Monday, March 29, 2010

Chef Michael Smith and I

So, he was here doing a charity event this weekend.  I didn't get to chat to him much as he was just passing through our kitchen taking a tour, but Ken had the opportunity to work with him for an evening, lucky guy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Simple Food.....Simply Delicious

In my last blog, I mentioned that just because food is simple, it doesn't mean it can't be delicious, so I have decided to give you a few recipes that turn the simplest ingredients into something fabulous.

Besides the obvious that apples, oranges, bananas, veggie sticks, etc are delicious just as the way they are. I believe the easiest way to transform some of your favourite fruit and vegetables, is to turn them into dips and salsas. I am about to tell you how to make a variety of delicious dishes that will make any dinner party guest think you had slaved in the kitchen all day. Not into having dinner parties, these also are great dishes to have even if your having a few friends over for a couple of beers to watch the game.

So the first thing you want to do is chop up very small 1 cup of shallots and 1 cup of garlic, these two ingredients are vital to all the dishes. Actually these are two very vital ingredients to any cook in any kitchen.

The first dish is guacamole, depending on how many guests your having will determine the quantity, for 4 people I would use 4 avocados. If you have never eaten a fresh avocado, there is a big pit in the center. Take a pairing knife and slice around the avocado down to the pit, remove the pit and take each half and slice it multiple time horizontally and vertically, careful not to cut through the skin. Use a spoon and scoop out the avocado using the skin as a guide. Place the avocado in a bowl add 1 tbsp each fresh chopped garlic and shallots. Find a large ripe tomato, cut into quarters and remove the seeds, the dice up small also dice small half of a red pepper and add both to the bowl. Add 1 bunch of chopped cilantro, the juice of 1 lemon a lime will do and salt and pepper,gently fold ingredients together, thats it you have guacamole. If you would rather have a smooth guacamole just mash the avocado with a fork before you add the other ingredients.

The next dish or dishes is a fruit salsa, if you mastered the guacamole this one should be easy. Basically take the same ingredients as the previous recipe minus the avocado and replace with your favourite fruit. I like to use fresh mango, but you could use whatever you wanted another option would be pineapple, give it a quick grill on the barby for a bit more flavour before dicing up. Then add a tbsp or two of white wine vinegar for a little zip and if if you prefer to have it a bit sweeter add a small squeeze of honey.

The last two dishes are hummus and bruschetta, two of my favorite things to eat. Hummus is probably one of the easiest things to make. Start with a blender, open a small can of chickpeas and drain off the juice, put into a blender add  four cloves of garlic and about a teaspoon of tahini paste, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Pulse in the blender then add a few drizzles of  sesame oil and few drizzles of olive oil give it another pulse in the blender, you want a smooth spreadable consistency, if you don't have that consistency add a bit more olive oil, you can add a bit more sesame oil or tahini paste you love that sesame flavour. I like to finish it off with some freshly chopped cilantro or parsley. Voila, hummus!

Bruschetta, fresh and delicious.Start with 8 large tomatoes, quarter them and cut out the seeds and discard. Julienne the tomato quarters and small dice, very finely chop 1 shallot and few cloves of garlic and chiffonade about 6 large leaves of basil, gently fold ingredients together. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, and a drizzle of both olive oil and balsamic vinegar season with salt and pepper to taste.

There you have it 5 very simple yet delicious dishes, to serve at any type of get together, just serve with tortilla chips fresh baguette, or toast them up in the oven, or warm pita or naan chips. Your guests will think you slaved away in the kitchen all day, but they don't need to know the real truth.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

7 Weeks and 17 Pounds

Sounds like a Jenny Craig ad, but its just me. I still have a few pounds to shed, but I am feeling pretty good about myself right now. It started just over 7 weeks ago, our staff Christmas party.... a good time was had by all, until I saw the photos a day later. We have all had those moments in life when you look at a photograph and say oh my god is that me, I look so huge or the complete opposite when you look at pictures from the past and say god I was so small. Either way we start to question ourselves and ask what has gone wrong. I'm lucky I am just over 5'8" tall so I can carry a bit of weight and most people don't notice, the problem is that I notice and as far as I am concerned when it comes to my body and health its only my opinion that matters. So when I looked at the photos I was a little disappointed in myself. Over the past 6 years I have been a workout fanatic on and off, more off than on, for some reason I haven't been able to stick with it even though I feel better when I do.

