Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Herbs - Fresh or Dried?

            Many consumers, without herb gardens of their own, will choose to purchase dried herbs more frequently than fresh due to cost and convenience. Dried herbs are suitable for certain recipe applications, however there are just as many recipes that would benefit from fresh. Consequently, other than listening to your wallet, how should one discriminate choosing between them?

            Although fresh herbs seem to offer the most flavour, they are not a necessity for all recipes. Dried herbs need time and moisture to release their flavours, and therefore are adequate in dishes that require a certain amount of cooking time to allow for this re-hydration. Examples of these recipes
would be ones such as pasta sauce, chili, soups, or other stewed dishes. Fresh herbs can be used in these applications, but are better suited being added at the end of the cooking process, as they can lose their potency if cooked for too long. Fresh herbs benefit from the fresh essential oils being released and heightens the eating experience, and thus fresh delicate herbs should be added in the last 30 seconds of cooking time or less. Obviously fresh herbs that are more hearty, like rosemary for example, can withstand (and also need) a longer cooking process.

            Many people also use dried herbs in marinades and compound butters. Compound butters are combinations of herbs, seasonings, and flavourings combined with butter to create finishing touches to certain dishes. Garlic butter, for example, is probably the most recognizable compound butter.

            A large misconception with dried herbs, however, is that they last forever. They don’t. There are steps one can take to inhibit their deterioration like storing them in a cool dark place, but eventually they will lose their pungency.

Typically, I would suggest replacing dried herbs every year or so if stored properly. I have found that the bulk foods sections at the grocery stores are the best option for doing this economically. Get in the habit of only purchasing slightly more than what you need for a recipe. This will keep your home inventory low and your recipes tasting better. The other thing you can do to keep your dry herbs more up to date, is to cook more often and eat out less - this will ultimately save you more money too.

Since the moisture (water content) has been removed from dried herbs, they are more potent (per measure) than fresh herbs. This is an important consideration when changing a recipe to accommodate the herbs you have on hand. The only herb, that this rule is not applicable to, is tarragon – it is more potent (per measure) in its fresh form. Keep in mind however, that dry herbs do not have the essential oils being released, and thus may taste different than fresh - even though dried has more concentrated flavour per measure than fresh.

Given the choice to be stranded on a dessert island with either herb form, I would obviously pick fresh for its versatility, nutrients, and fresh flavour. However, it is important to understand that dried herbs, when used and stored correctly, can play a vital role in our kitchens.

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Friday, July 13, 2018

You're Cooking Eggs Wrong... most likely.

            One of the many reasons I write a food column is to inspire you to get into the kitchen; to embrace the opportunity to unleash gastronomic adventures in your home. One other reason of great importance is to hopefully make things easier for you through different tricks, tips, and time saving ideas… but not this time. This time I am going to take one of the easiest things you do so quickly and make you do it longer with more finesse. This is a staple dish for almost any breakfast that you think
you have mastered ever since you started cooking, and now I am going to reteach you everything you thought you knew about this dish. Yes, in our homes it’s time to revolutionize the art of making scrambled eggs.

            Wait. Hold on here. Scrambled eggs? Isn’t this as simple as mixing some eggs in a bowl, pouring into a hot pan, and moving them around until they’re done? Not quite. Yes, the mixing is still the same; and moving them around in the pan is kind of the same, but the cooking temperature needs to change… thus the time it takes to make them will be longer. However, the results are worth it.

The main rule I have learned about egg cookery is to always avoid high heat and do not overcook. High heat and overcooking will make eggs rubbery, discoloured and affect their flavour. Eggs are mostly made up of delicate proteins, and like all proteins they coagulate when cooked. Coagulation is the process of the protein strands connecting with each other, becoming firmer, shrinking, and releasing moisture. Exposing any proteins to extreme heat will toughen them and make them dry; especially eggs.

            The excessive heat could also cause discolouration. Have you ever cooked a hard-boiled egg and the egg yolk had a green ring around it? This is caused by the sulphur in the egg whites reacting with the iron in the yolk and forming iron sulfide. This reaction causes not only that familiar green colour, but also a strong odor and flavour. Now in the case of the hard-boiled egg, this only shows up at the area where the egg white meet with the yolk, but with scrambled eggs the two are combined into a homogenous mixture and the results could be unappealing if not cooked properly. This is where low heat plays such an important role.

