Afrim Pristine smiling and holding a plate of grilled cheese

4 Cheeses You Need at All Times, According to a Maitre Fromager

It doesn’t matter if you’re at home making your family a spaghetti and meatball dinner or are sharing a pot of traditional fondue in Switzerland— cheese makes almost any meal so much better. As a staple in nearly every culinary culture globally, it’s also the versatility of cheese that makes it so unique. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into making cheese,” says maître fromager (AKA cheese master) and Cheese: A Love Story host, Afrim Pristine.

For this reason, no matter what type of cheese you’re working with, it’s important to respect the ingredient, he explains. And with more than 25 years of experience, Afrim still thinks that the art of cheese making is all pretty magical. “We sell a ten-year-old cheddar in our store (Cheese Boutique),” he says. “What other foods can you see that are ten years old, and still unbelievably tasty?”

Whether you’re grating a sharp cheddar or are baking a block of feta for an oh-so-trendy pasta dish, cheese has the transformative power to elevate a recipe from simply memorable to unforgettably delicious. Pristine shares how home chefs can set themselves up for culinary success by incorporating these cheeses into everyday meals.

See More: This Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread is a Cheese Lover’s Dream

French hard comte cheese on a black plate with a knife

French Comte

French Comte is a big, bold, nutty sharp cheese. It can be purchased in most grocery stores, but that wasn’t always the case 20 years ago. Now it’s everywhere, Afrim says, which makes it easier for any cheese enthusiast to enjoy. For a beautiful pairing, serve a French Comte with slices of prosciutto and a glass of red wine.

Related: 10 Facts You Never Knew About Cheese 

Parmigiano-Reggiano wedge on a wooden cutting board with a grey background

 Parmigiano-Reggiano

A cheese that needs no introduction, Afrim says that even just the tiniest bite of Parmigiano Reggiano is something that he can’t help but savour. “A good, aged Parmigiano Reggiano that’s three or four years old is possibly one of the best cheeses ever made,” he says. In fact, he believes it’s one of the most important cheeses that’s ever been made. “It’s just so complex and versatile. And I love that. It’s something that’s always so easy to snack on.”

Manchego cheese wedge and slices on a wooden cutting board with grapes and a knife

Manchego

If you’re looking for a cheese that can elevate almost any meal, turn to manchego. This salty and tangy Spanish cheese is made from sheep’s milk, and Afrim says it’s the best bang for your buck. Manchego goes well with so many different types of food, he explains, adding that it can be served in a cheese wedge as a separate side dish that guests can munch on throughout the meal.

See More: The Perfect Swiss Cheese Board 

Blue cheese wedge on a white cutting board with jam and crackers

Blue Cheese

Aside from cilantro, few foods are quite as divisive as blue cheese: you either love it or hate it. For Afrim, blue cheese is his absolute favourite. “I love blue cheese because it grabs my taste buds and takes me for a ride,” he says, adding that the saltiness and creaminess are what makes it so great. If you’re hesitant about blue cheese, his advice is simple: keep experimenting.

Since there’s so much variety within mild and strong blue cheeses, it can take some time to experiment and find which type of blue you prefer. For a crowd-pleasing blue cheese dish, try these caramelized onion & blue cheese crostinis.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Watch Cheese: A Love Story with Afrim Pristine and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Abhishek Dekate's Brazilian Lemonade

This Refreshing Brazilian Lemonade Margarita is THE Drink of Summer

Looking for summer in a cup? Look no further. This Brazilian Lemonade Margarita is a combination of two popular summer drinks that is super refreshing and a perfect way to cool off on those hot summer afternoons. Made with fresh limes, this That’s the Spirit drink is not only tangy and sweet but deliciously creamy too. Lose the tequila and this can easily be enjoyed as a non-alcoholic bevvy  as well. Cheers!

Abhishek Dekate's Brazilian lemonade margarita cocktail in a rimmed glass

Brazilian Lemonade Margarita

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 1

Related: This Refreshing Brazilian Lemonade Margarita is THE Drink of Summer

Ingredients to make Abhishek Dekate's Brazilian Lemonade Margarita

Ingredients:

Brazilian Lemonade
4 limes
½ cup condensed milk
½ cup granulated sugar
4 cups cold water

Cocktail
4 oz Brazilian Lemonade mix
1 oz tequila
Garnish: salt rim + lime slice or wedge

Related: Melon Frosé Sangria is Made for Warm Summer Nights

Directions:

Brazilian Lemonade

  1. Mix cold water and sugar and chill until ready to use. This step can be done ahead of time.
  2. Wash limes thoroughly with soap and cut each lime into 8ths.\
  3. Add cold water and sugar mixture into the blender along with limes and condensed milk.

Straining of Brazilian lemonade

4. Pulse blender a few times (10 seconds max. each cycle) until ingredients are fully integrated. Do not over-blend as this will cause the limes to break down leaving a bitter aftertaste.
5. Strain liquid through a fine-mesh strainer using a spoon.
6. Serve over ice and enjoy!

Abhishek Dekate rimming a rocks glass

Cocktail

  1. Rim rocks glass with salt and set aside.
  2. Place ice cubes in your rimmed glass.

Adding Brazilian lemonade to the rocks glass

3. Add tequila and Brazilian Lemonade mix.
4. Stir and garnish with a lime slice or wedge. Enjoy!

Like Abhi’s summer cocktail? Try his Blood Orange Negroni.

Karaage chicken and waffles on white plate

This Epic Karaage Chicken and Green Onion Waffles Recipe is Sweet, Spicy and Savoury

Inspired by Tokyo Hot Fried Chicken in Toronto, our Dining In spicy karaage chicken and green onion waffles features a quick and easy sesame-soy maple syrup and spicy mayo using a togarashi, a Japanese seven-spice blend you can find at most Asian supermarkets (if unavailable, you can substitute with a mixture of salt, chili powder and sesame seeds). Every bite is sweet, spicy and savoury, making for an exciting dish that can be eaten for brunch, lunch or dinner — and it’ll certainly impress anyone who tries it.

Karaage chicken and waffles on white plate

Spicy Karaage Chicken and Green Onion Waffles

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 waffles

Ingredients:

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¼ cup + 1 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
2 Tbsp sake
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tsp grated ginger
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp + 1 Tbsp sesame oil, divided
½ cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp togarashi + more for seasoning
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
4 green onions, thinly sliced + more for garnish
½ cup potato starch
½ cup cooking oil
4 tsp pickled ginger

Karaage chicken and waffles ingredients on countertop

Directions:

1. Pound chicken thighs to a ¼ -inch thickness using a meat mallet or bottom of a metal sauce pan. Place them in a medium bowl and add ¼ cup soy sauce, sake, garlic and ginger. Mix to combine and marinate chicken for 20 to 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the sesame-soy maple syrup by combining maple syrup, remaining soy sauce and 1 tsp sesame oil in a small bowl. Set aside until serving.

Related: Fantastic Fried Chicken Recipes

3. Make spicy mayo by whisking together the mayonnaise and togarashi seasoning in a small bowl. Set aside until serving.

4. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and remaining sesame oil. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and whisk until smooth. Stir in sliced green onions and set aside.

5. Once chicken is done marinating, add potato starch to a large bowl. Using tongs, transfer chicken to potato starch, shaking any excess marinade off the chicken. Toss until chicken is evenly coated in the starch.

