Dara Michalski won the top spot in the cheese expert-judged portion of our Springlicious recipe contest. She blogs at www.CookinCanuck.com.
How long have you been cooking and when / how did you develop a passion for food?
I have been interested in food and cooking as long as I can remember. My mum is a fabulous, instinctual cook and I like to think that I picked up some of that from her. Both of my parents are adventurous eaters and taught me to appreciate fresh food, prepared in a myriad of ways. I gradually started experimenting in the kitchen, reading every cooking magazine and book I could get my hands on. There have been plenty of failures, but over time I learned what flavors work together and how to combine them in different ways.
How did you come up with your winning recipes? Any special inspiration?
One of the drawbacks of contemplating food all day is that the thoughts are not always relegated to daytime hours. Typically I would not complain about dreaming of food. Many a fine feast has taken place during the concentrated hours of REM sleep. In this case, however, I was so intent on remembering every piece of this recipe that I woke up no less than twenty times, thinking of puff pastry and Brie cheese. Admitting this may promptly land me in a prone position on a psychiatrist's couch. Certainly Freud could have conjured up something scandalous and distasteful from my errant dreams.
What do you like about French cheese? Do you have any advice for people who have never cooked with French cheeses?
The texture and flavor of French cheeses have the ability to stand on their own. I would be quite happy to nibble on a piece of creamy cheese for hours. Thanks to my husband’s gift of a wheel of Brie one Christmas, I was able to test this theory. Try not to mask the flavor and texture with too many ingredients or strong flavors. Instead, find flavors that will highlight the cheese.
What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
Without a doubt, my Wusthof chef knives are my most loyal companions in the kitchen. A set of sharp knives makes prep time faster and far easier.
When you're designing a new recipe, how do you start?
My recipes are typically inspired by seasonal ingredients or a new ingredient that I recently discovered. My husband built a fabulous raised planter last year and I appreciate being able to wander into my garden and pick fresh vegetables and herbs to use in my dishes.
Do you work with any unusual ingredients?
My pantry shelves are overflowing with flavored vinegars, containers of Indian spices, and bags of esoteric flours. That, however, does not stop me from picking up a new sauces or condiments whenever I spot them. My recent acquisition was a bottle of pomegranate molasses, which made its way into a marinade for chicken kebabs.
What are your favorite things to serve when entertaining?
There is not a specific type of food that I serve. In fact, I like to introduce my guests to flavors that I am sure they will love, but may not have the opportunity or inclination to try in their own kitchens.
When you entertain, what is your favorite way to serve cheese?
While I do love the simplicity of a cheese, fruit, and bread platter, I try to dress cheese up when entertaining. It could be used to top a flatbread, lightly pan-fried as an appetizer, or featured in a savory dessert.
What are your passions outside of cooking?
I am the lucky mum of two young boys, who keep me on my toes. My husband and I both like to run (though not together because he would smoke me!) and stay active while enjoying the beautiful mountains of Utah by camping and fishing with the kids. We also work together as consultants for families who have children with autism and strive to make a difference in these families’ lives.