Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Should We Ban the Boiling of Lobsters?

            The best way for cooking almost all foods is from the freshest possible ingredients. Seafood, is no different, and if anything, even more imperative to do so for premium texture and flavour. With shellfish specifically, it has been long standing tradition in the chef’s world to cook from live whenever possible to be assured of optimal guaranteed freshness. Thus, recently when it was announced that Switzerland is planning to ban the boiling of live lobsters, it caught my attention.

            Upon further investigation, supposedly this practice of boiling live lobsters has already been banned in New Zealand for close to two decades. So, why has this recently been brought to the forefront of Swiss law? In my opinion it has been just a matter of time for this topic to be in the news (and the law) again.

            As expected, there are many opinions about not only this, but as always, the treatment of food animals in general by us humans. Overall, I believe we are in better times, where we are generally more aware of how animals are treated in the process of being prepared for the journey to the marketplace, and ultimately our dinner table. Making sure cattle, pigs, lamb, and chickens for example, have a good life and are killed humanely are of the utmost importance with many more people than ever before. However, where do we draw the line? Can we honestly say that the humane treatment of a cow going to butcher, is of the same importance and concern of a lobster being boiled alive?

            When I first heard this new story, my initial reaction and comment was “how ridiculous! This has gone too far!” It wasn’t long after though, that I started thinking about this more, and I believe that’s where the value is: being aware. I don’t think we need our government to decide in legal rulings what we can or can’t do in our kitchens, but I appreciate news stories like this keeping me more conscious of my actions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will stop boiling live lobsters in the future, but my overall consciousness of respect for living creatures has been heightened… and that is never a bad thing. So thus, I may think twice before choosing to, or not to.

            However, I honestly don’t believe that crustaceans have the same feelings, or central nervous system, as mammals do, and thus how can we treat them in the same respect? Again, where do we draw the line then? If we care to this degree in the ethical treatment of lobsters, then it could also be argued that all crustaceans, including crabs, crayfish, and prawns for example should be treated with the same respect and recognition. Then if we are honoring all crustaceans in this manner, then what about the feelings of mollusks like cephalopods such as octopus and squid; or bivalves such as clams, mussels and oysters? Aren’t they living creatures as well, and the treatment of them should also be considered when it comes time for harvesting and preparation? Quite literally food for thought, but I think you can understand how this discussion could be never ending, let alone encompass it completely in a single food column.

            If this is a concern for you however, how are you expected to cook your live lobster in the future? It is recommended that the lobster is “knocked out” first before entering the boiling water, by the process of freezing or other means.

Being more caring in our actions is never a bad thing, but let’s just keep it in a perspective that you are comfortable with. In the meantime… Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Quick Breakfast on the Run for Your Busy Life

            Store bought, premade breakfast bars are not always the healthiest solution to breakfasts on the run, so I want to share this recipe made with whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and ground flax.

            Make them ahead of time and freeze each of the sixteen bars individually. For those hurried mornings, microwave one frozen bar on high for 30 seconds, and you are out the door with warm oatmeal in your hand. Yes, the recipe does have butter in it for moisture and tenderness, but remember this makes sixteen bars: that’s only just over two teaspoons of butter per bar.

            I hope this recipe will take a bite out of your busy mornings. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Recipe created by Chef Dez    www.chefdez.com
“The benefit of oatmeal in a convenient bar. Great for Breakfast on the run too – Microwave each bar from frozen for 30 seconds on high power.”
Makes 16 bars

2 ¼ (two and a quarter) cups whole wheat flour
2 ¼ (two and a quarter) cups quick oats
¾ (three quarters) cup raisins
3 tbsp ground flax seed
1½ (one and one half) tsp baking soda
1½ (one and one half) tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
¾ (three quarters) cup butter, room temperature
½ (one half) cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1½ (one and one half) tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9 x 13 inch cake pan with baking spray. Tip: Line the pan with parchment paper leaving the ends sticking out to make the uncut product easier to remove from the pan once cooled.
2.     Combine the whole wheat flour, quick oats, raisins, ground flax seed, baking soda, ground cinnamon, and salt in a mixing bowl.
3.     Beat the butter and Splenda Brown Sugar Blend together in a separate bowl.
4.     Add the apple sauce, vanilla extract and eggs to the butter and Splenda/butter mixture. Continue beating until thoroughly combined.
5.     Combine the mixtures in the two bowls together. It will be a very thick batter.
6.     Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
7.     Bake for 18-20 minutes until firm.
8.     Cool in the pan until room temperature.
9.     Cut into 16 equal bars by removing the product from the pan first.

