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Ned’s Summer Ride

Ned’s Summer Ride

This summer, my friend and Four Season’s Vancouver Chef Ned Bell set out to cycle across the country to raise awareness about sustainable seafood. As he makes his way across the country, I thought he deserved a little tune of his own!

Here’s how it goes:

Let me tell you a story about a young fella named Ned

From St. John’s to Vancouver, he set to cross the land
His summer spent to spread the word, and take the task to hand
To raise awareness ’bout the seafood sitting on our plate
And start us thinking how to change before it’s far too late

The journey’s not all pedalling, there’s lots of dinners, too
As chefs across our country show what we can do
With what we catch and grow, there’s such a story to be told
That shows the bounty that our rivers, lakes and oceans hold

So wish him well and cheer him on, and share a young man’s wish
For clean and healthy waters, full of lots of tasty fish
Although he loves to ride his bike and keep his body lean,
Ned’s riding cross the country just to keep our waters clean

I’m tired just thinking about it

As Ned rides through your city, you’ll see he’s not alone,
Dad’s driving, Fin’s directing, with Kate and Max at home
The daily feed from twitter lets us all know where he’s at
And every night his facebook page has new pins on the map

And if you see him on TV, take the time to pause
and ponder your own food supply, a very worthy cause
And when you buy your seafood, think of how it’s caught,
Your dollar speaks in volumes each and every time you shop

So wish him well and cheer him on, and share a young man’s wish
For clean and healthy waters, full of lots of tasty fish
Although he loves to ride his bike and keep his body lean,
Ned’s riding cross the country just to keep our waters clean

What are you doing about it?

So as I play and tell the tale, I think of Ned’s long ride
But words are cheap, it’s actions that will keep his dream alive
It’s only going to happen if we think of how we fish
And spread the word to everyone about this fella’s wish

So do your part and make the point to ask before you buy
And do a bit to help to keep a healthy food supply
Cause everyone who knows just how important it can be
Will think of chefs for oceans from sea to sea to sea

So wish him well and cheer him on, and share a young man’s wish
For clean and healthy waters, full of lots of tasty fish
Although he loves to ride his bike and keep his body lean,
Ned’s riding cross the country to keep our waters clean

We’ll all be here to cheer him on, and share a young man’s wish
For clean and healthy waters, full of lots of tasty fish
Although he loves to ride his bike and keep his body lean,
Ned’s riding cross the country just to keep our waters clean

What did you have for dinner tonight?

Tools and Equipment – LBB#5

So now you are armed with ingredients, and are going to take them home to your well stocked kitchen. Now what? Better make sure you have the right tools for the job.

There are two general approaches to tools and equipment. I have seen cooks who roll into the kitchen looking like they are outfitting a kitchen store themselves, and others who carry a small knife roll and not much else. I find this is consistent with how people approach most things in their lives:

A: buy every new tool and gadget that comes out so you have everything you could possibly want available.

B: buy a small number of good quality items and use them for a variety of purposes, and rely on a bit of ingenuity to figure out how to accomplish new ideas.

I am a “B” myself, (although my guitar collection might say otherwise) and have always maintained that a few good knives and a set of well built cookware can take you almost anywhere. In my kitchen, there are two categories, the must haves which I cannot do without, and the nice to haves for making certain, special things. Here is the list for both in my kitchen:

Knives: Buy knives of good quality steel which feel balanced in your hand. I find that depending on the shape and size of your hand, some brands just feel more comfortable than others. I don’t have a favourite make, and have always kept a bit of a mongrel set myself.

Must Have: French (Chef’s) knife (8-10 inch, your choice), a medium size (6 inch) utility knife, flexible filleting knife, boning knife, paring knife, serrated bread knife, and a steel and stone (oil or water) to keep them sharp

Nice to Have: large slicer (tranche), meat cleaver, turning knife, Japanese-style vegetable knife or small fruit cleaver

Cookware: For sauce pans and stock pots, buy stainless steel with fairly thick sides and bottoms to conduct heat evenly. Enamel covered cast iron is great for things like a rondeau or dutch oven, and cast iron or carbon steel is great for saute pans, grill pans, and griddles. Most non-stick saute pans are on an aluminum base, which is fine for that application, but still look for thickness in the bottom for even heat distribution. I try and avoid plastic handles on pans and lids as I like to be able to put my cookware in the oven to finish things off.

