Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Making Your Culinary Budget More Effective

          Economic focus is in the news more than ever these days, and everyone seems like they’re searching for ways to tighten their purse strings, especially at this time of the year when the Christmas credit card bills are rolling in... remember that 2 days ago was "Blue Monday? There are ways however, to expand your knowledge in the culinary world without affecting your personal/family grocery budget. Let’s face it, we all need to eat food to stay alive, and adding some variety to our home meals is a way to make “eating in” more exciting.
          How many times has the normal trip to the grocery supermarket resulted in bringing home the same old products that you always buy, for your never changing home menu? This can very easily be changed without any drastic affect on your monthly food budget. 
          Here’s what I challenge you to do: every week, two weeks, or month, I want you to buy just one product you would never normally buy. This could be a produce item, a spice, an herb, or something down the imported food aisle. Take your blinders off, step outside your habitual boundaries, and be receptive to all the wonderful products we have available at our finger tips. No matter where you live, shopping today has a greater abundance of selection than ever before.
          The other great resource we have access to, whether it’s at home, work or the local libraries, is the internet. This will allow you to answer questions about the certain product that you have purchased that you may know nothing about. What do I do with it? How do I prepare it? How is it normally served? How is it best stored?
          You and your family are going to be eating food anyway, and chances are you will continue to do so the rest of your life. What harm will it be then to spend, for example, two or three dollars per month on one product you normally wouldn’t purchase? Continue to do this for a year, while researching and educating yourself on each product and you will have expanded your culinary knowledge by twelve items. This will add variety to your home menu forever and at the same time build your culinary knowledge.
          Many cities/towns also have gourmet food stores. Make it a habit to talk to these people, tap into their expertise, and make your weekly/monthly one product purchase there instead of, or alternating with, your regular grocery store.
          If you have even more room in your monthly budget, take a cooking class once per month instead of dining out. I know my restaurant friends will dislike me saying so, but the return on your investment in a cooking class is far greater than just a full stomach from one “dining out” visit. As the old saying goes “give a person a fish and you will feed them for a day; teach them to fish and you feed them for life”.
          Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Monday, December 3, 2018

I Eat Meat

I eat meat. There… I said it. If you are a regular reader of my column, or have attended my cooking classes or shows, this will not be a shock to you. I eat meat, I always have eaten meat, and from what
I can predict at this time I will always continue to eat meat. This is not only my choice, but also the choice of the population majority worldwide. This is just something we have done, and for the most part we will continue to do so.

Does this mean that most people will always be meat eaters? Or does this mean that I don’t acknowledge and/or respect people who practice veganism, vegetarianism, or other diet regimens that I don’t follow? Not at all. I recognize the fact that we as people are not all the same, and we are gifted with the ability to make our own choices in the lives we are living. This what makes us all so wonderfully unique and interesting.

So, why then, do I feel compelled to tell you that I eat meat? In the years of my Chef career I have had numerous people on many occasions try to convince me otherwise. Telling me such things like that by eating meat we as humans are “destroying the planet” or are becoming “riddled with disease”. I have even encountered people picketing barbecue events with signs that had slogans like “Stop the Violence, Save the Animals”. Again, we are all entitled to our own opinions, and should be respected for them – not just me, and my opinion, but everyone’s. However, I feel less strongly about this when opinions come at me in a condescending way… like I am doing something wrong and I need to be saved. I don’t need to be saved, and in the same breath I will tell you that I am not here to save you either. 

Therefore, this blog entry is not about positives or negatives of any dietary preferences. I am not here to preach my ways of life, or the reasons behind it, to you. For what it’s worth, I would like this to be a message to love one another, and a reminder to share what you are passionate about in a manner that is not directed at others in a patronizing way. I really do respect people who are enthusiastic about their opinions, but please find a forum that will relay your beliefs in a way that people can discover them if they choose to do so.

I also want to mention that even though I eat meat, I care about the treatment of animals. Go online, and I am sure you will be able to find past examples of inhumane practices in the slaughter of animals, but that doesn’t mean that because I eat meat that this doesn’t appall me. There are also many good examples of animals treated ethically. I think we all have the moral responsibility to research what is behind the scenes of what we are eating, no matter what it is, and make the best choices for each of us as individuals. There are many industries (not just the food industry) that we all support based on our actions, lifestyles, and spending habits, and the more informed we become, the better it is for all.

So, if you want to try a different lifestyle, or even become an advocate, go for it. Let’s just remember an old cliché: You will catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar. Until next time… Happy cooking with whatever is in your pan, oven, or on your grill.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Do Your Hands Smell?


