Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tips for Handling, Storing, and Cooking with Fresh Strawberries


            Summer is here and strawberry season is one of the most celebrated times of the year for lovers of this luscious red fruit. I always buy an abundant amount of all fruit when it is in season, and strawberries are no exception.

            Although strawberries seem to be available throughout the entire year, thanks to our friends in the south; they are not as good as the ones we get fresh right here from our local farmers. Imported strawberries from warmer climates have usually been cultivated in a way, which produces a larger and firmer berry more durable for transport. This is great for having strawberries available year-round, however these cultivation methods are also the culprit for producing a berry that usually is not as sweet or flavourful as it’s locally available counter-part. Thus we tend to rely on sweeteners and flavour enhancers, such as sugar or chocolate, when serving them. A small amount of balsamic vinegar is also, surprisingly; a great way to bring out the flavour of fresh strawberries.

            Strawberries are very perishable and should be handled and stored with care. First of all, never buy a basket of strawberries that contains any spoiled ones. Although it may only be one berry, microscopic mold spores have already been transferred to adjacent berries in the basket. This will lead to the whole basket of fruit deteriorating faster. Since washing and handling of the berries will also increase the rapidness of spoilage, only wash the amount needed and leave the others untouched.

            The washing of strawberries should only be done with the whole berry intact. If the green top is removed, you will find that the center is somewhat hollow. This cavity will collect water and dramatically reduce (water down) the amount of flavour. Unwashed leftover berries should be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container to keep their “musty” odor from dispersing throughout. A drain tray in this container would be ideal, as it would aid in air circulation within, by keeping any moisture trapped at the bottom and away from the berries.

            Freezing is another option for preservation, however as with most fragile fruit you lose quality. Strawberries are high in vitamin C and the most optimal way of maintaining their nutritional value is to leave them whole. Cut strawberries have more surface area, and thus loose nutrients faster. To prepare for freezing, wash the berries intact, pat them dry, remove the green tops, and transfer them to a freezer bag and use them within the next six months for best results.

There are many dishes that you can prepare using strawberries. The most traditional are
desserts such as strawberry shortcake and chocolate dipped strawberries. However, they also work great as tid-bits on cheese platter, or make them into a salsa to spoon over grilled chicken or fish. Many people have never made a salsa out of fruit, but it is very simple and the contrasting flavours are very complimentary to the grilled fish or meat it is being served upon. To accomplish making a great strawberry salsa, just add an assortment of items to small-diced strawberries, such as red onion, yellow bell pepper, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, and season with a little salt & pepper. You will be amazed at the results – and since it is strawberry season, the time to experiment is now.
Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Upgrade Dad’s BBQ to Lump Charcoal


            Although men have been assigned the stereotype of working the backyard grill, it is a joy that is shared by all home culinary enthusiasts. It’s a summertime passion. The aroma of lump charcoal being lit starts my mouth watering as my mind conjures up recollections of flame-licked meats, and fire caramelized vegetables. Lump charcoal is the new black when it comes to barbecuing, and with a few basic tips and some research, you can overcome any intimidation you may have towards this natural fuel.

            Before I get into the benefits of lump charcoal, I must stress that the quality of equipment is important. I hear of so many people purchasing equipment just because the price is right. Your outdoor cooking appliance is a significant purchase and should not be looked upon differently than the purchase of a new oven/stove for your kitchen. If anything, quality in an outdoor cooker should be of higher importance that your indoor oven/stove because it will be subjected to the elements; even with a cover over it the environment is more humid than anything you use indoors.

            A barbeque should not be considered a disposable fixture. You should not have to replace it every few years. You would never dream of doing that with your indoor oven/stove, so why do you expect to do that with your barbecue? Do your research. How long has the company been operating for? How long is the warranty? Is the warranty administered through the retailer or do you have to deal with the manufacturer yourself? How easy is it to get replacement parts and accessories? Taking the time to investigate before you purchase will pay off in the long run.

            Barbecued flavor from natural wood is the best in my opinion and natural lump charcoal is arguably the way to go. Sure there are other products that will give you smoke flavor like pellets or bisquettes in different smokers. However, these are made from wood chips and/or sawdust compressed together, and because of that they are more susceptible to moisture absorption, and also not usually used in direct high heat searing. The old standby square formed briquettes, compressed with binding ingredients, are also no comparison to natural lump charcoal. Lump charcoal is basically just chunks of wood that have been heated with little oxygen. This process carbonizes the wood and transforms it into this incredible long-lasting fuel that naturally adds amazing flavor to anything grilled with it. I have read that archeological digs have proven that we as humans have been making charcoal for the purpose of cooking for thousands of years. This would then be the oldest known form of cooking to mankind. It’s simple: we take from nature through sustainable resources, cook our food, and give back to nature by contributing the compostable ash to our gardens.

            The bag you purchase must say “lump charcoal” to know that you’re getting the real deal. There are many brands in the market place to choose from. Charcoal made from only hardwood will be the premium choice. Hardwood lump charcoal lasts longer, is easier to light, makes food taste better in my opinion, and is more receptive to oxygen flow.