Related: These Waffle Recipes Will Make You Jump Right out of Bed

6. Heat cooking oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once the oil is hot, carefully lay chicken thighs, one at a time, in the oil and fry for 3 minutes per side or until golden and cooked through. Cook in 2 to 3 batches, ensuring not to crowd the pan. When finished, rest the chicken on a cooling rack and season with togarashi.

Fried chicken on cooling rack

7. Cook waffles in a waffle maker until golden brown.

8. To assemble, lay a waffle on a medium plate. Arrange two chicken thighs overtop and drizzle generously in sesame soy maple syrup. Use a squeeze bottle (if available) to drizzle chicken with the spicy mayonnaise. Finish with pickled ginger and a sprinkling of green onions.

Karaage chicken and waffles being plated on white plate

Like Philip and Mystique’s chicken and waffles recipe? Try their Mexican-inspired taco burgers or their West Indian egg curry.

Watch the how-to video here:


Tiffany Pratt and Steve Hodge on the set with Mecairo owner Felicia

Project Bakeover Was Life-Changing for These Thriving Bakery Owners

Sometimes you just need a sweet treat to get you through the day. But what do the purveyors of sweet treats do when they need a little boost? They call Steve Hodge, Tiffany Pratt, and the Project Bakeover team, of course.

Over the dessert-inspired course of the show’s first season, Steve and Tiffany helped many bakery owners find their groove—and just in time. With the pandemic hitting restaurants and small businesses hard over the past year, these shops are thankful for the expertise bestowed upon them that has allowed their eateries not only to survive but to thrive.

Steve Hodge and Tiffany Pratt on the set of Project Bakeover

Related: Steve Hodge’s Cake Decorating Tips

Advice to Dine on

In addition to revamping menus and adding a fresh new look to these bakeries, Steve and Tiffany doled out expertise advice that has allowed some of these owners to take their businesses to the next level.

According to Cait Patrick, owner of Barrie, Ont.’s Homestead Artisan Bakery, giving up control was terrifying but very much worth it. “It taught us that sometimes we don’t have all the answers and that trusting someone else can be extremely rewarding in the end,” she says. “We learned so much about baking from Steve, and Tiffany did an amazing job with the décor. All of our customers comment on how beautiful it is—we can’t thank them enough!”

Trust was also a huge part of the growing experience for Erin Maramag, co-owner of Milton, Ont.’s Bread n Batter. When Steve and Tiffany advised them to clarify their roles and solidify the flow of the bakery, they developed even more internal trust that has since translated into a smoother overall operation.

Meanwhile, at Kelowna B.C.’s Whisk Bakery & Café, Tanya Garratt reveals that trusting in the hosts’ recommendation to diversify made all the difference. “It was a lifesaver,” she says. “Our baked pastries are doing so well. Adding savoury items, breakfast and lunch, it’s made a world of difference. We’ve brought in so many more customers than we had before.”

Tiffany Pratt hugs Whisk owner Tanya on the set of Project Bakeover

See More: Canadian Baked Goods to Add to Your Must-Try List

Comfort Food in the Time of Coronavirus

At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed like everyone was investing time in their own sourdough starters, ripening armfuls of bananas for bread, and even learning how to frost cinnamon rolls. These days though, people seem to once again be buying their comfort food from those who bake it day in and day out. That means solidifying the menus of these bakeries on the show was key to keeping these businesses… well, in business.

“Our bestsellers are the pastries Steve taught us by far,” Garratt reveals. “Those have been insane. Flavoured croissants for sure, and we made an almond croissant with Steve’s frangipane. Plus we’re doing eight different flavours of pastries and croissants. It’s really ballooned.”

Felicia Agadzi-Bulze at Mecairo Cake Co. agrees that things have changed so much since Project Bakeover. She reveals customers come in and touch the walls because they’re so beautiful, and then they see the displays full of all this new stuff that they can’t wait to try.

“Our Mecairo Minis have been very popular here, people love the size of them. The bonbons, they love all the different colours. And the cheesecake? They’ve never seen parfaits like that before so they’ve been selling really well,” she says. “I’m not just a home baker anymore, I’m letting my artistic side show in all of our products now.”

“With all of our new customers, everyone jumped on board to try new things at our bakery, it’s actually the biggest part of our daily production,” reveals Maramag. She adds that their bestseller used to be ensaymada, but following the show people are all about the cakes and cupcakes.

It’s a similar story for Homestead. “Our sourdough breads still remain a fan favourite,” reveals Patrick. “[But] we have introduced and been more consistent with our amazing cakes. And people are loving our carrot cake.”

A Sweet, Sweet Future

Doing the show and seeing the sweet results has also empowered these bakery owners to continue taking their businesses to the next level as they eye the future. For now, that means experimenting with delicious new and seasonal flavours heading into the summer months, allowing people back into the establishments themselves, and lots more of those fun, Instagram-eating experiences that Steve and Tiffany set up.

Related: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

“We’ve been surprised with how many businesses have closed during this time. Now, we’re hiring more staff and we constantly have to keep up with demand,” says Bread ‘N Batter’s Maramag. “People are really willing to try what we have, we have a bigger pool of regulars, and we are forever grateful. The past few months have felt like an eternal holiday season with how busy it is.”

“We are just excited to see our community back out and in the bakery,” adds Patrick. “It is the most wonderful feeling to have people smiling, and excited to enjoy the little things in life again.”

Garratt, who changed the name of the bakery to Whisk Bakery & Café on the advice of the hosts, couldn’t agree more. She says that since reopening they’ve expanded the patio that Tiffany created, and that the sidewalk chalk has translated into amazing daily murals. People are constantly posting from the Instagram wall that Tiffany designed as well.

“Our name change was a lifesaver and our sales have skyrocketed now that people know what we are. Everything Steve and Tiffany did was a game-changer for us,” Garratt says. “It’s a really cool experience to see how everyone reacted. People are happy to stay here for a couple of hours… I wouldn’t be up and running if it wasn’t for Project Bakeover.”

Watch Project Bakeover and  stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Afrim Pristine in France on set of Cheese: A Love Story

Enter to Win a Cheese: A Love Story Prize Pack

To celebrate everyone’s new favourite Food Network Canada show about fromage, Cheese: A Love Story, we’re giving away a cheese lover’s prize pack from host and cheese master Afrim Pristine‘s Cheese Boutique. Enter below for a chance to win this deliciously cheesy prize pack. For more expert tips, check out Afrim Pristine’s perfect Swiss and French cheese boards.

Cheese: A Love Story Prize Pack

What it includes:

-A signed copy of Afrim’s book For the Love of Cheese
-A selection of Afrim’s favourite cheeses
-Acompaniments to create the perfect cheeseboard

Related: Try Afrim Pristine’s Recipe for Jalapeno Cheese Bread

 

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Watch Cheese: A Love Story Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Tomatoes growing on rooftop of Lufa Farms in Montreal

The World’s Biggest Rooftop Farm is in Canada — and Growing Fast

There’s an old debate that tends to come up when discussing local produce in Canada: how can we rely on local ingredients when we can’t grow essentials like tomatoes in the winter in our northern climates?

Tomatoes growing on rooftop of Lufa Farms in Montreal

Despite never growing a tomato in their lives, that question mulled around in entrepreneurs Mohamed Hage and Lauren Rathmell’s heads until they launched Lufa Farms together in 2008. Their response to that question? The world’s first commercial urban rooftop greenhouse, which first opened in Montreal in 2011. Produce is delivered to doorsteps and pickup points in customizable food baskets alongside food from nearby farms, as well as local artisans like bakers and cheesemakers.

