All posts by Amber Dowling

Amber Dowling is a freelance lifestyle writer, TV critic and mom. She's a wine enthusiast, yoga lover and all-around player of sports with a penchant for travel, animals and stinky cheese.
a Kilne knife on a cutting board with a raw cut of steak and assorted herbs

5 Must-Have Kitchen Essentials to Buy Before Black Friday Ends

These days, everyone is a home cook as we spend more time than ever whipping up delicious dinners and mastering satisfying lunches. In fact, our kitchen utensils and kitchen accessories have never been more in-demand. But with Black Friday deals upon us, now is the time to finally invest in those chef-inspired kitchen essentials you’ve been eyeing. There’s a wide world of options designed to elevate any dish, but here are the top five essentials that all home chefs need in their kitchens to cook like a true pro.

Instant Pot

All chefs know that “low and slow” is the name of the game when it comes to maxing out on flavour, but busy home cooks don’t always have time for that. Enter this programmable pressure and multi cooker, which churns out quick dinners without sacrificing complex flavours. There’s an array of Instant Pot recipes out there to choose from, from Instant Pot spaghetti and pot roast to Instant Pot chili, chicken and everything in between. These machines typically go on sale come Black Friday, and investing in one means you’ll always be able to plan high-quality meals without investing any extra cooking or prep time.

Related: Our Very Best Instant Pot Recipes for Quick and Easy Dinners

Instant pot filled with rice and veggies

Quality Knives

Ask any chef and they will tell you the most important tool in a kitchen is a decent knife. Good, sharp knives reduce accidents and offer more control, so investing in quality knives is a must for any home cook – no matter your skill level. Kilne Cookware’s new six-piece knife set is tested by famous chefs like Claudio Aprile and Suzanne Barr (pictured below), but designed (in Canada!) with the home cook in mind. With quality knives, you’ll be chopping ingredients for your hearty winter stew or easy weeknight dinner in no time. For a limited time you can get the best knives for the home cook by taking advantage of Kilne’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday deal of the $190 set for an extra $25 off with the code SLICE25 – it comes with a 60-day home trial and lifetime guarantee.

Related: Chef Suzanne Barr Will Make You Think About Your Dinner Plate Differently

Chef Suzanne Barr standing in kitchen with knife and cutting board

Cast-Iron Skillet and/or Pot

Nothing against regular cookware, but if you want a reliable skillet, pan or pot, then cast-iron cookware is truly the way to go. Cast iron distributes heat evenly, and the metal stays hot even after you take it off the cooking surface, which means you no longer have to worry about wonky hot spots or keeping your food warm once you take it off the burner or out of the oven. Sure, iron skillets and other cast-iron products are a bit more costly than other cookware, but that’s why Black Friday exists! Plus, if you season yours properly and take good care of it, it should basically last you a lifetime.

Related: Here’s How to Season Your Cast-Iron Pans Like a Pro

Seven burgers being cooked in cast iron pan

Dutch Oven

When you’re spending a lot of time making a dish, like when you’re braising or stewing up something, a Dutch oven pot is your best friend. But it’s also so much more than that. It’s a catch-all for your weeknight pasta, the perfect vessel for Dutch oven bread, the unifier of soups and the best place to brown meat, period. Because it’s so heavy, it retains and distributes heat evenly — and if you invest in a good cast-iron one, it should last you a lifetime. The best part? If you want to whip up some Dutch oven recipes, you don’t even need to drop serious coin, now that Black Friday deals are here.

Related: The Best Winter Recipes You Can Make in a Dutch Oven

Whole chicken and veggies in Instant Pot

Microplane Grater or Zester

When’s the last time you used your cheese grater as a lemon zester? Or struggled to grate fresh spices, like nutmeg, with the same thing you just used to make nachos? A microplane is the perfect tool for zesting fresh citrus in salads and marinades, for easily shredding hard Asiago or Parmesan over fresh pasta or chicken parm or for curating perfect ribbons of garlic, ginger, chocolate or other toppings and aromatics. Add in the fact that they’re easy to store and reasonably priced to begin with — and you can tuck one away in your utensil drawer for a steal this Black Friday.

Related: Deliciously Bright Citrus Recipes for Cold Winter Days

Cranberries in white bowl with zester tool and oranges next to it


Suzanne Barr photo and feature image courtesy of Kilne Cookware; other photos courtesy of Getty Images

Team Buddy featuring Buddy Valastro, as seen on Buddy vs Christmas, Season 1.

Cakes, Cookies or Pies? Buddy Valastro Reveals His Ultimate Holiday Treat

Christmas is kind of a big deal at the Valastro residence. Sure, this holiday season may look a little bit different than Christmases past as a result of the pandemic, but in a typical year Buddy and his wife Lisa go all-out when it comes to their holiday dinners. Would you expect anything less from the Buddy vs. Christmas personality?

In previous years the couple has hosted all of their extended family, which adds up to more than 100 festive people. Typically Lisa cooks (prime rib, eggplant parm, lasagna, shrimp, lobster and more), while of course, Buddy does the desserts. But don’t let him fool you — he doesn’t necessarily whip up 100 mini pastries or elaborate cakes at home for the occasion.

Related: Buddy vs. Duff: See Buddy Valastro and Duff Goldman’s Most Epic Cakes

“Well, I’m not gonna lie. I don’t want to take credit,” he tells us. “I just bring like a slew of stuff from the bakery. We bring cakes and pies and cookies and lobster tails and pastries. And you know, we still love cake. After all these years and all these holidays and all these desserts, we still love cake.”

 

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A post shared by Buddy Valastro (@buddyvalastro)

While cake may be a year-round hit, Buddy adds that Christmas feels like an especially great time to indulge in pasties. He and his family specifically dive into Italian classics like cannoli and lobster tails (AKA sfogliatelle) because, let’s face it: when else do you have as much room for dessert as you do come the holidays?

“As big as the meal is that my wife makes, I swear it is just as important when we eat dessert,” he laughs. “No matter how stuffed everyone is — ‘oh, I can’t get up, I’m so full’ — they wind up all eating dessert. Every single one of them.”

Related: Ina Garten’s Best Desserts for the Holidays

For those fellow dessert-lovers out there, the host adds that around the holidays Carlo’s Bakery typically offers a red-and-white sponge cake that’s festive and crowd-pleasing — and they have a few other goodies in store for December too. This year that’s extra exciting for Canadians since the shop has expanded into Canada. In fact, Buddy says his Oh Canada Baby! cake would be the perfect thing for Christmas dessert this year.

“That would be a great Christmas cake on anyone’s table because it’s pretty and it’s delicious,” he says. “It’s also made with love. I want the Canadian people to know this is only the beginning of the plans for Canada because every time I come there fans are just so receptive and great. I’ve always felt so loved there and now it’s time for me to do some more in Canada.”

Related: Buddy Valastro’s Coolest Celebrity Cake Creations

For now Canadians can catch Buddy in his latest holiday-themed series, Buddy vs. Christmas. In each of the four episodes the baker and his team come together to face off against highly specialized artists (Broadway set designers, expert glassblowers and more) to see who can create the best life-sized Christmas displays to be presented at high-profile events.

 

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A post shared by Buddy Valastro (@buddyvalastro)

“These four creations are some of the best work — I was so blown away by what we did,” Buddy reveals. “When you see what we made, it’s just to another level. This was less about a competition because we’re all artists. Whether you’re a glassblower or whether you’re a brick artist and you make Legos or you’re a Broadway set designer or you’re someone who does animatronics in the windows, we’re all using different art forms to express our medium,” he continues.

“I love Christmas. My house is like the Griswolds at home with the decorations and stuff. And I gotta tell you, we just turned it on for this. It’s really cool.”

Watch Buddy vs. Christmas Mondays at 10EP 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.

Wall of Chef’s Christine Cushing Looks Back at 20 Years of Cooking on TV

Christine Cushing had an accidental career. Or at least that’s how she looks back at her past two decades as one of the most prominent food personalities in Canada. The chef was a master of all trades, so to speak, 20 years ago when she was feeding hungry hotel guests, punching out fresh dough, catering swanky parties, and hustling in a restaurant. But it wasn’t until she was hired to do a live product demo that a producer realized her big personality and infectious love of food belonged in homes across Canada.

Chef Christine Cushing smiles in her chef's whites on the set of Wall of Chefs

“I had to do a five-minute audition,” Cushing recalls. “From that moment, it really tapped into something for me. When the camera light went on I realized this is what I love to do. Inspiring people and sharing what I know about food and getting them excited about it.”

Related: See What Made These Chefs Worthy of “The Wall”

Taking Her Shot

Of course at the time Cushing thought she had bombed. She’d been given a laundry list of dos and don’ts heading into the audition, such as what to wear or how to act. Her brain bypassed all of that and honed in on the cooking aspect, to the point that she recalls showing up in jeans, “the ugliest green army t-shirt,” and zero makeup.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, this is so done,’” she says. “But I decided to just do my thing. It was all about the food.” In the end that approach resonated with the decision-makers in the room. The formally trained chef’s ability to explain the Greek pizza recipe she had decided to make—and the fact that she offered customization options for different family members—convinced them to hire her for Dish it Out.

See More: Inside Christine Cushing’s Fridge

If that show allowed Cushing to become comfortable with cooking in front of the cameras, and taught her how to read from a teleprompter or work with producers, her next gig—Food Network Canada’s Christine Cushing Live—was a masterclass in TV on the fly. The series featured call-in questions from viewers and guest chef appearances as Cushing and her sous-chef, Juan Salinas, whipped up delicious dishes. Cushing admits she prefers to live in the moment, so the show was actually a perfect fit for her. And even better than that, doing the series made her learn to trust in herself and her abilities.

“For four years, four nights a week, we basically had to run a restaurant,” Cushing recalls. “There was so much learning, so much collaboration. But from a culinary standpoint, you just didn’t know what was going to happen. You didn’t know what would go up in flames. Which pan wouldn’t fit in the oven. It was really live—people were kind of shocked by that.”

Christine Cushing sits cross legged wearing all denim with a bowl and whisk on her lap in a promotional photo for Christine Cushing Live

Continuing to Find Inspiration

After Christine Cushing Live wrapped in 2005, the chef remained a constant TV presence with series like Cook With Me, Fearless in the Kitchen, and a Chinese travel series, Confucius was a Foodie. She admits that travelling inspires her in the kitchen, but with the current pandemic she—like many others out there—has turned to comfort foods. She’s currently baking bread and crafting Italian classics and Greek favourites with a twist, like moussaka with grilled eggplant and zucchini, which she was prepping for dinner the day we spoke with her.

“In Greece, food is more of a shared experience,” she explains. “There are very few dishes that are singularly plated. You don’t necessarily do a portion of anything. It really is nourishing, it’s nutritional, but it’s [also] comforting and it has beautiful flavour.”

Those kinds of dishes also remind Cushing of her father, whom she calls one of her original culinary heroes. She recalls him being the kind of guy who would start thinking about what’s for dinner before they’d finished lunch (a trait she inherited), and she puts him up there with two of her other culinary heroes: Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain.

Headshot of Anthony Bourdain smiling

Image Credit: Getty Images
Getty Images

“Bourdain was one of my favourite guests on Live. He had kind of gotten huge television-wise and everybody had an impression about him and what he was going to be like,” Cushing recalls. “He was very energetic, just so articulate and fantastic. It was a very memorable night. Although he wasn’t a troubled individual, you could see those kind of dark moments in him throughout. I could sense it. But he wanted to go to a place and really find that truth. Just find it—not create it in advance. He was lucky to have had the freedom to do that because so often now, yes there is some latitude, but not too much latitude.”

Looking Towards the Future

These days, Cushing finds inspiration as one of the pros on Wall of Chefs. She’s of the mindset that you can learn from anybody, and the home cooks featured on the series are certainly proof of that. Even more specifically though, she’s impressed by some of the women in their early twenties that have come on the show, and with how well they’ve been able to think and react on their feet given everything the show throws at them.

“It happened a few times, actually, that all the chefs looked at each other and said, ‘I would hire her tomorrow,’” Cushing reveals. “That was super impressive. You think it’s experience that brings you to a level where you can impress a chef, but sometimes it’s youth and fearlessness.”

Christine Cushing and Noah Cappe check in with a home cook on the set of Wall of Chefs

That’s exactly the type of feel-good programming that Cushing believes we’ll see in the next couple of years as the effects of the pandemic continue to play out. As we shift away from straight-up instructional shows and more into the collective experience of cooking, Cushing sees more of those personal journeys and connecting stories coming down the pike in her imaginary crystal ball.

“If anything, the past eight months or so have shown us [how to] connect, find meaning, collectively know that we’re all in this together as a planet,” she says. “We’ve really seen that in spades, and when we don’t experience that it erodes us as a planet. People want to be inspired and uplifted.”

Christine Cushing should know. She was, after all, one of our original inspirations.

Watch full episodes of Wall of Chefs online. You can also stream 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.

Buddy Valastro on the set of Big Time Bake

Buddy Valastro Gives Us the Scoop on Big Time Bake

We’re used to seeing cake master Buddy Valastro create masterful concoctions and larger-than-life gateaux, but in his latest series he’s trading in his apron for a scoreboard. In each episode of Big Time Bake Buddy hosts and judges as four bakers create cookies, cupcakes and a showpiece cake in just six hours.

