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Chew On This – If You Had $100, How Would You Spend It On Food?

4 Oct


Opinion # 1 By Stephanie Dickison

This depends on whether I was going to use it to splurge or not.  Would I treat myself and get more extravagant, expensive things that I’m used to or would I try and get the most for my money?

Let’s go with extravagant, just for fun.  Now the question is would I use it for a nice dinner out with my fella or for fantastic luxe grocery items to keep in the kitchen cupboard for little bursts of luxury?

I think I’d go with the dinner, because getting the stuff for at home is a wee bit more practical and this isn’t about being practical for once.

As for where we’d go and what we’d have, that’s a tough one as we’re both food hounds and other than reading, writing, walking and spending time together, going out to eat is one of very favourite things to do.  Also, I’m a restaurant critic so there are certain restaurants that make not make the list over others.

I’d venture to say that we would probably either go for Ethiopian, Brazilian or Portuguese – the thinking being that we can get Italian, Japanese or Vietnamese any ol’ time, but these places are fewer and farther between.

Scott loves Ethiopian a little more than I do because he can’t get enough injera – the airy bread that you pull away with your fingers and acts as a utensil to scoop out other items.  I find it too goopy, but I love the other dishes, so I do just fine with my fingers.

Brazilian is awfully sexy and I love the heartiness and spiciness of it all, but I’m in the mood for Portuguese these days, so that’s what I going with for this experiment.

There are three things that I think are superb standouts in Portuguese cooking – churassco chicken, piri piri sauce, and the way they prepare fish.

I love that somehow the food is infused with intense flavours, but never overpowers the meat, fish or vegetables.  How do they do that?

I would go to a place on College Street that I’ve been only once, but the memories and flavours have remained ever since.

I would start with the Lobster, Octopus & Shrimp in a citrus, tarragon aioli ($20) and then move on to Grilled and Gently roasted Filet of Salted Cod with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Garlic ($38), while I’m sure Scott would get the Nova Scotia Lobster on risotto of saffron ($45).

I know I went over budget there a little, but I’d be happy to kick in the extra.  When you have food this good, it’s worth it.

Of course, Scott and I don’t eat dinners like this often.  Let’s face it – 2 freelance writers in one household does not an expense account make.   On a regular weeknight, I’m making  chicken and pasta and lots of veg, just like you

But it is nice to dream like this every once in awhile.  Especially while I’m off to make soup and sandwiches for dinner.

Opinion # 2 By Chris Garbutt

Every time I go to the grocery store, I wonder where we get the idea that inflation is low. Food prices have been climbing for longer than I can remember now. A hundred bucks almost doesn’t cover a week’s groceries for the two of us.*

But I think I’ll take another approach here. If I had $100 for one meal for two, then I could have a little fun. And the truth is, what I write today could change tomorrow. So with that in mind, here’s what I would do with that money today.

Now that barbecue season has begun, I think I would get grilling. I’m thinking maybe I would get some large scallops from my local fish market – Avenue Seafood on Avenue Road north of Lawrence. Then I would pick up some produce from Organic Abundance on Yonge Street. Perhaps some asparagus, potatoes, onions. Something in season for a salad – spinach, radishes? I would then walk down the street to The Friendly Butcher to pick up some locally raised bacon.

I would keep it simple:

–    Fry up some bacon for crumbling
–    Make a potato pouch with garlic and onions, and put it on the grill
–    Put some salt, pepper and olive oil on the asparagus, and grill that, too
–    Make up the spinach salad, maybe make a dressing with orange juice, shallots and olive oil
–    Sprinkle salt and pepper on the scallops, drizzle some olive oil and grill them
–    Use some of the salad dressing to create an orange sauce for the scallops
–    Crumble the bacon over both the salad and the scallops
–    Put it all on a plate and serve it with my sweetie

Now, that’s how I feel right at this moment. Give me a few seconds and I’ll start again. I’m starting to think that a lobster on that grill might be nice…

I think I’ve come well under a hundred here, so with whatever’s left, I’d buy the best sauvignon blanc I can find. What would you do?

* Well, I eat a lot of organic.

Chew on This: What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?/ What’s your least favourite kitchen gadget?

26 Apr


Opinion # 1 By Chris Garbutt

I don’t know whether what I have would be considered gadgets. A pasta machine? Gadget to some, but hey, I actually make fresh pasta, so to me it’s a tool. Ice cream maker? Again, I  make ice cream with it.

Tool. Blender? Mandoline? Microplane grater? Potato scrubber? Meat thermometer? I use them! Calling them gadgets just diminishes these tools to fetish objects.