Makes 16 bars

Friday, January 12, 2018

Pan Seared Sage Scallops

            What is the first food you think of when I mention the herb "sage"? Probably turkey stuffing, or poultry in general. But I'm here to tell you that sage, fresh sage, is an incredible aromatic herb that can be utilized in many other applications.
            One of our all-time favorite things to do with fresh sage is to pan sear scallops with it in
browned butter. I have personally made this recipe for so many people and it always pleases. I have even convinced scallop haters to love this recipe! The aromas that come from the fresh sage being fried in the butter is incredible, and the crispy bits of sage on the scallops is to die for!
           To help you along with this recipe, I will also include a video link of the preparation of this dish. I know, it's an older video of me... I apologize for that, but it's a good rendition of how easy this dish is. I am hoping to make more videos of different dishes in 2018. Click HERE
            Here is the recipe. Let me know how you like it. It is also on page 18 of my cookbook "The Best In Your Kitchen". Happy Cooking!
Pan Seared Sage Scallops
 “The essential oils released from the fresh sage in this sauce make these scallops to die for”

12 large scallops
Salt & Pepper
1 – 2 tsp grape-seed oil or canola oil
1/3 cup cold butter, cubed into tbsp pieces
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

1.     Preheat a heavy bottomed medium/large pan over medium-high heat until it is very hot.

2.     Pat dry the scallops and season them on both sides with salt & pepper.

3.     Add the oil to the pan and then immediately add the scallops one or two at a time. Cook in the hot pan for about 30 seconds to a minute on the one side until they are seared/browned.

4.     Flip them over, cook for another 30 seconds, then add the butter pieces one or two at a time until it has all been added. The butter will brown very quickly and immediately add the sage, stir and coat the scallops with the infused brown butter sauce and serve immediately.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Eat Your Way Through America’s Music Cities

           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.

            I have partnered with Collette Travel to bring you my next culinary tour scheduled for
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. My travel consultant, and 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 contact info is on the itinerary found on my website at www.chefdez.com.

            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.

            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.

If you’re in a cooking rut, break out of it. Everyone is different and so are our perceptions. Find what inspires you and go after it because chances are you will be cooking and eating food for the rest of your life. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cooking With or Without Water?

Photo by Brooklyn D Photography
            How many recipes have you seen that list water as an ingredient? A pasta sauce recipe, for example, may say to add a cup of water. How much flavour does water have? Nothing. I am always preaching to be innovative while cooking and add ingredients other than water such as wine, broth, beer, juice, etc because they have more flavour. Although most can, some recipes cannot adapt to this type of modification. It will usually depend on the amount of seasonings/flavour already in the dish.

            The first thing to examine is the amount of water the recipe suggests. If the amount is of minuscule proportion, then typically replacing the water shouldn’t be a concern. The choice of distinctive liquid would accent the existing flavours without risk of overpowering of the dish.

            If the recipe states a large quantity of water, then one must examine what the other ingredients are and how much flavour they will impart on their own. This is not as complicated as it may sound. The most effective way to determine if a recipe can accept any variation is to make it the way it is written first and then listen to your taste buds. Could it use more flavour? If so, what would compliment it and how pungent/mellow can the liquid be? Maybe just replacing a portion of the water would be the solution or leaving the recipe in its original state is just fine. Make notes in your cookbooks for future reference.

            Rice cooked in chicken stock, for example, has more flavour than if it was cooked in only water. I know that may seem quite obvious, so let me give you some ideas with the following liquids:

            Red Wine or Dark Beer are great additions to red meat and tomato dishes, such as pasta sauce, gravies, chili, stir-fry’s, soups, stews, etc. A general ‘rule of thumb’ is the stronger the flavours in a certain dish, then the more robust wine/beer it can handle as an ingredient.

            White Wine is better suited to cream sauces, poultry gravies, lighter soups, and seafood.

            Broth, Stock, or Vegetable Juices can be paired up with certain dishes, based on the flavours you want to impart, albeit chicken, beef or vegetable. Broth/stock is an option for almost any savoury dish.

            Fruit Juices can also be used in savoury dishes (savoury is the opposite of sweet). A delicious example would be an orange ginger stir-fry made from orange juice.            These are only suggestions as there are countless options and combinations to try. Keep tasting and taking notes. Your cookbooks may turn our looking like high-school textbooks, but for the sake of better eating – it is worth it.
            Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

EASY Italian Sausage & Gnocchi Soup

            One of the best things about Italian cuisine can be its simplicity, and one of the best things about colder outdoor temperatures is eating soup. One of the commonly asked questions directed to me is for easy, fast, and delicious soup recipes. This is the one I recommend all the time.

