Monday, September 17, 2018

Do You Own the right kind of Wok?

Wok cooking is obviously very popular for Asian dishes, but it can also be used for a wide variety of recipes. One may wonder what makes a wok different from an ordinary pan, and how do I choose the
best one?

Just like standard pots and pans, there are just as many different woks on the market to choose from. The recognizable shape of the wok is known worldwide, and this unique shape serves an important purpose. The inner cooking surface, mainly up the sides, should not be smooth. Having rough and/or a slightly uneven surface helps to hold cooked food while the sauce is finished, or other ingredients are being cooked, in the center of the pan. Classic original woks are made out of carbon steel and hammered out by hand, and the residual indentations serve as the perfect surface to assist in doing this.

The round bottoms of the wok also aid in deep frying because it takes less oil to create a deep environment than a regular pot or pan. If you have an electric stove, you may choose to purchase a flat-bottomed wok, but even better would be to purchase a metal wok ring that sits over your electric burner and cradles a round bottom.

Unless you’re always cooking for just one or two people, you will get more value out of a larger wok than a smaller one, so buy one slightly larger than you may first think. A larger wok will help to keep the food contained more easily and can be used for both small dinners as well as large. The other
thing to consider, before making your purchase however, would be to ensure that you have ample storage for your new wok. Overhead pot racks are especially handy for this predicament.

I don’t find that non-stick or electric woks are the best option. Non stick coatings are almost always smooth, there are health concerns about emitting gases from non-stick coatings over high heat, and they don’t last as long as they should. Electric woks, I find, don’t heat up enough. For traditional high heat wok cooking, one needs to be aware that many pots and pans on the market will also warp over high heat. Make sure you read the manufacturers use recommendations before purchasing to be certain. This being said, one should take care to never submerse any hot pan into water for the same reason.

Although it may be difficult to find one that is hammered out by hand, I do recommend buying a carbon steel wok and seasoning it to create a natural non-stick surface over time. They may not be as pretty to look at, but usually are of the least expensive options. They heat up very well, and will last you a lifetime if taken care of properly. Always hand wash only (no scouring pads as they will remove the seasoned surface) and dry thoroughly to prevent rusting. The downside of a thin carbon steel wok is that they also lose their heat very quickly as well. If you insist on buying a non-stick wok, there are cast aluminum options that are non-stick and designed to resist warping.

Accessories that you may consider purchasing for your wok would be a lid, curved bottom utensils, bamboo steamers, hand held wire strainer, and a bamboo scrubber for cleaning. To season your new carbon steel wok, wash with soap and a scrub brush, dry thoroughly, and place the wok over high heat. When it is very hot and the steel has changed colour, turn the heat to medium-low, add a tablespoon of oil, and use a compacted paper towel held with tongs to coat the entire cooking surface with the oil. Let it sit on the medium low heat for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the wok to cool and repeat as many as three times. This “seasoning” process is only meant for carbon steel woks, not stainless steel or other types of woks.

Until next time... Happy Wokking!

Monday, September 10, 2018

What is "Comfort Food" anyway???

We have all heard of the term “comfort food”... we in fact have all craved it, smelled the aromas from it in anticipation, and of course eaten it. What is “comfort food” though, exactly? Is it only big bowls
of stew-ish type foods on a cold winter day that one eats while wearing pants with a stretchy waistband? Does it exist in climates where it is warm year round?

Comfort food can be, and is, whatever you want it to be by what it means to you. That’s the beauty of it; if by eating it, it gives you a level of comfort, be it physical or emotional, then it can be considered comfort food.

The physical contentment from eating comfort foods would be the warmth felt by the temperature of the dish, or the spiciness of it, and/or even the mouth feel of the richness about it. However pairing these physical sensations with the psychological satisfaction from eating something considered to be a comfort food, is where I think the true definition lies within people and where the pleasure really comes from.

