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!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Quick Peppered Cheese Bread for Thanksgiving

            Years ago I remember coming across a recipe in a newspaper that was labelled as "Peppered Cheese Bread", and I was excited to try it. However, disappointment arose quickly after tasting it... guess what? It didn't taste like pepper and it didn't taste like cheese. How in the world can one put the names of certain ingredients in the title of the recipe, and not have the recipe taste like those ingredients? This is a huge pet peeve of mine with recipe creators. After that day, I vowed to create my own recipe for "Peppered Cheese Bread" and here it is! The recipe is also featured as one of the over 150 recipes in my cookbook "The Best In Your Kitchen".
            If you are a fan of pepper and cheddar cheese, then this recipe is for you and it won't disappoint. It screams of pepper and cheese flavour, and being a 'quick bread' (not

yeast leavened) it is very easy and quick to make. As a matter of fact, it would be so easy to have the wet & dry ingredients prepped separately, and as soon as the turkey comes out to rest, you would
simply mix and bake for 30-35 minutes. By the time you are de-stuffing and carving the turkey, the bread will have already finished baking and be ready for serving.
            Make sure you use fresh cracked pepper, from your pepper mill, for the 1.5 teaspoons in the mix and for the sprinkling on top. This is not the time or place for pre-ground pepper (there are not many applications where I would recommend pre-ground pepper actually). Also, make sure you are using old cheddar for the most abundant cheese flavour. Remember, we are making Peppered Cheese Bread and we want it to be recognizable as such. An ingredient involved may require you to make a trip to your local gourmet food store, or high quality farmer's market: canned Madagascar soft green peppercorns in brine. There is only one tablespoon required, so you can eliminate it if you want, but just that small measure makes all the difference in the world on how this bread tastes, and looks... so I highly recommend trying the recipe as is.
            The dough mixture will be wet so make sure the pie plate you are using to bake the bread is
prepared properly for easy removal. A thorough coating of baking spray followed by a good dusting of flour is vital. Just remember to let cool in the pie pan for at least 10 minutes before attempting to remove it. It can then be cut into wedges (as pictured above) or traditionally into slices as you normally would with a round loaf. Because it is a quick bread, it is more cake like in texture, but screaming with savory flavours, and thus makes it a perfect accompaniment for any comfort food meal. We also love to have this on the side with bowls of hearty stew, gumbo, and soups.
            I hope you enjoy the recipe. Happy Thanksgiving! And until next time... Happy Cooking!

Peppered Cheese Bread
“A quick bread with tons of cheese and pepper flavours! For best results make sure you use old cheddar and fresh cracked black pepper.”

2 cups flour (plus more for dusting)
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 (one and one half) teaspoons salt
1.5 (one and one half) teaspoons freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon soft green Madagascar peppercorns, drained
2 cups grated old cheddar cheese (1.5 cups in the dough; 1/2 cup reserved)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
More pepper for sprinkling

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9-inch pie plate with baking spray and then dusting it with flour.

2.     In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Toss in the green peppercorns and 1.5 cups of the grated cheese to thoroughly coat with the flour mixture.

3.     In a separate bowl mix together the eggs, milk, and melted butter.

4.     Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Stir until just combined and spread the mixture into the prepared pie plate.

5.     Top with the remaining reserved one half cup cheddar and more freshly cracked pepper.

6.     Bake for approximately 30 to 35 minutes until the bread is solid and the cheese has browned slightly on top. You can test it with a toothpick as you would with cake batters.

7.     Let cool in the pie plate for at least 10 minutes before trying to remove it, and then let cool thoroughly on a cooling rack.

Makes one 9-inch round loaf

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My Favourite Dessert: Crème Caramel


            Having my career so focused on food, people always ask me what my favourite thing to make is. This is a very difficult question to answer, but when it comes to dessert my favourite thing to eat is Crème Caramel. This has been my number one choice as an adult for as long as I can remember.


Although the process of this recipe requires a bit of care and attention, this is sure to become a favorite decadent dessert in your home and with guests. Crème Caramel is much like Crème Brûlée, but the caramelized sugar goes into the ramekin first, rather than torched on top as with a Brûlée. The result is a complex caramel layer on top of the inverted custard and a residual complex caramel sauce that is a perfect companion with each bite of the delicate custard.
            This recipe is also included as one of the over 150 recipes in my 'best of' cookbook: The Best In Your Kitchen.
            This is our personal recipe that my wife and I have perfected, and we make it for many special occasions. Enjoy, and until next time... Happy Cooking!


