Category Archives: Fun with Food

I Tried Meghan Markle’s “Filthy, Sexy” Zucchini Pasta Sauce — Here’s How It Stacked Up

Long before she married into royalty, Meghan Markle extolled the virtues on healthy eating on her now-defunct blog, The Tig. During her seven years living in Toronto filming the legal drama Suits, the now Duchess of Sussex carved out her own online space to write about health and wellness, often sharing quick cooking tips.

But it was an interview she did with Delish in 2018 that garnered the most attention: she said she loved making a three-ingredient zucchini pasta sauce. A veggie-forward Bolognese, if you will. Using only zucchini, bouillon cubes and water, she said it was a “filthy, sexy mush” that she loved. With the duchess in the news as of late, this dish has recently been trending on the Internet all over again. It doesn’t exactly sound delicious, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

So, go ahead, cook like a duchess with this messy, mushy, sexy, filthy three-ingredient slow cooker concoction. For personal preference, I’ve added one more ingredient (an onion: I couldn’t resist) and options for additional seasonings, if desired. (Spoiler alert: it’s a lot more delicious than it looks, I swear!).

Related: Meghan Markle and the Struggle Among Black Women Everywhere

Meghan Markle’s Slow Cooker Zucchini Pasta Sauce

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

5-6 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped (optional)
2 bouillon cubes
½ cup water
Salt and pepper (optional)
1 package penne or rigatoni
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

1. In one large slow cooker (or Dutch oven), add zucchini, onion, bouillon cubes and water. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

2. Set timer to cook for four hours on low heat, stirring once or twice in that timeframe. The zucchini will start to get nice and mushy – that’s what we want!

Related: A Peek Inside Meghan Markle’s Former Toronto Home

3. At the 3 hour and 40 minute mark, cook the pasta in a separate pot according to package instructions.

4. Season the zucchini sauce with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve immediately over pasta.

Related: Here’s What the Royal Family Really Eats

Verdict

It’s simple, it’s hearty (I didn’t need more than one serving before I felt full) and it smells surprisingly delicious as it simmers away in the slow cooker.  Was it tasty (read: sexy)? Absolutely. Would I make it again? Probably. Was it worth the nearly five-hour wait? Not really.

We also tried the feta tomato pasta TikTok trend and Popeye’s famous Chicken Sandwich — are they worth the hype?

Photo of Meghan Markle courtesy of Getty Images.

Feta tomato pasta on plate

This Feta Tomato Pasta Trending on TikTok is as Easy as 1-2-3

As we’ve all been spending more time at home and in the kitchen this past year, it seems that everyone is getting more inventive with their cooking (and sharing it all over their socials). Some of our fave food trends to come out of quarantine cooking include everything from pancake cereal to focaccia bread art. The newest cooking craze? TikTok’s baked feta tomato pasta. Is it worth the hype? With just nine ingredients and 25 minutes from start to finish, we think so.

Feta tomato pasta on plate

Feta Tomato Pasta

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
⅓ cup olive oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp minced garlic
1 tsp chili flakes
200 g block of Greek feta cheese
1 Tbsp basil
300 g pasta of choice

Feta tomato pasta ingredients on kitchen countertop

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450°F and boil water in a large pot for the pasta. In a 9 x 9 baking dish, add the tomatoes, olive oil (reserve about 2 Tbsp), salt, pepper, garlic and chili flakes. Mix to coat. Place the block of feta in the centre and drizzle the top with the remaining olive oil. Bake in the oven until the tomatoes blister and the cheese melts, about 15-20 minutes.

Feta tomato pasta ingredients in dish

2. Season the boiling water with salt, cook the pasta to al dente or according to the package directions. Reserve half cup of pasta water for later.

Related: Best-Ever Pasta Recipes for Easy Dinners

3. Remove the baking dish from the oven and with the back of a fork, mash and mix the feta and tomatoes. Add the fresh basil and cooked pasta. If the pasta looks a little dry, add a splash of the reserved pasta water. Garnish with fresh basil and enjoy!

Feta tomato pasta ingredients in dish

We tried the KFC Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits and Popeye’s Famous Chicken Sandwich — are they worth the hype?