Comfort food can be a dish that stirs up sentimental feelings for example. Maybe a certain aroma and corresponding flavour is linked to a memory of a place once visited, a special time or celebration in one’s life, or of a beloved person. For example, when I smell turkey and stuffing cooking my mind always takes me back in times to when I was a boy and would come in the house from playing outside on a crisp autumn Thanksgiving day. The warm aromas of sage and turkey blanketing every nook and cranny of our old house revealed to me my Mom’s selfless efforts that morning. Smell is a huge part of the enjoyment of eating and tasting, and it has been scientifically proven that our sense of smell is directly linked to memory. This is also the reason we are turned off by some foods or dishes, because the aromas and related tastes are linked to times of unhappiness or ill feelings.

Recipes of a nostalgic nature may also contribute to be classified as comfort foods. Foods from a certain time period or specific culture that trigger emotions may be enough to sanction it into this classification. For instance, on the 17th of March when our table is filled with classic Irish dishes, it not only feels more fitting, but also fulfilling... or comforting. This is just one example of many celebrations that could include, but not limited to, Asian delights on Chinese New Year, incredible Indian food on Dwali, or haggis on Robbie Burns Day... yes, there are people that consider even haggis to be comfort food. For those of you not in the Scottish culinary loop, haggis can be defined as a savoury pudding containing a sheep’s organs (heart, liver, and lungs for example) and combined with onion, oatmeal, and spices traditionally encased in the sheep’s stomach and simmered for hours. I am actually quite fond of it myself on occasion as long as it is served warm; once it gets cold I find the texture loses its appeal.

The feel good sensation of comfort food can also be obtained by simply just loving the taste of something, maybe by that of your favorite type of food or favorite recipe; which literally could translate into almost anything for any one individual. Basically foods that make you feel good because you are consuming something you love to eat. The act of doing so would bring on positive emotions and help to suppress negative feelings, and that alone could be enough to be considered comfort food. Now if this was a blog entry on dietary pros and cons and examining how food addictions can alter lifestyles in a negative way, we would then discuss moderation, balanced diets, and portion control. However, for the sake of the love of the culinary arts we will end it here on a positive note instead.

            So, in conclusion, comfort food can be, and is, anything you want it to be, as long as it makes you happy for one reason or another... even if it is just temporary. So, until next time... Happy, or should I say Comfortable, Cooking!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

You Packed THAT in your Kid's School Lunch???!!!

Here we are once again at the start of another school year. Packing kids lunches is a chore for many, and sometimes one can lose sight of nutritional value due to heavily marketed convenience foods. School-time snacks and lunches are not exactly the best avenue to practice “gourmet cuisine”, but I do get asked on occasion for some healthy ideas. Therefore, this blog entry will be my salute to parents who are willing to say “no” to pre-packaged, high-preservative foods for their children.

Nuts are a very nutritious option, as long as allergy restrictions aren’t a concern. Nuts are a good source of protein and a great source of unsaturated fat (the good kind of fat). Unsaturated fats have been proven to help reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) without lowering HDL-cholesterol (the good one). Unsaturated fats are best described as the ones that are liquid at room temperature, while saturated fats are solid. Additionally, there are a large variety of nuts to choose from for discriminating tastes: almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc. and some are even available with different flavourings to make them more appealing – just keep your eye on the sodium content and other ingredients.

Fresh fruit is an obvious choice, but make sure it is something that they enjoy to increase the probability of consumption! One thing you can do to make fruit more tempting is do some of the prep ahead of time. For example, a cut and/or peeled orange is much easier to eat than a whole orange. Our trick for apples is to use an apple corer to first remove the core, then slice the apple into segments - afterwards reassemble the whole apple (core & all) and keep it together with an elastic band to help keep the flesh from going brown. This will make sure they eat more of the apple and less flesh will be wasted because they can simply throw the core portion out at school. Make it interesting – don’t always send the same fruit. Every once in a while, pack some berries, seasonal fruit, or something more exotic like kiwi or star fruit.

