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In just two weeks, Melissa d’Arabian’s first cookbook will officially be available — Ten Dollar Dinners the book is packed with tips to elevate simple, fresh meals any night of the week along with 140 mouthwatering recipes. We caught up with Melissa on the set of her show to talk about what makes her book stand out, several key takeaways and the home cook’s best friend — the pantry.
Towards the beginning of the book, you talk about strategies for saving and list your top 10 commandments of Ten Dollar Dinners. If you had to pick just three strategies for saving money, what would they be?
1. Incorporate bean night once a week: Contrary to the title, that doesn’t mean just beans, it’s any sort of inexpensive protein. If you have a few recipes in your pocket that you know are very inexpensive and are driven by an inexpensive protein you will automatically see savings in your grocery bill every month. Think about beans, eggs, pizza or a meatless meal.
2. Try clear-the-pantry week: This is a week when you really don’t buy any other groceries — you dig into your pantry and you really try to stick to the food you already have. You’d be amazed what you can get away with. It’s a great opportunity to see what you have lurking in the pantry — and who doesn’t have frozen meats tucked away in the freezer? Let’s face it, if you don’t use it, it’s going to go bad and that’s wasting money.
3. Once a week, tally your perishables. What’s about to go bad? The most expensive ingredient in your house is the one you throw away. I don’t care how cheap it was when you bought it, if you throw it away, that’s the biggest loss.
What ingredients do you use the most in your pantry at home?
MDA: Whole-grain pasta is such a go-to for me. It’s one of those ingredients that when I don’t have it, it’s on my list to stock up. It cooks up quick and it’s so versatile. I also love dried beans. They can be the star of a main dish or a perfect side dish. You’ll always find black and white beans in my pantry.
My favorite part of the book is the index in the back that lists recipes by cost code. Tell me more about this concept.
MDA: My editor and I gave a lot of thought to this. I wanted the readers to do exactly what the title said: create a $10 dinner. I was providing really great and well-thought-out recipes, but the one thing I wasn’t doing was equipping someone to make their own $10 dinner menu.
The idea is this: Even with a $10 dinner, sometimes my main dish is the most expensive part of the meal, sometimes I have side dishes or desserts that are — they’re allocated out differently. Even within the world of $10 dinners, if someone picks the most expensive main, the most expensive appetizer and the most expensive dessert — it won’t be $10 then. If I pick a main, I’ll know approximately how much money I have left to work with according to the dot system I created. With this system, you know which recipe costs more money, and I’ve included an index in the back to find recipes by the dot.
It’s not just about adding up to five dots. For example, someone may chose a four-dot main dish, so what can they make that’s one dot? Check the index. And if you want to break through the $10 price range, choose only three- and four-dot dishes.
What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given to you?
I remember Bobby Flay said to me early on in my career, “What I like about you is that you get it. The fact you’re on TV means nothing. You have to show up, do the work and make a difference.” He told me that, but I also see it in him. It spoke to my spirit. I really believe that you have to show up and do the work. It’s fun being on TV, but what really matters is the information — how can you help somebody make their day a little better?