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

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

McDonald’s Hash Browns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada’s Wonderland Funnel Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

IKEA Meatballs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starbucks Iced Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Amber Dowling

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

5 Unexpected Food Trends The Chopped Judges Love (And Hate)

Charcoal ice cream, bacon in your Bloody Mary, or dessert piled on top of dessert, piled on top of dessert, piled on top of dessert. There have been plenty of trendy food items the Chopped judges want to forget ever existed, especially as more and more foodies share their overindulgent finds on Instagram and other social media platforms.

“It’s bacon abuse. Bacon doesn’t belong everywhere,” notes Alex Guarnaschelli of the saltiest food trend. “Cupcakes and doughnuts with bacon on it? Why. I’m going to eat scrambled eggs and bacon and then I’m going to have a cupcake. All separately.”

“The food trend word itself is so annoying,” adds Maneet Chauhan. “Food is about nourishment, it’s about enjoyment. Having the word ‘trend’ beside it is annoying.”

To be fair, we wouldn’t expect our panel of classically trained judges to feel much differently about these gawker dishes being doled out at carnivals, food trucks and pop-up shops. But that doesn’t mean they’re against all food trends. Here are five surprising culinary movements the Chopped judges are totally getting behind.

1. Fermentation


At its core, the idea of using natural bacteria to feed on starch and sugar in order to preserve and extend a food’s shelf life is a bit weird to list as a trend. But given a chef’s ability to label preserved food as both additive-free and healthy, it’s something that’s definitely been gaining traction in 2018. And the Chopped judges love it.

“There has been a departure from high-end ingredients. We’re always going to have truffles and caviar and foie gras, but now you see places using a lot more fermentation and they’re bringing more interesting flavours,” says Marc Murphy. “You know what caviar tastes like. If you have good caviar it’s always going to taste the same. But with fermentation it’s like, ‘Holy cow. It’s hitting the palate in so many awesome and different ways.’”

2. Milling


“I was just in San Francisco so I’m obsessed with everything sour dough. Sour dough bread, long fermentation breads,” reveals Amanda Freitag. “Everyone makes their own breads and is growing and milling their own grains now. Like, chefs in California that are baking, or pastry chefs, they wouldn’t even think of buying flour anymore. They are all milling their own flour. Think about our upbringing in kitchens — we just ordered it in bulk! They would never do that anymore.”

“Grains are such a big product, and growing up in Scandinavia, that’s one of the things we had a lot, like seven-grain bread, multigrain bread,” adds Marcus Samuelsson.

3. Return to Basics

It’s not just fermentation and milling that has the judges impressed with where the industry is going. It’s the entire movement of taking things back to basics that has them hopeful for the next wave of culinary superstars.

“Even ethnic food is becoming more mainstream with things like fermentation,” Chauhan says. “That’s one of the amazing things being done, is going back to the basis. Things that we were doing for generations, going back to that. That’s the amazing trend.”

4. Shrubs

If you’ve noticed a surplus of vinegar in your cocktails lately, know that it’s no accident. “Shrubs” are an increasingly popular way to reimagine old flavours, and Guarnaschelli is all over them.

“Making fruit juices mixed with vinegar, which is sort of on the savoury side for cocktails, is called shrubs,” she explains. “And now we’re seeing them on dishes where fruit, which is usually sweet, is thought of in a more vinegary, acidic context.”

5. Plant-Based Eating

So the idea of eating a more plant-based diet isn’t exactly a surprising trend; it’s one that’s been boiling up for a while now thanks to certain documentaries and an overall appeal for better health. Still, as the movement plows forward, these judges are all for it.

“Vegetarian and vegan dishes are becoming stars on the menu now, and not just things you have to have on the menu,” says Chris Santos.

Sounds pretty delicious to us.

Watch an all-new season of Chopped premiering Tuesday, August 28th at 10 E/P!

Taste Testing the Calgary Stampede with Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Champ Nicole Gomes

The sky’s the limit when it comes to what can be served on the Calgary Stampede.

