Who doesn’t appreciate quick and easy budget-friendly dinner ideas? Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian’s show, Ten Dollar Dinners (Sundays at 12:30pm/11:30c), is all about making the daily dinner struggle a little easier without breaking the bank. We were excited to chat with Melissa about Easter, spring produce and her fresh new season of Ten Dollar Dinners, filming next week.
FN Dish: What are some of your favorite ways to keep costs down when you’re entertaining for a special occasion or holiday like Easter?
Melissa: One of the great things about Easter is you’ve got inexpensive proteins that are front and center. Ham and pork roast are two very inexpensive proteins that feed a lot of people, and they’re festive and feel decadent without being expensive. Another Easter-time protein is the egg. An egg runs anywhere between 12 and 17 cents, so even at two eggs a person you’re only talking 25 to 30 cents. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that, and an egg is actually really versatile. We tend to think of eggs only as breakfast, but I think that eggs as protein for lunches and dinners are often overlooked, so there are lots of opportunities with the egg that will save a lot of money.
In fact, on FoodNetwork.com I have some recipes to use up hard-boiled eggs from the Easter egg hunt, because there’s only so much egg salad you can eat. But don’t waste those eggs. They’re great protein, not a lot of money and there are some creative ways to use them.
See Melissa’s tips for making perfect hard-boiled eggs, plus recipes for Asparagus with Tangy-Smoky Dressing and her Egg and Garlic Cheese Baguette. Also, see how she makes the cutest Easter cupcakes.
P.S. In case you missed it, watch Melissa whip up more Easter brunch recipes on the TODAY Show.
FN Dish: Do you have any tips or tricks for serving varying tastes, like kids in addition to adults?
Melissa d’Arabian: Since I have four kids, I really can’t get into making different meals for everybody, so I’m a big believer in making one meal that everyone can eat. And I’m known in my house for saying, “Oh that’s okay, you don’t have to eat. I sure hope you won’t be hungry before breakfast.” That comes out of my mouth at least once a week. That being said, my kids count too, so their tastes count to me. I always try to have food that people like.
And I always have something healthy in my hip pocket in case there really is nothing that a child likes at the table. It’s one thing to be picky and not want anything, and it’s another thing to sit down and not have anything that appeals to you. That’s a fair thing, for a child to not like anything. I always have on hand, for instance, a piece of whole-grain toast. Everyone knows that if there’s really nothing that you like you can always eat a piece of whole-grain toast. I always have something on the table, bread or something, so people don’t starve.
FN Dish: What are some of your favorite springtime foods and traditions?
Melissa: One of my favorite things about springtime is that the farmer’s markets come back, and that is definitely a weekly stop for my family. For us it’s half entertainment and half shopping because we go as a family outing. One tradition we have is that my girls each pick out one item at the farmer’s market (or during the winter, the produce department) and I will then create a recipe around it at home. So that gets them looking around at all the odd-shaped squash or bright-colored beets, or something that’s fun and different, and they get engaged in that. So we can spend hours at the farmer’s market.
FN Dish: Do they ever stump you? Sounds like Iron Chef at home!
Melissa: They pick out some interesting varieties. The thing about farmer’s markets that I love (which is also great for my kids) is that often the grower is right there. So if there’s an unusual vegetable or fruit, the person who knows all about it is right there to educate us. I have no problem going up to them and saying, “Tell me about this, what’s the best way to cook it, what’s the best way to bring out the flavor, what are some options?” and they love having that conversation. And I think that’s a great conversation for my kids to have too. Part educational, part shopping and part entertainment – the farmer’s market is a big part of my spring. I’m very excited for it.
FN Dish: Looking ahead to warmer weather, what are your go-to produce picks?
Melissa: One thing I love, which is going to be coming into season, is asparagus. It’s such a great item to have when it’s in season because it’s downright inexpensive, but it’s really expensive during the winter months, so I’m looking forward to that.
Then of course there’s the plethora of all the fabulous fruits and berries that are coming. I live in Washington State, and we have more blackberries than you could ever possibly know what to do with that just grow in our yard wild. They’re everywhere; it’s crazy! And my girls each get a bucket and they can just pick, pick, pick, and we make everything from tarts to compotes to just eating them plain with a little bit of sugar or cream. Berries are a big part of our spring diet. And because they don’t keep all that well, they’re inexpensive because stores and farmer’s markets need to move inventory on them. So you can buy a ton of berries for not a lot of money as they’re on their last legs at the store. And then take them home and you can either freeze them or you can cook them over high heat on the stove and make compote out of them and freeze that, so there are lots of options with berries.
FN Dish: Season 3 of Ten Dollar Dinners – so exciting! As you develop ideas and content for the shows what do you find most exciting?
Melissa: I can’t believe that we’re here again already. It is exciting. The more I do this the more I see that there really are infinite possibilities. I love having that extra pressure of doing it for under $10 because that’s the way I cook, and that’s the way I think a lot of America cooks. Even if you don’t have to cook that way, I think nowadays we’re in an era where we’re all trying to be good stewards of our resources, whether that be earth resources, environmental resources or financial resources. I think that even if you can spend a fortune on a meal people want to spend less. I don’t know anyone who’s saying, “I wish I could spend more on food.” So, I love the challenge of making food exciting, making it feel good, I want to make people feel empowered to save money, and Ten Dollar Dinners is about celebrating that. It’s really a celebration of food and feeling good about what we serve our families and our friends. I think that the options can continue on and on and on, and I’m excited to show the variety in Season 3.
FN Dish: Where do you find inspiration?
Melissa: I’m very much ingredient-driven. I love finding inspiration at the store looking at ingredients. That’s one of the reasons I love the farmer’s market – it’s a great environment to find inspiration. Also, sometimes it’s just, “What do I have in my pantry that I can make for my family?” Ever since I started this I’ve been keeping a notebook and when I cook dinner for my family I write down what I made. I can go back and think “Oh yeah, I remember when I made that or that,” so a lot of the inspiration comes from what I have on hand. And, just like everyone else, it’s 5 pm, what are you feeding your kids today? Because we all have days like that where you get home at 5 and you realize that you haven’t really planned out your dinner or what you planned to make for dinner is going to take too long and everyone’s too hungry. . . So I get inspiration from that. Plus, my husband and I love to cook together so that’s a really fun, relaxing activity to do together. My husband’s a fantastic cook.
FN Dish: Well, we’re looking forward to more Ten Dollar Dinners!
Melissa: It’s amazing how many combinations of interesting foods you can eat for not a lot of money. I think people are going to be surprised when they see Season 3. They’ll think, “Oh my gosh, another fun and interesting idea!” I think people are going to be surprised that they can continue learning more tips, more tricks and more recipes as we go forward. It’s going to be a great season.