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Carla Hall is laughing and has a big smile on the set of Halloween Baking Championship

Carla Hall Shares Her Favourite Moments From This Season (Plus, the Trend She Predicts for 2022)

She’s neither a fan of slasher movies nor psychological thrillers. But on this season of Halloween Baking Championship, Carla Hall says expect to see plenty of scary challenges incorporating those themes. That’s because this season, the show is playing homage to 1980’s slashers movies  both ionic, obscure and just downright freaky.

Carla Hall on the set of Halloween Baking Championship

Carla is joined yet again by her co-judges, Pastry Chefs Stephanie Boswell and Zack Young, as well as host John Henson to help choose this season’s winner. Carla says the group’s common shared interests, such as acting and overall rapport is a huge part of why she thinks Halloween Baking Championship has been such a fan favourite all these years and why it continues to be one of the most entertaining shows.

Related: Halloween Baking Championship: Meet the Season 7 Bakers

“ I think the bakers are great, but [the cast] there is a sense of family with John and my fellow judges,” Carla says. “We just don’t keep ourselves strapped with boundaries. We really play and we get into the characters that we dress up as. And no other show has the costumes. I think the costumes every year just level up.”

Judges look at a pie on this season of Halloween Baking Championship

Carla Hall’s Highlights From Halloween Baking Championship

Speaking of levelling up, Carla says fans can expect to see bakers create some of the scariest cakes to date with the set and costumes coming in a close second! “This year, the network allowed us to get really scary [meaning] we can have skin hanging off of our faces,” said Carla.

“The fact that the setting of the show is at Camp Devil’s Food Lake, so [think] legs, scariness, spookiness, things jumping out at you you can plan on all of that. I might not be able to tell you when it’s going to happen, but just know it’s going to happen.”

Finished pie on a cake stand on display in the Halloween Baking Championship studio

What else? Maybe not as frightening, only “ugly delicious” as Carla calls them, but “you’re going to see a lot of great crusts this season.” And who doesn’t like a good crust? Carla says she’s first in line for a delicious slab of pie.

“If I had to choose between cake or pie, I would choose pie because I love fruit and I love the flakiness. I love the differences in texture with pie. I love a flaky buttery crust.”

Tips for Going Beyond Cake Decorations

Decorating a cake so it wows the judges on the show takes technical skills, artistic abilities and a load of experience, says Hall.  But her advice for home bakers aspiring to be on the show or who want to be the star in their own kitchens at home?  Take risks and go beyond focusing on just the decorations.

Related: Gorgeous Edible Cake Decorations To Elevate Any Dessert

“It’s not just about decorating, but really [bakers have to] make sure that the textures of your baked goods are great,” she says. “Understand how butter works: Do you want to use room temperature or softened butter? I mean, those are very different things. Start slowly, then go to [the] decorating and then just make sure that it’s something that you enjoy.”

Carla Hall looking at a pie on the set of Halloween Baking Championship

As for that one winning element that edges out the competition? Dare to be different.

I think white sugar is overused and I think I would like to see the bakers explore different sweeteners because it gives more interest to the baked goods. I’m thinking there’s always some kind of raspberry with chocolate. I would like to see them break out and use something that’s not so predictable.”

Related: Apple Spider Web Pops

Carla Hall’s Trend Predictions for 2022: Savoury Sweets and Spices

Using savoury spices in baked goods is something Carla says bakers on the show typically shy away from using – but not this season.

“When I think of spices, I think of cumin, cayenne and black pepper, [and] we actually forced them [the bakers] to use them. You’re going to see cinnamon, you’re going to see nutmeg, you’re going to see allspice. Those are the very traditional spices, you see those. What we challenge them to do, though, is to go beyond their comfort level and use some of these other spices.”

Wes Dills' cake, as seen on Halloween Baking Championship, Season 7.

As for cake trends, Carla is glad to say goodbye to piñata cake, tsunami or pull-it-up cakes and drip cakes, and say hello to using savoury vegetables in cakes instead.

“What I think could be a trend or maybe I want this to be a trend is vegetables sweetened and turned into something else,” Carla told us. Using parsnips, or something like that in a cake, instead of carrot cake, [perhaps] celery root, the texture with celery root could be really nice. People are starting to use beets in a red velvet cake instead of the red dye because it’s natural, but the texture of beets also gives us that moist crumb.”

Related: Make-Ahead Gory White Chocolate Truffles for Your Next Halloween Bash

Carla Hall’s Favourite Recipes and Baking Traditions

Holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving are a great time to get everyone in the family involved in creating a meal and making long-lasting traditions, says Hall. Admittedly, the former Top Chef contestant says she didn’t start baking until she was well into her twenties, but she always loved to eat especially her grandmother’s cornbread

I remember just like watching her waiting for that cornbread to be done..you would have that cast iron skillet, you put the oil in the skillet and then you pour the batter into the skillet, and I remember, the sizzle that the batter would make. And then all of the batter would be rolling up the sides of that cast iron skillet and that she would put it in the oven. And I knew in 20-minutes we’d be eating.”

She says in those early days it wasn’t about learning how to make the cornbread however, but rather for her, it was about recreating the memories surrounding the moments before she ate the cornbread that in part, inspired her baking career today. 

Watch Halloween Baking Championship Mondays at 9 PM ET/PT. Watch and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV. Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.

Ina Garten's skillet kitchen in a cast iron pan with lemon slices

Ina Garten’s Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken is a Game Changer for Weeknight Meals

Roast chicken isn’t just for Sunday dinners any more thanks to this easy recipe from The Barefoot Contessa. Using a cast-iron pan, nestle an herb-marinated, butterflied chicken on a bed of lemon slices, onion and garlic and roast at a high temperature. In just under an hour, you’ll have perfectly tender chicken with golden, crispy skin. With a little help from Ina Garten, you’ll be channelling your inner chef in no time at all!

Related: Ina Garten’s Quick Recipes Using Store-Bought Ingredients

Ina Garten’s Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken

Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes (includes resting time)
Serves:
3

Ingredients:
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup good olive oil
1 lemon, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (4-lb) chicken, backbone removed and butterflied
½ cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
Juice of 1 lemon

Related: Ina Garten’s Best Chicken Recipes: From Roast Chicken to Pot Pie

Cast iron pan with skillet cooked grilled chicken

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Place the thyme, fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a mini food processor and process until ground. Pour the olive oil into a small glass measuring cup, stir in the herb mixture, and set aside.

3. Distribute the lemon slices in a 12-inch cast iron skillet and distribute the onion and garlic on top. Place the chicken, skin side down, on top of the onion and brush with about half the oil and herb mixture. Turn the chicken skin side up, pat it dry with paper towels (very important!), and brush it all over with the rest of the oil and herb mixture.

4. Roast the chicken for 30 minutes. Pour the wine into the pan (not on the chicken!) and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 to 160°F.

5. Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle it with the lemon juice, cover the skillet tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the chicken in quarters or eighths, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices, cooked lemon, and onion.

Related: Any Hour is Cocktail Hour Thanks to Ina Garten’s Classic Cosmopolitan

Bone-in chicken bread with lemon and side of greens

For more kitchen inspiration from The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics, check out the 15 Cooking Techniques That Ina Garten Wants You to Know.

Watch Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV. Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.

Host Duff Goldman at Charm City Cakes with his arms folder and a smile on his face

The Evolution of Duff Goldman: From Ace of Cakes to Buddy vs. Duff

Duff Goldman became a household name with Ace of Cakes but soon, the success of the Food Network series inspired other cake shows and the landscape became sweetly saturated. Thankfully that was just beginning for this chef, who is also a bit of a rock star — he plays bass in the Elvis cover band Foie Grock, after all.

