Rave: The perks of eating at home

It’s 6 p.m. Work
clothes are off, couch mode is fully activated. The tell-tale rumble of an
empty belly reminds you it’s been hours since sustenance. You: 


a)    Download the Pizza
Pizza app on your iPhone. Rollin’ with garlic dipping sauce in 40 minutes or
less (and with minimal human interaction).
b)    Treat yourself to a
can of Zoodles and a margarine sandwich.
c)    Take three shots of
NyQuil and pretend it never happened.

If you answered yes
to any of the above, for shame! Food is fuel for your bodies, people, and you
wouldn’t put sugar in a gas tank would you? Granted, stepping into the kitchen
for the first time can be a little daunting, and while there are a million and one
reasons not to, learning basic cooking skills is an integral part of an adult
life. Before you go spouting off the same old excuses as to why you should stay true to
take-out and frozen food staples, like “But I’m a terrible cook”  (Have
you tried trying?); “But it’s just so hard cooking for one!”  (It’s
called a freezer, rookie); “My kitchen is infested with raccoons and I’m
afraid to go in there.”  (
You need to address that ASAP); take a look
at all the perks of learning your way around a kitchen.

Start small and dedicate a week to eating at home and in no time you’ll find yourself:
1. Happier

We all have to start somewhere.

Just like with
anything, practice makes perfect. If it’s day one in the kitchen, we wouldn’t
suggest trying to whip up some coq au vin or puff pastry but there are plenty of recipes for beginners that are so delicious and straightforward, you’ll wonder why you
ever ordered Swiss Chalet in the first place. Even if your first forays into
culinary excellence are not so much Giada at Home and more Kitchen Nightmares,
learning to cook can be a hilarious and rewarding experience.
There’s a reason why
the cliché about the way to the heart being through your stomach exists. Think
about it. Being able to make a meal for somebody is proving that you’re able to
provide one of their most basic needs. Aside from how impressed your
friends will be when you coyly wink and say “Oh this? It was nothing”, the personal
feeling of pride and accomplishment that accompanies putting together a
beautiful meal for yourself is a real attitude changer. You could have that
every day!
2. Healthier
Make the healthy choice.
When you make the
decision to put together your own meals as opposed to relying on
take-out, delivery or pre-made meals, you’re taking charge of everything that goes
into your body. It is much easier to keep track of what’s going in when you’re
sourcing ingredients yourself, as opposed to making sense of nutritional labels
or in the case of most restaurants, having no nutritional information at all.
What do you think your body wants more: fresh food from your friendly
neighbourhood grocer? Or a stranger showing up to your house with food that
has passed through the hands of two or three other strangers before getting to
you? And it’s not just your health on the line, preparing food on your own
reduces the amount of packaging involved with take out and pre-packaged foods,
and Mother Nature thanks you for that.
3. Wealthier
A day at the market is more fun than fast-food any day (and cheaper in the long run).

Short term, hitting
up the McD’s dollar menu might seem more wallet friendly than going to the
grocery store but the trick is to keep a well stocked pantry of dry goods. Once
you’ve got the basics (things like rice noodles, pasta, rice, herbs and spices – all
stuff you can get on the cheap), you can supplement with fresh produce, tofu and meat
for meals that cost under $5 .
Places like Kensington Market, Chinatown, and St. Lawrence Market are a mecca
for frugal foodies, or if you’re really ambitious, roll your sleeves up and
start urban farming for unlimited fresh fruit and veg. If a
day in the market or digging in the garden just isn’t your bag, sign up for
organics delivery (like Organics Live) for delivery that won’t leave you with a wicked food hangover (but slightly lighter in the pocketbook).



Some of our favourite blogs for getting started with cooking are:

1. Smitten Kitchen: some recipes are advanced, but there are some very good basics here with tons of helpful tips and tricks. Plus, these dishes always turn out. 


2. Skinny Taste: Appealing food, pretty photos, lots of options for entrées and desserts, and most importantly, the recipes are healthy.


3. Food Network: This site, home to the popular chefs that you see on TV, has some great recipes and a ton of hints to get started if you’re a noob. Chef Michael Smith and Rachel Ray (seriously) are good ones to look to first.

