When Sean and I were considering menus for this weekend, I gave him the declaration of "I feel like something Labour Day-ish" as my input into the proceedings. I always try to be helpful.

My description may have been cryptic, but it was the best that I could do. It is the last long weekend of summer, and no matter how we'd felt the week preceding, I wanted to take full advantage. I wanted summer sent on its merry way with every bit of its deserved fanfare.

And so we're laden with corn to be husked, peaches for pies and tomatoes (from our garden!) for jam. We're thinking of burgers and coleslaw and drinks so cold that they send shivers down your spine.

But even hours before a grill was lit, our celebrations were well underway.

You see, my Monday through Friday breakfast is merrily unvaried. Lately, with the day starting cooler, I chat with the boys over a bowl of steel cut oats, drowned with extra milk, finished with a palmful each of granola, pepitas and blueberries. It's filling and simple, and I like it that way.

However yesterday morning, instead of reaching for the oats I built towers of buttermilk pancakes. And then to begin today, we made something equally special.

Clearly, I define Labour Day weekend not by barbecues, but by breakfasts.

I am wary to christen these early meals brunch, for all its connotations of rubberized omelets and Hollandaise gone awry. But Saturday or Sunday breakfast, enjoyed with leisure, now there is a meal I can get enthusiastic about.Without the hustle to get everyone ready or out the door, we have the luxury of moving without haste. A long weekend's hours before noon, why, that's the time to revel inactivity.

Before I continue, I know what you're thinking. "Hold up here. Your discourse is all well and good, but that photo looks like Brussels sprouts. For breakfast? And this is supposed to be festive?"

I promise you, these sprouts feel fancy. And I'd be happy with them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Elevenses and tea, too.

These are not those grayed-out and useless Brussels sprouts, boiled within a moment of their lives and then left in their misery on cafeteria steam trays. These were shredded whisper-thin, jade and emerald strands wilted only barely by a warm slurry of bacon and sweet shallots. A slice of country bread charred in black tiger stripes by a grill pan, was tucked under the salad - but not before a smear of blue cheese had its opportunity to melt into its cragged surface.

The crowning touch to the plate was a simple egg, fried in butter and with frizzled, brown tips, its yolk still soft and lazy. Broken open, the yellowness provided sauce for all, its fat the vehicle for the aromatic notes of the cheese and opposition to the twang of vinegar.

Tomorrow morning is the last morning of the last long weekend of summer, and I'm planning my finale. I'm might even break out the water goblets.

Good times.

EGGS WITH SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUT SALAD

Once the Brussels sprouts are in the pan, the cooking should take only 2-3 minutes to prepare - at most. The sprouts are treated as a warm salad rather than a cooked vegetable; their raw edge is tempered, but their crunch should not be completely lost.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned of their tough outer leaves
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons Gorgonzola Dolce, at room temperature
  • 4 thick slices peasant bread
  • 4 eggs
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • Butter or oil for frying eggs

METHOD

Using a mandoline or the slicing blade of a food processor, slice the Brussels sprouts finely. Toss through with fingers to separate into strands.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp - but not terminally so. You want crunch, but not bacon bits. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Reserve around 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in the pan, discarding any excess.

With the pan still on medium heat, sauté the shallots for 30 seconds or so, stirring constantly. You want them translucent, but not scorched. Add the prepared sprouts, tossing them through the shallots and bacon drippings. Season sparingly with salt and pepper. Once coated, it should only take a few seconds, deglaze the pan with the vinegar, scraping up any sticky brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Continue tossing the sprouts until they are brightly coloured and barely cooked. Remove from the pan immediately, stir in the reserved bacon, and check for seasoning. Set aside.

Meanwhile, toast the bread slices on a grill pan or toaster. Spread 1 tablespoon of Gorgonzola on each. Top with 1/4 of the Brussels sprouts.

Fry the eggs at the last minute to your liking, my suggestion is with the whites set and the yolks still quite soft. (Season with salt and pepper while cooking.)

Top the salad with the eggs and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Notes:

• The sherry vinegar can be substituted with white balsamic. For those wary of blue cheeses, Gorgonzola is on the milder side of the spectrum. If you would like an even more subtle blue cheese, I would recommend Cambozola, a cross between a Camembert and Gorgozonla - it also sometimes known as Blue Brie.

• If you prefer your Brussels sprouts softer, add a tablespoon or two of water (or chicken stock) to the pan with the vinegar to give them a quick steam. Keep stirring the vegetables until the additional liquid has evaporated.

