30 October 2009

"The Best of Chef at Home" by Michael Smith...Impress Yourself in Your Own Kitchen with Maritime Potato Fish Cakes and 2 Other Recipes

Macaroni & Cheese

As a member of BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine's project View & Review I was excited when I had the opportunity to receive the latest cookbook from one of my favourite Food Network stars....Michael Smith. The book came to me to review through the generosity of Canadian publisher MDG & Associates. Whenever possible I rejoice in "all things Canadian" so to say that my reviewing a book by "one of our own" was a real treat for me is an understatement. Excitement was the order of the day at The More Than Burnt Toast household!!!

The Best of Chef at Home is a followup of one of Chef Michael Smith's previous books Chef at Home. It's the second in the series and draws on recipes from all 6 seasons of his popular show Chef at Home. It is a collection of the comfort foods that Michael is most passionate about and makes in his own kitchen at home for his own family. This is the kind of book that makes you want to start cooking homey and comforting dishes right away with a few gourmet or vegetarian meals and twists thrown in.

When I received the book I sat down with a cup of tea and began to read. First of all I have to give the book kudos for it's great design. There is no dust jacket, just a pseudo jacket which saves you from those annoying covers that keep falling off. As I delved deeper I found that quite a few of the recipes I could make that day without taking a trip to the local grocers for ingredients. This not only makes cooking economical but convenient as well. This cookbook is filled with recipes that offer all of the comforts of a home cooked meal.

When I look back at the recipes here on More Than Burnt Toast I see that for the most part I have highlighted recipes that follow the same philosophies. A dish from my kitchen has to be flavourful and make good use of local ingredients whenever possible. I can honestly say that each and every recipe in this outstanding cookbook fits that bill. It was very hard to choose what to prepare from this cookbook with options such as Tomato Basil Bruschetta, Maritime Clam Chowder, Grilled Pineapple Red Onion Salad, Orange Ginger Beef, Brined Holiday Turkey with Herb Gravy and Molten Chocolate Cakes. In the end I decided I would create the challenge for myself to make dishes with ingredients I already had on hand. I believe that Michael would like that I have rediscovered my "freestyling" ways and used what I had available to present an overall review of his exceptional cookbook. Each of the recipes chosen used ingredients I already had in my pantry and refrigerator such as a velvety smooth macaroni and cheese, chewy chocolate chip cookies and down-home potato fish cakes.

The secret to chewy chocolate chip cookies.....corn syrup....

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Many of the 120 recipes are what can be labeled as comfort foods so it felt like I was already part of the family since I would readily prepare any of these same dishes for my own loved ones at home. The recipes are both simple and easy to adapt and reflect Michael's belief that making great food is about relaxing, enjoying the process, and losing yourself in the moment. With all the exotic cuisines available to us in our global market, we often forget how comforting simple and classic foods can be. This is THE perfect book for this season when all you want to do is begin nesting and move into hibernation mode. His cookbook includes everything from quick recipes for weekday meals to fancier dinner party fare for entertaining guests. No foie grois, no fluff just real food with real flavours.

Michael's laid-back approach encourages creativity in the kitchen. This cookbook contains countless suggestions for altering and adjusting each recipe until it is truly your own. I love how he teaches and encourages young cooks to experiment with food and try new things. His enthusiasm for food is definitely contagious and creates an inviting atmosphere throughout this cookbook in which people can learn to have fun in the kitchen. It has easy to follow instructions for each dish and helpful suggestions on how you can "freestyle" each dish. Essentially you have now doubled or tripled the 120 recipes published. The secret to successful "freestyle" cooking is to combine your own creativity with the basic idea and instinctive insight within each recipe. For example when I made the chocolate chip cookies I followed the "freestyling" suggestions and replaced 1/2 cup of the brown sugar with granulated sugar and then added 1/2 cup of toasted pecans as well.