So what’s the twist? Unlike other competition series the clock never stops on this showdown. So bakers not only have to plan out their time wisely, but they have to prove they’re as good at multitasking as they are at creating. We sat down with Buddy to get his hot take on what impresses him in the kitchen, what he misses about competing, and how, despite his impressive resume, he’s really “not a cake snob” at all.

See More: 10 Moments From Buddy vs. Duff That Had Us On the Edge of Our Seats

After doing Buddy vs. Duff, is it nice to be on the other end of the judging table with Big Time Bake?

I love to compete. For years, I really didn’t compete. I just kind of did my own show. I did Cake Boss. And I wasn’t competing with anyone, but it was a way to push myself to the limits, right? And then when you go into a competition, I think that even upped the ante even more. It pushes you even further. So when I’m judging, I’m also rooting. I’m the kind of guy that’s like, ‘Oh, man, I wish I could help’ or, ‘I wish I could give them a piece of advice.’ Just like a lot of people at home. I’m sure a lot of people watch at home and are kind of like ‘Oh, why did you do that,’ or, ‘Why did you use that colour?’ So it’s nice to judge but if you said to me, like gun to the head, ‘What do you want, to compete or judge?’ I would compete.

What is it that you love about competing?

I love to make, to create and it’s just kind of what I like to do. And it’s less about winning or losing. It’s more about challenging myself. Kind of like breaking a new record or making a another favourite cake or, just sparking the ideas. I have the mind of an eight-year-old-boy when I cake design, because I think the ending is possible. Why can’t this cake move, or why can’t it spin, or why can’t it be, you know, five thousand pounds or whatever. Whatever the obstacles are. And when you’re able to look at things that way, and you become successful at it, you look at life that way. So I look at life, I look at business and I go, ‘Why can’t I open a bakery in Canada?’ Or, ‘Why can’t I have vending machines?’ or whatever it is. You’re not afraid to dream big and make things happen. And I feel like a lot of my successes is because of that. I attribute a lot of that to my whimsical daydreaming and cake design to success in business.

Does watching these competitors spark your creativity at all?

Oh, absolutely. You pick things up from the competitors, too. I’m a student and I’m always learning. I see a good idea or a good technique or a good thing and I’m always putting that in my back pocket and trying to do different things with it. And I don’t want you to take what I said before wrong in the sense where, I do love to judge. I still love to encourage people and I still love to give my critique.

Related: The Evolution of Buddy Valastro

How would you describe your judging style?

I’m a pretty open book, I call it the way I see it. If I love something I’m going to tell you I love it. If I don’t like something I’m going to tell you I don’t like it. I gotta tell you, watching this show, you’re rooting and trying to coach and it’s amazing. What I love about this show in particular that’s different than a lot of the older formats that we did, was this show is kind of like non-stop action the whole time. Meaning the clock never stops.

Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

It might seem like a disadvantage to the competitors for the audience at home, but it’s quite the contrary, it’s the opposite actually. Because when you work in your bakery or you’re doing your thing, you’re making cookies and cakes and pies and everything is happening at the same time. I actually feel like this is more of a baker’s natural habitat. And because we combine the six hours into one, versus having the two-hour cookie round, the two-hour cupcake round, and the two-hour cake round, we’ve been so successful with the level of difficulty in the beauty of the final products throughout. It’s been amazing. I mean, some of these cakes are the best cakes I’ve seen on these types of competition shows. I was totally blown away.

See More: Buddy Valastro’s Coolest Celebrity Cake Creations

What does it take to impress you in that kitchen?

The thing is, I am so impressed. Like, I’m not a cake snob by any means, because I’m the Cake Boss or because I can do some crazy things. I never belittle anybody’s work. Everybody works to their own level, or their own creativity. Everybody marches to the beat of their own drum, right? And I see the beauty in everything. It’s why I’m creative when I dream of cakes. Like if I’m driving to work and it’s fall and I start to see the foliage? Cakes and colours and schemes pop into my mind. Or, if I’m in the Middle East and I’m looking at architecture, I’m inspired. Or if I’m in an old Victorian house and I’m looking at moldings and trims, I can apply that to what I do. To me the world is my inspiration. And by seeing other people’s work and other people’s talents, I learn a lot. I’ve seen a couple of things from watching the show and from seeing competitors compete using different techniques. It was really good.

Watch Big Time Bake Mondays at 10ep 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.

 

The Dark Side of Trendy Superfoods (and What You Can Do to Help)

Superfoods are (typically) plant-based, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants, healthy fats, fibre and a slew of other vitamins and minerals. The superfoods list is pretty expansive and ranges from blueberries and salmon to Greek yogurt, beans and whole grains. Basically they’re foods that max out on the nutritional benefits while minimizing overall caloric intake. So what’s the problem? Well as it turns out, there’s a pretty dark side to some of these superfoods and they can come with all kinds of surprising ethical, economic and cultural side effects. This is particularly noteworthy when superfoods become trendy (avocado toast anyone?), resulting in a large supply and demand. Let’s take a look.

Kale

Kale chips and salad may have decreased in popularity over the past few years, but the leafy green continues to top many superfood lists. If you continue to add it to your plate, then where you get it matters. A large amount of kale is grown on the United States’ West Coast and shipped to Canada via truck, which has a pretty significant environmental impact. Ecologists at Cornell University estimate that to grow, wash, package, transport and keep one pound of the greens chilled for that journey requires 4,600 calories of fossil fuel energy. That packs a pretty big environmental impact.

What you can do: Pay attention to where your greens come from and try to buy local. Kale is one of the easiest vegetables to grow during a Canadian summer, so you could also consider planting your own and eating it in season.

Avocado

Avocado toast, guacamole, sushi… there are so many delicious ways to enjoy this creamy green fruit, which is often referred to as nature’s mayonnaise. It’s no wonder that avocados have become a staple at produce sections across the country. At first, the farmers in Michoacán, Mexico — one of the only places on Earth where avocados can grow year-round — were fans of the growing trend. But then the cartels caught on, who have been extorting the farmers — as well as the sellers of fertilizer and pesticides — ever since. Some farmers who have been unwilling to cooperate have allegedly been attacked or killed.

What you can do: You can do your best to buy avocados that operate outside cartel influence. Alternatively, you can pay attention to the California growing schedule and buy avocados when they’re in season — typically from spring to summer.

Related: What is Food Insecurity? FoodShare’s Paul Taylor Explains (Plus What Canadians Can Do About It)

Quinoa

Quinoa is high in protein and quite filling, which has made this grain a staple in vegetarian and vegan plates for years now. Unfortunately, quinoa’s growing popularity has spelled disaster for many farmers in South America where it hails — typically in Peru and Bolivia. There, farmers used to cycle their crops with the help of llamas and other animals. But in order to meet growing demand they have sold off their livestock and invested in farming equipment instead, which has resulted in decreased soil fertility. Also, as demand for quinoa grew worldwide, it tripled in price and became too expensive for the locals who have long relied on it as their main source of food. The situation has improved in recent years as countries like Australia, the United States and Canada have found ways to grow it locally.

What you can do: There is ongoing debate as to whether it is better: to buy local and help keep food costs down or to buy from the Andes and invest in the farmers there whose livelihoods depend on production. While there are points for each side, the main consensus seems to be that if you are going to indulge in a bowl of quinoa, ensure that it is certified fair trade.

Coconuts

Health experts still seem to be divided as to whether coconuts (including coconut oil, milk and water) is actually a superfood or a hidden source of fat. If you do incorporate coconuts into your diet though, you should consider how they’re sourced. There are many countries that train and use young pig-tailed macaque monkeys to pick coconuts for production, since the animals are able to harvest up to 1,600 coconuts daily — way more than humans ever could. As a result there have been many allegations of animal mistreatment and abuse in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

What you can do: Make sure to educate yourself on where your coconuts are coming from. PETA has a handy list of offenders, as well as companies that have severed ties with producers that use monkeys for their harvest.

Related: How Food Injustice Inspired This 23-Year-Old to Start Her Own Farm, Plus Her Advice for You

Cacao

Chocolate as a superfood? Um, yes please. Who doesn’t love knowing that a sweet treat could actually be good for them? Cacao — AKA the raw, unrefined pods that grow on cacao trees — is loaded with antioxidants, is the highest plant-based source of iron and is even a natural mood elevator. However, our love for all things chocolate (sweetened or otherwise) has led to some serious deforestation problems in countries like the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana, where producers are clearing forests to make room for new crops. Poverty for underpaid farmers is also an issue and they often turn to child labour or slavery as a result.

What you can do: Read the labels and do your research. Major chocolate brands have taken positive steps in the past few years to source ethical cacao. But in order to really ensure that you’re choosing with your heart, see if the company in question publishes an impact report on its website or if it uses third parties to certify any “ethical” trademarks. You can also advocate for change and take several other steps as outlined in this report.

Salmon

Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, salmon has long been linked to benefits like improved brain function and better neurological health. However there have been many reported problems over the years of unethically farmed fish being loaded up with potential chemicals, putting the “superfood” part of the fish in question. And as for the fresh stuff? Overfished waters are also a serious problem worldwide .

What you can do: Although some guidelines can be tricky to follow, try and stick to sustainably sourced salmon (and other fish and seafood) wherever possible in order to protect the species as a whole. And if you are consuming the farmed variety, the government of Canada recommends sticking to locally raised stocks from the Southern Coasts.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

John Catucci

The Dining Out King at Home: Catching Up With John Catucci

We all know and love John Catucci as the guy who introduces us to all of the best restos and on-the-road grub. But even he has been hanging out at home more as a result of the current pandemic, chatting up fans on his Instagram account, reconnecting with his family, and re-watching basically every Marvel movie ever made. However, now that Big Food Bucket List is returning for a delicious new season, we thought it was the perfect time to pick the host’s brain on all of the fun (and yummy!) things he’s been getting up to lately.

He’s really perfected that green thumb

Because John is always on the road testing out all of that delicious food, he hasn’t ever really been able to enjoy a summer at home—not in a long while anyhow. This year that changed, and so John took the opportunity to finally start his very own veggie garden. To do that he teamed up with The Good Seed, and together they came up with a plan to grow all of the host’s favourites in garden boxes in his backyard.

“This is really the first summer I’ve been home to really tend to it and watch it and to learn from it. It’s pretty amazing. I have more than four different types of tomatoes growing, zucchini, cucumbers, and I harvested a whole bunch of carrots,” he says, noting that earlier in the season he had leafy greens and garlic too. “It’s been quite amazing being able to kind of go out there in the morning, water it, take a look at it. It’s really helped with my mental health for sure. It’s been so beneficial.”

Related: See Recipes From Big Food Bucket List

His backyard is now his own little oasis

Considering how much time John has been spending in his backyard, you can’t blame the guy for wanting to spruce up the space a little bit, right? To elevate his backyard game John invested in some string lights (he got savvy with some YouTube tutorials to hang them), and he painted the railing a pretty blue colour… one that he may have accidentally stolen from a neighbour.

“I realized it was the exact same blue colour that my neighbor down the street used,” he laughs. “It must have filtered into my subconscious. So then when I saw her I was like, ‘I hope you don’t mind but we kind of stole your idea…’”

See More: Summer Favourites From Big Food Bucket List You Can Enjoy on Patios Now

That baking craze is real in his household


Remember those people who hoarded flour and yeast at the beginning of quarantine? Yeah, John admits that he was totally one of those guys. Like gardening, he says that baking gives him a sense of accomplishment because he’s creating something with his hands that can then feed his family. In fact, he says that after making quarantine bread and even cinnamon rolls, he thinks he may have been a baker in another life.

“I was eating my feelings for sure,” he jokes. “There was a lot of bread. A lot of bread. There’s something about being able to see it from start to finish… I really got obsessed with it, trying to figure out the perfect amount of kneading… there were days and like, all day I would be doing it. There’s just something magical about baking your own bread.”

He’s been perfecting some classics

When it comes to downright comfort food, John admits that he’s prone to snacking on anything with Nutella, and he still loves sipping on a good Negroni. (No, he has not seen the controversial but mesmerizing Stanley Tucci tutorial just yet.) However, in terms of his go-to meal it’s got to be pasta, pasta, and more pasta. While he hasn’t started making his own noodles, he has definitely been working on perfecting his own sauce during these stay-at-home months.

“It was all carbs, all the time. I was really kind of perfecting a really delicious tomato sauce—tomatoes that I had jarred last summer and we still had,” he says. “It was that whole idea of cooking it low and slow for hours and hours. Just the way the flavours developed and would come together… there were times where I really impressed myself, it was really good!”

Related: Pasta 101: How to Pair Pasta Shapes With Sauces

He also continues supporting local restaurants

 

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Beautiful afternoon @gallucci_winery for @rose.interbartolo birthday lunch. #pizza #prosciutto #afogatto #ontario #stouffville

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As much as John enjoyed being able to take a summer at home and to partake in some great home-cooked meals, he and his family also made a huge effort to continue supporting restaurants in his neighbourhood so that they could hopefully stay afloat during these difficult times.

“I definitely cooked more but we also made a conscious effort to order in. The amount of restaurants that have had to close down during all this has just been so sad. I wanted to show up for the restaurants that were still open, that were still doing takeout, making sure that they were able to stay open,” he explains.

“A lot of people did that. They did what they could to help their restaurants in their neighbourhoods and in their communities. It’s not just a place where you go to eat, it’s a community hub,” he adds. “It’s a place that draws people to your neighbourhood. When the restaurant goes, the neighbourhood goes. I’m so happy to know restaurants are able to open up again—we should still show them love as much as we can.”

