One time, in high school, all I wanted was an ice cream maker. My parents lovingly got me one for a birthday and I set out to make my absolute favourite flavour – mint chocolate chip. My brother, resident chef-in-training at our home, passed through the kitchen and provided his recommendation, “You’re going to want to amend that recipe and chop that mint if you really want the flavour to come out.” I did as I was told. Two hours later, we had mint chocolate ice cream that tasted more like pinecone chocolate chip. The flavour was so strong, it was inedible.
I share this story because it feels like the most appropriate way for a little sister to introduce what follows. There’s not much else to say, except that when you read through this week’s Fast Food Five with my brother Seb, I trust you’ll understand where my lofty goals and inadequate feelings about food prep come from. I know, I know – cry me a river.
Sebastian, professional craft brewer, blogger’s brother
Um, could I have found a better photo for this blog post? Here is Seb, in our parent’s kitchen, preparing Christmas Eve dinner this past year.
On a scale of 1 to 5, how good are you in the kitchen? Tell me more.
3.5 – I think I’m fairly competent in the kitchen, but I know that is limited to a home venue. I don’t have any training and I’m not extremely comfortable with all of the various techniques, particularly sauce making in the French tradition. If I added a bit more technical expertise I might bump myself up to a 4.
Baking, cooking, or neither. Tell me why.
Cooking. While I grew up both cooking and baking, primarily with my mother and I can trace my love of being in the kitchen to time spent with her, it was the fire, heat, and seemingly off the cuff panache of early Food Network™ chefs such as Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse that really caught my attention. I like being able to scour through my fridge, cupboards and spice rack and come up with a relatively interesting and tasty dish. Baking can be fun, but is much more of a planned event.
What’s your go-to dish to impress others?
I think I’ve got a few, and like to cycle through them depending on the season and occasion.
Summertime, as long as the guests are a bit adventurous and enjoy seafood I really like to do a bright, citrusy ceviche.
Fall can be the perfect time for a risotto, with late harvest vegetables or mushrooms.
Winter I prefer something a bit richer, possibly a braised pork belly, along with root vegetables.
Spring calls for a return to lighter fare, such as baked salmon or roast chicken with lemon and thyme.
What are your top strategies for pulling off a dinner party?
- Be prepared. While everyone likes to hang out with the cook in the kitchen, share some wine and see the final meal prep, nobody wants to see you chopping onions and commiserate over the tears they induce.
- Keep it simple. There are a ton of great dishes that will impress your guests that don’t require an advanced gastronomic skills. Source good ingredients and let them shine, your guests will be even more amazed at the thoughtful preparation and depth of flavour.
- Pick a theme. This can be as broad or specific as you like, but there should be some rhyme and reason to the dishes you decide to serve together.
- Pay attention to timing, and plan accordingly. The roast can come out of the oven and rest while you finish up a vegetable dish, but don’t be caught chopping salad ingredients before you’ve popped the meat in the oven.
Editors note: This list was painful to read. I’ve literally done all of these things wrong in the past month.
Any tips for me as I try to improve my hosting/home cooking skills?
Be confident that you can cook most dishes with some preparation, but be aware of what you are about to attempt. Weeknight Beef Wellington from scratch is almost certainly setting oneself up for failure, and future discouragement.
Remember that simple is often best, and what’s in season will showcase naturally in simple preparation. At times cooking is a relaxing way to unwind, other times it is simply about getting the right nutrients we need to continue with our day.
When it comes to hosting, be aware of social food. Tapas became a craze because they’re not only delicious, but because of the style of dining. Food can be part of the topic of conversation, it can be fun, but it certainly doesn’t have to be difficult.
Last but not least, enjoy the journey of improving in the kitchen, and be excited to share it with others.