Michael Smith's philosophy on his cooking shows as well as in previous cookbooks has always been that a recipe is only a guideline and needs only your creativity and what you have available to make a dish your own. One of the things I have appreciated most about the approach that Smith takes in this book is the fact that he repeatedly invites and encourages would-be chefs to experiment and get creative in the kitchen, with both quantities and ingredients alike. As he says, "You don't have to be a scientist, nutritionist or chef to be a great cook. Your food doesn't have to be picture perfect, enticingly exotic or new and exciting. Great cooking is simply about relaxing in the kitchen, and enjoying the process." As he suggests in this book why not try adding pine nuts to your chocolate chip cookies, curry powder in a classic chicken stew, or rosemary or saffron in your panna cotta? Every recipe contained in this cookbook is a timeless classic, and each encourages you to stir in your own personality. If you follow the basics in this cookbook, you can create flavourful food for your family and friends with a personal touch. They will love you all the more!!!!This makes this book perfect for the person who is just starting out or a seasoned veteran who wants to get back to their "foodie" roots.

Michael says, "As a chef I have an interesting relationship with cookbooks, I write them but I don’t rely on them. I see them as more a reference resource than a guidebook. I may find ideas in them but unless I’m baking I rarely follow the recipes exactly as written. Over the years this has resulted in some spectacular successes and some dismal failures, lets just say no-one will ever forget the Roast Thai Curry Turkey. That’s why this book is designed to be a launching point for your own "freestyling" kitchen adventures. Each recipe covers the basics you need but they also include lots of insight and freestyle suggestions so you can impress yourself in your own kitchen!"

I asked to share a recipe from the cookbook with you for Potato Fish Cakes. This one's for you my friend and partner in crime Giz. I know you are always looking for ways to enjoy fish. Historically, fish cakes have been one of the most common ways to enjoy seafood in the Maritime provinces in Canada where Michael lives. Traditionally they were made with salt cod. From the early sixteenth century, the huge and lucrative cod fisheries on the coasts and the Grand Banks of Newfoundland offshore attracted fishing vessels manned by Basque, Portuguese, French, and British sailors. Before settlement, these groups salted cod in summer fish-drying camps, and then dried it on "flakes." Michael's version uses lighter, fresh salmon you can find in your local grocery store or fishmongers. I am sure the salmon would have been amazing but I used fresh cod since it was what I had available in keeping with the "freestyling" challenge I set for myself in reviewing this cookbook.

Potato Fish Cakes

**Potato Fish Cakes**
by Chef Michael Smith from "The Best of Chef at Home"
Printed with permission

Splash or two of vegetable oil
2 boneless fillets salmon, or any other fish, about 12 ounces (340 g) total
Sprinkle or two of sea salt, freshly ground pepper
4 large baking (russet) potatoes, peeled
2 eggs, whisked together
1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
2 green onions, sliced thin
2 tablespoons (25 mL) all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons (25 mL) butter
Preheat a sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat.

Add a splash of oil to the pan, enough to cover bottom with a thin film. Season the salmon with salt, pepper and carefully place in the pan to sear fillets on both sides until golden brown, crispy and cooked through.

Boil or steam potatoes. Toss hot potatoes into a mixing bowl and use a potato masher to mash until smooth. Add the salmon, eggs, mustard and green onions; season with more salt, pepper, if necessary and beat with a wooden spoon until everything is very well combined. Form into evenly shaped cakes and dredge in flour.

Clean out the skillet and preheat over medium-high heat. Add another splash of oil and 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 25 mL) of butter. When butter melts and sizzles, add fish cakes and pan-fry until golden and crispy on both sides.

Variation: Try adding some of your favourite fresh herbs -- tarragon, dill, parsley, oregano and thyme leaves all work well. For a flavour twist, you may substitute horseradish for the mustard. Fish cakes are traditionally served with mustard pickles but tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and even salsa are good as well.

Chef Michael Smith has been cooking professionally for over twenty years. An honours graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, his early career was spent in restaurants from London to South America. In 1992 he returned to Canada and joined the kitchen at PEI’s The Inn at Bay Fortune. Six years later, Chef Michael invited television cameras into the Inn’s country kitchen for his first hit television show, The Inn Chef. What followed was Food Network's Chef at Home, Chef at Large and his latest show Chef Abroad. He is the winner of the James Beard Award for Cooking Show Excellence. When he isn’t traveling the world with Chef Abroad, Michael loves spending time at home on PEI with his partner Rachel and their son Gabriel.

