Huddle up, football fans. Sure, everyone knows nachos are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser at any Grey Cup party. But who says you have to serve them the conventional way?
We asked three creative chefs to provide some coaching on how to revamp the shareable snack. Follow their game plan, and get ready to dig in as the Toronto Argonauts square off against the Calgary Stampeders on home turf on Sunday.
This simple fondue-like dish is delicious as a chip dip, says Steve Smee, executive chef at the Spanish restaurant Ox and Angela in Calgary.
"You have this beautiful, kind of like gooey, cheesy, sausage-y mixture," he says.
Buy some chorizo sausage and remove the casings. Add the sausage directly into a mixture of queso fresco and grated provolone or Manchego cheese. (There is no need to cook the sausage beforehand.)
The ratio of cheese to chorizo should be roughly two to one. Place the mixture into an earthenware dish and put it into the oven at 400 F.
Once the top is golden brown and the cheese is melted throughout, it is ready to serve, along with a bowl of nacho chips.
Meatless taro nachos with ratatouille and avocado purée
Go ahead and bring out the ribs and burgers. But don't neglect your vegetarian guests.
Chef Jason Leizert of the recently opened vegetarian restaurant The Parker in Vancouver offers a meatless twist on nachos that everyone will enjoy.
Peel some taro (tubers that resemble a hairy hybrid of turnips and potatoes), slice them very thinly, and deep-fry them. (To save this step, you can also buy taro chips at specialty stores.)
Next, make a batch of ratatouille. Soak some oven-dried or sun-dried tomatoes in hot water. Separately, roast some red peppers, peel off the skin and chop them up. Peel and slice some eggplant and fry it in a pan with a lot of oil. Chop some fresh tomatoes and fresh shallots, and mix all the vegetables together.
In a blender, mix some avocado with lime juice until smooth to make an avocado purée.
Grate a generous pile of cheese. Leizert recommends Golden Ears Cheesecrafters' one-year-old cheddar, which melts well with a nice, stringy texture.
On a baking sheet, build layers of taro chips, ratatouille, avocado purée and cheese.
"One thing I find with nachos is people don't layer them," Leizert says. You don't want to leave the chips at the bottom bare.
Make sure to finish the top layer with plenty of extra cheese. Bake it in the oven until the cheese is melted.
Sometimes, culinary mistakes lead to lip-smacking surprises. Such was this messy nacho dish that chef Steve Mitton of Ottawa's Murray Street stumbled upon at a pub during his university days in Halifax. "The cooks in the kitchen, they were all hungover and they were just completely confused and they just started cooking everything in a pan for the toppings," he says.
They served it anyway as a nacho dip. The result "was awesome," he says. "Everything all melted into this pan and you just dip, so every chip had all the nacho stuff on it. It was wicked."
Sauté mushrooms, green onions, chopped tomatoes, jalapenos and any other favourite nacho toppings. Leftover chicken works well. Finally, add a mound of cheese to the pan. Try a mix of mozzarella, jack and cheddar. Let it all come to a bubble and serve it directly in the hot pan, with chips on the side.
The hot spots
Forget hosting a Grey Cup party at home. Lucky you, you're watching the game live in Toronto!
For those converging on the downtown core, we have rounded up some hot spots for football lovers, all within walking distance of the action.
Best place to spot a sports star in a suit: Barberian's Steakhouse and Tavern
This Toronto institution has been around for more than 50 years, and continues to serve up the classics: escargots, shrimp cocktail, French onion soup and, of course, steak. Plenty of steak. It is no secret that the city's top athletes are drawn to Barberian's old-school charms. So who knows? You may find yourself dining next to your favourite Canadian Football League stars.
7 Elm St., 416-597-0335, www.barberians.com
Best place (besides Rogers Centre) to watch the game: Real Sports Bar & Grill
Uh-oh. Can't get a ticket? Make visiting the Real Sports Bar & Grill your plan B. This is no regular sports bar. With 199 television screens, you will feel as though you are watching the game from TSN headquarters. Only better: No one will complain about your greasy fingers as you polish off a plate of chicken wings.
15 York St., 416-815-7325, www.realsports.ca
Best place to indulge: Buca
If you can't make it to the Scotiabank 100th Grey Cup Festival Gala (at $900 a ticket, who can blame you?), you can still get a taste of the sumptuous food you missed. Chef Rob Gentile, who prepared the gala feast, serves up luxurious pastas, gorgeous cured meats, perfect pizzas and to-die-for desserts at his acclaimed restaurant.
604 King St. W., 416-865-1600, www.buca.ca
Best place to sample a wide selection of brews: Bier Markt
Where can a pack of football fans gather to enjoy a few pints? The Bier Markt, of course. This bar and restaurant has two downtown locations capable of seating large groups. And with a beer list of more than 150 brands from 30 countries, even the pickiest brewhounds among you will find something to satisfy their thirst.
58 The Esplanade, 416-862-7575; 600 King St. W., 416-862-1175, www.thebiermarkt.com
Best place to get psyched for the big game: Telus Street Festival
Free to attend, the Telus Street Festival is arguably the place to get swept up in the Grey Cup spirit. Organizers are calling it "the largest tailgate party … ever to be staged," complete with live concerts, beer tents and – not to be missed – an outdoor ribfest.
Front Street, between Simcoe Street and John Street, and north on John to King Street, Saturday and Sunday, starting at noon, 100thgreycupfestival.ca