Crème Caramel


2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 tsp salt

--------------------------------------------------

2 cups whipping cream

1 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1/2 tsp salt

One 2-inch strip of lemon zest

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar



1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease 6 ramekins with butter.

2.     Put the 2/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup water and 1/4 tsp salt in a small heavy bottomed saucepan over medium/low heat until the sugar dissolves. When it starts to turn brown, swirl in the pan but do not stir until it turns dark rich brown, but not burnt. Immediately pour equal amounts into the prepared ramekins.

3.     In another heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the whipping cream, milk, vanilla, salt and the lemon zest to just below a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and let sit while preparing the eggs in the next step.

4.     Whisk the 3 whole eggs with the 3 extra egg yolks and the 1/2 cup sugar until frothy.

5.     Remove the zest from the cream mixture. Very slowly drizzle the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Doing it slow will prevent the eggs from curdling.

6.     Pour this prepared custard mixture into the caramel lined ramekins.

7.     Place the filled ramekins into a large pan. Pour boiling water into the pan until the water level reaches approximately half-way up the outer sides of the ramekins.

8.     Carefully put this pan into the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the centers of the custards are almost set (cooked).

9.     Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours and up to 2 days.

10.  To Serve: Loosen the custard in each ramekin by running a butter knife all around the edge of the custard. Invert a plate over the ramekin. Quickly flip the ramekin/plate over and gently jiggle until the custard/caramel come loose. Remove the ramekin and serve on the plate.



Makes 6 portions

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rosemary Maple Bacon Jam... Yes, I said Bacon Jam


            Many people sing the praises of bacon, and I am no different. What happens however, when you take that wonderfully complex flavour and turn it into jam? True bliss. Recently I featured my recipe for Rosemary Maple Bacon Jam at a local fair and the popularity of this recipe was overwhelming... so I decided to share it with you.


            The best tip I can give you is to use premium bacon from a butcher for best results. This is not a recipe for your “run of the mill” grocery store brand. Don’t get me wrong, you can still do it with regular bacon, but the results are much better with premium bacon. Also, this recipe is not a place for dried rosemary. Fresh rosemary full of wonderful essential oils is the way to go. Oh, and one last note on the ingredients, please use pure maple syrup and not regular pancake syrup.

            Somebody asked me “what do you put bacon jam on?” I replied “Everything!” Seriously though this is awesome on crackers with goat cheese, pizzas, bruscetta, sandwiches, and almost anywhere you would like a sweet and savoury concoction.

            This recipe is also included as one of the over 150 recipes in my 'best of' cookbook: The Best In Your Kitchen.

            Enjoy! You can thank me later... Happy Cooking!


Rosemary Maple Bacon Jam

Recipe created by Chef Dez   www.chefdez.com

“The perfect topping for almost any appetizers you may be thinking of offering to your guests, like bruscetta, cheese & crackers, canapés, etc. My favorite is paired with soft unripened goat cheese (chevre) as the creamy tanginess is the perfect match for this sweet complex concoction.”

1 pound bacon slices, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

2 medium onions, quartered and sliced thin

6 to 8 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup black coffee

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary


1.     Add the bacon pieces to a large heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven. Turn the heat to medium/high and cook the bacon until almost crisp (browned and cooked, but not crisp), reducing the heat to medium as it starts to turn brown, stirring occasionally, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain.

2.     Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. Turn the heat to medium and stir in the onions to the tablespoon of bacon fat followed by the garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until this onion/garlic mixture is softened and slightly browned, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.

3.     Add the coffee, brown sugar, maple syrup, vinegar, rosemary, and reserved bacon. Stir to combine and increase the heat to medium/high to bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium/low and simmer uncovered for approximately 90 minutes until the mixture is syrupy and has a jam like texture.

4.     Transfer this mixture to a food processor and pulse a few times until the consistency/texture is what you desire. Will last up to 3 weeks in your refrigerator.


Makes approximately 2 cups

Friday, August 18, 2017

Harvest Supper

            One of the best things about living in areas of abundant agriculture is the easy access to local fresh produce. Frequently we have meals that mainly focus on bountiful harvests. The other night was just one of those times and I thought I would share with you.

            What does an average, run-of-the-mill supper look like at a house where a Chef lives? Probably not much different than the ordinary household. Yes, there are many times that we pull out all the stops while we explore the wonderful world of the culinary arts, but there are just as many times where the dishes are very simple, balanced, and just as delicious... in their own way.

