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Meet Dara

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Tasty Kitchen Blog: Meet Dara Michalski of Cookin' Canuck.

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.

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Meet Dara Michalski of Cookin' Canuck.Clockwise from top left: Soba Noodles and Vegetable Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin and Chili Sauce, Chicken Kebabs with Pomegranate-Spice Marinade, Mum’s Savory Beef and Potato Curry, Sage and Gorgonzola Gougeres (Cheese Puffs), Baked German Apple Pancake with Nutmeg and Ginger, Tortilla Stacks with Italian Sausage, Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Cheese, African Tomato and Peanut Soup with Sweet Potato and Chickpeas, and Shrimp, Sun-Dried Tomato and Asparagus Bucatini in White Wine and Garlic Sauce.

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.

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Meet Dara Michalski of Cookin' Canuck.Clockwise from top left: Chicken, Corn and Potato Chowder with Green Chiles and Cheddar Cheese, Caramelized Onion and Spinach Olive Oil Quick Bread, Crispy Parmesan Cheese and Rosemary Cups with Spinach and Strawberry Salad, Potato-Crusted Quiche with Pancetta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Spinach, Zucchini, Tomato and Gorgonzola Puff Pastry Tarts, Wild Mushroom and Cornbread Panzanella Salad, and Spicy Asian Slaw with Napa Cabbage, Carrots and Ginger Dressing.

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.

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Meet Dara Michalski of Cookin' Canuck.Clockwise from top left: Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars with Gingersnap Crust, Blueberry Coconut Ice Cream (Gluten- and Dairy-Free), Summer Cherry and Crystallized Ginger Crumb Bars, Chocolate and Orange Benne Wafer Cookies, Chocolate Shortcakes with Raspberries, Ice Cream and Creme de Cassis Fudge Sauce, Coconut and Chocolate Fudge Bars, and Triple Chocolate Mint Cookies.

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).

Tasty Kitchen Blog: Meet Dara Michalski of Cookin' Canuck.

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.



Comments are closed for this recipe.

Alice on 7.27.2010

Great article!!

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cookincanuck on 7.25.2010

I’m so glad to hear that, Tiffany! Those are always a huge hit, both for the novelty and the taste.

tiffany on 7.25.2010

A few weeks ago I made your parmesan cups with spinach & strawberry salad in mini-muffin-tin size for a baby shower and they were a huge hit! Thanks for the recipe!

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cookincanuck on 7.25.2010

Abbey, you came through for me! I will definitely have to give that a go.

Abbey on 7.23.2010

I have made a version of a Bloody Mary with pepper-infused vodka, wasabi, and soy sauce for my old workplace’s sushi night. Not exactly appropriate for a brunch, but delicious!

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cookincanuck on 7.22.2010

Thanks, Carey. I’ll definitely have to check that out.

Carey on 7.21.2010

Great interview and post. Not to mention GREAT recipes, thank you for sharing them!

I came across a fantastic pie cookbook and it has saved my crust failures. Pie by Ken Haedrich. He has a recipe for crust, using lard, that is about as fail proof as it can get, the lard makes the crust incredibly flaky and makes the dough easier to work with than butter (at least for me).

Thanks again!

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cookincanuck on 7.20.2010

Natalie, I won’t give away your secret! Utah is a beautiful spot to live. We just returned from a weekend of camping in the Uinta Mountains. Canoeing on the lake, fishing, and hanging out by the campfire. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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Natalie | Perry's Plate on 7.20.2010

Dara, I share your pie “aversion”. LOL. I was also born into a pie-making family and i’ve only made 2 and they were cold pies at that. My grandma even gave me a set of pie crust rings (plastic rings to put under the dough so you get a perfectly-sized circle… a bit fussy for me). They were still in the plastic when I finally sold them at a yard sale last weekend (shhh…)

I love seeing you pop up all over the internet (saw you on CuisineNie yesterday!) you have some great recipes and seems like a very likable person :) I’m glad you like Utah. My husband and I lived there for 5 years while we finished school and had a pretty good experience.

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cookincanuck on 7.19.2010

Georgia, I really just need to suck it up and try. With all the gorgeous summer fruit around, I think I owe it to my family to pull out that pie dish.

