All posts by Leslie Wu

Leslie Wu writes about food and travel and the spaces in between.
Lap Cheong (Chinese Dried Sausage) on a plate

Getting To Know Lap Cheong (Chinese Dried Sausage)

Biting into a piece of lap cheong, or Chinese sausage, brings a flood of tastes and textures to the palate: the slight snap of the thin casing quickly yields to a wash of fatty meatiness and a vaguely soft salty flavour that lingers in the mouth.

See More: The Most Creative Ways to Cook Sausage for Dinner

As with much of the cuisines of China, lap cheong varies by region and the generic Cantonese term can even cover dried sausages from different countries in Asia. In North America, lap cheong commonly refers to the pork variety with a deep pink colour, while yun cheong is made with pork and duck liver and is darker brown with a deeper, more savoury flavour. Both types are made with coarsely ground or chopped meat in casing using a salt and sugar cure before being air dried (or, poetically, “wind dried”). The result is a firm, slightly sweet sausage that must be cooked before consumption, much like a raw chorizo.

Air dried lap cheong and yun cheong

These two varieties can be sold individually or packaged together with a dried, bacon-like pork belly product, and can be found in most Chinese supermarkets or grocers.

Related: Our Most Popular Pork Recipes

Storing Chinese Sausages

Although lap cheong and yun cheong are shelf-stable and sold vacuum-packed on store shelves, once the packaging is opened it is best to keep them in the refrigerator. Lap cheong has a relatively long shelf life (weeks in the refrigerator and months in the freezer) but should be cooked before the expiry date on the label and before it shows any sign of mold.

Chinese Sausage Cooking Methods

As versatile as bacon (try these sweet and savoury ways to enjoy bacon) with the same fat and salty notes, lap cheong and yun cheong have similar cooking methods and can be enjoyed on their own simply steamed or used as a flavouring in small quantities for rice, noodles or stir-fried dishes. In recipe books ranging from the iconic All Under Heaven to my mother’s well-worn book of Chinese-American recipes from the seventies, the best methods for enjoying Chinese sausage are often the simplest. 

Steaming Chinese Sausage

Steaming the sausages, either by themselves or over rice, is a traditional way to enjoy the purity of the flavours and the plump texture of the meat. Although the instructions on the packaging may differ, an easy way to steam the sausages is to lay them in a single layer on a heatproof plate, then put the plate on a metal rack over simmering water. Steam for at least 20 minutes, although if you forget them for an hour, as a family member discovered by accident, the sausages will still turn out fine.

Related: The Best Rice Recipes for Dinner and Dessert

Steamed lap cheong on blue plate

Steaming Chinese Sausage on Rice

For something slightly more substantial, but no harder, bring white rice to a boil (using this method for a perfect pot of rice on the stovetop), then place the uncooked sausages on top of the rice before reducing the heat to low for the final simmer. Want to ante up the flavour some more? Bite-sized pieces of uncooked chicken, green onions or pre-soaked shiitake mushrooms are also savoury additions to this easy rice dish that make for a cozy meal for winter months. (While you’re soaking the mushrooms, the chicken can be tossed in a marinade of equal parts of soy and rice vinegar, with slightly less white sugar.) If you’re set on a sauce, use light soy, ginger and sesame oil to finish it off, or for lovers of spice, a non-traditional dollop of gochujang, sriracha or chilli crisp would add a bit of heat.

See More: Learn how to Prepare The Perfect Pot of Rice on the Stove

steamed lap cheong and Chinese greens on rice

Chinese Sausage Stuffed Vegetables

In love with stuffed squash? Some Chinese cooks put a North American spin on Chinese sausage by cooking the rice, frying it quickly with sliced lap cheong and cooked chestnuts and then filling butternut or kabocha squash with the mixture for a substantial side dish or entree.

Related: Brilliant Ways to Use Butternut Squash

Chinese Sausage Stir Fry

Speaking of stir fries, lap cheong and yun cheong are perfect additions to add a little savoury, salty umami to all manner of wok-based dishes. Slice the uncooked sausages thinly on a bias to increase the contact ratio on the heat for added crispiness and use them to flavour vegetables from boy choy to gai lan. They can also be added to pan-fried noodles such as e-fu mein, chow mein, rice or egg noodles. Think of flavour pairings and contrasts — the slightly sweeter lap cheong can be a nice contrast to slightly bitter or acidic greens, while the darker, more savoury liver based yun cheong stands up well to more aggressively flavoured ingredients and sauces. Learn about Chinese greens with this guide on How To Shop, Prep and Cook Chinese Greens

However you prepare your Chinese sausages, the best way to figure out your preferences is to buy a pack and experiment with techniques and flavours. From simple to sophisticated plates, these versatile ingredients are well worth adding to your arsenal of cooking techniques.

*Note: All Chinese names in this article are English phonetic translations of the Cantonese terms and may vary in terms of spelling, depending on the recipe, producer or grocer.

Images courtesy of Getty Images

prosciutto di parma on a wooden serving board

The History of Prosciutto di Parma, Plus Buying, Storing and Pairing Tips

Soft and supple, with a pleasant saltiness and just enough fat to melt delicately on the tongue, a thin slice of Prosciutto di Parma is an exquisite experience. The artisanal product can be found in many grocery stores, but knowing a few pointers when it comes to buying, storing and serving it can make a world of difference.

prosciutto di parma on a wooden serving board

The History of Prosciutto di Parma

This storied ham has a long history as a treasured ingredient enjoyed both within Italy’s borders and around the world, with a production method that can be dated back as early as 100 BC, when it was praised by Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato. The traditional process used for thousands of years incorporating salt, air and time is still largely followed by producers of Prosciutto di Parma today.

As with many foods made in Italy, terroir is especially important — so much so that Prosciutto di Parma, as well as prosciutto made in regions such as San Daniele and Toscano, is registered under a European Union protected designation of origin (PDO). These strict rules are upheld by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, a group of 140 producers, and the product is traced from breeder to final inspection.

A Peek at Prosciutto Production
According to these rules, Prosciutto di Parma must be produced within the confines of the Parma region using specific breeds of heavy pigs and cured for at least 400 days from the date of first salting (a process that can go as long as three years). As the salt draws out moisture, the meat is tenderized and flavours are intensified. Hams are then tested in five places before being stamped with a crown signifying its origin.

What to Look For At the Grocery Store

When purchasing prosciutto, there are a few ways to ensure that you’re getting exactly what you want.

Related: Advice From a Cheese Master: How to Buy, Store and Eat Cheese

Guarantees of Authenticity
Whether you’re shopping for freshly sliced or pre-packaged prosciutto, there are signs you can look for that guarantee its authenticity. Prosciutto di Parma, for example, has a fire-brand of a five-pointed Ducal Crown on the skin which is always visible when displayed in the deli counter. On pre-sliced packs, look for the Ducal Crown within a black triangle, which is the packaging equivalent to the fire-brand.

Fat and Condition of the Meat
The fat on a piece of Prosciutto di Parma should be pure white, not yellow. It’s ok to see small white crystals, which are the tyrosine, an amino acid that comes from the breakdown of naturally occurring proteins in the prosciutto.

Specify Thickness
If you’re buying at the deli counter, you can ask for different thicknesses, depending on your planned use for the prosciutto. If you’re wrapping it around another ingredient, especially to cook, you may want a slightly thicker slice. For enjoying on its own, Prosciutto di Parma is best cut in paper thin or translucent slices. Ask the person cutting the piece to show you a test slice before proceeding with your order (typically sold by weight) and ask for a taste to see which producer you like best. Also, it’s best to leave the slicing to the professionals with a meat slicer, due to the difficulty of achieving a properly thin cut with a knife at home.

Related: Top 5 Kitchen Knives Every Home Cook Should Own

How to Store your Prosciutto

Make sure that you store it correctly to preserve the quality of the product. Freshly sliced Prosciutto di Parma from the deli counter is best eaten the day of purchase for the maximum effect, but can be stored tightly wrapped in the refrigerator to avoid oxidation.

A whole piece in a vacuum pack can be stored unopened at 8°C for up to six months, but once the packaging and meat are cut, that time shrinks to one month (be sure to tightly wrap the exposed end with plastic wrap). Pre-sliced prosciutto sold in packs should be enjoyed within three days, and kept well wrapped in the refrigerator.

Finding the Perfect Pairing for Prosciutto di Parma

With its balance of soft saltiness and nutty sweetness, Prosciutto di Parma pairs well with a large variety of ingredients and applications from brunch to dinner.

prosciutto di parma wrapped around breadsticks

Cooked Dishes
Although many people think of prosciutto as the star of a charcuterie board laden with cheese, fruit and nuts, it’s also a great supporting player in main course entrees to add flavour to cooked dishes, or as a complementary flavour to meat, seafood or produce. Try adding it to your favourite pasta dish or using it with celery, carrots and onion to build a better soffrito. When Prosciutto di Parma is crisped, it can also add lovely flavour to vegetables such as Brussels sprouts or green beans.

Get the recipe for Aglio e Olio with Peas and Prosciutto.

Fruit and Vegetables
From the traditional melon and figs to more unusual options, the mildness of prosciutto pairs nicely with your favourite seasonal fruit or vegetables, such as fresh spring peas or summer corn, autumn cranberries or winter pears. Try using Prosciutto di Parma to wrap spiced plums or gooey grilled brie with pineapple for a playful twist. For cold applications, prosciutto should be brought to room temperature for the best texture.

Get the recipe for Prosciutto-Wrapped Grilled Brie with Pineapple.

With a Drink
Prosciutto di Parma’s slight sweetness pairs extremely well with a variety of beverages, especially ones like an Aperol Spritz that have good acidity and fizziness to counter the rich mouthfeel of the fatty layer. For other Italian-inspired drink pairings, try the soft bubbles of a Lambrusco, your favourite Prosecco, or a lighter Italian Pilsner or Ale (for non-drinkers, a tonic water would achieve the same palate cleansing effect).