One of the biggest complaints I hear about, regarding prepping fresh ingredients like garlic and
onions, is how odors from these ingredients tend to linger on your hands afterwards. This is not only annoying to yourself, but also could interfere in social interactions between you and others.

Throughout my career as a chef, by working with other professionals and simply chatting with people about food, I have come across several solutions that will help rid you of this pesky problem. Some are better than others, but they all work to some degree.

Coffee Grounds – if you drink coffee, then you have them leftover daily. Yes, used coffee grounds. Keep a supply of them by your sink and use them as a scrub, with or without soap, to help eliminate odors from your hands.

Stainless Steel – this has been a longstanding tradition with many home cooks. It is claimed that if you simply rub your hands on stainless steel, odors from your hands will be eliminated. Gourmet Kitchen Stores even sell little chunks of stainless steel, shaped as small bars of soap, for this exact purpose.

Baking Soda – make a paste of baking soda and water to scrub your hands with. Baking soda has been known for years as an odor removing aid, so why not on your hands too?

Lemon Juice and Salt – here’s another example of a scrub combination for your hands. This one however will leave your hands lemony fresh, whereas the baking soda idea will leave no pleasant scent at all. A word of caution however: if you have any small cuts on your fingers/hands, you will sure know where they are after washing with lemon juice and salt. Vinegar and salt can also be used. Your hands however may get very dry from the high acid content of the lemon juice or vinegar.

Tomato Juice/Paste – probably one of the costliest solutions here, but this is not only for skunk spray – it works on food smells too.

Toothpaste or Mouthwash – yes, these are not just for your washroom. A thorough scrub with toothpaste, or a wash with mouthwash, will leave your hands smelling minty fresh. Just remember to rinse with cold water afterwards. You will find this easier than brushing your teeth because no flossing is necessary.

Cooking Oil – this is a preventative measure that I have heard of, but I DO NOT recommend it. The idea is to coat your hands with cooking oil in advance to help eliminate the transfer of odors onto your hands, but chances are you will be working with a knife or other sharp kitchen utensils and the last thing you want is your hands to be slippery.

Latex Gloves – very popular with professional kitchens and other food-safe environments. These will guarantee that odors don’t get transferred onto your hands. However, there is a cost involved of always having these on hand, and an impact on our environment/landfills if they are disposed of into the garbage pail.

Floral/Fragrant Soaps – not the most effective as they will usually just mask the odors and not eliminate them, however I do know people that only do this as their solution.

Cold Water – This is my old “stand-by” and I do this more than any of the suggestions listed above. Wash your hands with cold water, with or without soap. Not warm, not hot, but cold water. Warm or hot water, even if using soap, will cause the pores in your skin to open up - the odors are more likely to get trapped there, and thus will linger even after washing. Cold water however, will keep the pores closed, and more of the odors will simply wash away. If you choose to do this without soap, that is fine as a first step – but afterwards, in order to keep sanitary in the kitchen, please follow up with a lathered washing (warm water is fine now that the odors are gone).

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Do You Know the Secrets to Building the Perfect Burger or Sandwich?


With the new school year well under way, and the repeated task of packing of kids lunches again, got me thinking about sandwiches. When you make sandwiches (or even burgers for that matter), do you fly by the seat of your pants? Simply throwing together ingredients haphazardly between bread/buns, or is there an artform about it? A mapped-out procedure, if you will? No, I don’t work as a sandwich artist for the popular submarine sandwich chain. This is just something I have learned over the years.

This technique I am about to share with you has been tried, tested and true. I have experimented many times over with numerous ingredients, in different combinations, and my steadfast rules are accurate. These steps will have you making sandwiches and burgers better than you have ever done before. Now these rules won’t apply to simple kids’ sandwiches (like peanut butter & jelly, and such), they are meant for more ‘complete’ sandwiches. Read along and you will understand. If you are vegetarian or vegan, I will apologize in advance that I have not included your preferences in this scientific breakdown of layering ingredients.

Most sandwiches and burgers consist of a bread top and bottom with a meat protein in-between. The
secret lies in the placement of all the other ingredients. Should you place them below the protein, or above the protein?

My unwavering criteria for perfection are simple: strong tasting ingredients should be placed below the protein, while light and creamy ingredients should be placed above the protein. But why, and how does that make a difference? Isn’t everything just chewed up in our mouths anyway and make for the same intermingling of flavours regardless of how it was assembled beforehand? Not exactly. We have a myriad of taste-buds located on different areas of our tongues and they do not all pick up the same flavours. That’s the best way I can describe it from a chef’s perspective.

