All Posts By Melissa d'Arabian

Melissa d'Arabian Mom of four Melissa d'Arabian is a trusted expert on affordable and healthy family home cooking. Well-known for Ten Dollar Dinners — her Food Network show and New York Times best-selling cookbook — she also hosts the FoodNetwork.com series The Picky Eaters Project and serves as a lead judge on Guy's Grocery Games. Her new cookbook, Supermarket Healthy, is available now. www.melissadarabian.net

In Defense of Bean Night: Save Big and Eat Well (Plus 6 Ways to Get Started)

by in Family, Food Network Chef, February 20th, 2014

Pasta with Salsa CrudaEvery budget shopper knows that dried beans are downright cheap. So when I’m thinking about inexpensive, but healthful, meals to feed my family (and let’s face it, I spend a lot of time thinking about just that), it’s impossible not to place this versatile little nutritional gem front and center on the menu. Thus, I created “Bean Night.”

It started 10 years ago when Philippe went back to graduate school and we transitioned from having two steady incomes to having suddenly none (plus a very expensive tuition bill and a baby on the way). I watched every penny, so I created a handful of uber-cheap dinners that I could feel good about eating — meals that cost about $5 to make. My plan was to rotate these extra-cheap meals into our weekly menu plan to save money.

It worked.

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Chili for a New Jersey Winter

by in Food Network Chef, February 8th, 2014

Chili for a New Jersey WinterI’m writing this from the cozy comfort of a hotel room in a small town in New Jersey. Outside the trees are covered in snow. Having gone to college in Vermont, I’m used to the freezing temps and white-covered streets and sidewalks.

After I checked into the near-empty hotel, with only the small room service menu as my sustenance for the next 18 hours, I peeled off my puffy jacket and turned to the in-room dining page in the hotel binder. In seconds, I found exactly what I would order: the homemade chili and a green salad. (See my Starting a New Habit in 2014: Eat a Salad a Day post from last month — are you still eating salad? I am.)

Bundled up in my new pajamas (a Christmas gift from my daughters) and eating better-than-I-expected chili (and a salad) — all is right with my world. Why? Because there are certain foods that truly bring me comfort in the dead of winter: chili, onion soup and stew top my list. And while I can make those dishes any time, there is something magical about eating them on a snowy day. I think these comforting dishes remind me of my college years at The University of Vermont. My mom would visit me and we’d go on New England road trips, eating steamy soups and stews to thaw the chill (she went through a photography stage involving a lot of outdoor postcard-type shots, which she would subsequently frame and hang in our home).

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Marking the Joy of Another Year — How the d’Arabians Do Birthday Season

by in Family, Food Network Chef, January 24th, 2014

Zucchini Muffins with Orange-Maple GlazeIt’s officially birthday season in the d’Arabian household: Two of my daughters, my husband, my brother-in-law and two nephews (who live a few houses away) all have birthdays within a three-week period. (Come to think of it, maybe we just have a big family?)

Birthdays are a celebration of another year — a year filled with loving one another, laughing, good times, tough times and being connected. The candles on the cake remind us that life is in session and we are participating. And the number of candles isn’t the only reminder (“Mom, your cake has so many candles it’s going to catch fire!”). How we celebrate also speaks to the passage of time. It seems like just yesterday we were lighting a “1″ candle on a cupcake that my daughter couldn’t have cared less about and giving her gifts that she lacked the dexterity to open. The princess party years breezed by, although if you had asked me as I stood in line, yet again, at Disney Store for the latest sparkly costume, I was sure they wouldn’t. Last week, a new milestone: our first “real” boy/girl party. Valentine turned 9 and wanted an evening party, including dinner and a dance area on our patio.

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Starting a New Habit in 2014: Eat a Salad a Day

by in Food Network Chef, Recipes, January 9th, 2014

Starting a New Habit in 2014: Eat a Salad a DayI’d like to commit to having a salad a day this year. Who is with me?

Perhaps I should back up and start with a confession: I’m not a naturally disciplined person. Left to my devices, I will sleep until 10am, lounge about in sweats all day, never work out and order in spicy Thai food until my palate finally forces me to switch to a day of pizza(!). Yes, natural me is an ugly scene. That’s the bad news. The good news is I know this about me. And I also know how to create a life I really want, despite my human imperfections. What is the secret? It all comes down to one thing: creating habits that support the life I truly want to live that will circumvent my natural (read: lazier) tendencies. And what better time to start a new habit than now, amidst all the belly-gazing the new year inspires?