See More: Can’t Dine Out? These 20 Restaurants Are Offering Date-Night Delivery

Working out has been a mind-saver

 

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Everything is bigger in Texas. Even the treadmills! #houston #workout #sweaty #italian

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John has always been conscious to add exercise to his daily routine, especially since he eats and talks about food for a living. With all of the comfort food to tuck into these past few months though, and with nowhere to really go, John has had to up his at-home workouts too. Luckily his trainer put together plans (including all the burpees) that helped John stay healthy—not just physically, but mentally too.

“That was another lifesaver, that really helped with my mental health, with my stress and with my anxiety,” he reveals. “And now when I don’t do it for a while I can feel all those anxious feelings coming up. It’s pretty wild. Working out, the baking, the gardening… that’s been the holy trinity for me!”

Watch Big Food Bucket List September 12 at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. ET/PT 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.

What It’s Honestly Like Dining out Right Now ⁠— and What I’ll Never Take for Granted Again

Remember eating out? You know, that thing you do at a restaurant? (Remember restaurants?!). After about five months of social distancing, I certainly didn’t. Sure, we’d ordered in a few times and picked up from a couple of our favourite local haunts to try and support small businesses, but sitting down at an actual restaurant, ordering food off the menu and having a date night or lunch out with my friends had become a foreign concept. So when most of Ontario entered Stage 3, my husband and I decided to do what we’d seen other brave souls do in Stage 2 and we hit up a patio for lunch (without the kids!). And truthfully, it was all kinds of weird and glorious. In other words, it’s what we’re all calling the new normal.

Pre-Patio Anxiety

I will no longer take for granted: deciding to go out for dinner without an entire attack plan in my head.

Do you know anyone who needs to know everything about a situation before entering it or else they’re crippled with anxiety? Oh hi there, that’s me. When we decided to finally venture out for a meal, I put a call out to friends and family on social media to see who had actually dined out recently and what it was really like. I was genuinely shocked at how many people I knew had gone out not just once or twice, but three, four, even five times. Although everyone’s experiences had differed, almost everyone stuck to the patio. And everyone I spoke with seemed to agree that they felt totally fine. Before, I used to just want to scour the menu ahead of time to see what I might be interested in eating, but now I want to know what kind of precautions people are taking, how strictly the rules seem to be enforced and whether people are actually wearing those masks.

Related: From Homemade Bread to Pickles, 20 Recipes to Master While Indoors

To Mask or Not to Mask

I will no longer take for granted: NOT having to remember to pack a mask in my purse along with my keys, phone and wallet.

Let’s be clear, my husband and I are following the recommendation to wear a mask — we’re just rule followers like that. But that doesn’t mean we like wearing them. So while we already knew we wouldn’t have to wear a mask on the patio where we chose to eat, we couldn’t figure out if we should wear them in the parking lot or on our walk up to the restaurant. They were seating people outside, so ultimately we decided we didn’t need to wear them, but we brought them in case we needed to go inside and use the washrooms. Honestly, even that quick walk from the car to the patio without a mask felt super weird and it immediately made me apprehensive.

Related: Here’s How to Make Your Own DIY Cloth Face Masks at Home

Safety Protocols

I will no longer take for granted: the anonymity of eating out.

The spaced out tables weren’t the only immediate differences I noticed. At this point the restaurant was also seating inside, but we didn’t feel great about that option and remained outdoors. Still, there were stickers on the floor to indicate the six-foot rule and we had to fill out a card with our contact information for contact tracing. Everything was on paper and we were asked to share menus, which was fine by me. I also noticed the employees constantly spraying and wiping things down, which made me feel a bit more at ease. Speaking of the employees, they were all wearing masks, but it was kind of weird to be in the vicinity of so many other people who weren’t — including pedestrians on the sidewalk right beside us.

The Vibe

I will no longer take for granted: random chats with strangers.

Real talk: being on a patio just after a rainfall with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds was all kinds of glorious. But I really wish I could have enjoyed it more. We’re the type of people who love visiting patios all summer long — and on one hand, the experience felt overdue. On the other, there were 20 or so other people having lunch, which I didn’t anticipate for a Tuesday in the suburbs. (When did being close to other people start freaking me out so much?!). I wasn’t the only one who felt that way though, clearly. Some people like my husband were just dandy to waltz on in and plop down at a seat. Others looked around cautiously and tried to pick the table furthest away from others. Of course, considering everyone was six feet apart, anywhere would have technically been just fine.

The Menu

I will no longer take for granted: all-you-can-eat buffets and menus the size of the table.

The place we chose to eat at had only opened in June, so I was happy that they were able to still open. That said it was a bar-tapas style resto, so the menu was pretty limited and a bit pricey. From my anecdotal research, I kind of think this is the case everywhere — even McDonald’s has eliminated things from their menu over the past few months. In the end we each ordered a drink and then decided to split some truffle fries, mussels, mushroom toasts and crispy chicken tacos. Hey, when you’re going out for the first time in half a year, you might as well do it up right, especially when it’s in the name of research. And yes, we finished it all, thank you very much.

The Service

I will no longer take for granted: everyone who works their tail off at these places.

While some of the people I spoke with ahead of our jaunt warned me that our experience might feel rushed or even distant, I didn’t really have that experience. Our server was really nice and chatty when we wanted to talk and ask questions, despite the fact that she was clearly super busy. She cleared plates as we finished them and came to check on us, which again some people had said isn’t the case right now as servers don’t usually clear the table until the visit is over.

One thing that did bother me was the fact that our server kept putting her mask below her nose. To be fair, it was hot, she was clearly working her butt off and I can only imagine how difficult it must be to wear a mask under those kinds of circumstances. Did it make me uncomfortable? Well, yes. What’s the point of the mask in that case? But I didn’t say anything and I made the decision not to name the restaurant in this piece because everyone’s human. We’re all getting used to this and the girl clearly needed some air.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t always see whether everyone is adhering to the standards, so if you’re going to go to a restaurant, you just have to be prepared to take that risk. The same way you have to hope that no one spits in your food or washes their hands before touching your meal, I guess.

Related: Famous Recipes We’re Making at Home, From McDs Hash Browns to IKEA Meatballs

The Verdict

I will no longer take for granted: eating out, period.

Full disclosure: my husband and I did this lunch thing on the first day that our kids’ daycare opened back up. My anxiety was already riding high from dropping them off earlier that morning and so I may have been affected by certain things more than I typically would be. That said, by the time we finished eating and had paid the bill, I almost felt… human again. I had genuinely forgotten what it was like to order food and eat it without having to worry about any of the cooking or cleaning up.

To be able to just sit for an hour with my partner uninterrupted and without distractions to really catch up and even talk about some of the big feelings we’ve been having during this whole situation turned out to be a needed break for both of us. And even though I felt like I needed a nap after that generous meal (and yes, a glass of wine), it reminded me that we’ve all been going through a lot this year. So even though going to a restaurant isn’t exactly the same experience that it used to be, it’s still a way to add a bit of normalcy back into what has been an extremely abnormal year. Will I be going back next week? Probably not. But the next time things start to feel overwhelming, as far as I’m concerned, an hour on the patio may be exactly what the mental health doctor ordered.

Can’t dine out? These 20 Toronto restaurants are offering date night meal delivery right now.

Patio photography courtesy of Getty Images; food photo courtesy of Amber Dowling

How to Cook for One Without Eating the Same Meal All Week Long

No matter how much you love to create in the kitchen, cooking for one can be a bit of a challenge. It can be hard to figure out how to shop and cook for yourself without eating the same darned thing until you’re blue in the face (or until your leftovers are green with mould). Sometimes it seems that creating a satisfying meal for one is more work than it’s worth. When I lived solo I certainly reached for a few pickles and scoops of hummus on occasion. And sure, sometimes a dinner like that is exactly what you need. But if you’re looking for more than a snack plate for dinner, here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to help make things easier – not to mention more fun.

Plan Some Meals

Planning out all your meals isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some semblance of meal planning that works for you. Are you the kind of person who loves slotting in every single meal for the entire week on a giant chalkboard wall and sticking to a plan? (Guilty!). Go for it. Does that seem like way too much work? No problem. Start by scribbling down a few meals that you want to cook in a notebook or on your phone and then go with the flow each day. The important part is to think about what you’re going to eat in advance, so that you’re not blankly staring into the fridge come 5 p.m. and turning to delivery instead.

Related: 9 Easy Weekly Meal Plan Ideas That Really Work

Consider Your Schedule

Figuring out the kinds of food you plan on eating isn’t the only part of meal planning — deciding what you eat depends on how busy you are too. When I was living solo and I knew I’d be swamped with work, I’d roast up a chicken and some grains on Sunday and repurpose that all week long — into salads, sandwiches, tacos, etc. On the opposite side, if I had a lighter week, I’d plan to simmer up some soups, casseroles or other larger dishes that I could then portion out and freeze for later. Knowing your schedule is an essential component when it comes to successfully cooking for one.

Get the recipe for Ina Garten’s Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken

Shop Accordingly

It may seem obvious, but when you’re cooking for one you’ve got to shop for one too. Otherwise your fridge will start to rot from the inside out. Shopping for one means not giving into several fresh fruits and veggies and sticking to a few you know that you’ll consume instead. It means buying the two-pack of chicken breasts instead of the value size (unless you plan on dividing and freezing). And it means making friends with the people at the deli, meat and cheese counters, because odds are you can get a small portion of what you want from one of those helpful folks (hi Catherine!). Last but not least, always try to have a list and never shop hungry, because that’s when impulse or bulk buying is always at its worst.

Stock up on Staples

Just because you need to be careful about how much fresh food that you select, doesn’t mean you can’t stock up on things that will keep for a long time in the fridge or cupboard. Eggs have a long shelf life and I love how ridiculously versatile they are. Oatmeal and grains can last me for months and canned beans are the perfect thing for a last-minute salad, chili or taco night. Bulk stores are great too because you can pick up the portions you need for basically the same price or cheaper than at the regular grocery store, so maybe consider investing in some airtight containers and giving your pantry a makeover. For me, when I have more options to choose from, I always feel less bored with what I’m eating and making for myself.


Get the recipe for Pinto Bean Salsa Salad

Related: Budget-Friendly Pantry Staples You Should Always Have on Hand

Halve Your Recipes

One of the most frustrating things about cooking for one is when you come across a recipe you want to try out and realize that it inevitably serves two to four people. Because no thanks, I don’t want to gamble on having to eat a new dish that I might not like for the next four days. Luckily, it’s a problem that can be easily solved by learning to halve your recipes. Know your basics (there are three teaspoons in a tablespoon; a quarter cup has four tablespoons) or do what I do and turn to good old Google when you’re stuck. Need to halve an egg? Put it in a container, whisk it, and save half for later.

Make Meals You Can Repurpose

I seriously love roasting up whole chickens. You get more bang for your buck, they’re delicious and most importantly, they can be transformed into so many other dishes throughout the rest of the week. Tacos, power bowls, salads, a chicken pasta, soup… the possibilities are endless. Think beyond chicken though. Cook up a batch of quinoa that can be transformed into bowls, patties or even sushi, roast some beef for a variety of meaty dishes or steam up a big bowl of rice to be made into some creative mains… or even dessert.


Get the recipe for The Pioneer Woman’s Red Wine Pot Roast

Organize the Freezer

The freezer is your friend, especially when you’re trying to portion out meals for one. Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and peppers can be saved for later by washing, cutting and flash-freezing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet before transferring them to a freezer-friendly container or bag. Herbs can be saved by dividing them into ice-cube trays and freezing them with some water or stock. And anytime you make a soup, casserole or other freezer-friendly offering, portion it out and freeze it so that you can have your own “microwave dinners” whenever you need something quick. I’ve learned that this works well for desserts too. Divide and freeze pies and cakes or whip up some cookie dough and portion it out onto trays. You can flash-freeze and store them, so that you can pop a cookie or two into the oven whenever the sugar craving strikes.

Related: 35 Easy Freezer Meals You Can Make Ahead (And Devour Later)

Have a Go-To List of Single-Serving Recipes

We’ve agreed that the two to four serving recipe struggle is real, but that doesn’t mean all recipes are the single-person’s devil. Mug cakes are a delicious way to microwave your way to a quick dessert after a long day, for example. Or a quick omelette with a salad is the perfect mid-week meal. Take note of any recipes you make (bookmark them, print them out or file them away in the old memory bank if you prefer) and refer back to them when you need a little inspiration.

Find a Support System and Share

One of the less glamorous parts about eating and cooking alone is that you can never quite participate in bulk purchases, family meal packages or organic produce boxes. The good news is that you probably aren’t the only one feeling like you’re missing out on those deals, so why not grab a fellow singleton and go in together to reap those rewards? Splitting a grocery bill or bulk shop with a friend, family member or even roommate lets you fill your fridge and pantry with a wider variety of options of things that (hopefully!) won’t go bad, while keeping you on track with your budget and dietary needs.