The ease of eating dried fruit makes it an attractive option as well. There are so many naturally dried fruit options that do not contain additional sugar, that it is easy to make their lunch interesting for them. There are dried plums, apples, apricots, pineapple, mango, and banana to name a few, and they are healthier substitutions for pre-packaged, sugar-added fruit rolls. Keep in mind, even with the natural sweetness of these dried fruits, the natural sugar content is higher per measure because they are dried, or in other words: concentrated.

Carbohydrate type snack options could be granola bars or popcorn. When purchasing granola bars, read the ingredients to monitor the amount of preservatives and refined sugar they have. Do not choose chocolate covered ones as they defeat the purpose of making a healthy choice to begin with. Also the harder granola bars are usually healthier than the softer ones. Popcorn, as long as it not drenched in butter, is a great option and a good source of fiber. It is obviously okay (and recommended) that our children consume fat in their diets as it is all part of brain development. Fat intakes should be monitored but not eliminated.

Whole-wheat crackers are another healthy option. Again this may require reading a few labels, but a perfect opportunity to replace amounts of white flour in their diets with whole wheat. For those of you who have time, there are even cracker recipes that you can prepare together with your children at home. The appeal of whole-wheat crackers will be much greater with the pride that comes along with making them. Throw in some slices of cheese as part of their dairy intake, along with some lean meat slices or tuna salad for their own homemade “snack-packs”.

If keeping perishables cool in your child’s lunch box is a concern, and you're afraid you won't get ice packs back if you send them - An easy and inexpensive solution is to freeze juice boxes. A frozen juice-box in their lunch will keep things cool for the morning and will make a great chilled drink by noon. The addition of a thermal lunch bag works great too. However, again I must bring to your attention to the amount of sugars there are in juices (even pure fruit juice) and this also should be monitored.

I am not a dietitian, and these suggestions are merely that. I feel that it is our job as parents to keep educated to ensure the best possible healthy pathway for our children. Contacting a dietitian, for proper moderations for your children’s balanced diets of all the food groups, is recommended.

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Corn on the Cob - and a Recipe for Tequila Lime Chilli Butter!

A much loved side dish with summer meals is good old fashioned corn on the cob. Farm fresh corn during the summer is very abundant and popular in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia where I live, but I know that there are many other areas also rich in this agricultural gold. No matter where one resides in North America, it always seems to be available fresh during the summer.

Whole corn on the cob should either be eaten on the day of purchase or stored in the refrigerator, as the natural sugars convert to starch faster in the presence of warm temperatures. Corn can be a very healthy part of a balanced diet as its dietary profile includes vitamin B1, folate, dietary fiber, vitamin C, phosphorus, and manganese. Everything however should be consumed in moderation, including the amount of butter and salt that is applied to the finished product. Fresh cracked pepper is one of my favourite toppings (along with the butter and salt) and is a great way to add tons of flavour. Let your creativity run wild in the kitchen and discover what else you can top your corn on the cob with. The internet and local libraries are full of great recipe ideas.

If grilling your corn on the cob instead of boiling it, try it over lump charcoal – the taste difference is amazing. I simply pull off the husks and place the cobs directly on the grill, while rotating them
occasionally until mostly all the kernels are slightly charred.

The uses for fresh corn on the cob do not stop with just cooking whole. By standing the corn on end, carefully take a sharp knife and run it down the cob to remove the kernels. This will allow you to enjoy the fresh taste of corn in any recipe that calls for kernels of corn. One tip to catch the kernels efficiently is to use an angel food cake pan. With the cake pan sitting securely on a damp towel on the counter, stand the point of the cob of corn on the inner tube of the pan coming up the center. This will help to keep the cob steady and the falling removed kernels will collect in the cake pan.

We also eat fresh corn kernels in the raw form. It is so delicious on salads - try it. There have also been times when we have just eaten the raw corn right off the cob, plain and uncooked - with good, fresh, local corn, it's amazing.

