Fast food five: Daniella

Putting together this week’s fast food five was challenging for one reason and one reason only: narrowing down what to say about my featured guest, Daniella. Daniella’s been a colleague of mine for more than a few years now. Back in 2013, we bonded over shared Italian backgrounds and a love of curating the perfect meal.

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An example of Daniella’s outstanding food prep skills.

As our friendship has grown, so too has our recipe sharing – it’s not often either of us entertain or enjoy a meal out without running the item-by-item menu by
each other. She’s an amazing cook, and an amazing friend, but for the purposes of this blog, perhaps most importantly an amazing food prepper. In the three years I’ve worked with Daniella, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen her buy a lunch. When I was first designing this feature and deciding who should be included, Daniella was an obvious pick.

Daniella, colleague, friend, kitchen prep extraordinaire 

On a scale of 1 to 5, how good are you in the kitchen? Tell me more. 

I’m a 4/5. Every meal I eat comes out of my own kitchen so it’s only natural that my cooking skills have improved over the years. I grew up in a home where the kitchen was never off limits. At a very young age I was making fluffy pancakes from scratch served with a fresh pot of coffee for my parents in the morning.

Baking, cooking, or neither. Tell me why.  

Both! I put my cooking skills to work everyday but I always have a batch of home made muffins in my freezer. Why? I have a make-from-scratch mentality, if I’m going to serve something I want to have made it myself.

What’s your go-to dish to impress others? 

Hmm I don’t really have a go-to, every time I host I try something different. I would have to say that my proudest dish was the turkey dinner I prepared for Easter in 2015. I was very impressive and brought a tear to my grandmothers eye.

What are your top strategies for pulling off a dinner party?

  • Preparation: have all of the dirty work done before the guests arrive, so that any cooking that needs to be done is effortless (you need to look like an expert)
  • Have drinks and appetizers ready immediately: I always make sure my appetizers are ready and waiting to serve as soon as peckish guests arrive
  • Set the table: having a beautifully set table is always an impressive thing
  • Save the dishes for after your guests leave: nothing says party’s over like a pair of yellow rubber gloves and a sponge. Clear the table and stack the dirty dishes neatly in the kitchen but do not start your deep clean until the fun is officially over

Any tips for me as I try to improve my hosting/home cooking skills? 

Put a bit of extra planning into your weekly menu so that you don’t have to cook every night. During these summer months it’s helpful to make large quantities of food that keeps in the fridge for a while. Lately I’ve been marinating my meat before putting it in the freezer so that it’s grill ready when I get home from work!

 

 

Fast food five family take two: My big brother Seb

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

seb-in-kitchen

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?

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Introducing: Fast food five

Thinking of food as a connector is not an original idea, but nonetheless, it is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I grew up in a household where food was core to how we celebrated. Sometimes it was mundane (salmon with hoison sauce was the Thursday special for most of my teenage years), and sometimes it was spectacular. In both situations, it was always delicious, high-quality and never processed. More importantly, it was a vehicle to bring our family and loved ones together.

To explore this idea of food as a vehicle and to selfishly improve my own hosting/cooking game, I’ve decided to ask some of my favourite people who I love sharing meals with about their relationship to food in a new series, Fast Food Five.

Who better to kick off our new series than a woman who throws the best dinner parties I’ve ever been to – my mom.

Laura, retired teacher, dinner-party aficionado, blogger’s mom

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Me, my mom and my dad on my birthday this year. My mom didn’t make that cake, but she did make her famous potato salad for my birthday (per my request).

On a scale of 1 to 5, how good are you in the kitchen? Tell me more.

5. I enjoy cooking. People enjoy eating the food I cook. I do not find cooking a chore. I like eating real food and using seasonal ingredients. I enjoy being in my kitchen, listening to the radio and preparing food.

Baking, cooking, or neither. 

Tell me why. Cooking more than baking. Baking is so exact and success depends on so so many variables. Ingredients, measurements, and oven temperature. I’m eating less sugar so baking is totally out of the picture lately as I do not like using sweetener.

What’s your go-to dish to impress others? 

Any type of pasta. People are impressed with gnocchi or risotto. A good pork roast is always impressive, along with slow baked salmon.

The last meal my mom made me. Beautiful flank steak with a mango salsa, Ontario asparagus and a healthy side of pasta with sage butter.

What are your top strategies for pulling off a dinner party?

Come up with menu early, list the ingredients for each dish, make shopping list, set up a timeline for each dish i.e. what can be made ahead etc. Have all the groceries bought ahead. Don’t choose dishes that are too ambitious. Lately I have not served an appetizer but put a salad or soup on the menu as a first course.

Any tips for me as I try to improve my hosting/home cooking skills?

See # 4.

Editor’s note: My mom called me after this post to say she should have been warned this would be posted with no edits. Mom! I am a blogger with integrity! I can’t edit your words just because you responded to full questions from me with “See #4.”