Get the recipe for a Thyme-Infused Aperol Spritz.

mooncakes for mid autumn festival 2021

Mooncakes Decoded: Everything You Need to Know About the Decadent Treat

Dense, with a sugary richness contrasted ever so slightly by a golden brown pastry shell, mooncakes have a certain moreishness that make them a perfect indulgence for celebration. This is fitting, considering the role of mooncakes as a prized gift during the Mid-Autumn festival in China and throughout the world.

mooncakes for mid autumn festival 2021
Getty

Origin and History of Mooncakes

The origin of mooncakes is spun from a fanciful legend of Moon Goddess Chang’e, who became a deity upon drinking a potion for immortality given by the gods to her heroic archer husband Hou Yi, celebrated for shooting nine of 10 suns from the sky. In one version, the separation of the two lovers due to the flight of Chang’e to the heavens leads a heartbroken Hou Yi to set out favourite foods in her honour — a tradition that has continued in the moon festival.

Related: The Best Ways to Shop, Prepare and Cook Chinese Greens

Mooncake delicacies have long been rumoured to be the basis of revolution throughout Chinese history, from the Manchu rebellion (a story, which turns out, may be equally mythological) to the recent political uprisings in Hong Kong. The round cakes are gifted and shared with family, friends and business acquaintances to symbolize reunion each year on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Today, mooncakes are made throughout China, although, as with much Chinese cuisine, regional variations abound.

Where to Find Mooncakes

In larger Chinese supermarkets, you can often find more than 100 kinds of mooncakes and be warned: these delicacies dont come cheap. Around the Mid-Autumn Festival, which starts this year on September 21, store shelves and bakery displays begin to fill with colourful boxes of these treats.

Although you can certainly make mooncakes at home if you’re looking for a project, part of the pleasure of these pastries is opening the elaborate wrapping or box and getting that first glimpse of the intricate lettering or patterned design of the pastry created with a specialized mold that varies by bakery or manufacturer. Cutting through the thin golden crust to reveal the dense filling inside is also a satisfying sight, revealing the splendid treasures beneath the patterned pastry.

Related: Restaurant-Worthy Chinese Scallion Pancakes You Can Make at Home

If you want to attempt them at home, molds can be found in some Asian supermarkets and restaurant supply stores, and come in either wood or plastic for easy extraction, according to Carolyn Phillips’ comprehensive work, All Under Heaven.


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Types of mooncakes

From traditional to modern, here’s a rundown of the most common types you’re likely to encounter.

Sizes

Mooncakes generally come in two sizes, depending on the type: a larger 3-inch version and a smaller 1-inch mini cake.

Shells

The most traditional version of mooncakes uses lard or shortening to create a tender light brown shell, easily pressed into a mold and shaped. One variation you may see on store shelves today, however, are the increasingly popular snowy or snow skin mooncakes, which are unbaked and use rice flour, giving them a mochi-like consistency.

Related: Make These Soft and Fluffy BBQ Pork Bao Buns

Fillings

One of the most commonly made types of mooncakes are the ones using red bean paste, resulting in a dark brown filling the colour of a Mexican mole sauce or roux for gumbo. The texture is soft and chewy but easily sliced, and densely sticky sweet.

Lotus seeds, on the other hand, produce a lighter filling based on a laborious process involving shelling, boiling and pureeing the seeds to form a paste. The creamy caramel coloured filling is smooth and delicately sweet, contrasting with the thin pastry shell.

Although these two fillings are the staples, bakeries and manufacturers have gotten increasingly creative, using fruit such as durian or dates, nuts or even egg custard as fillings to cater to a wider audience.


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In addition to the red bean, lotus seed, and other fillings that may come inside your mooncake, salted egg yolks are often added to represent the full moon in autumn. Whether you choose a one or two yolk filling is up to your tolerance for rich textures: brined duck eggs are used for both savoury and sweet applications in Chinese cooking and the salting process turns the yolks into the essence of deeply yellow egginess. If you really want to go all out, three egg yolk versions are available, but not for the faint of heart.

Whatever your choice, be sure to share your mooncakes with friends and family, the way that they were meant to be eaten —  in celebration and amidst the joy of reuniting.

Related: These Chinese Coconut Buns Come Together With Ingredients You Already Have on Hand

Buddy Valastro and his Carlo's Bakery team pose for a photo after winning Season 3 of Buddy vs. Duff

Buddy vs. Duff Season 3: The Best Moments

A close race right up until the very end, the third season of Buddy vs. Duff kept viewers in suspense with a completely tied score heading into the finale. Despite filming on both coasts with judges scattered across the country due to the pandemic, the rivalry was just as fierce in this East Coast/West Coast mashup. Both bakers also came into the competition changed by life circumstances: Buddy Valastro’s bowling accident that injured his dominant hand (a crucial tool for a baker) and the birth of Duff Goldman’s first child Josephine, with his wife Johnna.

Although Buddy took home the ultimate win with a 247-245 final score, the eight-episode season was filled with memorable moments from the Charm City Cakes and Carlo’s Bakery teams. Let’s take a look at a few of Season 3’s best moments.

Related: Meet the Cast of Buddy vs. Duff

A Return To The Classics: Episode 3, “Sweet Rides”

Calling back to an early challenge in Season 1, Duff suggested a rematch to redeem his team’s previously faulty hydraulics on a lowrider 64 Impala that he built with lead cake decorator Geof Manthorne. “It was a cool cake, but not our best work,” admitted Duff. This time, Duff and Geof had a team supporting them and went bigger and better with an eight-foot-long version showing off an LA bounce and working headlights and taillights. Ultimately, the car ended up losing narrowly by two points to Buddy’s fire engine red ’57 Chevy convertible, which impressed the judges with its detailed interior and stunning isomalt work.

 

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A post shared by Duff Goldman (@duffgoldman)


An Ace In The Hole: Episode 8, “Monster Matchup”

Secret weapon Laurent Branlard was a real ringer on the Carlo’s Bakery team, spinning out sugar work that wowed the judges time and time again. His glowing blown sugar spikes with a colour-changing light reflecting through them was a stunning game-changer on the team’s 20-foot long dinosaur. Not only did Laurent, an executive pastry chef, create 70 of these spikes (“I’m not going to lie —it’s pretty overwhelming,” he said), but he also found time to decorate them with disturbingly realistic lesions on the cake. “Who doesn’t dream about eating a pimple?”, he joked.

 

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A post shared by Buddy Valastro (@buddyvalastro)

Mishaps: All Season

From dropped trees on Duff’s hanging gardens to a tire blow-up on Buddy’s classic car, both teams had to deal with mishaps all through the season. During the Episode 4: First We Feast episode, both teams faced challenges in construction. As the Carlo’s Bakery crew moved their massive cake slice into the final area, Buddy got to do some last-minute repair when the sprinkles on the back started falling off, leading head sculptor Ralph Attanasia to dub Buddy the “Sprinkle Boss” and reducing the team to giggles. “We actually had a little disaster of it falling down and we had to redo it. I gotta be honest with you — the second time around, I think we did it better,” Buddy told the judges.

See More: The Best Moments From Season 2 of Buddy vs. Duff

 

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A post shared by Buddy Valastro (@buddyvalastro)

On the Charm City Cakes side, homemade jelly jars made of isomalt filled with corn syrup were a great concept that had some issues with execution (trust Geof to hack a solution when the liquid springs a leak in the isomalt).

…And Machinery: All Season

Finally, who could forget the madcap machinations that occurred on both sides this season? Buddy’s love of his forklift (even executing a complicated cake flip that previously led to disaster in previous seasons) led pastry chef and cake artist Becky Blaso to comment, “Buddy always says go big or go home” when watching the mayhem. On the Charm City Cakes team, from Geof’s pivoting table belt that lifted the arms of nine-foot monster Marty to the lighting effect that animated the final cake, the team went all out to try new things. “Having the extra day gives us extra time to be extra dumb and dangerous,” observed Duff of Geof’s mad scientist lightning tube wiring.

Watch Buddy vs. Duff and 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.

Chinese vegetables on white plate with chopsticks

The Best Ways to Shop, Prepare and Cook Chinese Greens

From the satisfying crunch of a sturdy stalk of gai lan (often called Chinese broccoli or flowering kale) to the delicate and yielding tenderness of dau miu (snow pea leaves or shoots), there’s a veritable cornucopia of Chinese greens out there for you to explore. Let’s take a look at a few common varieties that you’ll find in your local market or large-scale grocery store, and some tips and tricks to try them stir-fried, steamed, braised or even roasted.

green Chinese vegetables on white plate with Chinese lettering
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Buying and storing

When buying Chinese vegetables, look for fresh green colour, without any yellowing or browning in the stem or leaves. Feel the leaves — they should be relatively clean and not slimy (a sure sign that the vegetable is doomed for the garbage sooner rather than later). 

green leafy pea shoots
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Some supermarkets mist their vegetables to keep them fresh longer, so if the vegetable is super wet, place it upside down in your cart to drain as you shop (not on top of your other groceries!). Prop it on the counter to drain some more when you  get home, and place a paper towel in the bag to absorb excess moisture before placing it in the vegetable crisper.

Prepping

When washing greens, the easiest way is to place them in a clean sink full of cold water and let them soak to get out the dirt and sand. Scoop the vegetables off the top as they float, rinse and repeat until there’s no more sediment on the bottom of the sink, ideally two or three times. Drain them in a colander until dry.

Bok choy in red colander on kitchen counter
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For vegetables with a firm stalk, such as gai lan or choy sum (flowering greens), trim the bottom of the stalk off, and remove leaves with browning tips. Some cooks also cut off the flowering yellow parts, although this is more for aesthetics, as these parts are edible.

For bulbous vegetables such as white stemmed bok choy, which is technically a cabbage, and its variations (baby bok choy and the green hued Shanghai offshoot), you can trim the bottom end off to cook individual leaves, or slice through the vegetable vertically so that the leaves remain together while cooking.

Bok Choy leaves in a bowl
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For leafy vegetables, such as dau miu, trim the ends of the shoots and the curly tendrils, which can be tough. Chinese cabbage (either the yellow, rounded Napa or flatter, green Taiwanese version) can be treated much like lettuce, taking out the bottom core and either keeping the leaves whole or slicing or shredding into smaller pieces.