One of the oddest conversations I have ever had about cooking corn on the cob was with an attendee of the Chilliwack Fair years ago. It went like this, without a word of a lie:
Man: "How long do you boil corn on the cob for?"
Chef Dez: "How long are you boiling it for now?"
Man: "Um, about 30 minutes."
Chef Dez: "What!? 30 minutes? I recommend 1 to 3 minutes at the very most. Why would you boil it that long?"
Man: "Well, it's pretty thick."
Chef Dez: "Yeah, but you're not going to eat the cob!"
I can't imagine what the corn would be like after 30 minutes of boiling. There must have been nothing left of the kernels. This conversation would surprise me in any situation, but to have it with a resident of Chilliwack (corn country), it was beyond bizarre.

Anyway, try this compound butter recipe for something different the next time you have cooked corn on the cob. It is one our favorites. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Tequila Lime Chilli Butter

1 cup salted butter, room temperature
2 tbsp chilli powder
2 tbsp tequila
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp finely chopped lime zest

1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer.
2. Mix at medium speed, gradually increasing to high speed until fully combined, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Store at room temperature for a few days, or longer in the refrigerator. Spread on hot cooked corn and season with salt and pepper if desired.

Makes approximately 1 cup of compound butter

Monday, August 27, 2018

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone in the Kitchen - Here's Why

I guess it goes without saying that I love to cook. For me, a perfect Sunday afternoon would be in the kitchen, with music playing, and having fun with ingredients. However, I do realize this passion is not shared by all.

Whether you love cooking or not, it is a part of your life that will likely never go away so you may as well embrace it to some degree. Food is life, so I want to give you some ideas to make it fun by approaching it in a different manner. What I am going to suggest may scare you at first but bear with me.

Too often we rely on pre-made foods that we would never dream of attempting to make from scratch and I want you to drum up the courage to challenge yourself by making something that falls in this category. Now, the items that I am talking about in this range will be vastly different depending on the individual. For example, a number people always make pancakes from scratch but just as many probably use a store-bought mix. I know a number of people that make fresh pasta from scratch, but most have never attempted it.

What I want you to do is to step out of your comfort zone, whatever that may be, and make something in the kitchen that you have never done before. I suggest this as part of a healing or growing process to bring you to the next level. Why you may ask? It is all about making life exciting and trying new things. Chances are you have a kitchen in your home and a necessary desire to eat food to stay alive, so let’s take it to the next level just for fun. This is important to remember. I don’t want you to go into this with the mindset of it being a task. This is not something to stress about; there is no test at the end. It is merely an adventure into the unknown just for enjoyment only.

With the internet on our side, and the thousands of food recipes, videos, blogs, etc. to help us out, there is virtually an answer at our fingertips on how to make almost anything. Maybe it’s perogies you have always wanted to master? Or how about the potato pasta dumplings called gnocchi? Maybe you have always wanted to try to make corned beef from scratch? Or what about beef jerky? The list of ideas is literally endless based upon your desire and level of cooking you are at already.

If this still intimidates you then search out local cooking classes in your community. I offer a number of cooking classes throughout the year on a regular basis with a myriad of menu options to choose
from. Live interaction is always the best way of learning because you can ask questions and sometimes even get involved in the cooking process through hands-on classes. Plus this makes for a fun evening out. Consider it instead of going out to a restaurant for dinner - it's probably about the same price and as a bonus you will walk away with knowledge, some new recipes, and confidence. If you are still feeling uncomfortable with the idea of doing this, then maybe get a friend or relative to come to a cooking class with you. My current cooking classes are listed here:

Or another idea would be to invite a bunch of people over for an afternoon of chatting and cooking in your home. If you approach it as an opportunity to have a good time with loved ones, it will be easier to accomplish without having the main focus on the task at hand. At the end you can divide the finished product, and everyone gets to take home a meal and a memory. Who knows, it may even become a regular tradition among all of you.

If everything was easy in life, nobody would be unique; we would all be good at everything. Not only that, but we would never be challenged. Trials and tribulations in anything helps us to appreciate the good in things we already know and have, while offering us an opportunity to work towards something new and embrace the feeling of accomplishment. This can be done in any aspect of life, not just cooking… but as I always say “food IS life”. 

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Why Would You Not Use Fresh Ginger?

