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Social Bites – West End – 12th September – Review as a Hobby Chef

14 Sep

The idea of being a Hobby Chef at a Social Bites dinner is one that has been developing in my brain for awhile. The seed was originally planted back in April, when we attended our first Social Bites dinner, and I thought to myself “Hmmm, I think I could do this”. At our second dinner, the seed was given some extra fertilizer in the way of gentle coaxing from Social Bites Coordinator, Annika. I’d been mulling over the thought for a few months so when I found out that there was to be a dinner held in the West End, my suburb, I decided to take the plunge and volunteered to open my apartment and, evidently, my kitchen, to eight strangers. After a few weeks of organizing, the night finally arrived and here is my take on Saturday night’s event from the view of a Hobby Chef this time, rather than as a guest. I’ve also included some tips that might be useful for other aspiring Hobby Chef’s.


Tip #1: Prepare something that you enjoy eating. This way you will enjoy cooking the dish and testing it out a few times.

Very early on I had decided to make a Southern Delights Tasting Plate. Don’t ask me why I decided on this combination of food – I’d never made any of the dishes before starting the whole Hobby Chef thing so it wasn’t as if I was an expert in making any of these dishes. I just found that I had a really strong urge to make them, most likely because I really, really enjoy eating comfort food. Below is the menu that we prepared for the night:

Southern Delights

Home-baked cornbread made with cheddar, corn meal and real corn kernels. Oh, it’s corny alright!

Panko-crusted baked Southern chicken. Soaked overnight in a bath of buttermilk and not quite 11, and not quite secret, herbs and spices.

Slow cooked pulled pork sliders. Served on a soft bread roll and dripping with mouth-watering BBQ sauce. Go on, make a pig of yourself!

Cheesy, cheesy macaroni bake. Made with a variety of cheeses to add that extra oomph.


Tip #2: Do a “Guinea Pig Dinner” (also known as a trial run dinner). This way you can try the meal for yourself and make changes, if needed. This is particularly helpful if you are attempting to make a dish that you aren’t familiar with.

For the two weeks leading up to the dinner, I attempted to make the chicken and the cornbread a few times each so that I could adjust the recipes as I became more comfortable. By the end, I’d made the chicken twice and the cornbread four times (one was a complete throw-in-the-bin failure). We also held a full “Guinea Pig Dinner”, where we had my sister and a friend sample the dishes and give us feedback. I am so grateful that we decided to do this as we were able to critique each dish and I made mental notes on how each dish could be made better. We had limited time to prepare for our trial dinner, due to work, and so we had cooked the pork at a higher temperature and although the outside was tender and juicy, the inside had started to cook more like a roast. We determined that it really was best to cook it at a lower heat, for as long as possible, to get the best results. I had also over-seasoned the panko for the chicken and so the crust was waaay too salty. A similar problem had happened with the cornbread so that, too, would need to be rectified. And, we had slightly over-baked the mac and cheese bake so it wasn’t as gooey as it should have been. Phew! See why we were so grateful of the trial run?!


Tip #3: Be prepared. Really prepared! And ask for help, if you need it.

Preparation really is the key and because I had a few dishes that needed preparation in advance, I made myself up a schedule of everything that I needed to do and followed it religiously. This was probably over-kill but the organizational freak in me loved it! I tried to ensure that I had bought most of the ingredients a few days prior to the day so that I wasn’t left scrambling and I tried to think of everything that I would need, or could possibly need, ahead of time. I also had help from my sister, who was a complete angel. She managed to pick me up a few things from stores that I didn’t have time to get to and she also gave great feedback on some of the dishes – she just hates having to try my cooking ;). We also prepared a lot of the last minute additions (like grating cheese and slicing onions) prior to the guests arriving so that we wouldn’t be trying to do that whilst also trying to entertain. I found that helped us out a lot.

Tip #4: Have fun with it and try not to take the competition side of it too seriously.

It sounds really corny but we had a lot of fun being Hobby Chef’s. Friends of mine kept saying that we were brave having random strangers come over to our apartment to have our food critiqued and in a way, I guess it is brave. You definitely have to step outside of your comfort zone a bit but it was an enjoyable challenge.


Thankfully, our night went off without a hitch – the pulled pork was (in our extremely biased opinions) simply delicious. It was slow-cooked in the oven for about 5 hours, ensuring that it was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The only down-side to cooking the pork in the oven is that it doesn’t get that smoky taste that a BBQ would deliver. Nonetheless, I was pretty proud of the pork. I had made the cornbread the night before so it just a matter of popping it back in the oven to warm it up just prior to serving. B was in charge of the mac and cheese bake as it is his speciality. He spruced it up a bit by adding three different cheeses; a 5 year old cheddar, a cave-aged gruyere and an asiago, and it was all topped with a panko/cheese mix and spring onions. Gooey, gooey cheesiness! The chicken was our take on fried chicken. We soaked the chicken in buttermilk and mixed herbs overnight and then we coated it in seasoned panko and baked it in the oven.