            To have fire, in the simplest form, is to have fuel, ignition and oxygen. Controlling the flow of oxygen through air vents on a charcoal grill to increase/decrease temperature will replace the working of gas knobs on a gas/propane grill. A fire can’t burn, or let alone increase in temperature, without oxygen. Increase the oxygen and you will increase the amount of fire, and thus increase the temperature of the cook. The opposite will happen with the decrease of oxygen. It’s that simple, and your food has never tasted better.

            To make Dad the true king of the barbecue this Father’s Day get him cooking on the most natural fuel and the taste of his famous barbecued food will increase dramatically. There is a ton of information on the internet and in books on charcoal cooking that will help make the transition as easy as possible. Until next time... Happy Cooking, and Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Garlic and Lemon Juice in Greek Cooking


            Of my cooking classes, Greek are the most popular by far and this stems from my own passion for the flavours of Greece. Almost everyone I talk to loves Greek food and has frequented their local Greek Restaurants many times. People are always quick to mention their favourite ones and the best dishes that are served there.

            I joke with people all the time that to create Greek food one basically adds olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and oregano to anything and it’s Greek. Although these may be common denominators in many Greek recipes, there’s a bit more to it than that to make good Greek food.


            The most important thing to remember is ingredients from the source will always taste better in the final dish. Two ingredients that always come to mind when discussing this are garlic and lemon juice. Please use fresh.

            Garlic should never come from a jar. I see people in stores buying these large jars of peeled, chopped garlic in brine and I question it. The response is usually “it’s cheap and convenient”. Sounds like ‘fast food’ to me. Just because something is cheap and convenient, doesn’t mean we should use it. Take any fresh cut vegetable (or fruit for that matter) and soak it in a jar full of brine – where does the flavour go? It leaches into the brine. So people who take a slotted spoon and add some of this garlic to a dish and say “I’m cooking with Garlic” – I respond and say “No, you’re cooking with a residual, that was once garlic, and now most of the natural flavour has gone into the brine – which you’re going to dump down the drain in a year once you have gotten through that humungous jar”. Let alone all the preservatives involved.

            Many people also willingly pass through the produce section, walking by the lemons, on their way to the juice aisle to grab a bottle of lemon juice… again for the same reason “cheap and convenient”. If you go to a lemon orchard in Florida or Italy, there are not bottles hanging from the trees. A reconstituted juice from concentrate will not give you the same flavour as what’s offered from a fresh lemon. Plus you have the added bonus of reaping the aromatic and colourful zest from the outer peel to utilize as an additional ingredient or beautiful garnish.

            We have to remember that the term “cheap and convenient” is not a synonym for “flavour” and if you want your Greek food, or any food, to taste better you need to go to the source of the ingredient you are adding for optimal results. Fresh is always best.
            Until next time... Happy Cooking!
Greek Salad

2 long English cucumbers, diced large
6-8 Roma tomatoes, diced large
1 large yellow pepper, diced large
1 large orange pepper, diced large
1 medium to large red onion, diced large
1 cup Kalamata olives
Crumbled Feta Cheese 

Dressing

1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp dried oregano leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp sugar
salt and coarsely ground pepper to season


  1. In a large bowl, toss the vegetables and olives together.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the dressing ingredients well and pour over the salad. Toss to coat.
  3. Garnish with crumbled feta cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Praise for Braising!


            Have recent increases in the price of meat leave you with the thought of becoming a vegetarian? With no disrespect to my vegetable eating friends, there is a great technique to bring extreme flavour and tenderness to cheaper cuts of meat. It’s called “braising”.

            Braising is typically the process of first searing meat and then cooking it in a small amount of liquid at low temperatures for a long period of time. This low & slow method, along with the added moisture, is the ideal environment for breaking down connective tissue and thus making the meat more tender. The residual liquid is almost always transformed into a serving sauce with the prepared meat. Braising is used for both large cuts of meats and also for smaller individual cuts, with the main difference being the length of cooking time. Stews are another great example of braising.

            Before the first step of searing, seasoning should be done. By seasoning before searing, the crust that is being created becomes more flavourful as the seasoning becomes part of the crust. This seasoning does not have to be complex. It’s as simple as a dusting of salt and pepper, or as intricate as you want it to be. This flavourful browning of the meat will bring out incredible tastes in your finished dish.

            The searing should be done at a high temperature in order to create brownness on the meat. If the temperature is too low, or if a pan is too crowded, then the initial escaping moisture from the meat will not evaporate, and thus the meat will just boil in its own juices instead of browning.

            The cooking liquid chosen should be selected to compliment the meat/dish. The amount of liquid will be different for every application. Stews are usually submersed in liquid for the cooking time, while pot roasts, for example, usually have just enough liquid to cover the meat by one third to two thirds. Some individual cuts of meat, like pork chops, can be cooked with a lid with no added liquid. Just the trapped moisture in the meat itself may be enough for braising.

            At the end of the cooking time, the residual cooking liquids can be easily transformed into accompanying sauces by reducing, thickening, or a combination of both. Before deciding how to finish your sauce, it will start with tasting. How are the flavours? How intense is it? If you decide that the flavours and intensity are sufficient, then a simple thickening will do: enter in a dissolved
cornstarch slurry and bring to a full boil. If you find that the flavours and intensity are not sufficient, then boil the liquid as is, until it reduces through evaporation of water content. Taste along the way and decide when the sauce is ideal. This may also involve adjusting and balancing the flavours along the way. Once the desired taste is achieved, examine the sauce to see if thickening is even required, as it may have thickened enough on its own during this reduction time.

