My wife and I celebrated our recent wedding with a two-week honeymoon adventure in Thailand. One of the main reasons we chose this beautiful country (which we would highly recommend to anyone!) and travelled halfway around the world was, of course, the food!
Thai cuisine is very much ingrained in the country’s identity and we got to experience that by taking cooking classes in three different regions. All of our wonderful Thai chefs and instructors taught us to cook the way their grandmothers or parents taught them; everything was made simply, from scratch, using fresh ingredients from root to stalk.
My wife and I were taught, among other things, to make curry pastes, milk from grated coconuts and shrimp stocks for soups. There were no cans, jars or pre-made/pre-packaged anything and you could taste the difference!
All our instructors also mentioned a dilemma in their food culture – that today’s young Thais just don’t cook anymore. Young people in Thailand would rather eat out, have meals prepared from the assortment of shop houses and street vendors or use pre-made alternatives, than take the time to prepare things themselves.
We went to a local market with one of our Thai chefs and she showed us the difference between the ingredients used by a good home cook and those used by a shop house or street vendor. While fresh herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and meats were all available, there were also a lot of packaged food options. All of the packaged items were full of sodium, MSG, artificial colours and many ingredients that, even to a Thai, were unexplainable. I find it intriguing that a culture that is world famous for its food and that has such incredible fresh ingredients available almost year round suffers from packaged-food. I guess it doesn’t matter whether you are from Thailand or North America, today’s hectic lifestyles, laziness in the kitchen and ease of take-out have taken the joy and pride out of making meals from scratch.
I believe most firefighters fall into the too-busy-to-cook category. Between working long shifts and juggling home life, sometimes it’s hard to imagine where dinner fits in. Well I am here to help! In my cooking classes that I teach in Waterloo, Ont., my main goal is to get families back in the kitchen cooking together. We cook with simple, fresh ingredients and I provide recipes that are easy to replicate. Families that cook together stay together, and no matter how busy you think life may be, there is a recipe for you.
During our Bangkok cooking lesson we bought ingredients at a market, cooked them from scratch and enjoyed seven homemade courses all in three hours. This inspired me. Maybe families would be inspired to get back into the kitchen if they saw just how easy it is to prepare a home-cooked meal. I’ve super simplified the recipes below so that they can be made with five to eight ingredients. These recipes are meant to inspire you and are beneficial in many ways. You will:
- Save time during those busy weeknights with recipes that are easily prepared.
- Create much healthier meals using fresh, whole ingredients instead of packaged, pre-made or take-out food. You will know exactly what you are putting in your body!
- Save money at the grocery store with a short ingredient list and also avoid the cost of eating out.
- Spend more quality family time preparing and sharing a meal together.
The benefits of preparing meals from scratch are obvious and I believe the only obstacles for families are simply finding the time to get in the kitchen, and knowing what to use when they get there. My honeymoon in Thailand gave me a lifetime of incredible memories and inspiration. I have a drive and passion to get families back in the kitchen cooking together. Hopefully these recipes will help get you there!
You will soon find that options and combinations are endless, and the fun is in building.
Blue cheese encrusted steak sandwich with whiskey glazed onions
- 2 hanger steaks, trimmed of excess fat and silverskin
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 5 tbsp cognac or brandy or beef stock
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp minced ﬂat-leaf parsley
- Season the steaks liberally with salt and pepper. Melt the butter and oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan begins to smoke, add the steaks.
- Cook the steaks, turning just once after about four minutes or until an instant-read thermometer shows 130 F in the thickest part. Remove pan from heat and transfer steaks to a cutting board and loosely tent with foil.
- Add four tablespoons of cognac/brandy to the pan and stir, scraping any browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Return pan to medium-high heat and cook for about 20 seconds. Add cream and mustard, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring vigorously until the sauce just comes together. Stir in remaining cognac/brandy and keep warm over low heat.
- Slice the hanger steaks across the grain in 1/4-inch pieces and drizzle sauce over top. Serve steaks garnished with parsley and black pepper. Enjoy!
Tomato and bread soup
- 1 pound vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered and seeded
- 5 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock
- 1/2 cup finely sliced fresh basil leaves, plus more leaves for garnish
- 1 (825-milliliter) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 1/2 loaf sourdough or country loaf bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
- Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Put the tomatoes and garlic on a baking sheet and toss with a couple tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until the tomatoes are softened and the edges are beginning to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drizzle about one tablespoon of oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the basil and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice and the chicken stock and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to just a simmer then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the bread and simmer for two to three minutes.
- Stir in the oven-roasted tomatoes, garlic and any cooking juices into the saucepan and simmer for another three minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
- Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh basil leaves.
Smoked salmon, asparagus and orzo salad
- 1 cup uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
- 2 hot-smoked salmon fillets, flaked
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
- Kosher salt freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound of asparagus, trimmed and cut into three-inch pieces
- Bring six cups of salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the asparagus and cook two minutes. Remove the asparagus from the pan, plunge into ice water, then drain and set aside.
- Return the asparagus water to a boil and add the orzo, cooking according to package directions. Once drained, drizzle with a little olive oil and fluff with a fork and set aside.
- Gently fold together the smoked salmon, orzo, asparagus, onion, lemon zest and dill. Drizzle the salad with the lemon juice and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold gently to combine and enjoy!
Mousse au citron
- 8 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 lemons, juice and zest
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Whisk together four eggs and four more of the yolks, reserving the remaining four whites. Whisk in one cup of sugar and place in a small saucepan. Add the salt, juice and zest and stir until smooth.
- Place saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring often until the mixture thickens; about 10 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer into a large bowl and chill.
- Whisk the reserved egg whites with remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in a bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold gently into the curd until well combined and set aside.
- Whisk cream and vanilla in a bowl until stiff peaks form and fold into curd mixture. Spoon mousse into serving cups and chill before serving.
Patrick Mathieu is an acting captain at Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He was recently featured on Food Network’s Chopped Canada.