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Understanding the Basics

Being a good cook has many different aspects that need attention.  It is not all about putting quality ingredients together and adding a few seasonings to make a good dish. 

In saying this, to be a good chef means that you should not be selfish in your methods and ingredients.  Not everyone is going to like or be able to eat all of the items on your menu.  I have found over my nearly three decades of cooking that there are more chefs that get angry when restaurant guests have special requests.  A lot of the time they get upset because of the lack of knowledge behind their menu items.  If they had a better understanding of the origin of their menu items then they could create a menu that is more diverse and would have less special request. 

Times are changing with people understanding both food and their bodies better, so the more you are able to adjust and move with this, the more enjoyable cooking will become.

One secret to getting away from the grips of recipes is to understand the dish that you are making right back to its roots.  I am not saying you need to know who created the dish but, more so of why the dish was created. That being said, the more you know about what you are creating will always benefit you in the long run.

The Caesar salad was created to make use of the anchovy runs that went up through Mexico and California.  An Italian restaurateur by the name of Caesar Cardini created it for his restaurant in Tijuana Mexico.  That’s right dear reader! the Caesar salad was created in Mexico, Not Italy.  Now that you know this little fun fact, try to think about the last Mexican restaurant that had the Caesar salad on its menu.

Another example is a cooking technique called confit.  Which is basically cooking something like duck or goose in its own fat at a very slow temperature until it basically dissolves in your mouth.

The whole reason for this dish was to act as a form of preservation before there was refrigeration.  People would render down the goose fat with various aromatics and then slow poach the goose. When it is done simply leave it on the counter for dinner another night. What happens is as the fat cools, it pushes all of the air out and you are left with an air tight seal and to make it even better its sealed in one of the best fats ever….DUCK FAT!!

Most classic dishes that date back many generations were often created because of an abundance of an ingredients or a way to feed families in a pinch to avoid starvation.

The reason why I am sharing this with you is so that you can take an origin of a dish or a technique and use them to your advantage to step outside of the box and get away from reading as you cook.

Let’s take the confit method for example.  If we break it down what do we have?  You have a rich fat used to poach something with flavoring added to the oil to enhance the flavor.  In the example I gave you I used goose fat and goose meat or more commonly used duck fat and duck legs.

So we have a fat, a protein or item to be cooked, herbs and spices.  If you are a vegetarian wanting to do something with this then try thinking along this path.  What is in season that you want to use up from your garden or what is something that you really like to eat? 

Tomatoes have just come to the end of their season so what if you took some cherry tomatoes, some thyme and rosemary and poached them in a nice grape seed oil.  Once you have done this, you can then seal them in jars and you have something for later in the winter to add to a sauce or even make a vinaigrette out of.  If you start thinking like this then you will not be forced to eat tons of items from your garden all at once.  You can spread them out over the seasons to last longer. 

If you understand the origin of the dish then you can use the same methods or reasoning and twist them to create your own dishes.

Let’s take a pesto sauce and throw a fun twist into it to create something of your own.  A basic pesto should have basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil.

If we take each ingredient and switch them up you are left with something new and unique to your liking.  Change the basil for another herb like cilantro or mint or even both.  Maybe you have do not like pine nuts so you use almonds or cashews.  Perhaps you have a nut allergy so try using seeds such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. 

I have always lived by the way that each ingredient that is in a dish should play a specific role to round out the dish.  In the case of a classic pesto, the pine nuts help the sauce from having an oily or thin outcome.  They help thicken up the pesto to give it a better finish on the tongue and give a slightly creamy texture with a very subtle bite. Since it has some viscosity to it, it will coat the ingredients it is used for like pasta or a bread. 

The herbs give it a beautiful color as well as the main flavor component.  Maybe you have a ton of kale or Swiss chard in your garden so try swaping out the herbs and make a pumpkin seed kale pesto. 

This is how all good chefs think when they are trying to branch out of their comfort zone on a very basic level. As we move forward with more blogs and videos we will raise the bar and get into more advanced techniques.

