I hate making dinner. My husband is hurt every time I say that, but he takes it personally. I have to explain it’s not that I hate making dinner for him. I just hate it in general. I’m sure some of you can relate to the challenge of coming up with enough dinner ideas to fill the week. Meals have to be healthy, affordable, relatively quick and easy to prepare, and the most difficult criterion of all, they must appeal to all members of the family. The classic quote my mom always got from my little brother was “How much of this do I have to eat?” Not exactly gratifying!
It’s not to say that I hate cooking. I love to bake and I enjoy preparing a special meal for a dinner party. I just hate the day-to-day dinnertime chore. Luckily, the other week I received a little needed inspiration.
I never win anything, but then again I rarely enter anything, so I guess that makes sense. However, while at the grocery store checkout a few months ago, a display caught my eye. It was a contest to win a dinner party prepared by “The Three Chefs”. Anyone who watches CityLine knows them as Michael Bonacini, Massimo Capra and Jason Parsons. The prospect of having dinner taken care of for a night, never mind one prepared by three of Toronto’s top chefs and restaurateurs was extremely appealing. So much so that I was willing to add five minutes to my shopping expedition to fill out a ballot and answer the skill-testing question.
Unfortunately I did not win the dinner, but I did manage to win myself a copy of their cookbook “3 Chefs.” While the pictures look amazing, it’s been several weeks and I have only attempted one recipe so far. My daughter and I made Michael Bonacini’s Welsh cakes. They were very tasty, but it was more of a snack and did not solve my weekly dinner dilemma. However, what I have gotten out of the book so far is a more inspiring food revelation than any one dinner recipe could ever provide.
Along with their own personal comments about each recipe, the book also provides a brief background on each of the contributing chefs. One common thread I noticed was that each of them grew up either on a farm or in the country, surrounded by food in its rawest state. Somehow this environment seemed to have fostered a reverence and respect for food beyond just good taste. They have a greater appreciation for food and where it comes from – how it is both paired and prepared, and how to experiment in the kitchen with passion and personality.
In urban society today, most kids think chicken comes from the store on a shrink-wrapped styrofoam plate. Apples are perfectly red, round and shined to perfection in all their waxy glory, stacked in perfect pyramids, not a tree in sight. And chocolate milk comes from brown cows, right?
Well, this summer my kids and I went berry picking and managed to awaken our inner chefs. Just thirty minutes outside of the city, we entered a different world. We drove along the bumpy dirt road and could have followed our noses rather than the signs, to the sweet-smelling patches of strawberries. Each of my girls filled a bucket to the rim, but these weren’t the gigantic-yet-tasteless strawberries from the supermarket. They were far smaller and mostly misshapen but boy did they smell good! We couldn’t wait to get them weighed and washed so we could dig in. Before leaving the berry farm, we went to the little store full of fresh farm produce. Again, impressed by the aroma, I couldn’t resist buying enormous bunches of basil and cilantro. And there it was – bang! Just like that! I was actually inspired to make dinner that night! We had pasta with goat cheese, chicken, bell peppers, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil. Simple yet delicious!
The next night was tacos with soft corn tortillas, salsa and cilantro. Tacos are a common occurrence in our half-Mexican household, but the fresh cilantro kicked things up a notch and had my hubby feeling much closer to home.
The girls wasted no time washing their berries and then bombarding me with ideas of what we could make with them. We looked up recipes for “quick strawberry jam”. Suddenly the kitchen looked like a strawberry bomb had gone off. After each girl had made her own jam, the blender was going and red juice was flying everywhere as we made the necessary preparations for Martha Stewart’s strawberry popsicles.
We had such a wonderful day, and it ended with the grandparents doing a blind taste-test to guess which kid made the jam that was carefully stirred over low heat to perfection, and whose berries were mashed and sweetened beyond recognition with impatient exuberance. Somehow they guessed right – go figure!
I realized that the act of physically picking the strawberries ourselves made all of us excited about cooking. The sight and smell of the farm-fresh produce was irresistible and I could hardly wait to get in the kitchen. I’m sure that is the closest I’ll ever come to reaching the level of passion for food the three chefs possess. But it felt great to get a taste of their world (I use the word “taste” loosely – I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest that my gastronomic attempts even came close to their regular works of art!)
While it might not be realistic to get to the farm every week, farmers markets are popping up everywhere. There is also the option of growing your own, whether you choose a full vegetable garden or simply a pot of rosemary on your balcony. If you look around you’ll notice the trend is catching on. Former fashion designer for Calvin Klein, Jimmy Williams, has come out with a book called “From Seed to Skillet: A Guide to Growing, Tending, Harvesting, and Cooking Up Fresh, Healthy Food to Share With People You Love”
In the fashion industry they say that everything old becomes new again. It seems that going back to our grow-your-own “roots” (pardon the pun) is not only trendy, but tasty to boot!
Archived from August, 2011.