Sunday, September 30, 2018

Day 1 of 9 "Spoons & Tunes": Nashville, Memphis & New Orleans

Well today was the day we were all waiting for: the kick off of the 2018 Chef Dez "Spoons & Tunes" Culinary Tour through Nashville Memphis & New Orleans!
We call it a "culinary" tour because I am a chef, but it is not just about the food, it is also about the drink, music, art, architecture, history, and lifestyle in our destination cities. Basically immersing ourselves in the lifestyle of the places we visit.
Our day started very early in the morning as we all had early flights coming out of YVR International Airport in Vancouver, BC. I wanted to make sure I was there early enough to greet everyone at the airport when they arrived so I got up at 1am... yes, 1 o'clock in the morning! But I was asleep by 7pm the last night, so it was all good.

I arrived at the long term parking lot at 3am, loaded my bags onto the shuttle and said goodbye to the BGE Mobile.

Our first group of 8 people were on an earlier WestJet flight (Vancouver to Calgary to Nashville).

Myself and the group of 12 departed on a second United flight (Vancouver to Chicago to Nashville) about an hour after the first group, and as you can tell we were all excited to get going... despite how tired we were!

So 19 Guests total plus me. Many of them have been on a few past Chef Dez Culinary Tours, and the rest are about to find out about how much fun we have. And up, up and away we go...

During our stopover in Chicago we all got some refreshments and Kareem and I each bought authentic Chicago Style hot dogs for lunch. These things were so huge and topped with so many ingredients that it was difficult to even pick up! But man 'o man, they sure were tasty! The picture doesn't do it justice.

Then onboard our second flight to Nashville. Some of us seeming more tired than others, but all very excited to be on the last flight for the day.

We arrived in Nashville to sunny, hot and humid weather: about 29 degrees. Waited for our shuttle...

...and then arrived at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. This place is massive: 2888 rooms, 17 restaurants on site, and 9 acres of indoor gardens, waterfalls and fountains. Yes, 9 acres indoor! This place is so large that I got lost literally twice trying to find my room! This will be our home for the next 3 nights.

My room has a balcony facing the gardens - here is a shot of my room and a couple shots of my view (daytime and nighttime).

We all had a brief meeting with our Collette Tour Manager "Derek" and I went over the details of the Official Chef Dez Scavenger Hunt - Remember the group is playing for the grand prize of a large size Big Green Egg (complete with stand, shelves, and accessories valued at $1900). This will get awarded on the last full day of our trip (Sunday October 7th) before we depart for home on the Monday October 8th, so stay tuned!

After the meeting, we met our driver Alvin and boarded the luxurious coach that is ours for the next 9 days. Let me tell ya, we will be traveling in the lap of luxury.

We headed to the Opry Backstage Grill for dinner (our first of many meals included in the itinerary) for some southern homestyle cooking.

Here's a shot of the menu for the evening and some food shots from the group:

While we were eating we got to enjoy our first taste of live music by 2 different artists that worked at the restaurant.

This is our Collette Tour Manager Derek (on the left) and our Collette Driver Alvin. I can tell already this trip is going to be a riot with these guys!

Also, as a keepsake from this trip I have purchased a cookbook that is reminiscent of the area we are traveling in, and I will get everyone I meet along the tour to sign it to me with a little message. I will also get all my Guests to sign it, along with Derek and Alvin. At the end of the trip I will have a working cookbook that is filled with messages and memories from this wonderful holiday. Here is the front cover of the book and the first person to sign it on our tour: our server Maria from the Opry Backstage Grill.

The Opry Backstage Grill also has some cool memorabilia. Here's a little something from Marty Robbins:

We then took our coach back to the resort and most of us just retired for the evening as it was a long day of travel. Well worth it obviously, but long nonetheless. Tomorrow will be filled with a new day of adventures in our first full day here in Nashville, so I hope you come back and follow along on each day of our journey. Goodnight from Nashville and I'll see you again here tomorrow.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

We Leave Sunday for Nashville, Memphis & New Orleans!

I am so grateful. 

This Sunday, September 30th, I will be traveling with 20 people to Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans on the 4th Chef Dez Culinary Tour, aptly named “Spoons & Tunes”. A huge thank you to all
my guests (current and past) that have faith in me and these tours. If you have been with me on one of these tours before, you already know not only how much fun they are, but also how much I dedicate of myself to making sure you are looked after and entertained. If this is your first experience on a Chef Dez Culinary Tour, you are about to find this out for yourself. 

I am going to do my best to write a daily blog entry, every evening - so everyone here at home can follow along on our incredible journey. If you haven't already done so, please subscribe to my blog so you don't miss an entry.

Sunday we arrive at the 5-star Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville for 3 nights to begin our adventure before moving on to Memphis for 2 nights, and then lastly New Orleans for 3 nights. All of our ground transportation is included as well. We will be traveling by luxurious coach with Wi-Fi and washroom onboard.

Also, every Chef Dez Culinary Tour is sponsored by Big Green Egg as we give away a Large size EGG on each tour through the Official Chef Dez Scavenger Hunt. We have already given away 3 Big Green Eggs on past tours courtesy of Big Green Egg Canada and Grand Pappy's Home Furniture in Chilliwack BC, and they are both onboard to do this again for this tour and the 2019 tour.

These tours started with the late (and great) Caryn Zimmerman as my business partner and I will do everything I can to honour her in all upcoming Chef Dez Culinary Tours. If you knew Caryn, you
already know what an amazing lady she was, and what a loss it was for everyone that knew her when she passed away from cancer just over a year ago. If you didn’t know her, I will be glad to share my experience with her, with you through amazing stories. I miss her tremendously.

Collette Travel and Colleen Forrest from Transat have really stepped up to the plate to help me make my culinary tours the best that they can be as we move forward. We have already launched the
itinerary for the 2019 Chef Dez Culinary Tour to Portugal (click HERE) and 7 spots are already sold. If you would like to join us in Portugal next October I highly recommend that you sign up today as we have limited spots and it is expected to sell out.

To my 20 current guests: I look forward to the incredible journey we are about to embark on and I appreciate and respect the time you are sharing with me during these 9 days. Let’s make some incredible memories for you!

Cheers, Dez.

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!