From emerging as the face of Charm City Cakes, to cookbooks, a handful of shows on Food Network Canada, and a very full personal life, it’s safe to say that Duff’s (dessert) plate is full. Let’s go back and see how it all began, shall we?

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

The Name of the Game

 

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Jeffrey Adam Goldman was born in Detroit in 1974 before his family moved to Missouri. His nickname came from his older brother, Willie, who was unable to pronounce “Jeffrey.” Instead, “Duffy” became his new permanent nickname. Thank goodness. Not sure we could handle a Jeff and a Geof (Geoffrey Manthorne, Duff’s right hand man).

Easy as Cake

 

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Duff’s been working in kitchens since he was 14. His first job was at a bagel store at the mall and eventually he became a fry cook at McDonald’s. In college, he applied to work as a cook at the Charleston, one of Baltimore’s finest restaurants, but head chef Cindy Wolf told him he lacked experience. She did, however, offer him a position making cornbread and biscuits. That was the turning point in his career.

Fine Art

 

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Let’s not forget that Duff went to culinary school. Post-university (he has degrees in philosophy and history from the University of Maryland), Duff attended the Culinary Institute of America. It was there that he discovered his serious cake-making skills. He then worked at The French Laundry, run by renowned chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Thomas Keller. Under Keller’s leadership, Duff realized food and art could become one beautiful thing.

Business as Usual

 

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Duff first launched his cake business in 2000, out of his Mount Vernon, Virginia apartment. There, he would make one cake a week, but as time went by his confections were becoming more in demand. Two years later he opened Charm City Cakes — this time out of a studio in Baltimore. By 2003, Duff sold $130,000 worth of cakes, nearly three times what he sold in his first year.

Show Time

 

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Ace of Cakes was born in 2006. The show focused on the daily operations of Charm City Cakes as Duff and his equally fun and quirky staff went about their daily routines, constructing cakes using a variety of traditional and unconventional tools (like belt sanders, blowtorches and power saws). The show ran for 10 seasons over five years, coming to an end in 2011.

No Slowing Down

 

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Ace of Cakes may have ended but that didn’t mean things were less busy for Duff. On the contrary, he opened his second bakery, this time in Los Angeles, which has the same Baltimore charm just in sunnier conditions. And more famous people.

Memory Lane

 

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Some of the more memorable events Charm City Cakes has represented over the years were the premieres of Kung-Fu PandaHairspray and a couple of the Harry Potter movies, not to mention the times he was commissioned to make replicas of Radio City Music Hall, Wrigley Field, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Love and Marriage

 

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Duff and his then girlfriend Johnna Colbry dated for three years before they got married on Jan. 21, 2019. Naturally, there were three cakes at the ceremony: an underwater-themed creation that hung from the ceiling, a traditional white wedding cake for Johnna and a meat cake for Duff. That last concoction was memorable thanks to its bottom meatball tier, secondary meatloaf tier, lamb shawarma for the third tier, and scrapple on top. The frosting was mashed potatoes, bacon roses adorned the “icing,” and gravy cascaded from the chocolate fountain. Obviously.

Lights, Camera, so Much Action

 

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Ace of Cakes may have taken up a lot of Duff’s precious baking time, but after a few years’ hiatus, the baker and chef returned to the small screen in 2014 with Kids Baking Championship. He quickly followed that up with Holiday Baking ChampionshipSpring Baking Championship and Duff Takes the Cake.

Putting Pen to Paper

 

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Duff has always been willing to share the secrets to his success, which he does in cookbook form. The personality released his third title in Fall 2020, Super Good Baking For Kids. Previously he had also released  Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes and Duff Bakes: Think and Bake Like a Pro at Home.

Growing His Family

 

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Duff’s third book may have been inspired by the fact that he was about to become a dad himself. In February 2021 Duff and Johnna welcomed baby girl Josephine to the world. “We made a family! I have a whole little family!” he wrote on social media at the time. “I keep telling Josephine about all the wonderful things she’s gonna get to try like pizza and candy and swimming and concerts and riding a bike.”

Merching Out

 

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In addition to growing his business and his family, Duff has also gotten into the merchandising game. On his official site, he hocks plenty of branded t-shirts, beanies and baking accessories, allowing fans to bring a little of Duff into their own kitchens, too.

His Latest TV Adventure

 

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Duff’s latest competition, Buddy vs. Duff, is now in its third season. Duff took the crown in Season 1 thanks to his seriously charming yet complex cakes, but Buddy Valastro rebounded in a big way to take home the win in Season 2. This season, everything will be on the line for these legendary cake artists, who hope to prove once and for all that they are the reigning cake champ.

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

Posted by Denette Wilford. Last Updated on August 22 by Amber Dowling.

Anna Olson poses smiling with her hat box birthday cake

Here’s the Cake Anna Olson Bakes for Her Birthday – and Why You Should, Too!

Everybody loves birthday cake! And why not? A birthday cake means there is a celebration, and someone is being honoured, and best of all if that person is you!

My birthday is May 8th, falling very near or sometimes right on Mother’s Day, so there are now two reasons to bake a cake.  The question is: what type of cake to make?  You’ve seen me make every possible type of cake, but are you curious which are my favourites?  Here are a few things about me and my love of cake, and some guiding tips that I follow:

Related: Magical Birthday Cupcake Recipes

Cake vs. Cupcake

Cupcakes were always my choice growing up, and ballerinas were my “thing”. My Mom had a set of plastic ballerina figurines that she would top each cupcake with for years.

Remember regular layer cake batters don’t always adapt well to cupcakes.  Often wet batters will stick to the paper liners on cupcakes instead of peeling away easily.  If you want a cupcake, choose a cupcake recipe.

Related: Anna Olson’s Best Chocolate Recipes

A chocolate cupcake topped with swirled chocolate and vanilla icingGet the recipe: Chocolate Spice Cupcake with Chocolate “Swirl” Frosting

Tip: When baking cake layers, whether round or square, use cake pans with sides that are a straight 90° from the bottom.  Some cake pans have angled sides (for the only reason that they nest well for shipping) but when layers are assembled, the cake won’t have straight sides, and the angle is noticeable when the cake is sliced. I’ve designed my Anna Olson Kitchen cake pans specifically with this in mind.

Choosing Your Birthday Cake Flavour

I love the classically named cakes, with their defined flavour & filling combinations:

Black forest cake sliced open revealing delicious layers of chocolate cake and cherry filling
Black Forest Cake – chocolate cake, cherry filling and whipped cream frosting

Beautiful Dobos Tort decorated with caramelized sugar Dobos Torte – thin layers of nut sponge with chocolate buttercream and a caramelized sugar “fan” on top

Slices of opera tart cakeOpera Torte – sponge, ganache and mocha buttercream

I also like watching cake flavour and decor trends, including “naked” cakes, confetti cakes, and I am going through a serious waffle cake phase right now.

I don’t repeat birthday cakes – I change it up every year, and I rarely choose a chocolate cake.

See More: Anna Olson’s Healthier Dessert Recipes

When to Bake Your Birthday Cake

Because I’d like to be a guest at my own birthday party, I plan on baking the cake layers two days ahead (or baking and freezing further ahead) and making the fillings and frosting the day before, and assembling then.

Tip: Cake layers are less crumbly and easier to slice when baked a day before frosting them.

Anna Olson poses smiling with her hat box birthday cake

Tip: Unfrosted cake layers should not be refrigerated (it would dry the cake out. If baking a day ahead, wrap them well and leave them on the counter.  Once assembled, the frosting seals in the moisture, so it can be chilled and stay fresh.

Related: Anna Olson’s Guide for Working With Buttercream

How Long Will Your Cake Sit Out?

If the weather is nice (and you went to a deal of effort), you’ll want to show off the cake and let it sit out at room temperature (out of direct sunlight).

