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

Project Bakeover Was Life-Changing for These Thriving Bakery Owners

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

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

Steve Hodge and Tiffany Pratt on the set of Project Bakeover

Related: Steve Hodge’s Cake Decorating Tips

Advice to Dine on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort Food in the Time of Coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sweet, Sweet Future

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

Related: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

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

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

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

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

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

Cookies and candy spilling over countertop

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

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

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

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

The Early Days

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

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

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

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

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

For the Love of Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

An Artful Future

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Craig’s Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: The Season 9 Chefs Talk Eating Local

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

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

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

Related: Mijune Pak Reflects On Reinventing Her Career

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

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

Erica and Josh Karbelnik on the set of Top Chef Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything you’d like to add?

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

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

steak with garlic sauce

Take Our Quiz to Find Out What Your Cooking Style Says About You (Plus Recipes!)

Eating may be universal, but everyone has their own flair in the kitchen. Whether your signature style is pressing buttons on a microwave, sauteing veggies to your heart’s content or marinating and grilling the choicest cuts of steak, your style is your own. And it can say a lot about you.

Look no further than this season’s batch of Top Chef Canada contestants for proof. The cast is the most diverse ever featured on the series and as a result we’ve also seen some of the most exciting dishes ever pulled off. Want to know which chefs share your style and maybe even dig up a new recipe or two to try out in the process? Take our quiz and then grab your Interac debit card to get shopping for ingredients. Of course, how you prepare those ingredients is totally up to you.

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

Instant Pot and microplane and ghee photos courtesy of Getty Images. All other quiz photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Take This Quiz to Find Out Which Top Chef Canada-Inspired Meal Should You Make for Dinner Tonight

Hungry for a little dinnertime inspiration? No worries, because Top Chef Canada has your back. It’s still early in the season, but already the contestants on this year’s show have proven they’re concocting some of the most diverse and flavourful dishes to-date. From spice-filled fish dishes to flamed-kissed meats to delightful vegan offerings and everything in between, it’s hard not to salivate when tuning in.

If you’re on the hunt for ideas on what to make for your next dinner, take our quiz and then grab your Interac debit card and select ingredients for your feast while shopping. And get cooking already because your time starts… now!

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

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

The Perfect Pastry Butter Hack, Plus 9 Golden Baking Rules to Always Follow

The weather is turning, the days are growing longer, and creativity is at an all-time high. And with so many fresh springtime ingredients ready to be transformed, who wouldn’t want to hop in the kitchen and put that extra creativity to good use? Whether you’re baking up some fresh cookies or homemade butter tarts to cheer up friends, following an easy chocolate cake recipe for a special occasion, or kneading a loaf of crusty bread to go with that seasonal salad for dinner, there are a few golden baking rules you’ll want to follow the next time you’re getting your batter on.

But First—The Perfect Pastry Butter Hack

Cubed butter in a bowl

Whether you’re a seasoned baker like those on The Big Bake or someone who’s just beginning to dabble in the world of all-butter pie crusts, short crust pastry, puff pastry and other offerings, getting your butter to that perfect consistency and temperature can make or break your bake. If you’re working on a pastry in which you need air pockets between the layers to rise up in order to create those fabulous flakes, freeze the amount of butter you need for your recipe beforehand. Then, rather than cubing or cutting it and pinching it into your flour, use your cheese grater to grate the butter directly in. The result is an easier dough to work with, since the grated butter is much more forgiving.

But wait—what if you actually need room temperature butter for your recipe, and your butter is in the fridge or freezer? You should still grate it. Doing so increases the surface area, allowing your beurre to warm up and soften quickly. In other words, a grater is the perfect tool to hack all kinds of buttery bakes. And now onto the other golden rules of baking…

Related: Brown Butter Recipes You Won’t Be Able to Resist

Always Read Over Your Entire Recipe Before You Start

Flat lay of cookbook and coffee

This rule applies to all kinds of cooking and baking, but to baking in particular where exact measurements are required and substitutions can throw off your whole game. Read over your recipe from start to finish so that you know exactly how much of each ingredient you need. But don’t just read over the ingredient list—have a good look at the method too. It can be easy to miss simple steps like resting time, sifted flour versus poured flour, or creaming your butter and sugar before mixing. With that last step for example, creaming your butter and sugar together beats air into the butter and helps the sugar to hold that air, giving your baked goods structure. If you just mix or pour butter and sugar in without adding that vital step, you could end up with a dense, flat product.

