Tag Archives: cooking

a Kilne knife on a cutting board with a raw cut of steak and assorted herbs

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

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

Instant Pot

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

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

Instant pot filled with rice and veggies

Quality Knives

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

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

Chef Suzanne Barr standing in kitchen with knife and cutting board

Cast-Iron Skillet and/or Pot

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

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

Seven burgers being cooked in cast iron pan

Dutch Oven

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

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

Whole chicken and veggies in Instant Pot

Microplane Grater or Zester

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

Related: Deliciously Bright Citrus Recipes for Cold Winter Days

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


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

How to cook rice on stove

How to Cook a Perfect Pot of Rice on the Stove

Confession time: Years ago, I received a rice cooker as a gift that I’ve used guiltily only when the gift-giver in question comes for dinner. The rest of the time — whether I’m cooking rice to accompany a hurried weekday dinner or as the base for a leisurely simmered-all-day weekend cooking project — I turn to a trusty pot and a stovetop burner. Want to learn how to cook rice with a no-fuss, no-mess method? Look no further than this recipe that will turn out a pot of fluffy, perfect rice every time.

The perfect pot of rice is easier than you think.

The perfect pot of rice is easier than you think.
Thinkstock

The Right Equipment to Cook Rice

I find up to two cups of uncooked rice will be just fine in a medium-sized saucepan, while anything more is best prepared in a larger pot. Similar to pasta, you’ll be using a boiling liquid as a cooking medium, so make sure you have enough room for bubbles to rise without boiling over. A lid with an adjustable steam vent is nice, but not crucial — you can always prop the lid open with a wooden spoon or pair of chopsticks. The flat wooden paddle found in Chinese or Japanese supermarkets is made specifically for this purpose (and the ones with a straight edge are perfect for stirring the bottom of the pot).

How to Cook Jasmine Rice: A Basic Method

There are as many methods of cooking rice as there are cultures that use it, so keep in mind this is the way that works for me, but it’s not the only one by far: pilafs and pilaus, risottos and biryanis all use different techniques for speciality dishes.

1. Pour your rice into a pot. (Up to one and a half to two small coffee mugs will adequately feed two people). Rinse the rice in cold running water, drain the excess water, then repeat this twice or until the water in the pot is clear when you agitate the rice.
2. Add enough liquid to cover the rice by about an inch. Use a ratio of 2:1.
3. Cover the pot, place it on a burner set to medium-high and bring the water to a boil.
4. Once the liquid boils, lift the lid and give the rice a thorough stir, making sure you get the areas at the bottom. Turn the heat down to low (just above minimum). Keep cooking the rice on low for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the rice is tender, and has lost that wet look.
5. Fluff the rice with the paddle.

This method creates light grains of rice across the top of the pot and a crisped rice crust along the bottom and sides. You can stir those crunchy bits — prized among some cultures — into the rest of the rice for textural variation, or toast and enjoy it later for a snack.

You can vary this basic method to a wide range of rice options:

How to Cook Sushi Rice

I prefer the pleasant fluffiness and slightly sticky texture of short-grain sushi rice, pairing it with everything from spicy stir-fries to a silken stew. Use the above method, reducing the water to a 1:1 ratio. When the rice is cooked, add a tablespoon of seasoned rice vinegar (add two tablespoons if you will be using the rice to make sushi) and a sprinkle of furikaki flakes (a Japanese rice seasoning mix that can consist of sesame seeds, seaweed, dried egg or bonito and other crunchy goodness) to taste.

How to Cook Basmati Rice

For those looking for a little more structure in their grains, long-grain varieties such as basmati, are delicate and slightly perfumed options that retain their slender shape when cooking. Using the method above, reduce the water to a 1:1.5 rice/liquid ratio. Some basmati rice recipes will benefit from a short soaking period for softer rice — a purely optional step.

How to Cook Brown Rice

Brown rice, which can be either short or long grain, adds fibre and whole grain goodness to your diet. Although brown rice generally takes longer than white rice to cook (typically, an additional 15 minutes or more), the simmering time can be minimized with a brief toasting in butter first, which emphasizes the grain’s natural nuttiness. Before beginning the method above, melt four tablespoons of butter or margarine in a  pot on medium-high heat, then stir in the brown rice. Toast for a couple of minutes while stirring, then add the liquid and proceed with the method above.

Rice Flavour Variations

If you’re pairing rice with other dishes, using water is fine. Add creaminess with some coconut milk, use chicken broth to give it a little pep (the concept behind recently trendy Hainanese chicken rice) or use some mushroom stock if you’d like a little umami heartiness.