Tip: Frosting and fondants that have food colouring added fade when exposed to direct sunlight. Take care where the cake is placed for display, and adding a little glycerin (available where you buy cake decorating supplies) to your frosting or fondant will help preserve the colour.

So you need to choose fillings and frosting that suit:

Out for under 30 minutes: mousse fillings and whipped cream frostings are fine.

Out for 30-90 minutes: Curd fillings, fruit fillings, cream cheese frostings and chocolate ganache can handle sitting out for longer.

Out for 90+ minutes: Swiss buttercream cakes, fondant-covered cakes, and cupcakes can sit out longer.  Italian buttercream is the most stable frosting, which is why it is a favourite choice of pastry chefs for wedding cakes.

Anna’s Birthday Cake

So now that we’ve talked about all types of cakes, what is my choice for a birthday cake?  And the winner is:

Beautifully decorates lemon buttercream hatbox cake with buttercream bow
Get the recipe: Lemon Swiss Buttercream Hatbox Cake

Lemon cakes are ideal in spring, and I’m also thinking about Mother’s Day – I’ll be celebrating with my Mom then, and she loves a good lemon cake as well.  The silkiness of the Swiss buttercream is sweet, smooth and stable, but is not overly rich or cloying.  I’m not certain that I’ll replicate this hatbox style – I may go for piping spring flowers on top to suit the season.  Now that the Anna Olson Kitchen line carries a box of 100 reusable & recyclable disposable piping bags, and a piping tip set, there are no limits to my decor stylings.

Slice of Anna Olson's lemon swiss buttercream birthday cake

And if you are baking a birthday cake for yourself or someone else, remember that delicious memories are made in the kitchen – enjoy the time spent baking as much as the time spent eating!

The Anna Olson Kitchen collection of 48 items of bakeware, baking tools and décor tools are available exclusively at The Hudson’s Bay Company and  www.thebay.com

Food podcaster Dan Ahdoot standing in front of a wall of dishes during the show Raid the Fridge

3 Hot New Releases to Binge on Amazon Prime This Fall

Summer winding down doesn’t have to be a reason to fret- not when there are this many exciting new shows to look forward to watching with STACKTV on Amazon Prime.  

From a new celebrity-studded competition (hello former White House staff member, Kal Penn) to a delightful competition powered by everyone’s favourite frozen sweet treat, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

See More:  You Won’t Believe These Foods Are Dairy-Free

Money Hungry

When to Watch: Series premiere August 31 at 9 PM ET/PT

Kal Penn hosts the new show Money Hungry, Season 1.

Cookbook authors, amateur home cooks, restaurant critics and talented chefs put their taste buds to the ultimate test in this five-episode series hosted by Kal Penn. Money Hungry contestants showcase their palates and culinary knowledge to identify ingredients in three rounds of intense tastings, as they fight for a chance to win a whopping $50,000.

Ben and Jerry’s: Clash of the Cones

When to Watch: Special series premiere August 30 at 9 PM ET/PT

Judges standing in front of a photo wall for the new show Ben and Jerry’s The Cold Wars, Season 1.

Six ice cream masters get a once in a lifetime opportunity in Ben and Jerry’s: Clash of the Cones to create a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavour of their own, capturing the essence of a celebrity or pop culture icon. Celebrity inspirations include hip-hop icon and actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, actor Kevin Bacon and famed bakers,  Duff Goldman and Buddy Valastro.

See More: 26 Tasty Ways to Use Up Leftover Ice Cream

Raid the Fridge

When to Watch: Series premiere September 1 at 10 PM ET/PT

Host Dan Adhoot stands in front of a display for the show Ben and Jerry’s The Cold Wars, Season 1.

Hosted by food podcaster Dan Ahdoot, Raid the Fridge is exactly what this new series’ name suggests: Four top-notch chefs pinned against one and another to come up with some exciting and creative dishes when faced with mystery fridges before them.  Unknown ingredients? No problem, as they all vie to win the coveted prize which is a fridge full of $10,000.

Related: Food Network Canada Announces the Return of Six Favourites, Plus a Mouth-Watering New Series

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

Beauty shot of Molly Yeh's carrot cake with spiced cream cheese icing

Molly Yeh’s Carrot Cake With Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting is Simply Show-Stopping

Your carrot cake game will never be the same once you try Molly Yeh’s sensational recipe. The secret ingredient that sets this dessert apart from the other carrot cake recipes you’ve tried in the past? Cardamom-forward hawaij, a warm spice blend from Yemen that Molly adds to both the cake and the creamy frosting. The simple (read: genius!) rainbow carrot rosettes adorning the cake also lend a touch of whimsy. Don’t be surprised if your friends and family ask for a second slice… it really does, dare we say, take the cake as the recipe to bake this season.

Related: Carrot Cake Recipes in Every Form, From Cupcakes to Cookies

Molly Yeh's Carrot Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting, as seen on Girl Meets Farm, Season 3.

Molly Yeh’s Carrot Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Serves:
6-8

Ingredients:

Carrot Cake
Nonstick cooking spray, for the cake pans
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp hawaij (see Cook’s Note)
1 ½ cups neutral oil, such as canola
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste or extract
2 cups shredded carrots
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Spiced Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 Tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp hawaij
Pinch of kosher salt
Rainbow carrots, peeled into ribbons with a peeler, to decorate
1 rosemary sprig, leaves picked, to decorate

Cook’s Note: Hawaij is a Yemeni warm spice blend that’s heavy on the cardamom and can be used to flavour baked goods, frosting or even sprinkled in coffee! You can make a substitute by mixing 1 Tbsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp ground cardamom, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground cloves and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon.

Related: Carrot Cake and Cheesecake Combine Into One Glorious Dessert

Directions:

Carrot Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 8-inch cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and line with parchment. Set aside.

2. Combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda and hawaij in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Whisk in the vanilla.

Related: Bright and Beautiful Breakfasts to Get You Excited for Spring

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, and mix until about 90 per cent incorporated. Add the carrots and sesame seeds, and mix to incorporate (by this time, all of the flour mixture should be incorporated as well).

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, and then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Related: Easy Dessert Recipes That Take 15 Minutes or Less

Spiced Frosting
1. Add the butter and cream cheese to a large bowl. Mix with a hand mixer until smooth and combined. Add the powdered sugar and mix until light and fluffy. Then add the heavy cream, vanilla, hawaij and salt. Mix until combined and smooth.

2. Cover the cakes with frosting and stack. Use the carrot ribbons to roll into rose shapes and place on top of the cake. Decorate with the rosemary, and serve!

Looking for more standout dishes from the celebrated food blogger and Girl Meets Farm star? Start your day the Molly Yeh way with these breakfast recipes!

Headshot of Afrim Pristine over various cheeses

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

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

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

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

Related: Secrets From a Cheese Master

Ask the Right Questions

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

Consider Seasonality

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

See More: Afrim Pristine’s Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread

Be Willing to Experiment

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

Make Smart Choices

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

Various cheeses on a wooden board

Related: Baked Camembert From Cheese: A Love Story

Don’t Buy in Bulk

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

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

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

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

 

 

Cheese Shopping Mistakes

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

Weekly trips to the grocery store just aren’t complete without a stop at the cheese counter. Whether feta for your Greek salad, sharp cheddar cheese for a vegetarian quiche, smoked gouda for homemade pizza night, there’s a cheese that will improve your dish in a way that your taste buds will thank you.  We sat down with a maître fromager (AKA cheese master) and Cheese: A Love Story host, Afrim Pristine for his dos and don’ts for buying cheese. 

Don’t Forget to Plan Ahead

Overbuying cheese is one of the most common rookie mistakes people make, Afrim says. First of all, cheese needs about two to four hours to breathe before being enjoyed. “If you overbuy, store it in your fridge, and take it back out again, the integrity of the cheese isn’t quite the same.”