Why a salad a day? Why not an apple, as the saying goes? I’ve already done an apple a day for a year. It was brilliant and I still have an apple most days — proof that habits, even good ones, die hard, which is why it is doubly wise to choose our habits purposefully. Back to our salad, I feel better when I eat raw vegetables. I have more energy, my skin is clearer, my body feels leaner and I feel generally healthier. Committing simply to “eat more raw veggies” in the new year would be to trust my whims to lead me to a crudite plate night after night. As I mentioned before, I know myself. The first week, I would be making a gorgeous platter with elegant zucchini spears, cutely bulbous tiny heirloom tomatoes and mini sweet peppers perfect for scooping up a low-fat yogurt dip. But by the end of the month, I’d be pulling a baby carrot from the leftover dregs of my daughter’s lunchbox, mentally checking off the veggie resolution box. Not good.

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3 Surprising New Year’s Celebration Ideas

by in Food Network Chef, Holidays, December 27th, 2013

3 Surprising New Year's Celebration IdeasI adore everything that New Year’s Eve represents: fresh starts, resolutions and Harry running through the streets of New York City to kiss crinkly-faced Sally at midnight. My one gripe is that the critical moment happens too late for my circadian rhythm. Still, I love the holiday too much to ignore it, blithely heading to bed at 10pm and casually waking up the next morning, as if the whole year didn’t just change. That feels wrong. Instead, I’ve developed my own system for celebrating the New Year with gusto, within the confines of a reasonable bedtime. I’d like to say that I have developed my New Year celebration strategies for the benefit of my four young daughters. But, the unapologetic truth is, I’m just tired. I need my sleep. Having little ones at home is just a bonus excuse for not making it to the midnight toast. Anyone else relate? Whatever your reasons for hitting the hay early this year, I am pleased to share my three secrets to celebrating the new year’s arrival without having to actually witness it.

1. Pick a different time zone
I learned this one nine years ago when my (French) husband Philippe and I moved to the United States. On December 31, we still called all of our friends and family over in France at midnight (their time) to toast the New Year. We listened to their noisemakers and laughed along with their parties in full swing. We celebrated with them via phone, felt the joy of the upcoming year and hung up. I felt partied out a good half day before the ball would drop in Times Square. So, what started out as a phone call has turned into a yearly tradition with our daughters: We celebrate New Year’s as the French do, meaning in their time zone. We do a sit-down dinner complete with fancy-looking food for our whole family, toast each other with sparkling cider and call the family back in France at midnight, which is 3pm for us. And even I can stay up for that. For ideas on a few festive holiday dishes that will excite both kids and adults, try my recipes for Bacon Ranch Cream Cheese Wellington, a Carrot Hummus Platter and Chocolate Chip Biscookies.

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4 Mistakes You Don’t Have to Make This Holiday Season

by in Food Network Chef, Holidays, December 5th, 2013

Classic Apple TartsI love the excitement of the holiday season, and I even crave a bit of the chaos that comes with being pulled in a million directions. Still, I like to keep (most of) my sanity, especially in the kitchen, which I like to consider my own little haven. Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make in the holiday kitchen, along with a quick fix for each one.

1. Edible gifts: There’s nothing like getting a tasty homemade gift!
The big mistake: making them at the last minute. One year I decided to make all my neighbors Homemade Apple Tarts (pictured above). Everyone loved them, but they needed to be made and delivered fresh, which meant I was up all night making pie after pie.

The fix: Take a tip from those high-end croissant dough delivery places and give frozen (un)baked goods. My Scones can be whipped up in a flash, flavored according to your preferences, cut into triangles and frozen unbaked. Give them frozen so the recipients can bake them according to their schedule.

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5 Ways to Include the Kids in Holiday Meals

by in Family, Holidays, November 21st, 2013

5 Ways to Include the Kids in Holiday MealsI don’t want to scare you, but Thanksgiving is one week from today. Until now, I have purposely ignored all the too-early holiday decorations put out by overeager stores. I don’t mean to be a Scrooge. I just don’t want to get sick of the holidays because I love them so dearly. So I systematically turn my cart down another aisle anytime I catch even the tiniest glimpse of a twinkling light or bit of tinsel when I’m shopping. (Am I alone in shielding my fall from winter so vociferously?) My point is: If you do the same, this is your official alert to wake up and smell the pumpkin pie. It’s officially the holiday season.