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Yum, yum: Smitten Kitchen

It’s no secret that we love food, cooking and all things delicious. So when we heard that one of our favourite food bloggers, Smitten Kitchen, was writing a cookbook, we were pretty jazzed. An inspirational blogger, her recipes never fail to wow whether at a dinner party or cozy meal for two. 


For those of you who are not familiar, Smitten Kitchen is a food blog written and photographed (beautifully) by Deb Perelman. 




She creates all sorts of simple, delicious wonders in a tiny kitchen in NYC. She focuses on tweaking already existing recipes until they’re easy to re-create at home, as well as combining a bunch of techniques from other kitchen wizards (Martha Stewart and Ina Garten make frequent appearances). Deb usually sticks with familiar comfort foods, with a bit of a twist. Everything we’ve ever made from this site turns out. Impressive.


Some of our favourite recipes: 


Avocado Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing: A hearty, healthy salad with a dressing recipe from our other favourite food blogger, GOOPy. Substantial enough for a lunch or light dinner. Yum.




Spaghetti with Broccoli Cream Pesto: Made this simple pasta dish after a long day at work recently and whoa! Making pesto from broccoli is an amazing revelation, plus, this dinner is super easy. Leftovers in the office the next day elicited serious looks of envy. 





Mixed Citrus Salad with Feta and Mint: Fresh, delicious, unusual and pretty. Awesome dish to bring to a potluck or BBQ – looks like it took a ton of time when really, it doesn’t.



Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup: Sounds odd, tastes like a dream. For some reason, sausage in soup seems pretty strange. But whip this up and you’ll never question it again. So. Much. Flavour. 



Potato Chip Cookies: The name says it all. Salty & sweet.



There are so, so many more recipes we could post, but we recommend browsing the site and trying whatever strikes your fancy. 

Deb is coming to Toronto on Friday, November 16 at the George Brown Chef School, to chat about her book and do some signings. Tickets are almost sold out, we hear – so grab ’em while they’re hot. See you there! 



All images courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

City Living: Classes in Toronto

The same old grind of work, friends, sleep, do it all again can leave your brain a little under-used. Sometimes, we pine for the days of sitting in a university classroom learning and being challenged. We’ve realized that just because we’re all grown up doesn’t mean we can’t continue to learn new things in a formal way. In fact, since we can take classes just on a whim or to satisfy a certain curiosity, learning outside the structure of finishing a degree can be an amazing experience. From wine tasting to a new language, there’s a whole range of new skills to develop.

Wine classes
It’s highly doubtful that you learned about wine as a child, so now is the time to take a wine class if you’re looking to learn something new and practical. Now, we’re not suggesting you become one of those wine snobs that cause everyone to cringe as they describe the subtle hints of berries and aroma of hickory smoke in your wine. But, we think it’s pretty useful to know which wine goes with what food, the differences between wines from various countries, and even how to distinguish a Gewurztraminer from a Riesling by smell alone. 

George Brown Continuing Education offers great introductory classes, like Grape Comparison, New World Wines and Sensory Evaluation of Wines. The Independent Wine Education Guild is another a great option to brush up on your knowledge. The program was developed as vocational training for those working in the hospitality industry, but it is also available to the keen amateur. There are three levels – Intermediate, Advanced and Diploma. The LCBO also runs one-hour tutored tastings and two-hour wine appreciation courses at select stores across the province. 


Cooking Classes
Because you’ll need something to serve with all that delicious wine you expertly purchased, why not try some cooking classes? Whether you’re a total beginner or looking to expand your repertoire, there is a class for everyone. Again, George Brown is a great option with pretty much any type of cuisine or skill level possible (Butchery and Charcuterie? Yes, please!).  Dish Cooking Studio offers perhaps our favourite selection of classes including Demysitifying Macaroons, Date Night Spice up your Life, Nonna’s Kitchen Italian Comfort and Healthy Mediterranean, to name a few. Other options include classes at the Market Kitchen at the St. Lawrence Market, The Culinarium, and The Good Egg.