There it is; simple rice in about 30 minutes, without needing to pull out specialized equipment and without too much fuss. For more ideas on how to cook rice, check out our 16 Best Rice Recipes for Dinner and Dessert.

Do You Really Need an Instant Pot? What You Need to Know Before You Buy

The Instant Pot is a time-saving, multi-purpose, customizable cooking machine that’s transforming meal-time and building a cult-like following.

But if you’ve received this trendy tool as a gift or you’re thinking of buying on, there are a few things you need to know first. From models to meals, to why they’re so darn popular, our Instant Pot review is your guide to the appliance everyone’s talking about.

instant-pot-pork-recipeGet the recipe for Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwiches

What is an Instant Pot, Anyway?

Like your slow cooker, Instant Pots house an inner pot warmed by an electric element. But the Instant Pot is more than a slow cooker, it’s a multi-cooker. It replaces up to seven common kitchen appliances, like a pressure cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker, and speeds the cooking process so you can simmer, braise, slow cook, steam, and warm faster. And according to some, you can make wine in it too.

How to Choose an Instant Pot Model

If you aren’t sure which one to buy, Instant Pot model comparison can be a bit overwhelming. That’s because you can select from eight different models within five distinct product series ranging in size (six to eight quarts), and features (from 6-in-1 to 10-in-1).

Beginner (and busy) meal makers can take advantage of the 10 Smart Built-in Programs found in the Lux Series models, while intermediate cooks can play with the 14 programs in the Duo and Duo Plus models. True Instant Pot enthusiasts can wield the Bluetooth enabled, Ultra model and its whopping 16 programs to expand their repertoire to include yogurt, cake, eggs, and even sterilized baby bottles.

Be sure to consider how you cook now. Are you a big batch cooker, or are you more prone to making smaller meals for a family of two? Go through some of your favourite recipes and consider which ones could be made faster or better in an Instant Pot. Do you make a lot of braises, stews, grains, yogurt, legumes already? This will help you decide the model and size best fit for your cooking habits.

If you are in the market to replace your ageing slow cooker, this might be a good option, as it can be used in a variety of ways.

5-Ingredient Instant Pot Mac and CheeseGet the recipe for 5-Ingredient Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

The Pros and Cons of Buying an Instant Pot

Pros
1. Faster Cooking with Pressure

What drives the Instant Pot’s popularity—apart from its ability to make great food—is that it provides users with the most sacred resource of all: Time. Yes, meal prep and warming the machine are required, but the dishwasher-safe Instant Pot dutifully (and silently) cooks two to six times faster than conventional methods. That means you can cook braises like pulled pork, tender stew and roast beef in under an hour, making them weeknight accessible.

2. It Makes Great Rice

When it comes to taste and texture, the machine’s evenly distributed heat and steaming process ensures vegetables keep their colour, and that grains emerge fluffy and soft.

3. The Sauté Function Brings the Flavour

Like your Dutch oven, you can sauté meats, onions or bloom spices right in the Instant Pot. So go ahead and sear that pork tenderloin, then deglaze with wine or stock, pop the lid on and pressure cook it right in the same pot. The result is tender meat without losing any of that beautiful flavour caused by browning right in the pot.

4. There are Tons of Great Instant Pot Recipes

The Instant Pot also delivers variety. Between the app, cookbooks, and innumerable blogs, novel recipes are just a click away. Easy dishes like an Instant Pot whole chicken are great for weeknights while time-saving staples like Instant Pot beef stew or our 5-Ingredient Instant Pot Mac and Cheese are ready in a snap. What’s more, the Intelligent Programming and Save Customized Cooking settings on the LUX and DUO models memorize your preferred settings and learn to cook your meal exactly the way you like it every time.

If you are already making your own yogurt weekly, or are looking for a way to make faster curry, the Instant Pot might be your dream machine.

Instant Pot Chicken AdoboGet the recipe for Instant Pot Chicken Adobo

Cons
1. You Need Counter Space

Fast though it may be, Instant Pots can eat up much needed counter space so be sure it will get enough use to justify its prime real estate next to the toaster or the coffee maker.

2. There’s a Learning Curve

This may be the Swiss army knife of kitchen appliances but mastering the extensive features, double-digit programs, and hefty instruction manual can be time-consuming. Compared to the ease of turning the knob on your trusty Crock Pot, the learning curve can be steep. Also, dealing with high pressure makes some people nervous and you want to feel confident that you’ve sealed it correctly before bringing it to full pressure.
But there is good news: Instant Pot’s website is home to a mountain of getting started and troubleshooting videos, FAQs, and even live support.

