Thursday, November 9, 2017

Which Salt to Choose?


            In today’s wonderful world of cuisine, salt has evolved from being just another staple in our pantries to a myriad of choices with considerations based on texture, flavour, and health aspects. From sea salt to exotic salt such as “fleur de sel” or Himalayan pink salt, salt is playing a much larger role in our culinary choices.

            With health considerations always affecting more of our daily lives than ever before, regular
table salt has taken quite a beating over the years. More and more recipes are now quoting salts such as “sea” or “kosher” instead of the simple ingredient listing “salt”. This is happening because of the larger crystallized shapes and slight flavour attributes that they offer over table salt. Another reason however, is because sea or kosher salts do not have the additives that regular table salt has and thus offer an arguably cleaner taste.

            This being said, let’s first understand that all salt is the mineral sodium chloride. That’s what makes salt, salt. Looking at the ingredient list on a box of table salt from my pantry, it lists the following: salt, calcium silicate, potassium iodide, and sodium thiosulphate. In other words, there are three additives being combined with pure sodium chloride to make the final product: table salt.

            Should we avoid table salt because of these additives? In a document I received from the Sifto Salt Corporation, it states that in a statistical study based on production averages, the following ingredient percentages are applicable: Salt (sodium chloride) 99.694%, Calcium Silicate 0.250%, Sodium Thiosulphate 0.048%, and Potassium Iodide at 0.008%. If this is true, that the additives are equal to less than one third of one percent, why are they even there and should we be concerned?

            Calcium silicate is added as an anti-caking ingredient to keep the salt free-flowing instead of clumping into a mass. Potassium iodide is what makes table salt iodized and is a source of stable iodine; an important nutrient needed by the body to make thyroid hormones and is added to salt to help protect against Iodine Deficiency Disorders. Sodium thiosulphate, from what I can find out, is added in very small quantities to help prevent the oxidization of the iodine.

            Everyone has opinions, just like they do taste buds, and my preference is to use and recommend good old table salt when it comes to cooking where the salt is going to be dissolved in moisture with a number of other flavourings and ingredients. However, raw applications or finishing procedures, would definitely benefit from pure gourmet salts such as varieties of sea salts, kosher salt, and Himalayan pink salt for example. These applications would include sandwiches, salads and any recipe which requires a finishing salt to be sprinkled on the finished dish. This allows for the consumer of the meal to taste and feel the differences that these gourmet salts have to offer. In comparison to these gourmet salts, table salt would have a slight chemical taste when eaten raw.

            My advice is to help you save money and make sure you have enough iodine in your diet. Use table salt for everyday cooking except when a finishing salt is needed. When gourmet salts are being dissolved in cooking procedures their characteristics that you are paying for tend to be nonexistent and table salt is a fraction of the price. Use and embrace the abundancy of the variety of gourmet salts available to us as consumers, but reserve them for specific applications.
            Furthermore, I received an email asking me the following question: "I see many chefs quoting kosher salt as an ingredient. What is kosher salt and how is it different?"

            My Answer: Kosher salt is crystallized salt that has no additives and is traditionally used in the koshering process of purifying meats. The salt itself is not kosher per say, but the meat that is cured from this process is labeled “kosher”. The crystals of this salt need to be a certain size to efficiently and effectively draw moisture (impurities) from meat in order to classify it as “kosher” in the Jewish religion. If the salt crystals are too fine, then they will mostly just dissolve on the surface of the meat; If the crystals are too large, then they will mostly just sit on the surface of the meat: in either case, the koshering procedure would not be very effective. Chefs will admit that when taking a pinch of kosher salt it is easier to feel how much salt they are adding to a recipe, due to the size of the crystals. I believe that one should let their taste buds be the guide instead… but, like taste buds, everyone has an opinion.
            Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Add Heat to Spice Up Winter Meals


            The winter months are fast approaching and are the perfect time to add a little “kick” to your menu at home. It is very satisfying to curl up with a bowl of comfort food when the weather is blustering cold, and making it spicier will warm you up even more. Several methods and resources are available to accomplish adding “fire to your fork”.

            The most overused methods of spicing up a dish is the addition of dried crushed chilies or dried ground cayenne pepper. Do you know which spice jars I am referring to? The ones that have not been replenished for years. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating (slightly), but contrary to popular belief dried spices do not last forever. They eventually loose their punch. Always replenish your stock of dried spices and herbs approximately every ten to twelve months for ground spices/herbs to ensure freshness and flavour stimulating ability. Bulk spice sections at supermarkets make this very manageable and cost efficient. Whole spices (not ground) will keep much longer, so the investment in a small spice grinder will go a long way.