Language Classes
Being Canadian, we should have at least a basic knowledge of French, but most of us have left that skill in the past, alongside our teenage angst. Because languages seem to immediately disappear from our tongues and memories if we don’t practice, why not re-discover your high school French skills with a language class? Or better yet, learn that sexy Italian or Spanish that you’ve always dreamed of. Being the multicultural city that it is, Toronto has no shortage of language learning options, with literally almost every language you can think of being taught in some pocket of the GTA. The Alliance Francaise offers the largest selection of French courses and study options among Canadian language schools. U of T’s School of Continuing Studies also offers instruction in 15 languages, including Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Russian (!). пойдите, научитесь.

 

Dance classes

While you may be past the age for recitals, you’re never too old to dance. Just like languages, learning ballet, hip hop or jazz can be both fun and nostalgic, as well as a pretty amazing work out. Gone are the days of just gazing up with envy at the beautiful ballerinas in the windows of the National Ballet School. NBS actually offers recreational adult ballet classes that include seven progressive levels of instruction. The program allows you to advance at your own pace through a carefully constructed series of increasingly complex exercises. If ballet is not your thing, Shawn Byfield’s dance school offers a wide range of levels of hip hop and tap dance. As well, the Joy of Dance school offers everything from Latin ballroom to Bollywood-style to burlesque.

While we’re not suggesting that you undertake a new degree, we are suggesting that learning something new might be the perfect cure for restlessness, or at the very least, give you something to chat about around the water cooler at work.

Yum, Yum: Making the best of leftover turkey

It’s happened again. We’ve been eating delicious turkey, stuffing and all that comes with it this past holiday weekend. Reality, however has settled in… what to do with the leftovers? You can only consume so much turkey with the fixings. Time to get a little more creative. We polled the fourth floor, and came up with our top ways to use the pounds of turkey mom has given to us (thanks, ma!).


Grilled Turkey, Brie and Apple Sandwich



Image source.



Ingredients
Serves one.
1 cup of turkey meat (white or brown) cut up into 2” slices.
1/2 an apple, cut in thin slices
3 1” strips of Brie 
2 slices of your favourite bread. We dig a twelve-grain slice.
Butter (to taste)
Dijon mustard (to taste)


Preparation
Gently fry turkey on a non-stick pan until golden-brown.
Butter bread and spread Dijon mustard on one half.
Layer apple slices on bottom slice of bread.
Alternately place cheese slices and warmed turkey slices on bread.
Place on baking sheet, bake in oven at 250 C for 9 minutes or until cheese is melted.


Let cool for a couple of minutes, and enjoy.


Turkey Soup
This is probably the most popular fourth floor recipe for leftover turkey, and a few of us have different opinions about the best turkey soup. This one won.

Image source.



Ingredients
Serves about four people


Leftover turkey bones and drippings. Every great soup starts with homemade stock – it’s easy.
Half a yellow onion, cut in to quarters
2 large chopped carrots
2 sprigs of parsley
25g of  fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 celery stalks
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
Shredded turkey meat (enough for four servings)
100g pasta/noodles (per person), cooked and drained


Preparation
In a medium sized pot, pour 1 inch of water and warm on medium heat.
Add leftover bones and drippings, and bring to a boil.
*Mom’s tip: Boiling the bones and drippings in just an inch of water concentrates the flavours and helps make for a richer broth.
Once bones have boiled for 15 minutes, remove from pot.
Add 3 cups of water.
Add onion, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. 
Bring all ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until carrots are tender.
Toss in shredded turkey and stir to warm. 
Place cooked noodles in bowls and ladle hot soup over top. Serve with toasted garlic bread immediately.


What are you favourite leftover turkey recipes? Comment below or tweet us @rockitpromo.



Yum Yum: Colombian BBQ

Our amazing assistant, Amalia, hails from Colombia and we’ve been hassling her to share a delicious Colombian recipe with us. She finally agreed, and we were not disappointed by how mouth-watering this looks. Plus, it’s perfect for a summer evening on a patio.

Summer is here. I welcomed summer with one of my most favourite BBQ dishes of all time: Carne asada con papas y mazorca. Did I lose you there?


Even though this Colombian recipe is one of the most basic dishes ever, it’s really tasty, healthy and is ready in just under an hour. It reminds me of summers with my mom. ¡Que dicha!