Cooking

Based on highly regional ingredients and preparation, Chinese recipes for vegetables can vary widely. Just as there are countless types of green vegetables used by cooks throughout China, there are specific methods of cooking that highlight the vegetable in its own way.

Stir-fried or seared simply with garlic, ginger and other aromatics, most greens take well to this treatment. With gai lan, Chinese cabbage, dau miu and even iceberg lettuce (often served cooked), cooking on high heat quickly allows the greens to retain their colour and slight crunch. When preparing vegetables for stir-frying or searing, you can cut them to bite sized pieces or leave them whole for a more dramatic preparation (quickly seared Chinese cabbage looks particularly pretty on a plate).

Chinese vegetables on white plate with chopsticks
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Adding a little liquid to the cooking process results in steamed greens that are mid-way between the softness of braising and the crisp of a stir-fry. This method works best with greens that have a little structure to them, such as gai lan or halved bok choy. Finish it off with a drizzle of oyster sauce and few drops of roasted sesame oil for a savoury interplay with the slight sweetness of the greens.

Cooking greens in slightly more water or broth reveals the delicate textures of braised greens, often cooked in conjunction with small pieces of meat or tofu. Again, sturdier greens hold up better to the longer cooking process here.

braised Chinese vegetables, tofu and mushrooms in white covered bowl on plate.
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Get the Recipe: Braised Baby Bok Choy.

A relatively low-key way to incorporate many of these greens into a prepared dish is to simply add them to soup, either as a garnish at the table or as part of a communal hotpot, where raw vegetables and meat are cooked in broth by diners.

Get the Recipe: Chinese Hot Pot.

If you want to eschew the stovetop completely, some greens can be served raw or pickled (gai choy, or mustard greens, are particularly nice prepared this way). Chinese cabbage or other more delicate options are often used by cooks around the globe for alternative preparations including slaws, salads or wraps.

Although it’s somewhat less traditional, roasting or grilling stalk or bulb based greens can produce charred edges with a slightly bitter counterpoint. The sheet pan method, using parchment paper for easy cleanup, gives similar results.

fish and green vegetables on parchment paper sheet pan.
Learn about roasting in a sheet pan with this Easy Summer Supper.

Once you’ve mastered these techniques, there are many more greens and methods to explore. Try adding a bunch of a new-to-you ingredients to your cart the next time you’re in the produce section, and customize them to your favourite flavours and tastes.

*Note: All vegetable names in this article are English phonetic translations of the Cantonese terms and may vary in terms of spelling, depending on the recipe, producer or grocer.

Headshot of Afrim Pristine over various cheeses

How to Build a Better Cheese Board: Ask a Cheese Master

The world of cheese is ever-evolving and Afrim Pristine is a lifelong student of its multitude of flavours, textures and potential. Now, he’s hitting the road in an epic global journey on Cheese: A Love Story to check out some of the ways chefs celebrate cheese in all its forms.

For years, Afrim, who co-owns Cheese Boutique along with his brothers Agim and Ilir, has been gradually taking over the public-facing elements of the family business from father Fatos, now retired. Although he’s got the credentials — he’s a maître fromager (as part of the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers) and has a knighthood conferred by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Taste Fromage de France — Afrim’s main skill is making cheese accessible and understandable to the general public along with the chefs who he counts as regular customers and friends. As the person behind the counter at Cheese Boutique, he’s spent 25 years figuring out how to assess peoples’ tastes and what to offer them, and we’ve asked him for his best techniques in figuring out the best cheese board to please your guests.

Afrim Pristine answers questions at his shop, Cheese Boutique in Toronto

Related: Secrets From a Cheese Master

Ask the Right Questions

If you ask Afrim to make you a cheese board, be prepared for two things: to sample a lot of cheese and to answer a bunch of questions, from what you’re eating and drinking for dinner to what cheeses you like and dislike. “My job is to know what people want before they know they want it,” says Afrim. “The more I know about their tastes, the more I can factor into the decision about showcasing whatever cheese I think they’re going to like.”

Consider Seasonality

We vary our food and drink to the seasons, but when it comes to cheese, one thing that’s often forgotten is the weather outside. “It’s summertime right now. In my opinion, I think a super fat, pungent French Burgundy Normandy style cheese is too much: it’s too heavy, aromatic, and pungent,” he says. For warmer weather, Afrim suggests lighter options such as delicate buffalo mozzarella, whipped herbed ricotta, a fresh young youthful goat cheese or a semi-soft, mild-mannered Ontario gruyère.

See More: Afrim Pristine’s Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread

Be Willing to Experiment

Although people tend to cling to a few tried and true favourites and formulas when assembling a cheese board, Afrim encourages people to take their cheese exploration to a new level. “I don’t think there should be any hard and fast rules when it comes to cheese,” he says. On the show, Afrim was taken aback by chef and “Sorcerer of Entlebuch” Stefan Wiesner at Michelin-starred Gasthof Röessli, who served him Emmental baked with charcoal. At home, trying a curveball or an unexpected surprise on a cheese platter can bring a similarly memorable experience to the table. Afrim likes to astonish people with a piece of monte enebro. “It’s covered in greyish mould, like if you left a loaf of bread for a few days, and it’s goat’s milk unlike the majority of cheeses made in Spain from sheep’s milk. It’s creamier and funkier,” he says.

Make Smart Choices

Although variety is key to cheese boards, get creative with sizing according to your budget. “Have five to seven cheeses, but consider getting some smaller pieces to squeeze in a few extra flavours,” says Afrim. Having more choices allows your guests a better chance of finding something that they will enjoy, without necessarily raising the cost for you. “Not everyone is going to love a blue, but try to have a goat, sheep, semi-firm, a firm, blue, and a fresh cheese, hitting every category,” he says. “You can’t make everyone happy, but if someone walks away loving five of the seven cheeses, that’s all they’re going to remember.”

Various cheeses on a wooden board

Related: Baked Camembert From Cheese: A Love Story

Don’t Buy in Bulk

Buying smaller quantities has other advantages when it comes to crafting a cheese board. “I never buy, or I never tell my customer to buy cheese in bulk. It has a life, and it does go off, especially if it is going in and out of the fridge, so buy what you’re going to enjoy,” says Afrim. “The maintenance, love, and care you give to cheese is equally important to it being made well with good quality milk and good technique. And a consumer’s job is not to store cheese, unless they happen to have a cheese cave—like we do. It’s my job here is to handle the cheese.”

However you construct them, cheese boards are both a unique expression of individual tastes and a way to share them with friends and family. Afrim sees cheese as a near-universal language that translates around the globe, bringing people together. “I love cheese, and I think a big part of this is showcasing the respect for such a simple ingredient: an ingredient we all love,” he says. “In this industry, like-minded people make magic.”

For more of Afrim’s great tips, check out how to buy, store and eat cheese or watch some of the most magical cheese moments from the show.

Watch Cheese: A Love Story 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.

 

 

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

What Baking Ingredients Are Best to Buy for Home Bakers

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

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

Pastry Chef Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

See More: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

Phyllo Pastry

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

Deconstructed Baklava Butter Tart with fresh berries and mint

Get the recipe for Baklava Butter Tart Bake

Puff Pastry

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

Fondant

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

Cookie Dough That Requires Specialized Presses or Decorating Equipment

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

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

Vanilla Extract

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

Vanilla and Calamansi Macaron stacked on a white tray

Related: Try These Vanilla Calamansi Macaron

“Handle With Care” Ingredients

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

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

Mijune Pak on set of Top Chef Canada season 9

Top Chef Canada Judge Mijune Pak Reflects on Reinvention in Her Own Career and the Restaurant Industry

Among the lessons that those in the hard-hit hospitality industry have had to learn this past year is reinvention — from the early days of pandemic closures, chefs and operators have scrambled to adapt to takeout, social distancing and often costly retrofits, as well as other hurdles in their path.

And when it comes to transforming herself based on both circumstances and passion, Top Chef Canada judge Mijune Pak is well suited to offer up some hard-won wisdom from her career, which has evolved and shifted with the zeitgeist as she adapts and refreshes her brand. “I think that my role as this food personality has really changed because when I first started it was a lot more from a critiquing side,” she says. “Now, it’s more of a support system for the industry and being a voice for the Canadian culinary food scene on an international level.”

Mijune Pak on the set of Top Chef Canada

Born and raised in the food-forward city of Vancouver, Mijune originally set her sights on a career in media relations. With a degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University, Mijune’s first job was marketing for Paramount Pictures, handling advance screenings, tracking critics’ reviews and other promotional material. Her interests, however, lay in filling up notebooks with pictures and observations of the dishes she was eating in her travels. Based on her sister Mijon’s encouragement, Mijune launched , her food and travel blog, FollowMeFoodie.com, in 2009. Over time, Mijune’s role has shifted away from the blogging that launched her career into a more expansive role as entrepreneur and spokesperson for an industry she loves.

Related: We Tried Mijune Pak’s New Chocolate Creations

When the pandemic curtailed her travel last year, Mijune started hosting At Home With Mijune, a cooking show with chefs, on Instagram Live as a means of bolstering the industry. “I had this platform to use, and these connections for chefs, so why not keep supporting the industry that’s supporting you, and try to push through this together by being creative?” she asked herself. 

Mijune also brought this spirit of adaptation and evolution to her role as a judge on Top Chef Canada — a cooking competition completely changed by the circumstances of the world around it. Adding to the heightened awareness around this season of the show are growing, and necessary, discussions around social justice, food origins and responsibility in acknowledging the cultures behind ingredients and using them mindfully. “So many things happened in 2020 politically as well as globally, and I think it put everyone in a really sensitive position. Everyone took a step back from their usual role: listening to everyone’s background and where everyone’s food was coming from,” says Mijune. She drew from her own Chinese heritage (Mijune’s mother, Mimi, has a Hong Kong and Malaysian background) as well as her own experiences as a Chinese-Canadian when judging and sharing stories at the Top Chef Canada table. “Growing up in Vancouver, when I would bring anything Chinese to school for lunch, I would get made fun of and teased for it,” she remembers. “And now it’s so awesome it’s being celebrated. But there are dangers of cultural appropriation of food. My mother’s recipes have been adapted over the years — it’s not exactly how her mom or grandma would have made it. Food and recipes evolve with ingredients and over time and place, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s really important to bring forward a lot of the cultural history and knowledge that comes with using these ingredients, as well as showing how they are used traditionally, and not just in a modern context.” 