            Dried crushed chilies are good for adding heat to a recipe, but they have a downside. Their heat producing traits are not fully developed until they have been given time to re-hydrate and release their flavour. Although this a good standby when you have no other available options, there are many other ways.

            One product I absolutely love and recommend is Sambal Oelek. This is a crushed chili sauce
product, and therefore needs no re-hydration. I use it in countless recipes and it’s fantastic for adding instant heat to a dish or a different dimension of flavour. Once the jar is opened it will last in the refrigerator almost indefinitely. Available in the Asian/Import food isle of almost every major grocery store, this product is a must for your kitchen.

            Fresh chili peppers have been ever increasing in popularity, and consequently the available options in produce sections have multiplied. They range in varying degrees of hotness with Anaheims being one of the milder options. Jalapenos or Chipotles supply a moderate amount of heat with Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros being some of the hottest. The amount of heat that a pepper provides is measured scientifically in Scoville units developed by a Professor Wilber L. Scoville in 1912. The majority of this heat comes from not only the seeds, but the inner whitish membranes as well. For flavour with less heat, discard these inner portions. When handling hot peppers, be certain to not touch your eyes or other sensitive areas. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly upon completion. I find that cold water and soap works the best. If hot or warm water is used, the pores in your skin enlarge trapping the pepper oils in your fingers. One of the best precautions is to wear latex gloves, especially when handling extremely hot peppers.

            If the thought of using fresh hot peppers sounds too much like work, there are a number of hot sauces on the market to ease your preparation.
            Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Friday, November 3, 2017

My Famous "Sausage & Fennel Pasta" Recipe

            I always think it's endearing when someone calls me famous, but I disagree... I'm no Gordon Ramsay, Michael Smith, Emeril Lagasse, or Guy Fieri. Now those guys are famous! I guess you could say I'm famous for my great recipes, and maybe the most famous one of all is my recipe for sausage & fennel pasta. What makes it famous though? Has it been eaten by someone famous? Perhaps... but the main reasons are that I have been making this for years; it has been requested many times over by family and friends; and I have received so many compliments on it. So it is my pleasure to share it with you. Of course, being that it is so good, it has been included in my 'best of' cookbook "The Best In Your Kitchen", so if you have that book, you already have this recipe: Page 83 specifically.
            My inspiration to add fennel seed to this sausage pasta dish is because classic Italian sausages traditionally have whole fennel seed in them. However, unless you're shopping at an Italian butcher or deli, chances are the Italian sausages you are buying, don't have fennel seed in them... so I have added them to this recipe, and in abundance I must say. Why, because I love fennel seed and it works great in this recipe.
            The easiest way to remove the sausage meat from the casings, is to give each sausage a squeeze in the middle; twist it at that point (like you were making 2 small sausage links); and then push the sausage meat out the 2 ends of the casing. You can discard the casings afterwards as there is really no use for them.
            You may notice an odd ingredient listed in this recipe: ‘Sambal oelek’. It is a crushed chilli product that comes in liquid/paste form – it is optional in this recipe but I find that it really adds some complexity to the sauce, and with only one half teaspoon the sauce is not spicy. If you want a spicy sauce, then add more sambal oelek or use hot Italian sausage instead of the mild. Sambal Oelek is easily found in any major supermarket down the imported foods aisle, and in almost all specialty food stores. Every Chef knows about the Sambal and we keep it on hand for many applications.
            One other ingredient I want to bring your attention to is the "vegetable stock paste". This is a product of vegetable broth/stock that has been reduced down to paste form (instead of liquid broth/stock). Traditionally one would add one cup of water to one teaspoon of this paste to make one cup of broth/stock. It also comes in beef, chicken, and other varieties. The most common brand is in small glass jars with a brand name of "Better Than Bouillon". I like products like this because it allows me, as the meal maker, to use one cup of other liquids that have more flavour than water, to add to the one teaspoon of paste... because water has no flavour. So, for example in this recipe, I add one cup of full-bodied red wine for my liquid instead.
            Reducing the sauce uncovered in step number 3 is crucial. What you are doing in this step through evaporation, is making the sauce extremely thick, and then when the one cup of whipping cream is added, it will bring it back to regular sauce consistency. What you are basically doing is evaporating a lot of the water content out of the ingredients in the pan, and replacing that flavourless, colourless water with full fat whipping cream. Important: full fat whipping cream of 33% to 35% milk fat must be used: any less fat (like 10% creamo for example) would likely result in it curdling. 
            Let me know how you like this recipe! Happy Cooking!