Now, there are some tools that make no sense to me. An egg separator (especially this one) seems unnecessary. There’s a garlic press in my drawer, but I find it easier just to chop garlic with a knife, and I don’t see why the pieces have to be so small. And a countertop steamer seems crazy when you can just use a pot on the stove.

And then there are the truly bizarre. How about pizza scissors? Or finger food utensils?  Or a banana slicer!

I’m a simple guy. I don’t need a whole lot of fancy tools – though I like them, and I do dream of a nice gas stove. What I do need are a few simple things to get my job done. Number one: a good sharp chef’s knife. The knife itself is my favourite tool, but the sharpness is a little more difficult. So my favourite kitchen tool, if I had one, would be my very own knife sharpener. I’m not talking about a honing steel here, but an actual sharpener, so I don’t have to bring my favourite knife into the kitchen store every few months.

But I can’t finish without mentioning the kitchen tool closest to my heart: the wooden spoon. I have nothing more to say about the humble wooden spoon except that it makes me very happy every time I grab one to stir the onions as they saute in my pan.

Opinion # 2 By Stephanie Dickison

I think at one point in my career as a food-obsessive, I had a single purpose gadget for everything.  Though I never succumbed to the dreaded pasta maker and I’ve never had the storage or counter space to own a food processer, I have had at various times:

– a melon baller

– an avocado slicer

– a strawberry huller

– a papaya seeder

Most of these were thoughtful gifts from friends and family and not all of them ended up at the back of the cupboard.

And while there are a ton of gadgets I would love to have (—–), there are 2 that have remained, for well over a decade now, indispensible for me.

The Mini Chopper

My Mom bought this for me one Christmas or birthday from a list that she’d asked me to provide.  At one point, it did seem like I had every kitchen appliance and ingredient, so it’s no wonder she couldn’t keep track.

She bought this little wonder at Wal-Mart, I think for either 9.99 or 14.99 and honestly, it is fantastic.

It is like a mini food processor, which is perfect for me as I still don’t have the counter or cupboard space for the real deal.  And for such a little thing, it whops a punch.  I make everything from homemade breadcrumbs for making chicken parmigiana for my fella; blending together avocado, lime, cilantro and whatever else I have on hand for amazingly smooth guacamole; and mixing eggs, green onions, herbs de provence and various cheese for a silky, sexy quiche.

Really, I could be using it for pretty much every meal that I make, but I like to use it only occasionally so that I don’t take it for granted.

I like it that much.

Hand Blender

A guy I used to work with and who I swore was gay but was not as he was always trying to kiss me gave me a Braun hand blender in 1991.

This guy knew that I loved to cook and back then, I was just starting to do catering on my own and I guess this was his way of supporting me, while hanging around in case I needed someone to make out with. Weird.

I still have it and use it to make luxurious, yet ridiculously easy homemade soups.  The white body has turning to a masking tape beige and there is a small crack in the base, but otherwise it is still trucking along.

The best thing about it is that no matter what the ingredients (or often in my case, the leftovers) are, blended with some water, spices and a whole lotta love, it creates an incredibly comforting soup.

I know you can do way more with it than that, but for me, it’s been helping me create some really memorable soups since 1991.

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

I don’t know what happened to that guy other than he married and had kids.  Wherever he is, I can’t imagine that he would believe what an everlasting gift it’s been.

Chew On This: What’s the most embarrassing thing we’d find in your fridge, freezer or kitchen cupboards?

15 Feb


Opinion # 1 By Chris Garbutt

It would be easy to talk about the small nub of goat cheese that is slowly transforming into a science experiment in the back, or the yogurt container of something, but I can’t remember what, that I’ll deal with sooner or later. But what I’m most embarrassed about in my fridge is the two-year-old cranberry sauce.

I’m not embarrassed because it’s two years old, though perhaps I should be. I’m not embarrassed because it’s cranberry sauce. I’m embarrassed because it was a gift from my mother, and I should be finished with it by now.

But. What exactly does one do with cranberry sauce when one does not have turkey in the house? Seriously. Help me here. I mean how often do we really roast a turkey at home anyway? Even if you host every holiday at your house, I’m guessing two or three times tops.

And then a turkey dinner rolls around, and are you going to serve year-old cranberry sauce to your loved ones? No, but are you going to throw away the product of your own mother’s hard work? (Okay, I know, cranberry sauce is not that hard, but it’s my mom!)

