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.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Getting Back to Basics with "Normal" Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rediscovering Enjoyment at the Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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