Related: How to Host a Successful Freezer Meal Swap

Let Go of the Idea of “Traditional” Meals

Cooking for one doesn’t need to be bleak, but it also doesn’t have to be fancy. Before you feel guilty for not breaking out the fine china or cloth napkins for yourself, remember that any balanced diet is a good diet. So if that means grilled cheese for dinner or a simple salad, you do you. In my days of cooking for one I was just as likely to whip myself up a New York striploin or master a new recipe as I was to throw a tuna melt in the toaster oven or put a hunk of cheese and a few veggies on a plate and call it a day. That’s the beauty of cooking for one: anything goes. By embracing that mentality, then suddenly all of the pressure is off. And for me, that not only means that I have more fun in the kitchen, but I’m more likely to try new things too.

Need more inspiration? Here are 40 quick and easy meals for one.

Famous Recipes We’re Making at Home, From McDs Hash Browns to IKEA Meatballs

Full disclaimer: I cook. Like, a lot. I’m the type of person who tries not to order too much takeout, I’ll meal plan with my kids and in the pre-coronavirus days, grocery shopping was basically my sanctuary. But you know how when the option to do something is taken away and that just makes you want to do it even more? Enter me and my current obsession with greasy, sweet or downright indulgent fast food. So I decided to pull off a weekend of copycat recipes, in which I replicated some favourite famous recipes from the pre-coronavirus days. Call it a (not-so) fast food culinary marathon, if you will…

McDonald’s Hash Browns

When I first heard that McDonald’s had released their recipes for sausage McMuffins and hash browns I did a freaking happy dance — my kids are obsessed with those golden fried potato parcels. And honestly, even though I typically pass on them, I’ve been imagining biting into those warm, oily things myself. It was a no-brainer to make hash browns my first order of business on a sleepy Saturday morning when everyone was up before 6AM and I had had one too many glasses of mom juice the night before to celebrate the weekend. (While catching up on Real Housewives, naturally).

Ease of Recipe: Honestly? This seemed suspiciously easy. The recipe I found called for one grated potato, one egg, oil and salt and pepper to taste. It didn’t say which type of oil to use or how much salt is ideal. Heck, I didn’t even know how many hash browns one potato would actually make. So I decided that for our family of four I’d go with three potatoes, two eggs and vegetable oil.

The Curveball: You know how McDonald’s hash browns come in those perfect little oval shapes so that they can fit into those grease-catching sleeves? Yeah, mine did not pour out like that. Instead I was spooning bits of potato and trying to shape them into log-like blobs while dancing around, listening to whining kids and trying to avoid all of that splattering hot oil. I’m kind of pumped that my hands are still intact and unburnt so that I can tell this tale today.

Related: From Homemade Bread to Pickles, 20 Recipes to Master While Indoors

“Chef” Notes: In my head, McDonald’s hash browns look like they’re made of little potato squares, not grated spuds. So I tried to replicate that by using the slice function on my food processor and then putting the slices a second time through using the grate function. I still didn’t have chunks, but at least the shavings were small. Then, because I’m well aware water and oil don’t mix when you’re looking for a crispy texture, I rung out the grated taters with a cloth towel to try and remove as much water as possible before mixing them with the eggs. 

Results: Misshapen and under-salted final product aside, these went over quite well with the whole family. I put out a plate of them for breakfast and even though the responsible adult in me wondered if I should cut all that grease with some fruit or something, I got lazy. Kids have had worse than just a plate of hash browns for breakfast before, right? Anyhow, my eldest ate four (FOUR!) of them and asked if we could eat them again the next day, while my picky youngest, who had been clamouring for pancakes, had two. (Probably because I told him they were potato pancakes, which technically isn’t a lie.) Needless to say I’ll be making these again, 100 per cent.

Canada’s Wonderland Funnel Cake

If you’ve ever been to Canada’s Wonderland, then you know that everywhere you look someone is devouring a funnel cake. Like, you almost feel the pressure to eat one as soon as you enter the park because everyone else is walking around with one. Yeah, you came for the rides and atmosphere, but let’s be honest: you also came for that perfectly crispy pastry topped with fruity sauce and a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. So Wonderland was doing the world at large a favour when it released its iconic funnel cake recipe for everyone in quarantine to make at home. Naturally that was next up on my weekend of indulgences.

Ease of Recipe: If you looked at the expansive ingredient list and walked away, I don’t think you’d be alone. You definitely have to plan out making these because the sauce calls for things like strawberry extract, modified corn starch and strawberry glaze, three things I didn’t have, couldn’t find and ultimately decided to omit. The recipe does state that you can use regular old corn starch, although the instructions aren’t very clear on how to make that substitution. I definitely had a moment where I was scooping out gross white chunks of the thickening agent where I thought I may have to start again because my guesswork was off. But I’m happy to report that I eventually figured it out and made a decent, if not a touch starchy, sauce.

The Curveball: Not only do you need a specific list of ingredients to pull off these at-home funnel cakes, but you actually need some sort of a funnel with which to pour out and fry the batter. I didn’t have a squeeze bottle handy so I used a clean watering can with a long spout, which… kind of worked. At least the spout was long enough that I wasn’t scared I was going to burn myself around all of that hot oil. And speaking of the hot oil… once those cakes were fried on one side, flipping them over was akin to a death-defying stunt. Even with my creative use of spatula, flipper and tongs that I had going on, I definitely broke more than one cake while shooing the kids back outside for fear they’d be burnt.

Related: I Tried “Beyond Meat” Meals at 5 Popular Canadian Chains. Here’s How They Stacked Up

“Chef” Notes: The most annoying part about this recipe (other than the length of time it took to make that sauce) is that some measurements are in grams, some are in millimetres and others are in teaspoons. So for example, instead of knowing you need about three cups of flour you have to actually measure how many grams you’re putting into the batter. Luckily I have a kitchen scale so I was able to figure all of that out, but if I were trying to recreate this recipe without one I honestly would have given up. I wondered more than once if they made it hard on purpose so that you would still go to the park for one of these fried cakes if and when it opens back up. This recipe can definitely be simplified.

Results: This recipe was supposed to make 3-4 large funnel cakes or 5-7 smaller ones, but because I had to pour the batter a bit thicker than the park does, I actually used less per batch. I wound up with 12. Some family had stopped by for a (social distant) visit, so they each got to try one. My father-in-law said it was “better than the EX” (apparently they serve them there?) and my brother-in-law ate three, so that’s a win. The kids were just lukewarm on them though and I found pieces of one floating in the dogs’ water bowl a couple of hours later courtesy of my son. Meanwhile, because we had so many extra, my husband also ran one over to our neighbours, but he came back right away for another after they apparently “fought” over the first one. For the record our neighbours are awesome (AND they’re quarantining with young kids), so they definitely deserved a cake each. Long story short? I would probably make these again, but only for a very special occasion. And next time I’ll most likely just throw some jam and ice cream over them and call it a day on the sauce.

IKEA Meatballs

The last time I made Swedish meatballs was when I was still pregnant with my second kid. At the time, my daughter devoured about eight of them and my husband licked the plate clean, so I’m not really sure why I haven’t made them since. Needless to say when I was coming up with famous recipes to recreate at home, including this recipe for Almost Famous Swedish Meatballs was a no-brainer. As in, I was immediately craving them as soon as I decided to make them.

Ease of Recipe: If you’ve ever made meatballs or gravy, then you already know what to expect from this pretty straightforward dish. The only real thing to consider is the amount of ground pork and beef that you’re picking up at the store, because unless you’re going to a butcher then finding a ½ pound packet of pork or a ¾ pound packet of beef can be tough. In my case I just decided to double up on the recipe because leftover meatballs freeze pretty well.

The Curveball: Here’s the thing… if you’re going to make hash browns and funnel cakes on the same day, maybe you don’t want to plan on having these delicious (but heavy) meatballs for dinner. By the time I had prepped them and placed them in the fridge (all 58 of them thanks to my doubling the recipe), I was too full and tired to cook them. Luckily they held up in the fridge pretty well until Sunday night.

Related: Our Fave Food Trends to Come out of Quarantine, From Pancake Cereal to Bread Art

“Chef” Notes: I didn’t actually have two cups of breadcrumbs, so I improvised by throwing a box of crackers in the food processor and mixing them with panko. Had I also cooked the meatballs that same day and not saved them I think it would have been a fine substitution. But because I waited, I think the meatballs were slightly more moist inside than intended, but really we were all fine with it. Because…

The Results: Holy heck I’m genuinely still full of meatballs. Remember how I said I made 58 of them? There are only 16 left in the fridge — forget freezing them. And of those 42 meatballs that we devoured, the kids only had four. They were more interested in the rice and veggie sticks I provided, mostly because the meatballs had a bit of a gray colour from the sauce. (Parsley garnish is pretty for adults, but a real turnoff for tots). My husband and I though? LONG after we were full we sat at the kitchen table sipping some white wine and picking at the tray eating more. And more. And more. It was all kinds of glorious, even as the kids ran around us and we avoided thinking about the dishes that had piled up in the sink. For that memory alone I’ll probably make more of these in the very near future. I do have some extra cream and beef stock to use up, after all…

Starbucks Iced Coffee

If this experiment happened in the fall, putting a pumpkin spice latte on my list would have made total sense. But because the days are super hot and it’s nice to feel like you’re having a cool treat, I went on the hunt for a reasonable iced coffee recipe that would make me feel like I was having some expensive Starbucks concoction. Enter Molly Yeh and her inventive Fresh Mint Iced Coffee.

Ease of Recipe: Honestly the hardest part about this was making the simple syrup, but even that was as simple as it sounds. I did half of the suggested amount because I figured the fridge would be full of meatballs, but it was so freaking good that I’ll probably be making more of it next week to put in my iced coffees all summer long.

The Curveball: This recipe calls for one tablespoon of heavy cream and one tablespoon of simple syrup, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough for my husband, who typically likes his coffee on the lighter and sweeter side. Luckily all I needed to do to fix that was to just add one more tablespoon of each. Easy peasy. It honestly gave me vacation vibes and made me feel like we were at a café, rather than chilling in the yard while the kids drew over all the patio furniture with chalk.

Related: Which Canadian Comfort Food Are You, According to Your Zodiac Sign?

“Chef” Notes: Was I fan of the mint flavour in my coffee? Surprisingly, yes. I actually wasn’t sure if I would be. Did I enjoy when that fresh mint got caught in my straw? Not so much. Next time I may consider playing with the fresh mint by infusing it in the simple syrup and then straining it or else I’ll just skip on using a straw. (But I mean, using a straw is half the fun of an iced coffee in my books).

Results: I feel like there’s a whole new world of iced coffee creations to try out now that I know just how easy this simple syrup business is to pull off. Whenever I’ve made “iced coffee” in the past I’ve always added sugar and the grains are just gross. This was easy, delicious and I didn’t need to invest in a cold brew coffee maker to get it. I’m going to be saving a lot of money on expensive beverages for the rest of the summer, that’s for sure — and I can’t wait to experiment with more flavour combinations. Salted caramel, vanilla swirl, here I come.

All in all it was a successful weekend of “new” recipes that reinvigorated my groove in the kitchen and I wouldn’t write off plotting out another weekend of making at-home favourites in the near future. Except maybe this time, I’ll pick some recipes with a little less hot oil.

Feeling ambitious? Try your hand at these mini bagels and 12-layer chocolate cake to expand your cooking repertoire (and impress anyone at the table).

Top Chef Canada season 8 winner

Top Chef Canada Winner: Exclusive Interview with the Season 8 Champion

This past season of Top Chef Canada was one of the most diverse, creative, and all-around toughest installments of the series to date. So when Stephanie Ogilvie, Lucy Morrow and Francis Blais went into the finale with their progressive four-course tasting menus, it really was anyone’s game.

 

Related: This Season on Top Chef Canada

Who Won Season 8 of Top Chef Canada?

In the end, it was Francis Blais’ amazing technique and bold flavours that catapulted him to the big win, making him the show’s first-ever Montreal chef to take home the crown. We caught up with Le Mousso’s chef de cuisine hot off his victory lap to chat all things Top Chef Canada, find out what he’s doing with his winnings, and whether he has any updates on that famous proposal he hinted at on the show.

Was there extra pressure knowing you were facing off against two chefs in the finale instead of one, like they did on previous seasons?

Not really, I tried to focus on my food and my menu. I wasn’t spending energy on things that I couldn’t control. When I knew I was going on the show I had already started planning my final menu. The squab pithivier was a really technical dish and it was just executed perfectly because I’ve been doing them and practicing it a lot. But to do it in four hours? That was an achievement for me.

See More: The Season 8 Judges Answer Each Other’s Burning Questions

Have you always been into the technical side of cooking and learning new techniques?

I’ve always been interested in techniques that involve flavours or that improve the end results. I’m not into techniques just to showcase techniques. It’s part of my journey at the restaurant.

Who has been your biggest mentor?

Massimo Piedimonte. He’s a really good friend. We’ve been working side-by-side for a very long time. We’ve evolved together and he’s been showing me so much.

What does it feel like to be the first Montreal winner?

It means a lot because I went in representing my restaurant and in Montreal, we work in the community. So it was representing all of the people in the Montreal food scene. It means a lot to me.


Francis’ pigeon pithivier main and buttermilk mousse dessert

What was the most challenging part of doing Top Chef Canada?

It was probably the time limits. We were never in our comfort zones because of the time, but also because of the circumstances—always moving from restaurant to restaurant and never really knowing the equipment that was going to be available. The circumstances were very hard. I was always trying to focus on the end result and what I could control. Putting all of my energy toward that.

Was there anyone you had your eye on as the biggest competition?