To understand and follow me on this train of thought, you will still need to do some reading and study a little but, in the long run you will find  yourself not looking at recipes the same way ever again. Instead of an in-depth study of the recipe, it will be more of a skim. 

I am not going to share a recipe with you on this blog but I will however ask for this.  Email me or leave a recipe in the comment section with your own creative pesto recipe and what you used it for.  I want to see you challenge yourself and share your creative side with me.

Warm three beet salad/spicy candied pecans/soft goat cheese/curry & Kaffir lime pesto

Let your inner chef shine!!!

Pickles Part 2

In the first part of of my pickling series I wrote about the basics of pickling. This was meant as a stepping stone for you. It is important to get comfortable with the basics before you start stepping outside of your comfort zone.

One of the most important parts of cooking is to understand that there are many little details that all add up to creating a great recipe or dish. Balance of flavors is one and texture is another. The look of the dish is almost as import as the flavor profile and this step should not be overlooked.

In this blog I am going to share a few different recipes to help you with getting started. The brine will always stay the same but and the changes will occur in the actual pickling jars.

  • Basic Pickling Brine
  • Apple cider vinegar (1 part)
  • water (2 parts)
  • Kosher pickling salt (enough so it is almost too salty for your palette)
  • Sugar (to balance the salt levels and add another layer to your pickles)
  • Pickling spice (a few tablespoons for every 2 liters of brine)
  • Whole Lemon
  • garlic (a few cloves for every few liters)
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • fresh rosemary sprigs

Bring this brine to a simmer and allow your ingredients to steep like a tea. While you are preparing the brine you can now begin to process your pickles.

It is best to make very large batches of this and have it ready for future use. If you decide to do pickling down the road then all you will have to do is simply bring the brine to a simmer.

Pickled Turnips

A perfect item for a chicken sandwich or burger. These can be found in Shawarma’s and can really lift up any sandwich with a unique bite and flavor.

  • Basic brine
  • slice the radish with as uniformly as possible with either a knife of mandolin
  • In the pickle jars prior to pouring the liquid on add a few slices of raw beets and whole garlic cloves
  • The beets will bleed into the turnips and the garlic will give them a sharper flavor.once the liquid is covering the pickles and the lid is on, give them a little shake to help the beets bleed into the whole jar. You can even store them upside down to help this process but make sure you have the lid sealed tightly.
  • These pickles will be ready after about 4 days or when they have turned a beautiful rose color

Pickled Fennel

a great addition to almost anything with fish such as fish and chips, salmon steaks, smoke salmon on a bagel & cream cheese or even an accompaniment to a cheese platter.

  • Basic brine
  • a few extra teaspoons of sugar in each jar
  • a few sprigs of fresh dill in each jar
  • a sprinkle of mustard seeds in each jar
  • shaved fennel
  • pour hot brine until jars are full
  • seal jars and put in fridge

These pickles will be ready after 2 days

pickled eggplant

a nice addition to a cold cut sandwich, stir-fry, or even a finishing element to a soup or salad.

  • Basic brine
  • thinly sliced Japanese eggplant
  • a few ounces of good quality soy sauce to each jar
  • a few ounces of sesame oil to each jar
  • a few tablespoons of sugar to each jar
  • a drizzle of fish sauce to each jar (optional)
  • pour the simmering brine over top
  • seal
  • store in fridge

These pickles will be ready after about 2-3 days

Pickled Cherries

a nice addition to a cocktail over the holidays, in a fresh salad, or morning pancakes or crepes

  • Basic brine
  • 1 cup red wine in each jar
  • 1 ounce triple sec or grande marnier to each jar
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar to each jar
  • 1 slice of lemon
  • 1 slice of orange
  • pour hot brine over top
  • seal and store in the fridge

a little tip to the cherries is to leave the pits in so they keep a nice shape prior to using them. If not then they tend to get small and wrinkly and are not as crunchy or ascetically appealing.

