As a mom of four, I’m a big fan of cooking with my kiddos. It demystifies ingredients (particularly healthy ones), teaches them an important skill (cooking our own food) and encourages a more adventurous palate. Perhaps my favorite part of cooking with my daughters, though, is the quality time I get with them, either as a group or one-on-one. Cooking requires just enough concentration to keep us all engaged, while leaving enough space for those open-ended conversations that turn into special mom-daughter moments I treasure. If you are looking for your child to open up about school or life in general, cook with him or her and watch the magic happen.
Tag: Melissa d’Arabian
Summer is in full swing, and that means most of us are firing up that backyard grill. If you are shying away from grilling, or just want a refresher course on the basics of grilling, then keep reading. Here are my top 10 tips for excellent summer grilling.
1. Start with a clean grill. Don’t let last night’s salmon skin impart a fishy-char flavor to tonight’s chicken breasts. Use a sturdy metal brush to clean off the grates in between uses. (This is easiest when the grill is hot.)
2. Don’t move the food around. In general, the fewer times you flip something, the better (once is ideal for most meats). If the meat is stuck to the grill, let it cook more — it will unstick itself when it’s ready for flipping.
I have a confession: I absolutely LOVE grocery shopping. This is a bit unexpected, since I’ve never enjoyed going to the mall, even as a teenager when my desire to master (pre-Atari) Pac-Man meant hours at the mall arcade. But the grocery store? I love it! I get lost in studying the merchandising and sales strategies, and can completely lose track of time browsing the shelves checking out SKUs. (I suppose this is why I have the job that I do.)
My favorite section of the grocery store is the produce aisle, and I want to make it yours, too. Here are five reasons why the fruit-and-veggie section of the grocery store plain old ROCKS:
1. What’s cheapest is what is best.
We operate with the assumption that if something costs more, it’s better. And often, that is true! But not in the produce aisle. When a particular vegetable or fruit is in season, the price goes way down due to the “overstock” at the “factory” — simple supply-and-demand economics. (Side note: Wouldn’t it be great if this were true everywhere? I’d love to get a Cadillac for less money than a used Chevrolet.)
Takeaway: Follow the sales in the produce aisle not only to save money but also to get the highest quality!
Last time we chatted, I shared how a typical morning unfolds as we judges prepare for heading to set to film the actual show. So if you missed Part 1, click here.
Lights, Camera, Action
The chefs are introduced and then jog through the grocery store to join Guy in front of the kitchens, just as you see on TV. The chefs are told which game they are playing, and they scoot around to their carts. At that point, we stop down (stop filming) for just a minute or two to make sure the chefs truly understand the rules of that particular game. But that lasts only moments, which is woefully too short to plan out a menu. Guy then counts them off and they run with their carts. Here’s a little inside scoop: The chefs always head down Aisle 6 first, so the cameras can capture that cool shot of all the chefs racing with their carts together. So even if they want to go to produce first, for instance, it’s only after they hit the magical Aisle 6. One thing that was a huge surprise to me when I cooked on GGG for a charity episode is how physically exhausting it is to run around that HUGE store! If you need something in Aisle 9, you’d better remember to get it while you’re there, because running back may not be an option timewise!
As a regular judge on Guy’s Grocery Games, the question I’m asked most frequently is, “Is it fun?” The short answer is YES. Being a part of GGG is truly a blast. So to give you an idea of why I love my job so much, I thought I would give you a little behind-the-scenes peek into the life of a GGG judge. Join me on a typical day.
6:40 a.m.: I wake up, five minutes ahead of my 6:45 a.m. “just-in-case” alarm. I drink the big bottle of water on my nightstand, splash water on my face, do a quick tooth-brushing, do 10 pushups to wake up, and throw a sweatshirt over my pajamas, slip some Toms onto my feet and head to the hotel restaurant for coffee. (Yes, I go to hotel lobbies and restaurants in my pajamas, sleep creases still in my cheek, and I hope I’m never too famous to do that.) Back in my room, I sip coffee, do my morning devotional, shower and dry my hair. One of the perks of this job is that I almost never have to factor in any makeup time before leaving. If I’m clean, that’s good enough.
Holidays mean family gatherings, gifts and meals together. And those things cost money. But the holidays shouldn’t be about overspending, so I leave you with my last post of 2015: six money-saving tips for the holidays.
1. Comparison-shop, even if you don’t usually think it’s worth it. Stores really go all out with “loss leaders” (advertised super-low prices on a few key items designed to get you in the door) during the holidays. Shopping at multiple stores may lead to your getting the absolutely bottom price, but you always have to balance the hidden costs (gas, time) of visiting multiple markets (which is why most of the year, it probably isn’t worth visiting three supermarkets). If you are hosting a big group for a holiday, spend a few minutes to compare stores’ flyers that come in the mail (or check online) to decide if an extra trip to another store is worth it. The larger the crowd, the more likely it is.
2. Buy gift cards — for yourself! Some major grocery stores promote their gift cards around the holidays with a bonus offer. For instance, you buy a $100 grocery store gift card and you get a $10 or $20 bonus card. Usually, the more you buy, the higher the bonus. Nothing is stopping you from using those gift cards to buy your groceries or holiday gifts, and using those bonus dollars yourself. Read more
I’m all for saving a buck. But more than that, I believe in spending with purpose and intent — saving where I can but splurging a bit where it counts. So as you go into your Thanksgiving holiday shopping, I’ve created a handy list to show you where to splurge and where to save on turkey-day groceries.