Along with these discussions around food origins and authenticity lay the constant awareness of the pandemic’s devastating effect on restaurants. “Adapting really quickly to changes has always been kind of a theme in the competition, but this was in very different circumstances. We filmed it in the fall and didn’t know what was going to happen with the pandemic when it aired,” says Mijune. “We had to take into consideration what kind of challenge would be mindful of the pandemic. Along with the producers and creative staff, it challenged the chefs to think about the competition as something they might actually have to apply in the future in their businesses.”

See More: Watch Full Episodes of Top Chef Canada

Ultimately, Mijune, much like her fellow judge, Janet Zuccarini, sees these challenges and adaptations to changing social mores as a process of evolution in the restaurant industry — and a sign of its resilience. “When people don’t see the background of what’s happening — the real behind the scenes —  they can think that your career or industry is only on an upwards trajectory because they don’t see the lows,” she says. “And I think when those lows happen, you just have to kick yourself in the butt, and ask what you haven’t tried yet, and what you still enjoy, because so much of this industry is built on passion. You really have to enjoy it and live and breathe it, and love it without any expectations.”

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays 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.

Janet Zuccarini judging on the set of Top Chef Canada

Janet Zuccarini on Having Resilience in Her Own Life and on This Season of Top Chef Canada

Restaurateur and Top Chef Canada judge Janet Zuccarini learned all about one of the themes of this season — resilience — from her father at an early age. Giacomo Zuccarini opened Toronto’s Sidewalk Caffè before Janet was even born; a legacy that would shape her outlook on restaurants in more ways than one. “The restaurant was really successful, with lineups out the door,” she says. “And one day, when my father took his first vacation to go back to Italy to visit his mother, his business partner emptied out his bank account and fled to Mexico with all the money, and my father had to shut the restaurant down.”

Although Giacomo would go on to have a long career in the espresso machine importing business, he warned his daughter about the travails of being a restaurateur. When Janet went against his wishes and opened up her first restaurant Cafe Nervosa (later renamed Trattoria Nervosa) in 1996, it caused a rift between them. “My father brought me up telling me almost every day to never go in the restaurant business,” she remembers. “And when I did, it upset my father so much that he did not speak to me for one year. It was horrible. Because it was so traumatic for my father to lose everything at one point, he felt that I did it on purpose, in a way. But we healed.”

Janet Zuccarini on the set of Top Chef Canada

Today, Janet’s Gusto 54 restaurant group — named in tribute to year her father first opened Sidewalk Caffè — spans multiple cuisines and cities, including Wall of Chefs judge Nuit Regular’s Pai and Kiin restaurants, Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen, Gusto 101 and others in Los Angeles, but she’s never lost sight of those early lessons of adaptability and overcoming adversity. 

Related: Eden Grinshpan’s Baba Ghanoush Recipe

This outlook would serve her well when the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the restaurant landscape. According to a December 2020 survey from industry group Restaurants Canada, eight out of 10 restaurants are either losing money or barely scraping by in today’s climate, and 48 percent of owners of single location restaurants are expecting to close within six months if conditions don’t improve. “It’s been absolutely devastating and has been a decimating experience for anyone with a small business, but the restaurant industry has been hit arguably the hardest during the pandemic,” says Janet. “With this third wave, we spent money that we don’t have to reopen outdoor dining just to be shut down again for the third time. Every time there’s a shutdown on short notice, you furlough all your team members that you just hired and paid to train, and figure out what to do with all of your inventory of food. We just keep getting one blow after the other. “

Viewers will be able to see this shift in the industry reflected in this season of Top Chef Canada, from behind-the-scenes logistics to Quickfire and Elimination Challenges. “The show is going to be very relevant, because not only did we have to shoot the show in such an extra safe way, with everyone on the set being tested every day they were on set, and of course wearing face shields and masks, and sitting separated at the judges’ table,” says Janet. Creating pandemic appropriate challenges was also an issue. “We had to address COVID, and what restaurants are going through and create challenges that represent how we’ve changed our way of relating to food and dining with regards to restaurants,” she says.

Related: Meet the Season 9 Top Chef Canada Competitors

Janet Zuccarini on the set of Top Chef Canada with Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan

Overall, what Janet hopes the audience takes away from this season is a feeling of looking forward in terms of the restaurant industry. “As a restaurateur, I’ve shifted and adapted from selling groceries to takeout to home meal kits with chef tutorials over Zoom. We’ve opened four restaurants during the pandemic. The ideas have to keep coming, and going, and changing,” she says. “As the year has gone on, we’ve had different needs: people are not traveling, they’re not going to concerts, they’re starved for experiences. So, I have a lot of hope for the future.”

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays 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.

Food Activist and Dietitian Rosie Mensah Looks at Nutrition Through a Social Justice Lens

Nutrition informs many discussions about food insecurity. At the forefront of these conversations in Canada stands Rosie Mensah, a Canadian-Ghanaian registered dietitian and food activist, who co-founded Dietitians for Food Justice as a response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustices of the last year. Growing up in Toronto’s Jane-Finch corridor, Rosie saw firsthand the effects of food insecurity on her own family and the community around her. “From a young age, I noticed quickly that we never had consistent access to food or the quality of food was not the best or not the most nutritious and it was always an issue,” she remembers. “I knew that I wanted to do something to help members of my community achieve good quality of life and better health. And I wanted to do that through food.”

Rosie Mensah, registered dietitian, stands with arms crossed wearing pink v neck top

Rosie’s determination led her to a career as a registered dietitian, first through a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics at Western University. “Growing up, I didn’t see myself represented in terms of health providers, as a Black woman, a woman of immigrant parents; someone who grew up in low-income, government housing,” she says. “And representation, especially when it comes to health care, is so vital, because we talk about things like cultural awareness, cultural responsiveness and just being able to see yourself and feel safety, especially when it comes to your health.”

She quickly realized that she wanted to push further into the way she approached dietetics: “I really thought it was this narrative where you just teach people how to eat healthy, because that’s what you’re taught to believe,” she says. “But being more critical and thinking about the social factors that prevent people from achieving good health or getting access to food was a reason why I ended up doing my Master’s of Public Health in Nutrition and Dietetics [at the University of Toronto], because I thought that’s where I could really dig deeper into that knowledge and to gain that understanding.”

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

During the times where she wasn’t pursuing her studies, Rosie was also making the connections that would lead her towards her current social justice work. From being a part of the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, she joined the Black Creek Community Farm, which led to a role as co-facilitator of Black Creek Food Justice Network — a Jane and Finch grassroots group advocating for local food justice in the community and beyond. Through these experiences, as well as through her work on the board of directors for FoodShare, she connected to dieticians with similar desires around food justice and advocacy. “Three of us came together last summer and decided we wanted to do something.  We want to stop talking and we want to start taking action — that’s really how Dieticians for Food Justice came about. We wanted to take things into our own hands and really demonstrate that there’s many dieticians that recognize the structural factors that contribute to poor nutrition or lack of food — and we want to use our voice to speak up for those things,” says Rosie.

Food box from FoodShare

At the heart of Rosie’s ethos is the idea that representation and inclusivity are crucial elements in health practices — a concept she’s used as the foundation for an anti-oppression course she developed for health care providers called CEDAR: Culture, Equity, Diversity, and Race in Dietetics. “I went into dietetics with this determination to strive to really help the most marginalized people and yet I just never felt like those perspectives were ever being discussed — and if they were, they were being stigmatized,” she says. “My goal as a nutritionist and dietician is to empower people to enjoy good food, diversity and different cultures, but also focus on nourishing themselves and that can look different based on your need.  And I also believe health includes nourishing your community and your environment around you.”

Photo of Rosie Mensah courtesy of Rosie Mensah; photo of FoodShare’s Good Food Box courtesy of FoodShare

How to Melt and Temper Chocolate for Perfect Candy Making

Dreaming of divine chocolate decorations but terrified of losing your temper? For many baked items, such as fluffy frosting or creamy cake fillings, you can get away with simply melting chocolate to take it from a solid to liquid form like in these Chocolate Divinity Candies. When you get into the world of bonbons and confectionary, however, that’s another matter entirely. Tempering chocolate is a mandatory step if you want both the shiny gloss and the distinctive snap of a well-made candy or decoration like in Anna Olson’s Chocolate Dipped Marzipan — and that’s where you have to pay some attention to technique in order to achieve success.


L-R: Anna Olson’s Chocolate Divinity Candy and Chocolate Dipped Marzipan

Related: Chocolate Making Tools Every Home Chocolatier Needs

If the thought of working with molten chocolate (and even worse, the dangers of it seizing or splitting) has you clutching your (baking) pearls, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out the best, and easiest, ways to work with chocolate, even if you’re a novice chocolatier.

How to Properly Melt Chocolate

For melting chocolate, each method has its advocates: some cooks prefer the double boiler method (or just setting a glass bowl on top of barely simmering water), while others turn to the microwave for an easy fix. Both methods involve the same basic principle: chopping chocolate into chunks for faster, more even melting, and applying gentle heat until most of the distinct shapes have disappeared.

If the unthinkable happens and your chocolate separates into a greasy, gritty mess, due to over-vigorous stirring or too-high heat, you can try Anna Olson’s ingenious trick to add moisture to return the mixture to molten glossiness (note: this fix is only for melting — even a single drop of water is the enemy of well-tempered chocolate).

See More: Desserts That Prove Peanut Butter and Chocolate Are a Perfect Match

How to Properly Temper Chocolate

For this technique, you’ll need to pull out a few items, namely a candy thermometer, a sturdy glass bowl and a silicon spatula that can handle some heat without melting. Depending on the method you use, you may also need a few more pieces of equipment, such as a marble board and wax paper.