The book was launched at Fall Flavours, with Chef Michael's crew cooking all 120 recipes during the food festival.

"Remember words have no flavour; you have to add your own."

You may also like......

Classic Macaroni & Cheese
Macaroni & Cheese Casserole
Salmon Cakes with Tartar Sauce
Grown Up Mac 'n' Cheese

As foodies I am sure that many of us have thought of writing our own cookbook. We must think about this all the time. Oh maybe not for mass publication but at least for your children, your families, your friends or to create fundraisers for your local organizations. Over at BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine we're very fortunate to have partnered with a very kind sponsor who donated a prize. They are a family owned and orientated company dedicated to the mission of doing something to help in whatever way they can.

On another note, The BloggerAid Cook Book that we have worked so hard on for the past year will be available soon on our Amazon bookstore. It was published by Create Space and we are just waiting for the proof. We will let you know!!!!

The Cookbook People have not only donated one of their own software packages as a prize, they have gone the extra mile and sent out a challenge for all members of BloggerAid - Changing the Face of Famine. Their software allows you to create a quality cookbook. You can make one copy or as many copies as you like since you make it at home on your own computer

The Challenge?????
Simply make a blog post about their software on your site and the company has generously offered to donate $20 to the School Meals Programme for each member who mentions them. (Limit one per member.) You can discuss the $20 donation, their donation of software as a prize, or whatever. The Cookbook People will ship worldwide and are wonderful people to work with. Just let us know at blogs4famine(at)gmail(dot)com when you post so that we can tabulate the amount of money being raised and thanks for participating. The money will be sent directly to the Friends of the World Food Programme by The Cookbook People.

If 25 cents feeds one child at school for a day imagine how far $500 will go!!!!!!
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  1. Thanks Val - now I have to go out and buy this book. I love the potato fish cakes. You did such a great job of this book and I'm so glad you liked it. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your review.

  2. Oh now Michael Smith is a hero of mine...he is such a cute and such a wonderful dad to his son Gabe.....

    I loved reading about the Cookbook people...yes we all aspire to that first cookbook!!!

  3. That sounds like a must-have book! I love his emphasis on free-styling. I have a seriously hard time following a recipe to the letter! Thanks for the thorough review, Val!

  4. Great review Val! I too am a believer of the freestyling approach...now, who can resist fish cake???? Yum!

  5. I love this show, and love his kitchen. The show is very well photographed and the recipes are very good.Another interesting show of he is chef at large. Love the recipe

  6. Awesome review Val. I'm glad you posted it, because now I have some inspiration to follow as I post mine :) I'm all about books that not only show you a recipe, but give you advice on how to improvise. Teach a man to fish indeed :)

    Ok... fish and potatoes :)

  7. OMG Val this post is just packed with information. I love your review of the cookbook and I love the fish cakes!

  8. Such a great, in-depth review - I am definitely putting this book on my "dream list" right away! :-) The fish cakes sound beyond amazing... Posh and comforting all at the same time!

  9. I love, love, love Michael Smith! He's one of my favourite Food Network personalities!

  10. We all aspire to a cookbook, don't we? What a great challenge.

    I love these salmon fish cakes. What's the pretty red in it? They are gorgeous.

  11. good stuff, val! excellent review. generally, if i can please myself with what i make in the kitchen, i consider it a successful time.
    incidentally, hooray for the pepper mill. regular ol' black pepper is useless to me now. :)

  12. It was so much fun to review a cookbook. The pretty red is just the fish Sam. I ended up using a little Red Snapper that I also had in the freezer, although it did not look this red beyond the camera.

  13. Okay...I don't know who Michael Smith is...(ssshhhh...I'm American)...but this book sounds fabulous! And it was the perfect fit for you, it would appear. Wonderful review, Val...I'm going to go learn more of this Chef Michael Smith you speak of, LOL!!

  14. I love Michael Smith! He is so gentle and talented.
    I can't wait to read his new book, sounds great!

  15. I am really keen to buy the Bogger Aid cookbook.
    Can you tell me how and when I can order a copy?
    I don't have a blog-just love reading them.
    Thanks for your great blog. As a fellow proud Canadian I love that you highlight our great food and the chefs who use them!