            I always scramble my eggs with a bit of added moisture: about 1 tablespoon of water, milk, or cream for every 2 Large sized eggs – do this in a bowl with some salt and pepper until the eggs are thoroughly combined. Heat a pan over medium heat and melt a small pat of butter in the pan. When the butter starts to foam, add the egg mixture and reduce the heat to low. Occasionally stir gently while cooking over the low heat as the eggs coagulate: basically, you are lifting portions of the coagulated eggs up so that uncooked parts can run underneath. Try not to stir too much as this will cause the eggs to be broken up into very small particles. When the eggs are set, but still soft and moist, remove from the heat and serve immediately. The results will be fluffy, succulent, and nothing like the hard, rubbery, bits of eggs you get when doing this over high heat.

            If you are a stickler for exact temperatures, it is important to note that egg whites and egg yolks each coagulate at different temperatures. This is what allows you to cook an egg (soft boiled or fried, for example) with firm whites and a soft yolk. Egg whites typically coagulate between 140 to 149 degrees Fahrenheit, while egg yolks will coagulate between 144 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Combined eggs (as in scrambled eggs) will thus produce a coagulation point of approximately 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

            It is also important to mention that the term “scrambled eggs” comes from the process of mixing the eggs together in advance of cooking, not from overworking them in the pan.

Until next time… Happy Cooking!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Trust the Butcher that is Always There for You

            Whenever I make meatballs or burger patties, an ingredient that I always use is ground chuck. Ground chuck is NOT the ground beef you can easily find at any grocery store - it can only be found at butcher shops. It has a higher fat content and a much beefier flavour; a secret ingredient among Chefs you could say.
            I live in Mission, BC and usually I go to Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford because they are only 10km away from my house. Recently however, I needed ground chuck and I was in a bit of a hurry so I decided to go to a local butcher shop instead. The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of empty spots in the refrigerated display case, and thus not a lot of selection. A woman walked out from the back and greeted me.
            I couldn't see any ground chuck in the display case, so I asked "do you have any ground chuck?"
            She looked puzzled. "Ground chuck? What is that?" she replied.
            I was dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say. "Every butcher shop has ground chuck" I answered with the first thing that came to mind.
            She quickly apologized and informed me that she was a new employee there. She then proceeded to get someone else to help me. Another woman appeared from the back only to advise me that they don't have ground chuck. Considering the lack of selection of meats on display, I wasn't surprised, but still disappointed. I left the store muttering to myself "how can a butcher store not have ground chuck?" This has never happened to me before.
            I got in my vehicle and drove the 10km to Lepp Farm Market. As I walked into their store I was immediately greeted with a warm welcome from an employee and the aromas from their on-site
kitchen embraced my senses like a welcoming friend. I proceeded to the butcher display case and not only were they fully stocked with ground chuck, but also every kind of meat and seafood that I could ever imagine getting locally. I smiled and quickly came to the realization that I should have just trusted my instincts and came here in the first place. I was quickly greeted again and my order of ground chuck was fulfilled immediately.
            I think that as consumers, we don't fully realize what it takes to run a successful business, especially one that deals in perishables. There is so much training and ongoing fine tuning of inventory levels to make sure that needs of the consumers are met and at the same time making sure that little is wasted. When you walk into a store and they are fully stocked with whatever you need, there's a level of comfort and value within that. The ease of getting what you want with great selection and feeling welcome is the perfect shopping experience in my mind.
            The one thing I learned from this, more than anything else, is to trust these types of businesses that go the extra mile for the consumer, even if it means traveling 10km to get there. The pleasant experience of shopping at Lepp Farm Market was well worth my time.
            In closing, please support your local butcher (or any other local business) that goes out of their way for you for an amazing shopping experience. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sauces for Topping Your Pasta

            In previous writings, I have suggested on several occasions that one should try their hand at making fresh pasta instead of always relying on purchasing it dry from a bag or box. Congratulations to you if you took my advice and tried your hand at this wonderful culinary skill. For those of you that did, and for those of you that never will, I want to give you some ideas for sauces to compliment your pasta, be it from fresh or dry.

            The most common is the classic tomato sauce. Although Chefs will consider it sacrilege to any pasta, a number of people still buy canned or jarred premade tomato sauces to don their pasta. Some will at least get creative by adding extra ingredients like onions or garlic, but nothing can take the place of good rustic homemade batch of tomato sauce. This does not have to be the style that simmers for hours on end either. Many great homemade pasta sauces can start out with a little help from canned diced tomatoes and some tomato paste and be done in record time. Reduce it down even further at the end (by simmering some of the water content out) and replenish with some whipping cream and you now have a rosé sauce for those special occasions when calorie counting is not on your priority list.

            Any ground meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, etc) cooked up at the beginning of the process will magically transform this rustic tomato or rosé sauce into a hearty meat sauce. Sausage meat can also be utilized in the same manner by removing it from the casings and cooking the same as ground meat. Italian sausage (mild or hot, depending on your tastes) is wonderful for this.

