She’s the Canadian behind all those wonderful dishes with flavor combinations that always hit the mark, and her food writing is both engaging and informative. I know many have been wanting to learn more about her, and today’s the day we get to do just that. Say hello to our lovely cookincanuck—Dara Michalski.
Dara was born in eastern Canada and avers that she’s a Canadian at heart. A Utah resident for the past 10 years (happily, she adds), she’s the mother of two young boys and wife to a husband who stands by her through thick and thin and even through uncooked meat (more on that later). In her blog Cookin’ Canuck, she writes that they’re both consultants for families looking to set up intensive behavioral programs for their children with autism. “We are dedicated to making these amazing children reach their full potential.”
Talented and compassionate. It’s a winning combination.
Dara attributes her love for cooking to her parents. Her mother is “a fabulous, instinctual cook” who grew up in Jamaica, and her parents spent the first years of their marriage in Malaysia. Her mom often used (and still does) unusual spices and flavors in her cooking, and it’s not surprising to see that many of Dara’s dishes show off so many different international influences.
Although Dara has a few favorite celebrity chefs, like Giada de Laurentiis, Curtis Stone, and Bobby Flay, she says that ingredients themselves—seasonal ingredients, to be exact—are what inspire her. She’s become more adventurous with her cooking, and has developed a good sense for what flavors work well together (according to her palate). This opens up the field for her to play around with various combinations of flavors and textures. “Some recipes completely bomb,” she admits, and “nothing puts me in a bad mood faster.” But others become dishes that her family can’t live without.
Her father, on the other hand, has always been their “Sandwich King, and can make a mean batch of scrambled eggs.” He signed up for a series of cooking classes some years ago, and now they all benefit from his baking skills. And although Dara has a penchant for salty foods, her dessert creations make it apparent that she’s got some serious baking skills of her own.
Do you know what else I love about Dara? I mean, aside from all the yummy food and gorgeous photography? I love that she posts potentially dangerous drink recipes like Kamikaze Cocktail (on the left) and Watermelon Mojito (on the right).
I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink right about now.
In the meantime, let’s turn the post over to Dara so she can answer some more of our questions. I bet you’re dying to hear about that uncooked meat fiasco. We’re all ears, Dara!
Q: What are your favorite ingredients or food pairings?
A: Salt, salt, and a little more salt. While I do enjoy sweet treats, I am a salt fiend. Soy sauce is, hands down, the favorite and most-used ingredient in my kitchen. Anyone have a recipe for a soy-sauce based cocktail? I would be indebted to you forever.
Q: What is your go-to dish or meal?
A: If it is fleece-wearing weather, then I develop insane cravings for two foods: my mum’s curry and my Pasta Wonder dish (named by one of my friends), which is spaghetti with Italian sausage and a creamy mascarpone sauce. When my fleece is replaced by a bikini (yeah, right), I fire up the barbeque almost every night and throw on whatever meat, seafood, or veggie that happens to be in the fridge.
Q: And if you had to eat something right now with only 3 minutes to get it ready? What would it be?
A: Crackers with a slice of cheese and a dot of ketchup, melted in the toaster oven. This is inspired by the open-faced cheese melts that I loved as a kid.
Q: It’s hard to imagine you having any kind of difficulty, but we’ll ask anyway. What gives you the most trouble in the kitchen?
A: Despite marrying into an enthusiastic pie-making family, I have never actually made a pie myself. Sure, I have baked beautiful pies under the tutelage and close supervision of my mother-in-law and my husband’s cousin. I even have a beautiful Emile Henry pie dish in my cupboard, which looks at me scornfully (I swear) each time I push it aside to lift out another dish. However, making a pie crust without the moral and culinary support of others intimidates the ba-jeepers out of me. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like something to be concerned about, but my husband is a pie boy, through and through. I’m determined to get past this little hang-up of mine this summer.
Q: Give us one of your favorite kitchen tips that you wish you’d always known.
A: I am finally getting the hang of determining if meat is properly cooked by gently pressing on the top. For years, I would make about four or five incisions into the meat to test for doneness, which would send all of the meat’s juices running out of the steak. If the juices are on the plate, that means they are not in the meat. Not good.
Q: What food item do you always make at home and never buy at the store anymore?
A: Over the past year, I finally conquered my irrational fear of yeast. Every Friday night, I make a couple of batches of pizza dough and we top it with seasonal produce, seafood, or our favorite—a Thai chicken mixture. I found that a very hot oven (500 degrees F) and a pizza stone make all the difference for a homemade crust.
Q: Okay, we’ve waited long enough to hear about this uncooked meat business. Spill the beans. Tell us the story of your most memorable kitchen disaster.
A: When my husband and I had been dating for several months, I decided to pull out all the stops and roast a chicken for the first time. At that time, that was a pretty big undertaking for me. All that I had dared to cook for him up until that point was pasta with jarred tomato sauce and simple stir-fries. I scoured magazines and the internet for the best recipe and any chicken roasting tips I could find, hoping against hope that I could succeed in presenting a dish that wouldn’t poison us. All seemed to be moving along swimmingly at the beginning. It roasted to a beautiful golden brown, and the thermometer appeared to be telling me what I needed to know. After letting my beautiful creation rest, I brought it to the table for a dramatic display of carving. As I cut into the chicken, however, I realized that it was raw. Pink in places that you do not want to see any pink. I was devastated! I actually burst into tears. My husband insisted on taking photos of me holding the pathetic bird (from its best, uncarved side). The pictures show a young, red-eyed woman, tears streaming down her cheeks, holding a chicken that had seen better days. I give credit to my husband that he didn’t drop the camera and run.
Dara, I could listen to you all day. You are funny, engaging, and most of all, you can cook some great grub for me after we talk. Okay, after you talk.
Dara’s recipe box here at Tasty Kitchen is bulging with all sorts of great recipes. I highly suggest browsing those delicious pages. There’s even more goodness waiting for you in her blog, Cookin’ Canuck, which is as fun to read as it is to ogle. And there’ll be lots of ogling, believe me.