Everyone scared me! Everyone had their own styles and I didn’t know what to expect. I also didn’t know what to expect from the judges—what they like, what flavour profiles they like. There were no chefs there that I took for granted.

Were any of the judges more intimidating than another?

They all have their opinions. For sure Mijune Pak; when she gives her opinion it can be rough so you don’t really know what to expect. But they are all like, professional eaters! They’ve eaten everywhere so [they know their stuff]. I didn’t receive a lot of bad feedback, but for sure when I went overboard or made a mistake by putting too much salt on the potatoes for example… those mistakes helped build me and made me stronger for the finale.

What was the most shocking twist or elimination that you faced?

I was really shocked that I couldn’t cook for the first elimination challenge. And then there was the challenge that involved food from around the world. Those kinds of foods involve technique that we’re not always used to, so it was our job to make it happen. But that was pretty challenging—cooking a dish that you don’t really know about that represents a country. We mostly rely on our own knowledge and you don’t want to hurt any community or country [by] misrepresent[ing] them.

When you won the skills competition you said you were putting the money towards an engagement ring—any updates?

Obviously [now] is not a great time to buy a ring. I could have done it before, but yeah. She wasn’t surprised in watching the show that I wanted to marry her. We’ve been talking about it for years so it was a nice thing for her to see on TV but she already knew that I wanted to marry her. It’s a matter of time. We will do it when the time is right. She is [part of the reason I got into this]. That’s why I wanted to dedicate part of my experience on Top Chef Canada to her.

Top Chef Canada Francis Blais girlfriend

What are you going to do with your winnings?

The goal is to invest in what I love, which is food. I want to bring something new to the world of food as a partner in my company, Fermentation Oryzae . We’re developing new seasoning for home chefs with legumes and cereal from around Montreal. We’re doing a Montreal miso and soy sauce out of the miso. We want to de-Japanize the miso and soy by introducing local ingredients and show people how to cook with it. It will be ready to use for people at home.

Related: 10 Fabulously Fermented Foods Worth Exploring

What else are you doing in quarantine right now?

Mostly doing research and development for the business. There are four partners and we all have our own expertise. We had plans of opening a restaurant, that’s always been a dream for me. But we’ve postponed it because of the situation. It would be crazy to open a restaurant while so many of them are in trouble right now. We’ll do it eventually. It will be a restaurant where everything—every seasoning—will be made in house. A super intimate, small space. The intimacy is one of the reasons we’re postponing actually. And then I’m also doing some pastries to raise money for an institution that works with the homeless here.

Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue a culinary career?

It’s really important to try stuff. Not knowing where you’re going or staying at home and getting in trouble is never the answer! Try your hardest to evolve and make a name for yourself.


Watch Top Chef Canada 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.

 

9 Memorable Moments From Buddy vs. Duff — Plus, the Season Two Winner Revealed

The batter has been poured, the cakes have been sculpted, and the second season of Buddy vs. Duff is in the (flour) bag. Over eight episodes the Carlo’s Bakery and Charm City Cakes owners have gone head-to-head in a flurry of challenges, proving they really are the crème de la butter-crème when it comes to larger-than-life cakes. Here are all of our favourite season two moments leading up to and including the Buddy vs Duff finale, when the judges named this year’s ultimate winner.

Duff Decorates the Inside of a Cake

Riding high on his first season win, Duff was ready to pull out all the stops in the first episode when the guys were asked to create a New York City cake that showed off their best interpretation skills. And while Buddy went big and recreated the Statue of Liberty, Duff dug into the details of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Most of those details just happened to be inside of the cake itself, and the judges could only see those beautiful arches and stained glass through a camera. In the end, those details earned the baker the extra half-a-point he needed to take the first challenge win, but one thing was clear: this was going to be a close season full of next-level cakes.

Buddy vs Duff season 2 episode 1 winner

Forklifts Are the New Stand Mixer

Proving that bigger is actually sometimes better, Buddy set the tone in the dinosaur sleepover challenge when the guys were asked to tackle realism and dinos. Not only did Buddy recreate a life-size creature with amazing eyeballs and textured skin (thanks to the help of some gumballs), but the crew needed a forklift just to lift the thing. It wasn’t the last time Buddy used the machine to help crate his creations around throughout the season, proving that next-level bakers need next-level tools.

Buddy vs. Duff season 2 episode 2 winner

Related: The Evolution of Buddy Valastro 

Duff Pulls Off a Horse, Because of Course

When Buddy had the lead heading into episode three, Duff realized he needed to up his own game for the medieval feast challenge. So when the judges told them to hone in on special effects, he and his team built a gigantic horse that transformed into a unicorn and farted glitter. Not only are horses one of the hardest bakes to pull off to begin with, but this creation was so big that Duff and Co. couldn’t even get it out the door without disassembling it first.

Buddy vs Duff season 2 episode 3 winner

Everyone Recreates Jordin Sparks

It has to be super trippy to see yourself in cake form, but Jordin Sparks was seeing double in the Waitress musical challenge when the guys were tasked with creating a tableau that best described the play. Buddy’s team opted for a cute caricature while Duff’s team did a life-size recreation, and while both offerings had Sparks tearing up it was Duff’s cake that pulled out the big W.

Buddy vs. Duff season 2 episode 4 winner

Duff Loses to the Clock

When the teams headed to the aquarium to pull off some swimming aquatic cakes, Duff got up in his head when he realized he may have overshot his cake—especially when he saw Buddy’s impressive three-tonne whale bake. So with dozens of details still not complete at the 48-hour mark, Duff kept working and wound up taking a two-point time penalty. As a result, Buddy earned five total extra points that week, propelling him to an easy win.

Buddy vs Duff season 2 episode 5 winner

Related: The Evolution of Duff Goldman

The Air Conditioner Goes Bust

Duff was feeling the pressure heading into the mini golf challenge and admitted he was pretty thirsty for some redemption after the aquatic kerfuffle. So he went with an oceanside theme for his hole, which quickly went awry when the air conditioner at his shop went bust and his cakes started melting. Buddy, meanwhile, created a Carlo’s Bakery theme with dozens of cakes and an impressive storefront sign, easily beating Duff once again.

Buddy vs. Duff season 2 episode 6 winner

Team Duff Takes a Camera Detox

With two tough losses under his iced belt, Duff was in his feelings by the time the guys got around to the amusement park challenge and they were asked to incorporate movement into their cakes. Both teams went for carousels, but in a surprise move, Team Duff went dark. Turns out the baker just really needed to be able to focus on the fun of creating with his team, and so he turned the cameras around. As a result, for the first time all season, neither Buddy nor the judges could see what he was up to.

Buddy Makes the Most Interactive Cake Yet

Meanwhile over on Team Buddy, the baker decided to go all-in and make a carousel cake that the judges could also ride. Enter that famous forklift and a whole lot of stress, because if that thing wasn’t properly designed it could actually end up seriously hurting someone. They pulled it off in the end, but it wasn’t enough to top Duff’s top-secret cake, which shot out popcorn and won by a whopping three points.

Buddy vs. Duff season 2 episode 7 winner

Related: 10 Moments From Buddy vs. Duff Season One That Had Us on the Edge of Our Seast

Buddy Takes the Cake

Heading into the finale Buddy had an impressive six-point lead, but with two Star Wars-themed cakes on the line that had to incorporate all of the previous skills, the pressure was on. Buddy impressed with a recreation of the Millennium Falcon and a laser show that the audience was certainly there for, but in the end, Buddy’s X-wing tableau with an amazingly sculpted Yoda was the cake of the night. However, Duff’s win wasn’t enough to overcome a tough season full of surprise mishaps, and in the end, Buddy got the ultimate redemption when he was named season two winner.

So that’s one season win for Duff, and one season win for Buddy. It seems like a third-season tie-breaker is inevitable, no? Well there’s no news just quite yet, but one thing is clear: people definitely need more jaw-dropping cakes from this duo.

Buddy vs Duff season 2 episode 8 winner

Watch Buddy vs. Duff Sunday 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.

 

Take This Quiz to Find Out Which Famous Food Dish You Should Make

It’s dinnertime and let’s face it: when it comes to cooking fresh fare for yourself and your family every single night (AKA adulting), everyone could use a little inspiration or some easy dinner ideas every now and again. But, whether you love whipping up new creations by invoking your favourite Top Chef Canada winners, or you prefer to splurge on takeout and sample some inspiring new plates (and grabbing ideas to try out in your own kitchen while you’re at it), there’s always something to be said about the classics. You know the dishes we’re talking about: the tried-and-true recipes that are so great they will always have a place in our hearts (and on restaurant menus everywhere), no matter how they’re reinvented, deconstructed, or reimagined.

Try it: Get the recipe for grilled Caesar salad with cheddar crisps

The best part about classic food dishes is that they can be made to fit your own personality depending on your tastes, preferences, and flair. They can be transformed into deconstructed plates, made into comfort food, or rolled into a home chef’s menu for the ages with just a few simple tweaks and a little creativity. And quite often, they’re typically just as delicious as the OG dishes on which they’re based.

Just ask the contestants on Top Chef Canada. In this season’s second episode host Eden Grinshpan had them each spin a wheel to see which one of five classic dishes they would reinvent for the judges in the Quickfire challenge, injecting their plates with new ideas in what can only be called the ultimate (foodie) personality test. Some cheftestants churned out plates that were real winners, inspiring us to wonder what we would recreate given the same opportunities.

Related: Which 2020 Culinary Trend Do You Need to Try?

Would poutine be just as delicious if it were smothered in a béchamel sauce and topped with a poached egg? Could you reinvent fish and chips with some crushed salt and vinegar potato chips as a batter and then mix some carrot and turnip fries into your typical potato batch? Of course! So given the chance, how would you put your own spin on one of these classics, from the Caesar salad to a shrimp cocktail?

More importantly, which classic recipe should you tackle in the first place? In honour of the contestants on the show, take our personality quiz to find out which classic dish from the series you should recreate the next time you’re feeling a little bit stuck in the dinner department.

What 2020 Culinary Trend Should You Try

Quiz: Which 2020 Culinary Trend Do You Need to Try?

You could say that culinary trends are an industry staple — the foundation on which all other dishes are eventually spun off. Just think about it: as soon as one chef blows your mind with a plate full of crunchy, edible bugs, other chefs clamour to create their own rendition of the dish. Before you know it, your local carnival is serving critters on top of ice cream. Maybe with some fried vegan butter on the side (because, you know, carnival food).

Or, if bugs aren’t your thing, consider all the ways intermittent fasting and plant-based diets have transformed the scene. Odds are you’ve probably tried cauliflower rice and there’s vegan protein in your daily smoothie. Maybe you’ve even considered becoming a flexitarian – after all, you’ve discovered it’s too hard to give up those steaks, sushi, and fried chicken forever, especially at dinner parties when you don’t want to be the odd man (or woman) out.

There are less subtle trends to consider, too. Many chefs are embracing nose-to-tail cooking as zero waste kitchens pop up in today’s climate, while online ordering and delivering have changed the fast food and takeout game. Are you doing your part to try and eat locally sourced, sustainable foods? Are there milk alternatives in your fridge and nutritional yeast in your cupboard? And hey — who else remembers when craft beer became a thing and opened up a whole new world of hoppy flavours?

We may no longer be chowing down on charcoal-everything or ordering up rainbow-coloured bagels, but trends in some shape or form will always have a place in the kitchen. From cooking techniques and ingredients to diets and new flavour combinations (two words: chocolate bacon), there are many ways to embrace them. But, which current or future trend is for you?

The chefs on Top Chef Canada were tasked with thinking about that in the eighth season premiere, when host Eden Grinshpan asked them to create a dish that represents a food trend of the future. Through healthy bowls, recycled technologies and a few ideas in between (fried grasshoppers, anyone?), these contestants proved that “trendy” doesn’t really mean one particular thing or idea.

Think you’re ready to tackle some trends in your own kitchen and prove your culinary prowess once and for all? Of course you are, you foodie, you. Take this quiz to find out what kind of a trendsetter you are in the kitchen, and how you can use that trend to concoct your own spectacular Top Chef Canada-worthy meal.

9 Easy Weekly Meal Plan Ideas That Really Work

Between busy schedules and a family full of picky eaters,  the dinner struggle is real. Finding inspiration for quick, budget-friendly and (at least somewhat) healthy meals can challenge the best of home cooks, never mind those whose plates are already heaped pile-high.

That’s where meal planning becomes a lifesaver—if you can take the time to actually do it. If you don’t have the means to sit down weekly and plot out your favourite fare, we’ve got your back with this simple guide that will help you plan your meals and grocery list, too. These meal ideas and recipes (one for every night of the week, plus two bonus ideas to swap in and out) makes preparing a weekly meal plan  or menu easy while helping you to create dishes that are anything but routine.

How to Start Meal Planning? Try These No-Fail Meal Planning Ideas!

 

easy-pasta-pumpkin-sausageGet the recipe for Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

1. Start with Pasta

Pasta is an affordable universal favourite, so why not make it a weekly thing? Having a designated pasta night is genius because you can essentially pair any kind of pasta with whichever sauce, protein and veggie you feel like, and then you can do something completely different the following week.