Related: Building a Zero-Waste Kitchen is Easier Than You Think. Here’s How!

“We live in Montreal, so it’s really cold in the winter, you get a lot of snow, so a greenhouse is ideal because you can grow year-round,” said Lufa Farms’ communication director Caroline Bélanger. “Then to do it on a commercial scale allows more people to have access to local food that’s done responsibly and it’s just better for the environment in the long run.”

Lufa Farms building in Montreal

Growing food on a rooftop reduces the carbon-omitting kilometres it takes for food to get to grocery stores and then to our fridges. It also uses residual heat from the building it’s sitting on to save on energy in the winter. But perhaps most crucially, Lufa Farms grows its produce hydroponically in coconut fibre, meaning 90 per cent of water gets reused.

Related: The Ultimate Herb Guide: Varieties and Best Uses

Growing on a rooftop does have its drawbacks, though. Among them, Lufa’s produce can’t be listed as organic in Quebec because it doesn’t grow in soil, even though it does everything else required for organic certification (like not using synthetic pesticides). Lufa also can’t plant fruit trees with sprawling roots, so citrus and bananas are out of the question. Still, like the rows of bright green Boston lettuce in its greenhouses, Lufa keeps growing.

What started with one rooftop space in Montreal has expanded to four, including a 164,000 square-foot greenhouse on top of an old Sears warehouse that clocks in as the largest commercial rooftop greenhouse in the world. And ever since the pandemic hit, Lufa has ramped up its customer base (affectionately known as Lufavores), doubling to 25,000 food baskets per week, feeding 2 per cent of Montrealers.

Produce growing on rooftop of Lufa Farms in Montreal

“There was obviously a huge shift towards eating local and supporting local through more difficult times and we definitely saw that growth ourselves,” Bélanger said. “We don’t know for sure yet, but hopefully it stays that way and people really stop and recognize the need to support local businesses and farmers, as well as the benefit of being connected to where your food is really coming from.”

Related: Vegetables You Can Regrow in Your Kitchen

And Lufa Farms is far from finished its growth spurt. Bélanger said the company hopes to expand to more rooftops in Montreal as well as to other cities across the eastern half of Canada and the US.

“We never have enough tomatoes, we never have enough cucumbers, so continuing to grow in Montreal is something that we’re looking to do and our vision is a city of rooftop farms,” she said. “To be able to replicate this model elsewhere is definitely a goal, but when that happens, we’re not entirely sure just yet.”

Photos courtesy of Lufa Farms

Cross-section of pretty sandwiches made of white bread with whipped cream and sliced fruits

This Japanese Fruit Sando is the Sandwich of the Summer

Fresh fruit and sweetened whipped cream sandwiched inside fluffy white bread is a fun and easy no-bake treat to make. Called a fruit sando in Japan, it is made with Japanese milk bread (shokupan) which is wonderfully light and springy with a little bit of chew. Most East Asian grocery stores or bakeries will have them. If you can’t get a hold of it, the closest substitution is thickly-cut Texas toast or any thickly-cut, fluffy soft bread you can find. Use your favourite seasonal fresh fruit such as strawberries, kiwis, mangos, blueberries, etc. in this Kindred Kitchen recipe. Whatever you choose, arrange the fruit strategically along the cut line for an oh-so beautiful reveal.

pretty Japanese-inspired sandwiches with whipped cream and sliced fruit

Japanese Fruit Sando

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Rest Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 3 sandwiches

Ingredients:

7 large strawberries, stems trimmed off
3 kiwis, ends trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 mango, peeled and pitted and fleshy sides cut into long thick slices
1 passionfruit (optional)
1 cup whipping cream
6 Tbsp powdered sugar
6 slices of Japanese milk bread or other fluffy white bread

Three Japanese fruit sandos with strawberries, mango and kiwis ingredients on countertop

Directions:

1. Wash and pat the fruit with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Trim, peel, pit and cut as required (see above).

2. Pour whipping cream and sugar into a chilled bowl and whisk until stiff peaks. You’ll want the cream to be on thicker side, but also be careful not to overwhip. With a stand mixer, this takes 60 seconds.

Related: Bucket List Burgers and Sandwiches You Need to Try

3. Lay out bread slices and spoon ⅓  cup of whipped cream on each of the six slices. If you have a little bit of whipped cream remaining, hang onto that for the moment. Spread the cream evenly, leaving a small border around the edges which will be trimmed off later.

4. On three of the bread slices, arrange your fruit (in this case: strawberries, mango slices with passionfruit pulp dribbled on top and kiwi halves). Pay attention to how you place the fruit along the intended diagonal cut line since that’s what will be shown when the sandos are cut in half. Fill in larger gaps between fruits with any remaining whipped cream. Place the other bread slices on top.

Three Japanese fruit sandos with strawberries, mango and kiwis

5. Without changing the orientation of the sando, wrap each one tightly in a piece of plastic food wrap while pressing gently, but firmly down on it. Use a marker to draw a line on the plastic wrap where the intended cut will be so you know where to cut it later.

Three Japanese fruit sandos with strawberries, mango and kiwis wrapped in plastic wrap

6. Chill in refrigerator 30-60 minutes. When the rest time is over, make note of the marker line and unwrap each sando. Make a clean, firm cut along the line using a long, sharp knife. Trim off the four crusts (my kids snack on these). Wipe knife clean between every cut. Separate the sando halves to reveal your beautiful fruit design.

Like Sonia’s fruit sando recipe? Try her three-ingredient kimchi chicken patties or sweet and sour shrimp and tofu recipe.

Campfire s'mores ice cream being scooped into cone

This No-Churn Campfire S’mores Ice Cream Will Be on Repeat All Summer Long

Nothing says summer like making s’mores, am I right? This Baking Therapy no-churn campfire s’mores ice cream is super easy to make. It combines brown sugar graham crackers that soften to the perfect cake-like texture, sweet chocolate folded into a toasted marshmallow cream. This treat will definitely be on repeat all summer long. Added bonus: it only requires eight ingredients!

Campfire s'mores ice cream being scooped into cone

No-Churn Campfire S’mores Ice Cream

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Rest Time: 8 hours or overnight
Total Time: 8 hours, 30 minutes
Servings: 8-10

Ingredients:

3 cups heavy cream
3 cups mini marshmallows, toasted
8 sheets graham crackers
¼ cup (½ stick) of butter
¼ cup brown sugar
Flaky sea salt
1 300ml can condensed milk
¼ cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate

Campfire s'mores ice cream ingredients on countertop

Directions:

1. In a saucepan, over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer.

2. Spread the marshmallows in a single layer on a cookie sheet. With a blow torch or with the oven set on broil, toast the marshmallows until they are completely charred on the outside. Reserve 1 cup of marshmallows for later. Add the remaining marshmallows to the heated cream , stir until completely melted into the mixture. Transfer to a glass bowl, cover with plastic and place in the fridge to chill, about 2 hours.

Person using a blow torch to toast marshmallows

3. Place the graham crackers on a cookie sheet in one single layer. In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and let bubble for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour directly over the graham crackers. Smooth into one thin layer and sprinkle flaky salt on top. Set aside to cool. Once cool, break up into small pieces.

Graham crackers laying on baking tray to make campfire s'mores ice cream

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk chilled cream mixture to medium peaks, may take a little longer to whip up. Stream in the condensed milk and whip until mixture is thick and creamy. Make sure not to over-whip.

