Les Petits Chefs: Improv in the kitchen with Mairlyn Smith, (P. H.Ec.)

mairlyn smith sweet potato salsa pieThis was “one of those weeks”. You know. When you heap a lot on your plate at the buffet and sometimes a little bit falls off on your way back to the table. Or in this case, doesn’t make it onto the plate at all. This week’s Petits Chefs adventure was a lesson in improvisation (totally not planned) and hey, at least they had the master of improv, Mairlyn Smith, there to lead them! Improv in the sense of things didn’t exactly go as planned but we made the best of it and each boy went off with an edible (delicious) meal and some new skills and knowledge. So, whilst it wasn’t the exact recipe I had planned, learning happened. As did fun.

I met Mairlyn for the first time just over a month ago and she is as hilarious in person as she was online – right away I knew she would be a fabulous fit for the cooking club.  The only professional home economist and food writer in Canada who is also an alumnus of the Second City Comedy Troupe, Mairlyn is a popular TV and media food personality.  The author of three best selling cookbooks, one of which Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health and don’t forget the chocolate! (which she co-authored with dietician Liz Pearson), won Gold at the Cuisine Canada Cookbook Awards making it the first healthy book to ever win Gold at these prestigious Canadian Culinary Awards.  Her latest book Healthy Starts Here! was released in April 2011.

Mairlyn’s also taught Home Ec at Junior High level and I figured who better to talk healthy with the boys than her?  Mairlyn let me choose a recipe from the many on her site and, of course, I went all ambitious with Sweet Potato Salsa PieLots of chopping would mean busy hands throughout the whole club time which is always a good thing.

We started out washing all our vegetables….

And Mairlyn went around all the stations showing boys different cutting techniques for the different vegetables.

And then we got to work….

Who would imagine that chopping onions would be so much fun? (Mairlyn brought her onion chopping goggles which the boys had a riot wearing. Except Nicholas who bravely chopped without them. And did a fine job!) And what about “stabbing” the sweet potatoes before we popped them in the microwave? So much fun! And yes, boys, I saw that you had carved words into the potato skins LOL!  Both Mairlyn and I were so impressed with the consistent size of the boys’ chopped vegetables!  It’s an important skill, for sure.

Meanwhile, over on “Team Turkey” the boys worked hard to “mash the meat” (I asked them to shred it a little as it cooked so it wouldn’t clump. Somehow that turned into “mashing”. Ahem.)

And then we got cooking…

And you know, you can never have enough hands stirring the innards of the pie…

Around about this time, I realised I had forgotten not only the garlic but also the oregano and paprika 🙁  You know, those ingredients that were sitting on my kitchen table with a note saying “bring for cooking club”? Yeah, those ones. And then the sweet potatoes weren’t cooking fast enough to mash. And at that point I wondered, as I looked around the “organised chaos” that is my lab/kitchen, why I had not thought to cook them at lunch?  That piece of the puzzle was obviously just that little bit too much for my brain this week.

So we improvised.  We managed to mash a little bit of potatoes but then we cut the rest into thin strips, calling them “chips” (right?) and Mairlyn told the boys how to drizzle them with a little oil and pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400˚F. (Though I did overhead one of the guys telling his mum that they had to remove the chips from the pie and fry them to make sweet potato fries. Yeah, that would work too LOL!)

In the end it all worked out. I brought some of the leftovers home and actually mashed the potatoes and topped the pie with them (top picture). It was SO SO good. I’ll definitely be making this again – a lovely light (and healthy) version of shepherd’s pie. You can find the recipe for Mairlyn’s Sweet Potato Salsa Pie on her site. And you know, it helps to use all the ingredients and read ahead to see if there is any pre-prep that needs to be done. I guess I could say I messed up on purpose to show the boys how easy it is to improvise when things aren’t going as planned in the kitchen. But that would be lying. I think it’s good for them to see “real life”. Because sometimes real life is messy. But as long as you are having fun and learning from your mistakes, there’s nothing wrong with a little mess, right?

Thanks Mairlyn for sharing your knowledge with the boys. We so appreciate your patience and sense of humour (all essential in a well run kitchen!).

Stand up for REAL FOOD with me on May 19th. Find out how here.

19 thoughts on “Les Petits Chefs: Improv in the kitchen with Mairlyn Smith, (P. H.Ec.)”

  1. This turned out to be a great lesson in improvised cooking and it seems that everyone had a fun time. I all the bright colours in these veggies and I love Mairlyn’s apron. With all that you have on your plate week to week Mardi I’m amazed that you always get as much into your hour with Les Petits Chef as you do and that they get as much out of it as they do.

  2. Doesn’t it so much fun to cook with boys? Honestly I always have girls cooking with me in my small kitchen. I am so happy to be with them around, doing this and that, creating all the mess with flour and dropping batch. So great to hear you and the boys done it so well.

  3. I was a little worried about that pic of the boys stabbing the potatoes. I was thinking “What kind of way is that to cut a potato in half!?!” 🙂 The dish looks delicious, great that you made small servings for each guy.

  4. We have all had disasters in the kitchen. I remember a time when an Apricot Upside-Down Cake landed upside down on the kitchen floor. My daughters saved the day by getting a supermarket dessert. There was no saving the cake, but you and your boys did well.
    P xx


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