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 CookiesMany 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."
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!!!!!!