Friday, April 28, 2017

Grilled Philly Cheesesteaks

            It is rare that I eat out at a restaurant, but when I do, as with everyone I presume, I want to be satisfied with the flavour of my purchase. One dish I have found that has always fallen short of this, no matter where I purchase it, is the classic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. The idea of having a sandwich that is overloaded with meat, onions, peppers, and dripping with cheese is enough to have any mouth salivating with anticipation. I feel my let-downs however lie in the process of the cooking technique and usually a lack of seasoning.

            Because of the discouragements I have experienced, I set out to create the best Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich. And the result? This is it. Enjoy!

            Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Grilled Philly Cheesesteaks

Makes 6 large sandwiches

“This grilled version of the classic Philly Cheesesteak has incredible “flame licked” flavour that would be non-existent in the traditional way of preparing it in a pan. I find the addition of mayonnaise is extremely important for not only adding richness, but also to help enhance the gooey drippy effect that a classic cheesesteak should have.”

2 pounds (908g) boneless rib-eye steaks
2 medium onions, sliced into 4 thick rounds each
2 red bell peppers, sliced into big pieces
Canola, vegetable or grape seed oil
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup butter
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
6 oval hoagie type buns
12 tbsp mayonnaise
360g provolone cheese slices

1.     Preheat your BBQ over high heat. Oil the steaks with 3 to 4 tsp of the oil and then season liberally with salt & pepper. Toss the prepared onions and peppers with 1 tbsp of the oil.

2.     Turn the heat on your BBQ to medium or medium/high and grill the steaks until your desired doneness, approximately 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium (depending on the temperature of the steaks and the power of your BBQ). Grill the onion and pepper slices at the same time just until they are somewhat charred and cooked through. Remove the steaks, onions and peppers and set aside.

3.     Melt the butter and garlic together and set aside.

4.     Slice the peppers into thin strips and rough chop the onions. Toss these pepper and onion pieces together with the Worcestershire and season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside.

5.     Slice the steaks into very thin strips and toss with the reserved garlic butter and season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside.

6.     Prepare the buns by placing the cut side down on the grill and toasting them. Then spread 1 tbsp of mayonnaise on each the top and bottom toasted halves of the buns.

7.     Top each open bun with equal amounts of the reserved steak slices, then equal amounts of the reserved onion/pepper mix, and then equal amounts of cheese slices. Place the open faced sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil in the oven until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"I Don't Want Any Eggs!"

            Everything we do is a choice. From the moment we awake in the morning until the time we come to the day's end: we choose everything we do and the way we react to every situation. Obviously in some situations it is easier to control our actions more than in others, but they are all still the choices we make.
            Yesterday morning I was enjoying a lovely breakfast at a hotel restaurant - no, not a substandard, run-of-the-mill, free motel-type breakfast buffet of cold cereals and toast. This was a dining room setting in a restaurant at a historic mansion transformed into a heritage house hotel; a very pleasing atmosphere. Included with your stay each morning you were treated to a choice of 3 breakfast entrĂ©es in their restaurant. I chose the "classic" breakfast of eggs (prepared any way you
like), hash browns, sausages or bacon, and toast with an array of preserves to choose from. As I was alternating between tastes of my breakfast with sips of coffee and glances at the morning newspaper, an older couple were seated at the table next to me. They seemed cheerful enough as they exchanged morning pleasantries with each other. After being seated by the hostess, their server came to take their orders.
            "I'll have the classic breakfast" the woman said.
            "How would you like your eggs done?" asked the server.
            "I don't want any eggs!" she sharply replied. This caught my attention. The pleasurable ambiance bubble had popped. She was very stern with her reply.
            "Oh, okay", he responded, "sausages or bacon?" and he continued with taking her order before proceeding with doing the same for her partner.
            I thought to myself: What had just happened there? She seemed amiable enough prior to that, and the conversation with her partner afterwards seemed very cordial. Was she having a bad morning? It didn't seem like she was otherwise.
            As I continued with my breakfast I couldn't stop thinking about how abrupt and coarse she responded to the server. The exchanges between her and the server afterwards were acceptable: nothing overly friendly, but not rude either.
            Maybe I'm overreacting? I replayed the incident in my mind. No, not at all - her demeanor was very abrupt and almost demanding in that exchange. Maybe she didn't realize? We all have those moments I guess, when we react to a situation and then in hindsight we realize the error of our ways. If she was feeling any regret however, there was no inkling of it to anyone else. Maybe she was embarrassed with her response and just wanted to forget about it.
            I'm sorry if I am being oversensitive about this... I mean, it was just one sentence... just one brief interaction that didn't even involve me. Maybe I am overanalyzing this?
            Just like we have the free will to make choices in what we do and how we act, we can also choose to learn and grow. The interaction I witnessed, and this corresponding blog entry, is not meant to be judgmental. It's not meant to single out and prosecute anyone. I am merely using this as a reminder to myself to be aware of my disposition when interacting with others, and if this seems of value, then I am offering it to you as well. We are all on this journey together. I believe that we should travel through these lifetimes with our eyes wide open; not only embracing the encounters we have with others, but also making sure that we seize any opportunity we can to lead a full and selfless life. Only good can come from making someone smile... there is no harm to us for doing so... it doesn't cost us anything of monetary value... and it will only spread love and joy.
            We all make mistakes. I know I have made my share of them. Sometimes I get carried away with the way I act and at the moment it is hard for me to see how my actions are perhaps affecting someone else. But it is in our awareness of these blunders that we can overcome and help to reverse any negativity we may have unintentionally created in the first place. Apologies and kindness are worth their weight in gold.
            Everything happens for a reason. I am a sensitive guy, and my emotions and my internal analytical processes of my ways of thinking get the best of me sometimes; I get that. However there is an opportunity to learn and grow in every situation, and I try my best to do that. I hope that the server did not let this affect him in a negative way, and I hope that woman went on to have a wonderful day. I also hope that my awareness of little inconspicuous things in the future continues to allow me to generate positive observations and outcomes.
            Do me a favour: make someone smile today... heck, make 10 people smile today! What have you got to lose? In the meantime Happy Living, and of course Happy Cooking!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