            Learning many cooking techniques are great to assist you in the kitchen by increasing your skillset, but nothing can replace the hands-on experience of practice. Cook, be happy, know that you will make mistakes along the way, and enjoy life. Life is too short to get stressed out by a serving of food that is not perfect. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

“Oven Dried” Tomatoes instead of “Sun Dried”


            If you like tomatoes, chances are you also love the taste of robust sun-dried tomatoes. They can be purchased either packed in oil, vacuum packed, or dehydrated; and when buying them from the store, I like the ones packed in oil the best. The ones made from scratch however, are even tastier.

            Whatever the process, dried tomatoes are more concentrated in flavor because most of the water content has been removed during the drying process. Although this recipe is called Oven “Dried” Tomatoes, they are not really dried; they are still moist but have just shrunk to approximately one-third to one-quarter of their original size and have really intense flavour. We love using these in a
number of recipes such as pasta, pizza, sandwiches, or even just eating them on their own. The downside of this recipe is the length of time they need to be in the oven. Cooking them at a low temperature for a long period of time is the best way to extract moisture, intensify flavours, without burning them in the process. Close attention is needed in the latter part of the cooking process to ensure that they do not get overcooked, dried out, and/or burnt. The cooking time is an approximation and will depend on a number of factors: the size of the tomatoes, the ripeness of the tomatoes, the correct calibration of your oven, etc. Do not let this scare you however, just pay attention, that’s all.

            This is a great recipe to make on a day when you are going to be home anyway and want the warm Mediterranean aromas filling your house. Since they are not completely dried however, they do not last indefinitely. Once cooled, store them in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 7 days. Enjoy!
            I have a Big Green Egg outdoor barbecue/smoker and making this recipe with charcoal and your choice of wood is even more incredible than the oven process!


Oven Dried Tomatoes
10 fresh Roma tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. dried basil leaves (not ground basil)
1 tbsp. dried oregano leaves (not ground oregano)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Remove and discard any green tops of the tomatoes, slice in half from top to bottom (lengthwise), and place them in a mixing bowl.
3. Add the olive oil, balsamic, basil, oregano, salt & pepper, and toss to coat. Gently work a small amount of pulp out of the tomato halves while working the flavourings into the tomato cavities.
4. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
5. Spoon the remaining liquid from the bowl over the tomatoes and lightly season each one again with salt & pepper.
6. Bake for approximately 5 to 6 hours, until the tomatoes have reduced by approximately two-thirds or three-quarters in size but are still moist. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
7. Use in a number of recipes such as pastas, pizzas, bruschetta, grains, etc... anywhere you want incredible tomato flavour.

Makes 20 halves
This recipe is included in Chef Dez's book: "The Best In Your Kitchen"
Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Versatility That Sticks to the Roof of Your Mouth


            As a child, I remember when I first discovered the taste of a peanut butter and banana sandwich and wondered how many others knew about this phenomenon. The contrasting flavours of salty nuttiness and the sweetness opened up a whole new world for me. I then started searching for other ways to indulge my newly established passion for peanut butter. Spreading a spoonful of it on each bite of an apple was my favorite.
            My fascination of peanut butter has matured since then, and I have discovered many ways to use this household pantry staple. The most important thing to keep in mind however, is the growing number of peanut allergies in people. Always inquire with dinner guests to discover any allergies you may not be aware of before planning a menu.
            Peanut butter has been in existence for hundreds of years and is a regular food item in over 70% of households. Peanut butter, in moderation, is a good part of a balanced diet and a source of protein. Although it contains a large amount of fat, approximately 80% of the fat content is unsaturated. Unsaturated fats have been proven to help reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) without lowering HDL-cholesterol (the good one). If the healthy aspect is your focus however, you are much better off with natural peanut butters where the ingredients are just peanuts. Peanut butters that are not natural may contain unhealthy artificially produced trans-fats, which have been linked to increases in LDL-cholesterol.
            We only buy natural peanut butter in our family, but because of the lack of preservatives it needs to be kept in the refrigerator once opened. Many people complain about the natural separation of the oil upon opening a fresh jar and about the hard consistency when using it cold from the refrigerator, but we have a couple of ways to get around this.
            When we buy a new jar we store it upside down in our pantry before opening. The separated peanut oil is lighter and will always rise to the top, and since the jar is upside down the oil is now at the bottom of the jar once turned right side up. This allows you to more easily incorporate the oil back in without it spilling over the top - a simple butter knife works great. We also throw in a few pinches of salt for flavour. Now that the peanut butter is blended back together it is ready to go to the refrigerator and it will then stay homogenized together. Some people will remove all of the contents from the jar and whir it in a food processor to achieve this, but to me that seems like a lot of extra equipment to clean.
            When it comes to using the hard cold peanut butter on bread or toast, we simply heat the small portion we are going to use. We have a toaster oven and once the bread has been toasted, we place a serving of cold peanut butter on each piece and put it back in the warmed oven for approximately 30 seconds (with the toaster oven off), and then it will spread very easily. Alternatively, if you don’t own a toaster oven, just microwave a portion for a few seconds. The ‘old school’ way would be to plan ahead and leave some out at room temperature beforehand.
            The first alternate use for peanut butter that comes to mind is for making sauces and/or dressings. Use it as a base in a spicy peanut dressing for your favorite salad, or in a peanut sauce for your next stir-fry. There are many recipes available to successfully accomplish these ideas. For a fantastic finishing touch make sure that the garnish for these dishes include a handful of roasted peanuts. For added dimension of flavour and richness in chili, soups and stews, a tablespoon or two of peanut butter is fantastic, but again be sure about any allergy possibilities as most people won't suspect it in these meals.
            One substitution that always keeps me reaching for the peanut butter, is to replace tahini. I love Greek hummus (ground chic pea dip), and it usually requires a sesame paste called tahini. Since I hardly ever have tahini on hand, peanut butter is a wonderful alternative. It is the same consistency as tahini, and the flavour depth that the peanut butter adds to the recipe is incredible.
            In addition to these uses there are many desserts that feature the wonderful taste of peanut butter. I cannot stress enough to take advantage of the free resources like the library and the internet for an abundant number of recipes.
            Experimenting in the kitchen is the pathway to creating recipes that you can call your own and take pride in. Have fun trying these suggestions, but if all else fails there is still one use that you can rely on: the next time you have a case of the hiccups, swallowing a tablespoon of peanut butter will usually eliminate them.
            Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Friday, May 12, 2017