Now when I say ‘strong tasting ingredients’ I mean stuff like ketchup, relish, mustard, barbecue sauce, onions, pickles, hot peppers, etc. Anything that has a strong, overpowering, or pungent flavour. These should be placed below the protein.

‘Light and creamy ingredients’ would include lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayonnaise, etc. and should be placed above the protein.

I know I have only included handful of examples of each type of strong, or light and creamy ingredients, but I think you get the point. With anything you are wanting to place inside a sandwich or burger, I simply want you to decipher it into these two simple categories and place it as stated. Trust me, it will make a huge difference.

Not a believer? Then put it to the test: build your sandwich or burger as I have suggested and take a bite. Then cleanse your palate with a drink of water, turn the sandwich upside down and take another bite. You will find that the first bite just tastes better.

I also have one more important tip for you: if you are adding lettuce and tomato, make sure you season with salt and pepper – it makes a world of difference as well. This is not the time for table salt however; I want you to use a pure salt (kosher, sea, Himalayan pink, etc.) because in raw applications like this, table salt will taste too chemically directly on your tongue.

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Day 9 of 9 "Spoons & Tunes": Nashville, Memphis & New Orleans

I'm a little bit late posting this blog entry - I got home very late last night, so I haven't had a chance until now. However, it was an uneventful day of traveling, so I guess that is good news! 12 of us flew
home together on 2 flights - the first one to Denver, and the second to home in Vancouver. The remaining 8 guests decided to stay an extra day and are making their way home today.

Like I mentioned, yesterday was uneventful... well except there was a strong, but brief storm that came into New Orleans yesterday morning. Thunder, lightning, wind, hail, ...you name it! I could see Royal Street from my 11th floor room and it was completely flooded as the storm drains were all back up and overflowing. Very briefly I was concerned about getting to the airport. However, it seems that for the most part these storm bursts are brief, and it was sunny and hot again before too long.

We said goodbye to our Tour Manager Derek at the hotel and then said goodbye to our driver Alvin at the airport - they were great and really complimented the 2018 Chef Dez Culinary Tour.

Both of our flights were on time, we said goodbye to each other once landing, leaving with great memories to cherish from this incredible trip to Nashville, Memphis, & New Orleans!
Don't miss out on next year's 2019 Chef Dez Culinary Tour to Portugal - we would really like for you to join us! Click HERE for a detailed itinerary, and until next time... Happy Cooking!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Day 8 of 9 "Spoons & Tunes": Nashville, Memphis & New Orleans

Coincidentally our second day in New Orleans was today and it is also our second last day for the 2018 Chef Dez "Spoons & Tunes" Culinary Tour... bit that didn't leave us singing the blues (we did that in Memphis) - we had a lot to do today!
The first thing on our agenda (after the included hot breakfast buffet at the hotel, of course) was to board our coach and head out of town to the swamps of Louisiana.

Included in the itinerary was a fully guided swamp cruise to see alligators and other wildlife, and it didn't disappoint.

We were warned:

The swamp was beautiful with all the different types of trees and the Spanish moss hanging from all the live oaks.

Our first run in with any wildlife was a blue heron:

...but then we travelled farther and found... more birds:

...and an airboat (also known as a fanboat):

...and natural gas:

But we traveled even farther until we came across...

Alligators!

And here are more photos and videos from our swamp adventure:
They were using marshmallows to entice them.

Yes, we even got to hold a baby alligator!

Here's me eyeing him up for the stewpot! (ok, just kidding!)

And here's an albino alligator they had at the store when we returned. Yes, it was alive!

Then we headed back to the city of New Orleans.

The rest of the afternoon was a free day so I went for a walk...

...until I came to the famous Café du Monde:

There I met up with Carol & Kathie from our tour group for Beignets and Café au Lait. Amazing!

I then strolled the streets and went to the fresh air market for some last minute souvenir shopping.

That evening at 5pm we had a group meeting where we drew for the grand prize of a Large Big Green Egg (complete with stand, shelves, and accessories totaling $1900) through the Official Chef Dez Scavenger Hunt. And the winner was Gay H.!

Our group was then treated to a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking hosted by their Chef Ricardo and Yours Truly:

We then headed to Bourbon Street as a group so that on our last night of the tour we could treat everyone to a jazz show and some beverages! I had a hurricane and I think all drinks taste better on Bourbon Street. Check out my Facebook pages for some video from Bourbon Street and the Jazz band.

Afterwards we all headed back to the hotel to turn in for the evening. Tomorrow will be our last official day of the 2018 Chef Dez "Spoons & Tunes" Culinary Tour as we prepare to make our way back home. Goodnight...