(Photo courtesy Irene Powell)

"Want to go to the cottage?"

One phrase, six words, and the ability to transport the listener to a whole other reality. Come summertime, there is no sweeter sound to my ears than the promise of a leisurely weekend of food, friends and family, and the opportunity to let concerns of the every day fall away.

While the fall may almost be upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, there still is a part of me that is thinking about the summer sun and afternoons on a deck somewhere. Inspiration for the menu would not be hard, with Marty's World Famous Cookbook (Whitecap Books, 2008) nearby. This cookbook offers up the sort of crowd-pleasing fare that is made for a long weekend of relaxation. And it is not surprising, considering the fact that the author, Marty Curtis, owns and operates the highly-popular Marty's World Famous Café in Bracebridge (located in the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario, a popular cottage destination).

The book features many of the café's specialties; included are the recipes for their chicken stock and house bread, with notes brewing the perfect cup of coffee. If pressed to find an adjective for this book and its author, I would have to say "likeable." The food is casual, the sort that inspires guests to roll up their sleeves, put their elbows on the table and dive in. Few of the recipes would be considered daunting or demanding of the home cook and the writing is conversational and welcoming.

Curtis' enthusiasm for his food is evident in the anecdotes and tips that are scattered heavily through the pages, often accompanied by evocative location photographs by Allen Dew. The subjects are far-ranging, reminiscent of the wandering conversations of a long weekend. He covers everything from the importance of mental preparedness in the kitchen to the parable of stone soup to how to improve at fishing.

By his own admission, Curtis believes it is best to "go big" - serving up generous 14" pies, jumbo pastries, and showcasing bold flavours at every turn. It is apparent that Mr. Curtis is a man of specific tastes, with an evident love of citrus and aromatic spices. Most notable though is Curtis' preference for the mix of salty and sweet; the combination appears in many recipes with varying success.

To that end, this book seems stranded in a middle ground of being simply nice. The indulgent breakfast and desserts were standouts, but I found many of the main dishes fell short of expectations.

The enormous Lemon, Blueberry and Cream Cheese muffins were tender and moist. With a good deal of sharp lemon to balance the richness of the cheese, these showcased the blueberries quite well; most likely the perfect breakfast for any fan of cheesecake. Eggs Benedict are made even more unctuous through the addition of brie - blitzed momentarily under the broiler, the cheese melts lusciously over the eggs and asparagus. Once napped with Hollondaise, the dish was good but overly-rich to my palate. To that end, I chose to add a splash more acid and a tablespoon of hot water to thin the sauce. Lovers of indulgence might not feel the need to make such alterations.

Marty's Best Brownies were another winner. The rich batter bakes up dense and fudgy, with a deeply crackled top. Walnuts, freshly-roasted and sprinkled with kosher salt, are a tasty addition. The nuts are buttery but with saline crunch that adds punctuation to the sweetness of the dessert.

I would be remiss to review this book without mentioning Marty's World Famous Buttertarts. They are an evident passion; gracing the cover in their golden glory, garnering 16 pages of photographs, notes and recipes within. Not only are they one of the main draws to the café, but they also seem to be the embodiment of Curtis' food philosophy - they are unapologetically large, sweet with warm spices and featuring a hit of citrus. Although I have never been to Mr. Curtis' shop, I had to try these at home. The lard-based pastry (which is also used for sweet and savoury pies) came together quickly, was easy to work with and produced wonderfully-flaky results. While everyone loved the pastry, the buttertarts as a whole received mixed reviews. Some found the filling unlike their opinion of the archetypal treat and so were disappointed, while others found these to be a welcome departure from heavier versions.

I think buttertarts, like the perfect apple pie, are deeply rooted in personal preference and so the idea of tacking down a universally-loved ultimate recipe is virtually impossible.

From the Fishin' Muskoka section, the BBQ Wine and Herb Salmon was succulent and moist, however the highly-flavoured marinade (while delicious) verged upon overpowering the the fish iteself. The same could be said of the Candied BBQ Asparagus from Barbecue Classics. The tangy-sweet sauce contains both sugar and balsamic vinegar; a tasty combination but one that overshadows the asparagus flavour. As one tester put it, "this is really good, but it isn't about the asparagus."

The Barbecue Classics section is also home to the intriguing idea of Buttertart Burgers. A mix of meats retained moisture and texture, but the seasoning (including Curtis' Buttertart BBQ Rub) was one that took the savoury and sweet combination a step too far. Disappointing as that was, it was further troublesome that the Buttertart BBQ Rub, and its related barbecue sauce, is required in a number of recipes in this chapter - after the experience of the burgers, these other dishes were unappealing.