3 Wicked Sauces for Your Steak


            One of my favorite meats on the barbecue is a good beef steak. I used to be somewhat of a purest and insist on only salt & pepper gracing this grilled wonder, but I have lightened up over the years. Although I have never been (and never will be) a fan of coating a beef steak with traditional type barbecue sauce, my wife loves sauce with almost everything. So to please her palate, and mine as well, I usually turn to one of these three incredible sauces. I hope you like them. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Peppercorn Sauce
2/3 cup full bodied red wine
2 tbsp concord grape jelly
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup beef stock
2 tbsp canned green Madagascar peppercorns, drained
1 tbsp butter

In a large pan over medium-high heat add the wine and grape jelly. Boil until the wine has reduced in volume by half, and the jelly has melted into the wine.
Add the cream and beef stock and continue to boil until the sauce has become thickened and syrupy, stirring frequently.
Pull the pan off the heat. Stir in the strained peppercorns and butter and serve immediately.


Jus (brothy sauce like you would get with prime rib)

1 cup full bodied red wine
3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup beef broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar

Combine the red wine, garlic cloves, and rosemary in a small pot. Boil over medium/high to high heat until the wine has reduced in volume by half. Add the beef stock, salt and sugar. Stir to combine, cover and set aside off the heat until your meat is cooked.
While the meat is resting, warm the Jus in the pot until hot, strain the garlic and rosemary out and portion into small dipping cups for serving.

Garlic Compound Butter
1 cup butter, room temperature
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix the butter, garlic, parsley and parmesan thoroughly.
Shape in wax paper into a 1-inch cylindrical shape. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Store in the refrigerator (or freezer) until needed.
To serve as a complimentary sauce: unwrap and slice thick circles of the butter to let melt on the hot grilled steaks.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Thawing Meat Safely for Cooking


            Most of us all lead very busy lives, or at least we claim to. We also freeze meat for future dinners because we either bought too much, it was on sale and so we stocked up, or we just plainly don’t want to grocery shop any more often than we have to. Perhaps you have freezing meat down to a science, such as airtight bags, labels, freezer stock rotation, etc. But what about the thawing process?

            There are a couple of thawing processes that I cringe at the thought of, a couple more that are questionable, and two that are ideal depending on how far advanced you are in your meal planning process.

            We have all been there: You come home from work, you have little time to prepare dinner, and there is no meat thawed to cook with. If you are vegetarian, vegan, or it is the first day of the work week and you celebrate “Meatless Monday”, then you are in luck. For the rest of us meat-loving carnivores, what are our options?

            One of the worst things we could have done was to leave meat out on the counter all day to thaw. Food born bacteria growth happens at a fast rate between temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius (40F-140F) and food should be kept out of this danger zone as much as possible. Leaving your meat on the counter is not an ideal climate as chances are your kitchen temperature is never below 4 degrees Celsius.

            Some claim that small portions of meat that have been frozen in a flat manner (a thinner mass and more contact with the thawing surface area) can be thawed faster at room temperature if placed on an aluminum pan. Supposedly the aluminum will conduct the heat in the air faster to the meat, and thus providing faster thawing. However, I still believe that this would not be fast enough for safe temperature stabilization.

             Thawing in the microwave (you know we have all tried this) will bring parts of the meat into the danger zone, but for very little time in contrast to the all-day exposure to room temperature. However, this is still not ideal and microwave thawing also adds the undesirable effect of cooking the outer parts of the meat during this so-called thawing process.

            Some insist that leaving the meat in a sink of cold water is best, but I still have to disagree. This is also an uncontrolled environment. Eventually the water temperature will change, albeit slowly because of the chunk of frozen meat submersed in it, because the surrounding air is still room temperature.