We served all of the dishes on a tasting plate and our guests ate to the sound of blues music, whilst watching the sunset over English Bay. I tried to include a few small touches to go along with the Southern theme; a centre-piece made from corn on the cob, a bunch of rustic sunflowers, some napkins with cute little pigs on them (to tie in with the pulled pork) and we also included some fun facts about food from the South for reading.


Our guests were all extremely polite and friendly, which helped to make us more comfortable. Switching from one group to the other wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be, mostly because all we had to do between groups was wash some dishes and re-set the table. After the second seating, we all made our way down to Qoola on Denman Street for dessert and the formalities of the evening. Qoola is great spot tucked away on Denman, dishing up servings of yummy, and relatively healthy, frozen yogurt. We were able to try tastings of four flavours; original, chocolate, green tea and blackberry, before choosing our favourite which they then served with a surprise topping. I was the lucky recipient of a large serving of chocolate topped with caramel and pecans. Luckily I could justify it by telling myself that I was getting a good dose of friendly bacteria.

The winner of the night was Hobby Chef, Katie, who went above and beyond everyone’s expectations with a multi-course meal, including a cocktail, dessert and a take-away treat. Yes, a very tough competitor indeed! All in all, we are both glad that we finally tried our hand at being Hobby Chef’s. I always enjoy cooking and this pushed me to try new recipes, helped us to step out of our comfort zone and we thoroughly enjoyed the friendly competition, whilst being creative.

Keep an eye out over the next few days as I will be posting the recipes for some of the dishes that we cooked. They are all relatively easy and are real crowd pleasers. Perfect for the cold months that are coming.


Social Bites – West End – 12th September

26 Aug

The time has come! After experiencing two very impressive Social Bites events, B and I are now ready to try on another hat…a chef’s hat! We are stepping out from behind the dinner table and into the kitchen for our first attempt at being hobby chefs for the next Social Bites dinner. Eeeeek!!

The event will be held in the West End on Saturday, the 12th of September. I will be hosting the dinner at my place, aided by my much-needed sous chef, B. The menu will be kept under-wraps until Social Bites launches the event on their website. Needless to say though, that some much needed recipe perfecting is in order and so we have invited two brave guinea pigs over to try out our meal on Sunday night. Fingers crossed that things go to plan!

After the event, I will be writing a blog entry from the view of the chef, rather than the guest, so stayed tuned!

Social Bites – Vancouver Westside – May 30th

13 Jun

Brief Description: As it is difficult to briefly describe Social Bites, please visit their  website or read my blog entry on April’s Social Bites dinner.

Since our first Social Bites dinner in April, I have found myself happily promoting the event to anyone who will listen. I can’t help myself – Social Bites has become one of my new favourite things to do! Needless to say, I couldn’t reply fast enough when the email came out notifying me of the latest Social Bites dinner. For those who aren’t aware of how Social Bites work, you can read my blog entry from the dinner that we went to in April. It’s a really cool concept – check it out!

The Vancouver Westside event was held on Saturday, May 30th and thankfully, the weather was amazing. The warm, sunny evening perfectly complimented our “Somewhere in the Mediterranean” dinner at our first Hobby Chef’s home. Sitting on a patio in the sun, whilst enjoying cold beer and tasty tapas, it was easy to convince yourself that you were somewhere in the Mediterranean!

Friends, Jules and Degan, had prepared for us a sampling of travel-inspired tapas: baguette slices with a robust olive oil for dipping, spinach and feta filo turnovers, meatballs with tomato and green olive sauce, grilled aubergines and courgettes and a rocket salad with Serrano ham, manchego cheese and hazelnuts. Knowing that we were going to be eating Mediterranean food, I had sourced a Spanish beer “Alhambra Reserva 1925” to pair with the meal and it went perfectly with the tapas. I really enjoyed this meal a lot; it was simple and I liked the variety and the flavour of all of the dishes. The alfresco dining was an added bonus.

Our second dinner, “Memories of Portugal” was a short bike ride away. This was where we met our second Hobby Chef for the evening, Sofia and her Sous Chef, Martin (whom we had met at the April dinner). Astonishingly, Sophia had slaved for over 10 hours on a dish called Arroz de Pato (Portuguese Duck)! She should have won as Hobby Chef of the evening for the effort alone! The dish was a rice-based dish cooked with duck, prosciutto and Portuguese chorizo and an added splash of red wine. It was served with a simple tangy salad of spinach, sunflower seeds and goat’s cheese. The second meal was really relaxed as we all sat around Sofia’s cute lounge room, eating and chatting.

Our hour was up very quickly and we all made our way to Xoxolat, a chocolate store located on Burrard Street at West 8th Avenue. Over the next hour or so, we were treated to tastings of chocolate and drinking chocolate. Now, I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill cheap chocolate. I’m talking about unique (if not somewhat strange), quality chocolate. Think chocolate with bacon bits in it or chocolate with salt and pepper. Yep, you can get those (and more) at Xoxolat.

My favourite part of the chocolate tasting was sipping on a drinking chocolate which had been mixed with cream and champagne. I think every woman’s eyes in the place almost bulged out of their head when this touched their taste-buds! It was AMAZING! The winner of the Hobby Chef award for that night was a couple who had made a four-course dinner with a rabbit pasta dish starring as the main course. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience this dinner but it sounded incredible.