Every year, the Stampede releases a list of new and noteworthy – or jaw-dropping, depending on how you look at it – midway foods to try. This has ranged from unorthodox edibles like pizza topped with fried mealworms and crickets, red velvet chicken strips, a corn dog containing a dill pickle-wrapped hot dog and ice-cold dulce de leche mini doughnut popsicles.

nicole-gomes-calgary stampede

This year, there are 40 different new items to try on the Calgary Stampede grounds. Since that’s too much for two people to eat in one outing, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes and I tried 10 of the most interesting creations while helping judge the annual “Best new midway food” competition.

Here’s what Nicole, an award-winning chef, thought of the wild midway offerings at The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

funnel cake poutine calgary stampede

Funnel Cake Poutine, from Next Generation Concession
“This is the best thing ever,” says Nicole and it’s hard to disagree – especially as it was awarded “Best new savoury food on the midway” at this year’s Stampede. The deep-fried dough that’s usually topped with sweet powdered sugar gets a savoury twist with fresh cheese curds and beef gravy. One bite and Nicole’s chef mind is spinning with ideas for more fair funnel cake creations. “You could add some chicken, white gravy and bacon or make a beef taco salad-funnel cake hybrid. Ah, so many great things you could do with a funnel cake base!”

raindrop cake calgary stampede

The Raindrop Cake, from Sweet Tooth
This unusual jiggly “dessert” made of water and agar-agar (a vegan equivalent to gelatin) rose to fame in New York last year. Since then, it has popped up in countries like England, Japan and now Canada. “Just not my cup of tea. It just tastes, um, Jell-o-ish, but tasteless,” says Nicole, trying to describe the translucent creation.

horchata mini doughnut popsicle

Mini Donut Chata, from Family Squeezed
It’s hard to decipher from its name, but this epic drink-meets-dessert draws its inspiration from the Latin American drink horchata. The iced beverage is a mix of rice milk, cinnamon and vanilla and it’s surprisingly refreshing. But the garnishes – whipped cream, toffee crumble and the food vendor’s famous mini-doughnut popsicle dipped in butterscotch – takes this drink over the top. In a good way. “I love this popsicle! It is such a clever spin on a mini doughnut,” says Nicole. “The drink it comes with, though, is really, really big, but it would be an easy thing to share.” Nicole’s enthusiasm was shared by the Stampede, which awarded this concoction “Best new sweet food on the midway” for 2017.

chicken and waffles calgary stampede

The Texas Waffle,  from Waffles & Chix
Since Nicole owns the popular fried chicken spot, Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver, it takes a lot to impress the chef. “This is a cute idea, but it needs something more,” Nicole says after taking a few forkfuls of lightly battered chicken sitting on top of a Texas-shaped waffle that’s been filled with sliced jalapenos and aged cheddar. While tasty, this one is not ideal for walking and eating. “You’ll need to grab a fork and a knife and find a seat to really enjoy it.”

deep fried lemonade calgary stampede

Deep-fried Lemonade, from Family Squeezed
Just when you think everything in the world has been deep-fried, someone thinks of just one more thing to dip into the fryer. This year, the unofficial “strangest item to deep-fry” award has to go to Family Squeezed’s deep-fried lemonade. But, as Nicole discovered, it’s not quite what you’d expect. “I was sort of expecting to get a burst of frozen lemonade inside, kind of like when you bite into deep-fried ice cream, but this is more like a little doughnut,” the chef says.

cheeto dusted corn calgary stampede

The Flaming Cheeto, from Fresh Roasted Corn on the Cob
After taking a big bite, Nicole thought this mayo and Spicy Cheeto covered corn was much sweeter and less spicy than expected. This “flaming” addition to the midway is supposed to be a spin on Mexican street food, but ends up being a miss. “The Cheetos are so finely ground, they get mushy really quickly,” says Nicole. “They would have been better off coating it with something crispier.”

