Melinda’s best meals start here

Mairlyn Smith saved my bacon. Well, she saved my dinner, at least. Allow me to explain.

I am not a great cook. I can manage to get a meal on the table, and I think my family would tell you it usually tastes good. But it lacks inventiveness, which is the hallmark of a great cook. I follow recipes. Exactly. To the eighth of a teaspoon. In my kitchen, there is no arbitrary tossing of herbs and spices while I’m behind the wooden spoon. There are no flames shooting up spectacularly from my stovetop unless there has been a horrible accident. I’m a cautious cook and so dinnertime can be a bit lacklustre.

Thank goodness for cook/comedian Mairlyn Smith. Her latest cookbook, Healthy Starts Here! 140 Recipes That Will Make You Feel Great, found its way into my kitchen and my dour dinners have taken on a much happier attitude.

Smith is a Professional Home Economist and a professional comedian. In fact, she is the world’s only PHEc who is also an alumnus of the Second City comedy troupe. She is a busy writer, actor, and appears one Wednesday a month — on Family Day — on Citytv’s CityLine. In Healthy Starts Here! she has created delicious recipes that are good for you and easy to make, and has liberally sprinkled humour and personal anecdotes throughout. It’s a lovely read even if you don’t cook.

The chapters go from A (for Apples: The Perfect Fruit and Asparagus: Green, Pointy, and Powerful) to almost Z (Y, actually, for Yogurt: The Good Bacteria). In between there are Mushrooms: Not Your Average Little Balls of Fungi and Oranges, Grapefruit, Lemons, and Limes: Make Dinner More A-Peeling. There are sections devoted to portion sizes, kitchen tools (or toys, as Smith likes to call them), cooking terms, food safety and Ordinary and Not-Quite-So-Ordinary Ingredients. Do you know how to properly peel ginger? Smith shows you how.

She is serious about the health and nutrition aspects in her recipes. Each one contains a breakdown of nutrition information, and there are the requisite cautionary notes about sodium, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. She even serves up comic relief while relating personal stories about herself, her family and her friends. Just wait till you read The Big M (And I Don’t Mean Frank Mahovlich), a story that will resonate with women of a certain age.

So now to the bacon. Or the lentils actually. I had never cooked with lentils before, but now it’s my new go-to recipe. On those nights when I walk in the door at 5 o’clock with absolutely no idea what to have for dinner, it’s Nutrition-Packed Curried Lentils with Spinach. Tastes as good as bacon, without the guilt! This recipe was first published in Smith’s previous cookbook Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health…and don’t forget the chocolate! which she co-authored with Liz Pearson. But it was worth printing again and I am forever thankful. It is quick to make, and is delicious.

For all the shrimp lovers out there, the Cajun Shrimp Pilau was a big hit at my house too, and Double Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins are great for dessert or breakfast.

Healthy Starts Here! 140 Recipes That Will Make You Feel Great is available locally at Book Citys on Queen Street and Danforth Avenue, and Coles on Queen Street. Keep in touch with Mairlyn at (where you can also buy the cookbook), on facebook and twitter.

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