            A béchamel (white sauce) is a very simple sauce. Don’t let the fancy French culinary name scare you – it’s just milk thickened with flour and butter. A little seasoning (salt, pepper, and a pinch of ground nutmeg) and you have an incredible sauce that can be a blank canvas for your favorite cheeses to be melted in or tossed with bits of grilled chicken. Add garlic and parmesan and you will basically have alfredo sauce.

            Oils infused with flavors and seasonings can be the base of a tasty light pasta coating. Heating olive oil over medium to low heat and letting ingredients like crushed garlic, chillies, herbs, etc.
infuse their way into transforming a ordinary oil into a savoury enhancement. These types of sauces are perfect for less filling side dishes or during hot weather when a heavily thickened sauce is not desired.

            A batch of seasoned simmered vegetables can also be transformed into a smooth sauce bursting with flavors with the help of a blender, food processor, or hand immersion blender. We actually do one with ground lamb where it is simmered with a number of vegetables and herbs with some red wine. A few good pulses in a blender, at the end of the cook time, alter it into an amazing pasta sauce.

            One of the quickest pasta sauces you will ever make is a browned-butter sauce. It is exactly what the name states it to be – butter that has been browned. Take a hot pan and place a handful of cold butter cubes into it. Stir, or lift the pan and swirl the melting butter, until the butter foam has just started to brown and then toss with your favorite pasta. Your favorite fresh delicate herb (basil, oregano, sage, etc) can also be added at the time of the cold butter for an incredible infusion of herbal essential oils. Although we have all been taught never to add butter to a hot pan for fear that it will burn, the trick is to stop the cooking process of the “browning” butter before it hits the “burning” stage. Use salted butter to be more complimentary in taste and less seasoning you will have to do afterwards.

            These are merely suggestions as it would be literally impossible to cover every single type of pasta sauce idea here. What I want this column to be is an invitation for you to blow some dust off your cookbook collection or search recipes from the internet. Pasta is probably my favorite thing to eat, but I realize with most people that eating is not the problem; it’s the cooking part that feels like a chore sometimes. Find a way to make it fun. When I was younger, one thing I always insisted on when cooking pasta was to listen to Pavarotti while doing so. I still do on occasion, but now it is not only Pavarotti, but also Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and others... and always with a glass of wine. Until next time, Happy Cooking…

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Start with a Blank Canvas

            When was the last time you unleashed your culinary talents? I don't mean cooking from your favourite cookbook; I am talking about making something in the kitchen completely from the ideas in your head and following your taste buds along the way. If your first inclination when reading this makes you cringe with stress, I am here to help.

            Let's face it, we all have kitchens and we need food to stay alive, so why not try to bring your cooking ability to new heights every now and then? These are life skills that will influence your dinner table for years to come. Honing these skills will not only bring some excitement to your regular meal planning, but also increase your confidence in the kitchen.

            The easiest way to approach this, is by beginning with meal ideas that use a blank canvas as a starting point. Being a Chef, people always ask me what my favourite things to cook are, and I usually answer with "pizza and pasta". These bases are perfect lackluster starting points that can be influenced in so many ways with unlimited ingredient and idea combinations.

            The first thing is to keep it simple. If it is beyond your desire, capabilities, or timeframe, I am not expecting you to make the pizza or pasta dough from scratch. Simple pre-made pizza crusts and dried pasta is a good enough start. In a pinch I have even created individual pizzas from pita or naan breads. Again, this is not about producing the canvas, it is about your creativity on the canvas. Making the canvas is something that you can pursue later down the road if desired.

            The next step is to investigate what you have in your refrigerator and pantry and start choosing some base ingredients to work with. Maybe something you have an abundance of, or something you have forgotten about. Have a look in your freezer too while you're at it. You'll be amazed at what you find to work with.

            Although it would be very traditional, with either pizza or pasta, to start with a base tomato sauce and add your selected ingredients to it, I want you to try something different and out of the
ordinary. For example, I have made pizzas with a sauce that consisted of cream cheese, dates, raw garlic and salt; and just last night I made a lamb rigatoni that used no tomatoes at all. If your mind draws a blank, then it is fine to peruse the internet for some ideas to get you started but try not to follow recipes specifically. This is about improving your personal culinary imagination. A wise man once told me "how can you cut any wood, if you don't sharpen the saw every now and then?"

            Trial and error is the best way to learn. Yes, I did say "error". You are going to make some mistakes along the way. The important aspect of this is to be okay with making these blunders. This is all about personal growth in the kitchen. These errors will hopefully help you figure what works, and what doesn't... which in turn will assist you with future escapades in the kitchen.

