Top 10 Things I Love To Cook on My Days Off

Most people think that Chefs eat amazing restaurant food all the time. In reality, we usually eat scraps and garbage. There are a few reasons for this. The main reason is that we are too busy to eat anything substantial. In a ten hour shift I may eat one or two pieces of shredded chicken, maybe a piece of bread, and maybe one or two pieces of cold pasta. That really is all I have time for. When I get home at 1 am the last thing in the world I want to do is cook. Instead of cooking I will order takeout, have a sandwich, or just tell myself that I will eat tomorrow. So, on work days, we eat garbage, on our days off, it’s a completely different story. Here are my…

Top 10 Things I Love To Cook on My Days Off

1. Noodles – Ramen with homemade dashi broth, stir-fried udon noodles with spicy pork, lo mein, or any other type of Asian style noodle you can imagine. I am crazy for noodles. I think my overall favorite noodle dish is definitely ramen. My Dashi broth is by no means traditional but I love it. It has great flavour and a great mouth feel.

Dashi Broth Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 L Chicken Stock
  • 1 chunk double smoked bacon (3 inch x 3 inch) wpid-dsc_0060_1.jpg
  • 1 sheet of nori
  • 3 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 tbsp Chinese five spice
  • 1/2 can smoked fish (kippers)
  • 1-2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 inch knob of ginger
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 medium carrot sliced
  • 1 celery stock sliced
  • 4 dried red chilies

Directions:

Put all the ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Let simmer for three to four hours. Adjust seasoning to taste.

wpid-dsc_0939.jpg2. Pasta – Be it a simple spaghetti bologenese, lasagna, or linguine carbonara, I love it. The key is fresh ingredients, and homemade pasta. Making pasta at home as I have said before is really easy to do. It takes ten minutes to make the dough, another ten to roll it out, and four or five minutes to cook it. The longest period of time is just letting the dough rest for a half hour. For a basic pasta dough recipe check out my recipes section. Linguine carbonara is one of my all time favorite pasta dishes. It is quick, simple, and delicious.

Linguine Carbonara

Ingredients:

  • 260g (9oz) fresh linguine noodles
  • 2 lg. eggs beaten
  • 1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 c good quality chopped bacon
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • fresh cracked pepper

Directions:

Put all ingredients excluding the pasta and the bacon into a medium sized mixing bowl. Bring a pot of salted water up to a boil and begin cooking your pasta. Add your bacon to a hot frying pan and cook until slightly crispy. Once the pasta is cooked, drain the water and add the pasta to the bacon pan. Toss the pasta and the bacon together. Add the bacon and the pasta to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix everything together really well. Plate in pasta bowls and top with a little more fresh Parmesan and cracked pepper.

3. Butter Chicken – Butter chicken is one of my all time favorite foods to eat and to cook. It is rich, flavourful, beautiful to look at, and just all around delicious. Making butter chicken from scratch can be a daunting task. There are a lot of spices that go into it and trying to perfectly balance them can be difficult. I would give you a recipe for butter chicken but I don’t have one. When I make butter chicken I do it by taste and intuition. What I can say is that there are two secrets to making awesome butter chicken. The first is the marinade. Toast all your spices and add them to plain yogourt; marinate your chicken in that over night. The spices I usually use include cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cardamon, paprika, garam masala, cinnamon, and a little turmeric. Taste the marinade before adding your chicken. If it tastes a little like butter chicken you are on the right track. The second secret about butter chicken is the tomato paste. After your chicken has marinaded over night you are obviously going to cook it. Before cooking your chicken you are going to saute some onions, garlic, and ginger. Once they have some colour on them you are going to add your chicken and brown that. The next thing you will add is tomato paste. With the tomato paste it is so important to caramelize it. You do this simply by cooking it and stirring it until it has darkened a bit. This will only take a few minutes but will sweeten the tomato pasta and give it a much deeper flavour. After that, deglaze with chicken stock and simmer until the chicken is almost done. Add some cream and peas and finish cooking the chicken. Once the chicken and peas are cooked add a chunk of butter and season to taste. Serve over cilantro rice and top with green onions and a dollop of yogourt. So delicious.

4. Curry – I love curry of any kind. Curry dishes are flavourful, and usually pretty good for you. You can make a curry out of almost anything be it chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, lentils, whatever you want. The key to making a flavourful curry is in knowing the basics and having the necessary ingredients on hand.  When it comes to making curry it is so important to toast your spices. That is how you get the most flavour out of them. Usually, I will add my spices to the saute a minute or two before I deglaze my pan. This allows the spices to not only release their flavours into the oil, but also adds depth. It is important that you not be afraid of your spices when making curry. Curry is all about bold flavours and the only way to get that is with aggressive spicing. The best advice I can give you about making curry is to do some research, and experiment. Play around with different combinations of spices and ingredients. Curry for me really is about being bold, playful, and adventurous. It isn’t formulaic like baking, it is about your senses, and intuition.