Dez’s Famous Sausage & Fennel Pasta
Recipe created by Chef Dez   www.chefdez.com
Makes approximately 6 portions

3 tbsp olive oil
500g mild Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, diced very small
4 - 6 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp fennel seed
1 tsp salt
A few grinds of black pepper
1 – 156ml can tomato paste
1 – 796ml can of diced tomatoes
1 cup of full-bodied red wine
1 tsp vegetable stock paste
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp sambal oelek, optional**
400g penne pasta or other favourite pasta shape
1 cup whipping cream
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for garnish

  1. Add the olive oil, sausage, onion, garlic, fennel seed, salt and pepper to a large heavy bottomed pan.
  2. Turn the heat on to medium-high and cook, while breaking up the sausage, until the sausage is fully cooked and in small pieces, approximately 8 to 12 minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, wine, vegetable paste, sugar, and sambal oelek. Bring to a boil and reduce over medium heat until the sauce becomes very thick, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Cook your pasta in boiling, liberally salted water to desired consistency (approximately 13 to 15 minutes for penne) during this step.
  4. Once the sauce has reduced, stir in the whipping cream and then the cooked and drained pasta. Serve immediately garnished with parsley and grated Parmigiano Reggiano.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The "F" Word in the Kitchen


            Hard-nosed Chef Gordon Ramsey has enthralled many in his repeated seasons of TV’s reality show “Hell’s Kitchen”. Although his language is somewhat colourful, to say the least; the “F” word we should focus on in the kitchen is “Flavour”.

            Countless consumers have frequented restaurants and fallen in love with tastes that they desire to duplicate in their home kitchens. The attempts to do so can often be disappointing. This is most likely due to short cuts that people take when choosing ingredients that fit their lifestyles and time limitations.

            For example, I have come across a number of homes that have the large container of peeled, pre-chopped, brine-soaked garlic in their refrigerators. The attractive price and convenience are the catalysts for allowing products like these to enter our homes, but in reality we are sacrificing flavour. Complimenting garlic flavour in a recipe is best achieved by using fresh garlic that has been peeled and prepared at the time the meal is created.

            Lemon juice is another common short cut. Lemon juice comes from lemons, not from a bottle. The taste difference in freshness is incredible. Also by utilizing fresh citrus fruits in recipes, one can take advantage of the essential oils in the outer zest of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit.

            Bouillon cubes/powders are another ingredient that I find in homes that baffle me. Beef or chicken broth comes from, you guessed it, beef or chicken – not artificial ingredients. Upon examination of these cubes or powders you will notice that the first ingredient isn’t even meat derived. There are convenient flavour bases available in better forms at your local supermarket, such as tetra-packs, canned condensed broths or, better yet, jarred pastes.

            There are many ways of creating flavour in recipes, like marinating meats for example, but the best way is to make a conscious decision to make sure every ingredient in a recipe is the most flavourful choice possible. Speaking of marinating meats – you guessed it – you should not be using powdered meat marinades. A fantastic and quick meat marinade recipe made from “real” ingredients is in my book The Best In Your Kitchen available for purchase on my website or from Amazon worldwide – you will never go back to powder.
            Until next time... keep it real, ...and of course Happy Cooking!
            Photo Credit: Food Network Canada/Chopped Canada

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cooking is Just Cooking!


            If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that cooking is a chore, I would be a rich man. The act of cooking a meal is just that: “cooking a meal”. It is not negative, or even positive for that matter, it is just something we do.

            We all need food to stay alive and since our homes are all equipped with kitchens, we cook. Maybe some of us more than others but we all still cook. Some kitchens will have their owner’s unharnessed culinary passions bestowed upon them on a daily basis, while the only glory days in other kitchens may be derived from someone adding onions and garlic to a saucepan of store bought pasta sauce… but it is all still cooking.


            I hate to even imagine that there is a percentage of our population that rely on daily practices of consuming products like TV dinners, frozen pizzas, and spray can pancake batter. Yes, I did say “spray can pancake batter”! Talking with employees of a large grocery chain, they tell me that they are constantly bombarded with requests from consumers for fast already prepared meals that they just heat & serve. Is there really a growing number of people in our society that have succumbed to rely on premade meals from a package or container. Have we lost so much time in our ever-growing busy lifestyles that we cannot commit to practicing creativity in the one life-nourishing art form that our homes have always been designed around?