            If you are still at a loss as to where to begin, then go ahead and find a recipe that represents something completely different than what you would normally cook, and make it. What I want you to do then is make notes on the recipe on how you would recreate it to make it your own. What ingredients could you add, take out, or replace? What do you think will work? Again, there will still be a learning curve to this, but it is a starting point nonetheless. Most importantly: make notes. It may seem tedious to do, but you will want to recreate dishes that work, and try not to make the same mistakes with the ones that don't. We keep a book of blank pages in our kitchen, called our kitchen journal, that we fill with ideas and culinary pathways we have tried. Have fun with it. Everything is perspective.

            The added benefit is that every time you choose to cook at home, instead of eating out, you open the door to: saving money, eating healthier, and family team building. Until next time... Happy Cooking.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Breakfast Ideas

            On many occasions I have mentioned great ways to transform your dinner making experience into a special event, like pouring a glass of wine and putting on some great music, but what about breakfast? Isn’t this the most important meal of the day? Yes, to most health professionals it is, so this column is dedicated to making that pinnacle feast into something extraordinary.

            I understand that a vast percentage of the population have “day jobs” and that making a spectacular breakfast on a your weekday is far from being at the top of your priority list. These ideas are more geared towards your days off or if you work evenings.

            This is the perfect circumstance to forget about the bowl of cold cereal or toast and jam, and blow the dust off some old cookbooks to try something new. One of my wife’s favorite breakfast pastimes is making and perfecting different pancake recipes from around the world. It seems that every walk of life has their own version of what we know as the traditional North American pancake.
Making it a tradition to do a different pancake recipe every Saturday or Sunday morning is a fantastic journey around the culinary world. Our 9-year old daughter recently made her first German pancake for our weekend family breakfast - it was delicious!

            French toast is another common “special” breakfast that many people enjoy, but we prepare it differently on many instances. Instead of the traditional method of dipping bread in batter and frying in a pan, we often will make a large casserole dish of French toast the night before, letting the egg mixture soak in, and then baking it the next morning. Not only is it an extraordinary display at the breakfast table, it also allows us to have more free time in the morning to sip our special coffees and enjoy each other’s company.

            Actually there are many recipes that you can get mostly prepared the night before, like muffins or biscuits for example. Measure and combine all of the dry ingredients and then all you have to do is incorporate the wet ingredients in the morning.

            Incorporating fresh baked breads or unique types of bread will also enhance an ordinary breakfast. One way to make this easy is to prep the loaf the evening before, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight. The bread might rise slightly in the fridge, but you will need to remove it from the fridge an hour or two before baking. Remove the plastic wrap, let it rise in a warm place until it doubles its original size and bake as usual. On many occasions we will serve fresh baked bread simply topped with butter and honey.

            If all of this seems like “work” however, there is one very quick way to help transform your regular breakfast of cold cereal: top with a handful of fresh in-season berries or some slices of banana. This will take very little time, offer more flavor, nutrition, and make a better presentation. There is a reason why all the photos of cereal on the cereal boxes are like this: better presentation equals more of a chance of you buying it.

            Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Onions: Preventing the Tears

            One of the most frequent question I get asked is “how do I prevent crying when cutting onions?” No one enjoys this eye burning sensation followed by what seems to be an emotional breakdown. The watery eyes are caused by a chemical gas that is released from the onion as it is
damaged by cutting. This chemical gas then reacts with the natural tears in our eyes and turns into a mild form of sulfuric acid which our eyes then water more to flush away the irritant.

            In my many years of cooking I have heard numerous ways to help prevent this reaction… some more effective than others and it is my pleasure to share these findings with you.

            I have heard that burning a candle near the cutting board will help because the flame will burn off these releasing gases. However, through my trial and errors all I have found is the tender glow from the candle just makes you look more romantic while you are crying.

            I have also heard stories that holding a spoon between your teeth, or a slice of bread hanging out of your mouth will eliminate any tears from shedding. The theory was presented to me that the metal of the spoon offers a chemical reaction with the gas to disperse it, while the bread would simply soak up the gases before reaching one’s eyes. We brought up these theories during a cooking class one evening and there was a man claiming to be a scientist in the crowd. He explained that it isn’t what you are holding between your teeth that matters, just the fact that you are biting onto something… or anything! When holding something between your teeth, your breathing pattern changes and you tend to inhale/exhale through your mouth more and thus the gases have a harder time reaching your eyes. I have tried this on many occasions with a wide variety of objects hanging out of my mouth (yes, my wife still thinks I’m handsome) and it does work for the most part, but not 100 percent.