3. It May Not be as Fast as You Think

On the practical side, not everything is cooked faster in the Instant Pot. By the time the machine gets up to pressure, cooks, then depressurizes, you could have boiled those potatoes on the stove. Keep in mind how much braising, rice and yogurt-making you do regularity to determine if this will indeed be a timesaver for you and your family. Also, because the pressure and slow cooker functions seal in the steam, you’ll need to give yourself extra time to bubble or boil off extra liquid, so your stews are the right consistency.

Now that you’ve learned about the pros and cons of this trendy multi-cooker, find more delicious recipes here.

S'more Cookie Pizza Featured Image

5 Genius Ways to Hack Store-Bought Cookie Dough

Chocolate chip cookies deserve praise for their modesty and simplicity, but sometimes you want to shake up your dessert game. We’ve got five recipes that use store-bought chocolate chip cookie dough and surpass the humble beginnings of just a plain ol’ cookie. So grab a log of that dough and get ready to give your chocolate chip cookies a new groove.

Cookie smore tart pie

Chocolate Chip Cookie S’more Tart
Press a log of cookie dough into a 9-inch pie plate and up the sides in an even layer. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes. Bake in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes. Let cool. Set oven to broil. Place marshmallows over cookie base to fill the pie. Place under the broiler for 10 seconds. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chucks over top of marshmallows to melt.

Oreo Cookies

Oreo-Centered Cookie
Wrap 3 Tbsp of cookie dough around an Oreo cookie. Bake in a 350°F oven on greased cookie sheet until edges are golden, about 10 minutes.

banana cookie muffins

Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Let a log of cookie dough come to room temperature. Line a 24 cup mini muffin tin with paper liners. Mash 2 ripe bananas into dough and stir to combine. Divide mixture into liners and bake in a 350°F oven  for 15 minutes or until golden and baked through.

Cookie brownies

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies
Prepare the batter of boxed brownie mix as per package directions. Pour into a 9×9 inch baking pan. Break up log of cookie dough into 2 inch pieces. Disperse throughout brownie dough. Bake as per brownie directions, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

cookie dough pizza

Milk and Cookies Pizza
Roll out cookie dough into a large circle 1/2-inch thick and bake in a 350°F oven until cookie is cooked through and edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Beat 1 stick of butter with 1/4 cup malted milk powder and 1 1/3 cup icing sugar. Smear over cooled cookie leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Top with chocolate, or toppings of choice.

Looking for more delicious ideas? Learn 5 Ways to Hack a Can of Cinnamon Rolls.

Tonka Beans: What They Are and How to Use Them

You may have seen these wrinkly little beans at your local spice shop, or tasted their distinctive warm flavour at a restaurant. If you’ve ever wondered which spice makes this distinctive aroma, something like a mix of cinnamon, vanilla, almond and cloves, you’re not alone.

tonka-bean2

A wonderful alternative to ingredients like vanilla, cinnamon, almond extract or nutmeg, tonka beans are popping up on restaurant menus and slowly working their way into home cooks’ pantries. In Winnipeg, for example, you can sip it in an infused coffee cocktail at Clementine, or head over to Calgary for a scoop of tonka bean and cherry ice cream at Made By Marcus.

My first encounter with the tonka bean was at Silk Road Spice Merchant, a local spice shop in Calgary. A friend grabbed a small jar filled with stout, wrinkled black beans and said, “smell this.” The distinct aroma was unforgettable, but difficult to put into words. Part almond, part vanilla, a little cinnamon and maybe a hint of something fruity, like cherry. Whatever it was, it was intoxicating.

A little digging will tell you these beans are actually the seeds of flowers on gigantic trees (cumaru) that grow in Central and South America. Prior to its debut in the food world, the bean was used in tobacco and perfume production (and still are in some countries) because of its one-of-a-kind aroma. They’re also illegal in the United States, so consider yourself lucky to be an eager home cook in Canada!

The possibilities are endless with tonka beans, but here are few ideas to get you started.

tonka-bean1

Simple Syrup: Use equal parts water and sugar, heat in a pot with one tonka bean until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and let steep and strain into a bottle. Use in cocktails or in morning coffee.

Whipped Cream: Prior to whipping cream, place one tonka bean in a container with cream and let sit in fridge for at least six hours to infuse flavour.