5. Fold in the reserved toasted marshmallows and half of the graham cracker pieces.

Related: Easy Ice Cream Sandwich Recipes for a Sweet Summer Treat

6. To assemble, grab your loaf pan, add in half of the whipped cream mixture. Sprinkle half of the remaining graham crackers and half of the chopped chocolate. Top with the rest of the whipped cream followed by the remaining graham crackers and chocolate. Cover with plastic and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Campfire s'mores ice cream ready for the freezer

Like Sabrina’s campfire s’mores ice cream? Try her no-churn ice cream cake or her no-fry fried ice cream.

Graduation cupcakes on countertop

Easy Graduation Cupcakes to Celebrate Your Loved One’s Success

Graduation — whether it be from high school, university or a toddler who just learnt to walk — is a great achievement. It calls for celebration and cupcakes are a great way to do this. This cupcake recipe has a perfect balance of tart summer raspberries and aromatic vanilla beans. They’re oh-so delicious and are decorated just for the occasion that’ll surely “wow” the crowd, big or small.

Graduation cupcakes on countertop

Easy Graduation Cupcakes

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Servings: 12 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcake
2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 egg white
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup whole milk
24 raspberries

Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp whole milk
½ tsp white food colouring (optional)

Assembly
12 mini peanut butter cups
12 chocolate squares
4 licorice candy strings (cut into 24 equal pieces)
12 Smarties

Graduation cupcake ingredients on countertop

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a cupcake tin with paper cups.

2. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients listed for the cupcakes (except the raspberries). Using an electric mixer or whisk, combine to form smooth mixture.

3. Using an ice-cream scoop or spoon, fill the cupcake tin with the batter. Push in two raspberries per cupcake and bake for 20-25 minutes. Once baked, let the cupcakes cool at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Graduation cupcakes being assembled

4. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the buttercream: using a mixer, whisk the butter and icing sugar together until light, pale yellow and fluffy. Add the vanilla, milk, and food colouring. Whisk for another 2 minutes.

5. Using a spoon, fill the piping bag with the prepared buttercream and pipe it on top of the cupcakes. Then, add a peanut butter cup (upside down) on top of each frosted cupcake.

Related: Best Homemade Doughnut Recipes Perfect for Any Celebration

6. Attach a chocolate square on top of the peanut butter cup using a small amount of buttercream. Dip one end of two cut licorice strings into the buttercream and place onto the centre of the chocolate square. Then place a Smartie on top using a little buttercream.

Graduation cupcakes on countertop

Like Yakuta’s cupcake recipe? Try her one-bowl flowerpot cupcakes.

Aerial shot of Korean fried chicken and tater tots

10 Best Budget-Friendly Eats in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The best restaurants in Halifax aren’t always fancy seafood spots that’ll cost you a huge chunk of your paycheque (although there’s a time and place for that too!). Some of the best eats in this beautiful Atlantic province have a price tag of less than $20 a person. From standard East Coast grub like donair and fish and chips to Caribbean food, fried chicken and beyond, we got you covered.

CHKN SHOP

This cozy spot on North Street offers fried chicken sammies (try their McCHKN!), yummy sides like roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts, as well as family combo packs. The two-person combo will cost you $27 and it comes with ½ chicken, two sides, coleslaw, gravy and hot sauce.

 

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Cafe Aroma Latino

This Latin American cafe at the corner of North and Agricola serves delish eats like quesadillas, empanadas, tacos (note: their shrimp tacos are popular for a reason!) and much more. A meal will cost you between $10 to $15 and they have a few tables outside for socially distanced eats.

 

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Sushi Shige

This small resto on Almon is arguably the best sushi spot in Halifax. How much you spend is really up to you. The salmon teriyaki dinner is $18, but you can also mix and match with your favourite Japanese eats — from agedashi tofu ($6) and nigiri ($6) to a variety of maki rolls.

 

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Backoos

This restaurant on Birmingham, close to the Halifax Public Gardens and the waterfront, has all your favourite Korean dishes: Korean fried chicken ($13 for chicken bites plus rice and dumplings), vegetarian or beef bibimbap ($11), kimchi fried rice ($12), japchae ($16) and more.

Willman’s Fish and Chips

You didn’t think we’d get through a list on Halifax best restos without including a fish and chips joint, did you? This spot at Isleville and Kane has been serving up East Cost comfort fare since the ‘40s. Their single-piece fish and chips will cost you $11, three pieces will set you back $17.

 

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Chef Abod

This Middle Eastern resto on Kempt Road offers oh-so delish dishes like falafel, kebab, Moroccan lentil soup and more. The special appetizer plate includes hummus, baba ganoush, red lentil kofta, roasted red pepper dip, falafels, grape leaves and warm pita and is only $15.

Jessy’s Pizza

Jessy’s is the largest locally owned pizza franchise in Nova Scotia, with 12 locations across the province and three locations in other major Canadian cities. Operating since the early ‘90s, they serve pizza of course, along with East Coast faves like garlic fingers ($10) and donair ($7 to $13).

Italian Market

Italian Market is a small cafe and grocer located on Young Street. They offer a variety of soups, sandwiches, pizza, pasta and famous deli sandwiches (all the sammies are less than $11). While you’re waiting for your Italian sandwich to get made, browse the grocery and gift sections of the store.

Jamaica Lee

This Caribbean food truck specializes in jerk chicken, curry, oxtail, rice and peas, beef patties and festivals, all which cost $16 or less. Order on your favourite food delivery app or head to the corner of Main Street and Tacoma Drive in Dartmouth to get your fill of Caribbean fare.

Adda Indian Eatery

Located on Spring Garden Road, Adda (which means hangout spot) is serving A+ Indian food like dosas and vada pav. There isn’t a single thing on their menu pricier than $13. Know your dollars are going to a resto with a heart: they’ve raised money to support Palestine and COVID-19 in India.

 

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Feature image courtesy of Backoos

Beef tenderloin with festival

The Winning Dish From Junior Chef Showdown Will Become a Family-Favourite Meal in No Time

Finding a balanced, hearty meal that your whole family will enjoy isn’t always easy. But thanks to this season’s Junior Chef Showdown winner, Nazaree, this juicy, melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin recipe paired with three appetizing sides will have everyone at the table feeling full and happy.

Although the classic beef tenderloin is the star of the recipe, it’s the trio of sides that make this a truly unforgettable meal. Even if you’re not an extraordinarily talented young chef, making this show-stopping meal will leave you feeling like a gourmet cook in no time.

Junior Chef Nazaree’s Beef Tenderloin with Festival Bread

Prep time: 40 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yields: 4 Servings

Plate of Beef Tenderloin with Festival

Ingredients:

Roasted Squash Ajvar Puree
2 cups butternut squash (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 shallot, peeled, quartered
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove
½ cup roasted red pepper
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Jus
1 cup beef demi-glace
2 cloves garlic
3 sprigs thyme

Festival
¾ cup flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, melted
½ cup milk
Oil for frying

Beef Tenderloin
4 beef tenderloins, about 1-¼-inch thick
1 Tbsp canola oil
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Charred Broccoli Rabe
12 stalks broccoli rabe
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes
1 clove garlic, smashed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Related: Double-Stacked Patties + Secret Sauce Make for Jordan Andino’s Perfect Burger

Directions:

Roasted Squash Ajvar Puree

1. Heat oven to 425°F.

2. Combine squash, shallots, thyme, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne and 1 tablespoon of oil on a large rimmed baking sheet.

3. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until squash is golden and tender, stirring and adding garlic clove after 20 minutes.

4. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and add roasted red peppers, remaining tablespoon oil and vinegar. Pulse until blended and smooth.

Jus
1. Combine demi-glace, garlic and thyme in a small saucepan.

2. Cook, covered over medium-low for 30 minutes to infuse the demi-glace.

3. Discard garlic and thyme before serving.

See More: 3 Classic Sauces From Lynn Crawford That Will Be Instant Staples (Plus Recipes!)

Festival Bread 
1. Heat 1-½ inches oil to 350°F in a heavy-bottomed pot or fill a deep fryer. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a wire cooling rack.

2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter, stir to coat. Add milk gradually, stirring until combined.

3. Spoon two tablespoon portions of batter into oil and fry until deep golden, for about 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet to cool slightly.

Beef Tenderloin
1. Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and steaks and cook for 4 to 6 minutes per side, until deep golden and medium-rare. (Note: If you’re using an instant-read thermometer, the centre of the steak will read 130°F).

4. Set steak aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Charred Broccoli Rabe
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add broccoli rabe, chili flakes, garlic, salt and pepper into the skillet.

2. Stir occasionally until the broccoli rabe is charred and tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Divide the puree, festival, broccoli rabe and steaks among four plates. Spoon demi glace over the beef, and serve!

Watch Junior Chef Showdown Sundays at 9ep and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV.  Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.

Cookies and candy spilling over countertop

The Owner of Toronto’s Craig’s Cookies Shares His Secrets to Sweet Success

Cookies make everything better. Craig’s Cookies though? Those treat-stuffed morsels are a stamped, pink box of downright joy. It’s not just that they’re crammed with nostalgic childhood treats like peanut butter cups, shortbread or Snickers. It’s that each cookie is crafted with feel-good principles: love, inclusivity and the power of putting yourself out there. It’s no surprise that people are eating it up.

Craig Pike, the founder and namesake behind the famous Toronto cookie empire, epitomizes those traits. This sweet journey wasn’t his original life plan, but it grew organically — first from wanting to pay his phone bill and then from the unexpected joy it brought him.

“I saw how happy people got when their cookies were delivered to the door,” he says. “I’m a queer man who owns a business. My ethics and my morals and what I stand for are mirrored in the business. So while I was building the company and the brand, it was a no-brainer to try my best to make sure that it is a representation of who I am.”

The Early Days

The base of that business started five or six years ago when the actor and musician was out of work. To foot the bills he asked if anyone on Facebook wanted some of his potluck-famous cookies delivered. He fired up his Parkdale oven, busted out a top-secret version of his mom’s cookie recipe and hopped on his bike.

“One day I was at FreshCo in Parkdale buying butter for cookies and Pop Tarts were on sale. I thought that might be fun to put in a cookie. So I bought some Pop Tarts, put them in a cookie and it worked out,” he says. “So then I thought, well maybe if that works then anything would work. So we started with the Mars Bar and the peanut butter cup and the brownie — and now the sky’s the limit.”

Related: No-Bake Recipes Starring Peanut Butter, From Cookies to Cheesecake

Before Pike knew it, he was pumping out a dozen cookies every 12 minutes, selling his goods at local markets and eventually, at a six-month pop-up partnership with William Sonoma at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. “From there I had enough confidence to take a risk and open my first brick and mortar in 2018,” Pike says. “At that time, there were two employees: myself and one other person. The goal was a two-year lease and just go sell some cookies.”

Pike’s shop in Parkdale is a space inspired by his grandmother’s home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a place where he grew up. Pike chose simple blue tiling to represent the Atlantic Ocean (customers have since pointed out it’s also the perfect Cookie Monster blue) and he hand-picked all of the art on the walls. “It feels like you’re going your grandmother’s or your grandfather’s or your loved ones’ home,” he says. “And you get to have a cookie, you get to meet somebody who’s going to give you the cookie, have a little chat with them. The only difference is that you pay for it.”

For the Love of Cookies

Not even three weeks after launch, a local news outlet shared a video featuring Craig’s Cookies that exploded with 1.4 million views in a single week. Suddenly Pike went from selling $360 worth of cookies a day to more than $1,000 a day. He eventually opened up a location in The Village, followed by locations in Leaside and Leslieville during the pandemic. Now, Pike says he has 86 employees, he ships goods to all corners of the country and he is on track to sell $10 to $12 million worth of cookies in the next four years.

Today, there are more than 100 types of cookies to sample at Craig’s Cookies, all made from that same base recipe he learned in his mom’s kitchen. Pike unabashedly uses familiar products that are fun and delicious to stuff those cookies with, rather than coming up with recipes for fillings. Even the shortbread-stuffed cookies are made with chocolate shortbread cookies from Cookie it Up, which Pike first fell in love with on a flight at Billy Bishop Airport.

Pike also regularly hosts creativity sessions where employees can come into the kitchen and just experiment with whatever they want. It was during one such session that they may have finally cracked a birthday cake cookie, something he says customers have been asking for. Sour Cherry Blasters, Mini Eggs, Nutella, apple pie and a slew of other options can also be found on the rotating menu and of course there is a Pride cookie, which is available year-round and is a featured item during Pride Toronto.

Related: Steve Hodge Shares His Best Tips on How to Run a Successful Bakery

“There’s maybe one trained baker in our entire company,” Pike says of his employees and overall philosophy. “It’s a group of amazing, incredible people — a lot of them work in the arts — who love home baking, who just want to be part of a community that is inclusive and who just celebrate the joy and happiness of what a cookie can bring to somebody.”

An Artful Future

Looking back, Pike isn’t sure he would have grown Craig’s Cookies the way he did had the pandemic not forced him to. It wasn’t just that he had to find ways to pivot, it was also that his first loves, theatre and music, were also shut down. So he doubled down with cookies and looked into how far he could push the business while exploring wholesale opportunities, a frozen cookie dough and other potential ventures.

Pike says there’s a lot of room for growth, but he’s also at the point where he wants to ensure he has a grasp on the business and not the other way around. He’s an entrepreneur with no formal business training (one of his project managers recently insisted he learn about profit margins, for example) and he feels the company is at a point where he needs someone else to help him explore future potential. Until then, he’s not in a rush.

Related: Our Top Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes for a Better Week Ahead

Instead, he finally feels as though he’s in a place where he can fund other passion projects and give back to the community while exploring some of the other things he loves. That includes kicking off an arts organization in the fall and producing a play, expanding the Toronto choir he conducts and creating a youth program where underprivileged kids in the city can express themselves through theatre and music.

“Five years ago, when I was baking by myself in my apartment in Parkdale, exhausted, baking like a dozen cookies every 12 minutes for nine hours, to try to get some cookies to sell on the sidewalk, I was like, ‘There has to be a means to an end here,’” he recalls. “Because I’m an artist. I’m an actor. I’m a musician. Now the pandemic is kind of shifting and we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel. But these initiatives are all possible because of Craig’s Cookies. All the hard work is coming to fruition in a really great way.”

Photos courtesy of Craig’s Cookies

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

What Baking Ingredients Are Best to Buy for Home Bakers

In today’s competitive home baking world, where aspiring pastry chefs think nothing of churning out macarons or elaborate, gilded creations traditionally bought in a bakery, there’s a certain sort of bragging rights in doing it all yourself—right down to the core ingredients. Sometimes, however, using those ingredients involve complicated methods, access to specialized equipment or a level of expertise that comes through years of tradition and are best left to the professionals.