Finished product, hope you enjoy (I sure did).
Grilled Flank Steak, Potatoes and Corn on the Cob
(serves two)

Ingredients:
1 pound of beef (flank steak or fillet)
2 small white potatoes
2 cobs of corn
1/2 cup of water
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tomato, diced into small pieces
1/4 red pepper, diced small again
1/3 of cilantro bunch (aim to fill up about 3/4 of a cup)
2 tsp of Dijon mustard
4 tsp of cooking oil
3 tsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
Seasoning salt (of your choice)
Dash of hot sauce (any type will do, even pepper flakes if need be)
Salt and pepper to taste
Tinfoil

Carne Asada (Beef) 
1. Combine mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium-sized bowl, mix in beef and let sit for 15 minutes in fridge.
2. Once the meat has absorbed flavours of the mustard and garlic, it’s ready to go on the BBQ. Cook for as long as you like (i.e/ rare, medium, well-done, etc). Most Colombians typically cook their meat to rare.

Papas (Potatoes)
1. Wash and dice potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes.
2. Mix garlic clove (finely chopped), seasoning salt and oil together in a bowl.
3. Add potatoes, mix thoroughly to ensure that potatoes are fully covered in oil.
4. Place seasoned potatoes on tinfoil, and wrap into a package, tucking in all edges. Poke small holes on top using a fork.
5. Cook for about 35 minutes on top rack (or the coolest spot on your BBQ) and rotate twice to ensure it cooks properly.

Mazorca (Corn on the cob)
1. Cut corn cob in half (or smaller pieces if you’d like).
2. Place in boiling pot of water with a pinch of salt for 15 minutes.
3. Cook for 10 minutes on top rack of BBQ (or a cooler spot on your grill) and rotate to ensure it cooks evenly.

Aji (spicy dipping sauce)
1. In a small bowl mix spring onions, tomato, red pepper and cilantro, add olive oil, a dash of water, pinch of salt and some hot sauce (or spicy ingredient of your choice). Mix thoroughly until sauce reaches a saucy texture (like photo below).

Image via My Kitchen’s Flavors.
Once everything is cooked, plate and enjoy. Dip potatoes into sauce, or do like I do, and dip everything in it. Trust me, it’s amazing that way.

Yum Yum: Strawberry-Rhubarb Galette

Forgive us if we keep going on and on about how happy we are that our favourite fruits and veggies are in season. It was a long, hard winter and our taste buds are rejoicing at the return of fresh produce.

On our latest trip to Fiesta Farms we stumbled across some rhubarb. While these pink stalks can be quite bitter, if you add a little sugar and cook them down, they make a lovely compote or a perfect companion to berries. We’re more stoked on the latter and decided to attempt a Strawberry-Rhubarb Galette.

Our galette on the fourth floor.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Galette
(makes three mini-galettes)
Crust:
We used Martha Stewart’s Pate Brisee recipe for the crust and it turned out perfectly (go Martha). We don’t have a food processor, so we blended the butter the ol’ fashioned way – with a pastry cutter. You’ll need to make the dough at least an hour before you plan to start baking. 
Tip for making your pie crusts super flaky: Stick everything in the freezer for 10 minutes before you start baking. The butter, your pastry cutter, your bowl. We aren’t sure how it works, but it definitely does.

Filling:

2 1/2 cups of rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3/4 cup of sugar + additional for garnishing
1 tbs vegetable oil
3 cups of strawberries, hulled and chopped
1 egg

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Celsius. 

2. Cook rhubarb first to reduce excess liquid. (This extra liquid has been the downfall of many a pie crust.) Mix 1/4 cup of sugar with rhubarb and heat the vegetable oil in a pan. Once oil is smoking, add the rhubarb-sugar mix and cook for 5 minutes. Rhubarb should be cooked, but still firm. Set aside and let cool.

3. Mix 1/2 cup sugar with strawberries. Drain excess liquid from the cooled rhubarb and fold in with the strawberries.

4. Take crust out of the fridge and roll out on lightly floured surface. Spoon rhubarb-strawberry mixture into centre of crust, leaving at least an inch around each edge. Fold the “naked” edges into the centre, pleating the dough as needed. The pastry will partially cover the filling, leaving an open middle where the filling will show through. Repeat with other two galettes.