I think my problem with sticking to an exercise routine, was my schedule, some days I couldn't find the time to make it  to the gym and its much easier to break a routine than to make one. I also didn't really change my eating habits... I figured that if I was working out then its gotta be better than not working out. So this time around I tried a different approach.... exercise and a healthy diet. 

I didn't rush out and buy a gym membership or get myself a personal trainer, I ran out and bought a Nintendo Wii. Thats right a video game console. I had seen an add for the Jenny McCarthy, Your Shape interactive game and thought this could work, its like having a personal trainer at home. I figured I wouldn't have to worry about finding the time to get to the gym and factor in travel time every day. I could just work out everyday when I had the time and I didn't have to leave the house. But I didn't buy the Your shape right away.. being that it was just after Christmas it was hard enough finding the Wii console, but eventually with a lot of shopping around my Husband and I purchased what I think was the last console in the city. It comes with the standard games baseball, golf etc. but thats not what I was looking for, so I sent my husband on a search and he came home with the Wii Fit Plus (a return from some gift giving gone awry). Its fabulous. It gives you the option to weigh yourself everyday to track your weight loss, it lets you know your BMI so you can figure out whether you are overweight or underweight and helps you determine a healthy weight for your body type. There are many exercise routines that you can put together and it will even put one together for you. It tracks how many calories you burn and even has a place to keep track of outside activities.

The best part about the Wii fit and the reason why I think it works so well, is when you first use it, it asks you your goals. It asks how much weight you want to lose or the BMI you would like to achieve and in what time frame you have set for this goal. Now I am pretty stubborn and don`t like to fail so if I set a goal, I like to reach it. If you miss a day the Wii will call you on it, its scary how smart it is. So here I am 7 weeks in and haven`t missed a day, it does take a lot of determination and will power, but like I said I don`t like to fail. I just recently got the Your Shape game and its also fantastic, again it tracks how many calories you burn and determines your fitness level so the routine it chooses for you is challenging but not impossible, and it constantly pushes you to do just a little bit better.

The healthy diet part is actually the easiest part. I don`t really like the word diet I think it implies a set of strict eating guidelines, like Atkins or Weight Watchers and their points program. But what I really mean is just proper healthy eating. Fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains and protein (lean meat of course), basically just follow the food guide, chances are if you have to process it yourself or it does not need processing at all, (like an apple or carrot sticks not a chocolate bar) its good for you. I just read something that stuck with me, when you go grocery shopping, shop the perimeter of the store stay away from the centre  aisles. The perimeter is where you will find the healthy foods your body needs, everything in the food guide, so true. I'll admit I have to make a few detours down the aisles, I have a real weakness for cereal, cereal bars and on occasion I allow myself to have a cookie or two.  I said healthy eating was the easiest part, but still every once and a while it has its downfalls. I love McDonald s and potato chips! So I have had to make some sacrifices although I think its alright to indulge once and awhile, and I don`t mean once a week more like once a month. Again it takes a lot of determination and will power, which I have.  Don`t be fooled... just because food is good for you can also taste good. Learn to experiment with your food the simplest thing can be changed into something extremely delicious. Maybe that will be my next post, transforming simple foods.

So anyway thats how I came to be seventeen pounds lighter and I`ll continue to lose a few more pounds. What happens when I reach my goal weight, you ask? Simple, I set a new goal.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Girl Cook.......

Have women changed the face of professional cooking?