A few weeks ago I went to the supermarket to pick up some fresh ginger root for a cooking class I was teaching. I only needed a couple of tablespoons, so I broke off a small knob and proceeded to the cashier. She rang up my purchase and it came to a mere seventeen cents. Usually I purchase ginger in much larger quantities, and along with my regular groceries, so I have never really thought about how little it actually costs. Immediately I wondered why anyone would not use fresh ginger.

The fibrous root of the ginger plant is what we know as ginger is available in the produce section of
our local grocery store. This large knobby light skinned root is available is various sizes and shapes. When choosing ginger, make sure that it is firm, smooth, and free of blemishes and/or mold. Most people always have powdered ginger in their selection of dried spices and herbs, but fresh will provide a purer flavour. The only application I find powdered ginger preferable in is creating a dry spice mix to use as a meat or seafood rub.

Due to the pungency or “hotness” of fresh ginger, many people are selective about eating it and opt to use powdered forms for less intensity, or use no ginger at all. It is to these people however, that I suggest using fresh but in small quantities. One will notice that recipes will offer a fresher, more aromatic, ambience about them. A classic example of this is gingerbread. Many people, still to this day, will make gingerbread with powdered ginger. Using freshly grated ginger however, will bring your recipe to new heights by offering an abundance of character to the flavour of the cookies or cake form of this classic holiday treat. Just practice “moderation” if the thought of the pungent taste in your recipe scares you.

Although the skin is edible, the easiest way to peel ginger is to simply scrape off the skin with the edge of a teaspoon, and then cut off the exposed root for further cutting as an ingredient. It is fibrous so it is almost always recommended to be chopped or grated, but it can be added in larger pieces to stir-fries or other dishes if desired, as the cooking process will help to diminish its toughness. It can be stored in the whole form in the refrigerator for two to three weeks or kept frozen for many months.

Fresh is always the best but it is possible to freeze fresh ginger for use later. We always freeze fresh ginger to ensure we have it on hand when we need it. The texture is not as good upon thawing but the flavour seems to be mostly intact and much better than ever using powdered ginger. We store it in the freezer in two forms: whole in one bag and cut into small chunks in another bag. When we need grated ginger, we take a whole piece out, grate what we need from it in the frozen state (skin and all), and put it back in the freezer. When we want small pieces of ginger (instead of grated), we take out a small chunk and cut it as desired.

Ginger is used in many applications. Not only can it be purchased fresh and in powdered form, but also preserved, candied, pickled, and crystallized. It is also believed to have many medicinal properties and used to reduce fever, suppress appetite, stimulate digestion, and be effective for combating colds, coughs and motion sickness.

To make fresh ginger tea, boil 1 cup of water for few minutes with approximately one teaspoon (or more) of freshly chopped ginger and sweeten if desired. If you dislike the ginger particles floating in your tea, then place the chopped ginger in a metal tea ball or an empty disposable tea bag.

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Food Sticking to a Stainless-Steel Pan

In our arsenals of cookware, I believe that most people have at least one (or more) “non-stick” pans that they rely on for certain tasks. From non-stick coatings, to ceramic and titanium pans, and even well-seasoned cast iron pans – they are out there. But what about the good old, tried and true, stainless steel pan? Many complain that food sticks to it too much and thus tends to be cast aside.

A stainless-steel pan must be of good quality. As with most cookware, you get what you pay for. You need a pan of high-grade stainless steel and a base that provides even heating and good heat retention. Talk to the professionals at your local kitchen supply store as they are a wealth of information and will be able to steer you in the right direction.

The first step is to make sure that your pan is evenly heated before you put anything in the pan. The most common mistake is that food is added at the same time (or shortly thereafter) the pan meets the stove. The pan needs to be hot first, even before you add any oil. Once the pan is hot, add a small amount of high-heat oil (like grape seed, coconut, rice bran, etc. – there are many to choose from) and then the food. The food may still stick at first, but only for a short time. Once the ingredients have been seared briefly they should start to move around the pan freely with little effort.

