COOKING IN LANGLEY: Starting with a blank canvas

Chef Dez offers tips on freestyling in the kitchen.

When was the last time you unleashed your culinary talents?

I don’t mean cooking from your favourite cookbook; I am talking about making something in the kitchen completely from the ideas in your head and following your taste buds along the way.

If your first inclination when reading this makes you cringe with stress, I am here to help.

Let’s face it, we all have kitchens and we need food to stay alive, so why not try to bring your cooking ability to new heights every now and then?

These are life skills that will influence your dinner table for years to come.

Honing these skills will not only bring some excitement to your regular meal planning, but also increase your confidence in the kitchen.

The easiest way to approach this, is by beginning with meal ideas that use a blank canvas as a starting point.

Being a chef, people always ask me what my favourite things to cook are, and I usually answer with “pizza and pasta.”

These bases are perfect lackluster starting points that can be influenced in so many ways with unlimited ingredient and idea combinations.

The first thing is to keep it simple.

If it is beyond your desire, capabilities, or timeframe, I am not expecting you to make the pizza or pasta dough from scratch.

Simple pre-made pizza crusts and dried pasta is a good enough start. In a pinch I have even created individual pizzas from pita or naan breads.

Again, this is not about producing the canvas, it is about your creativity on the canvas.

Making the canvas is something that you can pursue later down the road, if desired.

The next step is to investigate what you have in your refrigerator and pantry and start choosing some base ingredients to work with.

Maybe something you have an abundance of, or something you have forgotten about.

Have a look in your freezer too while you’re at it.

You’ll be amazed at what you find to work with.

Although it would be very traditional, with either pizza or pasta, to start with a base tomato sauce and add your selected ingredients to it, I want you to try something different and out of the ordinary.

For example, I have made pizzas with a sauce that consisted of cream cheese, dates, raw garlic and salt; and just last night I made a lamb rigatoni that used no tomatoes at all. If your mind draws a blank, then it is fine to peruse the internet for some ideas to get you started but try not to follow recipes specifically. This is about improving your personal culinary imagination. A wise man once told me “how can you cut any wood, if you don’t sharpen the saw every now and then?”

Trial and error is the best way to learn. Yes, I did say “error”. You are going to make some mistakes along the way. The important aspect of this is to be okay with making these blunders. This is all about personal growth in the kitchen. These errors will hopefully help you figure what works, and what doesn’t… which in turn will assist you with future escapades in the kitchen.

If you are still at a loss as to where to begin, then go ahead and find a recipe that represents something completely different than what you would normally cook, and make it.

What I want you to do then is make notes on the recipe on how you would recreate it to make it your own.

What ingredients could you add, take out, or replace?

What do you think will work?

Again, there will still be a learning curve to this, but it is a starting point nonetheless.

Most importantly: make notes. It may seem tedious to do, but you will want to recreate dishes that work, and try not to make the same mistakes with the ones that don’t.

We keep a book of blank pages in our kitchen, called our kitchen journal, that we fill with ideas and culinary pathways we have tried. Have fun with it. Everything is perspective.

The added benefit is that every time you choose to cook at home, instead of eating out, you open the door to: saving money, eating healthier, and family team building. Until next time… Happy Cooking.

– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to dez@chefdez.com or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4

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