            Who made cooking negative anyway? We did. We did as human beings. Take for example the simple tasks of washing a vehicle, mowing the lawn, or our daily commute to work. Are these tasks of complete negativity that all of us are destined to suffer through for the rest of our lives? No, some of us thrive in these situations. What makes these tasks at hand, along with cooking, a chore then?

            One of the things that we do, that no other life form does, is analyze and label. Everything we do, other than breathe or blink, we analyze and label. We create good and bad, positive and negative with our natural human psyche without even realizing it for the most part. Cooking, again, is just cooking. If it is positive for one and also negative at the same time for another, it is because each of those individuals have made it so. It is because of their opinion or perception that makes the act of doing something a joyous occasion or a nagging daily occurrence.

            Don’t get me wrong; people are entitled to their opinions, and if there are people out there that are happy with cooking being a chore, then so be it. What I don’t want is people believing that they don’t have a choice of it being a chore. Of course you have a choice. You just need to find the way to create a positive frame of mind regarding the task at hand. So with cooking in our home, we introduce music and a favorite beverage to the environment and also use this as an enjoyable opportunity to catch up with each other and take pleasure in the family being together in one room.

            Everyone is unique however, and what seems to be a simple change of focus to creative optimistic endeavors with one person, may need to be completely different for someone else. What makes you happy? What can you bring into the kitchen environment (mentally or physically) in order to make a more optimistic approach to this life essential assignment?

            Whatever it takes for you to have a more positive approach, the truth is that you will typically save money and eat healthier overall for doing so… and hopefully enjoy yourself, your family and your kitchen more. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

On The Road with The Road Hammers


            I recently featured this interview in my newspaper food column "Chef Dez on Cooking", but in case you missed it, I decided to re-publish it in my blog.
            I love being a Chef. Food is a universal language that touches the lives of almost everyone. No matter what road of life one travels along, chances are they have an appreciation for a good meal. If you know me and my wife Katherine, you will know of our love for not only food but also for music. Recently we had the pleasure of meeting Canadian country rock group, The Road Hammers; composed of band members Jason McCoy, Clayton Bellamy, and Chris Byrne. They are currently touring to promote their latest album “The Squeeze” which was released May 12 th of this year.
            We have always been a fan of their music, so it was interesting to chat with them, not only about music, but their eating habits too. Therefore, I am happy to share parts of our conversation with you for a glimpse of what the culinary lives of these musicians are like. The first question I had for them was “What do you tend to eat while on the road touring?

            JASON: “We’re pretty good at trying to avoid junk because we’ve all toured so many years. When you’re younger you can eat anything you want. (I like) steak, potatoes, that kind of thing. For some reason a steak makes me feel good. My subconscious reminds me that I want protein… it’s also a comfort food kind of thing. Butter chicken is my other thing; awesome because it seems like the curry kind of smartens everything up in your world.”

            CLAYTON: “Indian food and sushi. (I) like to venture outside (the box).”

            CHRIS: “I think it’s interesting to find great little holes-in-the-wall kind of restaurants that are not standard box store restaurants.”

            CHEF DEZ: You’ve been on the road for a while; if someone could welcome you home with a meal, what would you choose?

            JASON: “Anything my wife makes. She’s got the gift. Her spaghetti is stellar. Her hamburgers are magic.”

            CLAYTON: “My mom’s zucchini casserole. That is the ticket. It’s carrots, zucchini, and cheese… lots of cheese. And she puts croutons in there as well.

            CHRIS: “Chic peas and Spolumbo’s sausage roasted with fresh rosemary and little baby tomatoes. Spolumbo’s is a company in Calgary. It’s a spicy Italian (sausage) like a chorizo almost.”

            CHEF DEZ: What are your favorite dishes from your childhood?

            JASON: “My mother’s salmon casserole. Rice and it’s got cheese all through the rice and a layer of salmon, and then it’s got cheese with green olive in it. Then a bit of cheese crusted on top. It’s incredible.”

            CLAYTON: “My grandmother’s perogies when I was a kid. She’s right from the old country. Something about the dough and the way it was prepared.”