Let’s examine this procedure further in the example of cooking a steak, or a piece of meat or seafood A stainless steel pan is the best choice in this example because it allows some of the browning of the meat to stay in the pan to help flavour the perfect accompanying pan sauce. The preliminary steps as mentioned above are the same: you must make sure the empty pan is hot first before you add anything. How hot will depend on many factors like the thickness of the meat and the doneness you are trying to achieve. I find the best way to test temperature in an empty pan is to sprinkle a bit of water. If the water sits in the pan and does nothing, it is not hot. If the water bubbles, spurts, and evaporates fairly quickly, it is getting hotter. When the water beads and rolls around the pan like little marbles before evaporating, then it is hot. A word of warning – this water test is to be done in a dry pan only with no oil. Do not attempt to add any oil, or fatty ingredients, while the water still exists in the pan otherwise it could spurt and burn you or cause a grease fire in your pan.

Once you know the pan is hot, and the water from testing it has evaporated, add a small amount of high-heat oil, and then the meat immediately after. If you think the pan is too hot, then after the meat has been added turn down the heat and/or temporarily remove the pan from the heat. The most important thing now is to not disturb the meat. It will be stuck at first, but trying to pry the meat from the pan at this point will just inhibit the crust from being formed. Once the meat has seared, and browned thoroughly, it will release itself easily from the pan when you attempt to flip it over. Cooking the other side without disruption at first is also crucial.

The one thing you will notice in the pan, unlike non-stick pans, is that there are browned bits from the meat left on the surface of the pan. This is called fond, and you want this to help flavour your pan sauce. Once the meat has been cooked to your desired doneness, remove it and set it aside to rest. Reduce the heat in the pan and some liquid to deglaze the pan. Deglazing is the process of lifting those browned bits off the pan and into the liquid with the help of some subtle scraping action with a utensil. Add your remaining sauce ingredients and cook until desired consistency has been reached. Serve with the awaiting meat and enjoy.

There are countless pan sauce recipes and variations online for you to try. My best piece of advice to you however, is practice. With repeated attempts you will get to understand how to recognize the heat exchange and how it affects the pan and ultimately the food. If you want to become good at anything… do it more – and cooking is no different. 

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

How To Make Crabapple Raspberry Liqueur - an Adventure from the Orchard to the Liquor Cabinet

What does one do when you have a tree full of fruit that is practically inedible on its own? You make booze, of course!
My Mother-In-Law has a crabapple tree, that offered an overly abundant crop this year, so we decided to raid it and experiment with this malus fruit. Crabapples are very tart in the raw form, so some kind of cooking and processing of them is required. They are naturally very high in pectin, so crabapple jelly is an obvious recipe to transform these into, but I wanted to do something different.
"Do you have any vodka, Mom?" I asked.
"I have a whole bottle that I have had for years" she replied. A smile came to my face. Liqueur was the conclusive decision.

I was unsure that the crabapples alone would offer enough colour and flavour to the liqueur, so we also raided her raspberry patch and make Crabapple Raspberry Liqueur.
Although I have made many liqueurs in my lifetime, I have never made a variety quite like this. Basically to make any fruit liqueur, you soak it in vodka with sugar for a period of time and then strain it. It is so easy that you will be soon making all kinds of fruit liqueurs with any abundance of seasonal fruit you may have left over.

Here is the basic recipe we created, with pictures:

Crabapple Raspberry Liqueur
12 cups quartered crabapples
4 cups fresh raspberries (or from frozen)
4 cups white sugar
3 cups (750ml bottle) vodka

1. Place the cut crabapples and raspberries in a sealable container large enough to hold all of this fruit.
2. Add the sugar and pour in the vodka.
3. Stir to mix all the ingredients and let sit for 7 to 14 days, stirring it thoroughly once everyday. We sampled it everyday when we stirred it and ended up deciding that only 6 days was enough time - however the longer you let it sit, the more flavour and colour you will achieve.
4. Strain the solids. We used a pillow case and a fine wire mesh strainer to make sure we got out all the small raspberry seeds. For an even purer consistency, you may want to do a third straining using a coffee filter.
Until next time... Happy Cooking, and Happy Drinking!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

My Top 10 Barbecuing Tips

Summer is well underway now and if you haven’t dusted off your outdoor grill yet, you are missing out on a very flavourful lifestyle. So, in honor of the Kings & Queens of the backyard barbecue, the ones that struggle with it, and everyone in between, I give you my Top 10 Barbecuing Tips.