Pumpkin or Apple Pie: The beans can also be grated the same way you would grate fresh nutmeg. Skip the pumpkin spice blend for once (blasphemy, I know) and use about a teaspoon or two of tonka bean for a new, delicious flavour.

Squash Soup: People seem to shy away from using ingredients typically associated with dessert (i.e. cinnamon, cloves, etc.) in savoury applications. Much like pumpkin pie filling loves its aromatic spices, a roast squash soup loves the same. Either drop a bean straight into the pot for 30 minutes or so to infuse its flavour, or ladle soup into a bowl and grate the bean on top using a microplane.

Caramel Sauce: Making homemade caramel sauce is really easy, so once you’ve made a batch and it has cooled down a bit, add a bean and let the magic happen.

tonka-bean-caramel-sauce

Tonka Bean Caramel Sauce

Cook Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 2 cups

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tonka bean

Directions:
1. Working in batches, sprinkle a thin layer of sugar in a large pot and place it over medium-high heat.
2. Once the layer of sugar turns to transparent beads, sprinkle a little more sugar on top. After repeating this several times, you’ll see that the sugar becoming more and more fluid.
3. Once you’ve melted enough sugar to cover the bottom of the pot, slowly add the rest of the sugar to the pan and as it heats, it will start to become darker in colour. You’ll be looking for a dark brown. (Note: this will happen progressively faster, so work quickly and do not walk away.)
4. Next, pour the heavy cream into the pan while stirring. The mixture will bubble up slightly. Once it goes back down, remove from heat and add in the butter. Stir until incorporated and add tonka bean.
5. Once cool, remove tonka bean and store in desired container or jar to use are desired.

5 Tips for Getting Rid of Cooking Smells

Bacon, fish, onions and fries — all delicious and intoxicating while cooking, but the second the final bite has been swallowed, can quickly turn into stomach-churning odours that need to be nixed, stat. Here are five tips that will help eliminate those pungent cooking smells and ensure your kitchen stays fresh.

888_cooking-smells-in-kitchen

1. Turn it Up
Prevention is the best medicine and this holds true when it comes to fighting the battle of kitchen smells. The simple flip of your stove’s overhead fan will get the majority of smells out before they have time to get cozy. This is one small yet mighty step to ensure last night’s fish and chips aren’t lingering in the air while you sip your morning coffee.

2. Open the Windows
Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air to help eliminate gnarly cooking odours. If you’ve got a small fan, even better — switch it on and set it near the window to help push out the bad and filter in the fresh.

3. Light a Candle
A candle seems like the obvious quick fix, but when attempting to freshen up the kitchen post bacon-frying, it’s important to take a second look at the label. Competing smells can be tricky, so opt for a fresh scent like citrus or even linen. Covering up evidence of a Sunday morning brunch with strong, musky scents or other food smells can be overbearing and defeat the purpose altogether.

4. Simmer Some Spices
The power of cinnamon sticks, cloves and even star anise to get some serious stink out of your kitchen is quite powerful. To get your own inexpensive, DIY smell fixer, simmer a small pot of water or even apple cider on the stove and plop in a mix of the above spices. This concoction is especially intoxicating at this time of year, when warm, spicy scents wrap you up like a blanket when you come in from the crisp air.

5. Clean Up your Act
Cleaning up the dinner dishes right away is a chore many of us would rather save for later. But those grimy, oily pots and pans is a bad smell breeding ground. Cleaning up right away, or even filling pots and pans with hot, soapy water, will stop the smells from continuing to linger and make the eventual dinner clean up that much easier.

Chef Michael Smith on How to Throw a Labour Day BBQ

Food Network star Michael Smith is one of Canada’s best-known chefs — and also a barbecue fiend. The Chopped Canada judge recently launched Fireworks, a restaurant celebrating everything barbecue, and is Prince Edward Island’s hottest new eatery.

“We have every live fire cooking method known to man,” he says. “We have a smokehouse, a hearth, and a wood-oven. It allows us to do different techniques, and every single one using live fire and coals.”

If you can’t make it to Prince Edward Island to enjoy the fine barbecue at Fireworks before the end of summer, don’t worry. Chef Michael shares his top tips for throwing an amazing Labour Day barbecue at home. Before you get grilling, read this!

888_michael-smith-labour-day-party

 

Start with the right equipment.

It may seem old-fashioned, but Chef Michael swears by the power of cast-iron cookware for grilling.