The initial stage of tempering looks much like the melting process — use a glass bowl set over barely simmering water (not a rolling boil; there shouldn’t be any bubbles) to melt the chocolate chunks, or place the bowl in the microwave and use short bursts, checking often.

Where tempering differs, however, is the next step, where the chocolate mixture is cooled and warmed within precise ranges of temperature in order to achieve a smooth, shiny surface when it hardens (the temperature you need to hit depends on the type of chocolate you plan to use).


Anna Olson’s Chocolate Covered Caramel Bars

See More: Easy Chocolate Garnishes With Steve Hodge

This varying of temperature can be accomplished in a couple of ways: by adding other ingredients such as more chocolate (seeding) or cocoa butter to the mixture, or by pouring two-thirds of the hot chocolate mixture onto a marble board and mixing it with putty knives to cool it manually (see Anna Olson’s step-by-step description for more on this method).

Inquiring scientific minds among us may be intrigued by more gear-driven approaches, including Alton Brown’s combination of the friction of a food processor’s blades plus liberal use of a hair dryer to create heat, or J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s sous-vide circulator method over at Serious Eats.

Decoding Seed Tempering

For the easiest method using the least equipment, however, seeding chocolate is probably the best approach for a chocolate novice (for a visual demonstration, check out the video below from Great Chocolate Showdown judge Steve Hodge, pastry chef and chocolatier at Temper Pastry in West Vancouver.) With a few simple steps, this process can be achieved without too much stress (on both the chocolate and the cook).


 

Using the glass bowl over simmering water method, melt chunks of chocolate to the desired temperature (remember that they vary depending on the chocolate and are very narrow ranges, so use that candy thermometer.) We’ll use dark chocolate for this example, which should be heated to 45 to 48 degrees — milk and white chocolate, with higher milk and sugar contents, may react differently. 

Take the chocolate off the heat (leave the burner on…you’ll need it again shortly) and add prepared small pieces of chocolate (the “seeds”), which will help cool the mixture down quickly as they melt into the warmed chocolate.

Stir with a spatula until the overall temperature comes down to about 27 degrees Celsius (again, there may be some variation depending on the type of chocolate you use).

Next, quickly warm the chocolate back up by putting it into the double boiler until it hits 32 degrees Celsius and a thick and glossy texture — perfect for piping into a pretty design on waxed paper that will set up beautifully. If you aren’t sure if you’ve tempered the chocolate correctly, you can test it out by piping a small bit onto the waxed paper (or a metal sheet pan set over an ice pack).

Working quickly, swirl and create chocolate garnishes to your heart’s content: the designs should set up to a delicate decoration with the signature snap when you bite into it (try and leave a few decorations for dessert!)

Watch Great Chocolate Showdown Mondays 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.

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

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

The life of a small business owner can be a challenging one, with small profit margins, fickle clientele and staffing issues looming as potential issues just over the horizon. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular put many small businesses in peril, and the hospitality industry was particularly hard hit (according to industry association Restaurants Canada, 10,000 restaurants closed between March and December 2020).

Steve Hodge and Tiffany Pratt discuss renovation plans for OMG Baked Goodness on the set of Project Bakeover

Steve Hodge knows these challenges like the back of his baking pan — as the owner of Temper Chocolate & Pastry in Vancouver, he has built up his business from a single location to one that sells treats in retail stores across the country. Now, on Project Bakeover, Steve brings the lessons he’s learned from his own success to small bakeries across North America.

We caught up by phone with Steve, who shared some of his best tips from the early episodes of this season for struggling entrepreneurs and bakery owners.

Related: Here’s What You Need to Know About Steve Hodge

Think Outside the Store

The first thing Steve does before even entering a bakery is to eyeball the signage outside. If the word “bakery” isn’t front and center, customers can get the wrong first impression (at Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats in Episode 1, the word didn’t even appear on the signage, but “classes” and “parties” were highlighted. “This could be a party store,” said Steve). Often, the customer’s decision as to whether to enter the shop is based on curbside appeal and a clear sense of the store’s direction.

See More: Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats Gets a Bold New Look

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If the customer can’t see what your shop is selling, then they are less likely to buy. In Episode 2, Steve recommended that OMG Baked Goodness’ poorly organized and half-empty counters be loaded full of bright lights and inviting products. Remember to spotlight the best sellers and popular products.

Close up shot of the baked goods at OMG Baked Goodness

Bigger is Not Always Better

Sometimes customers want a big over-the-top treat, but more often, they are looking for a small indulgence. As soon as Steve bit into Mrs. Joy’s cream puff, he knew it was too large and a waste of her ingredients. “She’d get a bigger bang for her buck if she cut it down a bit,” he says. Consider that customers have varying appetites and budgets, and plan accordingly.

See More: We Share Our Go-To Bakeries Across Canada

Be Ready to Change on the Fly

Especially during pandemic times, where rolling lockdowns can mean an open dining space one day and a closed storefront with takeout only the next, flexibility is essential. At Temper Bakery, Steve and his team were ready to make some quick changes to adapt when the COVID-19 lockdowns began. “As bakeries, we can change the way we run our business — we can be a dine-in or grab-and-go,” he says. “At Temper, we now sell more frozen bake-at-home products than we sell fresh from the store. It was a matter of simplifying our business model and streamlining the elements to maximize profitability.”

Keep It Simple

In the same vein, Steve advises bakery owners to think outside the box, but not to hold onto inventory because they’re too attached to it or think they’ll need it later on. “This is a great time to simplify,” he says. “At Temper, we took 20 per cent of our menu off when the pandemic first hit, and we’re never returning to the old way.” The worst mistake he saw at the bakeries he visited was an overabundance of product choice, which led to the bakery owners being overwhelmed and working day in and day out.

Related: Watch Steve Hodge’s Video Bio

Harness Social Media

“If you’re not online, get online,” says Steve, who recommends that bakery owners use social media to identify and spotlight their hero items. “When I was in culinary school, there was no social media. Now, home cooks around the world can pick up the phone and take a picture of their baked goods. Social media changed the world of pastry in terms of who we knew were the best, and you learn more by inventing and creating.”

Take It Outside

Putting tables outside for curbside pickup is a perfect opportunity to draw traffic and boost curb appeal, says Steve. “It will draw you out of the kitchen and make you more interactive as a business owner,” he says. “If you haven’t been involved in [the] community, go outside and say hello and stay safe to your customers. Really take the chance to interact with them — they’ll remember it.”

To Make Money, You Have to Spend Money

Even if margins are tight, Steve recommends some low-cost ways to garner some publicity, such as contacting the local paper and buying a small ad, or running a contest on social media. “It can be as simple as saying ‘if you like this picture, send to this person, or recommend it for a gift and you have a chance to win a gift box’,” he says.

Put Your Logo Out There

Think beyond flyers when it comes to logos. “If you sell coffee in your shop and don’t logo your cups, go buy a $20 stamp with your logo and stamp away,” says Steve. “The majority of stuff for takeout that people carry around outside is in paper cups. You want your logo everywhere: on stickers, poles, and in peoples’ hands.”

Steve Hodge at OMG Baked Goodness

Keep an Open Mind to New Ideas, Even After the Pandemic Ends

Don’t just innovate in terms of trend chasing, advises Steve.  “We ask ourselves as business owners, ‘why didn’t we think of this before?’ — well, we didn’t always have to think of that next step,” he says. “But out of the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot of great things as to how to run a business, and we’ll keep doing them.”

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.

Host Jeff Mauro arrives, as seen on Kitchen Crash, Season 1.

Getting to Know Kitchen Crash’s Jeff Mauro: From Comedy To Cooking

Jeff Mauro’s worn a lot of hats during his career — from a chef’s toque to a ball cap — but he’s best known for his cooking shows. From the love of the humble sandwich to a hard-won place in the Food Network Canada roster, Jeff’s sampled a smorgasbord of skills on his way up. Here are 10 things you may not know about the host of the new Food Network show Kitchen Crash.

He’s Been a Comedian From Childhood

Born and raised in Chicago, Jeff’s been joking around since he was a kid — he started doing plays and comedies in the second grade and began honing his improv chops at Second City youth classes the next year. He even did standup comedy (briefly) in his 20s.

He’s Studied the Art of Television

Jeff’s ease with the camera comes through some serious studying: he has a degree in communications, radio, and television production from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. and was the valedictorian of his graduating class in 2000.

He Cooked His Way Through College

As the kitchen steward at the Sigma Chi fraternity house at Bradley, Jeff paid for his room and board by practicing his cooking skills on his fellow students. “I remember making everyone sit down and enjoy a nice dinner with wine,” he said in an interview with Spoon University. “It was pretty funny turning this crazy animal house into a place where we enjoyed a civil supper.”

 

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He Has Professional Training in Cooking

During a stint in Hollywood pursuing his comedy and cooking career, Jeff made his bones the old school way — by enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu culinary program to hone his cooking chops, according to his bio.

Deli Runs in His Blood

After moving back to his hometown of Chicago, he opened up Prime Time Deli & Catering in Westmont, Ill., with his older cousin Dave, a chef. Jeff was also behind the now-defunct Pork ’n Mindy’s and now builds sandwich kits for his brand, Mauro Provisions.

Chef By Day, Actor By Night

Jeff split his time between slinging sandwiches and singing on stage at Piper’s Alley Theatre as Tony in the Chicago production of the interactive and kitschy musical, Tony and Tina’s Wedding. “I auditioned as a waiter and worked my way up to the Tony role,” he told Love In The Time Of Coronavirus.

He Has a Podcast With His Sister, Emily

One of four siblings, Jeff gets in lots of family time — especially with his sister Emily, with whom he does the podcast Come On Over (which has recently been spun off into a cookbook). Jeff jokes about the high ratings amongst his family members: “We are the ‘#1 New Podcast hosted by siblings’ as voted on by at least 6 of my 9 Aunts,” he posted on Instagram.

 

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He’s No Stranger to the Food Network Canada Audience

Although Jeff auditioned three times for The Next Food Network Star before ultimately winning season 7, he’s making up for lost time. He’s made appearances on Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, Guy’s Grocery Games, and judged Chopped Junior and Cupcake Wars. He also spun off his niche from The Next Food Network Star into three seasons of Sandwich King and currently co-hosts The Kitchen and his new show, Kitchen Crash.