            CHRIS: “Mom’s homemade bread. Growing up in Newfoundland we didn’t buy store bread. Fresh out of the oven with a little bit of jam on it.”

            CHEF DEZ: When you get a chance to cook, what is your signature dish that you like to make?

            JASON: “I’m not much of a cook. I’m more of a campfire cooker kind of guy. My kids would starve if it was up to me. My wife’s the Gretzky of cooking so it’s like how do I get in there and say oh I’ll make dinner tonight? I’m best at making chocolate milk.”

            CLAYTON: “I do have a go-to I like: this bow-tie pasta I like to make with capers, fresh basil, baby tomatoes, and mix it all up with some olive oil and sea salt. My kids love that and I’ll make a huge pot of it and it’ll last all week.”

            CHRIS: “It’s a pasta as well. It’s a couple of onions, capers, Kalamata olives, a lot of olive oil, cherry tomatoes or some sundried tomatoes if you got them kicking around.

            I hope you enjoyed this exclusive culinary peek at the lives of these talented guys. Make sure you take a listen to their latest album. We have all of their music and love it. Until next time… Happy cooking!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

This Book is for Everyone! #notacookbook

            How many of you have kitchens at home? Yes... I said kitchens. And how many of you eat food every day... perhaps even 3 to 4 times per day? This pretty much encompasses the majority of the earth's population, but the most important question is: How many of you want to create some peace in this world?
            My latest book is something different. Not a cookbook this time. This time it is a motivational book with inspirational advice, called "Parsley is World Peace in Disguise".
            Chef Michael Smith says "Chef Dez knows the way forward is through the kitchen"... and I believe this to be true, but is parsley really world peace in disguise? That is quite a statement. Not just parsley, but food in general is. Food is one denominator that not only do we all have in common, but also it effects our senses and well being on so many levels. No matter what race, religion, financial status, or level of fame anyone is, we all begin, end, and continue through our days with nourishment. It connects us all together… if we let it, and at the same time enriches our lives and existence.
            The title of this book was chosen to help reflect the amount of influence food and its preparation can have on our day to day lives... but why parsley? Parsley is one of the oldest known garnishes. On restaurant plates and in butchers' display cases; although its use may be limited nowadays, the role of the bright green sprigs is ubiquitous. The intention of garnishing a dish or a food item is to add visual appeal. With embellishment, the look of the food is enhanced and is done do to make it more attractive and more tempting. This allurement then leads to anticipation of eating, making one salivate, and the theory is that this will in turn improve the whole eating experience as we nourish our bodies... making us feel better on so many levels.
            So this is a book about garnishing? No... although garnishing is a good thing, and is mentioned and recommended, it is collection of ideas, thoughts and theories on how food and beverage can make the world a better place... both for you and everybody else. 
            This book is for the culinarily skilled, for the ones that struggle with a can opener, and everyone else in between.  It is for anyone that loves being in the kitchen and for the ones that detest it, but most importantly it is for everyone who wants to enrich their lives and relationships with an everyday means: food.
            Your life is not meant to be a white knuckled pilgrimage of chaos; it should be a representation of mastery and triumph… Life is meant to embrace others, to love one another, and at the same time to love ourselves. This book will show you the way there using your existing kitchen as the pathway, the innate need to consume nourishment as the vehicle, and food & your mind as the fuel.
            I have taught hundreds of cooking classes, hosted countless numbers of live cooking events and have spoken to thousands of people about food and cooking. The contents of this book represents the most pertinent of information from all of those performances and conversations over the last 15
years of being "Chef Dez". Yes, this month, October 2017, represents me being in business for myself now for 15 years. I have always loved to cook, but the last 15 years have been the best because I have been able to share it all with you.
            Authors, in order to make a living, rely on selling books to do so. If you choose to buy my book (my 5th publication btw), it will not only help support what I do, but also help spread the word. Let's create some peace, shall we?
            Available worldwide through Amazon, in select retail stores, and from my website at www.chefdez.com it is a perfect book for anyone. From my website it is only $15 including GST and shipping to anywhere in Canada, for signed copies. If you choose to order from my website, you DO NOT need a PayPal account; just choose to purchase with a credit card when prompted after clicking the "buy now" button. Alternatively, you can e-transfer $15 to dez@chefdez.com and put your mailing address in the details of your transfer; or mail a $15 cheque or money order payable to: Chef Dez Enterprises, PO Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC, V2T 6R4.
            Thank you so much, and until next time... Happy Cooking!