            There is a rumor that if one cuts their onion in a certain fashion, or uses a very sharp knife, that the number of fumes being released from the onion will be limited. In my opinion, this is malarkey. I have cut so many onions, in so many ways in my career (and always using a sharp knife) and have never experienced less eye irritation from doing so.

            Knowing that you will be working with an onion for dinner, one of the best bets is to toss it in the refrigerator that morning or at least an hour or two beforehand. Hot and warm air/gas rises, where cold air/gas doesn’t. This will keep fumes much lower to the cutting surface and less out of your eyes.

            Cutting onions near your overhead fan of your stovetop is also an option if it is powerful enough to suck the fumes in that direction and away from your eyes. Using a summer fan on a stand, positioned to blow in the opposite direction of where you are standing at the cutting board is also ideal. Even better would be to have a mini sized fan that sits on the counter, or clamps onto a cupboard, for these tearful chopping moments.

            Lastly, I want to tell you about the method that I use more often than the others: Onion
Goggles. Yes, goggles specifically made to keep these harmful onion vapors away from your eyes that can be purchased from any specialty food or kitchenware stores or online. They have a foam backing and they sit on your face just like glasses without pressure on your eye sockets or face from other so-called solutions such as swimming goggles or ski masks. I have cut many an onion with this great invention and since they come in an array of colors too, not only will your eyes and cheeks stay dry, but you will also look stylish. The only problem with these is that if you where glasses full-time, these will not accommodate your spectacles at the same time.
            Discover one of these methods that works for you and until next time... Happy (and tearless) Cooking!

Monday, April 23, 2018

1 Week to Go - Don't Miss Out - BOOK NOW!

           This is your last chance to join us on the next Chef Dez Culinary Tour this October 2018. We have 17 people booked with paid deposits and we are going to have a blast! CUT OFF DATE TO BOOK FOR THIS TOUR IS MAY 1, 2018.  
           One of the biggest influences of my career, and what I enjoy the most, is the inspiration and interaction of people. To put it simply, we all have taste buds and eat food everyday, so we have a common denominator; we can connect and relate. However, for me, it goes beyond that. Food is life in so many ways, and I find it brings out the best in people and thus gives me a window of opportunity to experience their personalities and what makes them tick.

            It is because of this passion I have for people and food that I have become a Culinary Travel Host along with all the other hats I wear. Normally my connection with a certain individual is quite short during a cooking class, book signing, or public appearance, so I truly look forward to spending extended timeframes with people. This gives us a chance to broaden our shared passion and our connection with each other.
            This will be the first culinary tour I have done without my friend and business partner Caryn Zimmerman. Unfortunately after a short, but fierce, battle with cancer she passed away June 27, 2017. I miss her dearly. I know in my heart that she would want these tours that we created to continue on successfully, so it is in her honour that I dedicate this tour and all future ones. Here is a little note she gave to me upon the completion of our last tour together (PEI 2016).
            With Caryn's blessing. I have partnered with Collette Travel to bring you my next culinary tour. It is scheduled for this October 2018 and you have an opportunity to travel with me as we eat
our way through Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans. It is aptly named the Chef Dez “Spoons & Tunes” Culinary Tour because of the vast musical reputation and history of these cities in America.

            So many folks first assume that a culinary tour is just about food and cooking classes, but for me and my tours it is much more than that. I create adventures that take people to an area of the world to not only celebrate and experience cuisine, but also history, art, architecture, lifestyle and more. Basically, to sum it up, we go to an area of the world to experience how they live.

            With me as their host, we have already taken people to beautiful and historic Savannah GA in 2014, toured the deep-rooted state of Texas in 2015, and submersed ourselves in the cuisine and agriculture of Prince Edward Island in 2016. The experiences we have had, and the ones to come, fall well into the realms of bucket list journeys. With the connections that we have in the travel and culinary worlds, we create experiences that you could not do for the same price. We do our best to give you the best experience possible, and I know you will be impressed with the itinerary and accommodations we have lined up for this 2018 tour. Return airfare from Vancouver is included in the itinerary price, but if you live in a different area, my travel agent will arrange this change for you. Her name is Colleen Forrest and her contact info is on the itinerary found on my website at www.chefdez.com.

            Going on a travel vacation with an organized tour has so many benefits. The research has been done for you, all of the most important details have been taken care of, and you get ample time on your own to explore. This along with all of the friendships you will form during the process, makes for an unforgettable holiday and life experience. We also have full Wi-Fi  onboard our luxurious coaches as well as a washroom for your comfort when traveling between cities.