He Has Two Mini Golden Doodles Called Jojo and Pinot G

Jeff’s fallen in puppy love with his two tiny doggos, who have their own Instagram account (@jojoandpinot) which currently sits at over 6,300 followers. The pups apparently prefer yak bones and turkey to sandwiches, however.

 

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His Family Sometimes Acts As His Camera Crew

During pandemic times, Jeff’s wife Sarah and son Lorenzo helped out with camera and styling duties during socially distanced filming for some of his television appearances.

 

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And Once More With Feeling: Jeff Loves to Belt Out the Classics

Whether he’s serenading a ballpark with an enthusiastic version of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during a Cubs game or taking a happy birthday wish to operatic heights, Jeff isn’t afraid to attack each song with gusto.

Watch Kitchen Crash January 10 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.

Close up shot of Christa Bruneau-Guenther

Chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther Brings Her Home Cooking and Indigenous Roots to Wall of Chefs

Since childhood, chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther has cared for others in her extended family and community, using food to share stories and sustenance. Born in Winnipeg, Christa is a member of Peguis First Nations but grew up partially removed from her traditional Cree and French Métis roots. “The disconnect came from being brought up in an urban city and also the effects of residential schools,” she says. “Growing up in poverty, it’s just about survival every day.”

Christa Bruneau-Guenther on the set of Wall of Chefs

Although an aunt taught her to make bannock and homemade jam and there were the occasional fishing and foraging trips, Christa’s food journey really began in her 20s when she began to transition from home cook to chef. “Since I had 32 cousins and all I ever did was babysit from when I was eight, I was really good at taking care of others,” she says. At the age of 23, Christa opened up an Indigenous holistic licensed family daycare that helped inner-city children with trauma and other health concerns. She applied for government funding and began developing recipes in accordance with the newly released Canada’s Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Métis. 

See More: 12 Canadian First Nations Recipes

It was an eyeopener for Christa. “For the first time, I saw ingredients that were related to my Cree culture, such as squash, or pine nuts, and began incorporating them into our food program, getting the children involved in the food culture as well,” she says. “For myself and my staff, who were also Indigenous, we had this new sense of pride and self-worth and an understanding of where we came from.”

In her decade running the daycare, Christa continued her research into recipes and ingredients from her Indigenous heritage, which brought the challenges of recording recipes passed down through oral recounting and the lack of subject-specific recipe books in her local libraries. She began tapping into the community of Indigenous elders, as well as sharing her knowledge with local universities and residents. As a home cook with no restaurant experience or training other than a brief career as a server, Christa eschewed the traditional culinary school path. “Most of my learning was through Food Network, actually. I would watch and write down simple recipes from chefs such as Giada de Laurentiis and Christine Cushing and experiment in my own kitchen,” she says.

When an open space in the Ellice Café and Theatre — formerly a community-subsidized cafe meant to help homeless or displaced people — became available, the owners were looking for someone who would bring a similar aesthetic to the space. Christa opened Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg’s West End in December 2016, showcasing the simple and affordable recipes that she brought from her home kitchen. The restaurant is already a fixture in providing aid to the homeless through donation initiatives of leftover food and “pay it forward” programs.

Related: 12 Tasty Canadian Indigenous Restaurants

Key to Christa’s efforts is accessibility of Indigenous ingredients — which can be a challenge given that the food costs of some harder to find foraged items can be higher than others. Feast uses these ingredients to maximize their flavour while keeping them affordable, such as incorporating sweetgrass, juniper and cedar for a dry rub for bison, sumac or bee pollen for pickling, and bannock as a pizza or sandwich base.

Christa Bruneau-Guenther on the set of Wall of Chefs

Christa also uses this accessibility ethos in her judging for Wall of Chefs, wanting to promote home cooks and their skill sets, bringing them into her shared community of those who cook for love. “Home cooks may have an advantage: they’re used to looking in their fridge and come up with something that’s healthy and that your family will love,” says Christa. “I want viewers to see that you can do this too, and even though you’re not a highly trained chef, it doesn’t mean that you can’t cook a delicious, pretty looking plate of food that feeds your soul.”

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.

Close-up headshot of a smiling Chef Nuit Regular

Chef Nuit Regular Brings a Warm Heart and a Keen Eye to Wall of Chefs

For as long as she can remember, Chef Nuit Regular has always found happiness by fostering it in others — although her happiness didn’t always start in the kitchen. As a young child growing up in Phrae, Thailand, she remembers hating to cook. “I wanted to go out to ride bicycles with my friends, but I had to help to make curry paste, even when I was little. My mother would grow her own vegetables and sell satay in the laneway outside the house,” says Nuit. “And I wanted to help my mother, because I loved her.”

When Nuit later trained as a nurse in Pai, Thailand, she made extra money for herself and her family by selling food in class, and then eventually worked in nursing by day and ran Curry Shack restaurant during the evening hours with her husband, Jeff Regular. “I wanted to become a nurse and help the poor people in my village to make them comfortable and ease their worry and pain,” she says. “And when I started cooking in the restaurant and the guests said they loved the food, it made me feel happy in the same way.”

Related: Inside Chef Nuit Regular’s Fridge

Close up shot of Chef Nuit Regular smiling

Photo courtesy of Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott

She and Jeff brought different flavours of Thailand to Toronto’s restaurant scene, including the northern Thai flavours at Sukothai, Pai Northern Thai Kitchen, Sabai Sabai and elaborate royal Thai dishes at Kiin. Trying to do something new has often presented its own challenges, both in sourcing authentic ingredients and in changing preconceived notions. Although many people were curious and wanted to learn, Nuit clearly remembers a customer who insisted her pad thai was made incorrectly. “He wanted me to add ketchup to the pad thai and I had to tell him, ‘I am sorry, but even though I won’t make any money here, I can’t give you the dish that way’,” says Nuit. “In the beginning, it was really hard because people didn’t understand, but now there’s a lot of diversity in Toronto.”

Related: 18 Ingredients the Wall of Chefs Stars Love to Splurge on

A plate of pad Thai noodles

Nuit Regular’s pad thai dish at Pai, which remains ketchup free.

Today, Nuit is a successful chef and restaurateur, responsible for over 200 staff members across her restaurant empire (with a second Pai location set to open this year) and her first cookbook, Kiin: Recipes And Stories From Northern Thailand, set to hit the shelves on October 20. As a judge on this season’s Wall of Chefs, Nuit enjoys the histories and backgrounds of the dishes that contestants set before her. “I want to see the story behind the dish, and those techniques from different households,” she says. Competitors looking to impress her discerning palate should be prepared to present a balanced, colourful and creative dish (she has even been known to sniff the food in front of her to check the aroma when judging). She also wants cooks to remember their portion sizes. “Don’t try to make a lot,” she advises. “You only have to make four plates, which is more manageable: the cooking time will be shorter, and your flavours will be more intense.”

Nuit Regular and Noah Cappe at a home cook's station on the set of Wall of Chefs

Nuit Regular on the set of Wall of Chefs

See More: Watch Full Episodes of Wall of Chefs

And as one former home cook to another, Nuit sympathizes with the stress of the competition (she still admits to some nervousness herself when she cooks in front of people). “I pause, take a step back and breathe,” she says. “And I tell myself, ‘You’re doing something that you’ve made for your family before that they love’. If you cook, follow your heart.”

How to Make Traditional Chinese Congee From Scratch

This recipe stems from my mother’s kitchen, where a bubbling pot of congee is a near constant presence, ready to be doled out as a breakfast, family lunch or late-night snack. Forms of congee can be found on tables around the world, from arroz caldo in the Philippines to India’s kanji. Whether you enjoy congee as a creamy porridge or more of a rice soup, it is the ultimate comfort food that doesn’t require any special equipment to make. Although some rice cookers have a congee setting, you can just as easily cook this recipe in a heavy pot. Be sure to get the bottom of the pot when you stir, because as my mother always says: “there’s nothing worse than burnt bits, which are distressing.” Take her advice and spend a lazy Sunday afternoon making this simple, yet restorative fix for your loved ones’ flagging spirits as the cold weather drags on. 

Congee

Traditional Chinese Congee

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Servings: 10

Ingredients:

1 cup short grain jasmine rice (although there is some leeway in terms of rice choice, there are some outliers — parboiled rice will cook too quickly to achieve the right consistency, wild or brown rice cook more slowly and may be too chewy in the finished product)
10 to 12 cups cold water
1 2-inch knob ginger
7 cups boiling water (to be added as needed)
2 tsp salt
1 to 1.5 cups store-bought or homemade chicken broth
500 grams of pork shoulder or chicken thigh, cut into ¼-inch thick pieces
1 tsp cornstarch
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp rice wine or sake
8 king oyster mushrooms, sliced lengthwise
3 green onions, separated into white and green parts (cut the white parts into larger 2-inch chunks, as they will be cooked, whereas the green parts should be chopped finely, as they’ll be used for garnish)

Note: while this recipe uses chicken broth and slices of pork or chicken, it could easily be made vegetarian or vegan by omitting the eggs and meat and using water, vegetable or mushroom broth.

Congee ingredients

Directions:

1. Rinse rice three times or until water runs clear. Drain rice. Place rice in heavy bottomed large pot and pour cold water over rice.

2. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir with a rice paddle, thick spatula or heat-resistant silicone turner.

3. Add ginger. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour, topping up with hot water so that it doesn’t boil down. Adjust the heat to keep it just below a rolling boil, but not so high that it boils over (it boils over very fast, so do not leave it unattended). You may need to lower the temperature between the lowest setting and medium.

Related: How to Cook a Perfect Pot of Rice on the Stove

4. At the one-hour mark, the congee will start to thicken and become creamy as the rice begins to break down. Add salt and broth.

5. Marinate the chicken or pork with the cornstarch, sea salt, oil and rice wine or sake. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes to marinate.

6. Continue simmering for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add marinated pork or chicken slices, as well as the king oyster mushrooms and the white parts of the green onions.