            The two best options in my opinion are as follows:

            Think ahead and transfer meat from the freezer to the refrigerator for 24 to 72 hours (depending on the mass size of the meat) before you intend on cooking it. This will keep the meat in a safe temperature controlled environment while it thaws. Keep in mind you will want to practice food safe measurements by keeping the meat well contained and in the lower levels of your refrigerator so as to less likely transfer raw meat bacteria to your fridge or other foods.

            The other option is to make sure the frozen meat is completely sealed in bags with little air. Transfer to a large container that will fit in your sink, but also will not block the flow of water through the drain. Fill the container with cold water, and then reduce the flow of water to a slow trickle (or slightly more). Let the water continuously overflow over the sides of the container and run down the drain until the meat is thawed. This is very fast as long as the meat has been frozen in individual sized portions (not a bunch of chicken breasts stuck together for example). The continuous cold water will keep the water cold and the movement of the flowing water will also aid in the thawing process. Take note: this is to be done while you are at home and staying focused on the situation – not while you are away from the home. Prepping other parts of the meal while this is happening is a good habit to get into. I have thawed chicken breasts in this manner in less than 30 minutes, and seafood in even less time. The obvious downside would be the waste of water.

            So contained in all good advice of meal planning, retirement savings, and countless other situations and topics: plan ahead for best results. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Grilled Philly Cheesesteaks

            It is rare that I eat out at a restaurant, but when I do, as with everyone I presume, I want to be satisfied with the flavour of my purchase. One dish I have found that has always fallen short of this, no matter where I purchase it, is the classic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. The idea of having a sandwich that is overloaded with meat, onions, peppers, and dripping with cheese is enough to have any mouth salivating with anticipation. I feel my let-downs however lie in the process of the cooking technique and usually a lack of seasoning.

            Because of the discouragements I have experienced, I set out to create the best Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich. And the result? This is it. Enjoy!

            Until next time... Happy Cooking!



Grilled Philly Cheesesteaks

Makes 6 large sandwiches

“This grilled version of the classic Philly Cheesesteak has incredible “flame licked” flavour that would be non-existent in the traditional way of preparing it in a pan. I find the addition of mayonnaise is extremely important for not only adding richness, but also to help enhance the gooey drippy effect that a classic cheesesteak should have.”

2 pounds (908g) boneless rib-eye steaks
2 medium onions, sliced into 4 thick rounds each
2 red bell peppers, sliced into big pieces
Canola, vegetable or grape seed oil
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup butter
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
6 oval hoagie type buns
12 tbsp mayonnaise
360g provolone cheese slices

1.     Preheat your BBQ over high heat. Oil the steaks with 3 to 4 tsp of the oil and then season liberally with salt & pepper. Toss the prepared onions and peppers with 1 tbsp of the oil.

2.     Turn the heat on your BBQ to medium or medium/high and grill the steaks until your desired doneness, approximately 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium (depending on the temperature of the steaks and the power of your BBQ). Grill the onion and pepper slices at the same time just until they are somewhat charred and cooked through. Remove the steaks, onions and peppers and set aside.

3.     Melt the butter and garlic together and set aside.

4.     Slice the peppers into thin strips and rough chop the onions. Toss these pepper and onion pieces together with the Worcestershire and season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside.

5.     Slice the steaks into very thin strips and toss with the reserved garlic butter and season to taste with salt & pepper. Set aside.

6.     Prepare the buns by placing the cut side down on the grill and toasting them. Then spread 1 tbsp of mayonnaise on each the top and bottom toasted halves of the buns.

7.     Top each open bun with equal amounts of the reserved steak slices, then equal amounts of the reserved onion/pepper mix, and then equal amounts of cheese slices. Place the open faced sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil in the oven until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Serve immediately.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

"I Don't Want Any Eggs!"

