A blog about books. Oh, and some other stuff too.

Review: Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen

Chef Michael Smith, Canada’s most popular chef, is passionate about cooking and sharing great food and flavours. Inside you’ll find Michael’s all-time favourite recipes, the ones he cooks regularly in his own home kitchen—lots of wonderful, memorable flavours that you’ll enjoy with your family and friends.

Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen features over 100 fabulous, easy-to-make recipes, each with a mouth-watering photo. Start your day with French Toast Sandwiches Oatmeal Crusted with Blueberry Stuffing and Marmalade Mint Butter or Apple Pie Pancakes with Caramel Syrup. Enjoy Coconut Crusted Chicken with Mango Mint Salsa or Honey Mustard Barbecue Baked Baby Back Ribs, or a great fish dish like Grilled Tuna Steak or Pan Seared Scallops with House Wine Sauce for a wonderful dinner. You’ll also find lots of recipes for delicious vegetables, grains, and side dishes like Nutmeg Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Wilted Baby Spinach or Sausage Sage Bread Pudding. And of course,  Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Triple-Treat Creamsicle Marshmallows are sure to become your favourite treats to finish off any meal.

Chef Michael invites you to enjoy cooking his favourite recipes and to make them yours.

It’s been a great fall for foodies in Ontario. Let’s face it – any season that gives those of us who love food the opportunity to experience some amazing and different dishes, prepared by some of our favourite chefs has to be celebrated. Between the Feast of Fields event to the recent Word on the Street (yes, foodies love books too – there’s a whole subset of them called “cookbooks”), to the upcoming Soupstock extravaganza, there is no better time to be in love with quality food made from fresh and local ingredients.

No better time indeed, as Chef Michael Smith, our own Canadian rock star chef from PEI, has been making quite a splash at these events with his own cookbooks. I’ve admired his recipes on his Food Network shows, and finally had the opportunity to make some of  his delicious food when I received a copy of “Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen: 100 of My Favourite Easy Recipes”. Previously released in Canada, it was recently released in the US by Pintail Books, an imprint of Penguin, and has some amazing dishes that everyone should try.

I can’t lie – when I first paged through the book, I did wonder about the whole “easy recipe” description. However, once you get down to it, the recipes are incredibly simple to follow, and use ingredients that aren’t hard to find if you don’t have them in your pantry already. I would advise you to choose your recipes to fit the seasonal vegetables in your region; there are a number of recipes that I really wanted to make when I received the book in late July, but I chose to wait so that the food would be at the best quality possible.

We chose certain dishes because I was making them with people with food concerns, and these were the dishes that had the best mix of things we wanted to eat with easy substitutions as necessary, and we also really liked the flavours that were mentioned.  In the end, we chose to make three things from the book:

* Bacon Beans with Spinach

* Thyme-Baked Chicken with Red Wine and Mushroom Sauce

* Raspberry Ginger Red Cabbage

The general consensus is that Chef Michael Smith (heretofore known as CMS) has a great eye (mouth? tongue) for flavour combinations. He has that wonderful ability to select simple ingredients that mix cleanly to create great tastes together. Case in point – the raspberry ginger red cabbage recipe. To be honest, we were both concerned that the addition of the orange juice and the jam might make this dish a little too sweet for our tastes, but our fears were groundless. The mix of the raspberry jelly (we chose a black and red raspberry jam) with the acid of the OJ and the tang of the ginger was a lovely mix that complimented the cabbage well. We were sure not to let it simmer too long, not wanting cabbage mush at the end of things, and it was still a lovely brilliant red/fuchsia colour at the end, likely due to the sweet-and-sour mixture that returned any missing colour to the dish. If anything, we might add a little more ginger to the dish next time, but we really like ginger in this household so we might add more than most.

I had private reservations about the beans, having visions of either a mushy baked bean scenario or hard-as-pebble nuggets on our plates. Thankfully, we followed the instructions to rinse the beans the night before, and we found that the addition of the bacon, onion, garlic and spinach (with a dollop of red wine vinegar) made for a really flavourful dish. It’s an excellent alternative to roasted potatoes on a cool fall evening, and something that everyone really enjoyed. Not surprisingly, we increased the amount of bacon, but we’re almost positive that didn’t influence things (much). Really, can you have too much bacon in a dish?

“Life is about balance – like the decadence of bacon fat balanced with the hearty goodness of nutritionally intense spinach. That’s your story. Stick to it.” ~ CMS, page 191

The red wine and mushroom sauce is already a family favourite, and we’ve made it several times. The first time it was used over pork loin, and the second over the suggested chicken; while it was certainly delicious over the chicken, we agreed that the mix of the sauce over pork was absolutely divine. We did make a few minor changes here – due to dietary needs, we changed the cornstarch to potato flour but the results were just as tasty and the sauce still thickened up nicely. Leftovers were happily spirited away by hungry university students – much to the chagrin of the chef (me) who was hoping for lunch the next day.

There are other great recipes in the book that we’ve sampled, and so far we haven’t found a dud within the book. This book would be a great present for that university student newly out on his/her own, or for the foodie in your life who enjoys lovely clean flavours with delicious seasonal ingredients. If you haven’t picked up one of CMS’s books yourself, this is a great book to start.

“Food is fun. Over the years, I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Letting yourself go – simply allowing your ingredients to guide you – is empowering and enjoyable. You can relax, smile, laugh, and stay in the moment That’s how your cooking becomes peaceful and gratifying and leaves you open to discovery.” ~ CMS, introduction

Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen is available from all good book retailers, including Indigo, Amazon and your friendly indie bookstore. Published by Pintail Books in the US, Penguin Canada in Canada, ISBN: 9780143177630, 264 pages. 

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4 Responses »

  1. Great review Jenn! Glad your meal turned out so well. I made red cabbage and apple soup yesterday, but still have some red cabbage left over. I think I know what I’ll do with it. Glad that I bought this book in May. I will make more of an effort to use it now. You inspired me. Seriously – it might have been the extra bacon that did it! Deirdre

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  2. I love CMS! His recipes are always so interesting and yet fairly easy to make. Once when I was working at this restaurant called Aquaterra in Kingston (which was attached the Radisson) he came in at 6 am and had me make him a latte at the coffee bar. I was totally star struck and I also just couldn’t get over how tall he is!

    Great review Jen! I’ll have to check out this cookbook

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