It seems we’re in the era of the foodie. We can lose hours to The Food Network, we collect recipe books that sit neatly on our kitchen shelves, we follow celebrity chefs on Twitter, and did you know that food photos are one of the most-liked categories on Instagram?
With Calgary’s diverse food scene continuing to keep us hungry for more dinner dates – with brand new restaurant concepts popping up across the city, and with such a talented roster of chefs here in YYC – as Calgarians, our mouths don’t stop watering for the freshest flavours and newest food trends. During the winter months however, it’s also a treat to cozy up at home and play host to friends and family. But, where to start if you want to sharpen your food skills, or are a newly-practicing foodie? Fear not. Our very own Thomsons chef team share some top tips on how to perfect the home dinner party here.
- It starts with the groceries
“Buy local would be my number one piece of advice on where to begin”, says Thomsons’ Executive Chef David Flegel. We’re very fortunate here in Alberta, in terms of the food produce available on our doorstep – it’s high-quality, you can often talk to the producer directly, and buying local also supports our local economy. Calgary has such a strong offering of farmers, growers and producers, and Calgary’s Farmers Markets stock an extensive amount of meats, condiments, dressings, and more. Even the bigger stores in Calgary such as Co-Op and Safeway are now focusing on sourcing food that has been grown here in the Province. Take note of your labels to make good choices. For instance, look out for Ocean Wise seafood, and don’t be afraid to talk to your butcher or fishmonger about where the produce is coming from – and ask what they recommend.
- Social gatherings don’t need to be stressful
If you’re hosting a social get-together at home, it doesn’t need to be difficult to prepare a sophisticated appetizer for your guests. “A charcuterie board is a great option for a casual, yet classy shared-dining experience,” says Rebecca House, Chef de Cuisine. How to pull it off? Prepare a combination of cheeses (our recommendation would be pairing a strong blue cheese with a soft cheese), and present on a rustic wooden board with marinated olives, sliced local game meats such as Bison or Elk (available from stores such as Valbella Meats in Canmore), a meat pate, some toasted bread with olive oil, and finish with a pot of mustard. Easy, yet bound to make an impression.
- Spice up your sides
“Don’t forget about the sides,” says Chef David. “At Thomsons, we focus on the flavours of our accompanying dishes just as much as we do with the main event, for example, the maple bourbon glazed Brussel sprouts that are a feature of our dinner menu.” Play with bacon, maple syrup, and bourbon marinades to add some interest to your seasonal vegetables.
“Also, oil and vinegar stores here in Calgary have an impressive selection of dressings,” adds Rebecca. “Try a Pear Balsamic Dressing on your salad to give it a punch of flavour. Or, add some flavoured butter when you’re cooking some Alberta steak – and truffle salt, that can make a real difference to your sides!”
- Step out of your comfort zone
Experiment with different meats (as Albertans, we know it’s easy to keep reaching for the beef cuts). “Duck is a great option as a refreshing change for your main dish,” says Chef David. “There isn’t any reason for home cooks to be intimidated by duck either. I would suggest pan searing (the fatty side) a duck breast until golden and then placing in the oven until medium-cooked. With duck meat, it’s important not to set the oven too high – you should be looking at a temperature of around 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve your cooked duck breast with an acidic, fruit-based sauce; cherries or orange are a perfect accompaniment to balance the flavours of the duck.
“Duck meat is also very tasty served in a hot pot style,” says Hideyuki, Thomsons’ Sous Chef. “This is a traditional Japanese way to enjoy both the breast and leg meat of duck together in a broth style. Prepared over many hours in a slow cooker, the duck is cooked with cabbage, onions, seasonal vegetables and chicken stock.”
- Don’t forget about the vegetarians!
Make sure your dinner party is just as pleasant for your vegetarian guests, by giving some thought to the non-meat dishes and the flavours you can create with fresh herbs and a selection of spices. A Moroccan vegetable tagine is a great option: simply cook vegetables (carrots, potatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet onion), with dried fruits, fresh mint, parsley, ginger, garlic, spices, and serve over quinoa for a satisfying veggie dish.
And what about our Chefs’ favourite dish or item to cook at home?
Chef David: Sourdough bread.
Chef Hideyuki: Japanese pancakes.
Chef Rebecca: Anything Italian.
“I have a tabletop pizza-maker that can cook up a pizza in six minutes – I love it,” says Rebecca.