Must Have: large and small sauté pans, a good non-stick pan or two, three sizes of saucepan, a stock pot, a dutch oven (rondeau), and a steamer insert that fits on top of one of the sauce pans

Nice to Have: grill pan, griddle that can fit over two burners, crepe pan, wok or stir-fry pan

Small hand tools and utensils: As with knives, buy good quality, sturdy utensils that feel comfortable.

Must Have: vegetable peeler, whisk, wooden spoons, silicone spatulas, tongs, box grater, fish tweezers, a coarse and fine strainer, and a small offset metal spatula

Nice to Have: rasp, mandoline, spaetzle press, ricer, food mill, zester, hand juicer, pasta maker

Bakeware: For flat trays and muffin tins, if you are lining them with parchment or silicone, heavy aluminum is fine. If you plan to bake directly on them, get some with a non-stick surface. Cake tins are best if they are non-stick, and I prefer glass (pyrex) or ceramic for pie plates and casseroles

Must Have: baking sheets (approximately 12 by 16 in.) 8 or 9 inch round cake tins, a spring-form pan, pie plates, muffin tin, bread pan, rectangular casserole/lasagne pan (9 by 13 or larger), a set of small ramekins (4 oz), tart pan (10 inch), wire racks

Nice to Have: different sizes of cake tins (both square and round), tube pan, bundt pan, small individual tart shells, enamel coated terrine mould

Small Appliances: This is an area that seems to be ever expanding. A good quality, heavy duty stand mixer and food processor will last a long time and prove themselves a great investment over their light duty, cheap cousins. I know there are some cooks who think that microwave ovens are inherently evil, but I find them a valuable resource for tempering butter and chocolate in a hurry, and heating prepared foods without evaporation

Must Have: food processor, electric stand mixer, blender, microwave

Nice to Have: coffee/spice grinder, hand blender, attachments for a stand mixer (grinder, sausage stuffer)

Measuring and portioning tools: In Canada, we are constantly influenced by the fact that we have three different measuring systems we encounter: SI (Metric), Imperial (UK) and the US measuring systems. It is important to have measuring tools that can switch between metric and Imperial/US measurement, and you will find that I use them interchangeably. In context, when I refer to liquid measures (ounces, cups, and gallons), I am generally referring to US measures rather than Imperial. We’ll talk about conversions and rounding off in a later post.

Must Have: measuring spoons, graduated measuring cups, digital scale, thermometers (meat and candy/deep fry), assorted stainless mixing bowls, colander, small and large ladles, a set of nested round cutters, large and small cutting boards (I like having one large wooden one for bread and pastry and a few smaller plastic or vinyl ones for cutting and chopping), rolling pin, bench scraper

Nice to Have: cutters in different shapes and sizes, piping bag and tips, squeeze bottles with tips, bottles with quick pours, pastry wheel, gnocchi paddle

Of course the “Nice to Have” lists can go on forever, but if you have all of the “Musts” and some of the “Nice” you are well set to attempt pretty much anything. Of course, there are always new things on the market and new techniques, such as the current movement in molecular gastronomy that may require specialized equipment to attempt properly, but those are discussions for another day.

For now, we should be entering a well stocked kitchen, and will be ready to talk about what’s next: digging deeper into the main methods and principles behind preparing and cooking food.

Basic Ingredients – LBB#4

What I DON’T want to do when talking about ingredients is to get into a long-winded discussion of “the best” this or that. I believe in a few basic principles about choosing ingredients but am in no way of the “food snob” camp. Remember two things I learned very early: just because it’s more expensive doesn’t always mean it’s any better, and you can still screw up the finest ingredients by improper preparation. Yes, by all means try and make sustainable choices but buy what’s in your budget, from where you can and want to get it, and don’t think that if you are seen shopping at a regular supermarket for something you are somehow blaspheming your commitment to good cooking. Good cooking comes from the heart and the soul, and shopping for ingredients shouldn’t be a painful, guilt-ridden exercise! Now that’s said, we can move on and talk about the raw materials.

No matter what you are purchasing, choosing the right ingredient for the task is as important as the right task for the ingredient. In general terms, buying things that are local, grown in their intended life cycle (not MAJORLY aided or enhanced), freshly sourced, and in season is a very good place to start. Know where your food comes from, and try and ensure it comes from fairly close to home as much as you can, are my guiding principles. In any set of variables, you will have a range of possible results, and starting off with ingredients most likely to give success to the cook can be the difference between the acceptable and the extraordinary. A few pointers in each of the following categories can help not only in the creation of great dishes at any one time, but the anticipation of potential menu items based on what one can expect to find in the market at any given time.