5. Place galettes on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Whip one egg and use a pastry brush to glaze the pastry with egg wash. Sprinkle the pastry with sugar.

6. Bake galettes in oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees Celsius. Turn down heat to 350 degrees Celsius, and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Take out of oven and let cool.

7. Eat while hot or at room temperature. Goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a hot summer’s night.

A Visit From… L’Unita head chef Stephen Gouzopoulos

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Ask Stephen Gouzopoulos, head chef of L’Unità restaurant, and he won’t contest it. However, cooking and making people happy is a passion of his, be it man, woman, or his wife, who ceaselessly motivates him.

On the fourth floor, we’re pretty much obsessed with the Food Network and, well, all things food. We’re fascinated by the life of a chef, be it starting their day early at a fisherman’s wharf to score the freshest catch of the day, or where they eat when they’re not feeding us.
We asked Stephen to give us a day in his life. Here’s what it’s like to walk in this chef’s footsteps:
8 a.m. – Wake up, take dog for walk and feed.

8:30 a.m. – Have breakfast with my wife, who teaches Pilates, yoga and reiki.

9:30 a.m. – Coffee, check emails and what’s new in the city food-wise.
10:30 a.m. – Get ready for work, walk my dog again, and head to work.
Noon – Arrive at resto, check stocks, set up kitchen.
12:30 p.m. – Accept produce, order check product (very important) and sign invoice.
12:45 p.m. – Set station, get ready for prep.
1 p.m. – Start short ribs braising.
1:30 p.m. – Start meat and fish butchery.
2 p.m. – Accept remainder of deliveries, check product.
2:15 p.m. – Head out to Riverdale Farmers Market, talk with farmer Ted. Gather produce     for remainder of week.

3:15 p.m. – Back at resto, unload produce. Continue to prep for night’s service.

4:30 p.m. – Review specials with FOH (front of house).

5 p.m. – Put up staff meal (tonight it’s fried chicken and salad).

5:15 p.m. – Set station for service and do station checks (check other cooks’ work and stations).

5:30 p.m. – Service begins.

5:30 to 10 p.m. – Service: orchestrate service, ensure food quality is up to standards and control the flow of the food and FOH.

10:30 p.m. – Pack up station and clean kitchen.

11:30 p.m. – Place orders for following day.

Midnight – Go home for dinner and time with my wife.

For those dreaming of becoming the next top chef, start practicing with a hand-picked recipe from L’Unità:

Pork chop with braised escarole, honey roasted shallots and pine nuts

– Butcher bone-in pork loin into 12-oz. chops.

– Brine pork for seven hours.

Brine

500 grams salt
400 grams sugar
4 cardamom pods
Half a bunch of thyme
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1 head garlic
4 litres water


– Bring all ingredients to a boil. Ensure salt and sugar are dissolved and cool.

– Once cooled, fully submerge pork chops and place weight on top to keep chops covered in brine for seven hours.

– Remove and rinse.


Escarole

– Blanch escarole in salted boiling water and shock in an ice bath.

– Reserve for later.

Honey roasted shallots

5 large shallots
4 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
Half a bunch of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic

– Peel and quarter shallots. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Celsius. In a large frying pan, heat honey and oil over medium. Add garlic, bay and thyme. Once honey is melted, add shallots.

– Toss to coat shallots in mixture and place in oven on the bottom rack. Roast for 10 minutes, or until a dark golden colour is achieved.

To finish the dish
– Grill mark the chop and then place on pan in the oven eight to 12 minutes for medium.

– In a small frying pan, heat up 1 tsp of olive oil and add blanched escarole. Season the escarole with salt and pepper. Add 1 tbsp of honey roasted shallots and 1 tsp of toasted pine nuts. Cook until all ingredients are hot. Taste for seasoning.

Plate the dish and top the pork chop with Kozlik’s maple mustard. Enjoy.

*Our pork comes from Perth Pork. A heritage pig farmer in Perth, Ontario hand-delivers the meat every week.