The Best of Chef at Home

By Chef Michael Smith

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Published by Whitecap Books

Mr. Spock and I consider Michael Smith’s Food Network Canada show – Chef at Home – to be one of our favourites. We thoroughly enjoy his casual, family-centric approach to cooking and have discovered many treasures amongst his past recipe collections. In fact, we hold Michael responsible for ruining movie theatre popcorn for us and our friends. (Click here for Mr. Spock’s version of the best damn popcorn around!) Needless to say, expectations were running high for this book. And after conducting my interview with Michael I was PUMPED to take his new book into my kitchen and start cooking! I wasn’t kidding when I told him that I was having a hard time selecting just three recipes to test, everything looked so incredibly mouthwatering I wanted to try them all! But this website isn’t called CookThatEntireBook.com, so off I went into the kitchen to get started.

In the end I officially tested three recipes (Orange Ginger Beef, Steamed Mussels and Sweet Potato Aloo Gobi) but also tried a number of others before I felt like I was ready to move on to the next book. One such recipe that I ‘unofficially’ tried was the Whole Grain Pancakes, simply because of the frequency with which this recipe is made in the Smith household. But we were greatly disappointed and found the texture too dense and the taste rather bland. Even my kids (HUGE pancake lovers!) refused to eat the cardboard like disks that resulted from my attempts with this recipe. However the Braised Short Ribs were some of the best we’ve ever had, and Mr. Spock said the Buttermilk Fried Chicken turned out wonderfully. (As a side note, Mr. Spock has been long in search of the perfect fried chicken recipe, and so he attacked this dish while home alone with the kids. He actually got all hardcore, splitting up a whole chicken himself after watching numerous youtube videos. It was hot).

I have to admit that at times I found all of the freestyle options a tad overwhelming and would sometimes get confused as to which version I was following. But Mr. Spock jived on the format, being a big freestyler himself.

So will I be putting The Best of Chef at Home up on my VIP kitchen shelf? You bet – this book is definitely a keeper! The jacket of the book encourages you to “discover home cooking at its best”, and that is exactly what you are guaranteed to find with Michael’s latest collection of recipes. Everything in this book feels homey, including the beautiful photographs. The book is full of tantalizing comfort food ideas, with a good array of dishes appropriate for all seasons. And when you consider all of the freestyle options that are incorporated into The Best of Chef at Home, it almost feels as if you are getting two (or three or four!) recipes for the price of one.

To read my interview with Chef Michael Smith, click here.

Orange Ginger Beef

RATING: 3.5 out of 5

THE TEST: I was curious to try this Asian-inspired stew, designed to be a lighter version of the more hearty French style meat and potatoes which is more familiar to me. The idea of spooning the beef over fresh spinach and bean sprouts was an intriguing idea, and one that I couldn’t wait to taste!

Bean SproutsSpinach

Because my kids were going to be eating this dish I chose to finely grate the ginger instead of adding whole slices. As my three-year old likes to remind me, ginger can be “too spicy for my little mouth!”

When I was at our local butcher purchasing the stewing beef, one pound did not look like enough for three adults plus the kids so I ended up doubling the recipe. Even so, I felt like it could have still used an extra half pound of meat to balance the amount of sauce.

Orange MarmaladeStewing Beef

THE RESULTS: What I liked best about this dish was how the flavours were not lost through a lengthy simmering process, nor were they overpowered by the beef. There was such a great orange taste balanced well by the saltiness of the soy sauce and the bitter sweet of the marmalade. When ladled overtop of the spinach and bean sprouts the veggies became slightly wilted without losing any crispness. We all enjoyed the lighter style of stew, although next time I would chose a different cut of meat as the tenderness of stewing beef can be so variable. Ours happened to be much too chewy and had to be gulped down with water or else it would get stuck in your throat! I would have also liked the liquid to have been thicker in consistency, as it was too intense to drink alone like you would with a soup broth.