            Also, with Big Green Egg Canada as one of my sponsors, one of our travel guests will WIN a
large size Big Green Egg (complete with stand and shelves) valued at over CAD$1600 though the official Chef Dez Scavenger Hunt.

            Whatever way you choose to broaden your gastronomic horizons is a step in the right direction. Even if it is not in your cards to go on a culinary tour, food can be used as a catalyst to enhance people’s lives and enrich relationships in many different ways – and that is never a bad thing. Even if you don’t want your adventures to leave the comfort of your home, you can live and experience in what seems like endless cuisines just from your cookbook collection and resources like the internet.

I do hope you can join us on this incredible journey. I would be so grateful and I know you will have an amazing time. Remember you only have 1 WEEK LEFT - Please BOOK BY MAY 1, 2018.
Until next time... Happy Cooking.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Getting Back to Basics with "Normal" Ingredients

            Have you ever come across a recipe with an ingredient you didn’t recognize? What did you do then? Did you then go on a wild goose chase or just passed on the recipe altogether and moved onto a different one? I guess it would depend on how obscure the ingredient was.

I understand the answer on internet is only a few clicks away, but one of my pet peeves is when I come across a recipe that doesn’t lend itself to the average home Chef. The culinary landscape has changed over the last number of years and will continue to do so, and I also understand the desire for Chefs writing these recipes to fill a niche in the market. However, even more so, I believe that these recipes should be meant to inspire the average home Chef by providing descriptions or alternative ingredient suggestions. As a recipe writer myself, I want to make sure that my recipes are approachable by people of all levels of culinary skills.

            Before I continue, let me give you an example. I came across a recipe in a magazine recently for a side dish with one of the ingredients listed as “haricots vert”. Now because of my experience as
a Chef, and since I know a bit of French, I realize that these are green beans. Why don’t they just list these as Green Beans? Is it because it sounds fancier, more gourmet perhaps, by listing them as Haricots Vert?” The answer is not that simple: Haricots Vert are French Green Beans. They are longer and thinner than their North American counterpart.

            I myself have never seen the label “haricots vert” at my local grocery store or even at specialty produce markets where I live. I have seen however, green beans that were very thin and long, but still labeled as green beans on the bin. Were these actually green beans or haricots vert in disguise due to inept personnel in the produce section? I don’t think the problem lies with the markets, but with the recipe creators. The one writing the recipe should include an explanation of any ingredient that may not be recognizable by the average person, and in this specific case also maybe suggest a substitution of North American green beans.

            Another view is the marketing aspect of recipes. A recipe may sound more gourmet if the title of the recipe is called “a Bisque” instead of a soup, “a Demiglaze” instead of a gravy, or even “Haricots Vert Almondine” instead of green beans with almonds. This doesn’t excuse however that the actual ingredient list or the instructions of the recipe can’t be easy to understand. What would be the harm in that? If anything, it would make the recipe more approachable and more people would make it, and if the recipe was any good they would then share it with others. Passing the culinary success of a Chef’s recipe onto others is never a bad thing… in fact one could say it was good marketing.

            I chose to focus on haricots vert in this column because it is something that can be easily substituted for. Green beans are definitely not as abscure as other ingredients I have seen such as: sweetbreads (animal glands), foie gras (duck or goose liver), or veal cheeks (self explanatory, but not of the gluteus maximus variety).

            Let’s get back to basics and just make recipes and food that tastes good. By this I don’t mean that we should all be subject to making meatloaf, chicken breasts, and macaroni & cheese the rest of our lives. I think we should all expand our culinary horizons and boundaries within our means as, to borrow an old cliché, variety is the spice of life. I think we, as Chefs and recipe creators, should have it in our visions to include people from all walks of culinary skills in the process of our recipe writing to make it easier for everyone to delve further into the culinary arts.

            Lastly, I feel compelled to mention that this is just my opinion, and opinions are like taste buds – everybody has them. Now excuse me as I am off to make some “Macaroni au Fromage” for my children.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rediscovering Enjoyment at the Table

            Throughout the years involved in the culinary industry I have encountered many people who have either become bored of cooking, or don’t think the result is worth the effort. Everything is perception; appreciation through levels of awareness… including your eating experience.

            Let’s face it, chances are you have a kitchen at home, you probably eat food everyday to stay alive, and unless you win it big in the lotto, you are going to have to prepare that food the rest of your life. Hold on, I am not trying to bring you down here; this is just a reality check. Let’s look at this as an opportunity instead: because you are faced with this situation anyway, and it’s not going away – let’s make it better… or, in other words, more enjoyable.