Let’s take a look at some of these things that home bakers can buy from a local bakery (such as the ones on Project Bakeover) or grocery store, and a couple of items that are easy to make in your own kitchen.

Pastry Chef Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

See More: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

Phyllo Pastry

Watching professionals produce phyllo by hand is a mesmerizing experience—achieving those gossamer-thin sheets without breakage requires a light touch and nerves of steel. Although there are recipes to make phyllo at home, it requires a fair amount of space and a knowledge of texture and timing that can be tricky. Buy a high-quality phyllo pastry instead, either frozen or fresh from a local Greek or Middle Eastern bakery or even a large chain supermarket. Be warned that phyllo dough dries out in a snap, so keep it covered as you work, and try to work quickly.

Deconstructed Baklava Butter Tart with fresh berries and mint

Get the recipe for Baklava Butter Tart Bake

Puff Pastry

Much like phyllo, flaky, multilayered puff pastry is a delight, and the basis for many last-minute appetizers, desserts or tarts. Achieving those layers, however, depends on a multi-step process where you fold and roll dough around butter repeatedly—a simple but time-intensive process that varies depending on the heat of your kitchen and your rolling speed. The freezer case at your local grocery store will hold puff pastry options, from flat sheets to pre-formed tarts, ready to bake with your best homemade fillings

Fondant

Although hacks abound to make fondant with melted marshmallows, the real deal involves a gelatin-based dough with glycerine and glucose that involves kneading and resting for rolled fondant or a candy thermometer and bain marie for poured fondant. Save yourself some time and effort, buy ready-made fondant and spend your energy making pretty hearts, delicate flowers or perfect petit fours.

Cookie Dough That Requires Specialized Presses or Decorating Equipment

If visions of ornately decorated cookies dance through your head, spurred on by Spring Baking Championship and images of a benevolent judge beaming at you, take a moment and consider how often you’re actually going to use this equipment. The best-laid plans to make pressed or extruded cookies and finish them off with a decorating kit more involved than a surgeon’s array of tools can go awry, especially in the heat of holiday planning. Consider borrowing these tools from a friend, buying a set to share with family or adding to this collection over the years rather than purchasing a complete kit with all the options right off the bat. And unless you’ve got very steady hands, icing that elaborate piping or calligraphy onto your cake might be best left to a local baker.

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract is far from difficult—it’s a basic method of pouring spirits over vanilla beans and letting time do the rest—but it’s included on this list due to the cost of ingredients versus buying a bottle in the store. For most people, a smaller amount of vanilla extract will last for months through the most frenzied of baking booms, so making it in bulk may not make sense for your household. Plus, once you factor in buying the alcohol and the vanilla beans, it may be worth spending your money on a high-quality store bought extract or paste (look for versions that contain real vanilla bean from reputable manufacturers, rather than “flavoured” extracts that can contain filler).

Vanilla and Calamansi Macaron stacked on a white tray

Related: Try These Vanilla Calamansi Macaron

“Handle With Care” Ingredients

If you’ve got little ones around or working in a cramped space, consider outsourcing some of your components to the pros. Heating sugar for caramels or candy creates a molten, sticky substance that requires vigilance and precise movements to avoid spills or spatters. The liquid nitrogen so beloved by cooking show contestants for instant ice cream requires knowledge of how to handle it and protective gear. You know your space (and yourself) best – if there’s a risk of injury when working with these items, think about buying a quality pre-made caramel, dulce de leche or candy for your baked goods.  

Watch Project Bakeover Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Afrim Pristine's Stinky Cheese Bread recipe from For The Love of Cheese

This Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread is a Cheese Lover’s Dream

I love using Appenzeller cheese when cooking because of its melting properties and the distinctive aroma it gives off when it’s melted. Image a beautiful summer day on a dairy farm in Appenzell, Switzerland. Flowers are blossoming, and the lush vegetation all around you is waving in a slight breeze. There’s a beautiful scent in the air and then a cow comes along and passes some gas. That’s exactly what your house will smell like after you make this recipe. I call that “pleasant pungeantness”.

Related: Irresistible Grilled Cheese Recipes

Afrim Pristine's Stinky Cheese Bread recipe from For The Love of Cheese

Embrace the Stinky Bread

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4 (or 1 hungry Afrim)

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
½ small white onion, coarsely chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded
½ cup (125 mL) cilantro
1 can (28oz/796 mL) whole tomatillos, drained
Juice from 1 fresh lime
Fine sea salt
1 ½ lb (700g) round loaf or sourdough rye bread
10 oz (285g) grated Appenzeller cheese

See More: Get to Know Afrim Pristine

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. To make the salsa verde, combine the garlic, onion, jalapeno and cilantro in a food processor. Process the ingredients until finely chopped. Add the tomatillos, and pulse until combined, but don’t pulse the living daylights out of it; be sure to leave some texture. Mix in the lime juice and season to taste with salt. Should you have any leftover salsa verde, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 5 days.

3. To assemble, place the loaf of bread on the prepared baking sheet.

Related: BC Wines You Need On Your Radar (Plus Drink Pairings)

4. Using a knife, make cuts 2 inches (5 cm) deep and 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart in the loaf. Rotate the loaf a quarter-turn and make the same cuts again to create 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes.

5. Pour some salsa verde into each of the cuts. Then take the cheese and stuff it into each of the cuts. Cover the loaf with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 7 minutes or until golden brown and cheese has melted.

6. Serve hot and tear this cheesy bread to shreds.

Excerpted from For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom From the Cheese Boutique by Afrim Pristine. Copyright© 2018 Afrim Pristine. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom From the Cheese Boutique, Amazon, $30.

All products featured on Food Network Canada are independently selected by our editors. For more products handpicked by our editorial team, visit Food Network Canada’s Amazon storefront. However, when you buy through links in this article or on our storefront, we earn an affiliate commission.

Watch Cheese: A Love Story with Afrim Pristine and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Sweet chili chicken wings on white plate

The Only Air Fryer Recipe You Need in Your Life (Sweet Chili Chicken Wings!)

These lip-smacking, finger-licking chicken wings are a quick and simple way to win over your meat-loving dad this Father’s Day. Plus, it’s perfect for the health-conscious individual because it all comes together in an air fryer and is perfectly crispy with every single bite.

Sweet chili chicken wings on white plate

Sesame Garlic Sweet Chili Chicken Wings

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 12 chicken wings

Ingredients:

Chicken Wings
12 chicken wings
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
1 Tbsp baking powder

Sweet Chili Sauce
1 Tbsp coconut aminos
2 Tbsp stir-fry sauce
3 Tbsp Sriracha
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp melted honey
1 ½ Tbsp garlic powder
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp kosher salt
Juice from one lime
¼ cup warm water
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1-2 scallions, chopped

Sweet chili chicken wing ingredients on countertop

Directions:

1. Add chicken wings to a large bowl and dab with a paper towel. Add in salt, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika and baking powder and toss until the wings are coated. Line a basket of the air fryer with parchment paper and add wings. You may have to fry it in batches depending on how big your air fryer basket is.

2. Fry the wings in the air fryer at 400°F for 20 minutes, flipping the wings half way through. Make sure they’re fully cooked by checking with a food thermometer.

Related: Easy Air Fryer Recipes That Are Simply Delish

3. In the meantime, set your oven settings to broil and line a baking sheet with foil. Set aside.

4. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, add in coconut aminos, stir-fry sauce, Sriracha, vinegar, sesame oil, honey, garlic powder, ginger, salt, lime juice and water. Simmer the sauce until reduced and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the sauce to a large bowl and keep warm.

