Author Q&A 2015

How was writing your fourth book different from the first three?

I would like to think that this time around I was less stressed, even if it was just a little. I knew the process, I knew what questions my editor was going to ask me, I knew what problems we’d had in production previously, and so I tried to cut those off at the pass. Unexpected glitches still came up, but I felt like I had a better sense of where I was going.

What non-essential kitchen appliances do you think are the best investments?

I have five or six favorites that I would consider “essential”, but that are probably not absolutely necessary to make a good meal happen. I didn’t have any of them when we went to France for a month, and we still ate. At home I really rely on a food processor, immersion blender, panini press, electric griddle, rice cooker, and a slow cooker. All of these help me immensely in regular meal prep.

How do you encourage your family to help out in the kitchen?

Pretty much everyone in the family loves to cook and/or bake. We didn’t really do much to “encourage” it other than make cooking and baking a regular thing we did with our kids as soon as they could stand on two feet.

My 18-year old son is very health-minded and cooks a lot of great meals. My 8-year old daughter loves to bake. No one minds cooking, it’s the cleaning that’s a problem! Haha! Every child has a regular kitchen job with chores rotating monthly.

In the book, you mention having a list of emergency meals that you know by heart and are always ready to cook. What recipes are on your go-to list?

I have a lot of non-recipe recipes: tacos, burritos, beans and rice, pasta with red sauce, pasta with alfredo. I also make a lot of chicken stir fries. I just throw stuff in a pan ’til I like it.

How do you prevent food or ingredients going to waste in your kitchen?

This is an ongoing challenge and one of the biggest ways I think a person can save money on food: reduce waste. I try to serve most leftovers for lunches the next day. Cleaning the fridge and pantry on a regular basis helps remind me what we have. Doing a Pantry Challenge every six months or so helps us use up those bits of random things.

How do you keep grocery shopping light and enjoyable?

I love grocery shopping, so that’s not a problem except when it comes to how many people are shopping with me and which stores I go to. My kids share my passion for food so most of them want to come along at one time or other. It’s easier to go by myself or with just one or two.

Walmart is not my favorite place to shop, but it’s the cheapest game in town on some things. I solve that by going early in the morning. I’ve had the store all to myself in the middle of the December rush — when I go at 6 am.

I don’t love shopping at Costco, either, though I love their prices. My husband is willing to make that stop for me on his way home from work.

Which recipes from the book are the most popular with your kids? In general, is it rare that all six of them will love a certain dish?

It’s hard to narrow it down to most popular, but the Alfredo Noodles are always a big hit as well as the Marsala Fried Chicken. The Pork Medallions are one of our special occasion dinners. The Loaded Potato Soup is another that everyone gobbles down.

I can count on at least four kids loving anything that my husband and I love. The other two are loose cannons sometimes. But, they all love sauerkraut, a favorite of my childhood that my husband doesn’t care for. It’s a running joke at our house. I usually serve it on workdays when he’s not home.

How do you choose the most economical option at the grocery store while still making sure it’s good quality?

I keep an eye on the sales and stock up when my preferred item is on sale. I also lean on Trader Joe’s quite a lot. Because of the guarantees they offer on the quality of ingredients in their Joe brands, I can kind of relax while I’m shopping.

Where do you draw your inspiration for creating new recipes?

I often try to healthify old standards or make takeout favorites easier to make at home. I might also tweak a classic dish in a new, more widely approved way. For instance, I love patty melts and I love most of the ingredients in a Reuben — except the corned beef. So, I did a smashup of a patty melt and those traditional Reuben toppings. It’s such a great sandwich. My kids love it.

What’s the one recipe ingredient you depend on regularly (besides staple items like salt and pepper)?

Currently, I am really into individually-frozen chicken tenders from Trader Joe’s. In my old
age, I’ve gotten forgetful about thawing things in the freezer. If I have a bag of chicken
ready to go, I don’t have to worry about it. They cook so well from frozen; they never get tough. While they are just a tad more expensive than the big packages of chicken
breasts, their convenience helps me avoid fast food on those nights when my other plans
go awry.

Are there any ingredients that are worth it to splurge on and buy organic?

Grocery prices have fluctuated so much over the years, it’s really hard to give a hard and fast answer on this. When the organic variety is out of my price range, I lean on the Clean Fifteen and avoid the Dirty Dozen. I would love to buy all organic, but it’s just not doable for us. I focus on items that are free of added hormones, when possible.

What foods should you buy vs make at home? (salad dressings, condiments, bread, etc).

My heart is with homemade. I love making my own salad dressings, pasta sauce, salad dressings, spice mixes, and baked goods. I can almost always make those items healthier, cheaper, and tastier when I make them myself. My husband and daughters make homemade corn tortillas and we are just getting into making our own Asian “fake-out”. Homemade is a great way for us to enjoy restaurant flavors on a budget.