Yesterday was the culmination, and the ultimate payoff, of all my experience as a food blogger. The many years of testing recipes on behalf of my readers and posting them online paid off in the quintessential perk.
Yesterday, I was a celebrity food judge at Toronto Ribfest.
Here's what happens when you're a celebrity judge: You report to a VIP tent 20 minutes before judging begins. You meet the other judges, maybe even pose for a selfie with one of them. You proceed to a stage where you sit in front of a couple of hundred people who are prepared to watch you eat chicken for an hour. (Okay, maybe a few were there to watch the Colombia/Uruguay World Cup match, showing on the screen beside the stage.) You get samples of sixteen of the best pieces of barbecued chicken you've ever eaten, served up by vendors like Pistol Pete's, or Bad Wolf, or Hawgs Go Wild. You rank this chicken (identified by number only) in terms of appearance, flavour and overall excellence. And you do all of this while trying your best not to cover the table, and yourself, with barbecue sauce.
I had the honour of serving on a panel with Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames (far left in top photo) and Ali Hassan, stand-up comedian and chef (far right). I sat next to Matt Hart (with me in the photo above) of Indie 88, the one radio station everyone in my family loves, and we talked about music between plates of chicken.
But the real celebrities are the people who run Toronto Ribfest, and who volunteer at the charities that benefit from it. People like my friend Hugh, who's a co-chair of the event, and who hopes to raise half a million dollars for charity over Ribfest's five days. People like Jennifer, who sat on my left side at the judging table, and who serves as chair for Stonegate Community Health Centre. Thanks to these dedicated people, and many others like them, our community is a little more welcoming to those who need the help most.
|With co-chair Hugh Williams and fellow celebrity judge Maurice Blitz.|
Corn, Asparagus and Basil Barley Risotto
(from Eats Well With Others)
Note: This risotto would also be great with sliced cremini mushrooms or garden-fresh peas.
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup barley
1/2 cup white wine
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
1 cup basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Combine the vegetable broth and water in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the barley and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Ad the white wine and cook until almost totally evaporated.
Pour 2 cups of the heated broth mixture into the pot with the barley. Cook, stirring frequently, until almost evaporated. Then add the broth mixture 1 cup at a time, only adding more after the rest has almost evaporated, stirring frequently. Repeat until barley is cooked through and tender.
Add the asparagus with the final cup of the broth mixture, simmering until almost evaporated. Stir in the corn and cook until heated through.
Remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, and serve with basil and parmesan.