Tag Archives: Food Network Canada

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.


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.

Fall Flavours Festival – A Month-long Feast of Fine PEI Flavours

When I travel, I am often asked “when is the best time to visit Prince Edward Island?”  Being an Islander who loves her home province, I admit to being somewhat biased (okay, ALOT biased) because anytime, in my opinion is a good time to be in PEI.  However, if you are a foodie, then September on PEI is the special month for you! That’s when the bountiful diverse harvest from our land and sea come together for the month-long annual Fall Flavours Festival with dozens of food-related events, big and small, across this beautiful Island.  This year’s Festival runs from September 5th -28th and it is chock-a-block full of food events and activities.

The Fall Flavours Festival began in 2008 as a 10-day project of the former Tourism Charlottetown group. According to Tracey Singleton, who was the Director of Marketing for Tourism Charlottetown at the time, the project had two objectives: 1) Capitalize on the growing trend of culinary tourism, and 2) extend the fall tourism season on PEI. Originators of the Festival had a clear vision for Fall Flavours: To create a fall culinary product that would highlight PEI’s key exports and drive tourism while establishing PEI as a culinary destination.

Cracking open the lobsters at the Lobster Party on the Beach at Cedar Dunes Park, West Point, PEI (2013)
Cracking open the lobsters at the Lobster Party on the Beach at Cedar Dunes Park, West Point, PEI (2013)

PEI has long been known for its fine foods, chief amongst them seafood and potatoes, as well as the Island hospitality…and oh, yes, the fabulous beaches that surround our Island. So, it’s a logical fit to combine our Island foods, culture, spectacular scenery, and hospitality into a month-long celebration.  Some events, like the Lobster Party on the Beach held at Cedar Dunes Park in West Point, even include dining in a tent right on the beautiful sandy beach.

Tents on the beach at Cedar Dunes for the Lobster Party on the Beach
Tents on the beach at Cedar Dunes for the Lobster Party on the Beach

There is no doubt that Fall Flavours is a success story that has grown from a 10-day Festival to the month-long extravaganza it is today. 

Singleton says, “PEI is becoming a Mecca for culinary tourism.”

Singleton says “PEI is becoming a Mecca for culinary tourism. Our artisan producers, our chefs, the reputation and awareness of PEI mussels, oysters, lobster, and potatoes have contributed to the [Festival’s] reputation as well as the relationship with Food Network Canada and its chefs have helped build credibility [of the Festival]”.

PEI lobsters and corn on the cob being cooked in a sandpit on the beach
PEI lobsters and corn on the cob being cooked in a sandpit on the beach

When deciding what events will be part of Fall Flavours and what local foods will be profiled, organizers focus on the five key food exports of PEI – lobster, oysters, mussels, beef, and potatoes.

At Toes, Taps & Taters in O'Leary, PEI (2013)
At Toes, Taps & Taters in O’Leary, PEI (2013)

One of the biggest challenges for Fall Flavours organizers is how to keep the Festival fresh and not continually repeat the same events in the exact same way year after year with the same celebrity chefs. Some events remain so popular, however, that they do repeat yearly – for example, the Lobster Party on the Beach, Chef on Board, A Taste of the North Shore, and Toes, Taps, and Taters. To keep those events fresh, organizers change the menu, entertainment, and celebrity chef host so the event has a new look and feel each year. Chef Anna Olson, returning for her third year at the Fall Flavours Festival, enjoys the opportunity to return to PEI for the Festival each year to host different events. She says it keeps her creative, gives her the chance to connect with guests in different ways and to make connections with so many people on the Island, hear their stories and the inevitable recipe-sharing that happens, too.

Applelicious (2013)
Gourmet dining at Applelicious (2013)

New events are added annually, some are retired, and others are put on hiatus for a year or two. Some of the new events this year (2014) include Oysters on the Pier in Northport, Lamb Luau on the Beach at Crowbush, and Feast of the Fathers in Charlottetown to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference where the now famous Fathers of Confederation met to lay the groundwork for what would later become Canada. Savour Victoria is back after a year off in 2013. Look for other returning favorites such as The Great Grilled Cheese Challenge and Beef and Blues.

One of the entries in the Great Grilled Cheese Challenge (2013)
One of the entries in the Great Grilled Cheese Challenge (2013)

Organizers tell me that patrons to Fall Flavours events are about 50/50 Islanders and tourists. Tourists come for Fall Flavours events to taste great Island food, meet acclaimed celebrity chefs, and experience the Island culture and way of life. Many are repeat visitors year after year. According to Singleton whose company, Versatile Management Group Inc., is now the event organizer for the Festival, over 12,000 tickets were sold for Fall Flavours events in 2013, an increase of 16% in ticket sales from the previous year.