See More: Flour 101 – Your Guide to Baking

Remember the Quality of Your Ingredients Matters

Flat lay of baking ingredients including nuts, sugars and butter

When you’re shopping for a special recipe, the quality of ingredients will help dictate the quality of your final product. Sure, you can grab artificial vanilla extract, but will it taste the same as the real stuff? Of course not. The same can be said for the type of chocolate, nuts, maple syrup and honey you use—fresh, good quality ingredients will always transform your bake. Butter is another big one. In France, some of the world’s top pastry chefs only use butter that’s high in milk fat—at least 82 per cent. In Canada, our butter is typically only churned to 80 per cent milk fat, and that two per cent drop makes a world of difference. If you really want to create the flakiest of pastries and crispiest of cookies, grab Gay Lea’s new Bakers Gold butter, which is churned to an impressive, chef-grade, 84 per cent milk fat.

Never Overbeat Batter

A stand mixer or even the handheld variety can be a wrist saver for sure, but when you’re talking about mixing together ingredients for a bake there’s a slippery slope. More often than not recipes for baked goods always come with the disclaimer, “don’t overmix.” And for good reason. When you overmix cakes, cookies, muffins, bread or even pancakes you run the risk of injecting too much air into the batter and developing extra gluten. While some gluten is key when it comes to chewy baked goods, too much of it will just make your offerings gummy and dense. In other words, when a recipe says “mix until just combined,” take the step seriously and don’t walk away from a mixer that’s having a party in the mixing bowl.

Related: Harry Eastwood’s Healthy Baking Substitutes

Stop Confusing Wax Paper and Parchment Paper

Blueberry cookies on way paper with fresh flowers and ingredients

Hands up if you’ve charred a recipe or two by accidentally putting wax paper instead of parchment paper in the oven. Baking with wax paper is never really advisable. The stuff is water-resistant, which means it’s great to lay down for cool things when you don’t want them to stick, but it’s definitely not heat-resistant. A good rule of thumb is to remember that for anything cold, you want wax paper. And for anything hot you want parchment paper, which is typically safe in the oven up to 450°F. (But check your packaging.) If you have both and you keep confusing them however, maybe consider investing in a silicon mat or liners. Depending on the brand they’re great for all things hot and cold, and they wash up easily in your sink to cut down on waste, too.

Always Blind-Bake Pie Crusts

Blind baked pie crust with raw ingredients nearby on the table

No, you don’t need a blindfold to pull off the best pie crust of your life. Instead, all you need is a blind bake and some high quality butter, like the aforementioned high milk-fat butter that is Gay Lea’s new Bakers Gold butter. Blind baking means that you bake the crust in full before putting in any kind of filling, so that you know the crust is cooked all the way through. Otherwise you run the risk of adding filling to an uncooked crust and creating a soggy mess. What’s the other benefit of blind baking a pie crust with a butter that’s high in milk fat? Higher butterfat means less water and a softer texture, resulting in butter that easily melts into those pastry layers. There’s nothing like the flavourful, flaky crust that you get as a result. One bite can basically transport you back into your grandmother’s kitchen, where your mouth waters in anticipation of that freshly baked pie sitting in the windowsill.

See More: The Best Summer Pies and Tarts

Don’t Substitute Baking Powder for Baking Soda

…and vice versa. Although it’s easy to confuse baking powder with baking soda, they each do different things in the chemistry that is baking. Baking soda, AKA the one some people keep in the fridge to help deodorize all of those food smells, is sodium bicarbonate. In order for sodium bicarbonate to activate and help your baked goods rise, it needs an acid (brown sugar, lemon, vinegar, chocolate etc.) and a liquid. Baking powder, however, is baking soda that already has an acid (cream of tartar), and sometimes a bit of corn starch. In order to activate its equally awesome rising properties, all you need is a liquid.

Browning Butter is a Baking Superpower

Would you consider this one a rule, or a hack? Either way, nothing beats the deep, rich flavour of browned butter—especially in baking. Brown butter cookies, brown butter brownies… even a cake with brown butter frosting is enough to make you hungry. If you want to execute perfectly browned butter for use in your baked goods, slowly melt it in a pan over medium heat. You want even heat distribution so that the butter cooks evenly, but be sure to constantly stir it so that it doesn’t burn (brown butter can turn to burnt butter before you can say “browning burnt butter” three times fast). When the butter is a nice brown hue and the edges begin to sizzle and foam, you’re ready to remove it from the heat. All in all, the entire process should only take about 5-8 minutes, but it makes a huge difference in your final flavour profile.