Waffle Taco, from Steve-O’s “Deep Fried” Public House
When it comes to the flavour, Nicole approves of the crispy sweet waffle shell and ice cream. “Ice cream options like this at the Calgary Stampede are good for people that like to mix and match, since you can choose different toppings like berries, sprinkles, chocolate sauce and more,” she says, but admits that it can be a mess to eat. “I just hate when you have to walk around with sticky hands,” says Nicole after biting into a taco-shaped waffle cone filled with ice cream and whipped cream.

rice krispie ice cream sandwich stampede

Cereal Monster Sandwiches, from Monster Cones
Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, this spin on a traditional ice cream sandwich – featuring two scoops of your choice of ice cream sandwiched between rainbow cereal marshmallow squares – is worth sinking your teeth into, says Nicole. “If I wanted something that was just cold and sweet, this is what I would go for,” she says. It’s not for the faint of heart or appetite, though, because of its giant portion. “The size does sort of intimidate me. It’s huge,” Nicole says and laughs. “It would be a great thing for kids. This is another thing you would have to go find a place to sit to eat.”

macn cheese hot dog calgary stampede

Double Bacon Mac ‘n’ Cheese Hotdog, from Super Foot-long Hotdog
Enjoying at least one hotdog while spending a day at the Calgary Stampede is a given, but finding a dog that truly rises above mediocre can be hard to find. Nicole seems torn about this particular new midway offering that’s a foot-long dog wrapped in bacon and then topped with a few spoonfuls of bacon mac ‘n’ cheese. “You can tell that the hotdog is good quality,” she says.  “I’d say just stick with their regular foot-long dog and skip the mac ‘n’ cheese.”

Mr crab sushi taco calgary stampede

Mr. Crab, by Happy Fish
Sushi may not be the first thing a person gravitates toward while strolling down a midway lane full of doughnuts, hot dogs and cotton candy, but this Top Chef Canada champion doesn’t want anyone missing out on this fulfilling sushi taco.  “This dish is fun. This is what Stampede food should be all about,” says Nicole while holding a crispy-fried nori taco filled with rice, imitation crab meat, tempura-fried soft shell crab that’s been topped with avocado and unagi and mango sauces. “It’s interesting, it’s tasty, it has great textures – I really love soft shell crab too – and it’s really easy to eat while you’re walking around!”

Lynn Crawford

Lynn Crawford’s New Year’s Food Resolutions

At a recent lunch to celebrate the launch of Sunwing Café, Lynn Crawford’s new menu for the vacation airline, the chef was all smiles. Graciously, she greeted the assortment of journalists, food bloggers and fans assembled at her Toronto restaurant, Ruby Watchco.

As ebullient as always, you’d never know that at the time, Lynn Crawford had a three-week-old baby back at home, a newborn still in the parental demanding early days of life. Ask for the secret to her seemingly endless energy and the Chopped Canada judge doesn’t miss a beat: “Coffee.” But later, over the phone from her home in Toronto, she reveals another reason for her effusive smiles: Love.

“She’s beautiful,” says Chef Lynn about her daughter, Addie Pepper. “She’s absolutely perfect, and it’s amazing how a little one can change your life so much.”

Relative to her size, Chef Lynn’s newborn is playing a huge influence in the Food Network star’s life, impacting everything from her schedule to the foods and flavours she wants to try in 2017.

Foodie Resolution #1: Travel and Eat



“There’s a wonderful world of food out there, and Lora and I both being chefs, we really want to explore that world with Addie,” she says. “And as two chefs who love food as much as we do, a big part of it is certainly travelling.”

The family is planning a trip to Hawaii this spring, where Chef Lynn hopes to reconnect with the macadamia nut banana bread and fish tacos with pineapple caper salsa she enjoyed so much on her last trip to Maui.

She also hopes to revisit some of the tasty restaurants she’s explored on her own, and as a Great Canadian Cookbook host, like Tofino’s Wolf in the Fog,  Calgary’s Charbar and Quidi Vidi’s Mallard Cottage.

Foodie Resolution #2: Pitchin’ in at Home

Apples

Despite the vacation plans, babies have a way of keeping their parents housebound, and for Chef Lynn, that’s meant getting reacquainted with her home kitchen.

“I’ve done more cooking in the last three weeks being at home than I have in such a long time,” she says without complaint. “It’s a fine line, commenting on how to parent a child in the wonderful world of food,” she admits, but still, Chef Lynn is excited to introduce little Addie to healthful, homemade, seasonal whole foods. “I’ve got Addie in one arm and I’m going around the kitchen and I cut into this Macintosh apple and Addie smells it — it doesn’t register yet, but it’s nice to get her senses excited about food!”

