Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I Love Canadian Chefs! Cookbook Review - The Best of Chef at Home

Chef Michael Smith is a popular Canadian chef, host of Chef at Home and Chef Abroad. His current book, The Best of Chef at Home is a collection of recipes and tips from the last five years of this popular show. He is our own gentle giant, standing 6'7, with an easy and friendly East Coast spirit.
In the series as with the cookbook, Michael encourages the home cook to get creative in their own kitchen and not feel constrained by the rules of the recipe. Each set of printed instructions gives room for creativity and includes some freestyling ideas.

In the Chef at Home television series, we are treated to the ultimate family man. Cooking for his wife, son, friends and family, Michael explores different types of cuisine from kiddie fare to romantic dinners for two and fun feasts for sharing. His book contains the same diversity, covering many of the classics. Subtitled "Essential Recipes for Today's Kitchen", the book is just that. Learn about the classics, then have fun freestyling with the recipe. Unless he is baking, Chef Michael Smith rarely makes a dish the same way twice.
I was fortunate enough to have family over this week, my own offspring coming home to the nest to stock up on good food and sleep before venturing out again into the world. I made them all their favourite types of dishes, all from The Best of Chef at Home.

Of course, being a breadie, I had to make Michael's Country Bread. It has a long fermentation that gives it a sourdough flavour and texture, with the interesting addition of 12-grain cereal. Perfect for breakfast fare. I wasn't sure that it needed such a long second rise after the initial prolonged fermentation, and I did punch it down a second time before baking it, but the loaf turned out deliciously.

For Sunday breakfast, which I tend to make around noon.. so that might actually qualify as lunch.. I made his Whole Grain Pancakes. These little guys were hearty and tasty and totally guilt free.. unless you count the gorgeous, glistening Canadian maple syrup. They are a definite keeper in our household, and the leftovers heated up very well the next day. Definitely worth having a batch on hand.

I had fun with the Cinnamon Rolls, always a crowd-pleaser, and made a batch for my daughter to bring into work. They are the traditional yeasted variety, the best for flavour and texture, with a lovely vanilla glaze. There were freestyling ideas for the recipe of course, but I went with the classic. Looking at this picture, I might need to go get one now.. what? You didn't think I sent all of them into the city, did you?

Even though my son is bigger than me now, he still loves the little boy classics. For him I made the Spaghetti and Meatballs with Simple Tomato Sauce. I love this dish even just for the sauce. Anyone who puts a whole bulb of garlic in their spaghetti sauce is automatically my best friend. I love the way he cooks the garlic and tomatoes whole, and blends them later. This will be my go-to tomato sauce from now on.

Into more adult fare, I made the Cornmeal-Crusted Salmon with Basil Mussel Broth for dear hubby. It was easy enough to make the basil mussel broth ahead of time and just reheat it when it was time to coat and fry the salmon fillets. The resulting flavours and contrasting textures of the creamy broth and crusty salmon were amazing. This is the best dish I have eaten in a long time, and not complicated at all!

With leftover salmon, I made the Potato Fish Cakes. This was a simple and tasty dish, and I can't believe I have never made it before. Clearly we don't eat enough fish in Ontario. These would lend themselves nicely to a number of variations and keep well in the toaster oven while waiting for the rest of dinner to come to the table. They were a particular favourite of hubby's.

For my vegetarian daughter, I made Michael's Sweet Potato Aloo Gobi. Aloo means potato and gobi is cauliflower, so you get the general idea of the ingredients - Indian foods are very practical that way! This is a great vegetarian main, and the use of sweet potatoes is inspired. Hubs and I are gradually using less and less regular spuds and replacing them with nutrient-rich sweet potatoes, so this fit in nicely with our lifestyle.

The back section of The Best of Chef at Home includes a chapter labeled "Jars". In this chapter are various dressings, sauces, and condiments. I made the Cinnamon Apple Sauce for my daughter to take back to the city with her. Can you believe I have never made homemade apple sauce? Neither can I. And it was so easy! This one has brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, which did add to the colour, but when hubs came home and asked about the colour - I said "because it is cooked". Makes you wonder why the store-bought stuff is so light. I used the coarsest disk on my food mill for a chunkier texture. It was so tasty and... appley! Why on earth have I been buying jarred apple sauce?

And, for naughtiness, we had to try the Triple Chocolate Brownies. These aren't your chocolate cake-type brownies, they are rich and dense and fudgey. I fully expect a marriage proposal from Megan when she sees these.. just wait.

I know, I did more than my usual half-dozen dishes that I test for a cookbook review, and there are a couple of reasons:
#1. Lots of family at home this week, perfect timing for Chef Smith's diverse family fare, and
#2. I *love* Chef Michael Smith. There, I said it. Hubby seems to be ok with it. How could I not? He is tall (did I mention I like tall?), handsome, kind, and can really cook. What's not to like?

I ran into him quite by accident a few years ago, in downtown Toronto. I was with my daughter and her friend on Bloor Street, all bundled up and shopping for Christmas. We passed a brightly lit Williams Sonoma window and I recognized his figure.. from the back! (This is one of my super powers) I yelled "stop!" to the girls and we tumbled into the shop. Caught by surprise, I was mostly just a smiley fool, but I did manage to get him to sign a book for me and, at the last minute, even remembered to pay for it before we left! I was struck by his very gentle manner, and how he made it seem like he was so very happy to have met us. A real gentle-man.

The Best of Chef at Home has 256 pages and each recipe comes with a gorgeous, glossy photo. A great family cookbook.