These pickles will be ready after 1 week

Nana’s Pickles

These pickles stay crunchy as long as you keep them nice and cool. They are amazing on burgers, diced up into a tartar sauce, on a charcuterie platter, or simply a late night snack when passing the kitchen.

For this last recipe, I am going to share with you a family cucumber pickle recipe that holds a close place to mine and my families hearts. These are what started the whole obsession with both food and pickles with me way back when I was a little boy.

There is only one other pickle that I have been able to buy at a grocery store that come slightly close to these pickles and they are Claussen Kosher Dill Pickles. They are kept in the chilled section of your grocery store.

For this recipe you will not require a brine at all.

I will give you a recipe based on a 1 liter pickling jar.

  • 1 tablespoon of pickling spice and put it in the jar
  • 1 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1 bunch fresh dill
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • fill will pickling cucumbers
  • repeat the same process as with the pickling spice, garlic, dill seeds, and fresh dill at the top of the jar.
  • cover with only water and seal the lids tightly
  • store in a very cool area if not in the refrigerator

These pickles will take somewhere between 1 and 2 weeks to be ready

One of the things that a professional cook does that makes their lives easier is to prepare everything at once. The fastest way to achieve this by doing all of the same steps at one time and then moving on and doing all of the next steps and so on.

Here is how I would go about doing multiple varieties of pickles at once. set out all of your jars

  • get a large batch of brine on the go.
  • prepare all of your vegetables, that is washing cutting etc.
  • fill your jars with the ingredients while the brine is heating up and make each one the way you want to.
  • clean up your mess and have the jars sitting beside the brine ready to go.
  • when the brine is finally simmering, all you have to do is simply use a ladle or small sauce pot to pour the hot brine over each one.
  • cover your jars and you are basically done.
  • One little note to watch out for is that if your knife skills are not fast and the brine begins to simmer prior to you finishing, make sure to check it before you use it. The more it reduces when simmering, the more intense the brine becomes such as too much salt or too acidic.
  • If you find that it has gotten too salty or too acidic then simply add a little more water until it is where you want it

Feel free to post questions or comments at any time for me to help you through your pickling adventures. If you want help with anything related to pickling I am always here for you.

I will be posting videos in the near future to help you, so stay tuned

HMMMM PICKLES!!!

Like I said the Autumn season is fast approaching and a lot of us are harvesting our fruits and veggies from our gardens. For me the process starts in the spring when I am gathering seeds to plant in my garden. Most of my planning revolves around the things that I want to pickle in 5 to 6 months so I can have snack foods and condiments that will last throughout the winter months.

Like most things that we cook, they take time and practice to perfect whatever it is you are preparing. I have made many mistakes with this process so hopefully with my knowledge I am going to share with you, you can skip the headaches and get right to the fun parts. I have people come into either my professional kitchen or my home kitchen and they tease me about all of the different pickles I have laying around. I get teased when shopping and a very common phrase that I will say is “I’m going to pickle that.” It goes on and on until they begin to taste dishes that I have created with my pickles layered in the mix somewhere. The lift that they can give any dish is quite incredible and once I share this with you I am certain you will be following my footsteps and trying this on everything you can get your hands on.

I could get into many different methods of pickling but I do not want to bore you with a long drawn out blog with this. This process is so simple that it will surprise you of how little effort it takes in order to have perfect pickles every time.

As I said before, I am going to teach you how to cook without recipes so I am going to give you guidelines to follow and let you choose your own adventure.

Let’s start with the brine. The ingredients you decide to pickle will be sitting in this solution until you decide to use them and the flavor you put in this will be gently absorbed into them. The possibilities are endless so once you have a base I encourage you to run with experiments.

  • RECIPE
  • 1 part vinegar, white wine/red wine/apple cider for example
  • Pickling salt
  • sugar
  • 2 parts water
  • aromatics, garlic/ginger/thyme/rosemary/dill/lemon/limes/oranges
  • something to pickle

Method:

  • add everything except what you are pickling into a pot and bring to a boil
  • prepare what you are pickling and place into the vessels you will be pickling into, most likely jars
  • pour the boiling brine until the soon to be pickles are covered
  • put lids on so that they are NOT tight
  • place in fridge until cool and then firmly tighten the lids

Okay I know that seemed vague but I will settle your questions here in short form.