            Everything we do is a choice. From the moment we awake in the morning until the time we come to the day's end: we choose everything we do and the way we react to every situation. Obviously in some situations it is easier to control our actions more than in others, but they are all still the choices we make.
            Yesterday morning I was enjoying a lovely breakfast at a hotel restaurant - no, not a substandard, run-of-the-mill, free motel-type breakfast buffet of cold cereals and toast. This was a dining room setting in a restaurant at a historic mansion transformed into a heritage house hotel; a very pleasing atmosphere. Included with your stay each morning you were treated to a choice of 3 breakfast entrĂ©es in their restaurant. I chose the "classic" breakfast of eggs (prepared any way you
like), hash browns, sausages or bacon, and toast with an array of preserves to choose from. As I was alternating between tastes of my breakfast with sips of coffee and glances at the morning newspaper, an older couple were seated at the table next to me. They seemed cheerful enough as they exchanged morning pleasantries with each other. After being seated by the hostess, their server came to take their orders.
            "I'll have the classic breakfast" the woman said.
            "How would you like your eggs done?" asked the server.
            "I don't want any eggs!" she sharply replied. This caught my attention. The pleasurable ambiance bubble had popped. She was very stern with her reply.
            "Oh, okay", he responded, "sausages or bacon?" and he continued with taking her order before proceeding with doing the same for her partner.
            I thought to myself: What had just happened there? She seemed amiable enough prior to that, and the conversation with her partner afterwards seemed very cordial. Was she having a bad morning? It didn't seem like she was otherwise.
            As I continued with my breakfast I couldn't stop thinking about how abrupt and coarse she responded to the server. The exchanges between her and the server afterwards were acceptable: nothing overly friendly, but not rude either.
            Maybe I'm overreacting? I replayed the incident in my mind. No, not at all - her demeanor was very abrupt and almost demanding in that exchange. Maybe she didn't realize? We all have those moments I guess, when we react to a situation and then in hindsight we realize the error of our ways. If she was feeling any regret however, there was no inkling of it to anyone else. Maybe she was embarrassed with her response and just wanted to forget about it.
            I'm sorry if I am being oversensitive about this... I mean, it was just one sentence... just one brief interaction that didn't even involve me. Maybe I am overanalyzing this?
            Just like we have the free will to make choices in what we do and how we act, we can also choose to learn and grow. The interaction I witnessed, and this corresponding blog entry, is not meant to be judgmental. It's not meant to single out and prosecute anyone. I am merely using this as a reminder to myself to be aware of my disposition when interacting with others, and if this seems of value, then I am offering it to you as well. We are all on this journey together. I believe that we should travel through these lifetimes with our eyes wide open; not only embracing the encounters we have with others, but also making sure that we seize any opportunity we can to lead a full and selfless life. Only good can come from making someone smile... there is no harm to us for doing so... it doesn't cost us anything of monetary value... and it will only spread love and joy.
            We all make mistakes. I know I have made my share of them. Sometimes I get carried away with the way I act and at the moment it is hard for me to see how my actions are perhaps affecting someone else. But it is in our awareness of these blunders that we can overcome and help to reverse any negativity we may have unintentionally created in the first place. Apologies and kindness are worth their weight in gold.
            Everything happens for a reason. I am a sensitive guy, and my emotions and my internal analytical processes of my ways of thinking get the best of me sometimes; I get that. However there is an opportunity to learn and grow in every situation, and I try my best to do that. I hope that the server did not let this affect him in a negative way, and I hope that woman went on to have a wonderful day. I also hope that my awareness of little inconspicuous things in the future continues to allow me to generate positive observations and outcomes.
            Do me a favour: make someone smile today... heck, make 10 people smile today! What have you got to lose? In the meantime Happy Living, and of course Happy Cooking!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

It's Time To Change Your Life


            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 you are still feeling uncomfortable with the idea of doing this, then maybe get a friend or relative to make this jump with you. Invite a bunch of people over for an afternoon of chatting and cooking. 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”. Happy cooking!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter Eggs in the Kitchen


           A tradition in my family has always been the customary ritual of decorating eggs for Easter. As far back as history can take us, the egg seems to have always been a symbol of continuing life and resurrection. Therefore, it was natural to decorate them and give out as gifts for part of the feasting after the solemn fast of Lent. Although it is now more contemporary to exchange chocolate or candy eggs, many families still carry out the historic practice of using real eggs. However, what is to become of all the excess hard-boiled eggs other than the habitual egg sandwich?

            Allow me to give you a few examples that will hopefully inspire some culinary creativity in your kitchen.

            A quick and simple idea would be to crumble them to garnish salads. This would not only add bright colours to the salad, but is also is a fantastic way to add additional low-fat protein. Crumbled eggs are also vivid garnishes for stir-frys or potato salad. The crumbled mix of white and yellow is much more eye appealing than two-toned slices of egg.

            If one were to search the internet or visit the local library, they would discover a variety of hard-boiled egg recipes. They will include a number of egg & cheese dips, pickled eggs, and many versions of deviled eggs. For example, try combining the yolk mixture for deviled eggs with smoked salmon before stuffing back into the egg white halves for a delicious change.

            My favorite hard-boiled egg recipe is Scotch Eggs. This Scottish recipe is prepared by encasing hard-boiled eggs with sausage meat. They are then rolled in a mixture of cracker crumbs and fresh chopped parsley, and baked in the oven. Once cooled, they are sliced into quarters for a sensational presentation.
            When selecting eggs to boil, one wants to make sure they are choosing older eggs rather than the freshest ones. This is because over a period of time more air develops between the shell and the shell membrane, and thus making them easier to peel. Also try rolling the cooked egg on the counter with some gentle pressure to makes cracks all over the surface, and then peel under cool running water.

            If there is a green ring inside the egg around the yolk, this indicates a chemical reaction between the iron in the yolk and the sulfur in the white. This happens when the egg is either cooked too long, or at too high of a temperature. Try adjusting your cooking time and plunge them into an ice water bath immediately to stop the cooking process.

            Hopefully all of this egg inspiration will keep your mind from questioning, “what was cooked first – chicken or the egg?” Until next time... Happy Cooking!


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!


           What is hairy, unattractive, and available in almost every major grocery store’s produce section? No, it’s not an unshaven Produce Manager with bed-head. They are coconuts and more consumers tend to buy it dried or canned instead of fresh. Who wouldn’t be somewhat afraid of this intimidating, seemingly indestructible produce with an appearance that mimics a monster’s disembodied head?