Related: Anna Olson’s Guide to Buttercream Icing

Chill Your Cookie Dough Before Baking

Chocolate chip cookies baking on a baking sheet

If you’re going through all of that effort to make cookies from scratch, don’t you want to make the best possible batch? Of course you do! So if you aren’t already chilling your cookie dough before baking it, we have to ask, why not? As a general rule of thumb, once your dough has come together you should chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes so that the butter can harden again. That way the butter doesn’t disperse too quickly and flatten out the cookie. If you find it tough to work with chilled dough, scoop out your balls beforehand and then chill them on a baking sheet in the fridge. Or, flash-freeze them in the freezer, throw them into a freezer-friendly bag, and bake them up anytime you want fresh cookies.

Chilling cookie dough is a golden rule to be sure, but there are exceptions. If you’re going for a thin cookie that spreads out or you have a delicate dough like macron or madeleine, those are the instances where you’ll want to bake your cookies at room temperature instead.

Weigh Your Ingredients Whenever You Can

Recipes come in all kinds of measurements, but when it comes to baking, many of the pros prefer weighing their ingredients as opposed to counting cups and tablespoons. One reason is that a recipe is easier to half or double when you’re talking about weight over volume. But more importantly, there is less room for error when you’re using a kitchen scale versus the human eye. Baking is an exact science. And while there’s tons of room for creativity and innovation, the science at the base of those recipes remains the same. Whenever you have the opportunity to weigh your ingredients definitely do so, because the better you can get at precise ingredient measurements, the better those buttery baked goods will wind up tasting.

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

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Composite image of the season 9 cast of Top Chef Canada

This Year’s Top Chef Canada Contestants (Plus Season 9 Predictions!)

We all need nice things in our lives right about now, and what’s nicer than a brand new season of Top Chef Canada? The ultimate culinary competition is back for an anticipated ninth season, with a whole new batch of chefs ready to slice and dice their way to the top.

But first, this diverse group (which for the first time includes a married couple competing against each other) will have to cook their way into the hearts of a notoriously tough judging panel. This year that includes returning judges Mark McEwanMijune PakChris Nuttall-Smith and Janet Zuccarini, along with host-with-the-most Eden Grinshpan. Who will rise to the challenge, and who will fall faster than a collapsed soufflé?

We have a few first-look thoughts and impressions to get you started heading into the brand new season before it premieres on April 19 at 10p.m. ET/PT. Call it our amuse-bouche for all of the fierce competition to come.

Aicia Colacci, Montreal

Previous Gig: Chef de Cuisine at Impasto

First Impressions: This chef is going to bring the heat this season, and probably more than a few plates of spaghetti, rigatoni and raviolis in between. Aicia reveals that growing up food was always at the center of everything, and after getting her start in advertising she completely switched gears to the culinary world. Naturally, she’s never looked back.

Our Predictions: Passion in the kitchen can never be understated, but here’s hoping that this pepperoncino can keep her cool when the competition really heats up. As for her penchant for pasta? Well, that will definitely impress the judges at the start, but Aicia will need to prove that she has other bold plates that she can bust out too in order to rise to the ranks of Top Chef Canada.

Alex Edmonson, Calgary

Current Gig: Personal Chef and Owner of AE Chef Services

First Impressions: As a former model and current social media star, Alex is used to all eyes on him. But now he’s out to prove that he’s more than a pretty face (or a pretty food picture on Instagram), by showing that his flavours and techniques are just as impressive. The chef knew he wanted to be in the kitchen ever since he saw the movie Ratatouille in his teens, and now as a personal chef, he brings the restaurant to the people.

Our Predictions: Alex isn’t the least bit nervous about entering the Top Chef Canada kitchen, but maybe he should be. While his multitasking experience as a business owner could serve him well, not being in the pressure cooker environment of a working kitchen for a while could ultimately be a disadvantage.

Andrea Alridge, Vancouver

Current Gig: Chef de Cuisine at CinCin

First Impressions: Being a young chef at a renowned restaurant can come with its share of challenges, but that also means that Andrea is hungry to prove. Meanwhile, although this chef cooks a lot of Italian at her regular gig (where she fell in love with cooking with fire), she is also eager to showcase tons of other flavours—including those from her Filipino-Jamaican heritage.

