble collection of ingredients, quinoa, eggs, and breadcrumbs, are punctuated by fresh onion, chives, garlic and a grating of cheese. Pan-fried until crusted and golden the cakes get unexpectedly gutsy; the exterior deeply caramelizes, especially where the onion catches, and turn aromatically nutty. The interior is soft and bouncy, with the curlicues (Heidi's word) of quinoa still sweet and mild. She suggests them hot or cold as a snack. We ate ours with poached eggs and broccoli sprouts on a rain-sodden afternoon. 

After the plates were scraped clean and the kettle was put up for tea, someone said to me "I would eat that every day."

You couldn't hope for higher praise. I'll say it again, Heidi, well done.

(p.s. and happy birthday today, too!)



I've been having to sit on my hands to keep from telling you all about UPPERCASE Issue #9 - it's the food issue! That's right, page upon beautiful page full of stories on all aspects of food and garden. It's going to be good.

In the Kitchen column I'll be talking about honey, offering up a recipe for Butter Roasted Walnuts with Thyme Infused Honey and chitchatting about honey varietals.

On top of that, I'm terribly excited to tell you that I was also granted the opportunity to talk with Heidi Swanson, Carrie and Andrew Purcell and Aran Goyoaga to discuss food photography and styling. In the interviews we explore their varied approaches and perspectives when it comes to photographing food; their answers are both educational and inspiring. I can't wait for you to see it and I can't thank them enough for taking part.

UPPERCASE #9 will be out in the coming weeks. It's available here online, or check the magazine's website for your local stockist.


Late breaking, and just added, the folks at Saveur magazine were exceptionally nice in asking a few questions as part of their "Sites We Love" series. I'm in better company than I could dream, and thank them for their kindness. If you'd like to see the interview, it's now live.



Little Quinoa Patties
From the book Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

Anytime I have leftover cooked quinoa, I make these little patties. They are good hot or cold and are well suited to fighting afternoon hunger pangs. It's a bit of a stretch, but they could be described as a (very) distant cousin of arancini, Italy's beloved deep-fried risotto balls. In contrast, these are pan-fried in a touch of oil, and smushed flat in the pan to get as much surface browning as possible. I'm including my basic version, but often times I'll add a handful of very finely chopped this-or-that: broccoli, asparagus, or cauliflower, depending on the season. They're great on their own, slathered with ripe avocado or drizzled with hot sauce. - HS

2 1/2 cups / 12 oz / 340 g cooked quinoa, at room temperature
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g finely chopped fresh chives
1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100 g whole grain bread crumbs, plus more if needed
Water, if needed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or clarified butter

Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes sot that the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture you can easily form in to twelve 1-inch / 2.5 cm thick patties. I err on the very moist side because it makes for a  not-overly-dry patty, but you can add a mroe bread crumbs, a bit at a time, to firm up the mixture, if need be. Conversely, a bit more beaten egg or water can be used to moisten the mixture.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-pow heat, add 6 patties, if they'll fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.

Alternatively, the quinoa mixture keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a few days; you can cook the patties to order, if you prefer.

Makes 12 little patties.

A note from Tara:

  • If it's your thing, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the uncooked quinoa mixture. I think some fresh chili would work too. 



51 CommentsPost a comment