It's Time To Change Your Life

            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 you are still feeling uncomfortable with the idea of doing this, then maybe get a friend or relative to make this jump with you. Invite a bunch of people over for an afternoon of chatting and cooking. 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”. Happy cooking!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter Eggs in the Kitchen

           A tradition in my family has always been the customary ritual of decorating eggs for Easter. As far back as history can take us, the egg seems to have always been a symbol of continuing life and resurrection. Therefore, it was natural to decorate them and give out as gifts for part of the feasting after the solemn fast of Lent. Although it is now more contemporary to exchange chocolate or candy eggs, many families still carry out the historic practice of using real eggs. However, what is to become of all the excess hard-boiled eggs other than the habitual egg sandwich?

            Allow me to give you a few examples that will hopefully inspire some culinary creativity in your kitchen.

            A quick and simple idea would be to crumble them to garnish salads. This would not only add bright colours to the salad, but is also is a fantastic way to add additional low-fat protein. Crumbled eggs are also vivid garnishes for stir-frys or potato salad. The crumbled mix of white and yellow is much more eye appealing than two-toned slices of egg.

            If one were to search the internet or visit the local library, they would discover a variety of hard-boiled egg recipes. They will include a number of egg & cheese dips, pickled eggs, and many versions of deviled eggs. For example, try combining the yolk mixture for deviled eggs with smoked salmon before stuffing back into the egg white halves for a delicious change.

            My favorite hard-boiled egg recipe is Scotch Eggs. This Scottish recipe is prepared by encasing hard-boiled eggs with sausage meat. They are then rolled in a mixture of cracker crumbs and fresh chopped parsley, and baked in the oven. Once cooled, they are sliced into quarters for a sensational presentation.
            When selecting eggs to boil, one wants to make sure they are choosing older eggs rather than the freshest ones. This is because over a period of time more air develops between the shell and the shell membrane, and thus making them easier to peel. Also try rolling the cooked egg on the counter with some gentle pressure to makes cracks all over the surface, and then peel under cool running water.

            If there is a green ring inside the egg around the yolk, this indicates a chemical reaction between the iron in the yolk and the sulfur in the white. This happens when the egg is either cooked too long, or at too high of a temperature. Try adjusting your cooking time and plunge them into an ice water bath immediately to stop the cooking process.

            Hopefully all of this egg inspiration will keep your mind from questioning, “what was cooked first – chicken or the egg?” Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!

           What is hairy, unattractive, and available in almost every major grocery store’s produce section? No, it’s not an unshaven Produce Manager with bed-head. They are coconuts and more consumers tend to buy it dried or canned instead of fresh. Who wouldn’t be somewhat afraid of this intimidating, seemingly indestructible produce with an appearance that mimics a monster’s disembodied head?

            Even I must admit, more times than not, I was more interested is using them to tease my children, than I was in purchasing them. Although using whole coconuts requires a small amount of work, experimenting with this imported harvest can be very enjoyable and rewarding.

            Firstly, choose ones that seem heavy for their size, as this will be an indicator of a thicker flesh content on the inside, and water volume. Also, it is important to select ones that seem to have the most liquid, by shaking them in your hand and listening for the sound of the natural coconut water. This naturally occurring coconut liquid however, is not the same product that is available in cans or listed as “coconut milk” as an ingredient in most recipes. Natural coconut water is mildly sweet, naturally fat free and tends to be more prevalent in recently harvested coconuts, as it will absorb into the inner flesh as they mature.