I’m starting with my favorite part of Thanksgiving: the stuffing. But just because it’s my favorite doesn’t mean I will spend a ton of money on it. Stuffing is mostly just dried bread — cheap! And bags of stuffing or dried bread are usually a “loss leader” in the grocery store around the holidays, meaning something the store sells really cheaply to get you in the door (and buying the rest of your full-price groceries). My cheapie hack: Buy the premade, inexpensive bread cubes, but add some homemade bread cubes you cut yourself from bakery bread. Swing by the day-old-bread rack (usually near the dairy aisle, not the bakery). For stuffing, you want your bread to be a day or two stale anywayso pick up a rich, dark bread or a tangy sourdough loaf to pump up the premade cubes; it will add homemade flavor and texture on the cheap.
Every Saturday we do a family movie or game night. On the menu is some version of a DIY dinner: Make your own pizza, build your own burrito bowl, taco night, you get the idea. Lately my kids are very into the baked potato bar. And because I love to buy potatoes in the 10-pound bag (compare the per-pound price and it’s hard to pass up that bag!), I am all for this fun and inexpensive movie night meal.
Now that I’m a bit of a potato bar expert with more than a few under my belt, I want to share some surprise bonuses to putting this on your menu. I mean, of course baked potatoes are tasty, but check out this list of truly awesome extras.
Bonus 1: Making a ton of potatoes doesn’t really take any longer than making a few. So this meal is ideal for slumber parties, classroom get-togethers and casual entertaining. The only limit is the size of your oven, and a standard oven fits a lot of potatoes.
Philippe and I took our family apple picking last weekend in a lush, green New Hampshire orchard, and my love for this perfectly crisp, juicy, sweet fruit has been renewed. Watching my sweet daughter Charlotte reach up to a tree heavy with ruby-red fruit and pluck her first apple ever warmed my heart. And seeing Océane nibble on two different apples — one in each hand, while the picking bag, full of fruit, hung heavy looped around her tiny forearm — had me smiling (and mentally preparing for the aftermath of letting four girls freely pick as many apples as they wished). I wondered just how many apples the Transportation Security Administration would let us stash in our carry-on suitcases (the answer: a lot, but only after being pulled out of line for a thorough swabbing of the 20 or so pounds of apples we packed).
During the past few days since our trip to the orchard, we’ve snacked on more apples than I thought possible, given apples to each of the girls’ teachers (and the girls’ teachers from last year, because why leave them out?) and we still have two huge fruit bowls brimming with apples of all kinds. We have tart, firm cooking apples, crisp eating varieties, thick-skinned greenish apples that I don’t recognize but love once I get past the reptile-like skin, trusty red apples and Golden Delicious apples. I’m baking up some basics: my favorite Classic Apple Tart (with an easy butter crust that’s unbelievably good!), a Quick Cinnamon Apple Tart (perfect for when I’m feeling rushed) and my Apple Crumble with Cardamom-Vanilla Caramel Sauce (pictured above). But apples don’t have to be just for sweets. I’ll add a cup or two of cubed (or julienned) apple to my Fennel and Cabbage Slaw or to my Asian Coleslaw (my personal favorite), where some apple will add just the right level of tangy, sweet and tart to complement the warm ginger and spicy Sriracha. And if we still have a few stragglers left next week that somehow didn’t make it into a recipe or someone’s mouth for an after-school snack, I’ll cube them up and simmer them in a bit of water with a cinnamon stick, a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of maple syrup (also from our New England trip) and make an easy, chunky compote. (Or you can blend up the mixture for a smoother applesauce.) Now I feel like autumn is official.
We are mere weeks into the school year — anyone else a little stressed already? I love routine and structure, but the first month or two can be a bumpy re-entry as we try to find our footing in a new schedule of activities and events.
When I am feeling a little overwhelmed, my natural instinct is to load up caffeine, simple carbs, processed foods, sodium and sugar — “anything to get through the day” is my default battle cry. But I play that scene through and I know it will compound the problem of overwhelming me with lethargy and fuzzy thinking. So, instead, I ignore that part of my inner self and cling to basic actions that have proven time and again to be exactly what I need during times of stress. I make sure my physical and emotional health are well-tended so that I have maximum personal resources to deal with the hecticness.
For me, that means fiercely protecting my morning devotionals, rather than hitting the snooze button. (Actually, if I need to set an alarm, that’s my body’s way of saying I’m not getting enough sleep, so I fix that, too.) I protect my exercise time, particularly if I think I don’t have the time to exercise. And on the food front, I up the Oomega-3 fatty acids in my diet. There are lots of studies out there that point us in the direction of Omega-3s for mood health, but that’s not why I turn to them. I do it because, quite simply, I feel better equipped to face the craziness of this messy life. My personal go-tos: tuna, salmon, sardines, eggs, shrimp, walnuts, strawberries, dark leafy greens, cabbage and cauliflower. I buy these ingredients and fill the dinner calendar with recipes starring them, and I cut down on processed foods, even eliminating them entirely if life is super-stressful. And it’s that simple.
Need some inspiration? Here are a few recipes that will get you started.