5. Place the cooked chicken wings in the large bowl with the sauce. Toss the chicken wings until fully coated in the sauce. Place coated chicken wings on the lined baking sheet and broil for about 4 minutes so that the sauce sticks to the chicken wings.

Sweet chili chicken wings on baking tray

6. Remove the wings from the oven and transfer to a serving plate. Top with sesame seeds and scallions.

Sweet chili chicken wings on white plate

Like Valerie’s air fryer chicken wings? Try her air fryer corn “ribs” (popular on TikTok) or her healthy Sriracha-honey oven-fried chicken.

Top Chef Canada season 9 final four wait for the winner to be announced

Top Chef Canada Winner: Exclusive Interview With the Season 9 Winner

From the moment Erica Karbelnik stepped into the Top Chef Canada kitchen, she was a force to be reckoned with. The Toronto-based executive chef came in hot with the season’s first Quickfire win, and she continued to impress in a series of tough challenges throughout the entire season.

Of course, it probably helped that one of her fellow competitors was her husband, Josh Karbelnik, a chef de cuisine in Toronto. The duo supported each other through thick and thin throughout their season 9 run, and as a result, they proved to be among the best of the best. No one was really surprised when they both made it to the top 4.

Unfortunately though, Josh stumbled with the amuse bouche and appetizer during the last cook, and he was eliminated alongside fellow top 4 finalist Andrea Alridge in the finale. The good news was that Josh got to stay behind to help Erica finish her menu against Kym Nguyen (and their new sous chef Andrea).

It all led up to one of the closest calls ever on Top Chef Canada, but in the end judges Mark McEwan, Chris Nuttall-Smith, Mijune Pak and Janet Zuccarini awarded Erica $100,000, a Lexus RX Hybrid Electric SUV, and the title of Top Chef Canada.

Following Erica’s big win we caught up with the chef to get her hot take on this year’s competition, working with her husband, and what’s next for the winning couple with a baby on the way.

Chefs often say doing this show is harder than they expected, but what was the hardest part for you?

I’d say not knowing what to expect when you get there and what’s going to come your way. I’ve been a huge fan of Top Chef and Top Chef Canada for over 15 years, and I’ve watched every episode. But it doesn’t really prepare you for what it’s like when you’re actually there and how real it is. When the judges say you’ve got 30 minutes on the clock, you have 30 minutes on the clock, and you want to make the best things that you possibly can make. There’s no room for error and that puts a lot of pressure on everybody.

On the flip side of that, what was the most rewarding part—other than winning!?

It was really finding myself and finding who I am as a chef and as a person. I’m classically French, Italian trained. But going on the show, I was pulling out things from my backgrounds and cooking with a lot of Moroccan flavours, which I don’t normally do. So it’s definitely helped me find my stride in who I am as a chef.

What was it like to do all of that alongside your husband?

Honestly, it was amazing. We’re each other’s biggest support system. Being there together, this is something that both of us have always wanted to do. So to make it on the show together is a huge accomplishment. Like we never thought in a million years that would happen. It was really cool. It’s an accomplishment for us. And it’s something that we both get to look back on years down the road and have the laughs about, have some cringes about. But honestly, I loved every minute.

You two shared such a positive rapport on the series, with each other and with your competitors. Does that speak to how we’re maybe moving away from some of the negative perceptions of all kitchens being this pressure-cooker environment?

Not necessarily, I think Top Chef Canada really wants to show everybody in their best light. They do a good job in that. I had some rough times in that kitchen, and they definitely showed a few moments of weakness for me… I guess you can say not my best moments. But that’s what it is to be a chef. Nowadays, we want things to be a lot calmer in the kitchen than they once were, a lot nicer. And I guess I could say things are a little bit more sugar-coated. But at the end of the day, our kitchen is the kitchen, it’s a high-stress environment, it’s a tough industry, and you have to have a really tough backbone to be able to do this job.

The judges and Top 4 contestants cheers to the winner of Top Chef Canada season 9

Related: The Season 9 Chefs Talk Eating Local

In nine seasons, you’re the second female to win Top Chef Canada (Nicole Gomes was the first). What is it like to be a female working in the industry these days?

I’m so proud to be the second female to win Top Chef Canada. I really am. But I’m also the person that, when I walk into a kitchen, I don’t see gender, I don’t see colour, I see food. And food is what matters at the end of the day. And whether you’re male or female. It’s about if you can cook, and how you cook, and how you represent yourself. The food is what speaks for itself.

I’m extremely happy to represent women in the kitchen. We do have a hard time because of that reputation. So that makes us have to work harder. Let’s show them that there is no difference. We are just as good. We can do the exact same job. I’m currently four and a half months pregnant and I’m still working every day. Still pulling 12-hour shifts sometimes to try and kick butt in a kitchen because I don’t think that being a female should get in the way of that. It’s something to be very proud of. But it doesn’t matter whether I’m male or female. One of my favourite chefs, Dominique Crenn, [who is] one of the most respected women in the industry, says, “I am not a female Chef. I am just a Chef.”

Related: Mijune Pak Reflects On Reinventing Her Career

Congrats on the pregnancy! Have you and Josh thought about what you’ll do if your kid winds up being a picky eater?

I really don’t think the kid will have a choice in the matter! I don’t think it’ll be a picky eater though, because I have to say my cravings are like left, right and center. I’ve been eating everything and anything under the sun. So I think we’ll be okay.

Erica and Josh Karbelnik on the set of Top Chef Canada

You watched every episode of Top Chef Canada leading up to your season, so of the former competitors who would you say is your inspiration?

Dale Mackay from Season 1 is the one who really struck my nerve to want to be on this show. And to put my best foot forward and to be that competitive person… and to go for it and just do you. He’s an extremely talented chef. He’s very accomplished. And his food was spectacular on the show. When he was on Top Chef Canada I was an apprentice, so he opened so many doors for so many chefs for us to say, “Hey, we can do that, too!”

How much did your knowledge of previous seasons help you out when it came time to plan and execute your final menu?

Watching the show previously definitely had an advantage. You do learn what the judges are looking for. But at the end of the day, when we’re doing challenges, there’s a box that we’re placed in and there’s restrictions. You have to follow guidelines on exactly what the judges are looking for in that dish. So you don’t really have free rein to kind of create whatever you want to create.

Going into the finale menu, I said it in the semifinals: “If you let me into the finals, you’ll be able to read me like an open book. Let me show you who I am in my cooking.” At the end of the day, that’s what I do every day. I want people to understand me through food. I am not always able to express myself fully in words. And a lot of people misunderstand me. So food has always been my go-to, it’s always been like my voice. But I really wanted to showcase myself in that menu. Those dishes are dishes that I would put forward over and over and over again. I’m so insanely proud of who they represented. Each dish represented something that was extremely close to my heart and really told the story of who I am and who my family is and where I come from.

Other than Josh, who else did you originally expect to go all the way to the finale?

To the honest, Galasa. From the moment Galasa started cooking, just the way he carried himself in the kitchen, the way he understood flavours. I think that dude is a force to be reckoned with. He’s going to do really great things in his future culinary career. He was definitely one that I was a little scared of.

See More: Top Chef Canada Judge Janet Zuccarini Talks Resilience in the Restaurant Industry

You and Josh have been doing catering while your current gig with Elmwood Spa is on hold because of COVID. And you talked about opening up your own place if you won. Is that still the plan?

