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This family’s favourite kitchen tool is a computer on Astini News


The most important piece of equipment in Heather Msi's kitchen is the HP touchscreen computer.

With the tap of a knuckle, she can access a stockpile of treasured recipes.

Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver's dishes are so well-loved that they get their own folders alongside ones labelled "My Grandmother" and "Family."

Handwritten and heirloom recipes have been scanned into files so they're protected from cooking damage. Others have been typed in. Msi no longer has to prop open cookbooks and flip through them with messy hands.

The recipes stand at the ready to satisfy the Msi family's every craving. Heather cooks everything from pad Thai and Chinese to Sunday roasts, lasagna, pizza, shepherd's pie, black velvet cake and mango chutney.

Her husband Vusi is appropriately appreciative.

"It will be a Saturday afternoon and I'll be working on the house and Heather will say `What do you want for dinner?' " he says. "I'll go to the computer and pick something and the thing I tend to pick the most often is Nigella Lawson. She has these pork chops in plum sauce that I love. Also, I happen to be madly, deeply, violently in love with Nigella Lawson.

"I've got to say I'm a lucky guy because I'll say 'I want that' and my wife will make it."

Vusi, Heather and their 19-year-old son, Kenny, live in the Mill Pond area of Richmond Hill. Vusi, 48, is a litigation lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice. Heather, 47, runs his office. She usually gets off work at 4 p.m. and starts making dinner around 6.

It usually takes about 30 minutes to prep dinner and 30 to 45 minutes to cook it. Barbecuing is a year-round option.

Tonight, a Monday, Heather asks her son to make pasta and tomato sauce packed with garden vegetables. He took the one-year culinary skills program at George Brown College and is working toward his chef's papers at the Richmond Hill Culinary Arts Centre.

"No point in having a chef in the house if you're not going to get him to do the hard stuff," points out Heather. "Plus we planted all the stuff in the garden so he could do all this."

It's 6:15 p.m. and Kenny gets scoobi do noodles from the cold cellar. He chops red and green chiles, red, green and yellow tomatoes and red onions. He uses a Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker to crush, grind and blend his minced rosemary and oregano, and adds Classico Four Cheese tomato sauce and leftover broccoli to the vibrant sauce.

On the back deck, Heather turns on her Weber Genesis for the hot Italian sausages she bought from Sue's Fine Foods and Catering.

Suddenly there's a commotion in the front hallway.

Heather's nieces Brenda and Candace Robbins have arrived to take her to square dancing. Oops. She forgot. The sisters can't stay for dinner but want to try the lemon squares Kenny made today.

"I had part of one," admits Heather.

"Part of one? Let me have the other part," replies Brenda.

The Robbins sisters approve of the lemon squares, but they're in short supply so Heather gives them garden peppers instead.

"Sorry — it gets a little hectic around here sometimes," she says cheerfully, adding that friends and family members who live nearby routinely pop in for meals.

The Msi family has lived here since 1993 and has been renovating since 2002, turning a one-storey house with a detached garage to a two-storey home with an attached garage and basement cold cellar.

"This is where everybody shops," jokes Heather. There's a stockpile of Coke, Pepsi and Canada Dry ginger ale, homemade preserves (beets, dill pickles, jam, mango chutney), cooking oil, vinegar, pasta and organic rice and flour bought in bulk and transferred to Tupperware.

"Our two weaknesses are potato chips and pop," she concedes.

Not to mention chocolate cakes and other dishes created by Nigella Lawson. Heather and Vusi lined up at Indigo last November to get her autograph.

"For Heather. With love, Nigella," wrote Lawson on their copy of Feast.

"For Kenny. With love, Nigella," wrote Lawson on Kitchen.

They could get only two autographs, so Vusi didn't get one.

The Msi kitchen is painted "crepe" and has white appliances. There's a Jenn-Air oven (five gas burners are built into the nearby countertop), Panasonic microwave and Miele dishwasher.

The white Fisher & Paykel fridge (a New Zealand brand bought at Tasco Appliances) is well-organized. The freezer holds, among other things, Breyers ice cream (strawberry, butterscotch ripple and maple walnut) and a cool drawer for ice cube trays.

"Want to see Tupper Town?" asks Vusi.

The movable kitchen island is neatly stocked with Tupperware in multiple colours and shapes.

"I'm the queen of Tupperware," agrees Heather, who loves the brand's lifetime warranty and unique pieces like a pickle keeper and broccoli and lettuce storage containers,

The spacious kitchen opens into a family room dominated by a 55-inch television.

"We have to confess that we eat while we watch TV," says Heather.

The formal dining room is reserved for Sunday nights when Vusi's parents come for dinner. They go there every Wednesday night. Thursday is leftover night.

The Msis have been married for 25 years and together for 31, ever since meeting as teenagers through Boy Scouts.

Heather's father and grandparents are from Buxton, a town in Derbyshire, England. She was raised by her single mom ("an absolutely horrible chef") and Scottish grandmother in Toronto and then Richmond Hill.

Childhood meals revolved around boiled food and frozen meat, so Heather can tolerate only fresh meat now, preferably from Sue's or Bruno's Fine Foods.

Vusi was born in South Africa and lived in Swaziland and Zambia before coming here when he was 8.

"We had, I would say, a very unremarkable life in terms of what we ate as kids," recalls Vusi, adding that his mom is a good cook. "We ate beef, pork, chicken, lots of vegetables."

His main culinary role is to be the "turkey chef" at Christmas, cooking up to three birds for the clan. Tonight he putters around the backyard while Heather and Kenny make dinner. He's also watching the weather and hoping to eat outside.

"I'm a true hoser when it comes to weather," admits Vusi, minutes before it starts sprinkling.

The family switches gears and readies laptop Tupperware trays for the TV room. Kenny has a blue one, Vusi yellow and Heather white. There's a brief tussle over whether to watch Monday Night Football or Jeopardy. Football wins.

Heather and Vusi figure they spend about $650 a month on groceries — more in December for obvious reasons. They frequent Bruno's, Sue's, No Frills and Loblaws, try to buy local and organic and avoid anything from China.

They go to the Holland Marsh for potatoes and carrots, St. Lawrence Market for kitchen gadgets, Kozlik's mustard, cheese and back bacon on a bun, and Kensington Market for European Meats, more cheese and white cracked corn (grits).

They treated themselves to Sabatino's Ristorante in Toronto for their 25th wedding anniversary in August. They used to be regulars at Swiss Chalet, but now tend to get "beautiful roast chickens" at the supermarket.

They eat out only about once a month and it comes as no surprise to hear Vusi explain why: "The food's never as good as you can get at home."

Next instalment

What's for Dinner will now run every other week. Watch for a new family Oct. 5.

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