Chef Massimo on Stage at the Great Grilled Cheese Challenge in North River, PEI (2013)
Chef Massimo on Stage at the Great Grilled Cheese Challenge in North River, PEI (2013)

There are several different categories of events that form part of the Fall Flavours Festival – there are Signature Events, Culinary Events, Culinary Adventures, and Restaurant Dining. Each year, there are a certain number of events that are classed as “Signature Events” – in fact, this year, there are 11 of them. An event classed as “Signature” means it will feature a celebrity chef host from Food Network Canada. Many of the events are interactive with opportunities to meet and greet the celebrity chefs.

Chef Lynn Crawford autographing her cookbook at the Toes, Taps & Taters Signature Event in O'Leary, PEI (2013)
Chef Lynn Crawford autographing her cookbook at the Toes, Taps & Taters Signature Event in O’Leary, PEI (2013)

Most will also have a cooking demonstration by the celebrity chef host. If the chefs are also cookbook authors, their books will be available for sale onsite and there will be opportunities to have the books signed by the chefs. Making appearances at this year’s Fall Flavours Festival Signature Events are Food Network Canada Celebrity Chefs Lynn Crawford, Anna Olson, Corbin Torraszeski, Chuck Hughes, Michael Smith, Mark MacEwan, and Massimo Capra. It’s a star-studded line-up!

Chef Anna Olson autographing her cookbooks at the 2013 Applelicious Event in Arlington, PEI
Chef Anna Olson autographing her cookbooks at the 2013 Applelicious Event in Arlington, PEI

In addition to the Signature Events, there are a number of culinary events and culinary adventures happening across the Island in September. There is a wide range of activities to suit all tastes.

As Chef Olson says, “I think PEI has achieved the impossible: offering “something for everyone”! The range of events and locations makes this Festival a truly delicious testament to the spirit of PEI.”

As Chef Olson says, “I think PEI has achieved the impossible: offering “something for everyone”! The range of events and locations makes this Festival a truly delicious testament to the spirit of PEI.”So, look for culinary events and adventures like the Beer Festival, clam brunches, roaming feasts, harvest meals, heritage dinners, Farm Day in the City, and culinary demonstrations and cooking classes at Holland College’s Culinary Boot Camps at the Culinary Institute of Canada. As well, several of the Island’s leading restaurants will feature special fall-inspired menus in September to coincide with the Fall Flavours Festival.

Some of the entries in the seafood chowder challenge at the PEI Shellfish Festival (2012)
Some of the entries in the seafood chowder challenge at the PEI International Shellfish Festival (2012)

Ticket sales are brisk for 2014 events, says Singleton. In fact, she says sales are up 100% over the same period last year and the Festival is still one month away. So, if you are interested in taking in any of the Fall Flavours events, best not delay getting your tickets. Many of the events sell out.

Prices for the signature events range from $19.00 + HST for The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge to $139. + HST for the gala Feast and Frolic dinner that is part of the Shellfish Festival. Prices for the culinary events and adventures vary in price. For a complete list of Fall Flavours activities and prices, visit their website at www.fallflavours.ca

Event organizers for Fall Flavours continue to amaze me each year with their creativity and attention to detail in carrying out the events. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for patrons this year. Whatever it is, I know it will exhibit the “WOW!” factor!

Interior of the tent set up in the middle of the apple orchard in Arlington, PEI, for the Applelicious Event (2013)
Interior of the tent set up in the middle of the apple orchard in Arlington, PEI, for the Applelicious Event (2013)

Click on the links below to read stories I have written in the past about individual Fall Flavours events:

PEI Shellfish Festival (2012):
Farm Day in the City (2012):
Savour Victoria (2012):
Toes, Taps, and Taters (2013)
Lobster Party on the Beach (2013)
Applelicious (2013)
The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge (2013)

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Applelicious — Dining in an Apple Orchard in Arlington, PEI

On Saturday, September 14th, I headed to Arlington, west of the City of Summerside, for another PEI Fall Flavors signature event – “Applelicious – Meal in the Field”.  This is my second Fall Flavors event this year.

What better place to erect a huge white tent as the venue for a sumptuous dinner than in the middle of fragrant Arlington Orchard with trees laden with bright red apples.

Fall Flavors is a month-long food extravaganza on PEI, with culinary events occurring at various venues across the Island.  Each signature event features a local Island food product on the menu.

This is the fourth year that Applelicious has been held and always in the Arlington Orchard location.  Mitchell Rennie of the North Cape Coastal Drive Region says a number of factors were considered in selecting the facility for the event:  “We needed a facility that was open to the idea of having large-scale events in their orchard and we wanted an area where we could get into the middle of an orchard for the atmosphere.  These factors led us to Barry Balsom’s facility“.

As its name suggests, this event focused heavily on PEI apples.  This being a signature event for the Fall Flavors Festival, it was hosted by a celebrity chef – in this case, Anna Olson.  If you are a fan of Food Network Canada, you will likely have seen some or all of Anna’s shows that include “Sugar”, “Kitchen Equipped”, “Fresh with Anna Olson”, and “Bake with Anna Olson”.  Author and co-author of several cookbooks, Anna is also a freelance writer for several publications as well.  For this event, Anna also brought her husband, Michael, to the Applelicious event and the pair made fine hosts for the evening.