Chicken slices

6. Continue simmering for another 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve warm with crispy you tiao (savoury fried crullers) and topped with rousong, pei dan (century eggs) or soft-boiled chicken or duck eggs, thin slices of raw fish, chopped cilantro, green onions or peanuts. Most of these add-ons can be found at Chinese markets.

Like Leslie’s congee? Check out her tips on how to make a soup creamy without dairy and how to make homemade hot sauce.

Chef-Nick-Liu-Profile

From Competitor to Judge: Nick Liu Returns to Food Network Canada On Wall of Chefs

Although those in the restaurant industry know that it can be cyclical in trends and fortunes, Wall of Chefs judge Nick Liu has definitely come full circle. Years ago, when he first dreamed up plans for what would become Toronto’s Dailo restaurant, Nick ran up against difficulties with procuring a space in the city’s hot real estate market. Undaunted, he started a series of pop-ups to promote his dream and his food, and eventually parlayed those temporary events into a full-time space on bustling College St. “Doing the popups gave me the ability to shift and move and really come up with a bunch of ideas really quickly,” Nick told Food Network Canada in a recent interview. Once the bricks and mortar restaurant opened, it quickly gained popularity and top 10 list mentions and expanded to include an outpost in the trendy collective known as Assembly Chef’s Hall.

Then, the pandemic hit, and like so many of his peers, Nick was faced with a mandatory shutdown of his restaurant as social distancing became the norm. After three months, he revived the pop-up strategy that had served him well before, offering the Spot Prawn Betel Leaf, Hakka Wontons and Big Mac Baos that had won him a loyal customer base.

Photo courtesy of Chef Nick Liu

See More: Meet the Home Cooks Competing on Wall of Chefs

Part of Nick’s ability to pivot comes from the wide array of influences drawn from his own life, including a father hailing from Kolkata and a mother born in the South African city of Port Elizabeth. The Hakka cuisine of his Chinese Canadian childhood are flavours that Nick grew up with (one of his earliest cooking memories is making dumplings at his grandparents’ house — an ingenious way to keep boisterous Nick and his brother occupied) and would form the basis of the New Asian style of cooking he would develop throughout his career. Trained at Toronto’s George Brown College, Nick worked in some of the city’s most recognizable kitchens: at French landmark Scaramouche, under David Lee at Splendido, and taking the lead at Niagara Street Cafe as executive chef. During that time, he also traveled and experienced as many cooking elements as he could — Tetsuya’s, St. John’s, cheesemaking in Bath or winemaking in Italy — Nick wanted to try it all. “Every place I’ve ever visited, I’d find my way into someone’s kitchen, like a family I met in Turkey who I met at their restaurant,” he says. “All these cultures, when you have these connections with food, want to invite you into their family.”

Now that he’s back home at Dailo, Nick has definitely learned some lessons about adaptability to the unfamiliar — and he’s sharing those lessons with the home cooks on Wall of Chefs  (he’s also no stranger to the competitive television world, having taken on Susur Lee as a contestant on Iron Chef Canada, Battle Bitter Greens). As a judge, Nick has seen contestants crumble under the pressure, often self-induced. “I think that the home chefs get into their own heads,” he says. “People start scrambling and changing their recipes and plating to make it a little bit more restaurant-worthy.”

Related: 15 Chef-Approved Tips to Avoid Kitchen Disasters

The top piece of advice he offers to anyone looking to win his approval as a judge (and top marks at the pass) is to keep from overcomplicating a dish. “I tend to gravitate towards simpler things. I don’t like too many things on a plate,” he says. “I’m looking for technique and balance of flavour, which are the most important things for me. And I really like when people try and get creative, but also pare that creativity down with confidence that they’re serving a great dish.”

Wall of Chefs returns September 1 at 10 PM ET/PT. 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.

Make The Most of Your BBQ With Dylan Benoit’s Best Recipes and Tips

Whether you’re a grill guru or a complete BBQ novice, there’s always ways to up your grilling game — and Fire Masters host Dylan Benoit can help you fan your culinary sparks into a flame. Read on for the best ways to get a perfect BBQ chicken, the tastiest grilled corn or a sumptuous sauce for your next cookout with these handy tips.

Seasoning and Searing

Seasoning meat is an essential part of successful grilling, and Dylan recommends a heavy dose of salt to ensure that flavours are well rounded. You can stick with plain salt and pepper, or spice up your life with a rub, either dry (containing only dried or powdered ingredients) or wet (adding a liquid component). These mixtures are based on spices, herbs and salt, as well as other ingredients, and are rubbed on the outside of the meat and allowed to sit for a period of time — anywhere from half an hour to overnight.

Dylan’s Pro Tip: the longer your meat sits in the rub, the better it tastes.

Related: Marinating 101: How to Flavour Your Meat, Seafood and Vegetables

Searing involves cooking it over a high heat to give your meat or vegetables that golden, delicious crust— a great way to add texture and added flavour. When meat is cooked first at a lower temperature to the desired doneness, and then put into a smoking hot grill or pan to get a crust on the outside, this technique is known as reverse searing.

Dylan’s Pro Tip: Use reverse searing to cook thick pieces of meat. This technique is Dylan’s favourite way to achieve a perfect medium-rare.


Adding Bold Flavour 

Rubs can be purchased or made to your own individual tastes — the only limit is your creativity. Here’s a look at three of Dylan’s best wet rubs to get you started.  

Mediterranean Rub For Pork Chops

When it comes to the tenderest pork chops, turn to the dairy case to make sure your meat stays moist on the grill. Plain supermarket yogurt (use the full fat, Greek variety) can impart great flavour and texture, due to the lactic acid that helps break down the meat protein, while tenderizing at the same time.

Get the recipe: Dylan’s Mediterranean Rub

Dylan’s Pro Tip: Mixing the yogurt with aromatics such as dried herbs, lemon zest and honey will add great flavour, especially if you let the pork chops marinate overnight.

Butter Rub For BBQ Chicken

Based on a kitchen staple, a butter rub for the perfect BBQ chicken can be blended together in no time. Starting with softened butter, add whatever aromatics strike your fancy — Dylan likes a combination of sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest and dry mustard. Rub it all on the surface of the chicken and don’t forget to get under the skin — the butter that gets trapped there will help really season the meat.

Get the recipe: Dylan’s Butter Rubbed Grilled Chicken

Dylan’s Pro Tip: Chill the chicken prior to cooking to firm up the rub before grilling, and keep it on indirect heat to prevent flareups from the butter dripping onto the flames.

Related: The 10 Best Ways to Use Your Grill in 2020

Jerk Paste Rub For Spicy Chicken Or Pork

For those grill masters who can stand a little heat, Dylan’s best jerk paste recipe (inspired by the time he spends in the Cayman Islands) makes an excellent rub for either chicken or pork. This paste is redolent with ginger, plenty of garlic, a hit of allspice and scotch bonnet or habanero pepper for heat and plenty of brown sugar for sweetness and balance. Fresh cilantro and parsley add herbal freshness to counter the spice. Blend all ingredients into a paste, rub it liberally into the meat and let it sit, preferably overnight.

Get the recipe: Dylan’s Jerk Spice Rub

Dylan’s Pro Tip: Cook your jerk chicken or pork low and slow indirectly over mesquite charcoal for the best smoky flavour.

Give it a Rest

When you’ve finished cooking, it may be tempting to dive right into that juicy steak, pork chop or chicken — but waiting for a few minutes will get you even better results. A critical part of cooking meat, resting involves setting the meat aside after pulling it off the grill to allow the juices to redistribute rather than pooling onto the plate when you make that first cut. Remember, that meat will keep cooking after it comes off the heat (a process called carry over), so if you want your steak to be medium-rare, Dylan recommends taking it off the heat just after rare and let the carry over do the rest.

Dylan’s Pro Tip: Let your meat rest for up to half the amount of time that it cooked, and tent it with tinfoil to retain heat.

Related: Here’s why Dylan recommends Resting Meat.

BBQ Sides

Once you’re done planning the main event, don’t forget the sides. Dylan’s got you covered with a sweet and seasonal corn on the cob and a perky chimichurri sauce to keep things fresh.

Grilled Corn On The Cob

Grilling corn in its husks prevents the outside of the corn from burning, but also steams the inside, cooking it perfectly. Soak corn, husks and all, in warm water for half an hour (this technique will soften the husks and also keep the corn moist while grilling). Peel the softened husks back and be sure to remove all the silks from the top to avoid getting them in your teeth. Make a compound butter (check out Dylan’s pro tip below) and rub the butter liberally all over the kernels of the corn. Rewrap the corn with the husks and char it over medium-high heat on the grill until charred — the corn takes on the smokiness of the charred husks, enhancing the flavour.

Get the recipe:  Dylan’s Grilled Corn On The Cob

Dylan’s Pro Tip: A compound butter can be as simple as a garlic and herb combination, or much more complex — Dylan likes using a combination of chili, lime and maple.

Chimichurri

Whip up a batch of Dylan’s favourite condiment, made with a base of fresh herbs and garlic — bright with acidity and a bit of heat, chimichurri goes well with grilled meats and fish.

Although the traditional mixture is made mostly with parsley and a bit of cilantro, Dylan flips those ratios for a cilantro-forward and super simple sauce that just requires a few pulses of a blender.

Get the recipe: Dylan’s Bright Chimichurri Sauce

Dylan’s Pro Tips: Don’t get too carried away when blending — leaving it a little chunky adds more textural variation than a smooth paste. And be sure to budget time to allow the sauce to sit for 30 minutes to release the flavours. 

Watch Fire Masters Thursdays at 11ep 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.

Tips for Making Perfect, Top Chef Canada-Worthy Fresh Pasta

Perfecting pro-level pasta at home may seem like a daunting feat, but we’ve got you covered with these tips from Top Chef Canada’s recent pasta-making elimination challenge, plus a few recipes to get you started in your own kitchen. From soft and supple gnocchi to tender ravioli, this advice from professional kitchens will get you rolling in no time.