Jayne, I have always been enraptured with my parents’ tales of the warm people and amazing culture of Malaysia. I hope to travel there myself someday.

Jayne on 7.19.2010

Malaysia? I am born and am living in Malaysia all my life. So glad to know someone here who has some sort of linkage. :-)

Btw, I love Dara’s site. Have been visiting it on and off since discovering it.

Georgia Pellegrini on 7.19.2010

If you can make those recipes, I am confident you could tackle a pie crust. Go for it!

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cookincanuck on 7.19.2010

Adrianna & Caroline, beware of the kamikaze. Hand over those car keys first.

Rebecca, I can assure that picture will never hit the internet (that was a condition in our prenup – yes, just kidding).

Amy, you’re welcome anytime. Head back to Utah, my friend.

Crystal, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one here that’s crust-challenged.

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crystalscozykitchen on 7.19.2010

I can totally agree about pie making – my mom always baked pies for family get togethers but this last Christmas was the first time I ever made a pie crust!

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missamy on 7.19.2010

Oh my word Dara! I’m drooling over here, lawsie mercy, what time is dinner?

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Rebecca on 7.19.2010

Oh! And I’d really like to see that picture. It reminds me of the moment in Little Men when Jo (I think) is determined to make preserves for her husband and he comes home (with a last minute dinner guest) to a crying wife, a destroyed kitchen, and no preserves or dinner.

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A Cozy Kitchen on 7.19.2010

Love the write up! I went through the same exact journey with learning how to cook meat properly. Now I can tell by touch too and feel like a pro!

And that kamikaze cocktail is calling my name.

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Rebecca on 7.19.2010

Dara- Salt is my Achilles’ heel, too! Your recipes look gorgeous and I seriously have my eye on that Wild Mushroom and Panzanella Salad. I drool just typing it. I can’t wait to look over more of the creations in your recipe box.

Erika- As always, thank you for such a neat profile of such a neat member!

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cookincanuck on 7.19.2010

Kay, thank you! I adore that soup, too. I’m glad to hear it’s one your favorites.

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kaycarrasco on 7.19.2010

And here I am, about to stop for lunch, which today is… my favorite TK recipe of all time… Dara’s Chicken Corn Chowder! What a cool coincidence. :)

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cookincanuck on 7.19.2010

Thanks to all of you for your really kind comments. And a huge thanks to Ree and Erika for featuring my blog and me on Tasty Kitchen. I am constantly inspired by the amazing recipes that are put out by this food-loving community.

Alyssa on 7.19.2010

I’m a HUGE fan of your blog and your recipes, Dara — so glad to see you featured!

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Ree | The Pioneer Woman on 7.19.2010

I absolutely adore Dara and have loved getting to know her through her yummy recipes. Yay, Cookin’ Canuck!

Jen on 7.19.2010

I’m a total salt fiend too! A girl after my own heart.

souffle bombay on 7.19.2010

I am with Beau above on the onion and spinich bread…it is stunning!
Love reading about passionate cooks!
Congrats on the feature Dara, I will head over to your site today!

Beau @ on 7.19.2010

It all looks great, but that caramelized onion and spinach quickbread is really speaking to me!

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Tracy (sugarcrafter) on 7.19.2010

Love Dara’s blog – it is beautiful and inspiring!

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Kristin on 7.19.2010

I added almost every single recipe to my recipe box (unheard of)!! Everything looks amazing and so flavorful! I’m a salt-fiend myself, so I appreciate your recipes, Dara! Keep up the good work, you’re very inspiring!

Heather (Heather's Dish) on 7.19.2010

i’m the same way with pizza crust…if i’m not eating it out, then i’m making my own. it’s way too easy to NOT make it!

Jessica @ How Sweet on 7.19.2010

I have made the chocolate coconut bars and they are to.die.for.

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carolinagirl on 7.19.2010

I made Dara’s tomato, asparagus and feta puff pasrty tarts twice over the weekend and they were awesome, thanks for the great recipe! Your website is terrific! Can’t wait to try some more of your recipes!

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jodiemo on 7.19.2010

I’ve been a follower for forever. I just love your blog and recipes! Congrats on the feature!