Review of Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

Chef Michael Smith's Family Meals Cookbook, published 2014
Chef Michael Smith’s Family Meals Cookbook, published 2014

 

Title: Family Meals
Author: Chef Michael Smith
Price: $32.00 (CDN$)
Pages: >250
Available: Bookstores across Canada and online

Penguin Canada has offered me the opportunity to conduct a review of Chef Michael Smith’s latest cookbook, Family Meals. Michael Smith is a celebrity chef and Food Network Canada star who makes his home in Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast. Known for his love and promotion of fresh, local ingredients, this is Smith’s 7th published cookbook.

The book is clearly influenced by Smith’s cooking for his own family in his home kitchen as the book contains many photos of his family in the kitchen and around the dining table. The focus of his book is to get the entire family cooking and eating together.

The book features 100 recipes that range from smoothies to sandwiches, snacks like kale chips, salads, soups, side dishes, and maritime mussel chowder, to old world chicken cacciatore and flaming banana splits. The book is well organized and categorized with chapters on breakfast and brunch; lunchbox and snacks; simple salads; soups, stews & casseroles; slow cookers & pressure cookers; family meals in minutes; meatless Mondays; vegetables & whole grains, and sweets and treats. One chapter is dedicated to slow cooker meals to encourage families to plan ahead and prepare meals in advance of arriving home hungry at mealtime with no idea what to put on the table quickly. And, yes, you’ll even find some lentil recipes, too, from the lentil hunter. Smith has also included tips in the book on, for example, ways for families to cook together, plan meals, organize the kitchen, and prepare lunchbox contents.

While the book has a broad range of recipes, some do call for ingredients that may be less familiar or accessible for some – e.g., wasabi peas, edamame, nori seaweed, miso paste. Several of Smith’s recipes veer toward the spicy category as he makes liberal use of lots of spices and garlic for flavouring many dishes. There are several innovative recipes in the book to encourage families to try new foods, or familiar foods in new ways, to add variety to their meals. However, that would be contingent upon how adventuresome family members are to try new or different foods. That said, the book does contain some more well-known, traditional family-style recipes like beef stew, spaghetti and meatballs, and baked beans. Smith also includes recipes that cross various cuisines – for example, there are Asian, Italian, Kenyan, and Greek-inspired recipes which would help to introduce children to foods and dishes from other countries and cultures.

The recipes are well laid out with instructions using the ingredients in the order in which they are listed. I found the instructions complete and easy to follow; however, in my opinion, some familiarity with cooking would be beneficial when making recipes from the book as novice cooks could find some challenging.

What I like most about this book is the full page color photo that accompanies each recipe. As we all know, we eat first with our eyes. If I see a color photo of an appetizing dish, I am more likely to be motivated to make it. This book scores high marks for the beautifully-executed photography. The photos are simplistic, clean, and are not overdone with props and excessive styling. The focus is on the food as it should be. Quality photos give the cook a point of reference of what he or she is aiming for and what his or her version of a recipe should look like.

The book itself is beautiful, printed on high quality paper giving it a distinctively professional look and feel. Weighing in at some 3 pounds, though, this is not a cookbook you would balance in one hand while stirring a pot with the other! However, it is a lovely collector’s book for anyone with a cookbook collection and is in keeping with the size and style of Smith’s earlier published cookbooks.

Test-driving recipes

It’s one thing to leaf through a cookbook filled with photos of appetizing-looking dishes but the real test comes when you make some recipes out of the book. I selected three: Nutty Seedy Granola (p. 4), Granola Muffins (p. 51), and A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce (p. 167).

Nutty Seedy Granola

Nutty Seedy Granola from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
Nutty Seedy Granola from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

Beyond a doubt, this is the best granola I have ever had! It was easy to make and I chose to include many of the different suggested ingredients Smith gave for the content and I think that’s what made it so darn tasty. My version (photo above) turned out very similar to the one in the book’s photograph.

Granola Muffins

Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

 

Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook....made in my square muffin tins
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook….made in my square muffin tins
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
Granola Muffins from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

Because I had made the granola, I chose to then make the granola muffin recipe. These muffins are, in a word, yummy! With some granola in the muffins themselves and then some on top of the muffins, these are a real treat. They also freeze well. I made half the recipe the first time, liked them so much that I turned around and made the full batch. This recipe will now become part of my go-to muffin recipe collection. My muffins (see 3 photos above) very closely resembled the ones pictured in the cookbook.

A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce

"A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce from Chef Michael Smith's "Family Meals" Cookbook
“A Pan of Pork Chops with Marmalade Mustard Pan Sauce from Chef Michael Smith’s “Family Meals” Cookbook

I found this recipe easy to make and it uses common ingredients I already had in the kitchen. This is a very tasty way to present pork chops and I would definitely make the recipe again. My version (in above photo) of the sauce turned out a little darker than the photo in the book, probably because I used my own peach marmalade which was deep in color to begin with.

Concluding Thoughts
This book portrays the laid-back personality of Chef Michael Smith and his casual approach to cooking – look for phrases like “a splash or two of …”, “handfuls of fresh herbs”, “toss/stir the works together”, “a bottle of big beefy red wine” throughout the book. It shows his chatty, conversational style that those who follow Smith know is his style of cooking whether on television or in front of a live audience at events such as the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival which he hosts each year.

In my view, this book would be most suitable for individuals who have some familiarity with cooking, home chefs who are adventuresome in meal preparation, families willing to try some, perhaps, less common or less traditional ingredients and, of course, for fans of Chef Michael Smith.

Disclosure:

I received a copy of the Family Meals cookbook for review from Penguin Canada.  I received no compensation for this review and was under no obligation to provide a positive review. The opinions are my own.

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