Get the Recipe: Fresh Homemade Fettucine

The Best Flour For Homemade Pasta

The lucky cheftestants got to work with freshly milled flour from urban mill Brodflour, but chances are, you’ll have to settle for supermarket flour. Nonetheless, a few wise choices will help your success rate when making pasta. The specialty flour known as 00 or tipo 00 is the traditional pick when it comes to making pasta, due to its fine grind (this attribute also make it a good option for pizza dough). Depending on the kind of pasta, which dictates other factors such as the amount of eggs added, coarsely ground semolina or all-purpose flour can also be used in forming pasta dough.

Related: This Week on Top Chef Canada…

Eggs in Fresh Pasta

For some types of pasta, especially fresh egg pasta, the golden yolks lend a sunny hue to the finished product. Recipes vary in terms of the number but it is generally around a 1:1 ratio of eggs to cups of flour. Some kinds of pasta dough, such as tagliatelle, use a combination of two whole eggs and four egg yolks per four cups of flour for added richness.

Eggs also play a crucial role in the elasticity and texture of fresh pasta, although dried pasta is often made with no more than flour and water.

Related: Get Funky With 10 Fermented Foods

Methods For Making Homemade Pasta

Although the tried-and-true method of making a well in the flour and adding the wet ingredients in the centre, then drawing the flour slowly inwards, works well to combine the ingredients gradually, this process can be automated using a stand mixer or other equipment (Alton Brown has an easy food processor method for his ravioli dough, for example). The dough is then kneaded, shaped into a disk and rested before rolling through a pasta machine or by hand using a rolling pin for flat types of pasta such as fettuccini, or shaping using molds or one’s hands with smaller shapes, such as pici.

Related: Get the Recipe for Valerie Bertinelli’s Homemade Pici Pasta With Carbonara Sauce

Homemade Pasta Shapes and Tips

There’s still more choices awaiting you: pasta shape dictates cooking method, time and even which type of sauce you should use. In a stressful double-elimination, the remaining five chefs had to choose their pasta types, make their own dough and create their best dish for guest judge Danny Smiles (a former Top Chef Canada contestant himself and now owner of three restaurants including Osteria Fortuna, planned to open in June 2020). Adding to the pressure was the freshly milled flour, which will cause pasta dough to oxidize (changing colour and flavour) if made too far in advance. As a result, chefs couldn’t use the one hour prep time the day before to make their dough, instead needing to make it the day of the Eliminate Challenge.

At home, however, you have the advantage of all the time you need to tackle a fresh pasta project. Take some inspiration from each of the Top Chef Canada contestants and their dishes to create your own prize-worthy creation.

How to Make Homemade Orecchiette

Orecchiette is made by hand, with the pasta maker’s thumb forming the distinct indents that give each piece its distinctive “little ears” shape (Francis used a non-traditional method of forming it on a paddle, giving the pasta small ridges). Although he had never made orecchiette before, Francis’ precautions in making a test batch to experiment with the fresh flour and his technique paid off. The judges raved about his version with broccoli sauce, crunchy broccoli stems, fried spelt grains and an Asiago emulsion. Judge Danny Smiles observed that the dish adhered to its roots from Puglia, where orecchiette and broccoli are frequently used together.

Pro tip: Francis put his pasta dough in a vacuum bag to take the air out and speed up the resting process. If you have a vacuum sealer at home and are in a hurry, you can try this technique as well.

Get the recipe for Orecchiette With Homemade Ricotta And Cherry Tomatoes

How to Make Homemade Gnocchi

Due to the time constraints, Stephanie didn’t have time to make the traditional potato-based version of gnocchi, which requires cooking and cooling potatoes before putting them through a food mill, combining with flour and eggs and shaping into individual pieces. Instead, she opted for Parisian-style gnocchi, beginning with a choux paste (similar to eclairs) where butter and water are cooked, then combined with flour before putting it in a stand mixer to beat in the eggs. The mixture is piped into a pot of boiling water to cook. The judges liked the softness of Stephanie’s gnocchi, although they felt that they were a bit lost amidst the cornucopia of other ingredients in her Parisian gnocchi with pattypan squash, white asparagus, wild rose harissa and white asparagus sauce with ricotta.

Pro tip: When combining the eggs in the stand mixer, add them slowly one by one to ensure a soft and tender, eggier dumpling.

If you’d like to try a potato-free version of gnocchi, take a look at these Ricotta Gnocchi from head judge Mark McEwan.

How to Make Homemade Ravioli

Lucy’s first job on her first day as a chef at Terre Rouge was making pasta, so it’s no wonder that her cashew, caramelized onion and Gruyère ravioli won favour with the judges for its texture, winning her a place in the finale. Ravioli is made by running pasta dough through a pasta roller to achieve a thin, smooth sheet, then dolloping spoonfuls of filling in a single row across the bottom half. After folding over the top and pressing gently between sections of filling to remove excess air and seal each ravioli, a pasta cutter is used to trim each piece.

Pro tip: Listen to sound of the dough in the stand mixer — it will tell you when the dough is reaching the right consistency (you are looking for a stiffness similar to play dough).

Want to tackle your own ravioli? Try this Short Rib Ravioli and Creamy Mushroom Sauce, or Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli.

Related: How to Host a Top Chef Canada-Worthy Drag Brunch

How to Make Homemade Agnolotti

This pocket-sized filled pasta (or “little cute pillows with a beautiful pocket of filling on the inside”, as Imrun described it) starts out the same way as ravioli. The dough is rolled and dots of filling are piped onto the sheet of pasta, but before the final cuts are made, imprints are pushed into the sides of the filling to create a pillowy dent. Although Imrun’s use of nutritional yeast to top his kabocha squash and mascarpone agnolotti mystified the judges, they loved the thinness and execution of his pasta.

Pro tip: Using a piping bag to fill the agnolotti ensures even distribution and neatly centred dots.

Try one of these tasty ravioli recipes and adjust the method and filling size as described above to try them with agnolotti.

How to Make Homemade Tagliatelle

Rich with added egg yolks, tagliatelle’s long, flat ribbons make it a tender and versatile pasta. Adrian discovered the perils of deviating from the traditional recipe when he attempted to substitute squash purée for eggs, resulting in a soggy dough that stuck and broke in the roller during his first attempt. His second try was also too wet, forcing him to roll out the dough by hand, which ended up with tagliatelle that “looked more like spaetzle”, according to head judge Mark McEwan. Overall, although the judges liked the flavour of his butternut squash tagliatelle with butternut béchamel and scotch bonnet cremini mushrooms, the errors in executing the pasta itself sent Adrian home.

Pro tip: Be careful when substituting ingredients or adjusting your recipe, especially when using wet ingredients such as butternut squash that add moisture to the dough and can disrupt the water to flour ratio. Try making it yourself with this recipe for Homemade Tagliatelle.

Once you’ve made your fresh pasta, try one of these 50 Best-Ever Pasta Recipes for Easy Dinners. Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays 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.

The Price of A Slice: Breaking Down the Costs of Cake

Have you ever bitten into that perfect, ornately decorated slice of cake and wondered why it costs so much more than the one that you bake at home? After all, you’re a pro baker, with a killer carrot cake recipe and decorating chops to avoid #cakefails. You’ve watched all the baking competitions and thought: well, that doesn’t look too hard.

The thing is, you’re paying for not only the baker’s time but their expertise when you buy those custom creations in the bakery. And those prices can vary greatly due to a wide array of factors.


Cakes can be priced per slice or as a whole, and sometimes include consultation and cake tasting sessions with the customer. Frosting a cake with fondant (which tends to lend itself to elaborate preparations due to its pliability) tends to be more expensive than just buttercream, since most fondant cakes require a buttercream layer underneath anyway. Fondant can also sit for longer with less depreciation in quality since it creates a seal around the cake layer — a big bonus for busy bakeries around wedding season, which tends to fall within certain time periods of the year.

Related: Anna Olson’s Cake Decorating Ideas for Swiss, Italian and French Buttercream

Fondant isn’t just restricted to nuptial bliss, however. Although wedding cakes used to be the big showpieces for ornate design, today, people are splashing out for custom cakes for all sorts of occasions, from birthdays to other milestone events, such as awards, albums or even retirements from pro baseball (hey, athletes like cake, too, as evidenced by these creations from Buddy vs. Duff‘s Buddy Valastro.)

Let’s take a look at a few more elements that rack up those cake costs.

Time Is Money

Duff Goldman, pro baker and Food Network baking judge (he’s also set to go up against Valastro in the new season of Buddy Vs. Duff), sets prices for cakes according to difficulty and labour at his bakery Charm City Cakes. It takes a lot of time and training to properly spin sugar, work with isomalt and execute elaborate technique-driven decorating styles (such as macramé and crochet textures, a big trend for 2020, according to Harper’s Bazaar), and the price you pay reflects that level of expertise and experience. A study by The Knot in 2017 estimated that wedding cake makers spend an average of 15.4 hours per cake, with each ornate floral decoration taking about 26.8 minutes.

Related: 50 Wonderful Wedding Cake Recipes to Celebrate Your Big Day

Ingredients Add Up

Both quantity and quality of ingredients also factor into the final price. Even though professional bakers often pay wholesale prices, the cost of that single bean chocolate or gold leaf adds up. Smaller bakeries also aren’t getting the same bulk discounts on flour, butter and sugar as those large scale facilities churning out cakes on conveyor belts, so they are paying a premium (and those costs add up fast: the Knot study estimated that the average wedding cake uses a whopping 13.5 cups of sugar).

Get the Recipe: Naked Wedding Cake

Convenience Is Key

Like most things in life, you’re also paying for convenience. Although the bragging rights for successful checkerboard cakes or other elaborate designs are high, consider what you’d have to stock at home in order to make that creation. Commercial ovens suitable for large scale cakes, scales and piping equipment all cost money (not to mention available storage space), and you’re forking over the cash to avoid storing your own forks. The ability to have someone else take care of the details on your big day, whether it’s a wedding, birthday or other celebration, is often priceless—among other things, cake bakers are often pros at moving sky-high creations, which is a task that’s not for the faint of heart.

So the next time you wonder why that elaborate bakery cake costs what it does, consider the time, labour and love behind each forkful.

Watch The Big Bake: Spring Tuesdays at 9PM ep 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.

 

 

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