Related:  The Facts You Never Knew About Cheese

Do Buy in Smaller Quantities

With this in mind, Pristine recommends buying four or five different cheeses but purchasing them in smaller amounts.  When you purchase the right amount of cheese that you need, you don’t need to worry about unintentional food waste.

Four different cheeses on a white countertop with garnishes

Don’t Store Cheese in Plastic Bags

Afrim recommends wrapping cheese in a layer of wax or parchment paper with another layer of tinfoil. This technique will help cheese have the proper amount of moisture it needs, he explains.

“Creamy cheeses can stay in the fridge for a maximum of 7 to 10 days.  Hard cheeses have a longer shelf life, but won’t be as enjoyable after more than a few weeks,” he says.

Do Seek Out Local Canadian Cheese

Did you know that provinces like Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and even Nova Scotia make world-class cheese? Make the most out of living in Canada’s unique cheese culture by trying out different local cheeses.

As a proud Torontonian, one of Afrim’s favourite Canadian cheese is a Mountainoak gouda from Ontario. “Mountainoak gouda is a pretty complex cheese. It’s very salty and nutty, kind of like butterscotch or a bar of very dark chocolate.”

Related: Meet a Toronto Chef Making His Own Cheeses

Three pieces of parmigiano reggiano

Don’t Stick to the Same Cheese Every Time

It can be all too easy to get into a cheese rut. You already know that grated Parmigiano-Reggiano will taste phenomenal over your legendary risotto or go-to Caesar salad, but why not mix it up and try new recipes centered around your favourite cheeses?

Curb any chance of cheese boredom by experimenting with new unique pairings regularly.  For example, if you like Parmigiano-Reggiano, try it how Afrim’s family recipe: a salad with aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged balsamic vinegar, strawberries and basil.

Related: This Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread is a Cheese Lover’s Dream

Cheese counter with several wheels of cheese

Do Be Adventurous

“The best thing about cheese is that it’s personal,” Afrim explains, adding that’s what makes cheese so unique. “There’s so much variety, but I think it’s really up to you on the individual on what you like.”

In other words, don’t be afraid to get out of your element at your local cheese counter and test out a few unique combos in the kitchen. Or you can just try new options for beloved recipes, like these  perfect cheeses for grilled cheese sandwiches. Trust us: the flavour payoff of going out of your comfort zone will be so worth it.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Watch Cheese: A Love Story with Afrim Pristine and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Afrim Pristine smiling and holding a plate of grilled cheese

4 Cheeses You Need at All Times, According to a Maitre Fromager

It doesn’t matter if you’re at home making your family a spaghetti and meatball dinner or are sharing a pot of traditional fondue in Switzerland— cheese makes almost any meal so much better. As a staple in nearly every culinary culture globally, it’s also the versatility of cheese that makes it so unique. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into making cheese,” says maître fromager (AKA cheese master) and Cheese: A Love Story host, Afrim Pristine.

For this reason, no matter what type of cheese you’re working with, it’s important to respect the ingredient, he explains. And with more than 25 years of experience, Afrim still thinks that the art of cheese making is all pretty magical. “We sell a ten-year-old cheddar in our store (Cheese Boutique),” he says. “What other foods can you see that are ten years old, and still unbelievably tasty?”

Whether you’re grating a sharp cheddar or are baking a block of feta for an oh-so-trendy pasta dish, cheese has the transformative power to elevate a recipe from simply memorable to unforgettably delicious. Pristine shares how home chefs can set themselves up for culinary success by incorporating these cheeses into everyday meals.

See More: This Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread is a Cheese Lover’s Dream

French hard comte cheese on a black plate with a knife

French Comte

French Comte is a big, bold, nutty sharp cheese. It can be purchased in most grocery stores, but that wasn’t always the case 20 years ago. Now it’s everywhere, Afrim says, which makes it easier for any cheese enthusiast to enjoy. For a beautiful pairing, serve a French Comte with slices of prosciutto and a glass of red wine.

Related: 10 Facts You Never Knew About Cheese 

Parmigiano-Reggiano wedge on a wooden cutting board with a grey background

 Parmigiano-Reggiano

A cheese that needs no introduction, Afrim says that even just the tiniest bite of Parmigiano Reggiano is something that he can’t help but savour. “A good, aged Parmigiano Reggiano that’s three or four years old is possibly one of the best cheeses ever made,” he says. In fact, he believes it’s one of the most important cheeses that’s ever been made. “It’s just so complex and versatile. And I love that. It’s something that’s always so easy to snack on.”

Manchego cheese wedge and slices on a wooden cutting board with grapes and a knife

Manchego

If you’re looking for a cheese that can elevate almost any meal, turn to manchego. This salty and tangy Spanish cheese is made from sheep’s milk, and Afrim says it’s the best bang for your buck. Manchego goes well with so many different types of food, he explains, adding that it can be served in a cheese wedge as a separate side dish that guests can munch on throughout the meal.

See More: The Perfect Swiss Cheese Board 

Blue cheese wedge on a white cutting board with jam and crackers

Blue Cheese

Aside from cilantro, few foods are quite as divisive as blue cheese: you either love it or hate it. For Afrim, blue cheese is his absolute favourite. “I love blue cheese because it grabs my taste buds and takes me for a ride,” he says, adding that the saltiness and creaminess are what makes it so great. If you’re hesitant about blue cheese, his advice is simple: keep experimenting.

Since there’s so much variety within mild and strong blue cheeses, it can take some time to experiment and find which type of blue you prefer. For a crowd-pleasing blue cheese dish, try these caramelized onion & blue cheese crostinis.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Watch Cheese: A Love Story with Afrim Pristine and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

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

Project Bakeover Was Life-Changing for These Thriving Bakery Owners

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

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

Steve Hodge and Tiffany Pratt on the set of Project Bakeover

Related: Steve Hodge’s Cake Decorating Tips

Advice to Dine on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort Food in the Time of Coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sweet, Sweet Future

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

Related: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

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

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

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

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

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

Afrim Pristine in France on set of Cheese: A Love Story

Enter to Win a Cheese: A Love Story Prize Pack

To celebrate everyone’s new favourite Food Network Canada show about fromage, Cheese: A Love Story, we’re giving away a cheese lover’s prize pack from host and cheese master Afrim Pristine‘s Cheese Boutique. Enter below for a chance to win this deliciously cheesy prize pack. For more expert tips, check out Afrim Pristine’s perfect Swiss and French cheese boards.

Cheese: A Love Story Prize Pack

What it includes:

-A signed copy of Afrim’s book For the Love of Cheese
-A selection of Afrim’s favourite cheeses
-Acompaniments to create the perfect cheeseboard

Related: Try Afrim Pristine’s Recipe for Jalapeno Cheese Bread

 

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Watch Cheese: A Love Story Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Beef tenderloin with festival

The Winning Dish From Junior Chef Showdown Will Become a Family-Favourite Meal in No Time

Finding a balanced, hearty meal that your whole family will enjoy isn’t always easy. But thanks to this season’s Junior Chef Showdown winner, Nazaree, this juicy, melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin recipe paired with three appetizing sides will have everyone at the table feeling full and happy.

Although the classic beef tenderloin is the star of the recipe, it’s the trio of sides that make this a truly unforgettable meal. Even if you’re not an extraordinarily talented young chef, making this show-stopping meal will leave you feeling like a gourmet cook in no time.