Final Thoughts: I felt a lot more comfortable having dinner in a stranger’s home this time around. It helped a lot that the other guest’s and chef’s that we got paired with all happened to be friendly and outgoing, which made conversation a lot easier. I have definitely been bitten by the Social Bites bug and will be going back again.

Social Bites – Yaletown – 18th of April

25 Apr

Brief Description: Hmmm…I can’t really summarize it quickly so please read below or visit the Social Bites website.

New concepts in food or eating completely fascinate me! For this Greedy Guts there is something so exciting, so refreshing, about discovering innovative and interesting ways of eating or dining. So, when I had found out about Social Bites, I thought “Yep, this is for me!”. And, of course, my food-loving B was down for it too. Yay!

Social Bites has been around for a relatively short time – this is only their second year. The motto is eat. meet. move your feet. The idea behind it is to enjoy good food whilst meeting new people. In summary, it works a bit like this: 4 brave people nominate themselves to be a Hobby Chef. Their task is to open their home and cook their favourite meal for four guests (i.e. strangers). The guests spend an hour – long enough to chat, short enough to avoid being awkward – at the first Hobby Chef’s home, where they meet the other guests and hopefully, enjoy a good meal and some laughs. An hour later the guests then move on to a second Hobby Chef’s home and do it all over again. After guests have dined at both Hobby Chef’s homes, every participant (all guests and chefs) assembles at a final location (could be an art gallery, could be a park – who knows?) for the dessert section of the evening. This is where the voting of the “Hobby Chef Award” is held – each guest gets to vote on who they thought was the best Hobby Chef of the night. Each Social Bites dinner is set in one particular suburb and so guests are able to walk to each Chef’s home. What a great idea!! (For a more detailed explanation, check out

Our first Social Bites experience was held on Saturday the 18th of April and the destination was Yaletown. Prior to the event you pay your $35 per person and you are then emailed a map and your Hobby Chef’s addresses. All you have to do on the evening is show up with map (and alcohol) in hand. Our first Hobby Chef was Marc and he prepared a Fiesta Americana – Chili Con Carne with an extra kick. I must say that at first it is kinda awkward to walk into someones place whom you’ve never met before and have dinner with them but once that initial awkwardness subsides it is a lot of fun. I recommend leaving your shyness at home to make the most of the evening. Marc was a great, bubbly host and the Fiesta Americana was delicious (he was right about the extra kick!). Marc had baked fresh moist cornbread for us to enjoy with the organic beef chili and he also gave us a summary of how he made it; lots of chipolte and chili! Our hour was up very quickly and we said our goodbyes before moving on to our second Hobby Chef’s home.




Our next Hobby Chef was Kris and Co. (he had two friends helping him out) and the meal they prepared was a Pacific Northwest BBQ which was barbecued salmon and mashed potatoes served with fresh greens and vinaigrette dressing. Kris and Co. were very hospitable and presented us with welcome Caesar’s (yum!). These went down a treat whilst we were waiting for the salmon to barbecue. When it did arrive at the plate, the salmon was perfectly cooked and covered in a secret home-made sauce. The mash was garlicky and the salad was fresh and tangy. The problem that I encountered (and I heard similiar mutterings from other guests) was that I was already full from the first meal! Although it was delightful, I really had to force the second meal down.


With bulging bellies we made our way to the Social Bites Hot Spot. The chosen meeting place for our evening was Yaletown Gallery, a teeny-tiny art gallery located at Homer and Davie. It was a bit of a tight squeeze with about 30 of us packed in but it meant that you were able to chat to others easily. It was here that we were introduced to Annika, the Social Bites organizer, and we were treated to two German wines that she had brought back with her from a recent trip. The wines, she told us, were from very small German wineries and, when translated, one of the wines meant “Little Red Riding Hood” which I think is a fabulous name for a wine! The wines were delicious; the sparkling wine more so than the red. The wines were accompanied by some German chocolates and typical of European fare, the chocolate was good quality and the flavours were fantastically varied.



I thought that would be enough, but no, Annika had more tricks up her sleeve and one of them was Kate (aka The Wine Mistress). The Wine Mistress had chosen to showcase for us Vespaiolo, an Italian sparkling wine and the Salt Spring Island Blackberry Port – oh my! This was the same port that B and I had tried and loved at Pair Bistro. Needless to say, we devoured the dark and velvety smooth port quickly so that we could get another taste before it all disappeared.


The Vespaiolo was light and fruity and as someone who thoroughly enjoys sparkling wine (although not the hangover that accompanies it), I will definitely seek out this little gem again. Kate told us that this was available from BC wine stores so I will be keeping an eye out for it.


Final Thoughts: What’s not to love? Where else would you get 2 meals, wine tasting and dessert all for $35 and a chance to meet new and interesting people that all share a love of food?! All in all, I had a wonderful night at my first Social Bites evening. It was a lot of fun to meet new people and to try other people’s cooking and I will definitely be doing it again. B and I have even talked about perhaps putting on our Hobby Chef hats but we shall see…