Fruits and vegetables

Get to know your local growing season. For our local area of the Pacific Northwest, that means something to look forward to at each time of the year: from asparagus, rhubarb, morels, and peas in spring, to berries, stone fruit, and tender young vegetables in the summer, a segue to tomatoes, followed by mushrooms, squash, and finally root vegetables and overwintered storage crops before it starts all over again. The converted will never again eat a strawberry outside of June, or a tomato before July or after September. Some of these micro seasons are only a few weeks long, so the creative cook has only a handful of kicks at the can before a long wait to try something new. This anticipation becomes a huge source of inspiration, and I have often found myself planning a meal in my mind a year away, “next time we have some….”

Meats and poultry

Find out who supplies your favourite butcher, as great meat and poultry is as much about the handling as the raising in my experience. Small farmers quite often only deliver supply once a week or so, so knowing which day the fresh stuff comes in is a great piece of information to have. Well raised, well handled meats and poultry provide not only a terrific base for the meal, but often have depth of flavour and texture so that they need very little in the way of additional help to make them taste great. One of the greatest complements I ever received from a customer was after serving a him a very simple dish – roasted organic chicken breast, herb gnocchi, and a mushroom ragout. Tom said to me, “Chef, that’s what I like about you – you’re not trying to hide anything. You just put a bit of salt on it and send it out.”

Fish and seafood

As with produce, and perhaps even more so, seafood requires knowledge of the season, a good trusting relationship with your source, and adaptability. As fishing in BC is often subject to short seasons and openings, inclement weather, and a high level of perishability, my goal is always to first decide on a style of fish and then see what looks great before finalizing the menu. You may head to market intending for halibut but find some ling cod looks better, or be on the hunt for a fine piece of deep red tuna to find nothing that lives up to the vision. Being able to decide to make a U-turn and prepare something completely different is usually the right thing to do if what you were looking for doesn’t live up to your expectations. Of course, if there is an ABSOLUTE need to have a certain product, I always try and make contact at a few key junctures: when planning the menu, call ahead and see if what you are looking for will be in season, check a few days in advance to get a sense of the delivery schedule and put in any special requests (If I’m not buying a whole fish or fillet, I always ask for the front portion of larger fish, as they have better yield and are generally more even in thickness than tail sections) It is not always a bad thing to purchase a product at its peak of freshness and then freeze it for the needed day, especially if it means not buying something that has been sitting in the display cooler for several days. In fact, certain types of seafood, such as prawns and sablefish, are better purchased frozen, as they are processed immediately after coming out of the water on board the vessel.

Herbs and spices

Fresh herbs make the world of difference, especially if you have a garden and can snip them as needed. Plant those that will be hardy year round, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary, and then supplement with spring and summer plantings of the finer varieties. Spices do fade over time, so purchase them in small amounts, whole if you can, and toast and grind them just before using.

The pantry

A well stocked pantry is the basis on which so many fine meals can be created. In general, you want to have enough variety so that you can be creative, but not so much that stuff sits around forever. I usually try and have the following on hand, and from this can usually go a few different directions or tackle most recipes. Feel free to add or subtract according to what you like to cook and eat:

Dry goods:

Wheat flours: all purpose will do for most things, but if you make a lot of bread or pastry, keep those around
Other flours, etc: cornmeal, rice flour, corn starch, rolled oats
Sugars and sweeteners: white, brown, and icing sugars, honey and maple syrup
Leaveners/baking supplies: baking powder, soda, instant yeast, cream of tartar
Vinegars: white, red wine, cider, balsamic, rice
Salt: coarse and fine sea or rock salt
Nuts: a couple of varieties you like (I am partial to hazelnuts, almonds and pecans myself)
Oils: vegetable, olive (extra virgin), sesame
Rice: one long (basmati, jasmine) and one medium or short grain variety (arborio, carnaroli, calrose), your preference
Pulses and whole grains: A variety or two of dried lentils or beans and some whole grains if you like to use them
Chocolate: Dark and white couverture or pellets, cocoa powder
Spices: A good variety plus a couple of blends (we’ll talk about those later)
Vanilla: a good extract is fine, but having a couple of beans around is always nice
Liquor: white and red wine, sherry, dry vermouth, port, a couple of liqueurs you like (coffee, orange, and nut flavours are always good to have). Buy stuff that’s not expensive but that you also like to drink so it doesn’t go bad!
Canned goods: plum tomatoes, tomato paste, coconut milk
Dry pasta: a long noodle and a shorter variety
Dried fruits: a few things you like
Panko or other dry bread crumbs