            The first, and easiest thing to do is to drain the coconut water. Each coconut has three “eyes” and one of them is always softer than the others. Take a metal skewer and find the softest one by piercing. Once you have determined which eye is softer, press the skewer through and rotate while grinding the remainder of the eye to achieve a bigger hole. Then shake this open eye over a glass or container until all the coconut water has been removed. This liquid should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed or frozen within a 24-hour period. If the drained liquid tastes sour, then the coconut has spoiled and it should be discarded.

            Once the coconut has been drained place it in the freezer for at least 12 hours. Once frozen wrap it in a towel and proceed to hit it with a hammer a few times until the outer shell has cracked. Chunks of hard shell will break away from the flesh. The towel will help to contain the chunks of shell and flesh. To prevent any possible damage to the kitchen counter, one may want to do this hammering on a very solid surface, like a cement floor, or on a few layers of towels.

            The flesh will now be separate from the hard shell and any remaining pieces that are not can be carefully removed with a knife. Any thin brown skin left on the extracted white flesh can be removed with a potato peeler. The task is a bit tedious, but very rewarding if you enjoy working with raw materials in the kitchen. The meat can now be grated, frozen, or cooked down to make the coconut milk called for in many recipes. The internet makes a great resource for uses of this raw flesh.

            To make your own fresh coconut milk, add one cup of boiling water to one cup of packed grated fresh coconut. Let it steep for approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Then squeeze this mixture in a clean kitchen cloth, or strain through a fine strainer, over a bowl to capture the milk. Alternatively, it can also be processed in a food processor and then squeezed to get even more milk from the flesh. This milk should be refrigerated, and a thick cream will rise to the surface.
            Until next time, Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Do You Remember Your First Car?

          People who know me, know that I love food & cooking as much as I love cars. I haven't always been this way - this passion for cars was started by my best friend Dave. From as far back as I have known him (since grade 4), Dave has always loved cars. We have shared many car memories together, including the time I got my first car.
          On the day I turned 16, I was in the Driver's License Office the same day applying for my learner's license. Back then it was just a quick written exam and I walked out with it in my hand. 30 days later, after a road test, I had my full driver's license and I was so happy. The only thing restricting this new found freedom, was the absence of my own set of wheels. That year however, my Dad changed all that for me and got me my first car: a 1965 Chevrolet Impala!
          He told me he still had to finalize the deal, and I would have the car by the end of the week. I was so excited that the next few days seemed like years. But what was a 1965 Impala? What was it going to look like? I had no idea, so I called Dave. We had a long conversation on the phone with him describing in detail what seemed like every curve, option, and style of the 65 Impala.
          When I finally got it, I was so happy and Dave was right about everything he told me. Was it a perfect car? No, of course not, but that didn't matter.
          It had some rust, and the interior wasn't great, but it was mine! I loved that car so much and it wasn't long before her and I went everywhere together. Me and my friends became known as the Chevy Gang in Junior High as I was one of the very few that drove, let alone having a car that was my own! I have so many great memories of that car, but I have two regrets: 1. I never did "name" her, and 2. Selling her.
          Before long, I had the car "bug" and I couldn't wait to get behind the wheel of other cars, and thus unfortunately she got tossed aside and eventually sold. Now that I am older, and I am sure that many people feel the same way, I wish I never sold her. My Mom did the transaction for me and sold it to friends of my sister for only $100 because they were in need of a vehicle and didn't have a lot of money to spend on one. Bless my Mom's heart (she has always been so caring of other people).
          There have been many times I have wondered what happened to that old car, and a few of those times I played Private Investigator to try to figure out the mystery, but never had any success. I don't have a serial number, just this one sole photo and a bunch of great memories. ICBC has told me that it would be possible to look it up based on that license plate in the photo, but because the records are so old, it would have to be a criminal investigation for them to be authorized to access this information. I on the other hand think it is criminal to keep this information from me! I know she probably isn't around, perhaps she's just pop cans by now, but I just want to know for sure. This was a love affair between man and machine that has never left my mind.
          Do you remember your first car? What was it? Do you know where it is today? I would love to hear your stories about. Oh, and if there's a chance you work for ICBC... maybe you could pull a few strings? On that note... Happy Cooking to you, and Happy Driving!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hogwash, I Say! Cook The Way You Want To!