            This soup is hearty and because it is loaded with Italian sausage, gnocchi pasta, tomatoes,
garlic, and incredible cheese it is everything you would expect from an Italian soup... but also very quick and easy to prepare. If you have never heard of “gnocchi” pasta before, don’t despair – vacuum sealed packages of the small dumpling-like pasta shapes can be found at almost all major grocery stores down the pasta aisle.

            Don’t underestimate the choice of the Pecorino Romano cheese as the finishing garnish for this soup as it adds incredible flavour and compliments and balances all the other flavours in this soup beautifully. Large shavings of this cheese are easily prepared with a simple vegetable peeler – shave it directly onto the individually bowled soup portions just prior to serving – this looks much more rustic and gourmet than simply grating it, but either way is fine. If you can’t find Pecorino Romano, a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano will have to suffice. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Italian Sausage & Gnocchi Soup
Makes approximately 13 cups

500g raw mild Italian sausage, casings removed and discarded
1 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 – 796ml can of diced tomatoes
1800ml chicken broth
1 tsp sugar
1 – 500g package of potato gnocchi pasta
1 packed cup fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
Generous amounts of shaved Pecorino Romano cheese

1.     Add the sausage meat, olive oil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper to a large pot. Turn the heat to medium and cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes until the sausage in cooked through, while breaking up the sausage meat with a spoon as it cooks.

2.     Add the can of tomatoes, chicken broth, and sugar. Increase the heat to medium high to bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the gnocchi and continue to cook for 3 minutes.

3.     Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the spinach and basil and portion out immediately; garnished with generous amounts of shaved Pecorino Romano cheese.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Chestnuts: Low in Fat, High in Fiber

            It was only about 13 years ago that I first tried roasted chestnuts. It was on a cold winter afternoon while strolling past all of the decorative lights and stores on Robson Street in Vancouver, BC. We came across a street vendor selling these heated little goodies and decided to give them a try. They were incredible. A comforting buttery nut with a flavour uniquely their own, still encased in their shell but scored to ease the task of peeling. I couldn’t have found anything better at the time. Grasping a warm paper sack of roasted chestnuts while the crisp winter air surrounded us was reminiscent of a classic Christmas story.

            As a child, I always came across chestnuts scattered on the ground amidst the fallen autumn leaves, and never thought twice about them. Now I have a completely different outlook. I purchase
chestnuts fresh from the local supermarket when they’re in season, on a regular basis. When selecting them, choose ones that feel heavy and dense for their size and have a shiny outer brown shell that does not collapse when pushed upon. They will keep at room temperature in a cool dark area for about a week, and for approximately one month in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Alternatively, they can also be frozen for up to six months. Purchasing them from a reputable supplier is recommended if you are unfamiliar with chestnuts, as there is a wild variety named “horse chestnuts” that are inedible.

            Preparing them for roasting is a bit tedious but well worth the effort. While your oven is preheating to 425 degrees, score the brown shell with a sharp knife. Place the flat side of the chestnut down on a cutting board and cut an “x” shape carefully on the rounded side facing upwards. I find that a fine-toothed serrated knife works best. Keeping the shell on while cooking is important for holding in their warmth upon serving. Seal them with a few tablespoons of water in aluminum foil and roast for approximately 50 minutes. Be careful of the escaping hot steam when unwrapping them and serve immediately. Alternatively, place approximately eight of the scored chestnuts in a bowl and microwave for approximately one to one and a half minutes. The shelling process afterwards is not only made easier by cooking them, but also adds to the nostalgic amusement of eating this wonderful treat.

            Chestnuts are not similar to others in the nut family, as they are more perishable and their fat content is significantly less. With only 2 or 3 grams of fat per 100g, chestnuts weigh in far less than other nuts that may contain upwards of 30 to 70 grams of fat per 100g. Chestnuts also have approximately one third of the calories of other nuts and are a much greater source of dietary fiber. One of the downsides to chestnuts however, is that their starchier content contributes to a much higher carbohydrate count compared to other nuts.

            The chestnut tree is actually related to the oak tree and can live to be up to 500 years. They usually measure approximately 50 feet in height but can grow to be over 100 feet tall. Chestnut wood, like oak, is much sought after for furniture building for its fine grains and hard composition.

            Make this wonderfully historic treat part of your holiday season this year, and you may catch yourself humming “chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”.
            Until next time... Happy Cooking!