Some readers have already been asking me about family traditions: Who does the cooking? How do I include my kids? Since my head is out of the sand and I’m fully embracing the season, I thought today would be a great time to answer those questions with some tips and ideas on how to include the kiddos in the holiday cooking (and eating!). And given that I have a couple of pickier eaters in my brood, I’m throwing in some extra pointers on that front too.

Get my top five ways to include the kids in holiday meals

Celebrating My Favorite Fall Ingredient: Coconut Oil

by in Food Network Chef, November 7th, 2013

Coconut OilSome of you know that I live in San Diego, which I love. You may also know (if you read my post on pumpkin puree) that I feel a little left out of the fall rituals that I cherished during my years living back East — pulling out the cardigans, folding up and putting away all my “summer clothes,” switching to roasted dinners, eating winter squash (I just had perfect watermelon, and it’s November!). But I had a glimmer of a cold front arriving the other day. I hopped out of the shower, grabbed my jar of coconut oil, and it was solid. You see, coconut oil melts at 76 degrees F, so it has been probably 10 months since I’ve seen solid coconut oil in my home. I can officially join the rest of the country celebrating autumn. Solid coconut oil is my personal version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte — it lets me know it’s OK to start my holiday shopping.

Coconut oil is perhaps the most purchased and used oil in my house, because I use it in the kitchen and as a beauty product; I have one jar in the pantry and one in my bathroom. This versatile oil is solid at comfortable room temperature, but its low melting point means it is usually on the brink of melting. This is actually a huge plus, because it can act like solid fats (butter, shortening) in a cool room, but just adding a few more degrees of heat will enable you to treat it like almost any other oil (with an amazing subtle taste). So if you want to cook with it as a solid (try replacing some of the shortening or butter in crust), then you would likely want to chill it a little in the refrigerator (or just keep your kitchen cold). If you want to cook with coconut oil as a flavorful substitute for other oils (try sauteing carrots in coconut oil with some shallots and chipotle powder), then you can just spoon out the oil and let it melt in a pan — or pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. To use coconut oil as a beauty product, I just scoop out a little and place it in my palm, where it melts from my skin’s heat within seconds.

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Besides Winter, 6 Reasons to Love Soup

by in Family, Food Network Chef, October 24th, 2013

6 Reasons to Love SoupI’ve always had the dream of being that mom on the block who just always happens to have a big kettle of brothy soup simmering on the stove, on the off-chance that the neighborhood kids playing kickball in the street want to come in out of the cold and warm up to a steamy mug of goodness. Word would spread, and perhaps some neighbors would drop by, lured by the savory smells wafting out of our always-opening front door. I’d smile warmly (I’m certain I wouldn’t be on a work deadline of any sort), and I’d hand them a bowlful of liquid heaven, along with a hunk of crusty bread for dipping.

Turns out, though, my four girls don’t play kickball, and I don’t allow them in the street anyway. Plus, as I type, just days from November, I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Soup is a year-round affair, if you ask me, but even here in San Diego, fall and winter seem to call for it all the more. Everyone loves soup this time of year, right? It makes us feel comforted and cozy. But in case you needed them, here are six more reasons to love soup:

1. Soup’s a no-brainer way to lose weight.
Yes! Did you know there are studies showing that simply starting meals with a healthy soup promotes weight loss? I love habits that do the work for me. All you have to do is adopt the habit. Why not start with my White Gazpacho or the Roasted Tomato Winter Gazpacho in my cookbook?

5 more reasons to love soup

Five (More) Reasons to Love Dessert

by in Family, Food Network Chef, October 10th, 2013

Melissa d'Arabian: Five (More) Reasons to Love DessertI have a sweet tooth, so my favorite part of a meal is dessert. In addition to being sweet and fabulous, though, dessert can be a great strategic player in helping picky eaters becoming more adventurous. And I don’t mean in the old-school “clean your plate so you can eat dessert” sort of way.

Here are five dessert strategies that I use in our household to combat picky eating:

1. Encourage an adventurous palate.
Most kids love dessert. So if you serve a child who loves cookies a new kind of cookie (say, an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie instead of her normal favorite gingersnap), she will probably dig it. And then you can have a conversation about how fun it was to try something new. (If she doesn’t go for the swap, no big deal, because dessert is an optional course; there’s no risk of you caving in and becoming a short-order cook.)

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