With well-shot food photography by Douglas Bradshaw, a number of solid dishes and featuring contributions from Martio Batali, Michael Smith and Ted Reader, Marty's World Famous Cookbook is as easy-to-like as its author. Straightforward and not particularly challenging, the book is suited to easygoing weekend cooking - or whenever you want to have a bit of a vacation in your own kitchen.

Recipes from Marty's World Famous Cookbook

Fluffiest omelettes ever

World famous bean salad (scroll down to end of article)

The ultimate Canadian back bacon sandwich

The original big sandwich

Pancakes

Lemon, blueberry and cream cheese muffins

Eggs Benedict with melted brie and asparagus

As a child of the 1980s, I have a deep affection for that era of roller skate - the ones with four wheels and the bright red, eraser-like stopper attached to the toe. I spent many an hour touring the neighbourhood in my skates, confident as can be.

Flash forward 20 years later and you can imagine my trepidation when my dear Sean strapped brand new rollerblades on me and assumed I would be steady on my feet. Facing the downhill slope of a rather steep hill, little did he expect the athletic debacle that would follow.

To make a long story short, I ricocheted off of a fence once or twice on my way down. Since then if faced with the slightest of declines, I am happy to veer off the road, sit myself down in the grass and watch the world roll by.

In this case I am all too happy to indulge my cowardice.

But one arena in which I have rarely shown fear has been the kitchen. Whether it was youthful exuberance or sheer naive ego, I would be hard pressed to remember a recipe that I have shied away from due to lack of experience. I will either place my confidence in quality of the recipe or in my own common sense, and then pray for the best.

That is not to say that errors have not been made; I could tell stories of some spectacular culinary failures that culminated in me laughing and crying all at once, as I reached for the phone to order takeout. But for whatever reason, these catastrophes have never fazed me. A simple shrug of the shoulder later, a wipe down of the counters and I am usually ready to tackle my next attempt.

It was with this touch of hubris that I made my first soufflé. Not smart enough to heed the many horror stories of fallen hopes, I happily whipped, folded and baked my way to airy perfection. Maybe it was assuredness that was the secret of my success. Maybe it was my assumption that all will be well was what made it so. Since that triumph, I have never looked back; both savoury and sweet offerings have graced our table. I have fallen in love with soufflés, with their luscious eggy density and slightly tender belly.

This corn and cheddar version has been a favourite since first taste. With a subtle background heat playing off of the sweetness of fresh corn, it is a wonderful balance of flavours for a light summer supper. The procedure is surprisingly simple and forgiving; stir the roux patiently, do not overwhip your egg whites, fold the batter gently. Bake until set without peeking in the oven, and your bravery will be rewarded with awe at the table. Who needs a greater ego-boost than that?

Sweet corn and white cheddar soufflé, with herbs and chili

Ingredients
Kernels from 2 ears of fresh corn
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, cut into small dice
1 small red chili, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the ramekins
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, separated
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup grated aged white cheddar
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (coriander)

Preheat oven 375°F (190°C). Lightly grease four 3/4 cup capacity ramekins with butter, then coat with Parmesan.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add the corn, onion and chili and cook, stirring, until the corn is tender and the onion is translucent. Remove the vegetables to a small bowl and set aside to cool.

In the same pan over medium low heat, melt the remaining butter. Whisk in the flour, cayenne and nutmeg, then cook this mixture for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Continue to cook, for about 3 minutes, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Turn off the heat, whisk in egg yolks, cheddar, remaining Parmesan and herbs. Stir in the corn and vegetable mixture. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff (but not dry) peaks. Using a spatula, fold one third of the egg whites into the soufflé base. Continue to fold each third in, only until just combined.

Divide the soufflé batter among the four prepared ramekins. Sprinkle with additional finely grated cheddar or Parmesan, if desired.

Gently place ramekins into a roasting pan or large casserole dish. Fill the pan with water from a recently-boiled kettle, until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until crowned and golden.

Serve immediately, makes 4.

Notes:

• For a more impressive crown to your soufflé, rather than one that will just coyly peek over the edge of the dish as seen here, use a slightly smaller ramekin.
• When folding in the egg whites, I usually let a few streaks of white to remain for my first two additions as I know those will dissipate with the last addition. This allowance will prevent you from overworking the batter and deflating the volume.