Book Review: Family Meals by Chef Michael Smith

Michael-Smith-Family-MealsCanadian chef Michael Smith’s most recent cookbook is full of mouth-watering recipes and heart-warming photographs. A strong advocate for real, homemade food and family mealtimes, Michael shares “go to” recipes from his home kitchen – where every member of his family participates in preparing simple, healthy food. These recipes call for fairly basic ingredients and are prepared using equipment and utensils you most likely already own. The role of family cook is just one of many demands on my time and energy, so I really appreciate the fact that this collection of recipes doesn’t require shopping for special ingredients or single-purpose kitchen appliances.

The one hundred recipes in Family Meals are evenly divided between ten helpful categories such as Breakfast & Brunch; Simple Salads; Soups, Stews & Casseroles; Slow Cookers & Pressure Cookers; Meatless Mondays; Vegetables & Whole Grains; and Sweets & Treats. With the start of a new school year looming, I’m looking forward to trying recipes in categories like Lunchbox & Snacks, Family Meals in Minutes and Cook Ahead.

Michael has also included helpful tips on how to make cooking a family activity and a useful list of ways to keep your family kitchen running smoothly during the week. As pre-schoolers and elementary students my own boys were eager to help in the kitchen, but their interest waned as they reached their teenage years. I have noticed that our university-bound oldest son is showing a renewed interest in learning some simple recipes. As we count down the days to his departure, I’ll be coaching him through recipes like Every-Day Egg Sandwich, Overnight Oatmeal Jars with Last-Minute Stir-ins, All-Day Sausage Lasagna, Chili Cornmeal Crusted Salmon with Avocado Salsa and Tortilla Lasagna. And when he does resort to instant noodles, maybe he’ll go for Michael’s Just-Add-Water Noodle Jar version!

Thanks to @PenguinCanada, my review copy of “Family Meals” arrived in our mailbox about a week ago. Since then, we’ve tried three recipes: Weekend Pancakes, Nacho Burgers and Greek Chicken (scraps and bones were used to make a batch of homemade chicken stock for use in soups and stews over the coming weeks). As expected, the instructions were easy to follow and I had all of the spices and herbs on hand. For our family of four, each of these recipes made enough for two meals. Leftover Weekend Pancakes can be refrigerated or frozen and re-heated in the toaster (a great alternative to Eggo waffles). The leftover Nacho Burgers were quickly re-heated for supper on a busy weeknight. And I used the leftover roast chicken meat as the basis for a simple chicken pot pie (made with gravy using some of the homemade chicken stock).

Michael Smith and the folks at Penguin Canada kindly gave permission for me to share one of these recipes (and kindly provided the accompanying photograph), so here you go…

Nacho Burgers

Makes 6 large or 8 smaller burgers
Nacho Burger
For the burgers
2 pounds (900g) of ground beef
2 tablespoons (30mL) of ground cumin
2 tablespoons (30mL) of dried oregano
1 teaspoon (15mL) of salt
Lots of freshly ground pepper
1 onion, minced

For the burger buns
1 teaspoon (5mL) of chili powder
2 tablespoons (30mL) of butter, melted
6 or 8 of your favorite burger buns

To garnish the burgers
1 heaping tablespoon (20mL) of your favorite salsa per burger
¼ cup (60mL) of any shredded cheese per burger
3 or 4 tortilla chips, crushed, per burger

Build a hardwood fire and ultimately a bed of glowing coals. Or prepare and preheat your grill or stovetop griddle to high.

To make the burgers, have a clean plate on the counter and a few sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap nearby. Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Break it up a bit and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the meat as evenly as you can with the cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and onions. Using your hands, thoroughly and evenly mix the works together. Form the proceeds into 6 or 8 evenly shaped thin burgers and place them on the plate, with the wax paper in between layers.

To ready the buns for the grill, stir the chili powder into the melted butter and brush the fragrant fat onto the cut sides of the buns. Just before grilling the burgers, toast the buns until lightly browned and delicious.

Grill the burgers until browned, 4 or 5 minutes a side. Move the finished burgers straight from the grill to their toasted buns so the juices soak into the bread. Top with the salsa, cheese, tortilla chips and bun tops. Serve and share!


Family feedback? When prompted, the two family members who are most reluctant to try new recipes (and who declined to have chili-spiced butter on their toasted buns) said something like “These are pretty good. We should have them again some time.” From them, that’s high praise! For me, the chili-spiced butter on the grilled bun provided a perfect spicy note to the overall mix of flavours. K’s friend (who went back for seconds) told K he really should have the chili-spiced butter on his bun next time. So yes, this recipe has been added to the rotation and I look forward to making Nacho Burgers again.

Family Meals is available in hefty paperback format from your favourite bookstore or online book retailer. If you’d like to try another recipe or two before buying, fellow Calgarian Laura Bridgman shared Barely Kale Tabbouleh on her Scribbles and Sass blog. Weekend Pancakes is featured on Postcards from the Mothership. And from the Sweets & Treats section, Michael’s Ice Cream Sandwiches recipe can be found on Live Travel Eat and Run. Enjoy!

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