Foodie resolution #3: Ordering in

Although Chef Lynn has been spending more time than ever in her home kitchen, she’s also excited about all the new apps that allow diners to order in, and thinks she might try a delivery of her favourite Vietnamese comfort food next year. “I love a really good pho,” she says.

The Joy of Cooking for Strangers

If a friend called to offer you juicy leftovers from Cory Vitiello’s restaurant, Flock, you’d eat them, right? What if that “friend” was actually a mutual member of a Facebook group — and a stranger?

This is not a hypothetical question, but a real-life scenario that played out on Toronto’s swapping site, Bunz Trading Zone earlier this month:

bunz-meal-strangers

 

“Hungry buns!,” read the post. “We ordered FLOCK takeout for production night at work and can’t eat all this sumptuous hipster chicken. Come take these three juicy drumsticks (and fancy sauces) from us! ISO: a high-five, good joke, feeding a fellow bun in need…”

The Flock leftovers are just the latest in a slew of Bunz trades, edible and otherwise. Founder Emily Bitze started the sharing community when she was short a can of tomato sauce for her planned pasta dinner and created a group dedicated to swapping resources. The Bunz Trading Zone has one rule: no cash exchanges. Members, known as ‘buns,’ credit the community for saving money, preventing environmental waste (by finding use for items that would otherwise be discarded) and for building a community, one post at a time.

Leftovers are often offered in exchange for subway tokens and tall cans of beer, and while most completed trades are remembered only by their Facebook threads, at least one has turned into a regular cooking gig.

Meet Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee. Khoja is a marketer by day, and Lee works for Via Rail. But on Saturday nights, the roommates open their home to strangers, who bring booze in exchange for gourmet, home-cooked meals and shared conversation. The friends’ home-based dinner service is called Chez Lisgar: prospective guests sign up for a spot on Lee and Khoja’s waiting list, and the pair vets guests online before accepting them. It’s a smooth operation now, but like many a Bunz trade, it started with leftovers.

“We had come home one night from working out and decided that we wanted a quick meal, with whatever leftovers we had, and we ended up having leftovers from that,” explains Lee. “And we were living in a really small apartment at the time, so we thought it would be fun to just see what would happen if we posted the food on Bunz.” So that’s what they did, asking prospective takers to bring alcohol in exchange.

“It ended up getting really popular overnight, and we decided to just run with it.”

Although guests now arrive through the Chez Lisgar website, and not solely through Bunz, the entrepreneurial, DIY and community spirit that defines the Facebook group still shines through.  Khoja and Lee will work around dietary restrictions, but they mainly base menus on what they feel like eating. In return, they ask guests to bring one bottle of red and one bottle of white wine. “People usually pick something they like themselves,” says Khoja. “You get a taste for their personality and choices,” adds Lee. It’s not always wine, either — one upcoming guest has offered to bring dessert instead, and the pair agreed.

 

French onion soup stuffed mushroom cups topped with Gruyere, a Chez Lisgar specialty.Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

French onion soup stuffed mushroom cups topped with Gruyere, a Chez Lisgar specialty. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Alyssa Bouranova is a graduate student living in Toronto. She visited Chez Lisgar with her boyfriend earlier this year, dining on a “delicious” meal of bourbon and maple-glazed pulled turkey, guacamole-stuffed onion rings and a green salad.

“It’s kind of a shot in the dark when you’re going with strangers, but it was wonderful,” says Bouranova. “They were very friendly.” The foursome got along so well that Bouranova and her boyfriend stayed past dinner to watch 90s music videos, and she stays in touch with the roommates on Facebook.

“The takeaway is that you don’t have to pay big bucks for gourmet food in Toronto,” says Bouranova. “It was a delicious and easy way to get a really nice meal in a way less pretentious and expensive environment [than a restaurant], and we got to meet cool people as well.”

Bouranova’s isn’t the ongoing friendship to be nurtured by a meal at Chez Lisgar. At a recent dinner, Khoja and Lee liked their guests so much they ended up attending a party together after the meal, and Khoja says she’ll likely be dog sitting for her new friends in the near future.