1. Charcoal – Mentioned in my previous blog entry, this is my #1 Tip. Cooking with this natural fuel of carbonized wood adds such a depth of flavour to everything from burgers to desserts. I am not talking manufactured square-shaped “briquettes” here; I am talking about lump charcoal: chunks of wood that have been heated with very little to no oxygen, so they naturally carbonize. According to archeological expeditions, we as humans have been cooking with this fuel for thousands of years, so this is the oldest known form of fuel to humankind. There is nothing more natural. Did you know propane and natural gas contain "ethyl mercaptan"? This is a chemical that is added to help detect gas leaks, but look it up - it's toxic. Inhale ethyl mercaptan directly and it will cause paralysis in your body. Yes, it is only added in small quantities (unharmful they say), but regardless why would you cook food over that for your family?

2. Internal Meat Thermometer – Use one. This is the only way to accurately prevent overcooking or undercooking any piece of meat.

3. Sauces are not Marinades – If you slather on BBQ sauce before your meat is cooked, the high sugar content in these sauces will burn. Sauces are meant to be glazes at the end of the cooking
process. When your food is about a minute or two from being done, spread some sauce on, close the lid, and let it glaze onto your food.

4. Never Clean Your Grill – Now when I say “grill” I am talking about your cooking grate/grid. The
worst thing you can do is take your grid to the sink and scrub it down with soapy water. All you need to do is take a grill brush to it when it is hot after the preheating of your grill to knock off any food residue from your previous grilling escapade. This will help to keep your grid seasoned and non-stick.

5. Always Preheat - Ensuring your grill is extremely hot will not only burn off any residual food bits from your last cookout, it will also guarantee great crust formation (and grill lines) on your food.

6. Oil the Meat - Oiling the meat in advance will not only help to enhance the crusting process (and the resulting increase in flavor), it will also assist in creating a non-stick environment. I always oil the meat before seasoning with salt and pepper just prior to going onto a hot preheated grill. If you are fully coating with a dry rub however, oiling won’t be necessary, and the dry rub will help prevent sticking.

7. Oil the Grates/Grids – This tip is more for delicate pieces of meat or fish. In combination of oiling the meat, this will also help in flavor creation and ease of release. This should be done with an oil that has a high smoke point. This is not an application for your extra virgin olive oil. Grapeseed oil or rice bran oil would be perfect, but a canola or vegetable oil will work fine. Oiling the grates/grids however should be done once they have been preheated. Protecting your hand with a grill mitt, dab some oil on a cloth and quickly, but efficiently, wipe down the hot grills. Be careful not to have the cloth soaking with oil to the point that would cause flare-ups. A light coating of oil will work fine.

8. Leave It Alone - Once the meat has been placed on the grill, the worst thing you could do is to prematurely break that contact of meat with grill. Even with following the above rules religiously, the meat will stick… at first. Leaving it alone allows it to create a crust (grill marks) and thus helping to release it from the cooking surface. If you are following the rules above and your meat is stuck to the grill, chances are it is trying to tell you that it is not ready to be flipped yet.

9. Brine - Brining can help protect light-meat poultry and lean pork. This is a technique that involves soaking in a salt-water solution for a period of time prior to cooking. Not only does this add moisture to the center of the meat, but also seasoning, as the salt saturated water is drawn in. A simple brining formula would be: one quarter cup salt dissolved in 4 cups of water for pieces of poultry or lean pork. Let the meat sit in the brine for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Remove from the brine, pat them dry, and cook as you normally would. This brining process will provide a moisture protection shield to help keep fully cooked meats juicy. However, this is only a safeguard – overcooking is still possible, but this lessens the chance of the meat turning out dry. The only other consideration you may need to give your recipe is the amount of seasoning. The meat will already be seasoned somewhat from the salt in the brine, so back off on the saltshaker.

