Chef Butler

7 Feb

I love throwing dinner parties, big or small. Feeding family and friends is one of my great joys in life. Sometimes I stick to the well-worn (good) advice and make what I know; sometimes I opt to cook a brand new dish or two. Something outside my comfort zone but that I still feel confident I can pull off. Either way, there is grocery shopping involved and sometimes I end up with a whole bag of spice or a package of herbs that I’m not likely to use again any time soon. Enter: Chef Butler, a neat start up company that offers themed, monthly dry ingredient boxes that. Every month showcases three courses from different cuisine: Thai, Indian, Jamaican…it goes on. Each box contains pre-portioned spices and sauces that you might not have in your cupboard as well as three detailed recipe cards with instructions. Enclosed in the Thai box with which I cooked were recipes for a spicy cucumber salad, classic Pad Thai and fried bananas. While it’s true I had things like soya sauce and chili powder in the house, I definitely didn’t have tamarind or just the right size of noodle.

While three courses for a regular weeknight dinner might be a bit much and the dishes are a bit labour intensive, Chef Butler does take out some of the prep work with the portioned out sauce ingredients. Just cut open the packages and mix! The dishes – especially the Pad Thai – were a hit and, in fact, the Pad Thai was so good I made it again a couple of days later using the recipe provided.

So if you’re looking for a service to take some work out of your next dinner party or just want to try something new while cooking with friends, head on over to Chef Butler and see what they have in store! They ship anywhere in Canada and while they are based in Toronto, do not charge shipping fees. They are always testing out new recipes, looking to expand their horizons and yours!

Chef Butler

Authentic Greek…and Beyond

13 Dec

Of the many popular cuisines of the world, I am admittedly uneducated about Greek cuisine.  I can tell you the basics, but beyond that I am sadly ignorant. A little while ago I came across a great Greek-centric blog, Kalofagas – Greek Food & Beyond. I had the chance to chat with Peter Minaki, the man behind the food, about his passion and his wonderful new cookbook, Everything Mediterranean.  Over espresso-boosted drinks, Peter told me about having to fend for himself in the kitchen when his parents would go on vacation to Greece and that while barbecuing was all well and good, it got repetitive after a while.  He started experimenting with Greek classics and discovered he had a real talent for it.

Fast forward to the 2000’s and Peter is ready for a change from the world of finance. His blog is already up and running with a solid following. He gives up his job in 2011 to cook Greek food full-time. He begins to set up supper clubs for 30-60 guests per event in the GTA that become increasingly popular and lo and behold, a cookbook publisher comes calling! Over a summer, he and his partner test and draft a few versions of 300+ recipes and Everything Mediterranean is born.

The book is a thorough and detailed journey through Greek cuisine ranging from the popular dishes (souvlaki, moussaka, grilled octopus, baklava) to the less obvious pistachio-crusted halibut, bianko, pastourma pie and, a dish that aroused my curiosity, feta cheesecake. Each recipe has an easy, step-by-step guide and, should you want it, nutritional information. I made the slow-cooked pork chops in white wine and they came out fabulously. I’m told the maple-crusted lamb and olive oil fries are must-tries. Meanwhile, that feta cheesecake is calling to me…

Would you like to get your own copy of Peter’s book? Check it out over on Amazon! It would make a great Christmas gift for the foodies on your list!

Carrot & Coconut Soup

3 Dec

Baby, it’s getting cold outside. What’s better than warming up with a spicy, sweet, comforting bowl of soup (perhaps accompanied by a glass of wine a cheese muffin)? This recipe is courtesy of Bon Appétit and it was a cinch to make. Chop, sauté, stir, blend. Ta da!

Serves 2.

Ingredients

1/4 c butter
1lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
2 c low-sodium chicken/vegetable broth
1 13oz can coconut milk
2 tb Thai chile sauce
handful cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)

Directions

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrots and onions and season with salt and pepper. Stirring often, cook until the carrots have softened, roughly 15-20 minutes.
2. Add the coconut milk, broth and chile sauce. Bring the whole concoction to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. The liquid should have reduced some and the vegetables should be quite soft.
3. Let the soup cool a bit, then pureé until smooth. (You can use a standing blender, but I just used my hand blender…carefully.) Add a little water if you feel the soup needs to be thinned out.
4. Season with more salt, pepper and/or chile sauce if you like. Split into the bowls and top with cilantro if you’re using it.

Carrot Coconut Soup

Carrot Coconut Soup

Divisions of Labour

6 Nov

We’ve all heard the old adage: when you live with someone, once you do a chore it becomes your chore. Take out the garbage a couple of times? Now it’s your job. Vacuum the dust bunnies? Oh yeah. You and the bunnies become mortal enemies. I have found the same to be true in the kitchen:  make a dish or prep an ingredient and find yourself doing it again and again.

In my house, I am the shrimp peeler, the rice/quinoa/couscous maker, the pork puller, the soup stirrer, the slow cooker obsesser. J is in charge of breakfast, omelettes, proper macaroni & cheese, broccoli rabe, deep frying and cornbread. These are our unofficially assigned jobs and only in the strangest circumstances do they change.

Do you have specific tasks in the kitchen? Certain dishes or preps that only you do?