First off it is important to balance the flavor to your liking.

Choose a vinegar that has flavor such as apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar and avoid using plain white vinegar. Honestly I only use plain white vinegar for cleaning.

Take your vinegar and pour it into your pot

A good starting point for water is add double the amount of water to vinegar. It should be tart or acidic. If it is still very unpleasant than add more water.

now simply add your aromatics and spices such as pickling spice, garlic, lemon, lime, orange and herbs.

depending on what your final result is expected to be will determine how much salt and sugar to add. If you want sweet pickles add more sugar and less salt and vice versa. Remember it is always best to add less and bring it up to where you want as apposed to adding to much and having to start over

There are many different variations and methods to pickling but what I am giving you here is a starting point to work from.

Think of this like the base to a pyramid. The larger the base (your knowledge) the higher the peak will be.

The reason I have chosen to share this particular method with you is because I like my pickles to have a bite or in other words to be crunchy. Soft mushy vegetables are something that I am not a fan. By doing your pickling this way will allow you to not over cook the ingredients.

This is a stepping stone and I will get into some more advanced techniques in a future blog so stay tuned and happy pickling

Roasted Pork Rack with Roasted Vegetables

Serves 4-6

Budget $35

With the fall season on the horizon, I am very excited as it is my favorite time of the year. The reason fall is my favorite time of year is because I get to harvest the vegetables from my garden and prepare them in dishes. Braised meats & roasts are among the top foods that really strike a cord in my chef soul. The smell of a beautiful roast in the oven and how it fills our homes with such intoxicating aromas is such a simple yet beautiful pleasure.

Today I found a beautiful pork rack at my local butcher and thought what a perfect time to pair it with some of the items I have harvested from my garden such as purple beets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, & carrots.

I am going to walk you through the process and give you simple tips on how to adjust the “recipe” to fit both your palette and your budget.

First off a whole pork rack can be one of the more expensive cuts of the pig. This doesn’t mean that you have to follow me to exactly with each step. I am simply going to give you a guideline and allow your inner chef to decide where to take it. Remember I am going to teach you about how I develop a meal from a professional chef’s perceptive as well as how to cook without using any exact recipes.

If you are on a tighter budget you can use a different cut of pork for this such as pork shoulder or butt.

I want to start with some simple ways to put your dishes together with a simple rule to follow. Whatever protein you decide to use, try thinking about its natural habitat and then choose ingredients from there to start putting the pieces together.

Lets use wild game like Moose for example. What do you find in its natural habitat? Being in British Columbia the Moose in my neighborhood live among things like fruits such as apples & pears, nuts, berries, grains, & mushrooms. So I would start to put the elements together based on this guideline and then work from there.

This will be much easier than trying to put moose with items from a warmer more tropical climate like mango’s and coconuts. I am not saying that you cannot pair these items, but that they will be more difficult to have success. Once you start with a good foundation then you can start to step outside of the box to create more elaborate creations. Stay within your comfort zone and work from there and before you know it, you will be coming up with some more exotic dishes.

Getting back to the Pork rack, there are a few directions you can go, but I have chosen to roast mine on a bed of vegetables. I love doing this because as the meat roasts and releases its juices, all of the vegetables will absorb them and begin to caramelize with a very intense robust flavor. This can work for roasted chicken very well, which I recommend you try at least once this season.

I like to add as much natural flavor as possible and it’s the little things that will make the difference with a good dish and a great dish. Do not try to overpower your dish with excessive spices and other flavors. It’s all about bringing the best out of each main ingredient and maximizing their flavor.

I am going to do one of my favorite precooking steps which is a brine.

The brine can be whatever you want and a simple way to break this down is to make a tea by steeping the flavor profile you want and then chilling it prior to submerging your meat in it. For this I will use garlic, onions, thyme, rosemary and my brine solution.