Our Predictions: Andrea may be our chef to beat in terms of best fusion flavours this season. After all, she herself has said that she’s a rule breaker. But her desire to grow and passion for food could also mean that she will learn from any potential stumbles along the way, which makes her a strong contender in our books.

Emily Butcher, Winnipeg

Current Gig: Chef de Cuisine at Deer + Almond

First impressions: Emily grew up with a strong awareness of the magic that cooking can conjure up. After all her grandfather ran a butcher shop, her grandmother had a pie business, and her dad is “a pretty awesome home cook.” This chef sees cooking like a dance, and is very much looking forward to the day when the magic of dining returns following the pandemic.

Our Predictions: Emily seems fairly driven to become the first Top Chef Canada winner from Winnipeg. But first she may need to loosen her perfect standards just a smidge in order to keep up with the tight timelines and pressure cooker challenges featured on the show. She may also need to take the judges’ criticism to heart without letting it weigh her down, a challenge for any passionate chef on this show.

Erica Karbelnik, Toronto

Current Gig: Head Chef, Elmwood Spa

First Impressions: This fierce competitor is here to prove herself to everyone. That includes her former mentor Mark McEwan, her family, and her husband/fellow Top Chef Canada competitor, Josh. Erica definitely brings a lot to the table this season, but we’re especially excited to see her cooking, which she says will be a mix of Polish, Israeli and Moroccan influences.

Our Predictions: How will husband and wife competitors fare in this kitchen? It’s hard to say because that’s definitely a Top Chef Canada first, but we can’t wait to see how they compete with each other. Meanwhile, we’re even more jazzed to see some of the new flavours and fusion fare that Erica promises to bring—something tells us it’s going to be spicy.

Galasa Aden, Calgary

Current Gig: Executive Chef, Cliffhanger Restaurant

First Impressions: Galasa is all about infusing his plates with heart and soul, whether he’s making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or whipping up a dinner party for 20. The young chef is excited to showcase his Canadian-Ethiopian cooking style in the competition, a style he started refining as a young guy cooking with his mother in the kitchen.

Our Predictions: Galasa is aware that some of the other chefs may underestimate him because he’s the chef at a golf course, but where you cook is really only a matter of geography. This chef is definitely here to inspire and prove himself, and as a result, the other chefs may pick up a thing or two from this young star along the way.

Jae-Anthony Dougan, Ottawa

Current Gig: Owner, Chef Jae Anthony Pop Up

First Impressions: This seasoned chef has owned restaurants across Canada and cooked for basically every Canadian celeb possible (think Drake and The Weeknd). Now he’s ready to crush it on Top Chef Canada. Jae-Anthony wants to represent underrecognized Black chef talent, and he’s all about changing the game for his community… not to mention for his son.

Our Predictions: Winning this competition is quite personal for Jae-Anthony, so we’re fully expecting him to be one of the fiercest chefs out of the gate. His array of Caribbean flavours will be game-changing, and we have a feeling he’ll unknowingly push some of the other competitors to put their own passion and flair on the plate too.

Josh Karbelnik, Toronto

Current Gig: Chef de Cuisine, The Broadview Hotel

First Impressions: This fierce competitor (and former Chopped Canada winner) is all about bringing luxurious and refined plates with big flavours. He saw the power of perseverance firsthand as a young kid when his single mom would work three jobs to take care of the family. And he himself has had to push through, having lost two fingers nine years ago in an ice cream machine accident.

Our Predictions: If anyone can persevere through tough challenges this season it may be Josh. However let’s not forget that one of the people he’s competing against is his high school sweetheart and wife, Erica. Josh seems pretty sure that he and his partner will be the last chefs standing, so if that dream doesn’t come true it will be interesting to see how this couple rebounds.

Kym Nguyen, Vancouver

Current Gig: Sous Chef at Pidgin

First Impressions: Kym is here to put themselves on a plate, whether that means an Asian twist on a Shepard’s Pie or coating everything with soy sauce. The non-binary chef is all about interesting flavour combinations and mixing different culinary experiences together. And, although they didn’t go to culinary school, they definitely represent a new wave of chefs—chefs that leave aggression and anger behind in the kitchen in order to bring light into the industry that they love.

Our Predictions: Kym may seem quiet compared to some of the other competitors, but their food will speak for itself. The former architect student made a commitment when they first started their culinary career to practice civility in the kitchen, so we can probably expect that next-level outlook to be on full display on the show.