“Cast-iron is a revelation to us,” says Chef Michael. “It radiates heat so evenly; things just don’t burn in it! We cook with cast-iron every single thing we do. Dutch ovens, skillets, planchas. That’s one big take-away: consider using cast-iron.”

Cook with live fire (if you can).

Whether you’re a first timer or a barbecue master, Chef Michael encourages those with backyard space to use “real wood fire” for grilling.

“Have one fire that’s generating your coals,” says Chef Michael. “Then sweep the coals over to the other side of the hearth — that’s where you do your cooking.”

The type of wood matters too; always use dried-out hardwood over softwood, which tends to leave an oily film on food, spoiling the flavour. “Hardwood burns hotter, slower, and tastes better,” says Chef Michael.

Maple Planked Salmon

Don’t cook over a flame.

When grilling, avoid direct contact between flame and food. Instead, let the flame die down to a hearty, thick bed of coals, no matter what fuel source you’re using. “We don’t cook over flame,” says Chef Michael. “Flame scorches food, and leads to black.”

Dress to impress (your meats, that is).

Add a gorgeous aroma by smoking meats with fruit wood chips like apple, available at most hardware stores.

“These are the caviar of wood,” says Chef Michael. “The wood has a distinctive flavour, tasting fruity. Reserve this special aromatic wood if you’re smoking food.”

It’s easy; just let the fire burn down to embers, and then top dress with fruit wood at the last minute. Or for a flavour-packed punch, consider brining your meats.

“If you’re really looking to amp up your barbecue game, brine,” says Chef Michael. “Chicken and pork in particular really benefit.”

It’s all in the technique.

To master the art of barbecuing, follow Chef Michael’s essential grilling tips:

  • Pre-heat your grills: “It’s probably the biggest tip of all. Food will not stick to hot metal. It sticks to cold metal.”
  • Sauce at the end: “Never, ever put barbecue sauces on your food before you grill it! Many sauces are packed with sugar, and immediately burn. Brush your sauces on towards the end of the cooking process.”
  • Be patient: “Often, we rush the process and miss the opportunity to fully cook the meat. If there’s a little tugging or sticking, that’s the meat saying, ‘I’m not ready to flip yet!’ Take your time — it’s very much in your favour.”
  • Understand the process: “The whole point of searing meat is to build flavour. Searing meat encourages juices to come out of the meat. If you’re rushing and not pre-heating, then you’re not adding flavour.”

Grilled Pineapple Salad

Have fun with the menu.

Lots of foods are grill-able, and consider broadening the barbey beyond burgers and hot dogs. Chef Michael suggests smoking freshly-shucked oysters on the grill for 2-3 minutes, top dressed with fruit wood. Or make a Grilled Pineapple Salad, Chef Michael’s “all-time favourite.” For drinks, seared lemon or lime make great garnishes, or whip up a pitcher of grilled lemonade. Best of all, barbecued fruits work beautifully as a fiery dessert.

“Use the grilled fruit component as a simple dessert,” says Chef Michael. “Big thick rings of grilled pineapple served with some kind of funky ice cream. I like to grind up fresh cilantro and sugar in a food processor, and then sprinkle it onto grilled pineapple — delicious stuff!”

Chill out.

Last but not least, invite plenty of friends and family, and “don’t worry so much about the food.”

“It’s really about who’s at the table, not what’s on the table,” says Chef Michael.

All this talk of food got you hungry? Check out Michael Smith’s Best Seafood Recipes.

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.”

Kate Bouska

Bringing Indigenous Cuisine to the Table

Two years ago, Kate Bouska wasn’t sure if she’d ever see her dream of owning a food truck come true. The woman, from Baker Lake, Nunavut had moved to Ottawa to pursue her love of cooking, but found herself battling depression, struggling financially and falling behind in school. Eventually she dropped out of her chef training program, but Bouska’s culinary ambitions didn’t end there.

This 20-year-old woman is one of 17 students enrolled in Algonquin College’s new indigenous cooking pre-apprenticeship program. The program is offered free, thanks to a grant from the Ontario government, and provides training for the next generation of young, indigenous Canadian chefs. In the first few weeks, Bouska’s already learning food theory, knife and presentation skills, as well as how to cook traditional indigenous cuisines from communities across Canada.

“When I found out about this course it was the answer to my dreams,” Bouska says. “The program isn’t quite what I had expected but it is interesting to learn all types of First Nations food.”

Kate Bouska

Kate Bouska is excited to get to put her culinary skills to the test cooking at the campus restaurant.
Algonquin College

The culinary school is the brainchild of Wes Wilkinson, the program’s academic manager, who saw a disconnect between aboriginal students and the curriculum in some culinary programs.