            One of the aspects of the food industry that I have realized over the years of my career as a Chef is that people can be so serious. Yes, I take pride in what I do and I think that the role I play in the industry has an impact on people’s lives, but why am I expected to have a heavy weighted approach in discussions regarding food?
            Many of you probably agree that there are numerous people in the food industry, that we may label as Foodies, who come across as pompous or event pretentious. This is perhaps why it is presumably expected for others to be the same way. Don’t get me wrong – I believe it is a wonderful thing when someone loves what they do, even to the point where their lives are utterly consumed with related passion, but why must we take such a ridged approach?
            Yes, there are rules in cooking, and many are steadfast, but I am talking more about the areas where approaches are not as strict and could very easily be bent based on personal preferences and taste.
            For example, I am sure that you have heard the statement that “medium-rare” is the optimal doneness for cooking a beef steak… but what happens when someone likes their steak more done? Or when a person does not like their pasta cooked al dente (Italian for “to the tooth” meaning not to overcook; it should have some firmness)? Is it our role as Chefs to tell that person that they are wrong? Where is the line where the steadfast rules and training stop and where personal taste and preferences start?
            Where that line is and the boldness of that line, varies in many circumstances but is does exist, and I believe as an industry expert that it cannot be ignored, or overruled, just for the sole reason that we are professionally trained. I remember working with a Chef in my training days that told me: “An individual of the general public has personal preference and taste buds that cannot be ignored. We must not only learn from them but also learn to accept their perspectives as a part of our ongoing training and fine-tuning of our careers as Chefs. Everyone has an opinion and is a unique individual and should be respected as such.” Wise words well said that I have shaped my career around.
            Here is another example: This past weekend at a BBQ demo I segmented racks of lamb,
seasoned them with salt & pepper, seared them to get a charred crust, and glazed them with mint jelly just before serving. Lamb & mint is classic combination that pairs so nicely together, however I have heard Chefs say "Mint on lamb is so 70's, and has been done too much. Use anything but mint." ...and to that I say "Hogwash! What a stupid thing to say". If something works, why do we feel the need to change it just for the sake of change? Why should we feel inept if we are not embarking on a new journey? I'm not saying that change is bad, or even that it should not be explored, but why at the same time must we banish the past and what works? Why can't we embrace it all?
            I am a fully certified Red Seal Chef, but to me my trades paper is just that: paper. I see myself more as a Chef for the home cook. A Chef for the majority of the households filled with all classes of people, with or without families, that are looking for great meals that are not constructed from obscure ingredients. Meals that are not paired with unfamiliar varieties of wine. If you love food and love to cook, regardless of whether you are professionally trained or not, you are a Chef in my eyes. Does that mean I don’t respect, appreciate or value my certification as a Chef, or other professionals in the industry? Of course not. It means that I can find importance with what we have and at the same time be open enough to appreciate and respect others and their opinions. Opinions are like taste buds – everybody has them.
            As for those mint-glazed lamb chops: I would have shared a photo here of the finished product, but they were eaten up faster than I could get my camera ready... with many people telling me it was the best lamb they have ever had! One of them even wanted to pay me money to reserve them one from my next batch.
            So in closing, in what I hope does not seem like a rant, I welcome you with open arms to share your food experiences with me. No guard must be erected. Let us talk, taste, discuss, sip, and share passion for the nurturement that keeps us alive and keeps our lives exciting and fulfilling. Let us eat, drink, and be merry. Until next time… Happy Cooking.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pre-Grated Cheese - Is It Worth It?

        I saw this comic strip in the newspaper this morning and got a bit of a chuckle... but what makes this so funny? Is Granny just a food snob? Well, actually, no. There is good reason for her shock and dismay.

              Ok, maybe shock and dismay, and her actions in the comic strip, are a bit of an exaggeration, but it all comes down to how serious each individual is about what they are putting in their body. You may just be thinking I am putting "cheese" in my body, I just happen to pay a bit more for a company to save me from using the ol' knuckle-buster cheese grater. Incorrect. The wisest things one can do if they are concerned about what is going into their bodies is twofold: 1) Read the ingredient list, and 2) Do your research.

              If you were to grate cheese yourself and put it in a bag, what would happen? Typically it would clump together. What then keeps pre-grated cheese from clumping? Many use potato starch in combination with cellulose. Potato starch seems self explanatory and harmless, but what is cellulose? We may have even seen that on an ingredient list before and not thought too much about it. Cellulose is a very cheap food additive that is derived from wood pulp... yes, I did say "Wood Pulp"! It is a dietary fiber that is used as a thickener and in this case a stabilizer to improve mouthfeel and prevent clumping.

              But is it harmful? This would come down to perception perhaps, or maybe there are some studies on the long term effects, but think about it for a moment - it is derived from wood pulp. Would you rather be eating whole, real cheese... or wood pulp?

              Yes, the convenience of pre-grated is grate! Um, I mean... great! But our world is full of "convenience" foods that are not the healthiest options. I do believe it is better to embrace natural and naturally derived when we can. Yes, we all live busy lives, and our world seems to be going so fast, but without your health... what do you have? Nothing.

              The purpose of this blog subject is not to point fingers or to make you feel bad. It's just about focusing on awareness. Be mindful about what you are eating, be respectful to your body, and live life to the fullest in the best way that you can.

               Until next time... Happy Cooking!