Siobhan Detkavich, Kelowna

Current gig: Demi Chef de Partie at Terrace Restaurant at the Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

First Impressions: At 21-years-old Siobhan may be a young competitor, but that doesn’t mean she won’t bring experience. So far in her culinary career, she’s turned heads winning over competitions and palates alike, and she’s definitely not one to be underestimated when things get tough in the kitchen.

Our Predictions: As a young, Indigenous competitor Siobhan admits she feels a bit of pressure to represent. This chef knows what she wants, and what she wants is to win. Even if she doesn’t make it all the way to the finale, it seems like she’ll be taking in every single learning opportunity along the way, which means she has everything to gain from doing this series.

Stéphane Levac, Nova Scotia

Current Gig: Chef, Maritime Express Cider Co.

First Impressions: This self-proclaimed casual-to-fine-dining chef is self-taught and tends to whip up comfort fare in his taproom, but he’s ready to take his bagels and foraged plates to the next level on Top Chef Canada. For him, food is a way of reconnecting with his Indigenous roots, and now he’s ready to share those plates with the rest of Canada.

Our Predictions: Stephane may be this season’s biggest wild card, as self-taught chefs typically are on this show. That isn’t a bad thing—sometimes it’s the chefs that think outside the box that come up with some of the most show-stopping plates. In that vein, we can’t wait to see what tricks Stephane may possibly have up his sleeve.

Watch Top Chef Canada April 19 at 10ep 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.

Tiffany Pratt’s Top Tips for Giving Bakeries New Life

We all love freshly baked goods, but who doesn’t love a visual feast to accompany those mouthwatering croissants, cookies, and sky-high stacked deli sandwiches? HGTV Canada designer (and everyone’s favourite Queen of Pink) Tiffany Pratt gets it, which is why she’s here to help struggling bakery owners with her new series Project Bakeover. In each episode she teams with master chocolatier Steve Hodge to give new life to rundown places, tackling one bakery at a time.

Headshot of Tiffany Pratt smiling on the set of Project Bakeover

Of course, resto-design is something that Pratt is passionate about, having transformed numerous GTA eateries in the past. We sat down with the designer to pick her creative brain on what it takes to give any bakery (or restaurant for that matter) a whole new visual life.

Related: Gorgeous Restaurant Designs By Tiffany Pratt

Attract Customers at the Curb

Before a customer even walks into your establishment, it’s important to set the tone and mood with plenty of curb appeal. Go for a warm and welcoming vibe that gives patrons an idea of what they can expect when they step inside. “The space being welcoming doesn’t start when you walk in the door, it starts before you actually walk through the door, on the sidewalk from the street,” says Tiffany. “Create impact to get people inside. How I do that is with colour and shapes and textures and prints.”

Whether that’s a bright façade, a watercolour fence, or graffiti on the walls remains up to you, just make sure that it stands out and that it speaks to the vibe you’re going for.

Embrace What Makes Your Business Unique

Nothing gets customers more excited than knowing they have the option to try something new, even when you’re talking about the comfort fare featured at most bakeries. In terms of design, Tiffany says that means looking at different shapes, colours and textures that stand out and alert people that what you have going on at your space is unique and special. Of course, adding a different type of food or a daily special doesn’t hurt either. “It’s really about giving people an experience,” Tiffany adds.

See More: Mrs. Joy’s Gets a Dramatic Makeover

Maximize the Takeout Experience

These days with takeout being more necessary than ever, it’s a chance for eateries to appeal to customers on a whole new level. Because let’s face it: everyone could use a little more joy in their lives, and what’s more joyful than feeling like your regular old Tuesday night takeout is an entire experience?

“I’ve had a few people that, instead of having a door, they just did a temporary cloud window, and made it a fun little pickup window,” Pratt says. “Cafes that I’ve designed turned their diner into one of those 1950s drive-in style places. And they actually did it so that people didn’t even have to leave their cars. They brought their food outside, drive-in style. There are so many fun ways to package things.”

Put Care Into Packaging

Speaking of takeout and delivery, Tiffany says it’s just as important to think about how you package your food as it is to think about how you design your space. Because that takeout is travelling away from your eatery, with every potential to bring new and returning customers back. “We focus less on what the space looks like right now as how the food is packaged,” she explains. “How can we take pictures of this fun takeout food? This comes into the conversation about branding and stickers and bags and logos, because if people can’t go into the restaurant or the bakery, they still want an experience.”