So it sits there, quite happily. It’s a big Mason jar about three-quarters full. There’s no mould, no signs of spoilage, so not even that excuse to throw it away. I have a feeling it’s going to be there forever.

Opinion # 2 By Stephanie Dickison

Of course this is completely personal and subjective, yet totally revealing because I may think that something is great, while you wouldn’t allow it entry into your home and vice versa.

I am a food lover, so there is not much that I’m embarrassed by.  There are certainly things like the copious amounts of things that are housed in my cupboards like flavoured cane sugars (espresso, lemon, vanilla bean) that would lead someone to think I have a sweet tooth, but I’m writing about it so 3 have one of every flavour.  Or the 6 assorted containers of pestos and tapenades in the fridge.  But again, I’m writing about it.

I do however, have an intense soft spot for retro diner food like hot turkey sandwiches with peas, iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing and westerns.

On a recent trip to New York, I was outside Barney’s Department Store when I realized that I was starving.  Instead of going to the many swank restos in the area, whose food and service I had read about in glossy food magazines, I ducked into a narrow galley kitchen diner where I ate chicken salad (complete with chopped celery) on top of iceberg lettuce and garnished with a half avocado, tomatoes, pickles and olives .  A a stainless steel holder of oil and vinegar bottles and 2 packages of melba toast accompanied it.  I was in heaven and didn’t regret not having tuna tatare or stuffed quail at the restaurants on either side.

And this love of hokey things carries over to home sometimes.  But they disappear as quickly as they come in. So depending on the season or the month, you may see fish sticks, sausage rolls, sauce for sloppy joes and towering columns of canned creamed corn.  I also like hamburgers, frozen vegetables and Shake ‘n Bake’s Southern Coating Mix.

However, you will never see candy, Kraft Dinner, Wonder Bread, Aunt Jamima Syrup or those kind of fake products at my place, so it all evens out, I think.

Chew On This: Do You Have Eggs for Dinner?

15 Jan


Opinion # 1 By Chris Garbutt

Don’t you? I guess I can see how people might not think of eggs as anything but breakfast food, but there are a lot of ways to have eggs that go beyond the usual over-easy/sunny-side-up/poached/boiled(breakfast) and sandwiches (lunch).

Now, it’s not usually at the top of my list at home, but it’s great to have them in the house for more than just weekend mornings. Eggs are an excellent choice when you have a bunch of vegetables but no other protein. Just about any fresh vegetables will work in a fritatta. And fritattas are ridiculously easy. You beat a bunch of eggs, throw in some vegetables (you might want to precook things like potatoes and carrots), grate some cheese, add some salt & pepper and pour it into a hot (medium high) nonstick pan. I usually lift the sides to let the liquid bits get cooked, and when it’s mostly set, I turn a plate over the pan, flip it over and slide the fritatta, cooked side down, back into the pan. A few minutes and you’re done! You can also put a lid over the pan to steam the eggs. Or you can stick the pan under the broiler, though I don’t think that’s so good for nonstick and besides my nonstick pans have plastic handles. A fritatta is good straight out of the pan, but if you make extra, it’s great with toast for lunch the next day!

But let’s not forget the value of eggs as an ingredient. When you’re making breaded chicken, eggs are part of the process. Or don’t forget the old standby – egg drop soup!

If you say you’re not eating eggs for dinner, you’re either missing something, or you’re missing out.

Opinion # 2 By Stephanie Dickison

Not unless it’s a quail egg quivering over sushi or a fried egg over my Korean Hot Pot.

I know that eating eggs for dinner is a thing for a lot of people. And I get that. I just don’t do it.

I know a few people that love it and see it as a real treat. Even some of my closest friends will order eggs if we’re out to dinner and they have an all-day breakfast going on.

I am a meat lovin’ gal, so dinner is a time where I get to really get to fulfill my love of cooking and meat. Just last night I was out to dinner with my best friend who said she’d never cooked lamb.


While we don’t eat meat every single night, we eat it for 6 of them. Maybe we’ll have a pasta with veg one night or some fish. Somehow eggs just has never come into the equation.

I think it’s because I grew up having eggs (both my parents loved them) and to me, they were never all that exciting.

I realize now that there is so much that you can do with them, but for me, I’m too enveloped in creating something with beef, chicken, lamb, pork, bison, turkey, ham, etc.

In fact, tonight’s dinner? Stuffed naturally-raised pork tenderloin with sweet potatoes, okra and a mesclun salad topped with roasted red peppers and toasted pumpkin seeds.

An omelette doesn’t even come into the equation.