Perishable staples and condiments:

butter or margarine (don’t be that way, I use it all the time for certain things)
sour cream or yogurt
cheese – parmesan and something that melts nicely
fresh garlic and ginger
dijon mustard (smooth and grainy)
prepared horseradish
your preferred hot sauce
some sort of chili paste – sambal, sriracha, etc
soy sauce
sun-dried tomatoes
stocks (chicken/beef/veg, in freezer or tetra packs)

Non-food items:

aluminum foil (heavy duty)
parchment paper
plastic wrap
butcher’s twine
bamboo skewers
zipped plastic bags for marinating and storage
storage containers with lids
non-stick spray

That should be a good start for most people. Next, let’s talk about tools and equipment!

The Chef’s Little Black Book

Today I am starting a new series – an idea I have for a book that has been sitting in a stage of partial completion for a while. If it will ever make it to print, I don’t know, but at least writing it this way I can get it all in one place and share for now as it comes together.

It starts something like this……….

Every great cook I have worked with has had his or her “little black book”, a collection of recipes and menu ideas gleaned from years of working alongside others who share the passion for food and cooking. In most cases it’s a shorthand list of formulas, great menu items, and notes to self about one’s experience spending thousands of hours behind a stove. This collection goes to form the chefs we become, and the broader one’s repertoire, the more source for inspiration there exists. I have held firmly to my belief that everyone in the kitchen makes a contribution to the knowledge base of the profession, and that collective brainpower has led me to years of inspired cooking in small restaurant kitchens and at home.

This experience and knowledge once closely scrutinized, comes down to several basic principles and approaches to food, ingredients, and technique. It is that combination that gives us the variety, as every recipe I have ever seen, know, or developed has been an extrapolation of a simple idea based on one of the fundamentals.

It is my goal in this series to share my personal collection of the basics, as well as an insight into how to take a relatively small set of ideas and turn them into an endless array of recipes, menu ideas, and memorable meals. What I want to get away from is the concept that cooking is about just following recipes. Cooking food is like playing music, my other great love. You can follow the score, but at the end of it all there are only 12 notes. Every great piece, song, or melody is derived from the ability of the composer to combine those 12 notes with an understanding of common combinations and fundamentals that work, sprinkled with a good dose of imagination and experimentation.

To transcend from merely following recipes to experiencing food in such a way that you can imagine an outcome, select the ingredients and put them together with a fairly close interpretation of what you set out to is truly a magical experience that those of us who have cooked professionally for many years probably take for granted, but one I want to share with you over the next little while.

So here it begins, my “little black book”

January 2013

New look, New Year

Well, after being very remiss about maintaining my web presence, I have decided to start the year by totally reworking my site and upgrading it to the latest version of WordPress, along with the vast improvements in widgets and social media connectivity that have taken place over the last 5 years. Please have a poke around and the current stuff here, and I will be adding plenty of new content soon.

What’s been going on with me? Still working hard on the training initiatives with go2, which is very rewarding work. I have joined the board of the BC Chefs’ Association, to stay more connected to our industry provincially and nationally, and also have been very involved with the Potluck Cafe Society, where I am currently co-chair of their board. They are a wonderful organization providing employment and on the job training in the Downtown Eastside, through the operation of a successful catering business and small cafe on Hastings.

I’ve also been playing a lot of music with my jam band, which we share via our own web page, under the name The Mine Project. I haven’t been doing as much home recording since we record a full album’s worth of material every week at the studio, but have promised myself I’ll be doing more of that as well. In anticipation of dedicating a bit more time to writing music, I have spent some time rebuilding my music site as well as this one. It can be found at dennisgreenmusic.com.

And for food writing? Lots of ideas bottled up, and have decided that I’d rather focus on sharing my knowledge, ideas and some interesting stories from over the years rather than maintaining a continual ticker tape of what I’m eating, so will begin to capture those and post them here VERY soon.

Happy New Year