10. Try Something New – This may be the best piece of advice. Let’s break away from the old standbys of hamburgers and hotdogs and try something new and different. There are so many ideas on the internet and in your cookbook collection that can easily liven up your next backyard cooking adventure. So, have fun and enjoy the outdoors.

Until next time... Happy Cooking and Happy Barbecuing!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

My Top 10 "Secret" Ingredients

We all have them: our secret ingredients that transform recipes into one-of-a-kind creations that are to die for. This is what keeps food exciting at the dinner table and makes it unique to us. Although these
top 10 of mine officially won’t be a “secret” anymore, I am happy to share them with you.

Blueberry Jam – Beef or other red meats such as lamb or various game meats will always benefit from a little something bold & sweet. Blueberry jam is my “go to” ingredient for burger patties, chilli, stew, etc. It will not only compliment in flavour, but also the sweetness will help counteract any acidity in the recipe. Blackberry jam is good too, but the seeds aren’t pleasant.

Peanut Butter – Although with the increasing number of peanut allergies in our society, peanut butter should never be secretive. However, it is wonderful for using as a base for any peanut dressings, dips (like for chicken satay for example), or stir-fry sauces. A dollop of peanut butter in a pot of chilli is great too.

Sambal Oelek – Every Chef knows about the “sambal”. This is a liquid/paste crushed chilli pepper product that can be purchased in small jars from the imported foods aisle of almost any major grocery store. Dried chillis always need time for rehydration, so this product is a perfect replacement as it is instant heat. I add a little (about 1/2 teaspoon or so) to spaghetti sauces, soups, and stews… not to make them spicy; just extra dimension of flavour. If you want your food spicy, then add more.

Soy Sauce – If a dish requires extra seasoning, try adding soy sauce instead of salt. It will not only season your finished dish, but also provide extra flavour and colour.

Canned Anchovies – We all know this ingredient from Caesar dressings, but this is another salty ingredient that will do wonders for seasoning and bringing out flavours in many of your recipes. Add a couple of small filets to the beginning of the cooking process so that they break down into more of a paste. They will add such a different dimension of flavour that it will keep your dinner guests guessing.

Wine, Beer, Juice, or Broth – Water has no flavour or colour. When a recipe calls for a small amount of water to be added, I always replace with a different liquid that will be appropriate in flavour & colour to the dish I am making.

Whipping Cream – Not “whipped” cream, but “whipping” cream from a carton. This high fat content cream (usually 33% to 35% milk fat) is great to have on hand to add a little richness. Plus because it is so high in milk fat, it will not split when reducing down in a sauce, even if the sauce is acidic.

Butter – Obviously for health reasons both cream and butter should be used in moderation, but a small pat of butter to finish a sauce is wonderfully delicious. Simply pull your finished sauce off the heat and just before serving, stir in a small amount until melted. Melting a pat of butter over a grilled steak is also great. Oh, and for the record, I always use salted butter.

Fennel Seed – Not from the same plant as the fennel bulb we see in the produce department, these do have a similar taste of black licorice. Fennel seed is a traditional ingredient in Italian sausage, but I always throw in a couple teaspoons of these seeds to my tomato pasta sauces.

Charcoal – Although not an ingredient like the others listed here, cooking with this natural fuel of carbonized wood adds such a depth of flavour to everything from burgers to desserts. We even cook sauces, soups, stews over charcoal as well as many baked goods, and of course traditional barbecue. I am not talking manufactured square-shaped “briquettes” here; I am talking about lump charcoal: chunks of wood that have been heated with very little to no oxygen, so they naturally carbonize. According to archeological expeditions, we as humans have been cooking with this fuel for thousands of years, so this is the oldest known form of fuel to humankind.

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

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

            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.