Junior Chef Nazaree’s Beef Tenderloin with Festival Bread

Prep time: 40 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yields: 4 Servings

Plate of Beef Tenderloin with Festival

Ingredients:

Roasted Squash Ajvar Puree
2 cups butternut squash (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 shallot, peeled, quartered
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove
½ cup roasted red pepper
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Jus
1 cup beef demi-glace
2 cloves garlic
3 sprigs thyme

Festival
¾ cup flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, melted
½ cup milk
Oil for frying

Beef Tenderloin
4 beef tenderloins, about 1-¼-inch thick
1 Tbsp canola oil
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Charred Broccoli Rabe
12 stalks broccoli rabe
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes
1 clove garlic, smashed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Related: Double-Stacked Patties + Secret Sauce Make for Jordan Andino’s Perfect Burger

Directions:

Roasted Squash Ajvar Puree

1. Heat oven to 425°F.

2. Combine squash, shallots, thyme, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne and 1 tablespoon of oil on a large rimmed baking sheet.

3. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until squash is golden and tender, stirring and adding garlic clove after 20 minutes.

4. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and add roasted red peppers, remaining tablespoon oil and vinegar. Pulse until blended and smooth.

Jus
1. Combine demi-glace, garlic and thyme in a small saucepan.

2. Cook, covered over medium-low for 30 minutes to infuse the demi-glace.

3. Discard garlic and thyme before serving.

See More: 3 Classic Sauces From Lynn Crawford That Will Be Instant Staples (Plus Recipes!)

Festival Bread 
1. Heat 1-½ inches oil to 350°F in a heavy-bottomed pot or fill a deep fryer. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a wire cooling rack.

2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter, stir to coat. Add milk gradually, stirring until combined.

3. Spoon two tablespoon portions of batter into oil and fry until deep golden, for about 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet to cool slightly.

Beef Tenderloin
1. Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and steaks and cook for 4 to 6 minutes per side, until deep golden and medium-rare. (Note: If you’re using an instant-read thermometer, the centre of the steak will read 130°F).

4. Set steak aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Charred Broccoli Rabe
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add broccoli rabe, chili flakes, garlic, salt and pepper into the skillet.

2. Stir occasionally until the broccoli rabe is charred and tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Divide the puree, festival, broccoli rabe and steaks among four plates. Spoon demi glace over the beef, and serve!

Watch Junior Chef Showdown Sundays at 9ep and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV.  Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

What Baking Ingredients Are Best to Buy for Home Bakers

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

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

Pastry Chef Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

See More: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

Phyllo Pastry

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

Deconstructed Baklava Butter Tart with fresh berries and mint

Get the recipe for Baklava Butter Tart Bake

Puff Pastry

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

Fondant

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

Cookie Dough That Requires Specialized Presses or Decorating Equipment

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

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

Vanilla Extract

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

Vanilla and Calamansi Macaron stacked on a white tray

Related: Try These Vanilla Calamansi Macaron

“Handle With Care” Ingredients

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

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

Afrim Pristine's Stinky Cheese Bread recipe from For The Love of Cheese

This Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread is a Cheese Lover’s Dream

I love using Appenzeller cheese when cooking because of its melting properties and the distinctive aroma it gives off when it’s melted. Image a beautiful summer day on a dairy farm in Appenzell, Switzerland. Flowers are blossoming, and the lush vegetation all around you is waving in a slight breeze. There’s a beautiful scent in the air and then a cow comes along and passes some gas. That’s exactly what your house will smell like after you make this recipe. I call that “pleasant pungeantness”.

Related: Irresistible Grilled Cheese Recipes

Afrim Pristine's Stinky Cheese Bread recipe from For The Love of Cheese

Embrace the Stinky Bread

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4 (or 1 hungry Afrim)

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
½ small white onion, coarsely chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded
½ cup (125 mL) cilantro
1 can (28oz/796 mL) whole tomatillos, drained
Juice from 1 fresh lime
Fine sea salt
1 ½ lb (700g) round loaf or sourdough rye bread
10 oz (285g) grated Appenzeller cheese

See More: Get to Know Afrim Pristine

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. To make the salsa verde, combine the garlic, onion, jalapeno and cilantro in a food processor. Process the ingredients until finely chopped. Add the tomatillos, and pulse until combined, but don’t pulse the living daylights out of it; be sure to leave some texture. Mix in the lime juice and season to taste with salt. Should you have any leftover salsa verde, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 5 days.

3. To assemble, place the loaf of bread on the prepared baking sheet.

Related: BC Wines You Need On Your Radar (Plus Drink Pairings)

4. Using a knife, make cuts 2 inches (5 cm) deep and 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart in the loaf. Rotate the loaf a quarter-turn and make the same cuts again to create 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes.

5. Pour some salsa verde into each of the cuts. Then take the cheese and stuff it into each of the cuts. Cover the loaf with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 7 minutes or until golden brown and cheese has melted.

6. Serve hot and tear this cheesy bread to shreds.

Excerpted from For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom From the Cheese Boutique by Afrim Pristine. Copyright© 2018 Afrim Pristine. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom From the Cheese Boutique, Amazon, $30.

All products featured on Food Network Canada are independently selected by our editors. For more products handpicked by our editorial team, visit Food Network Canada’s Amazon storefront. However, when you buy through links in this article or on our storefront, we earn an affiliate commission.

Watch Cheese: A Love Story with Afrim Pristine and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: The Season 9 Chefs Talk Eating Local

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

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

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

Related: Mijune Pak Reflects On Reinventing Her Career

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

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

Erica and Josh Karbelnik on the set of Top Chef Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything you’d like to add?

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

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

Harry Eastwood’s Quick and Healthy Substitutes for Baking

Spring has sprung, and with it comes a plethora of bold and beautiful baked goods, recipes and seasonal veggies that brighten our spirits after a long, dreary winter. And, like many of us, The Big Bake judge Harry Eastwood is excited to change things up in the kitchen — and incorporate more healthy substitutes into her baking.

“Most of my favourite seasonal ingredients are linked to what’s out in the garden,” she says. “I get quite strong urges for things that are bright and fresh, like lemons.”

Watch: Sweet Substitutes from Joy Wilson

The British-born, Paris-based chef and cookbook author knows more than her fair share about baking hacks and substitutions — not to mention how to seamlessly weave together healthy substitutes and seasonal ingredients. “I’m done with [recipes] that are long and slow,” she says. “I crave foods that are a certain colour more than a certain flavour this time of year.”

Related: 20 Comforting Baking Projects That Deserve a Pat on the Back

So, as the talented teams on The Big Bake continue to wow us with their spring-inspired cake creations, we look to Harry for her easiest healthy baking substitutions for when you’re in a pinch.

Farewell to a Baking Staple

One of the easiest baking ingredients to swap out? Butter. Although that might be a little difficult to hear for those with a serious sweet tooth, the truth is that you won’t actually miss it all that much in your favourite baked goods. (We promise!) “You definitely don’t taste the butter in a sponge cake,” Harry points out as an example. “You taste the buttercream icing. [Butter is] the easiest thing you can lose without noticing so long as you replace it with a healthy fat, like ground nuts, because there needs to be a balancing act with what you put in.” If you’re doing some spring baking, consider replacing butter in our most crave-worthy carrot cake recipes in every form. Other healthy butter substitutes include applesauce, Greek yogurt, buttermilk and avocado.

Related: Anna Olson’s Quick Guide to Ingredient Substitutions

Make it Moist

If you’ve got a variety of veggies on hand and you’re looking to make an epic cake that has some real moisture to it, Harry suggests adding in some of those sweet seasonal veggies. Not only will your cake come out soft and spongy, but it’ll be a whole lot healthier to boot. “I think vegetable cake is so underrated just because it’s healthier,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good! If you have a vegetable cake with buttercream icing on top, I defy you to tell the difference. The point of a vegetable cake is that people don’t know it’s a vegetable cake.” Psst, it also comes in handy if you’ve got a few picky eaters on your hands and are looking for novel ways to get them to eat their greens.