            Even I must admit, more times than not, I was more interested is using them to tease my children, than I was in purchasing them. Although using whole coconuts requires a small amount of work, experimenting with this imported harvest can be very enjoyable and rewarding.

            Firstly, choose ones that seem heavy for their size, as this will be an indicator of a thicker flesh content on the inside, and water volume. Also, it is important to select ones that seem to have the most liquid, by shaking them in your hand and listening for the sound of the natural coconut water. This naturally occurring coconut liquid however, is not the same product that is available in cans or listed as “coconut milk” as an ingredient in most recipes. Natural coconut water is mildly sweet, naturally fat free and tends to be more prevalent in recently harvested coconuts, as it will absorb into the inner flesh as they mature.

            The first, and easiest thing to do is to drain the coconut water. Each coconut has three “eyes” and one of them is always softer than the others. Take a metal skewer and find the softest one by piercing. Once you have determined which eye is softer, press the skewer through and rotate while grinding the remainder of the eye to achieve a bigger hole. Then shake this open eye over a glass or container until all the coconut water has been removed. This liquid should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed or frozen within a 24-hour period. If the drained liquid tastes sour, then the coconut has spoiled and it should be discarded.

            Once the coconut has been drained place it in the freezer for at least 12 hours. Once frozen wrap it in a towel and proceed to hit it with a hammer a few times until the outer shell has cracked. Chunks of hard shell will break away from the flesh. The towel will help to contain the chunks of shell and flesh. To prevent any possible damage to the kitchen counter, one may want to do this hammering on a very solid surface, like a cement floor, or on a few layers of towels.

            The flesh will now be separate from the hard shell and any remaining pieces that are not can be carefully removed with a knife. Any thin brown skin left on the extracted white flesh can be removed with a potato peeler. The task is a bit tedious, but very rewarding if you enjoy working with raw materials in the kitchen. The meat can now be grated, frozen, or cooked down to make the coconut milk called for in many recipes. The internet makes a great resource for uses of this raw flesh.

            To make your own fresh coconut milk, add one cup of boiling water to one cup of packed grated fresh coconut. Let it steep for approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Then squeeze this mixture in a clean kitchen cloth, or strain through a fine strainer, over a bowl to capture the milk. Alternatively, it can also be processed in a food processor and then squeezed to get even more milk from the flesh. This milk should be refrigerated, and a thick cream will rise to the surface.
            Until next time, Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Do You Remember Your First Car?

          People who know me, know that I love food & cooking as much as I love cars. I haven't always been this way - this passion for cars was started by my best friend Dave. From as far back as I have known him (since grade 4), Dave has always loved cars. We have shared many car memories together, including the time I got my first car.
          On the day I turned 16, I was in the Driver's License Office the same day applying for my learner's license. Back then it was just a quick written exam and I walked out with it in my hand. 30 days later, after a road test, I had my full driver's license and I was so happy. The only thing restricting this new found freedom, was the absence of my own set of wheels. That year however, my Dad changed all that for me and got me my first car: a 1965 Chevrolet Impala!
          He told me he still had to finalize the deal, and I would have the car by the end of the week. I was so excited that the next few days seemed like years. But what was a 1965 Impala? What was it going to look like? I had no idea, so I called Dave. We had a long conversation on the phone with him describing in detail what seemed like every curve, option, and style of the 65 Impala.
          When I finally got it, I was so happy and Dave was right about everything he told me. Was it a perfect car? No, of course not, but that didn't matter.
          It had some rust, and the interior wasn't great, but it was mine! I loved that car so much and it wasn't long before her and I went everywhere together. Me and my friends became known as the Chevy Gang in Junior High as I was one of the very few that drove, let alone having a car that was my own! I have so many great memories of that car, but I have two regrets: 1. I never did "name" her, and 2. Selling her.
          Before long, I had the car "bug" and I couldn't wait to get behind the wheel of other cars, and thus unfortunately she got tossed aside and eventually sold. Now that I am older, and I am sure that many people feel the same way, I wish I never sold her. My Mom did the transaction for me and sold it to friends of my sister for only $100 because they were in need of a vehicle and didn't have a lot of money to spend on one. Bless my Mom's heart (she has always been so caring of other people).
          There have been many times I have wondered what happened to that old car, and a few of those times I played Private Investigator to try to figure out the mystery, but never had any success. I don't have a serial number, just this one sole photo and a bunch of great memories. ICBC has told me that it would be possible to look it up based on that license plate in the photo, but because the records are so old, it would have to be a criminal investigation for them to be authorized to access this information. I on the other hand think it is criminal to keep this information from me! I know she probably isn't around, perhaps she's just pop cans by now, but I just want to know for sure. This was a love affair between man and machine that has never left my mind.
          Do you remember your first car? What was it? Do you know where it is today? I would love to hear your stories about. Oh, and if there's a chance you work for ICBC... maybe you could pull a few strings? On that note... Happy Cooking to you, and Happy Driving!


Monday, April 10, 2017

Hogwash, I Say! Cook The Way You Want To!