Related: Watch Full Episodes of Project Bakeover

Take Your Clientele Into Consideration

When Tiffany designed the dining room at Piano Piano, she knew that customers would be sitting down to a long and lengthy meal—as you do at nice Italian restaurants. Add in the fact that some meals would be heavy, and she wanted to ensure that people would be more than comfortable for extended periods of time. The designer says that taking the menu and clientele into consideration when designing any space is super important, and it’s one of the first conversations she has.

“I’ll say to myself as a designer, ‘OK, well, this is the food, this is what people are expecting.’ And then what can I do that is unexpected that no one has done yet that would make more people come here instead of anywhere else?” she explains.

Create An Overall Vibe

Whatever vibe you create with your eatery’s exterior, be sure to continue that feeling on the inside. Tiffany says that she always brings samples back to the spot itself in order to see how natural light affects her selections, and then she creates her famous colour combos in order to evoke all those feelings.

“Combining colours for me is about how I want the person who’s sitting in the space to feel,” she says, pointing to her dusty pink, teal, blue and mustard yellow design at Café Cancan as an example. “I just felt like that was making a more masculine clientele feel happy by that deep teal. The orange is very playful, but the pink always no matter who you are, makes everyone feel cozy,” she adds.

See More: Explore Bakeries From Project Bakeover

 

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A post shared by Café Cancan (@cafecancanto)

Don’t Forget the Instagram Crowd

These days everything is visual, and customers who are inspired to take a photo of your space to share with their social media crew creates a great opportunity for more publicity. Tiffany always ensures that she has such a space in her designs, whether that’s a fun dresser by the restrooms with inexpensive props, a colourful wall, or fun accessories on the tables.

“My favourite is to have something else to take pictures of. That’s what everybody—influencer or not—gets excited about,” Pratt says. “This is a very visual culture that we live in. If we give people beautiful things to experience, to try, and to look at and take pictures of, that becomes a trifecta of the commercial bakery industry, in my opinion.”

Last But Not Least, Don’t Focus on Perfection

Looking ahead, Tiffany predicts waste-free design trends with less expensive finishes. She also thinks people will continue to be excited by colour and things that spark joy and creativity. But she also says that we’re learning to be more forgiving with ourselves, and that extends to design as well.

“We have to be less attached to perfection and doing things perfectly and spending tons of money on things,” she says. “Often just opening the doors and creating great food and creating a fun, inviting atmosphere is more important than anything. Don’t focus on perfection, focus on fun. Focus on creating an environment that people want to be in. That’s the most important thing.”

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

Festive vegan latte

We Tried 3 Seasonal Vegan Lattes at Your Favourite Coffee Shops. Here’s the Winner

Holiday latte season is one of my favourite seasons. You can indulge in the best coffee beans, but with a shot of sugary flavour and warm, frothy milk. And now thanks to an increased popularity of veganism and food allergies, plant-based milk (soy, almond, oat) is also typically on the menu.

This year I wanted to sample all of the best seasonal vegan lattes to see which one held up best. However because of the pandemic it felt like the options for such bevvies has been limited as many smaller joints have had to shut down. The good news is that some of the coffee franchises we all know and love did step up to pump out the special syrup and spices this season. And while I’m always a fan of supporting local, for the purpose of Canadian readers everywhere, here’s my hot take on the best vegan lattes from three of the more widely available cafes in the country.

Related: Coffee and Hot Chocolate Recipes to Warm Your Belly

Chestnut Praline Latte With Almond Milk, Starbucks

Available across Canada

Festive flavour: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, perhaps? Just ordering this drink, which promises “caramelized chestnuts and spices” is enough to make me want to bust out the Nat King Cole.

Sweetness: A grande comes with four pumps of syrup, which was a touch on the sweet side. Next time I might stick with two or three.

Real talk: To make this version vegan, I omitted the whipped cream. Because of that, they also left off the “specialty spiced praline crumbs.” It doesn’t matter — I fell in love with chestnut lattes years ago. To be honest, it’s one of the first drinks my husband and I order every holiday season when they make their way to Canada.