            Recently for Valentine’s Day I made a special dinner for the family. The meal itself was not only graciously prepared, but I also made sure the table setting was top-notch: tablecloth, fine china, crystal glasses, the works. But why? To solely enhance the eating experience by making it more
pleasurable and memorable. Now although I went over the top in this instance, you don’t need a special occasion to bring a little more joy to the table. Every meal, of every day, can be enhanced if you want it to, and it is my goal here to give you some small, easy suggestions to do just that.

            Cloth Napkins – Ditch the paper and go with cloth napkins. The look and the soft texture of cotton cloth will make every wipe of the mouth/hands more luxurious. This doesn’t have to be an expensive option – good quality napkins can be found at thrift stores and easily washed. Overall cloth napkins are better for the environment too.

            Candles – One can easily purchase an affordable box of candles from a department/discount store and while you’re at the thrift store look for a simple (multiple or single) candle holder. A quick flick of a lighter or match, and every eating experience will seem more intimate and special.

            Wine Glasses or Fancy Glasses – Don’t save these for special occasions only. Life is meant to be enjoyed and they are meant to be used; otherwise why do you have them?

            Pottery – We love eating from pottery plates and bowls. We call these pieces of dishware “functional art”. We can appreciate the artistic talents that went into making such pieces, but they are of great function at the same time. Just purchase a piece or two at a time and don’t worry about them matching overall. There’s something very rustic of a table setting with an assortment of beautiful pottery glaze colours.

            Garnish – Far too often we forget about finishing touches on our meals. This does not have to be elaborate. By definition “a garnish” is something that compliments the meal in flavour (tastes appropriate with what’s being served), but contrasts with colour (so it stands out). For example: a handful of fresh blueberries on a bowl of cereal, a splash of chopped fresh parsley on a plate of spaghetti, a sprig of fresh mint on a dish of cake & ice cream, etc. Use your imagination.

            Eat with Finesse – A very simple enhancement to any meal and requires purchasing nothing, is simply putting down your utensils in between each bite. This helps to slow you down, and to take the time to focus on, and really enjoy, the tastes and textures in your mouth. Another great habit involving utensils is to learn how to twirl long pasta with a fork and spoon, instead of cutting it. Long pasta is supposed to be enjoyed long, not cut up into little pieces, so have fun with it.

            Surroundings – Try to dine at a table more often than in on a couch in front of the TV. If being a couch potato eater is a habit, this may take some effort to break. Make sure the table you eat at is not, or in an environment that is, cluttered. Keep this area tidy to be respectful of your eating time spent there. Lighting and music in this area will also enhance this experience and make each meal more special.

            Be respectful to yourself and your family members that dine with you on a regular basis by using these ideas. If you enjoy the finished result more, then the process of getting there (the cooking) will automatically feel more worthwhile too. Even if you live and dine alone, don’t deny yourself of these little pleasures – you are worth it. Until next time… happy cooking!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Should We Ban the Boiling of Lobsters?

            The best way for cooking almost all foods is from the freshest possible ingredients. Seafood, is no different, and if anything, even more imperative to do so for premium texture and flavour. With shellfish specifically, it has been long standing tradition in the chef’s world to cook from live whenever possible to be assured of optimal guaranteed freshness. Thus, recently when it was announced that Switzerland is planning to ban the boiling of live lobsters, it caught my attention.

            Upon further investigation, supposedly this practice of boiling live lobsters has already been banned in New Zealand for close to two decades. So, why has this recently been brought to the forefront of Swiss law? In my opinion it has been just a matter of time for this topic to be in the news (and the law) again.

            As expected, there are many opinions about not only this, but as always, the treatment of food animals in general by us humans. Overall, I believe we are in better times, where we are generally more aware of how animals are treated in the process of being prepared for the journey to the marketplace, and ultimately our dinner table. Making sure cattle, pigs, lamb, and chickens for example, have a good life and are killed humanely are of the utmost importance with many more people than ever before. However, where do we draw the line? Can we honestly say that the humane treatment of a cow going to butcher, is of the same importance and concern of a lobster being boiled alive?

            When I first heard this new story, my initial reaction and comment was “how ridiculous! This has gone too far!” It wasn’t long after though, that I started thinking about this more, and I believe that’s where the value is: being aware. I don’t think we need our government to decide in legal rulings what we can or can’t do in our kitchens, but I appreciate news stories like this keeping me more conscious of my actions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will stop boiling live lobsters in the future, but my overall consciousness of respect for living creatures has been heightened… and that is never a bad thing. So thus, I may think twice before choosing to, or not to.