Looking for some inspiration other than another plate of spaghetti and meatballs? Try these recipes instead:

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

15-Minute Three-Cheese Spring Pasta with Peas

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Garlic Scapes and Grilled Shrimp 

Anna Olson’s Beef Stroganoff

Ina Garten’s Bow Tie Pasta with Broccoli and Peas

korean-steakGet the recipe for Korean-Style Marinated Skirt Steak

2. You Can’t go Wrong with Protein and Veg 

A  barbecued, baked or even pan-fried cut of meat or fish always pairs well with some steamed or baked veggies. Switch up your marinades and cooking methods for even more variety, and then throw in some rice, lentils or potatoes for a complete meal.

Want some new ideas? Check out these simple-to-prepare recipes:

Giada De Laurentiis’ Ginger-Soy Chicken Wings

No-Mess Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas

Pork Tenderloin with Chipotle-Maple Mop

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Bobby Flay’s Korean-Style Marinated Skirt Steak

Baked Fish Packets

Anna Olson’s Horseradish Grill-Roasted Salmon

chourico-kale-soupGet the recipe for Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup

3. Soup and Salads are Your Friends

There are so many hearty salads and filling soups out there these days that it’s easy to make either one a meal in itself. If the weather is nice, plan on eating an elevated salad one night of the week with some fancy ingredients to make it interesting. Or, for those weeks when you need something a little more comforting, plan on having a hot soup and some crusty baguette to go with it.

Get started with these recipes:

Immune-Boosting Bone Broth, Chicken and Vegetable Soup

The Pioneer Woman’s Cheesy Cauliflower Soup

Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup

Asian Noodle Salad with Sweet Ginger Dressing

Marinated Artichoke Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

Grilled Turkey, Brie and Pecan Salad

Instapot-Pulled-Pork-recipeGet the recipe for Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich

4. Make Use of Your Slow Cooker or Instapot

Who doesn’t love a meal that you can throw together and then forget about until it’s ready? That’s the beauty of slow-cookers and Instapots—they do all of the heavy lifting for you. Figure out which night of the week will be your busiest, and then plan to use either tool to help pull dinner together in a breeze.

Need a new Crockpot or pressure cooker recipe? Check out any of these delicious dishes:

Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich

Instant Pot Chicken Adobo

Alton Brown’s Pressure Cooker Chili

Slow-Cooker Enchiladas Two Ways

Slow Cooker Swedish Meatballs

Slow Cooker Shrimp Boil

Spicy-Shrimp-Fried-RiceGet the recipe for Spicy Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

5. Stock up on Easy-to-Assemble Ingredients

Having a well-stocked pantry is always key when it comes to throwing together last-minute dinners, or figuring out how to use up fresh ingredients that have been sitting in your fridge for a few extra days. Make sure to keep things like canned tuna, crab or chicken on hand, as well as lots of stock, tomato sauce and a few protein-filled grains and legumes.

Check out these simple ideas to elevate your basic pantry staples:

Crispy Tuna-Cake Sliders with Citrus Slaw

Stuffed Mozza Peppers

Classic Crab Cakes with Pea Puree

One-Pot Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Farmer’s Market Quinoa Salad

Spicy Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

giadas-Lasagna-Rolls Get the recipe for Giada de Laurentiis’ Lasagna Rolls

6. Find Your Freezer Meals

Remember those freezer meals you made a few months ago that have been sitting in your freezer just waiting to be eaten ever since? Well, make use of them already, especially if you know you have an evening coming up where preparing dinner is just going to be another thing to worry about. And if you haven’t gotten on the freezer meal train just yet, you may want to think about starting. Whether it’s doubling up on your next pasta sauce or cobbling together a second lasagna or tray of enchiladas, there are plenty of freezer meals that you can make ahead of time to enjoy on those hectic nights when cooking is the last thing you want to be doing.

Turkey-Burger-Patty-Melts-recipeGet the recipe for Guy Fieri’s Turkey Burger Patty Melts

7. Have an Eat-With-Your-Hands Night

Whether it’s a burger, pizza or taco, it’s always fun to eat with your hands. That’s probably why these are the same fast-food items we tend to usually order throughout the week. If you want to save money, use better ingredients and still have a meal in a matter of minutes for a well-deserved Eat-With-Your-Hands night!

From pizza and tacos to sloppy joes and charcuterie boards, there are plenty of hands-on dishes to choose from here:

Bobby Flay’s Shredded Chicken and Tomatillo Tacos

Southwestern Sloppy Joes

Ina Garten’s Cheese and Bread Platter

Guy Fieri’s Turkey Burger Patty Melts

cauliflower-pot-pieGet the recipe for Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with Crispy Cauliflower Crust

8. Make One Night a Meatless Night

We’ve heard of Meatless Mondays, but really any night of the week is a good excuse to go meatless—especially when you incorporate foods like whole grains, quinoa and barley that fill the tummy and soul. Stir yourself up a creamy risotto, build a yummy Buddha bowl with all the things, or stuff an eggplant or squash with some whole grains and nuts. Keep it simple and hearty, and before long, you won’t even remember a time when you didn’t incorporate a meatless dish into your meal planning.

Check out these 20 easy vegan weeknight dinner recipes to get you started.

Leftover-Turkey-Chili-recipeeGet the recipe for Leftover Turkey Chili

9. Plan a Designated Leftover Night

Last but not least, it’s always a great idea to make one night an evening of no planning. That’s right, we’re talking leftovers. Once a week, throw whatever leftovers you have in the fridge on the table for everyone to enjoy, or reimagine them into a creative, brand new dish that requires very little effort.

Check out some of our favourite ways to use up leftovers here:

Leftover Steak and Potato Salad with Bold Tomato Dressing

Italian Chicken Pasta Salad

Sweet Arancini with Leftover Rice

Leftover Turkey Chili

Leftover Chili Mac and Cheese

Looking for more meal planning tips? Try these hacks that will help you plan like a pro.

Top Chef Canada season 8 cast reveal and predictions

Meet This Year’s Top Chef Canada Contestants (Plus Our Season 8 Predictions)

It’s been a long wait, Canada, but the culinary competition show that shines a spotlight on some of the greatest chefs working across the country is back for an eighth season and we’re ravenously awaiting that first Quickfire. Until then, there are 12 hot new contestants ready to fire up those stovetops and take their plates to that next Top Chef Canada level, all under the watchful eyes (and seasoned palates) of a notoriously tough judging panel.

Who will impress judges Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, Chris Nuttall-Smith and Janet Zuccarini (not to mention host Eden Grinshpan) when the show kicks off, and whose culinary masterpieces will fall flat? We’ve had some time to investigate these contestants—whose experiences and hometowns are among the most diverse yet—and we have a few first impressions and predictions to share…

Top Chef Canada Season 8 Competitors


L-R: Francis Blais, Adrian Forte, Elycia Ross, Brock Bowes, Dominique Dufour, Jo Notkin, Xin Mao, Stephanie Ogilvie, Nils Schneider, Shaun Hussey, Imrun Texeira, Lucy Morrow

Brock Bowes, Kelowna BC

Current gig: Chef/Co-Owner Crasian Food Truck

First impressions: Obviously this chef, with his wacky moustache and his knee-high socks, is full of personality. But he also seems to have the talent to back it up. He’s won Chopped Canada in the past (he donated all $10,000 of his winnings), and he was named the best chef in the Okanagan for four years before trading it in to run a food truck with his girlfriend. Brock says he plans on winning this thing the unconventional way: “I’m going to crush this show and I’m going to do it in a way that nobody has done it before.” Now that’s a first impression.

Our predictions: Sometimes it’s the super creative guys that you need to watch—they try to do everything and then they wind up second-guessing themselves. We all know that there’s no time for that in the Top Chef Canada kitchen, so hopefully, Brock stays on track, cooks the basics the best way he knows how, and then elevates those plates in an elegant way.

Xin Mao, Vancouver

Current gig: Chef/Owner of M8 Bistro & Bar

First impressions: Xin plans on bringing a competitive edge to this competition, something he first learned in business school but has since refined working under Vancouver’s legendary chef Pino Posteraro. The 26-year-old may be young but he’s spent plenty of time honing his skills, and given that this wasn’t his father’s first career choice for him, he also seems to have a lot to prove.

Our predictions: Xin hails from a small town in rural China, but his culinary training is Italian. That means his Chinese-Italian fusion could seriously impress the judges… now all the chef needs to do is stay calm in that pressure cooker of a kitchen so that he can properly execute his vision.

Elycia Ross, Calgary

Current gig: Chef/Owner of Lil’ Truck on the Prairie

First impressions: Elycia is all about redefining classic male toxicity in the kitchen and injecting her plates with good old-fashioned love. As the owner of a successful food truck she definitely knows a thing or two about busting her butt in a small and stressful space, but she also seems like the type to do that with creativity and grace.

Our predictions: The fact that Elycia owns a food truck may have some of the other chefs underestimating her, but once they see and taste her food they’re bound to change their tune. In fact, she may be one of our early underdogs.

Nils Schneider, Calgary

Current gig: Pastry Chef at Hotel Arts

First impressions: Desserts tend to trip up even the best of Top Chef Canada contestants, which makes Nils’ background as a pastry chef so interesting—this guy is all about mastering the different kitchen skills required to execute an amazing plate. From cooking, to butchering, to baking, this guy hasn’t just done it all, he’s also working towards becoming one of the country’s youngest Certified Master Chefs.

Our predictions: You know what they say about a Jack-of-All-Trades… he’s the master of none. So while Nils definitely seems to have a solid foundation heading into this competition, here’s hoping he’ll be equally strong in all of those basics to really stand out.

Dominique Dufour, Ottawa

Current gig: Chef/Owner of Gray Jay

First impressions: This wild child is breaking barriers in terms of female representation in the kitchen and it’s hard not to be here for it. Dominique isn’t shy about her love of butchering animals and using them from nose-to-tail; it’s something her team practices every Saturday at her restaurant, Gray Jay. Given that, we think she will definitely handle the heat in this competition.

Our predictions: Dominique seems pretty fearless, which will definitely come in handy given some of the crazy challenges the contestants face in the Top Chef Canada kitchen. But will she push her plates too far in terms of creativity and let some of that quality slack? Only time will tell.

Imrun Texeira, Ottawa

Current gig: Sous Chef at Stofa

First impressions: If there’s any chef in this competition that seems likely to leave his soul on the plate, it’s Imrun. He’s been classically trained as a French chef but he fuses his food with international techniques and flair, something that has to result in some pretty unique dishes and flavour combos.

Our predictions: Traditionally the Top Chef Canada judges love to be won over by fusion cooking, but only if the basics are done well. If Imrun can nail technique while also giving the judges something innovative, he’s likely to go pretty far in this thing.

Adrian Forte, Toronto

Current gig: Chef Consultant, Chef Du Jour

First impressions: This Jamaican-born chef is in it to win it. As a former Chopped contestant, a chef on Chef in Your Ear, and a culinary instructor at George Brown, he has the experience to back up his craft. Oh, and did we mention he’s also cooked for Drake and his crew? This chef screams confidence and flavour, which will be a spicy combo in the Top Chef Canada kitchen.

Our predictions: Of course celebrity doesn’t impress these judges, they’re here for flavour, creativity and technique. So long as Adrian doesn’t get too comfortable and he pushes his plates to that next level, he may definitely be the one to watch this season.

Jo Notkin, Montreal

Current gig: Chef/Owner of Zoe Ford Catering

First impressions: There have been self-taught chefs in this competition before but none quite like Jo. A decade ago when the recession hit her textile business went under, and she realized her passion was in food. Now as the owner of a successful catering company she has a more simplistic approach than some of the other chefs in this competition, but simple is sometimes the most delicious way to go.

Our predictions: The creations thrown together in a matter of minutes on this series is seriously mind-boggling, so Jo may need to adjust. Still, her flavour-profile game seems strong, so if she can use this as a learning experience she may catapult over the competition yet.

Francis Blais, Montreal

Current gig: Chef de Cuisine at Le Mousso

First impressions: Have you heard the story of the wayward boy who met a girl, fell in love and put his life on track by getting a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant? Before long he worked his way up to chef de cuisine at one of the highest-ranked eateries in Canada, and now he’s on this season of Top Chef Canada. It seems like it took Francis a long time to find his passion, but now that he’s got it he will fight for that prize until the very end.

Our predictions: Francis will definitely blow the judges away by taking risks—after all, that’s how he got his start in the kitchen. What we don’t know is whether those risks will pay off—it’s a fine line in the Top Chef Canada kitchen, folks, and sometimes the things that seemed destined to work out wind up falling flatter than a collapsed soufflé.

Stephanie Ogilvie, Halifax

Current gig: Chef de Cuisine at Chives

First impressions: How do you know if a chef truly loves what he or she does? When she spends her one night off a week running a 12-course underground style supper club with her husband, perhaps? That’s how Stephanie rolls, and now she’s ready to show the rest of Canada just how passionate (and delicious) her plates can be.

Our predictions: Stephanie has a long-standing but friendly rivalry with last season’s female frontrunner, Renée Lavallée, so she may have gotten a few insider tips on what it takes to survive in this competition. Not that she’ll necessarily need it, but any edge on this show is still an edge.

Shaun Hussey, St. John’s 

Current gig: Chef/Owner of Chinched

First impressions: Shaun may not have the confidence that the rest of the competitors seem to have walking into this competition, but his wife definitely believes in him. At any rate, we’re hoping Shaun will continue what season six winner Ross Larkin started, and that’s shining a light on the culinary prowess of Canada’s easternmost province.