“We hired all indigenous instructors and indigenous consultants to help with the program’s development,” says Wilkinson, who wanted to ensure students were learning from Canada’s best chefs. “Instructors are everything from Algonquin, to Mohawk to Cree to from Nunavut.”

The result is a curriculum food lovers would be excited to taste. Jerome Brasser, executive chef at Ottawa’s Wabano Centre, leads the six-hour cooking class on Fridays, where he, with the help of guest instructors, teach students how to make everything from fry bread, to hominy corn to Arctic char gravlax.

“Last week we made three different types of bannock. We made cinnamon brown sugar bannock, plain bannock and blueberry bannock. We’re having a lot of fun and the students are really enjoying it,” says Brasser. “I try to come up with traditional recipes and teach them the basics too.”

Eager young chefs will also learn how to skin and cook beaver, smoke goose and rabbit over the campfire and learn how to cook wild game such as venison, bison and elk.

“Some of my previous students, who have graduated from the culinary course, have offered to teach as well, since they came from reserves and are living in Ottawa. They have jobs here now and are really interested in teaching the young folks their processes.”

The semester culminates with the entire class running the kitchen at the campus’ Restaurant International — an experience that will put their culinary skills to the test. It’s this high-stakes environment that Bouska looks forward to the most.

“It’s exciting. The highlight is learning how to plate,” says Bouska. “The precise cuts are the most difficult.”

It’s seeing students like Bouska find work at the end of their 8-week placement that will be the true marker of the program’s success for Wilkinson.

“Ultimately this is what this is all about,” says Wilkinson, who is excited to see students, who come from communities across Canada, thrive.

For Bousa, she still has her eye on opening a food truck with her friend, with plans on using her cooking school experience to create an indigenous menu.

Hungry? Discover 12 Tasty Canadian Indigenous Restaurants.

Olive Oil

How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil

Now more than ever, grocery aisles are brimming with choices of seemingly endless types of oil. And while it’s sometimes easy to know which options aren’t for daily use — toasted walnut oil, for instance — there are still a lot of basics to sort through. So which oils should hold a place in your pantry? This guide will help you decide which types you need.

Olive Oil

Olive Oil
This classic Mediterranean staple has gained popularity all around the globe over the past couple of decades thanks to its nutritional values and beautifully rich flavour. Because it’s high in ever-so-healthy monounsaturated fats, it’s praised as one of the most beneficial oils to incorporate into your diet. Unfortunately, olive oil won’t do the trick for all of your cooking needs. Whether you’re choosing virgin or extra-virgin as your household staple, all olive oil will deteriorate and have an off-putting taste if cooked at a high temperature, leaving it best to use for light sautéing, poaching at a low heat or simply in salad dressings or emulsions.

Sunflower Oil
Although you can purchase nutty cold-pressed sunflower oil that can be used in place of olive oil, the most common type of sunflower oil available is a light and refined variety that’s neutral in flavour and can take on high heat. The downside is that this refining process removes some of its healthy nutrients. If you’re looking for an all-purpose oil to get any job done, sunflower oil will always do the trick. Not only is this oil perfect for frying, roasting or searing, it can also be used as a neutral fat in baked goods or aioli.

Coconut Oil
High in saturated fat, coconut oil was once thought as being extremely unhealthy to consume, however it’s had a new wave of popularity thanks to its versatility (especially in vegan cooking) and being claimed as a new superfood. Firm at room temperature and liquid when melted, coconut oil can be used as you would butter. However, unlike butter, it can also tolerate a higher heat, making it a great choice to cook with. Choose virgin coconut oil as it has a subtle and nutty coconut flavour, and the best nutritional properties compared to refined varieties.

Butter

Butter
Butter arguably has the most appealing taste that keeps you coming back for more. Because of its milk fats, it tends to burn easily and should never be used for cooking over a high heat (those fats, however, brown beautifully in a slow and controlled burn when making brown butter). Butter is best used when you’re looking to give a boost of flavour, whether it’s for a pasta sauce, glazing vegetables or a final baste on a steak or roast chicken. Thanks to its creamy texture at room temperature, it’s the ultimate fat to use for cakes, cookies and frosting.

Lard
While lard lost some of its popularity after vegetable shortening came to the market, it made a huge comeback among chefs and bakers of all generations for its full, rich flavour and ability to make the flakiest pie crusts. Lard is always rendered from pork fat, not making it suitable for everyone to use, but if you’re not looking for a health conscious choice, this all-purpose fat is great for high-heat cooking such as stir-frying and deep-frying as well as most baking.