Mr. Spock ended up reducing the stew (minus the tough beef) by a third until it was thick and syrupy. He then used it with some leftover rice to make a stir fry, throwing in the spinach and bean sprouts at the last minute. DELICIOUS!

Orange Ginger Beef

Steamed Mussels

RATING: 5 out of 5

Steamed MusselsTHE TEST: We had been meaning to cook mussels at home for years, but somehow never managed to pull it together before now. For some reason these edible marine creatures have always intimidated me, and so I have only ever enjoyed their consumption within the confines of a restaurant. I thought they would be difficult to prepare and end up tasting like “beach stank” as Mr. Spock so eloquently says. But we put our trepidations aside and picked up 3lbs of the freshest looking mussels and got to work. Correction: Mr. Spock got to work while I hung out with the kids!

Fresh Mussels

As a mere onlooker from the sidelines of the kitchen, I was impressed with Mr. Spock’s organization and overall mise en place. He decided to make three different types of mussels including a Thai version with coconut milk and curry paste, a Southwestern style with a spicy fresh salsa and tequila (both recipes can be found in The Best of Chef at Home), as well as his own rendition of mussels he had while in San Francisco. (Click here for a copy of Mr. Spock’s Sexy Mussels!)

The recipes all came together quickly and easily, making mussels a great option for entertaining as you can have everything ready before your guests arrive. When the time comes to eat, simply simmer the mussels in each sauce until they open. Easy!

Mr. Spock's Sexy MusselsMr. Spock's Sexy MusselsMr. Spock's Sexy MusselsMr. Spock's Sexy MusselsToasted Garlic Baguette

THE RESULTS: These were some of the best mussels I have ever eaten. Delicious. Fresh. No beach stank. Each sauce complimented the mussels beautifully, and Mr. Spock’s homemade frites (double fried of course!) and toasted garlic baguette were perfect side dishes to this wonderful feast.

Southwestern MusselsSouthwestern MusselsSouthwestern MusselsSouthwestern MusselsSouthwestern Mussels

I loved the acidity of the spicy salsa, and the tequila added a great depth to the overall flavour. In fact, I would have no problem serving this salsa with corn chips or adding it to a breakfast burrito. The creaminess of the Thai version was amazing, and while next time I would definitely add lemongrass for more flavour I loved the bamboo shoots that Mr. Spock threw into the pot. Speaking of Mr. Spock, his French style version was incredible! The flavours were all there but in a very subtle way, leaving room for the freshness of the mussels to really shine.

Mussels Three Ways

Sweet Potato Aloo Gobi

RATING: 4.5 out of 5

Yams & CauliflowerTHE TEST: Aloo Gobi means “potato cauliflower”, and happens to be one of the most common vegetable dishes in Indian cuisine. Michael Smith plays with the recipe by replacing white potatoes with sweet potatoes in order to add more colour, flavour, and nutrition to the dish. Because I was unable to find any decent looking sweet potatoes, I opted to use yams which contain more natural sugar and higher moisture content than the similar shaped but surprisingly non-related sweet potato. Other than the one substitution, I followed the recipe exactly as outlined. It definitely took longer to cook than the 20 minutes suggested in the book, and I wonder if that has something to do with yams taking more time to cook? Regardless, the recipe was simple to prepare making it a great option for a weeknight meal with delicious leftovers for the following day’s lunch.

Frozen PeasOnions & Yam

Sautéd OnionsCumin Seeds

THE RESULTS: I liked the flavour twist of using yams instead of the more traditional white potatoes. It brought a slight sweetness to the dish that paired well with the spices and mildness of the cauliflower. Neither of the kids really liked the Aloo Gobi, finding it too spicy for their little taste buds. But at least they tried the dish, and as Michael Smith says; that’s all you can ask! This recipe would make a fabulous meal along with some naan bread and my favourite butter chicken…yum! (Click here for the butter chicken recipe).

Sweet Potato Aloo Gobi