Traditionally all through time a womans stereotypical place has always been in the kitchen, the home kitchen that is. Actually I take that back it wasn't so much a stereotype as it just was what it was. I actually think traditionally that is where most women wanted to be, taking care of the home and spending time with the children. Whether thats because of the maternal instinct or because that is what they felt society expected of them, I don't know.  But oh how the times have changed, we see more and more men staying at home being the caretaker and more women being the career focused, financial provider.

With the help of many rights activists, world wars and social and economic upturns and downturns women have been able to explode into the work force, not without many challenges. This is true of the cooking industry, professional cooking is a male dominated industry, it has been very hard for women to break into this career. Which seems strange to me since as I said before a womens place was traditionally in the kitchen, it has been said that it is too labor intensive for women, but we have set out to prove them wrong and I think we have done a pretty good job.  With the likes of Alice Waters, the great Julia Child and more recently Anna Olson, Lynn Crawford and the list goes on, women have been taken more seriously in the professional kitchen.

I have been working in kitchens for a very long time and yes it has been with mostly men, but over the years I have seen more and more women entering the industry, actually I have worked in one kitchen where there was more women than men, not something you see too often. Currently where I work the head pastry chef is a woman and the last place I worked the only sous chef was a woman . But I have never had the pleasure of having a women executive chef.  There are more male head chefs than women... do I believe that is because they are better cooks, or women just are not getting the recognition they deserve, no not all, being that there is more men in the industry it seems to only make sense that more men would be head chefs.

So why are there less women than men in this industry, well it seems that whoever they are, are right, it is a very labor intensive job. A lot of long hours and hard work go into being a professional chef.  A lot of women have big dreams of being very successful in there careers and a lot of those women want to have families as well, thats a lot to juggle at the same time. This industry makes it exceptionally difficult, not that it can't be done. Its not your typical 9-5 Monday to Friday job, your working when others are not.  Your shift can begin at any time of day, early in the morning or very late at night and the hours are unpredictable, you could be slow one minute and in the juice the next! I know there are other jobs out there like this but I am not talking about other jobs, I am talking about the professional cook. So for this reason I think that is why you don't see many women in the kitchen, its very difficult to have a family life. I know I am rarely home, during normal hours, thank god my Husband is a cook too.  It would be very difficult to try and raise a family, the thought hasn't even crossed my mind, I don't know where I would fit it in, I wouldn't even be able to take care of a dog properly.

In fact in my whole career as a cook I have only known three women to have children. Two of whom I work with currently.. all of them have children that are teenagers or young adults.  All three were cooks before they had children but took time off to raise there family then went back to work when there children where old enough to take care of themselves. Most of the women I have worked with including myself are not willing to give up doing what we love so much to do that, its hard enough to find a social life outside the kitchen and actually meet a lifelong partner let alone start a family.

Even with more women entering into this career, it is still very much a male dominated industry, and I don't actually mind that, most of us don't. I think we actually enjoy just being one of the guys, we can be as rude and crude as they are (not saying everyone is rude and crude). I can't even remember how many times I've said, "Why is so and so busting my balls?", or "Watch your nuts." when I swing open the door of a low boy, whether its a girl or guy... yes I know its not very lady like.  We are all treated the same I am expected to do the same job as everyone else in the kitchen, heavy lifting and all. If someone tried to stop me from doing something just because I am female I think I would be quite insulted, but sometimes the guys are just trying to be nice. I have heard many times throughout my career, "I know.. its because I'm a girl", when something doesn't work out the way they had expected it too. But I don't find that statement true at all, its just an excuse to make themselves feel better. Or at least I don't believe its true in any of the places of worked, not to say it doesn't happen in other kitchens. The kitchens I have worked in seem pretty open to women in the kitchen and most of the guys probably don't see it as women vs men but more of cook vs cook, you are either a good one or bad one, or just a little green.