Chefs Anna and Michael Olson
Chefs Anna and Michael Olson

I have often picked apples at Arlington Orchards … yes bushels of them!  However, I had never eaten a meal in the middle of an apple orchard so this event intrigued me.  How could they produce a four-course meal in an orchard with no buildings, electricity, or running water!  No worries as it is amazing what our Island culinary teams can do when put to the test.

The evening started off with an oyster, apple cider, and cheese reception along with a meet and greet with Anna and Michael Olson.  Of course, as many of you will know, our Island oysters are world renowned and are always popular.  In keeping with the theme of local foods, the oysters came from the bays around Arlington.  Anytime you see an oyster shucker in action, foodies are generally not far away, ready to sample these sea-fresh tasty morsels. To enhance the oysters, Anna created five different apple-themed toppings especially for the reception.

World-famous PEI Oysters
World-famous PEI Oysters

There were several kinds of apple cider to sample along with a selection of PEI Amalgamated Dairies Limited (ADL) cheeses.

Apple Cider and Cheese
Apple Cider and Cheese

Anna was very obliging to pose for endless photos throughout the evening and to sign the menu cards that were at each place setting as well as her cookbooks that were for sale during the evening.

I never cease to be amazed at the elegance that can be created inside a tent.


At one time, a meal in a tent meant paper plates, plastic cutlery and glasses, and picnic tables.  However, take a look at the white linens and fabulous tablesettings that greeted guests to Applelicious!

Look at the simplistic baskets of apples that were each table’s centerpiece.  These were so appropriate for an event that featured apples.  Nothing more was needed to adorn the table and, of course, the contents of the centerpieces were all edible, too.

Here was the menu for the evening:

Applelicious 2013 Menu
Applelicious 2013 Menu

Part of culinary tourism, and a feature part of the signature events of Fall Flavors, is the educational component.  Not only are culinary tourists seeking out great food and dining experiences, but they want to learn something about that food, where it came from, and how it can be prepared.  For this event, Anna and Michael started their first demonstration of the evening with how to prepare potato crepes (using fine PEI potatoes, of course) and pickled melba apple slaw (with apples from Arlington Orchard) which was very delicious.

For the second demonstration, Anna showed how to make pastry and gave tips on how to make the perfect apple pie – did you know that the best apple pies are made with a combination of different varieties of apples?  That sprinkling some rolled oats over the bottom pie crust before adding the apple filling will help to keep the lower crust from becoming soggy with the juices from the apples as the pie bakes?

Part of Anna’s role in the evening was to plan the menu and provide the recipes.  As you can imagine, dinner for 185 guests (many of them tourists) – particularly in the middle of an apple orchard – takes a team effort.  For this, the culinary team of Shaws Hotel and Restaurant in Brackley Beach, PEI, provided the culinary/catering services for the evening, taking Anna’s recipes and preparing them for guests all, of course, under the guidance of Anna.  Anna indicated during the evening that PEI grows varieties of apples that weren’t familiar to her so she had consulted, in advance, with orchard owner, Barry Balsom, and researched the Island varieties when preparing the recipes so that Island apples would be featured in the menu items.  During the evening, both Anna and Michael circulated amongst the tables, stopping to chat with guests and sign menu cards.

While much of the prep work for the meal with done off-site, one mobile kitchen was brought onsite and all plating and final cooking occurred in the catering section of the tent or just outside.  Generators, of course, were needed to supply the electricity.

Dinner's Cooking!
Dinner’s Cooking!

Two musical groups provided the entertainment during the evening – the Gallant Family Band (seen in the photo below) and the quartet “Milk and Honey”.

So, now, let’s look at the menu items and dinner presentation a little more closely:

Beverages:  Bottles of Maritime-produced Sparkling Apple Juice were placed on each table.

First Course:  Smoked Salmon on PEI Potato Crepes with Apple Crème Fraiche and Pickled Melba Apple Slaw

Second Course:  Chowder Crab Cake on Autumn Greens with Dolgo Crabapple Vinaigrette

Main:  Pork Loin with Bacon Oyster Stuffing with Caramelized Onion & Paula Red Apple Glaze, Potato & ADL Old Cheddar Gratin, and Harvest Vegetables

Dessert:  Gingerbread Cake with Jersey Mac Applies “Foster”

 And, the finale:  Classic Apple Pie


Tickets for this event were $69.95 + tax (CDN$).

I am often asked what is the best month to visit PEI.  Admittedly, I am biased since, being a native Islander, I think anytime is good to visit our fine province.  However, if you are a foodie then, hands-down, my recommendation would be to visit us in September when the whole month is filled with fabulous culinary events across the province.  Whether you are an Islander, or planning a trip to PEI in September, I highly recommend you check the Fall Flavors website for event and ticket information to any of a number of great culinary events.  Be sure to book your tickets early as the signature events usually sell out.

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