Like sushi burritos or ice-cream tacos, Chez Lisgar is a typically millennial mashup: at once an Internet-phenomenon, a cash-saver and a community-builder, as well as a constructive protest against a fraught economy that bears little love for young adults. “The fact is most of my friends are struggling finding work,” says Lee, “and a lot of them have had to turn to more unconventional ways of being able to pay bills and afford being a person in a big city. A lot of millennials have an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Chez Lisgar's cheesy garlic pull-apart bread. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Chez Lisgar’s cheesy garlic pull-apart bread. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Sharing a meal is arguable the oldest and most culturally widespread way of bringing people together, but platforms like Chez Lisgar, or similar service EatWith, are new.

With thousands of apps and internet platforms helping them share, connect and express, Lee and Khoja believe that trendy trades, like those happening via Bunz and in the so-called sharing economy, are here to stay. “Whether it’s a dinner or someone’s music or writing, I think millennials have come to realize that we can’t follow the conventional routes that our parents or teachers have taught us,” says Lee. “We take responsibility on ourselves, and we do it in the most unconventional ways, to consolidate the resources that we do have. We realize that we’ve reached the maximum of what we can consume and it’s time to share with the people around us.”

Introducing Canada’s Own Rainbow Bagel

Colourful, carb loaded, psychedelic, delicious… these are not words you would typically see strung together, but the rainbow bagel encompass all of these and more.

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Courtesy of Dizz’s Bagel

The Bagel Store in NYC has been making the popular Rainbow Bagel for 20 years, but only until recently did it receive the praise it deserved. With lineups out the door and selling hundreds of these labour-intensive treats on a daily basis, there’s no doubt this trend is worth a try.

But you don’t need to take a trip to NYC to try this trend. Montreal has created its own psychedelic take on the traditional breakfast food at Dizz’s Bagel. These colourful, looped wonders are putting our sesame bagels to shame with their vibrant, chewy exterior, only to be heightened by big slab of sweet, birthday cake cream cheese.

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Courtesy of Dizz’s Bagel

The creation process is no doubt time-consuming due to the multiple layers of neon coloured dough that are piled one on top of another. They’re then cut and rolled so each individual rainbow bagel is slightly different than the next.

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Courtesy of Dizz’s Bagel

People have said it’s like eating cake for breakfast, which isn’t the worst way you could start your day. So watch out Skittles, with this bagel you really can “taste the rainbow.”

$100 donut

Original $100 Doughnut Created by West Kelowna Bakery

Only in New York would a bakery be so bold as to create a gold doughnut with a $100 price tag. But Jeanne Kaminski will have you know that the original $100 doughnut was invented right here on Canadian soil. The owner of West Kelowna’s Dolicious Donuts & Coffee created The Donutopia, covered in 24-karat gold, last summer. Kaminski set her sights on creating the immaculate confection to help raise money to start a soup kitchen in their community.

“We wanted a doughnut that gave back to the community,” says Kaminski, who recently showed off her skills on Sugar Showdown.

$100 doughnut

Photo courtesy of Dolicious Donuts & Coffee.

Kaminski started dreaming up her creation when a customer asked her to create a special doughnut to hide an engagement ring in. From there, Kaminski let her imagination run wild, challenging herself to create the most decadent doughnut around.

The Donutopia starts with dough made with Bling H2O, a luxury water that hails from the hills of Tennessee and retails for $39. The cream filling is infused with local winery, Rollingdale’s 2008 ice wine, which pairs well with the handmade chocolate curls. Aged balsamic vinegar is the secret ingredient in the chocolate icing, then it is decorated with 24-karat gold leaf and edible sugar diamonds. The first one she and her team made took seven hours, now they have it down to a cool four.

“The flavours are incredible. It is perfect pairing,” she says. “With the flavours and the texture in it, it takes like a million bucks.”

Since the first extravagant creation, Dolicious Donuts & Coffee has sold about a dozen more of their immaculate $100 desserts. In fact, whenever they receive an order for one, they make two, so the staff can taste the luxurious treat.