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

Verdict: This year did not disappoint. While my drink was overly sweet (it took me a while to finish the whole cup) I did love how smooth and velvety it was. It also came piping hot, which was a bonus because I’m also that girl who microwaves her coffee if it’s not steaming. And as for the almond milk substitution? The syrup actually overpowered that chalky taste you can sometimes get with almond milk — and I think the drink would have been even sweeter with the regular stuff. So I’m calling this one a glorious, vegan win. Now if only they made chestnut lattes available year-round…

Gingerbread Latte With Almond Milk, Coffee Culture

Available in Ontario and Manitoba

Festive flavour: Gingerbread is kind of the ultimate holiday flavour, don’t you think? So drinking it in latte form (rather than biting into a tooth-chipping piece from the stale house my kids always insist on decorating) makes sense.

Sweetness: This one wasn’t nearly as sweet as the chestnut latte, but it definitely left me with a bit of a sugar rush.

Real talk: Full disclosure: I’m pretty picky about how I like my gingerbread. I love fresh ginger, so if we’re talking cookies, I prefer the warm and chewy kind.

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

Verdict: As a drink, this gingerbread latte had a pretty great balance of coffee to ginger — and just smelling it was enough to bring a warm and fuzzy feel to my hectic afternoon. But one cup was definitely enough to last me for the entire season. I’m of the camp that gingerbread is special because it’s a once-in-a-while treat. But if they made this drink in candle form? Well that’s something I’d light up all season long.

Cinnamon Toast Latte With Almond Milk, Second Cup

Available across Canada

Festive flavour: I feel like cinnamon is a year-round flavour, so I wasn’t necessarily getting a festive vibe from this drink. But it did feel special and new, especially since I got to sip it in a fully decorated cafe while my toddler nibbled on a croissant.

Sweetness: Once again this latte was slightly too sweet for my personal preference, so next time I would ask for one less pump of syrup.

Real talk: Growing up my dad used to make me cinnamon toast and it was one of my favourite breakfasts. So I was immediately excited to try this grown-up version. I sipped it while watching my kid take in the experience of having a snack at a cafe (something he hasn’t really gotten to do yet in his life, especially with this pandemic) and it just reminded me of traditions, holiday shopping and taking a timeout to savour the season. Yes, I got all that from a drink.

Related: We Tried Popeyes’ Famous Chicken Sandwich That Finally Arrived in Canada — Is It Worth the Hype?

Verdict: I appreciated that while the other cafes were happy to offer up vegan milk in any of their lattes, Second Cup specifically put a plant-based version of its Cinnamon Toast Latte on the menu. They usually make theirs with oat milk (because oats and cinnamon are another memorable combo), but in order to be completely fair to the other shops, I had mine with almond milk. That suited me just fine and it was delicious, but next time I’m there I’m definitely trying to recommended version.

Winner

While the chestnut latte was delicious and the gingerbread latte was memorable, I have to go with the cinnamon toast latte. Are you surprised? I believe the season is all about the memories we make — and to me, the drink was a mood. Add in the fact that Second Cup put effort into branding the latte as a vegan drink and it had to win — hands down.

That said, this year has been strange and weird for so many reasons. Restaurants have been struggling to stay afloat, let alone sink money into new products. So I’m calling this a tentative win for now and here’s hoping that by this time next year, we can all over-imbibe on caffeine and more holiday-themed, sugary goodness.

Photos courtesy of Amber Dowling

We also tried the KFC Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits. Are they worth the hype?

Neopolitan Baked Alaska Snowball is seen cracked open, with various chocolates and chocolate-covered strawberries seen inside

We Tried Mijune Pak’s New Chocolate Creations Just in Time for the Holidays

Foodie, Top Chef Canada judge, all-around champion for restaurants during the year that has been 2020… is there anything Mijune Pak can’t do? Well as it turns out the Vancouver personality hasn’t just been brightening up people’s lives with her virtual Instagram cooking classes and delightful new animated emojis these past few months. She’s also been helping fans relive their childhood memories with a new line of gourmet chocolates that are just as pretty as they are delicious.

Related: Get Mijune Pak’s recipe for a Canadian Pie-in-a-Jar

Mijune Chocolate is a collaboration between Pak and award-winning chocolatier Christophe Bonzon. The limited-edition line of bars and snowballs was inspired by her childhood memories, which is how she wound up with concoctions like Maple Syrup French Toast and Neapolitan Baked Alaska Snowballs. Fans were so pumped to try the goodies come the Oct. 20 launch date that they even crashed the pre-order website.