My Kitchen Essentials: Pantry Edition

25 Sep

Our pantry shelves collapsed a couple of weeks ago. We don’t have a huge pantry, but it’s generally pretty well stocked so when the shelf brackets decided to go on strike, we lost a lot of counter space to cans and bottles and bags of things. The only positive to come out of this was that we were able to take stock of what we had, what we needed and what we had in triplicate. So what did we have in there? What do we always have in stock?

  • Peanut butter. Not only do we have this staple in the pantry, but we have it in the cupboard, too. I don’t think we have less than two jars at any time. God forbid we run out of it. Pandemonium!
  • Apple juice. Because our inner 6-year olds are not always satisfied with just peanut butter.
  • Four Tupperware containers full of spices. We have enormous bags of cumin and chili powder – the two spices we use most – but everything else is in smaller quantities: thyme, oregano, peppercorns, paprika, mustard seeds, turmeric, bay leaves, ground ginger, curry powder, etc. I love having all those spices available as it makes cooking on the fly a lot easier.
  • Every variation of canned tomatoes possible. Crushed, diced, whole, paste…we’ve got ‘em. J makes a lot of pasta sauce and I make tomato soups and tomato-based stews so these are in constant demand in our kitchen. They may also be the shelf-collapsing culprits.
  • More rice wine and balsamic vinegars than one needs. Same re: plum sauce.
  • Nutella. Since discovering a recipe for Nutella brownies, it’s rare I can’t find a jar in the pantry.
  • Pasta. So. Many. Noodles.

There is also a whole pile of Tupperware in which to store leftovers  and the foodNURLDling’s pureéd goodies, beans of all sorts and other assorted odds and ends. Ninety percent of the above items were scattered over the various surfaces of our kitchen driving me justifiably batty. The only good thing was that we got a chance to reorganize and rethink our shopping list: do we need so much apple juice? Do we need more Nutella?

Fresh Canteen Grocery Service

16 Sep

You worked all day. Getting home in rush hour is a hassle and you just didn’t have the time or desire to hit the grocery store. You’re home now and you’re starving. You want to have something healthy for dinner but you don’t have all the ingredients you need so you throw your hands up in the air and pick up the phone and order delivery.

Let’s rewrite this scenario:  you worked all day. Getting home in rush hour is a hassle and you just didn’t have the time or desire to hit the grocery store. You’re home now and you’re starving. You want to have something healthy for dinner…so on your way in the door you pick up the box of ingredients you ordered from Fresh Canteen and prepare yourself a healthy, flavourful, properly portioned meal.

This second scenario sounds more appealing, non?

From six possible entree options, I tried out the Jamaican chicken dinner. The box was delivered Tuesday afternoon and I received an email notification when it arrived. (Note: in speaking with owner Matt O’Leary , he told me that the boxes are packaged with materials and ice packs that allow the ingredients to remain unrefrigerated for up to 24 hours. Additionally, all the materials are recyclable. ) When I got home, I opened up the box to find all the ingredients I would need: two chicken breasts, pineapple salsa vegetables and herbs, 1/2 cup of quinoa and individually packaged spices. Included in the box was a step-by-step recipe card with clear instructions and pictures.

fc box

Food is snug as a bug in its recyclable packaging.

fc menu

Helpful recipe card.

The whole meal, from the time I opened the box to the time I sat down to eat, took 40 minutes. It didn’t require me to use any special kitchen tools and the only things I needed from my own pantry were salt, pepper and vegetable oil.  I wondered if there would really be enough food for two of us but we were quite full – in fact, there actually might have been too much salsa. That being said, having extra red pepper and pineapple salsa on hand is not a bad thing: it makes for a good snack later!

fc chicken

fc veg

fc final

Fresh Canteen is serving most of the GTA thus far, delivering a package of three meals once per week. “We know people are going to order out, too,” Matt tells me, “but at least they can have enough food in the fridge for a few days so they can eat healthy meals at home.” FC is a great service for those who love to cook but don’t always have the time to get to the grocery store. Each week the menu options change and there are fish, chicken, beef and vegetarian dishes from which you can choose. Check them out, folks. It’s a great service run by friendly, knowledgeable people who care about your food as much as you do.

Portobello, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

23 Aug

As I mentioned in my last post, I received a copy of refresh for my birthday. I have been making my way through it, greatly enjoying the results. After a particularly meat-heavy dinner on Tuesday, I thought it would be a good idea to eat a little lighter the next night. I was craving crunch and when I saw the portobello & walnut salad I knew it would work for me. As I often do, I made a couple of changes to suit my tastes but it was a good jumping off point. It came together in 15 minutes – including prep time – which is a big bonus on top of it being a healthy vegetarian option. (To make it vegan, just omit the cheese.)

Serves 2.

Ingredients

4 portobellos, cleaned & sliced
1/2 c cherry tomatoes, scored on the top
1/2 c walnut pieces
2 tb extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greens
2 tb balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
4 c greens
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Directions

1. Heat the olive oil in a pan to medium. Toss in the mushrooms and the vinegar. Sauté until the mushrooms soften, roughly 5 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.
2. Add in the walnuts and scored tomatoes. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes start to split.
3. Split the greens over two plates & drizzle with olive oil. Place the cooked mushrooms, walnuts and tomatoes over the greens and top with crumbled goat cheese.

p, w & c salad

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