Peanut Oil
Peanut oil has a neutral flavour and has a very high smoke point, which makes it the go-to choice for stir frying or deep frying. Because this oil is commonly refined, most of the peanut allergens are removed during the process leaving it safe for a large majority of people who have peanut allergies. You’ll see it as the common choice at chip trucks, so give it a try next time you’re craving some fries or a battered piece of fish.

Learn how to make your own salad dressings with our 40 homemade recipes.

roger-mooking-batch-cooking

5 Foods Roger Mooking Always Cooks in Batches

Roger-Mooking-Chopped-Canada

Think you know everything when it comes to batch cooking?

When it comes to the art of cooking in bulk, Chopped Canada judge Roger Mooking has it down pat. As the father of four kids, he makes it a weekly priority.

“During the week, we’re busy running kids to and from activities, so I tend to spend Sundays cooking and freezing a bunch of stuff that we can build meals from easily,” Rogers says.

From easy sauces to breakfasts-on-the-go, here are 5 things that Roger batch cooks for his family.

Hummus
“I add it to sandwiches instead of mayo, or to soups to thicken and make heartier.”

Stock
“I reserve all the bones from roasted meats and freeze them until I have enough to make a decent pot of stock. Then I freeze it into smaller batches and use it as needed.”

Herb Purées
“I add it to sandwiches, stews, meat marinades, veggie marinades and mixed into mayo for potato salads.”

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
“I like to slow roast a bunch of tomatoes and serve it in salads, to quinoa dishes and reheated into side dishes for steak or chicken. I also like to purée it into soups and for vinaigrettes.”

Simple Breakfasts
“I make batches of biscuits, pancakes and waffles for freezing. I just thaw and reheat for a quick breakfast or snack.”

Looking for family-friendly recipes? Check out our Cooking for Kids guide. And tune-in on Saturdays at 9 E/P to catch Roger Mooking on Chopped Canada.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How to Fix Overcooked Meat

How to Rescue Overcooked Meat

We’ve all been there; the grey pork chop, the expensive steak that’s cooked all the way through and chicken breast that emits a puff of dry air when pierced with a knife.

Whether the result of distraction or fear of undercooking, we’ve all taken a beautiful cut of meat and cooked it to bone-dry oblivion. Unfortunately there’s no undo button, but there are two great strategies to coax deliciousness back into your sad, overdone meat.

How to Fix Overcooked Meat

1. Change your tactics. Switch from a dry cooking method like grilling, roasting or pan-frying, to a moist one like braising or stewing.
Gently simmered at a low temperature for a long period of time, the meat’s collagen will dissolve into gelatin and the muscle fibres will separate, producing the fall-apart tenderness relished in braises and roasts. Watch closely and stop cooking immediately when the meat is easily pulled apart with a fork. Remember: low and slow — don’t let it rise above a simmer or you will dry it out further.

2. Shred it and sauce it. The second option, which is quicker but with less succulent results, is to slice or shred the meat as thinly as possible and warm it in a liquid. The meat itself will still be dry but small pieces have lots of surface area to absorb moisture. Try a barbecue sauce and repurpose the protein into tacos (here’s a great sauce recipe for that) or bathe it in marinara sauce and make a quick ragu for polenta or spaghetti.

There’s no way to rewind a steak from well-done back to rare, but you can definitely re-purpose it into a delicious new dinner.

Jennifer Pallian is a Vancouver-based food writer and photographer, who shares vibrant recipes on her blog Foodess.

Chefs Share Their Most Memorable Valentine’s Day

Most chefs spend Valentine’s Day feeding other peoples’ flirtations, but our lovable stars have had their share of romance, too.

888_chefs-valentines-memories

From a morning with Parisian pastries to an evening that literally went up in flames, here are their favourite Valentine’s Days memories.

Anna-Olson-Chef-Head-01

Anna Olson’s Sweet Morning
“My most memorable Valentine’s Day was on a layover in Paris,” says the Bake with Anna Olson host. “My sweetie, Michael, and I had a romantic bistro dinner on Valentine’s Eve, but what I remember most was getting up incredibly early on February 14th to catch the patisseries just as they were opening. I loaded up on pastries of all sorts, to bring as carry-on. Happy and delicious memories all the way home!”