Our predictions: If we learned anything from watching Ross on this series it’s that the judges always appreciate a dish that showcases distinctive Canadian roots. So if Shaun can show his unique East coast upbringing with elevated techniques, he’s someone we could get pretty excited by.

Lucy Morrow, Charlottetown

Current gig: Executive Chef at Terre Rouge Craft Kitchen

First impressions: Lucy may be young, but she is one talented chef. At 26 years old she’s already been named executive chef at one of the country’s Top 100 restaurants, she’s cooked for the prime minister, and she seems to have an unmatched passion for what she does. This chef is definitely going to show us a thing or two about how Millennials do Top Chef Canada.

Our predictions: There are some pretty fierce competitors this season, but Lucy seems to be among those with the most to prove. We’re betting on her to cook some pretty bold dishes this season, which will definitely get the judges’ attention.


The competition begins April 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

 

 

 

strawberry-jam-what-to-do-with-fruit

10 Brilliant Ways to Use Fruit That’s Going Bad

Spring and summer are full of bright and fresh flavours, especially in the fruit department. Beautiful berries are calling our name, melons are at their ripest, baskets of juicy peaches and nectarines are readily available, and perfect plums take us well into the fall.

That’s probably why it’s so easy to overstock on some of these offerings—especially as we tell ourselves we’re going to eat better, lighter and fresher.

So what do you do with that big batch of berries once it’s starting to get mushy, or that basketful of peaches that’s starting to bruise?
Well we have a few ideas!

raspberry-smoothie

1. Blend up a Smoothie
The best part about ripe fruit is that it’s usually sweetest. That makes it a great natural sweetener for your next power breakfast smoothie. Can’t use it all at once? Freeze washed and prepared fruit in airtight containers or plastic bags and enjoy summer-inspired smoothies long into fall. Try this recipe for a Raspberry Refresher Smoothie.

how-to-make-fruit-popsicles

2. Freeze Fruity Popsicles
Turn that fruit into a natural popsicle that’s loaded with flavour and good-for-you ingredients. Puree ripe fruit in a blender until smooth then either pour directly into popsicle moulds or mix in some Greek yogurt or milk for a creamier treat. Learn How to Make Summer Fruit Popsicles.

cornmeal-pancakes-with-blueberry-sauce

3. Whip up Pancakes
Who doesn’t love fresh fruit on top of their stack with a little maple syrup? So why not alter your recipe and incorporate a fruit puree either on top or in the actual batter? It’s a great way to use aging fruit while switching up your weekend breakfast routine. Try The Pioneer Woman’s Cornmeal Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup.

Citrus-chicken-with-raspberry-barbecue-sauce

4. Make a Marinade
We don’t often think of mixing meat and fruit, but some fruits actually make for great tenderizers. Chicken and pork can always benefit from a little fruity marinade; in fact we pretty much consider them a match made in heaven. Try Citrus Chicken with Raspberry Barbecue Sauce.

spinach-and-strawberry-salad-with-warm-bacon-vinaigrette

5. Toss Together a Summer Salad
We’re fans of fruit in our salad, especially when you play around with the flavour profiles. Peaches and steak go great with arugula and goat cheese, while strawberries, spinach, toasted pecans and chicken are a classic match. Riper fruit adds an unexpected sweetness that really livens up your plate. Try Valerie Bertinelli’s recipe for Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette.

Summer Berry Sangria

6. Shake up a Fruity Cocktail or Boost Water with Flavour
Muddled fruit adds infinite flavour to regular old booze like vodka and gin. Create a signature cocktail (bonus points if you can mix in some fresh herbs too) for your next barbecue, or just stick to regular old sparkling water if you want to go easy on the drinking under that hot sun. Try this Summer Berry Sparkling Sangria.

ree-drummond- strawberry jam

7. Jam Out
There’s nothing quite like fresh jam, is there? When done correctly it keeps forever and makes for great gifts. Jam is a terrific way to use up fruit that’s about to expire, especially if you want to liven up plain old toast or cookies. Try The Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Jam.

plum-cheesecake galette

8. Fill a Pie
We’re always fans of pie, no matter what the season. If you’ve got extra fruit, go ahead and whip up a few to freeze for later. Or, if you’re in the mood for a single serving of pie flavours, cut up some fruit into a bowl, add a little cinnamon and microwave it for a minute or so. Or try this Plum Cheesecake Galette.

Berries-Romanoff-Parfait-bobby-flay

9. Jazz up Your Yogurt
Know those “fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurts you buy? Yeah, they’re loaded with cornstarch and other added sugars. Why not whip up a healthier, fruity yogurt on your own? Muddle or blend your fruit and stir it into plain Greek yogurt. Add a little granola or chopped nuts for some extra crunch. Try Bobby Flay’s Berries Romanoff Parfait.

Raspberry Peach Fruit Leather

10. Make Fruit Leather
This works best if you have a food dehydrator, but you can do it with a regular old oven too. These “fruit roll-ups” are perfect for children and adults alike, and make for a perfect snack to-go. Try Anna Olson’s recipe for summer Raspberry Peach Fruit Leather, subbing in ripe fruit for the frozen stuff.

Too much fruit? Learn how to Get Rid of Fruit Flies for Good.

Building a Zero-Waste Kitchen is Easier Than You Think. Here’s How to Make it Happen

Whether you want to be more eco-friendly, save some cash or you simply like having a little organization in your life, there are plenty of reasons to move towards a waste-free kitchen. The good news: even if it sounds a little overwhelming at first, it’s a whole lot simpler to achieve than you’d think. Here’s how to make it happen.


Related: Recipes to Stop Wasting the Most Tossed-Out Food in Canada

10 Easy Steps to Creating a No-Waste Kitchen 

1. Invest in reusable containers, wraps and bags

One of the easiest ways to eliminate extra waste is to ditch the plastic wrap, single-use containers and plastic bags in favour of reusable containers, Mason jars and beeswax wraps. And, if you’re already taking tote bags or baskets with you to do your shopping, consider upping your game with produce-friendly mesh bags. It’s a pain-free start to making some pretty big changes, and it also sets you up for better long-term food storage and less waste at the grocery store.

2. Buy in bulk and buy whole

For basic goods that you use often, like oats, flour, beans and grains, head to the bulk food store and fill up your own containers. You’ll save money and even potentially extend the shelf life of some of those products by storing them in glass jars. Meanwhile, when it comes to meat, select whole chicken and fish rather than pre-cut trays, and in the produce aisle, don’t fall victim to pre-packed greens, cut beans, or other “handy” items that have already been prepared for you. When you take full items home, you can portion and use them how you wish, plus you can use the leftovers to whip up a nifty vegetable, fish or chicken stock.


Related: 18 Freezer-Friendly Vegan Dinner Ideas to Prep This Week

3. Use a meal plan

Is there anything more dangerous than doing your grocery shopping while hungry? That’s when you tend to fill the cart with wants, rather than needs. Fill up before you shop, but also make sure to put together a meal plan and a grocery list first. That way you can avoid overbuying and tossing food that goes bad before you have a chance to use it. Plus, you’re more likely to stick to healthy choices when you plan ahead. Double win.

Related: 10 Ways You’re Destroying the Planet From the Comfort of Your Own Home

4. Make things from scratch

We’ve covered stocks, but there’s a whole world of basic condiments you can also whip up with things you already have in the fridge or pantry. There are tons of recipes for everyday salad dressings out there, mayo is pretty simple to throw together, while ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce always taste better when they’re made in-house. Need some more inspiration? Check out these tasty condiments that are worth making from scratch.

5. Regrow your vegetable scraps

If your veggie scraps aren’t worth transforming into a stock, why not give them a whole new life by planting them and starting your own veggie garden? If you’ve never done this before, it’s actually shocking how many things you can plant and regrow in the kitchen, while eliminating how much waste you produce. Green onion roots turn into new shoots, pepper seeds will grow into the real deal, and even celery bases get a second life if you plant them. If you’re just starting to explore your green thumb or you need some more inspiration, here are 15 vegetables you can regrow in your kitchen.

6. Get creative with food scraps and compost when necessary

If you don’t compost, now is a good time to start — it’s a smarter alternative to recycling, and if your city doesn’t have a program already in place, then it’s something you can easily start doing at home. Meanwhile, reconsider the food scraps you may currently be tossing into the bin. Broccoli stems make for a delicious slaw, veggie pulp from a juicer can be tossed into a pasta sauce, and carrot tops transform into a surprisingly delicious pesto (more creative pesto ideas here!).


Related: 10 Tasty Uses for Leftover Food Scraps to Reduce Food Waste

7. Find a second use for your leftovers

Don’t just get creative with your food scraps — get creative with your leftovers before they go bad and you’re forced to toss them. While meal planning definitely helps eliminate unexpected leftovers, if you find yourself with extra food, don’t be discouraged. Your freezer is always your friend in terms of extending an item’s shelf life, or get inspired with some of our ideas for leftover chicken, leftover steak or leftover rice.

8. Ditch the coffee pods and tea bags

Coffee pods may be convenient and easy-to-use, but they’re also expensive and they create so much unnecessary waste. If you insist on a single-pod machine, invest in a reusable filter that gives you the further benefit of adjusting the amount of coffee per serving to individual tastes. And when it comes to tea, buy a diffuser and stock the pantry with loose-leaf tea to avoid extra staples, strings, and plastic-coated tea bags being tossed into the rubbish bin.

9. Clean your kitchen the smart way

As you’re ditching disposable kitchen-storage products, consider eliminating unnecessary one-time-use cleaning items like paper towels and sponges, too. Dish towels and clothes can be thrown into the laundry and used over and over again, which might feel like more work, but it also saves you more money in the long-run. And when it comes to cleaning products, consider making your own. A solution of vinegar, baking soda and water will clean most household items.

Related: 12 Ways You Can Organize Your Kitchen Like Marie Kondo

Related: 17 Kitchen Gadgets That’ll Be Extinct by 2025

10. Think quality, not quantity

If you get excited by new tools and gadgets, we feel you — it’s always fun to try out a new toy in the kitchen. But, if the goal is to create a waste-free kitchen then sometimes it’s better to ask yourself if you really need an item, or if it just sounds like a cool thing to have. Cast-iron pans will produce quality food for a longer period of time than a Teflon-coated one, for example, while most pressure cookers also double as a slow cooker these days. Garlic presses are handy, but sometimes it’s quicker to just mince a clove or two yourself. Take stock of needs versus wants, and then begin living your best minimalist life from there.

If you’re looking to take your zero-waste kitchen one step further, find out where to take your used appliances and cabinets (by province) or check out the best zero-waste restaurants and food stores across Canada.

ripe cherries bowl

How To Get Rid Of Fruit Flies In Your Kitchen Once and For All

It’s inevitable. No matter how clean you keep your kitchen, how many fly swatters you invest in or how many times you make sure your window screens are shut tight, at some point over the summer, you’re bound to deal with the pesky little gnats known as fruit flies.

Before you throw in the towel – or throw out the fruit – there are a few strategies and solutions for dealing with these annoyances right away. Here are our top tips and tricks for eradicating fruit flies in the kitchen, for good.

Related: Foods You Can Still Eat After the Expiry Date

Ripe cherries

Wash Produce Immediately 

What causes fruit flies?  While some of these bugs travel in through window cracks and screens, it’s most likely that they’ve come in with your actual fruit and vegetables. Most of the time they’re undetectable (they can grow from an egg to an adult in about the span of a week, and procreate rapidly), which means that washing all of your produce as soon as you get home from shopping is an important step in avoiding them all together.

Related: Foods You Should Be Washing But Probably Aren’t

Don’t Feed the Fruit Flies

While we know you’re not purposefully inviting these gnats to an all you can eat buffet in your kitchen, it is helpful to make sure that any food scraps and drippings are cleaned up straightaway, and that you avoid leaving out empty cans of beer or bottles of wine. Take out the garbage, compost and recycling every day, and be sure to eat fresh counter fruit in a timely manner so the unwelcome guests don’t have anything to feed on.

Related: Hearty Sheet Pan Dinners That Make Clean-Up a Breeze

Pump Up the Air Conditioning

Fruit flies thrive in warmer climates, which is why they come out to play during the summer months and why they die off come winter. Keeping your home at a cool, regulated temperature could potentially help to keep these pesky flies at bay.

red apples

How to Make Fruit Fly Catcher

Once you’ve got fruit flies, how do you actually get rid of them? They’re often too numerous to just swat out, and that just gets messy. This is where some of the brilliant DIY concoctions come in handy. Here are a few of our favourite, chemical-free solutions.

– Place a piece of cut-up fruit in a small bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes in it with a toothpick. As the bowl fills up with flies, place it in the freezer to kill them off, dump it out and start again.

– Pour a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar in a mason jar and cover the top with plastic wrap, securing it with a rubber band. Poke a few holes in the jar with a toothpick so the flies can get in, but not out. Eventually, they will succumb to the liquid. If you’re out of apple cider vinegar, try leftover wine or beer, a mashed up banana or overripe fruit instead. Rather than using plastic wrap, make a cone out of a rolled up piece of paper, leaving a small opening, and place that in the mason jar with the point down.

– In a medium saucepan, simmer 1 pint milk with 1/4 lb raw sugar and 2 oz ground pepper for 10 minutes or so. Pour this mixture into shallow bowls with a drop or two of dish soap (this helps the flies stick to the mixture) and place around the house.

– Mix a few drops of lemongrass essential oil with hot water in a clean spray bottle. Spray windowsills and doorways (and any actual flies you see) to leave a gnat fighting, fresh scent around your house.