            Earlier this week we made a stop at Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford BC to pick up our weekly supply of groceries and as always we were taken back by the ambiance of the experience. Cooking and eating is a celebration of all your senses, but your senses can start to be tantalized as early as the shopping process... if you let them. Grocery shopping is only a chore, if you make it a chore. The first thing I indulge in is the pleasant aromas. Pause from time to time. Take a few seconds to breathe in deeply and let your nasal passages rejoice. All encompassing farm markets are great for this because there are so many fresh smells to explore in a very small area compared to a major supermarket. Take in all the wonderful colours of the fresh produce carefully stacked and awaiting to be selected. If there are any samples being offered, try them. Markets like this, know what's good and are eager to share their knowledge and offerings with you. Many times a produce employee will also cut off a piece of fresh fruit for me to "try before I buy" - talk about customer service! Touch the produce. Take time to feel what you are buying. Give it a gentle squeeze, lift it to your nose and smell. You can start to sense the farmer's love that they have put into their crop. With a little change in focus, anything can become more enjoyable.

            No matter what you are eating, food is meant to be enjoyed and savoured. Take the time to embrace all your senses during the shopping, cooking and eating processes and you will be amazed at how much more gratification you will have. But I digress... our supper the night was over 75% fresh produce. Fresh Lepp corn with  succulent yellow beans, steamed nugget potatoes with fresh dill, and fresh mixed greens as a side salad. For protein on this particular evening we simply sautéed up some prawns in garlic butter. Talk about satisfying!

            If you don't already do so, switch up your regular routine and visit a farmer's market for your groceries. I know you will love it. Until next time... Happy Cooking!


Friday, July 28, 2017

Cooking Pasta for the Best Results


            A staple in almost every home’s pantry is spaghetti or some form of pasta that makes its way to the dinner table on a regular basis.  Many of us take the time to focus on building the flavour and complexity of the accompanying sauce for our pasta of choice; however the pasta itself needs attention as well. Many food articles could be dedicated to achieving palate-pleasing goals in pasta sauces, but let us not forget about the substance of these dishes – the pasta noodle. Thus this blog entry will be focused on unraveling some myths and procedures in what seems to be one of the simplest tasks in the kitchen – boiling water and cooking pasta.

            The first thing to examine is the dry pasta noodle and the transformation that takes place during the cooking process. The most obvious observation is that cooked pasta is larger in volume and flexible, compared to dry raw pasta. What makes this possible is the absorption of water during the boiling process. The cooking process of any food, no matter how simple it seems, needs to be analyzed because this is our chance of infusing flavour into the ingredients being cooked.

            Everyone has heard of the process of salting water when boiling pasta, but why? Some believe it is to help the pasta from sticking or to help keep the water from boiling over; however the reason is to season the pasta and to increase the flavour. Pasta on its own is very bland, and combining bland cooked pasta with a sauce that you have perfected, will be a detriment to your finished dish. If the pasta water is salted liberally then the pasta will be absorbing salt-water, instead of just water, and thus your pasta dish will be seasoned from the inside out.

            Another no-no is to add oil to your pasta water. This idea probably first came about to prevent the pasta noodles from sticking together, however it will affect your finished dish negatively. Oiled pasta water will help to keep your pasta from sticking together when cooking, but a film of oil will always be left on the drained noodles. This thin film of oil will inhibit the starchiness of the cooked pasta and then in turn lead to the accompanying sauce to not stick to or absorb into the noodles as much. When pasta is eaten you want the starchiness of the pasta to hold onto the sauce as much as possible, so that the dish will be able to be enjoyed to the fullest. That being said, drained cooked pasta should not be oiled for the same reason.

            A better way to help prevent your pasta noodles from sticking together during the cooking process is to stir the noodles constantly for the first two minutes of cooking time. By that point the water will have returned to its full-boil action and the agitation of the bubbling water will keep the pasta moving and prevent it from sticking.

            There are many ways that people use to determine that pasta is cooked to perfection – including the old wives’ tale about throwing it against the wall, and if it sticks, it’s done. The best way is to let your mouth do the talking. Carefully remove a strand or piece of pasta from the boiling water. After waiting a few seconds to cool down, take a bite. It should feel ‘el dente’, meaning ‘to the tooth’ in Italian. This relates to the feeling that the pasta should not be overcooked and offer some resistance when biting into it. It should not be hard, but should not be too soft and mushy either. The package of the pasta you purchase will always offer a guideline cooking time, but your bite will always give you the right answer.