Kaminski would love the opportunity to pit her creation against the shiny Brooklyn counterpart for a $100 doughnut taste test. “Anything that bring attention to doughnuts is an amazing thing,” she says.

Kaminski is already planning her next ambitious creation — the spiciest doughnut. The fiery treat will feature homemade hot sauce made with B.C. grown peppers and topped with a chocolate-covered scorpion. She says buyers will be warned and will have to sign a waiver before they take their first bite. We can’t wait to taste it.

10 Restaurants with Celebrity Connections

The restaurant game isn’t an easy one to play; even if you’re a great chef with a great concept, capital can really slow you down. It’s only fitting that celebrities would get involved in the restaurant business every now and then, I mean, if I had the money, I certainly would too. Here are 10 popular food businesses owned by or connected to celebrity actors, musicians, athletes and beyond.

Robert De Niro, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Meir Teper Partners of Nobu Hospitality

Robert De Niro, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Meir Teper Partners of Nobu Hospitality

Spin (various locations in North America) 

These days, being able to go to a restaurant, eat, drink and play a game (whether that be bowling, pool, board games or otherwise) is pretty common in most major cities. Owner and actress Susan Sarandon, along with her business partners, were a little ahead of the curve with this one. Head to a Spin location in cities like Toronto or Chicago to play a few games of ping pong, grab some drinks and maybe a slider or two.

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SPiN Toronto

Tagine (Beverly Hills, CA) 

Canadian heartthrob Ryan Gosling — admit it, he’s pretty dreamy and man crushes are nothing to be ashamed of — partnered up with longtime friends to open up Tagine, a Moroccan-inspired restaurant. Dishes served here highlight big, bold flavours using exotic spices, with a chef’s expert touch. Out of all of the establishments on this list, Gosling’s is easily the most unique.

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Tagine

Wayne Gretzky’s (Toronto, ON) 

It’s not much of a surprise that one of hockey’s most famous athletes has a namesake establishment. Pop in to watch the game and chow down on items like grilled cheese sandwiches, meatloaf or fish and chips. If you’re craving a glass of wine, rest assured that the selection is primarily Gretzky’s own label (also namesake) that’s produced in the Okanagan Valley.

Jessica Biel, Justin Timberlake, Elton John, David Furnish and owner of Neuro Diana Jenkins attend Neuro Hosts a Party at Southern Hospitality BBQ

Jessica Biel, Justin Timberlake, Elton John attend Neuro Hosts a Party at Southern Hospitality BBQ

Nickels Deli and Bar (Québec) 

Peppered around the province of Québec, serving patrons simple food like roast chicken platters, French onion soup and, of course, mile-high Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. Where’s the celebrity endorsement here, you ask? Well, it’s not overly apparent at first glance, but a quick Google search will tell you the Canadian-born multi-platinum songstress Céline Dion is an investor in the Nickels chain.

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Nickels Deli and Bar

Nobu (various locations worldwide) 

Acclaimed worldwide, this string of restaurants opened by partners Chef Nobu Matsuhsia and Hollywood A-lister Robert De Niro, can be found in some of the biggest mecas across the globe: London, Milan, New York (that’s where you’ll find the flagship location) and Los Angeles. The menus may vary from location to location, but there’s strong attention to detail in terms of food and drink offerings, as well as interior design.

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Nobu

National Underground (Nashville, TN) 

Located on Broadway, the city’s most famous and buzzing street in the downtown core, this generally jam-packed venue offers live music and a standard pub menu. Owned by singer-songwriter brothers Gavin and Joey DeGraw, the former being the more recognizable name in the music world. Like many of Nashville’s Broadway bars, it wouldn’t be unusual to see an actor from the Nashville television series, or a country artist sitting down for a casual beer and bite with friends.

Rock & Brews (various locations in North America) 

More or less a Kiss-focused version of the Hard Rock Café, this music-themed chain serves up simple food like burgers, flatbreads and nachos, and currently only exists in the United States and Mexico. There are a few rumours buzzing around that a Rock and Brews (or two) may pop up in Canada in the coming months, specifically in Saskatoon as it’s the hometown of Gene Simmons’ wife, Shannon Tweed.