Hopefully, you’ll be fruit fly-free in no time. Happy hunting!

Looking for more kitchen tips? Try these 10 Time-Saving Kitchen Cleaning Hacks and How to Freeze Fruit, Cheese, Leftovers and More.

Anna Olson’s Ultimate Holiday Cookie Hacks

Plates and tins of shortbread, gingerbread and sugar cookies have long been a holiday tradition in households across the world, and for good reason. Holiday cookies are an indulgent classic, perfuming homes with comforting sugar and spice while satisfying the seasonal sweet tooth. Plus, they’re wonderful for gifting in jolly little jars or tins.


Click here for the chocolate snowflake cookies recipe from Anna Olson. 

But, between the shopping, wrapping, visiting and workplace parties, the holidays can sneak up on the best of us, leaving less time to bake than we’d like. That’s why we love these cookie hacks from master pastry chef Anna Olson, who always has her holiday baking under wraps! From decorated classics to spiced snickerdoodles, this cookie queen has you covered this season and beyond.

Watch Anna Olson’s Genius Ideas for Christmas Cookie Storage:

Plan Ahead, Bake Ahead
Being organized is the first step to creating an array of delightful treats that you and your loved ones can snack on, all season long. Get inspired by Santa and make a list of the recipes you want to enjoy this holiday season, then check it twice. As December can sometimes seem like a marathon, begin your baking as soon as that list is made.

Freeze Your Cookie Dough
If you’ve whipped up cookie dough but want to bake them off to gift or share later, store the unbaked dough in a zipper-top bag, and then pop it in the freezer until you’re ready to go. Anna recommends freezing the dough rather than the cookies themselves as it saves space and retains freshness (and we think that nothing smells better than freshly-baked cookies!). Check out her awesome tips for techniques, storing and labelling in the video above.

Bake A “Fresh” Batch Every Week  
Now that you have a few batches of frozen dough in the freezer, do as Anna would do and bake up a tray of cookies once a week leading up to Christmas. With this hack, you’ll always have fresh treats on hand for family, friends and impromptu holiday guests.

Make One (Killer!) Basic Recipe
Having a versatile cookie dough base to work from saves time and ingredients, while allowing you to have a selection of cookies to enjoy over the holidays. Take Anna Olson’s Ice Box Cookies, for example. The base recipe can be combined with different ingredients to concoct amazing flavour combinations that will tickle a variety of taste buds.

Watch Anna Take One Cookie Recipe and Make Three Different Cookies:

Host A Cookie Exchange
Even the most organized bakers and holiday planners out there can’t always complete their checklists on time. That’s why hosting a cookie exchange is another great option when it comes to securing a selection of goodies. Anna has some tried and true tips on how to host the actual exchange to ensure that it goes smoothly. But don’t stress! As long as the hot cocoa is flowing and there are a few baked goods to snack on during the actual party, we’d say you’re pretty much covered.

Watch Anna Share 9 Tips for Christmas Cookie Exchange Success:

Ready to get baking? Here are dozens of our favourite festive cookie recipes to share, exchange and hoard this holiday season.

How I Cooked for My Family of 4 for a Week on Less Than $100

Let’s be real — if you buy in bulk and stick to a budget, it shouldn’t be hard to feed a family of four for a week, right? Right. Except that’s without considering any of the things life throws at you. I’m talking about picky toddlers, a packed schedule, and those nights where the last thing you want to do is putter around in the kitchen soaking your own beans, despite your inherent love for culinary adventures. Or is that just me?

Regardless, as a working mom with a husband who travels and two toddlers that would be content eating nothing but bread and cheese for the rest of their days, I decided to purge the fridge and cupboards to start fresh for a week. The goal? Feeding the entire family three nutritious meals a day (plus snacks) without breaking the bank. Here’s how it went.

The Overall Plan

Full disclosure: I love grocery shopping. There’s something calming about walking up and down the aisles and planning what I’m going to create next. Unfortunately, when you’re cooking on a budget, that doesn’t necessarily translate.

Instead, I used a grocery app to determine the best deals of the week, and then created a meal plan based on what was on sale. I started with dinners, because that’s where the bulk of my budget was going (we like leftovers, y’all), and then I went to a store that price-matched. We eat meat in our house, so I wanted to include some animal protein, but we also try to include healthy plant-based dinners at least two-to-three nights a week.

The other thing I had to consider was stocking up on staples. I was in good shape for things like olive oil and nutritional yeast (more on that below) but I needed some basics like flour, rice and quinoa. In the end, I thought it was going to take hours gouging my eyes out with an excel sheet, but it was actually pretty painless. I’d say 30 minutes of planning, tops.

Cost Savings Vs. Convenience

When I’m feeling rich, I’ll buy pre-washed, boxed spinach or mixed greens, because I absolutely hate running salad greens one by one under the faucet and then drying them. Not hate, loathe. I loathe it. But I’m obsessed with doing it properly, because let’s just say I’ve had plenty of experience accidentally ingesting “extra protein” in the past. For this experiment, however, I got four times as much fresh spinach and lettuce for less than a box would have cost me. So I was okay with it.

Then there are the beans. Usually I’ll buy dried beans for less and stock the pantry, but because I wanted to prep once for the entire week, I didn’t want to pressure cook beans and then have them sit there for seven days. It was a lot easier (and not that much more expensive) to buy the canned stuff, so I splurged a bit in that department.

The Grocery List

You probably want to get to the goods, right? Without further ado, here’s everything I bought to stock up the fridge and pantry.

Produce

● Broccoli, $1.27
● Cauliflower, $1.99
● Bagged carrots, $1.49
● Bagged onions, $1.49
● Grape tomatoes, $2
● Bagged beets, $1.97
● 2 bunches spinach, $4
● 2 bunches red leaf lettuce, $3
● Garlic, $1.49
● 2 cucumbers, $4
● 6 bananas, $1.63
● Bag of apples, $4
● Strawberries, $2.5
● Bagged peppers, $2.98
● Bagged mandarins, $2.97
● Celery, $3
● Frozen peas, $0.99

Meat, Dairy & Deli

● Fresh olives, $5.12
● Bagged milk, $3.97
● Brick marble cheese, $3.97
● 18 eggs, $2.99
● Ground turkey, $2
● 2 fresh, whole chickens, $13.62

Pantry & Bakery

● Brown rice, $1.27
● Pasta (my daughter picked “little shells”), $0.88
● Yeast packets, $1.97
● Peanut butter, $3.77
● Flour, $3.99
● Quinoa, $3.47
● 2 cans salt-free chickpeas, $1.58
● 2 cans salt-free black beans, $1.58
● 2 cans diced tomatoes, $1.96
● Tomato paste, $0.59

Total: $93.50

 

Meal Prepping

If you love devoting an entire Sunday afternoon to meal-prepping, raise your hand. What, no one? I’m shocked. While meal-prepping often feels daunting, I’ve discovered several ways to make it less painful over the years. Sometimes I’ll get my kids to help out and we make it a family affair. Other times, I consider it “me time” and I’ll put on a TV show or listen to a podcast. The bottom line is that I consider it a necessary evil if I want to save time during the week and still eat healthy, so I try to find a positive spin.

For this particular menu, my meal-prepping included:

● Hard-boiling eight eggs
● Washing and drying lots of lettuce and spinach
● Cooking a batch of quinoa
● Roasting beets (to add to salads)
● “Ricing” cauliflower in a food processor
● Peeling and cutting carrots
● Washing and cutting celery
● Making a giant vat of homemade tomato sauce
● Roasting both chickens, cooling them and removing the meat
● Making stock from chicken bones (once this was simmering, it pretty much made itself over the course of the night).

Was this work? Very much so. But it saved me so much time during the week on lunch and dinner, as you’ll see below. I should also note that I added nutritional yeast (instead of Parmesan, which I didn’t buy) to the tomato sauce for an extra hit of cheesy, vegan fibre and protein. I also threw in an entire pepper and a few handfuls of spinach, before blending it up with my immersion blender so my kids would never know. I then froze half the sauce, which means sometime in the near future, I’ll have instant tomato sauce for pasta, lazy cabbage rolls or even pizza.

The Meal Planned Menu

Breakfast: I wanted to leave breakfasts fairly neutral, since my kids and husband are perfectly content with toast and fruit, or eggs. On busier mornings, we’ll whip up peanut butter banana smoothies (with spinach thrown in there), which my kids can drink in the car. I also bought English muffins so that we could make egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwiches on Saturday morning before we all ran out the door to dance class, and I planned for our lazier, traditional Sunday morning pancake breakfast, too.


Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Fluffy Blueberry Pancakes

Lunches: I figured a combination of leftovers, salads and sandwiches would do. The kids love peanut butter and jam sandwiches or a plate of cut up veggies, cheese and fruit, while my husband and I are happy to concoct a variety of salads with different proteins in them, like beans, a scoop of quinoa or hard-boiled eggs. Because I found chicken on sale, I also factored in leftover chicken to make a multitude of dishes.

Snacks: We’re trying to get away from sugar-laden and expensive pre-bought snacks, so that’s why I stocked up on apples, mandarins, carrots, celery, tomatoes and cucumber. I thought about making hummus with one of the cans of chickpeas (I have some tahini still in my cupboard), but ultimately passed because sometimes it’s so much easier to pair produce with a pre-bought healthy dip, peanut butter or even cheese. At least it is with my kids.

And that brings us to…

Dinners

Sunday: Roasted Chicken and Broccoli with Rice

Because I was already roasting the chicken, I figured it would make for a good Sunday night family dinner. I paired that with steamed broccoli in the microwave, which my kids either love or hate depending on the day. This particular night, the dog seemed to eat more of it than the kids thanks to their scheming, but that’s why I feed the dog last. I also cooked a big batch of brown rice (factoring in leftovers), and both kids devoured that.

Monday: Cauliflower Fried Rice

We’re typically out the door by 5:30pm on Monday nights to make the kids’ activities, so I needed something simple. Enter cauliflower fried rice! While the “healthy” me would prefer to just have cauliflower, that’s not possible with kids. Instead, I masked the cauliflower rice by adding in actual leftover rice from the night before. I stir-fried it with onions, garlic, egg, soy sauce and mushroom oyster sauce, which I bought about six months ago at an Asian food store for a couple of bucks. I also added frozen peas, but I wish I hadn’t, because both kids basically threw them at each other. Everything else was eaten, so I’ll take that win.

Tuesday: Pasta with Ground Turkey

This quick dinner was super simple thanks to the pre-made sauce, and I could have made it vegetarian, except I found that amazing $2 deal on ground turkey. So I cooked that up quickly on the stove as the pasta boiled, and then threw it all together for a veggie-filled dinner that my kids devoured. Yes, I did a devious happy dance, and maybe even high-fived my husband as we did the dishes afterwards.

Wednesday: Grainy Salad

 My daughter is a weirdo like me and she loves cold beans. My son hates beans, but likes the texture of quinoa, which my daughter doesn’t. So I succumbed to motherhood heck and gave her beans on the green plate and him quinoa on the blue plate, with some cut up peppers, cucumbers, cheese cubes and tomatoes. My husband and I essentially ate an adult version of this (quinoa with roasted beets, cucumbers and peppers) mixed together and dressed with a concoction of olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar. It would have been even better with feta cheese, but it was still pretty hearty and satisfying. And, thanks to the pre-made quinoa, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to whip up.

Thursday: Chicken Noodle Soup

Once again, my meal-prepping proved to be an amazing decision because I was able to throw chicken stock, carrots, celery, leftover chicken and leftover pasta shells into a pot, heat it up and dole it out into bowls. It was rich, low in sodium and perfect for that day’s colder weather, and there was only one bowl leftover at the end of the night. Oh, and for those keeping track, my daughter ate the carrots, my son ate the chicken, they both ate the pasta and then they asked me for some cheese.

Friday: Pizza Night

Does anyone ever want to cook on a Friday night? There’s no better way to usher in the weekend than with pizza, which is why we tend to order them at least every other week. The thing is though, making homemade dough is super easy. I also happen to have pizza stones, which I find give the crust a nice crispiness. So I planned ahead to whip up the crust after work, then I used the leftover secret-veggie tomato sauce as a base and added olives as a topping, which both my kids freakishly love. There wasn’t a single slice left, and I wasn’t out 20 bucks with the delivery person. Win, win.


Get the recipe for Roger Mooking’s Buffalo Mozzarella and Tomato Pizza

Saturday: Leftovers

The best part about “cooking” all week was that I had ample food leftover for customized dinners on Saturday night. My husband wanted the soup, while the kids clamoured for pasta. Meanwhile, I was craving a lighter salad after the pizza the night before, which I was able to quickly cobble together with the remaining veggies and hard-boiled eggs in the fridge.

The Results:

This entire experiment definitely required planning and a whole whack of prepping, but in the end, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The kids ended up eating fairly well, and we didn’t turn to takeout pizza or chicken nuggets once, which is a serious feat for our household.

Would I do this every week? No, but I’m definitely going to try and keep up when I can, because on those lazier weekends where we’re not running around trying to fit everything in, getting a jump on feeding the family turns out to be an amazing time- and money-saver… with only a small number of peas and broccoli on the floor.

Looking for more meal planning inspiration? Here’s how a nutritionist meal preps every Sunday, plus 20 healthy meal prep ideas to get you through the week.

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