There are many pros and cons to having women in the kitchen and if you have ever worked in one, you know what I am talking about. We see things a little differently and attack different assignments differently, call us stubborn, focused or maybe we just feel like we have something to prove.  So maybe the question isn't, Have women changed the face of the professional kitchen?, but rather, Has the professional kitchen changed the face of a women?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mr. Keller Meets Mrs. Bowie

Celebrity chefs are to cooks like Gretzkey and Crosby are to Canadian hockey fans, which clearly I am not as I struggle to name anyone popular within the last two years.  I know fellow Canadians I am a disappointment, but ask me to name a popular Canadian chef and I've got your back.  We're lucky to have seen the likes of Adjey, Blumer, Crawford, Olsen, Feenie, Smith, Lee, Vij and the list goes on and on, anyone of these greats show up on the popular food network show Iron Chef America, and walk into a kitchen the next day and it is being discussed luck the Stanley Cup finals.  I think I was more excited to see Bob Blumer on stage than I was the first time I went to a live concert.  So who is this Keller guy anyway, no he is not Canadian but he is an icon and a staple in the world of cooking.  He's the guy everyone wants to play for their team, but he's probably gonna be the team captain and choose his own team anyway (sorry for all the hockey analogies but I was on a roll). If you share the love of food and have never heard of him you need to look him up. Have I met him personally.. No.. but we have met through books.. a cooks best friend. So in my own way I've invited Keller over for dinner.

So what are we having for dinner? Chicken in Keller's killer brine. Brining is similar to marinating, its a process of soaking meat in a half salt, half sugar and water mixture.It makes the chicken more moist and tender by hydrating the breast before cooking . Keller's brine not only adds the moisture but also great flavor.  I've used this recipe many times both at work and at home.Thats' right I have even used it at work! Without the inspiration of other chefs I think we would all have a difficult time. If something works well than it works well. Sure you can make modifications if you want too, but sometimes you just don't need too. Here is the recipe which can be found on line or in his popular cook book "Bouchon"; and while your at it check out "The French Laundry Cook Book".

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Food for Thought II

In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery, eats twice as much as nature requires. ~Benjamin Franklin

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

If organic farming is the natural way, shouldn't organic produce just be called "produce" and make the pesticide-laden stuff take the burden of an adjective? ~Ymber Delecto

We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons. ~Alfred E. Newman

Did you ever stop to taste a carrot? Not just eat it, but taste it? You can't taste the beauty and energy of the earth in a Twinkie. ~Astrid Alauda

Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness. ~Edward Stanley

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Black Beans

The black bean also known as a turtle bean is not only delicious with its many preparations but also highly nutritious. They are high in fiber, (one cup of cooked beans can provide half the amount of daily fiber needed by a person). They are high in antioxidants, like cranberries also high in molybdenum (Black beans are one of the best sources around for this trace mineral. Molybdenum serves the useful purpose of breaking down sulfite (preservatives) found in food which some people are sensitive to.) folate (or vitamin B6) and they may also help in weight loss. This is because they are low in fat, only 85 calories for 1/2 cup, high in protein and also because of the high fiber content, it will help reduce food cravings. They are also a great source of iron and magnesium. All of this packed into one little bean.

Ok so how do you prepare a black bean? The easiest way I can think of is black beans and rice. Soak one or two cups of black beans (depending on how many people you are cooking for, two cups should serve about four people) in a bowl of water, put extra water the beans will expand over night. The next day drain and rinse them, then put beans in a pot and cover with water again put extra water we will drain the excess water if needed later. In the pot I like to add chopped onion and garlic, bring beans to a rapid boil then reduce heat just enough to keep them at a simmer. Cook until tender. Once they are cooked drain any excess water, season them with salt and pepper, fresh herbs and I like to use just a touch of cumin, serve with brown rice (see previous post). Now this may seem a little boring but I find it delicious plus its virtually fat free but full of nutrition, serve with some steamed or stir fried veggies and you have an easy well rounded meal. But there is so much more you can do with the black bean, if you have ever eaten anything mexican then you should have a good idea that they are used in almost everything. As much as I like black beans and rice thats not what I made for dinner, we had fajitas with black bean and corn salsa and and black bean paste, with sauted peppers and chicken, served with a side salad, mouth watering good.