Harry’s Go-To Secret Ingredient

As for Harry’s all-time favourite healthy baking substitute, one need look no further than the nearest produce aisle. Surprisingly, it’s not avocado. “Zucchini is probably my favourite ingredient to add into cakes because it’s very easy to introduce without anybody having a clue,” she laughs. “If you’ve succeeded at [sneaking it in], then you’ve done a good job. You’ve nailed it.”

For more inspiration, try these Common Ingredient Substitutions That Will Bring Your Recipes to Life or enjoy these Underrated Spring Vegetables That Belong in Your Meal Rotation.

Duff Goldman Tweets

Hilarious Things Duff Goldman Tweets That Will Make Your Day

Anyone who watches Duff Takes the Cake — and has seen Ace of Cakes or Buddy vs. Duff — knows Duff Goldman is a funny, goofy dude. Yes, he’s all about the cakes and can create just about anything from flour and sugar (and all the other necessary ingredients), but it’s his colourful personality that really makes him something to behold.

Now, if you think he’s only like that on television, then you don’t follow him on social media. And if you don’t, then why aren’t you? Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or all of the above, here’s proof that the charm (Goldman’s studio isn’t called Charm City Cakes for nothing!) we see from Duff on TV isn’t far off from real life. In fact, based on these tweets, perhaps what we see on the small screen is just a taste of the real Duff.

Our minds don’t even want to go in the vicinity of a place this desolate.

If Duff is implying that he will send cakes north of the border, then excuse us while we email our orders in.

He’s a big dude who makes big cakes but little staircases can be a challenge.

Hmm, perhaps Duff needs to address Geof this way from now on.

Oh, Mrs. Goldman. We’re with Duff.

Huh. Goldman might be the best baker around but sometimes it’s the simpler things in the life that make for the yummiest things.

Duff might not be a dad yet but this might be the daddiest joke ever.

The biggest pizza debate and Duff has taken sides …

… though even he has his limits.

Duff may be self-deprecating but he won’t tolerate being made fun of.

Hmm, guess Duff isn’t as close with this pal, Carl Ruiz, as he thought.

Apparently bull riders are wild in more ways than one.

It’s a team effort. To 17 more years! And another 17 on top of that. And another … well, you catch our drift.

Tune in to Duff Takes the Cake on Sundays at 9 and 9:30 PM E/P.

Top-Chef-Canada-Eden-Grinshpan-Mark-McEwan

Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan Dish on Why the New Season of Top Chef Canada Will Give You Serious Food FOMO

Some of the most promising young chefs—representing a culinary coming-of-age for Canadians across the country—are about to congregate in the Café kitchen for the contest of a lifetime. With a hefty cash prize, a trip for two to anywhere in the world, and a fully stocked kitchen on the line, these competitors are among the strongest and fiercest we’ve seen to button up the chef’s jackets over seven seasons of the culinary competition.

Host Eden Grinshpan and head judge Mark McEwan agree. They promise that this upcoming season, the 12 selected chefs will present some of the most impressive dishes (throughout a bevy of challenging cooks) that showcase all of the great ingredients and techniques Canadians have to offer.

Here we sit down with the dynamic duo to preview what we can expect when the competition fires up.

Top Chef Canada Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan

What are you most excited for fans to see this year?

McEwan: Just the food. The food this season was great. The chefs really stepped up to a new level. They nailed the timelines and they nailed the products. That what was most impressive to me.

Grinshpan: All the judges were just floored this season. It feels like it’s getting better, and better, and better. This season we all looked at each other and we were like, “We eat very well!” It’s just such a joy to be a part of. And also this season, in particular, the locations we shot in were just really fun. We showcase Toronto in a new way and the actual challenges the producers put together are extremely hard and extra creative. A lot of people are just going to really enjoy watching them unfold.

McEwan: The chefs were super competitive. In a nice way, but this season the competitive side was a little more obvious to me. Some seasons were a little more kumbaya; a lot of hugging. Not as much hugging this season.

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Episode 1 Watch

See More: Meet the Season 7 Top Chef Canada Competitors

What advice do you have for the chefs in cooking their first dish on the show?

McEwan: At the start of the game, you want something that’s really flavourful. I tell the chefs this every season: “The last memory I have of your plate is the flavour that’s on my palate.” So, a beautiful presentation is one thing, but if it didn’t eat well it goes downhill from there. Whatever you’re going to choose, it should be really punchy flavour-wise and then it should incorporate some interesting technique. Whether you’re making dumplings or fresh pasta, you’re not just sautéing a piece of meat or fish and saucing it. I like to see different levels of techniques on a plate.

Grinshpan: This isn’t a dish that you should be trying to challenge yourself with necessarily; it’s a dish you need to reach into your back pocket and go, “I know it’s successful, everyone that I’ve given it to loves it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.” It’s something that you’ve tested out numerous times and people love. Don’t try and think outside the box when you’re trying to get into the competition. Show us who you are and what you know. That’s what you should fall on.

Out of all the locations the show travels to this year, which one was your favourite?

Grinshpan: Obviously Canada’s Wonderland. Watching Mark on the roller coaster was a huge highlight for me.

McEwan: I screeched. For the first time in my life! It was a new moment for me.

Grinshpan: Also being at Canada’s Wonderland they had to set up the challenge in an interesting way, so it was cool for the chefs and also really challenging for them to cook in that space.

McEwan: We had great food that day.

What’s scarier—a giant Canada’s Wonderland roller coaster or facing the judges of Top Chef Canada?

Grinshpan: Facing the Top Chef Canada judges, to be honest. These chefs… listen, this is their livelihood, this is their passion. When you become a cook, when you become a chef, it takes over so much of your life. In order to get to that next level, it really takes priority over other things, and they want to show who they are. They feel like they’ve made it to a certain place in their careers and they want to put themselves out there. Having Mark McEwan eat your food and give feedback, that’s huge for these chefs. So it’s extremely intimidating, and also really great. When you get that positive feedback you’re on cloud nine. You’re already a winner.

McEwan: The criticism comes at you in waves and it can be inconsistent. One [episode] you’re flying and everybody is loving your product and you have confidence. And so you go into the next one with confidence and maybe that’s what screws you up. And then all of a sudden, you’re on the bottom of it. We’re trying to be constructive in telling you why we hate your food. It’s kind of the roller coaster of Top Chef Canada that is really hard for them.

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Chris Mijune Janet

Have your judging styles changed or evolved over the years?

Grinshpan: This is my third season on Top Chef Canada, and what I have learned working with [these guys] is you can’t learn that stuff. Basically what I’ve picked up… their approach to food, their opinions of food, the way they look at food when it hits the table, it’s amazing. Listening to them talk about food and watching them taste it has really affected the way I look at food and judge and critique it. Because we’ve judged food together for the last three seasons, we’ve found this rhythm and genuine respect for each other’s opinions. Look at the level. This is chef Mark McEwan. I want to hear what he has to say about food and how he looks at food because that affects his entire career and how he has viewed the restaurants and businesses that he’s put out there. I’ve learned a lot.

McEwan: It’s a fun judging table. Everybody brings their own unique style and viewpoint. Chris Nuttall-Smith is very studied about food and food writing and [he] is very articulate. Mijune Pak has eaten everywhere.

Grinshpan: She’s eaten everywhere, everything and everyone under the table.

McEwan: It’s amazing there’s a tree standing anywhere in Canada… but in terms of my judging, I’ve not really changed my format in all the years, it’s always been the technique and style and cleanliness. The flavour side of it is always 50 per cent of the roster for me. But what I don’t do, is I don’t tell the other judges how I really feel about everything, I kind of bottle it up and keep my thoughts in my head and then I let it out. You don’t want to change someone else’s opinion. I like to hear their virgin idea of what the food was rather than base it on a conversation.

Have you ever been surprised by a winner or did they catch you off guard?