            One of the aspects of the food industry that I have realized over the years of my career as a Chef is that people can be so serious. Yes, I take pride in what I do and I think that the role I play in the industry has an impact on people’s lives, but why am I expected to have a heavy weighted approach in discussions regarding food?
            Many of you probably agree that there are numerous people in the food industry, that we may label as Foodies, who come across as pompous or event pretentious. This is perhaps why it is presumably expected for others to be the same way. Don’t get me wrong – I believe it is a wonderful thing when someone loves what they do, even to the point where their lives are utterly consumed with related passion, but why must we take such a ridged approach?
            Yes, there are rules in cooking, and many are steadfast, but I am talking more about the areas where approaches are not as strict and could very easily be bent based on personal preferences and taste.
            For example, I am sure that you have heard the statement that “medium-rare” is the optimal doneness for cooking a beef steak… but what happens when someone likes their steak more done? Or when a person does not like their pasta cooked al dente (Italian for “to the tooth” meaning not to overcook; it should have some firmness)? Is it our role as Chefs to tell that person that they are wrong? Where is the line where the steadfast rules and training stop and where personal taste and preferences start?
            Where that line is and the boldness of that line, varies in many circumstances but is does exist, and I believe as an industry expert that it cannot be ignored, or overruled, just for the sole reason that we are professionally trained. I remember working with a Chef in my training days that told me: “An individual of the general public has personal preference and taste buds that cannot be ignored. We must not only learn from them but also learn to accept their perspectives as a part of our ongoing training and fine-tuning of our careers as Chefs. Everyone has an opinion and is a unique individual and should be respected as such.” Wise words well said that I have shaped my career around.
            Here is another example: This past weekend at a BBQ demo I segmented racks of lamb,
seasoned them with salt & pepper, seared them to get a charred crust, and glazed them with mint jelly just before serving. Lamb & mint is classic combination that pairs so nicely together, however I have heard Chefs say "Mint on lamb is so 70's, and has been done too much. Use anything but mint." ...and to that I say "Hogwash! What a stupid thing to say". If something works, why do we feel the need to change it just for the sake of change? Why should we feel inept if we are not embarking on a new journey? I'm not saying that change is bad, or even that it should not be explored, but why at the same time must we banish the past and what works? Why can't we embrace it all?
            I am a fully certified Red Seal Chef, but to me my trades paper is just that: paper. I see myself more as a Chef for the home cook. A Chef for the majority of the households filled with all classes of people, with or without families, that are looking for great meals that are not constructed from obscure ingredients. Meals that are not paired with unfamiliar varieties of wine. If you love food and love to cook, regardless of whether you are professionally trained or not, you are a Chef in my eyes. Does that mean I don’t respect, appreciate or value my certification as a Chef, or other professionals in the industry? Of course not. It means that I can find importance with what we have and at the same time be open enough to appreciate and respect others and their opinions. Opinions are like taste buds – everybody has them.
            As for those mint-glazed lamb chops: I would have shared a photo here of the finished product, but they were eaten up faster than I could get my camera ready... with many people telling me it was the best lamb they have ever had! One of them even wanted to pay me money to reserve them one from my next batch.
            So in closing, in what I hope does not seem like a rant, I welcome you with open arms to share your food experiences with me. No guard must be erected. Let us talk, taste, discuss, sip, and share passion for the nurturement that keeps us alive and keeps our lives exciting and fulfilling. Let us eat, drink, and be merry. Until next time… Happy Cooking.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pre-Grated Cheese - Is It Worth It?


        I saw this comic strip in the newspaper this morning and got a bit of a chuckle... but what makes this so funny? Is Granny just a food snob? Well, actually, no. There is good reason for her shock and dismay.

              Ok, maybe shock and dismay, and her actions in the comic strip, are a bit of an exaggeration, but it all comes down to how serious each individual is about what they are putting in their body. You may just be thinking I am putting "cheese" in my body, I just happen to pay a bit more for a company to save me from using the ol' knuckle-buster cheese grater. Incorrect. The wisest things one can do if they are concerned about what is going into their bodies is twofold: 1) Read the ingredient list, and 2) Do your research.

              If you were to grate cheese yourself and put it in a bag, what would happen? Typically it would clump together. What then keeps pre-grated cheese from clumping? Many use potato starch in combination with cellulose. Potato starch seems self explanatory and harmless, but what is cellulose? We may have even seen that on an ingredient list before and not thought too much about it. Cellulose is a very cheap food additive that is derived from wood pulp... yes, I did say "Wood Pulp"! It is a dietary fiber that is used as a thickener and in this case a stabilizer to improve mouthfeel and prevent clumping.

              But is it harmful? This would come down to perception perhaps, or maybe there are some studies on the long term effects, but think about it for a moment - it is derived from wood pulp. Would you rather be eating whole, real cheese... or wood pulp?

              Yes, the convenience of pre-grated is grate! Um, I mean... great! But our world is full of "convenience" foods that are not the healthiest options. I do believe it is better to embrace natural and naturally derived when we can. Yes, we all live busy lives, and our world seems to be going so fast, but without your health... what do you have? Nothing.

              The purpose of this blog subject is not to point fingers or to make you feel bad. It's just about focusing on awareness. Be mindful about what you are eating, be respectful to your body, and live life to the fullest in the best way that you can.

               Until next time... Happy Cooking!