The brine solution can be just water and your aromatics or you can get a little more creative and add salt, sugar, and acid as your base. By adding a brine you will add more flavor to the meat which will be absorbed and give you a juicier bite.

People often forget about citrus or vinegar’s as an equally important seasoning step as salt and pepper but believe me they are, especially when dealing with richer more fatty foods. The acid will help balance the flavor of everything and intensify your meat.

The length of time the meat sits in the brine should vary depending on the size and cut. A steak, chop, or chicken breast should not brine for more than an hour or two. Where a larger cut such as a whole chicken, pork rack, or turkey can go for up to 24 hours. This also depends on the acidity levels as well. If your brine is more on the acidic side of things you could end up with a chewy sour final product if you leave it too long.

A good way to make the best brine is to taste it and have a nice finish on your tongue with strong notes of salt, acid, and sugar. If they are well balanced then you should have no problem.

For this particular recipe I used a large 5 bone rack with its fat cap in place. The actual cooking time for this was about 1.5 hours at 325 F. The key is to not rush the process and let the meat cook slowly. Low and slow will give you a more tender juicier rack. Should you find that you do not have the time, then it is best for you to choose a different dish so that you can avoid being disappointed. Lets say you do not have 2 hours to make this dish then simply cut out steaks then either pan sear or grill them.

Just because I gave you a time and temp for your dish does not meant you have to follow this in a strict manner. Just remember that the internal temperature should be 145 F and the perfect temperature to get there is between 325 and 350.

  • RECIPE
  • 1 pork rack
  • 2 small beets
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1 small rutabaga
  • 1 small celery root
  • 1 small onion
  • 5 whole garlic cloves
  • 2 small Yukon gold potatoes
  • RUB
  • Dijon mustard
  • olive oil
  • 1 sprig rosemary (chopped finely)
  • 1 sprig thyme (chopped finely)

METHOD:

Cut all of the vegetables so that they are uniform. I am sure you have heard this term before. For those of you who do not know, this is where all of the ingredients are cut to the same size and shape. The reasoning behind this is so that everything cooks at the same time. Smaller cuts will end up burning in order for the larger cuts to reach their doneness. On the flip side, larger cuts will not cook through if you finish when the smaller cuts are done and you will be left with under cooked unpleasant bites.

Mix all of your vegetables together and season them with salt, pepper, olive oil and preferably some hard herbs such as thyme or rosemary and lay them out on a baking tray.

Mix the oil, herbs and Dijon mustard in a mixing bowl until mixed thoroughly.

Score the fat cap in a crisscross pattern to allow the meat to cook more evenly and season well with salt and pepper. Once you have done this, you want to slather the pork in your Dijon rub and place it on top of the vegetables.

Preheat your oven to 450 F and cook the meat for roughly 25 minutes at this temp and then drop the heat to 325 – 350 F and finish your pork at this temperature. The reason behind this is to give a crispier outer layer. Crispy savory, and aromatic crust combined with a sweet soft and very tender inner layer will make each bite so good that your legs will go weak.

Remember this little bit of advice and do not get discouraged with each dish. What makes a great athlete amazing at what they do is the practice and repetition of the skills that they are acquiring. The same goes for cooks in all aspects. There is a reason why professional chefs are good at what they do and even more so there is a reason why our grandparents make such amazing food. They have done it over and over for decades and each time they prepare the dish, they fine tune one element to tighten up the perfection.

I personally love root vegetables which is why i chose to go this route, but that does not mean you have to. You can use only one vegetable if that is what your budget is restricted to. Just remember that whatever it is that you use in this dish that it is a heartier vegetable so that it holds up to the cooking process and serves a purpose. In this case the vegetables purpose is to act as a flavor catching roasting rack, so choose something according.

One more very key aspect that I want to to talk about is what to do with the meat once it comes out of the oven.