McEwan: Last season, season six, I did not expect Ross Larkin to be in the finale.

Grinshpan: I second that.

McEwan: He had some really disappointing days and he seemed to be spinning his wheels and not clicking, but he saved himself. He stayed in the competition and all of a sudden he started to shine. He caught fire very late, and the fact that he won still surprises me.

Grinshpan: I agree. This is the thing… you either have people that have extremely high highs and extremely low lows throughout the competition or you can have people who play the middle ground until the end and then they just hit you with their talent. There are so many ways that this can go, because when we judge it’s not based on, “Oh their dish was good last time.” It’s, “Is their dish good this time?” It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been the entire time, if you make a crappy meal, you’re being judged on that, unfortunately. That’s just the way it goes. You start to see where the talent is at the beginning, and you read up on the chefs and have these expectations, but the competition gets to them. You have the cameras, the crazy challenges. All that pressure adds up.

Have you ever had to resist the urge to jump in and do a challenge yourself?

Grinshpan: Naw. Nope. No. Honestly, cooking in the Top Chef Canada kitchen is probably the most intimidating thing to do. Mark McEwan could take them all down.

McEwan: It’s challenging. At my age, my eyesight is not what it used to be. I find that to almost be a disability, having to take glasses on and off. I can’t cook with my glasses on because it’s foggy, but I can’t read a label without them. So to run around and be in the Top Chef Canada kitchen, I’d be the slowest chef without a doubt. The way they bolt—they’re like gazelles, running around. It’s a little bit intimidating.

Grinshpan: Even sometimes after I give the Quickfire challenges and I’m walking out of the kitchen it’s like, dangerous. Whoever is a guest, I have to hold them close to me, and it’s like we’re dodging traffic. It’s really intense.

McEwan: They’ll knock you over.

Grinshpan: They will! It’s a pretty wild environment.

Top Chef Canada debuts Monday, April 1 at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Ross Larkin One Year Since Winning Top Chef Canada

Ross Larkin: Life Since Winning Top Chef Canada

Ever since Ross Larkin showcased Newfoundland on a plate to winning results on the sixth season of Top Chef Canada, he’s made quite the name for himself in the Canadian culinary scene. We’d expect nothing less—who hasn’t been dreaming about the chef’s jaw-dropping display of east coast ingredients like diver scallops, moose, and winter chanterelles? And don’t even get us started on that whiskey-compressed apple and snowberry concoction he whipped up in the finale.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year now since Larkin won the show, so we caught up with the chef to find out what his life has been like since season six. As it turns out he’s been quite busy in and out of the kitchen.

Chef de Cuisine at Raymond’s

Even before entering the Top Chef Canada kitchen Larkin was impressing the culinary community as the chef de cuisine at one of the country’s top restaurants, Raymond’s. Jeremy Charles’ world-class spot draws in tourists from all over (the late Anthony Bourdain even visited it on his series, No Reservations). These days though, it’s not just Jeremy Charles that tourists are seeking out: diners have been increasingly asking to meet Ross, too, ever since his big win.

“The restaurant has had an amazing showing following the series, people coming here from all over,” Ross says. “That was very flattering and different, going into the dining room and talking to people who are so excited and asking for pictures. I didn’t realize how big it was. It’s wild.”

 

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???????????????????????? Radish and flower tart | cattail with sunchoke

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He bought his first house

Ross has been renting his whole life, so following his big win he and his wife Celeste, who is the pastry chef at Raymond’s, finally bought their own space. It closed at the end of October.

“That was a whirlwind. I had no idea what went into buying a house, and there’s a lot more than I thought. Thankfully my uncle is a real estate agent here in Newfoundland so he helped us immensely with everything,” Ross says. “Pretty much every day we walk around the house and see something that needs painting or fixing, but it’s been great. Having a home of my own is something I never thought would happen.”

And, it’s also a home decked out with all of those amazing kitchen appliances he won on the show.

 

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House hunting.

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He had his first magazine spread

Last fall Ross experienced another first when the quarterly publication Pie Digest asked if they could feature him following his Top Chef Canada win.

“I was flattered. I’d never been in any sort of publication, so to be featured in a magazine was huge. I was just so excited,” he says. “They did a really good job of representing me and the food in the restaurant and Newfoundland and Labrador. It was incredible.”

He’s been sharing Newfoundland cooking with the rest of Canada

In the past 12 months Ross has travelled extensively, bringing his culinary expertise to places like Calgary, Winnipeg, PEI, Vancouver and Montreal, where he’s shared unique ingredients and techniques with other chefs and patrons. One of the coolest things he says he’s done was participating in Winnipeg’s annual Raw Almond event last February alongside Jeremy Charles and the rest of the Raymond’s team.

The event, which started in 2013 and hails from Joe Kalturnyk and Mandel Hitzer, takes place each year when the river freezes and two temporary dining rooms are constructed. There, chefs from across Canada and the rest of the world congregate for special, sold-out dinner services.

“There are very select few events that being such a different group of chefs together,” Ross says. “It was so inspiring. Like yeah, it’s really cold in Winnipeg in the dead of winter, but it was so inspiring to be there. The people working with Joe are hands-down some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. They’re so passionate and they’re there to help with anything you need. We were really fortunate to be invited to that, and hopefully we can return.”

He took Newfoundland to Chicago, too

When Chicago’s famed Blackbird restaurant threw a chefs series to celebrate 20 years in the business, they asked Jeremy Charles and the staff of Raymond’s to host the closing night. It was Ross’ first time ever visiting the renowned culinary city, and he loved the overall Midwestern charm, unique architecture, and of course, the myriad of restaurants.

“We brought a little piece of Newfoundland down to Chicago and we did [dinner] how we do it at the restaurant,” he says. “It was very well received and people loved it. It’s always interesting to see what other restaurants are doing, especially Blackbird, which is such a high caliber, Michelin-star restaurant. Everybody was so amazed and excited and there were so many questions about what we were doing and the ingredients. They’re so different. There’s nowhere else in Canada, let alone in Chicago, where you’re getting ingredients like we’re getting here in Newfoundland.”

He’s getting really into beeswax

Living in Newfoundland, Ross says they don’t always have access to imported goods—especially when ferries carrying ordered fare shut down. In ths spirit of embracing what’s local and fresh, he and Celeste have been experimenting with that concept recently.

Some of their experiments have included encasing roots in salt dough to cure them or aging beef in beeswax, which Ross says eliminates some of that “blue cheese” flavour you traditionally get with air-curing. Meanwhile, it also creates less waste.

“It just gives the meat a very mild sweetness and almost makes it a bit richer in taste and consistency. And you don’t lose as much product—when doing the whole ribeye [the traditional way] you lose so much because you have to trim it. This way you just knock off all the beeswax and you have 100 percent yield on aged beef,” he says, noting that Celeste has been having similar success with plums in beeswax.

“She dips them in a couple of different layers of beeswax and lets them age for different lengths of time for various flavours, but it gives them a very fermented flavour, almost like a port. Beeswax just breaks them down in a very incredible way.”

 

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Ever wonder what 18 kg of bees wax looks like ?????#savethebees #bees #honeypot#eatlocal#supportlocal #supportfarmers #winniethepooh

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He and Celeste celebrated three years of marriage

This August marks Ross and Celeste’s third wedding anniversary, but the duo have been a culinary dream team for longer than that.

Not only did Celeste originally encourage Ross to apply for Top Chef Canada, but it’s also because of her that Ross got his gig at Raymond’s in the first place. When the pair were both working at former Top Chef Canada winner Dale McKay’s Ayden Kitchen + Bar in Saskatoon, Jeremy Charles called Celeste to see if she wanted the pastry chef job. Ross also knew Jeremy so he called him up asking for a gig too, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“We finished up our time in Saskatoon, went back to Vancouver, packed up everything, and we drove across Canada” he says. “I think we landed in St. John’s on a Friday and we started work on a Tuesday. Like I started at Raymond’s at the bottom and now I’m the chef de cuisine… I pinch myself every day. It’s incredible.”