  16. The BloggerAid Cook Book should be ready for market soon. We have an Amazon Book Store where we will be advertising to try and maximize the $ amount going to the School Meals Program. We ordered a proof, they need to correct some errors and then we are ready for marketing.You will see it all over the blogosphere!!!!

  17. My kind of cook book. I've not heard of him - but, then, I'm pretty out of touch over here in the hinterlands,
    The fish cakes look great - and recipes that can be made without a trip to the store are always good!

  18. Thanks for the info on the book.
    I will check back regularly.

  19. Great review! Beautiful pictures!

  20. Those fish cakes rule! I bet they were super tasty!

  21. This looks mouthwatering!

  22. bravo val for your delicate recipe !!! and nice book from this chef ; the home made cooking is the best !
    and if you like hummus in a different way come and visit me à bientot Pierre

  23. I must confess I have never made macaroni and cheese ...
    Should start one day!

  24. I can see how someone who writes cookbooks wouldn't use them. At some point, all the ingredients would be swirling in your head and you might be able to just pick and choose! Great recipe -- I've make crabcakes, but love the potato in this recipe and would love to try them. See you at FoodBuzz!

  25. Val, I do respect Michael Smith and his encouragement to freestyle in the kitchen is wonderful.

    I saw the episode recently with the fish cakes and they sound like a fab meal.

  26. These are the kinds of recipes I love. Sounds like a great cookbook!

  27. Holy guacamole, look at that mac & cheese!! Indulgence in a bowl :)

  28. I must say I have never heard of Michael Smith till now!
    Sounds like a pretty good book, and those chocolate chip cookies look very good.

  29. These definitely are comfort foods.

    I am not familiar with this Chef as I don't get to watch Food Network US or Canada very much. It sounds like a very good book and I certainly like that a lot of the recipes use things that are readily available in most pantries.

    Your review is so well written, I very much enjoyed reading it.

  30. That was a good review...and must say those are some lovely recipes tested...

  31. What an awesome review for an awesome book. Love Michaels freestyle cooking. Just my kind of cooking. Those are some beautiful recipes you've mentioned & a lovely recipe you've posted. Love the 'fall' flavour of the pictures. GREAT!!

  32. Great review Val! I love your photos and the recipes you chose.

    I have seen Michael Smith on the Foodnetwork and really like his laid back style of cooking.

    Have to add this book to my jam packed cookbook collection.

  33. I received Michael Smith new cookbook and I have to say that I would love to make every recipe. I like his relax approach of comfort cooking. I'll be making that Fish Cakes recipe soon. Great review Val.

  34. Hi Val, great review and recipe. Sounds like a must have cookbook.

  35. Great job on the review, Val! Maybe I'll make some fishcakes when Giz is in town.

    I'm going to be late on my review of the bread book -- my house is in a half packed state.

    I'm curious how well we're doing with The Cookbook People -- how many people have posted about it? Maybe it would be motivating to have a clicker add-on that shows how close we are to a target?

    BTW - I got your card in the mail yesterday. Thanks!

  36. Love the review. Michael Smith sounds like my style of cooking. I look forward to trying his fish cake version with our salt cod when I get back home. I have so much catching up to do. I love all of the challenges and projects going. Well done Val and Giz

  37. Sp far we have made $160 with the generation donations from the cookbook people.

  38. Val,
    All the recipes you made look so good. Looks like a really good cookbook.

  39. Great review Val. I'm sure Michael Smith would be proud!

    There are lots of books sitting on my shelves and new ones arrive daily for me to review. I must admit, this one is by far my favorite. Every recipe is awesome.

  40. Michael Smith is my favorite tv-chef! I've missed three chances to see him in person, which is a shame because he seems like such a funny, down-to-earth guy. He even filmed an episode of "Chef at Large" at my workplace one day, before I'd ever heard of him (I wasn't working that day, so I guess that's four times I've missed out on meeting him!) I love his "look in your pantry and let inspiration guide you" mentality, because that's how real people cook anyhow.

    I've been looking forward to another book from him and I wouldn't have known he'd done one if it wasn't for this post, so thanks! :) BTW your fishcakes look delicious, and very much in the spirit of things!


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