Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cooking With or Without Water?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

EASY Italian Sausage & Gnocchi Soup


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

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

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

Italian Sausage & Gnocchi Soup
Makes approximately 13 cups

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

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

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

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




Monday, November 20, 2017

Chestnuts: Low in Fat, High in Fiber


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Which Salt to Choose?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Add Heat to Spice Up Winter Meals


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

My Famous "Sausage & Fennel Pasta" Recipe

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The "F" Word in the Kitchen


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cooking is Just Cooking!


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

On The Road with The Road Hammers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

This Book is for Everyone! #notacookbook

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

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!