 

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2018 was a fucking rollercoaster no doubt. Some of the most nerve wrecking, exciting, rewarding moments of my life to date. I was fortunate to have accomplished an amazing task of winning #topchefcanada a title that a only a few hold , not only that but to see how much it meant to the entire island of Newfoundland and how proud we are of this provinve and the beauties that it holds. This year I met so many amazing, talented people that I now have the pleasure of calling my friends. @cellymaemah and myself purchased our first home. Was able to travel and show people what it means to cook the food of Newfoundland on a world stage. I’m still in shock of everything that happened this year and am so grateful of the amazing people that surrounds me every day. 2018 one for the books, the new year has no idea what is comming…

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Watch a new season of Top Chef Canada, premiering April 1 at 10 PM E/P.

Food Network Canada spring schedule

8 Reasons You Need to Watch Food Network Canada This Spring

Winter is finally behind us, which means it’s time to trade in the hearty soups and casseroles for crisp salads and grilled fare. It’s been a long haul, but we’ve officially made it through the ice storms and sub-zero temperatures, and now we can’t wait to get out there and celebrate all the delicious things spring has to offer.

That includes some downright delectable selections coming up on Food Network Canada. The spring lineup is jam-packed with new and returning personalities, a few fun new competition series, and the return of Top Chef Canada, to name a few. Read on for all the reasons you’ll want to tune in to watch Food Network Canada this spring.

Buddy-Valastro-and-Duff-Goldman

Buddy vs. Duff

Premieres: March 10

Who’s your favourite pastry chef, Buddy Valastro or Duff Goldman? Both guys have been hitting us with their insider baking knowledge for years, but for the first time ever they’re going head-to-head in the kitchen for what might be the greatest feud in baking history.

Over the course of six pastry-filled episodes, Buddy and Duff compete in an intense selection of themed bake-offs that tackle everything from carnival treats and beautiful pies to plated desserts and doughnuts.

Along the way, they’ll also participate in six “cake-offs,” in which the chefs and their hand-selected teams try to outdo one another in a bid for bragging rights.

It all culminates in a massive showdown at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, where the chefs help execute two decadent wedding proposals before crafting special space-themed cakes that put all of their skills on the line.

Spring Baking Championship season 5 with Clinton Kelly

Spring Baking Championship

Premieres: March 18

Get those convection ovens ready because the fifth season of this seasonal baking competition is back, baby! Ten new bakers are ready to mix, whisk and purée their way to a big $25,000 win, and they’re willing to pull out all of their best baking tricks in order to nail this thing.

The competition kicks off with celebratory challenges, in which the competitors invoke their inner artists to create animal-themed doughnuts and, later on, watercolour cakes featuring all of spring’s best fruits and veggies. Decorative pies, marshmallow treats, and nutty desserts are also in store throughout the rest of the season.

Joining returning judges Duff Goldman, Lorraine Pascale and Nancy Fuller is new host Clinton Kelly, of What Not To Wear fame. We have faith that the lifestyle expert will be just as deft at handling these new hosting duties as he is the latest fashions.

Family Food Showdown

Premieres: March 21

There’s nothing quite like the act of cooking to bring families together, whether it’s through a secret family recipe, weeknight dinners at the table, or even a Sunday afternoon bake-session with the kids. But in this new competition series hosted by Valerie Bertinelli, we’re about to meet a series of families for whom food is everything.

In each episode, two foodie families (think restauranteurs, food truck operators, competition cooks and relatives) face off in a series of challenges that are designed to put their cooking, communication, and creativity to the test for a weekly $10,000 prize.

“With these contestants it’s not just about the money,” Bertinelli says. “There was a lot of pride involved, and so that’s when you’d see the fires really start to happen on the grills and in their personalities. So I would get close to them immediately, and it was really hard to watch the ones that didn’t get to go through. You start to fall in love with these contestants.”

Fire-Masters

Fire Masters

Premieres: March 21

The kitchen is about to get lit with the debut of this brand new Canadian competition show, which ditches the traditional oven in favour of all things grilled, charred and ‘cued. In 10 fire-fuelled episodes chefs from across North America come together in a sizzling, three-part cook-off for a rotating panel of established judges.

In the first round, three chefs must present an impressive signature dish to stay alive in the Napoleon grill arena. In the second round, the two remaining chefs go head-to-head by incorporating one of two featured ingredients into their dish. And then in the last round, the “Feast of Fire,” the last man or woman standing will take on one of the Fire Master judges.

Considering this year’s roster of experts includes former Top Chef Canada competitors and some of the greatest pitmasters around, we’d say the contestants have their work cut out for them. Canadian chef Dylan Benoit hosts the fireocious new series.

Burgers-Brew-and-Que

Burgers, Brew & ‘Que

Premieres: March 21

What’s better than a perfectly grilled burger and a fresh pint to go with it? Not much, according to Iron Chef Michael Symon. The chef and personality is back for a fourth season of his grilled-meats-based travel show, and we can’t wait to see what he’s going to uncover next.

Follow along as Symon searches high and low for the best barbecue and burgers in America, from elaborate cheeseburgers and perfectly smoked brisket, to fall-off-the-bone ribs and ridiculous roasts. Of course, he’ll also need some hoppy local brews and bevvys to wash it all down with, giving us some serious barbecue envy. In fact, a few episodes in, and you’ll probably want to start crafting your own food-based road trip, too.

Top Chef Canada Season 7

Top Chef Canada

Premieres: April 1

This is not a drill — Canada’s most prestigious culinary competition is back, and this season the “steaks” are higher than ever. Join 12 up-and-coming chefs, each representing the coming-of-age in the Canadian food scene, as they battle in some of the most intense Quickfires and fiercest Elimination Challenges to-date. On the line? A $100,000 cash prize from Interac, a design-inspired Café kitchen, a culinary tour of Italy for two from Air Transat, $5,000 worth of Cuisinart products, and the title of Top Chef Canada.

The action kicks off in the premiere episode with an “In-Cook” twist, when the 11 named competitors are asked to judge dishes from the three chefs vying for the last spot in the competition.

That inaugural challenge certainly sets the tone for the season to come, and we can’t wait to dig in. Host Eden Grinshpan is back to helm all the action; she’s joined by returning head judge Mark McEwan and resident judges Chris Nuttall-Smith, Mijune Pak and Janet Zuccarini.

Restaurant Impossible

Premieres: April 23

We have a soft spot for the owners of failing restaurants… after all, who doesn’t appreciate a foodie who is trying to put his or her dreams into action? So we’re all in when the 14th season of Robert Irvines restaurant-saving series returns in April following a two-and-a-half-year hiatus. After all, who doesn’t want to watch a new slew of restaurant owners that just need a little help in turning things around?

With a mere $10,000 and only two days to do it, it’s all hands on deck as Irvine attempts to muscle his way through the overhauls, teaching these owners the dos and don’ts of the industry so that their eateries can ultimately survive.

It’s a tall order, but if anyone has proven his salt over the years it’s gotta be chef Irvine.

Best Baker in America

Premieres: May 19

Sure, you can do better than store-bought goodies for the bake sale, and you’ve been known to roll out the fondant on occasion. But do you have what it takes to be classified as the best baker in the country? That’s the question this series poses when it returns for a hefty third season of elevated buttercream frostings, airy meringues, and modern takes on some tried-and-true classics.

Follow along as a brand new batch of contestants prove they have the baking skills needed to impress the all-star judges — and each other — in their rise to the top.

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