A big problem that people seem to have or have a hard time resisting, is letting the meat rest. It should almost rest for as long as it cooks. Now that seems silly when you think that a pork rack has cooked for nearly 1.5 hours. I should say that you don’t have to let it rest for that long but there is a reason for letting it rest and ways to do it properly.

The basic breakdown of why to let the meat rest is the cooking process and heat locks up the tissue so that it becomes tough and the resting process allows the meat to relax and soften up. This is why you often see a lot of juices and blood pooling up after something has been sitting on a plate for so long. Think of it this way, one you will get a more tender bite if you let it rest, and two you will be able to use the juices released in your sauce.

To prevent the meat and vegetables from getting cold is to cover with aluminum foil and let it rest. When I created this dish I let the pork rest for nearly 20 minutes and the final outcome with perfect.

The final element of this is the sauce. A sauce should been used as something to highlight your dish and not act as the main attraction.

One little trick I often use when developing a dish is the same thing that an interior decorator would use when choosing colors for their work. For example a decorator is trying to choose a color to paint the walls in a room so they may look at a carpet and pick out a faint color in it and use the color of the walls to pull it out.

Use the same concept when cooking and this sauce will be a perfect little introductory sample of what you can do with this concept.

I will use the crust as a base because of its strong Dijon charactaristics. Dijon has some friends that like to join it in recipes so lets talk about that. Dijon likes, honey or maple syrup, goat cheese, horseradish, sweet white wines and garlic.

Let’s build our sauce now!

Pour the pan drippings into a small sauce pot and bring it to a simmer. drizzle a little bit of honey and whisk it in followed by some white wine and bring back to a simmer. Add a little bit of Dijon mustard to it and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Play with the balance of flavors until it is where you want it and all that is left to do is spoon a few tablespoons over the plated pork and you are ready to go.

Thank you so much for spending time with me for my first of many blogs and I appreciate your comments, concerns or questions.

ABOUT CHEF JAMES RYAN

I have been a chef for over 28 years and have worked in all areas of the food and beverage industry from fast food to fine dining and everything in between. When I was younger my focus was on learning as much technique as possible and creating a new unique dish. Although that is still present in my chef soul, I get a lot more gratification from sharing and teaching and being able to see the joy in the people I am helping. Things that seem so basic and part of my daily routine are sometimes mind blowing to the nonprofessional cook. My goal is to talk about hot topics that are out there in the food world and I will try to work them out to help you make better decisions with what you buy and what you eat. Most importantly I want to share my love for food and cooking and why it has kept me completely focused for nearly 30 years. I will let you get inside my mind and how I look at both recipes and use ingredients to create dishes of your own. Put down the recipes and begin to cook with your heart and you will be surprised of the inner chef within yourself. I will let you in the mind of a chef and show you my perspective when I go about cooking and creating dishes. How I pair ingredients with others and bring out the true balanced flavors to make your own creations stand out. Using recipes can be boring and mundane and often be off-putting to people wanting to cook. The recipe that you want to recreate can be so confusing to read and follow that it scares you away, when in actuality the dish can be prepared in a much simpler way with a simple shift in your thought process and how you approach the whole dish. We are going to talk about how to maximize the ingredients that you are using to bring out the best in them no matter what it is that you are preparing. In saying that I will show multiple techniques to get the same result and let you the reader, choose which path you want to take. I will break down the pros and cons of each method which will also allow you to understand what you are dealing with Often times it is best to start at the end with how you want the final product to look and then work backwards to help you get a better vision on what it is that you are trying to achieve the with final product. Knowing what the final dish will be will help you along the way like mental guidelines. With the financial crunch out there, people are looking to eat on a tight budget. Students out there or people leaving their parents’ home for the first time and are learning about how to survive on as little money as possible will benefit from following me. Breaking down product and ingredient comparison will help you get your shopping done in the right way, all while still eating a healthy diet that is balanced. I believe that after being a chef for so long that it is important to constantly be evolving and learning about new recipes, techniques and how to use ingredients is something we all have to share and hopefully I can bring people together in discussions to help each other out.