We would love to have our own restaurant, we really would. We would love to also have our own catering company. With COVID, a lot of chefs had to rethink and pivot their ideas and their future plans. Unfortunately, restaurants at the moment really have an unforeseen future and we don’t know what’s coming our way. So it’s always good to have a backup plan. That’s been our backup plan for now and it’s been working really well for us. And, as I said, we did get pregnant. So, our little sous chef has a nice college fund started. We’d like to use that money to create a stable home and a future for us and for the baby.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Competing on Top Chef Canada was awesome and I’m very happy with the outcome and to be able to do it with my husband. I’d like to thank him for being my support system there, and for helping me through the finale. And also just for being an amazing partner. There’s nobody else I would have rather have done this with.

Watch Top Chef Canada and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Vegan bubbat on kitchen countertop

Traditional Mennonite Bubbat Recipe Gets a Vegan Makeover

Traditional bubbat can be made with raisins, to be more of a bread you would have with tea. My brother-in-law Brian — who was raised in Regina, Saskatchewan — ate it this way. But you can also make it like this, with plant-based sausage, and serve alongside a meal. This is a great side to a hearty salad with lots of fresh veggies in it. Or for breakfast! Some traditions even put the bubbat inside of a turkey. Don’t worry too much about what it looks like, it will taste great.

Vegan bubbat on kitchen countertop

Vegan Bubbat

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Rest Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:

2 cups unsweetened soy milk
1 Tbsp dry active yeast
½ cup warm water
3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp plant-based butter, melted
1 Tbsp salt
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 package (4 links) of your choice of plant-based sausage (both Gusta and Field Roast are readily available in grocery stores)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Scald soy milk and then pour it into a large mixing bowl and set aside and let it cool to a lukewarm temperature.

3. Dissolve yeast into warm water.

4. Once soy milk is at the right temperature (warm to the touch), add sugar and plant-based butter, as well as the yeast.

Related: Homemade Bread Recipes You’ll Want to Make Again and Again

5. Add salt and flour to wet ingredients. This should be a soft dough. Give it a good stir. Add a little more liquid as needed or flour, depending on how it feels. You should be able to stir the dough with a wooden spoon, but it should be tough.

6. Dice up sausage into bite-sized pieces and stir it into the dough.
Transfer it into an 8 x 8 greased baking pan.

7. Cover pan with a tea towel or a beeswax wrap and let it rise for one hour. Then bake for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on it after 35 minutes.

Vegan Mennonite Kitchen cookbook
Reprinted with permission from The Vegan Mennonite Kitchen by Jo Snyder, Pandora Press Co 2021, photo credit Sarah Pflug

Vegan Mennonite Kitchen, Pandora Press, $33.

Mexican-inspired taco burger on wood cutting board

These Mexican-Inspired Taco Burgers Are Bringing the Heat

Inspired by the short rib tacos from Toronto’s Playa Cabana, our Dining In Mexican-inspired taco burger boasts fiery flavours using ancho chili, guajillo peppers and jalapeno peppers for an intense and irresistible bite. It starts with a spiced beef patty topped with jalapeno guacamole, guajillo sauce and a handful of tortilla chips, between two burger buns and is the ultimate summer dish bringing all the heat. Say hello to your absolute new favourite BBQ burger!

Mexican-inspired taco burger on wood cutting board

Taco Burger With Guajillo Ketchup and Jalapeno Guacamole

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:

6 guajillo peppers
3 cloves garlic
2 avocados, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 ½ tsp salt, divided
2 Tbsp chopped onion
1 cup water
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 ancho chili, toasted and ground (or chili powder)
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp pepper
8 slices queso fresco
4 burger buns
Tortilla chips
4 slices tomato
4 slices onion

Mexican-inspired taco burger ingredients

Directions:

1. Heat a skillet on medium-high. Add guajillo peppers and toast for 5 minutes. Remove peppers and set aside. Place garlic in the pan, with skin still intact and toast on both sides until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

2. Cut the stems off the guajillo peppers and discard seeds. Use scissors to cut the peppers into small pieces in a medium bowl. Pour boiling water over top until the peppers are covered and set aside to rehydrate for 15 minutes.

Related: Vegan Mexican Recipes to Spice up Your Weeknights

3. Meanwhile, make the jalapeno guacamole by mashing together the avocado, lime juice, diced jalapeno, cilantro and ¼ tsp salt. Set aside until serving.

Ingredient for guacamole on countertop

4. Once the guajillo peppers are rehydrated, remove the skins from the garlic and place in the container of a blender. Add chopped onion, water, brown sugar, tomato paste, cider vinegar and ¼ tsp salt. Strain the guajillo peppers and add them to the blender. Pulse on high until smooth, then pass the guajillo ketchup through a sieve. Discard the seeds and skin, and reserve the ketchup for serving.

5. Preheat BBQ on high heat. Form the ground beef into 4 patties and season with ancho chili, remaining salt and pepper. Place on the grill and cook for 5 minutes per side or until medium-well. Add queso fresco once the burgers are flipped. Toast the buns for the final minute of cooking. Remove the buns and burgers and allow to rest for 3 minutes.

6. To assemble, spread a spoonful of jalapeno guacamole on the bottom bun. Top with a handful of tortilla chips and place burger on top. Spoon guajillo ketchup on the burger, then top with one slice of tomato and onion. Smother in additional guajillo ketchup and finish with the top bun.

Mexican-inspired taco burger being assembled

Like Philip and Mystique’s Mexican-inspired Burgers? Try their leftover fried chicken nachos or their gluten-free eggplant Parm dip.

Watch the how-to video here:


Cedar planked salmon

Indigenous Chefs Come Together to Cook for Kamloops Community in Mourning

Time and time again, we have been shown how food can be used for good — from raising money to fight anti-Asian racism to honouring the history of racialized trans people. And now, it is here to help heal.

Last week, the remains of 215 children were found in Kamloops at the site of Canada’s largest residential school via a ground-penetrating radar survey. Some of the remains belonged to children as young as three. There have been many gestures of solidarity across the country, including from a group of Indigenous chefs.

Cedar planked salmon

Get the recipe for West Coast Cedar-Planked Salmon

“It’s really, really saddening to see something like this,” says Paul Natrall, a BC-based chef and owner of Mr. Bannock Indigenous Cuisine.  “I have a very big, young family. I just couldn’t imagine something like that happening to any of my kids… it’s close to home. My grandfather was in residential schools, my grandmother too.”

Related: Canadian Restaurants Boycotting Lobster in Support of Mi’kmaq Fisheries

Paul’s old instructor Ben Genaille got in touch over the weekend and came up with an idea to go cook for the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation to support their community. “I was like ‘yeah, let’s do it,’ and with my connections in the Indigenous culinary world, we got a bunch of things together and just trying hard to make it all gel together and go up to Merritt and Kamloops,” Paul said this morning on a call before he took the three-hour drive to BC’s Interior.

 

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Approximately eight chefs will be volunteering their time to cook for four days, from June 1 to 4. They’re hoping to serve 250 people a day, for a total of 1,000 meals served. On the menu? Bison, deer, bannock tacos, potato salad, bacon and corn soup with squash and beans, as well as candied salmon and 20 pounds of regular salmon.

There have been calls for action to investigate all former residential schools sites. “I’m pretty sure all our other communities will need the same kind of assistance that we’re doing here,” Paul said.

To learn more and/or to donate, check out the Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations (both Paul and Food Network Canada’s Christa Bruneau-Guenther from Wall of Chefs are on the board of directors), as well as the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.

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