Luckily we got our hands on some of the festive edibles—which are available to ship across Canada—and we had a few thoughts…

Neapolitan Baked Alaska Snowballs, $18.95

Related: 20 Holiday Gifts Perfect for the Food Lover in Your Life

First impression
You know when something is just too pretty to eat? That’s probably why we had to stash our snowball in the fridge for a few days before we finally broke down and smashed it. Not only was the packaging gorgeous, but the ball itself really did look like some kind of a magical, edible snowball that had been hugged by a fairy. The brilliant pink-and-white boule was finished with snow-like ridges and a sprinkling of chocolate crumble, basically putting this season’s trendy hot chocolate bombs to shame.   

Taste
Where do you even start when you’re presented with a flurry of flavours inside one magic ball? One that you get to crack open with more enthusiasm than a Kinder Surprise Egg? Outside the snowball is made up of creamy, layered milk chocolate, vanilla bean and white chocolate, which is basically a grown-up, sexier version of the childhood favourite, if you ask us. Then inside you’ve got a ton of fun Neapolitan crisps, dark-chocolate-covered marshmallows, and two freeze-dried strawberries that are coated in either ruby pink chocolate or dark chocolate. It’s enough to send your taste buds into overdrive, but in that indulgent, the-holidays-are-here kind of way.

See More: Baked Alaskas Are Making a Comeback – and These Chocolate Hazelnut Treats Are Proof

Inspirations
Mijune was inspired to create these brilliant snowballs from her childhood memories of eating Neapolitan ice cream. And like us, she always ate the chocolate and vanilla, but left the strawberry for someone more unsuspecting. This adult version has all the creamy flavours you remember eating as a kid, but without the brain freeze. Oh, and as for those strawberries? When wrapped in a crispy feuilletine, you kind of wish there were more than just two.

Lasting thoughts
If you can get your hands on one of these rare treats (note to Mijune and Christophe—produce more, please) they make a delightful and fun gift. The only problem is that you’re far more likely to want to keep it for yourself than give it out, especially if you’re stuck at your house for the holidays and are really craving that nostalgic taste of home.

Maple Syrup French Toast, $11.95

First impression
Like the snowball, this French Toast bar comes in an understated-but-pretty package that is also elegant thanks to the gender-neutral gold embellishments. Inside, the bar is also unabashedly Canadian thanks to a swanky Maple Leaf adorning it. Ours was broken in one spot by the time we opened it, however we really loved that the bar was perforated in unexpected diagonal lines, making it so much more elegant than traditional chocolate square bars.

Related: 10 Unexpected Chocolate Flavour Pairings That Are a Perfect Match

Taste
Most people are either a fan of maple or they aren’t. And even those who fall into the former camp have to admit that too much of the treat is overkill—it is kind of sweet, after all. Enter this special French Toast chocolate bar, which tones down the sweetness by pairing the maple with a crumbly, toast-like cookie that feels just a bit rough on your tongue. It’s a fun play on texture and flavour that we didn’t even know could exist in a chocolate bar, and we’d be lying if we said we haven’t been craving more ever since licking the last little bit off our plate.

Inspirations
So many of us grew up eating pancakes, waffles and French toast on a lazy Sunday morning, so you can’t help but feel a little nostalgic when you take that first bite into this bar. As soon as it hits your tongue you’re automatically transported back to the days when you would slather butter and maple syrup over a stack and dive in unabashedly. Just thinking about it now makes us want to whip up some French toast this weekend… 

Lasting thoughts
Whether you want something sweet to go with your tea, or you’re putting together a dessert board with all of your favourite things, the Maple Syrup French Toast bar is one sweet addition. It also makes an impressive gift or stocking stuffer, especially for any Canadians out there who find themselves missing home this holiday season.

Overall thoughts
As far as we’re concerned the only downside to the Maple Syrup French Toast and Neapolitan Baked Alaska Snowballs is that they’re limited-edition runs. We’re sure Mijune and Christophe had a blast acting like Christmas elves and collaborating with these sweet treats, but now that they’ve proven to be every bit as spectacular in practice as they are in theory, here’s hoping for even more sweet, sweet collaborations between these two in the near future.

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. With quality knives, you’ll be chopping ingredients for your hearty winter stew or easy weeknight dinner in no time. You’re sure to find plenty of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on various sets of quality kitchen knives.

knife block on kitchen countertop

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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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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“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

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“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.

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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.

Photos courtesy of Amber Dowling

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.

 

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