            Once the pasta has been drained, do not rinse it. Rinsing will cool the pasta down and also wash away some of the starchiness that we want to help secure the sauce to the noodles. Once drained thoroughly, immediately toss the cooked pasta with the sauce. This will keep the pasta strands from sticking to each other, and will start the absorption process of the sauce into the pasta - yes, pasta absorbs flavours from the sauce even if the pasta is already cooked. Think of leftover homemade chicken noodle soup: If it is left in the fridge overnight, the pasta noodles are huge and there is much less broth. Thus this is proof that pasta noodles will continue to absorb flavours after cooking, and we always want the pasta noodles to taste like the sauce anyway.

            Homemade “spaghetti” is a very common dish in many households, and whether you use spaghetti, linguine, or other types of noodles, I hope these few simple recommendations help to make your meal more enjoyable and flavourful. You can also watch my YouTube video on this topic by clicking this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFDIQpvO_T8
Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rest in Peace Caryn


            In my career as a certified Red Seal Chef, I am not only a Food Columnist, but also a published Author, Culinary Instructor, and get hired as a Host/MC for various events. However, one of my greatest accomplishments is also being a Culinary Travel Host, and I owe the honour of having that title to a very special lady: Caryn Zimmerman.

            We first met years ago after one of my live cooking shows. She was a huge supporter of me, and became a friend of mine, ever since. With her vivacious personality and expertise in the travel industry, along with my passion for food and people, we eventually became a great business team as we launched Chef Dez Culinary Tours. Many people have combined food and travel together, but no one did it quite like us. We had a knack for it, and our travel guests agree.

            Our first Chef Dez Culinary Tour was in 2014 to Savannah GA. We wanted our tour guests to experience southern hospitality at its finest all while being surrounded by incredible history from one of the oldest cities in the USA. Twenty-four guests traveled with us for 8 days, and I am now friends with many of these guests still to this day. This inaugural tour really opened my eyes to what Caryn can accomplish when it comes to travel and making sure our guests are looked after.

            In 2015 the Chef Dez Culinary Tour took us and our guests through the state of Texas. We visited many cities, stayed at incredible properties, travelled to wineries, ate true barbecue, and much more. All of us left pieces of our hearts in Texas because of this amazing tour. Again Caryn shined. My favorite time with her was at the Texas State Fair: the world’s largest state fair.

            Our last Chef Dez Culinary Tour was to the Canadian province of PEI in the fall of 2016. Here, with our tour guests, we got to experience not only the beautiful autumn colours of PEI, but also to experience east coast living at its finest. The pinnacle part of this trip was staying at the property of Chef Michael Smith, The Inn at Bay Fortune, and having a private cooking event with Chef Michael. Although this trip was culinarily focused around oysters and lobster, Caryn didn’t let her shellfish allergy stand in the way. Her motto was always “This is not about me. This is about our guests.”

            Unfortunately, Caryn passed away on June 27, 2017 after a short, but fierce battle with cancer and it is in her honour that I dedicate this blog entry. Anyone that knew Caryn, knows how full of life she always was. Caryn was the type of person that made any party or gathering an event that no one would soon forget. From her flip-flops, to her sunglasses, wild accessories, and her zest for life, everyone knew when Caryn was there.

            Thank you Caryn for not only being a friend and colleague, but also as a mentor. You have taught me so much over the years, and was always there for me. I miss you terribly and would give anything to hear your laugh and see your smile again. If I knew I was going to lose you so soon, I would have tried to spend even more time with you.

            Because of this loss, the Chef Dez Culinary Tours are postponed indefinitely. At this point I can’t even imagine doing them again without her. The community of Abbotsford BC, where she resided, and everyone that she came across in her travels, would agree that we have lost a very special person. Rest in peace Caryn…

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Healthy Chocolate Mousse?

            In preparation for a dinner party this Friday, I wanted to get familiar with transforming avocados into chocolate mousse. I have heard of this being done before, but until now I have never tried making it. One of the vegetarian dinner guests for this Friday also doesn't eat dairy or eggs so I had to come up with a plan for her dessert... and I think I nailed it.
            Make sure you use really soft ripe avocados for this recipe to ensure that they process into a smooth homogenized mixture easily. A food processor will give you the best results for this recipe, but in a pinch a blender could be used. I made sure to weigh the flesh (weight is without skins or pits) for a precise recipe measurement, but you can use 2 small avocados if you don't have a kitchen scale. If too much flesh is used (in ratio to the other ingredients) then it will tend to taste too strong of avocado.
            I used a double boiler for melting the chocolate chips (a stainless steel bowl over simmering water - without the water touching the bowl), but if you watch it carefully you can melt them in a microwave (in a microwave safe container).
            A traditional "mousse" is made with whipped cream and beaten egg whites, so this isn't really a mousse, but more of an avocado chocolate pudding, I guess. But does it mean that by using avocados that this is now a "healthy" dessert? Well, no... but, healthier! You see, it still has chocolate and sugar in the recipe. It is also important to point out that avocados have a lot of fat content, but they are healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated); which, in moderation, are beneficial to a healthy lifestyle and can lower bad cholesterol levels.
            Two of my children (ages 8 and 11) and my wife, were my guinea pigs for this recipe, and they all immensely enjoyed this dessert! It has an almost "strawberry & chocolate" flavour to it; a slight "green" flavour, I guess. The prep is extremely easy and thus can be made in a hurry... but just remember to allow time for chilling. Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Avocado Chocolate Mousse - makes approximately 1.75 cups

