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!