            However, I honestly don’t believe that crustaceans have the same feelings, or central nervous system, as mammals do, and thus how can we treat them in the same respect? Again, where do we draw the line then? If we care to this degree in the ethical treatment of lobsters, then it could also be argued that all crustaceans, including crabs, crayfish, and prawns for example should be treated with the same respect and recognition. Then if we are honoring all crustaceans in this manner, then what about the feelings of mollusks like cephalopods such as octopus and squid; or bivalves such as clams, mussels and oysters? Aren’t they living creatures as well, and the treatment of them should also be considered when it comes time for harvesting and preparation? Quite literally food for thought, but I think you can understand how this discussion could be never ending, let alone encompass it completely in a single food column.

            If this is a concern for you however, how are you expected to cook your live lobster in the future? It is recommended that the lobster is “knocked out” first before entering the boiling water, by the process of freezing or other means.

Being more caring in our actions is never a bad thing, but let’s just keep it in a perspective that you are comfortable with. In the meantime… Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Quick Breakfast on the Run for Your Busy Life

            Store bought, premade breakfast bars are not always the healthiest solution to breakfasts on the run, so I want to share this recipe made with whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and ground flax.

            Make them ahead of time and freeze each of the sixteen bars individually. For those hurried mornings, microwave one frozen bar on high for 30 seconds, and you are out the door with warm oatmeal in your hand. Yes, the recipe does have butter in it for moisture and tenderness, but remember this makes sixteen bars: that’s only just over two teaspoons of butter per bar.

            I hope this recipe will take a bite out of your busy mornings. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Recipe created by Chef Dez    www.chefdez.com
“The benefit of oatmeal in a convenient bar. Great for Breakfast on the run too – Microwave each bar from frozen for 30 seconds on high power.”
Makes 16 bars

2 ¼ (two and a quarter) cups whole wheat flour
2 ¼ (two and a quarter) cups quick oats
¾ (three quarters) cup raisins
3 tbsp ground flax seed
1½ (one and one half) tsp baking soda
1½ (one and one half) tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
¾ (three quarters) cup butter, room temperature
½ (one half) cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1½ (one and one half) tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9 x 13 inch cake pan with baking spray. Tip: Line the pan with parchment paper leaving the ends sticking out to make the uncut product easier to remove from the pan once cooled.
2.     Combine the whole wheat flour, quick oats, raisins, ground flax seed, baking soda, ground cinnamon, and salt in a mixing bowl.
3.     Beat the butter and Splenda Brown Sugar Blend together in a separate bowl.
4.     Add the apple sauce, vanilla extract and eggs to the butter and Splenda/butter mixture. Continue beating until thoroughly combined.
5.     Combine the mixtures in the two bowls together. It will be a very thick batter.
6.     Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
7.     Bake for 18-20 minutes until firm.
8.     Cool in the pan until room temperature.
9.     Cut into 16 equal bars by removing the product from the pan first.

Makes 16 bars

Friday, January 12, 2018

Pan Seared Sage Scallops

            What is the first food you think of when I mention the herb "sage"? Probably turkey stuffing, or poultry in general. But I'm here to tell you that sage, fresh sage, is an incredible aromatic herb that can be utilized in many other applications.
            One of our all-time favorite things to do with fresh sage is to pan sear scallops with it in
browned butter. I have personally made this recipe for so many people and it always pleases. I have even convinced scallop haters to love this recipe! The aromas that come from the fresh sage being fried in the butter is incredible, and the crispy bits of sage on the scallops is to die for!
           To help you along with this recipe, I will also include a video link of the preparation of this dish. I know, it's an older video of me... I apologize for that, but it's a good rendition of how easy this dish is. I am hoping to make more videos of different dishes in 2018. Click HERE
            Here is the recipe. Let me know how you like it. It is also on page 18 of my cookbook "The Best In Your Kitchen". Happy Cooking!
Pan Seared Sage Scallops
 “The essential oils released from the fresh sage in this sauce make these scallops to die for”

12 large scallops
Salt & Pepper
1 – 2 tsp grape-seed oil or canola oil
1/3 cup cold butter, cubed into tbsp pieces
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

1.     Preheat a heavy bottomed medium/large pan over medium-high heat until it is very hot.

2.     Pat dry the scallops and season them on both sides with salt & pepper.

3.     Add the oil to the pan and then immediately add the scallops one or two at a time. Cook in the hot pan for about 30 seconds to a minute on the one side until they are seared/browned.

4.     Flip them over, cook for another 30 seconds, then add the butter pieces one or two at a time until it has all been added. The butter will brown very quickly and immediately add the sage, stir and coat the scallops with the infused brown butter sauce and serve immediately.