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Rock & Brews

Rustic (Geyersville, CA) 

Francis Ford Coppola, director of the iconic film The Godfather, shares his personal host of recipes on the grounds of his winery, where you can enjoy thoughtful farm-to-table cuisine just steps from the rows of grapevines. Plates of pasta, salads built of fresh, local produce and of course a couple glasses of wine are always enjoyable in the California sun.

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Rustic

Southern Hospitality BBQ (New York, NY) 

We’ve seen him sing, dance and act, so being a verified triple threat, it’s safe to assume that Justin Timberlake can do no wrong. This A-lister taps into his Southern roots at this New York restaurant that offers diners everything from deviled eggs to smoked meats, fried chicken and pecan pie.

On a side note, it’s likely not Timberlake himself posting on behalf of the restaurant on social media streams, but at least the eatery has a similar sense of humour to the actor/musician. “We survived the storm, come celebrate with our deep-fried pickles!” said Hospitality in a recent Facebook post.

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Southern Hospitality BBQ

Music City Food and Wine Festival (Nashville, TN) 

We know this one isn’t a restaurant, but this large-scale annual food festival in Nashville wouldn’t have come to life without the joint effort of celebrities, Chef Jonathan Waxman and two members of Kings of Leon, Nathan and Caleb Followill. When the festival kicks off again this coming fall, a long list of culinary stars will be cooking up a storm in the lively Southern city, including Marcus Samuelsson and Carla Hall.

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Music City Food and Wine Festival

How to Make Summer Fruit Popsicles

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In case you weren’t aware already, it’s really hot outside. Even on the days that our iPhones tell us it’s only 20ºC, we still find ourselves in a sweaty, frizzy-haired mess. And since we still have a few more weeks left of summer, I’m sharing the ultimate recipe for the quintessential frozen treat.

No, I’m not talking about the Frappucino you opt for over a steamy cup of coffee (no-brainer), or that cup of FroYo you eat for dinner a couple times a week (it’s summer vacation—duh!). I’m talking about the perfect, healthy alternative to tasty frozen desserts.

Instead of blowing all your money (and bikini bod!) on candy-covered yogurt and Frappa-whatevers, try my easy, inexpensive and refreshing recipes for real fruit popsicles.

Whether you make them for a mid-day snack or a BBQ dessert, you’re in for a real treat.

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Ingredients:

  • Popsicle molds (I got mine from Ikea)
  • Orange juice
  • Vanilla Greek yogurt
  • Strawberries
  • Peach
  • Raspberries
  • Banana
  • Kiwi
  • Blueberries
  • Ice
  • Large popsicle sticks
  • Gel pen
  • Magic Bullet Blender

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Directions:

1. I started with writing the different fruit combinations as labels on the popsicle sticks: fruit punch (a mix of whole fruit slices with orange juice), strawberry-banana (blended together), and blueberry-raspberry (blended separately with vanilla Greek yogurt).

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2. Prepare by slicing the kiwi and peach, and a few strawberries for the fruit punch popsicles (you can leave them whole for the strawberry-banana popsicles).

3. Using a blender (I used the Magic Bullet), blend strawberries and bananas with ice. Then blend raspberries, ice and vanilla Greek yogurt (about half as much as you made for with the strawberry-banana mix), followed by blueberries, ice and vanilla Greek yogurt. By the end you will have three different fruit blends. You can put the blueberry one in the fridge—we’ll get to that later.

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4. Pour the raspberry mix until the halfway mark of the container, and pour the strawberry-banana mix to the brim of the container. For the fruit punch pops, place kiwi, peach, strawberries and blueberries in the containers, and fill them with orange juice.

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5. Using the cardboard packaging from the popsicle molds to secure the sticks, place the labelled popsicle sticks into the molds, and put them in the freezer. After about two hours, take them out, and top the raspberry pops off with the blueberry mix, then put them back in the fridge and leave them overnight.

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6. Ready to enjoy the pops? Run each mold briefly under warm water (but don’t let the warm water touch the popsicle!) and they should slide right out. Enjoy!

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headshot Renée Reardin is a lifestyle writer and stylist living in Toronto. To learn more about her, visit www.reneereardin.com, and follow her on Twitter @reneereardin.

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