5. Roasted Chicken – A roast chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and gravy is about as homey as you can get. For me it invokes childhood memories sitting around our big family table laughing and carrying on. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. For me, the best roast chicken has crisp brown skin and tender, juicy meat. The way to achieve this is to first let your chicken dry in the fridge for a day or two. You want the skin to be very dry, it will even become translucent. The next step is to salt your chicken. Use a good quality salt like sea salt or kosher salt and use it liberally. Salt it inside and out, making sure to get all the nooks and crannies, and really rub it into the skin. Once it is salted put it on the rack of a broiler pan and into a hot oven around 425°F breast side up. Every fifteen minutes rotate it by a 1/4 and baste the chicken with melted butter. Essentially what you are doing is mimicking rotisserie cooking. Depending on the size of your chicken it should be done in 40 – 120 minutes. When the leg easily pulls away or a thermometer reaches 180°F the chicken is done. Use the drippings to make your gravy and enjoy.

wpid-dsc_0944.jpg6. Bread – Bread has been and always will be my favourite thing to cook. I think the reason for this is that as a cook I exclusively deal with dead things. Obviously all the meat I use is dead but so are all the vegetables. The thing about bread is that I get to bring something to life. I get to watch it grow and change and form into a beautiful loaf of bread. This is a very unique experience in cooking. Eventually I am going to do a whole post on bread, so I am not going to get into it right now. All I will say at this moment is that there are so many different kinds of bread, so many techniques, and so many slight changes you can make to a simple bread recipe to make it completely different; how can you not love making bread? It’s so much fun!

7. Burgers – I did a whole post on burgers not too long ago, you can check it our here. Since wpid-1420847089399.jpgI did just do a burger post, all I will say is that I love burgers. They are delicious and you can add pretty much whatever ingredients you want to them. They are delicious.

8. Pizza – As I said just a moment ago, I love making bread. Pizza is essentially just flattened bread with stuff on it, so what’s not to love? If you make pizza at home and you don’t have a pizza stone you are doing it wrong. Pizza stones are inexpensive and pretty durable. The important thing about pizza stones isn’t how much they cost, it is how much they change your homemade pizza. Pizza cooked on a pizza stone is the closest you can get to Pizzeria Pizza at home. It is worth the $14 to get the stone.

wpid-dsc_0228.jpg9. Tacos – Everyone loves tacos. Unfortunately, a lot of people have only ever eaten tacos made of ground beef seasoned with a packet of spices and chemicals. Despite what big budget advertising tells us, making good, fresh tacos is just as easy as making the shitty store bought kind. Even making the tortillas is easy and fun. If you can fry a steak, chop onions and cilantro, and make a simple salsa, you can make tacos at home. It really is that simple. You can easily make pulled pork, or pulled chicken tacos as well.

Flour Tortilla Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 c all purpose flour
  • 1/4 c + 1 tbsp shortening or lard
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 c very warm tap water

Directions:

Dissolve the salt in the water. Combine the flour and the fat in a large bowl. Mix with your hands until completely combined. Use 3/4 of the water and dampen the flour and fat mixture. Mix with your hands until the dough comes together using the remaining water as necessary. Once the mixture comes together form into 1 oz balls, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and begin to roll out your tortillas as thin as you can. Once rolled, layer them between pieces of plastic wrap. After they are all rolled, heat up a frying pan (preferably cast iron, but any pan will do). Do not oil the pan. Begin cooking the tortillas over medium heat. It will only take about 45 seconds per side. Once cooked wrap them in a clean kitchen towel until all are cooked. Serve warm. This recipe will make about 24 1 oz tortillas. 

10. Steak – Everyone likes their steak a different way. You may prefer a rare NY strip, where wpid-dsc_0340.jpgI prefer a medium rare rib eye. No matter what kind of steak you prefer or how you like it done, I think most of us can agree that steak is the bee’s knees. What I do with my steak depends on the mood I’m in, the season, and the cut of steak I get. In the summer I like to serve it with a simple compound butter, or a chimichurri sauce. In the fall I love a nice wild mushroom and tarragon cream sauce, or an onion jam. In the winter a nice red wine demi-glace, a green pepper corn and brandy sauce, or bearnaise sauce (hollandaise with tarragon). Finally, in the spring I like a nice mustard sauce, or a horseradish sauce. The point being that I love steak and it is an ingredient that can fit every season.

The thing about being a Chef or a cook is that you rarely get to cook what you want. Sure you may come up with the menu and the recipes, and you may love them, but cooking the same things everyday can get pretty boring no matter what you are cooking. That’s why on my days off I cook what I want and what I like. Maybe you have a family, maybe a picky partner, and maybe this prevents you from cooking what you want. I think that at least once a week you should cook for yourself. Cook what you like and you never know, the people you are cooking for might end up liking what you like and then you get to cook what you want all the time. The only question I have is, what do you like to cook on your days off?

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About Chef Benjamin Kelly

I have spent the last fifteen years cooking professionally and gaining an education in kitchens all across the country culminating in achieving my "Red Seal Cook" status. I have cooked for the governor general, a lieutenant governor, heads of major political parties, actors, musicians, professional athletes, and countless satisfied customers. Through all this the most important lessons I have learned are to be prepared and to keep it simple. My love of food comes from my mother. Some of the first and fondest memories I have are of cooking at my mothers side. She and I, would spend snowy winter days making tea biscuits and corn chowder, shepherd's pie, goulash, baked beans and oatmeal bread, or any number of other things. In the fall we would make pickles and preserves and forage for wild berries and mushrooms in the woods around our house. Our little farm supplied us with vegetables, herbs and meat in the form of chicken and turkey as well as their eggs. Most of the food we ate that we didn't grow came from other farms in our area, farmers who we knew by name. Growing up so close to where my food was coming from I gained a deep respect for the things we eat. That respect is something that I still carry with me. The lessons I learned at my mothers side, and on our little farm have stayed with me. I hold on to the memories, beliefs, and values. It is those things that have made me who I am today.
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