Devin Connell

Devin Connell’s Hot Night
“My most memorable Valentine’s Day moment was when my husband tried to make me steak frites and started a grease fire in our kitchen,” says the Chef in Your Ear star. “Thank goodness for fire extinguishers!”

Craig Harding

Craig Harding’s Engaging Dinner
“Since I’m always working on Valentine’s Day, I usually look for something exciting to happen at work,” says Chef in Your Ear’s Craig Harding. “The most memorable night was when we had three proposals all in the same seating. By the end of the night we were all drinking champagne, and to my knowledge the couples were all strangers before that night, and still maintain friendships to this day.”

Josh-Chef-Heads

Josh Elkin’s Burning Love
“I especially love creating holiday-specific recipes,” says the Sugar Showdown host. “A few years ago on Valentine’s Day, I created some bacon strip roses and assembled them in a nice ‘floral arrangement’ for a special someone. Upon presenting her with this delicious bouquet, I realized that there was still grease coming off the bacon petals, and I ended up burning her leg. The burn wasn’t too bad, but it certainly left a lasting (yet delicious) impression on her.”

141x141-Susur-Lee

Susur Lee’s Labour of Love
“Sadly, most of my Valentine’s memories are actually other people’s,” says Chopped Canada judge and Top Chef Masters star Susur Lee. “As you can imagine, Valentine’s Day is huge in the restaurant industry, and I have never had a Valentine’s Day off. I’ve seen proposals, rejections, people stood up… I’ve seen it all! But mainly I’ve seen a lot of people making an effort to do something special and make their own memories.”

Cory Vitiello

Cory Vitiello’s Casual Date Night
“I’ve spent every Valentine’s Day (and Mother’s Day and New Years Eve) of the last 15 years in the restaurant,” says Chef in Your Ear star Cory Vitiello. “A couple years ago at Harbord Room, we just blocked off a whole room and invited our closest friends for Valentine’s Day, and cooked them a menu at cost. We had a nice party among friends and it didn’t have to be this contrived date night.”

141x141-Michael-Smith

Michael Smith’s Double Date
“My most memorable Valentine’s Day memory was making heart-shaped pancakes for my two girls before school,” says the Chopped Canada  judge. “They were pretty impressed with Dad’s breakfast chops!”

4 Things Every Beginner Chef Should Know

Our Chef in Your Ear experts have a host of skills between them, but one thing they’re especially great at is giving advice.

It’s taken years of mentorship, experience and training for them to learn these important lessons, but you can apply them immediately.

888_chef-in-your-ear-chef-advice

1. Experiment. Fail. Repeat.
“The thing about cooking is that the more you try, the more you experiment, the more you fail, the better off you’re going to be,” says Toronto-based restaurateur Craig Harding. If there’s something new you want to make, hop online, look in a book or turn on your favourite cooking show and just try it. “I still don’t know how to make everything, and if I have an idea, if I see something I like or if I taste something I enjoy and I don’t know how to make it, I always go try and figure out how to do it,” he says. “And it may fail, but then I try again.”

2. Cook from the heart.
“The best cooking advice I ever got was from a chef of mine,” says Top Chef season one runner-up Rob Rossi. “He told me that if I would always cook the dishes like I would for my family, they would always come out really well. And I think that you have to know who you’re cooking for, and appreciate them, and you’ll love the food you’re trying to make them.”

Cory Vitiello, the owner of three successful restaurants, agrees. His mentor, Scaramouche’s Keith Froggett, once told him to stop cooking what other people wanted and figure out what he loved most. “Put all your emphasis into that, and if you’re truly cooking the food that you love and you’re not worried about cooking for anybody else’s palate, that’s going to come through in your food.”

3. Taste test at every step.
“One of the things that I had done with all of the cooks [on Chef In Your Ear] is that I get them to try what they’re making every step of the way,” says Craig Harding. “Taste it when you’ve started the cooking so then you know where it is after.” If you only have the time or inclination to learn one cooking skill, focus on seasoning. “Forget about knife skills and all that,” says Harding. “Even if they can’t cut something perfectly, whatever, as long as it tastes good.”

4. Learn the basics of flavour pairing.
“If it grows together, it goes together,” says seasoned chef and business owner Devin Connell. Items that grow together in the summer – like basil and tomatoes – pair well. Same goes for winter produce like squashes, root veggies and onions, all of which are complementary. “Think about your flavours in a seasonal way, because that will never fail you,” she says.

Watch all new episodes of Chef in Your Ear Mondays at 10 E/P. Click here for full schedule.

What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever gotten? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @FoodNetworkCA.