240g ripe avocado flesh (approximately 2 small avocados)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons coconut milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Peel and pit the avocados and place the flesh in a food processor.
2. Melt the chocolate chips and add to the food processor.
3. Add the coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt to the food processor and puree until completely smooth.
4. Portion into dessert dishes and chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours.
5. Optional garnish idea: mint leaves and fresh raspberries.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Almost $7 for a Bottle of Yellow Mustard

            A lot of people are led to believe that because I am a Chef that I don't eat out at restaurants. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, it is not something that I do frequently, but there are times when I just want to let someone else cook for me, or have an evening out with my family.
            Recently, to celebrate the end of the school year, and the great report card results of our youngest children, we decided to do just that. We ended up going to a local restaurant/pub where they have a section for families. We all got settled into our booth, ordered beverages, and waited for our entrées to arrive. My 11-year old son, ordered a burger and garlic mashed potatoes from the kids menu. When his order arrived he said to me "Dad, can you get the server's attention?"
            "Why?" I asked, "what do you need?"
            "I would like some ketchup and mustard for my burger. It only has mayo and lettuce on it." He replied.
            "No problem." I answered as I got up from the booth and found our server. When I made the request however, I was told that she could bring a ketchup bottle to our table, but the mustard would be an extra charge since they didn't have a bottle of mustard, and she had to get it from the kitchen. I shrugged my shoulders and agreed - I wanted my son to be happy.
            Moments later she approached our table with a bottle of ketchup and a small portioning cup of pale looking mustard. My son took a small amount of the mustard to taste it and it was honey mustard, not just plain condiment yellow mustard. Obviously there was an error, so I took the honey-mustard and approached our server once again. She told me "this is the only mustard we have."
            "You don't have yellow mustard? Just regular hot dog mustard?" I was in disbelief.
            Just as she started replying "no, this is all we have" a Supervisor (I am assuming) was walking by and asked what was happening. I filled her in on the situation.
            "Of course we have regular mustard" she replied and then told the server to get me some.
            Please keep in mind here that I didn't make a big fuss. I am not the type to make a big scene about little things and I always try to treat people with the most respect I can in any situation.
            I went back to the table and shortly after the yellow mustard arrived.
We were astounded by how much mustard was brought to our table - I measured it afterwards and it was 4 tablespoons of mustard, which is 60ml. My son ended up only using a couple of teaspoons of it (how much mustard can you put on one burger anyway?).
            When we got our bill at the end of our meal, sure enough there was an extra charge for the mustard - $1.00! I couldn't believe it, one dollar for four tablespoons of yellow mustard, and surely they didn't expect my 11 year old son to have 4 tablespoons of mustard on one child sized burger, did they? Even if they did, this would be equivalent to $6.67 for a standard 400ml bottle of mustard.
            Walmart was located next door to the pub, and I was curious to know what they were selling mustard for, so we walked over. There one could buy a whole 400ml bottle of brand-name mustard for $1.50.
            Don't get me wrong, it's just one dollar... one dollar isn't going to break my budget. That's not the point. Mustard is cheap and it is considered to be a basic condiment. If they had hot dogs on the menu, would I be expected to pay a dollar for the mustard for it? Next time you are in Costco, look at the huge commercial sized cans of it and also the low price. This is the size and cost that restaurants would pay for the same yellow mustard, and possibly less through their suppliers.
            This is not about restaurants recouping their costs. This is about how little they value customers choosing to spend their money at their establishment. We were a table of four, and we could have chosen elsewhere to go out for dinner... and next time we will.
            This is not the first time we have had problems here. Have a look at my blog post from September 26, 2016 titled "A Pub Without a Steak Sandwich???" and you will see another example.
            Until next time... Happy Cooking... and maybe cooking at home is a better option.

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!