After having opportunity to participate in a telephone conference call with Melissa d'Arabian, the new winner of The Next Food Network Star and host of Ten Dollar Dinners, I realized I had so much wonderful information I needed to do a two part post. The first post focused on Melissa's path to the NFNS. This post will focus on cooking tips, particularly aimed towards moms with children.
1) Respect your child's palate
A lot of families, including mine, have the "one bite" rule. But Melissa takes it one step farther and gave it a name, No Thank You Bites. Her four daughters, Valentine, 4, Charlotte, 3 and Margaux and Oceane her almost 2 year old twins, know that they are expected to take one bite but after that they are allowed to say "No Thank You." That doesn't mean that her children take one bite of everything and they're done. Melissa always makes sure that there's something on their plate they like to eat.
2) Take your kids grocery shopping.
Melissa say what???? Has she seen my 2 year old Emma in a grocery store? But Melissa says she takes her girls and lets them help shop for their food. Favorite stop? The produce department. She lets each girl pick a fruit or vegetable of her choice and then Melissa picks a recipe using the child's chosen veggie. Her daughter Valentine's current favorite vegetable? Bok Choy. My 12 year old Julia's favorite vegetable? Corn. Um, yeah I think we need to hit the produce aisle.
3) Let your kids help you cook
Another way to get your kids to buy into what they're eating is to let them help you cook. Melissa sits her girls around her kitchen island and gives them their own bowls and spoons, cutting boards and plastic knives and lets them make a smaller version of what she's making. She also gives her children muffin tins to fill. One great example of this is her 5-Minute Individual Potato Gratins (recipe below) which she prepared in her mini pilot. By having her children participating she knows where they are while she's cooking and she's teaching them the love of preparing a meal.
I have always let my children help me cook but they didn't have their own cooking utensils. (I'm not sure why, it seems like a no brainer.) With 4 little ones there often isn't enough spoons or rolling pins, or whatever is needed for everyone. So being inspired, within an hour after getting off our conference call I loaded the 3 smaller kids up in the van and we headed out to Bed Bath and Beyond. Each small child is now the proud owner of a mini cutting board, wooden spoon, mini whisk, mini measuring cup and a bowl. After nap time we hit the kitchen island and they made mini white cakes with chocolate powdered sugar frosting which they made themselves. They were beyond excited. (A blog post to follow with pictures. And is anyone else sensing a mini theme?)
4) A gallon size ziplock bag can be your best friend
Well, when it comes to cooking away. If a zip lock bag is your real BFF, we need to talk because that's beyond sad, it's down right creepy.
When cooking with kids a mess free way to let them help you mix something is to throw it into a ziplock bag, seal it up and let them mix. Ziplock bags can also be used to store and hold a wide variety of things from pie crust dough to marinades.
5) Inexpensive doesn't mean cheap
The judges favorite dish in the Miami $1000 dinner party challenge was the meal on Melissa's first show of Ten Dollar Dinners, Potato Bacon Tort. It's dish that "feels luxurious and is extremely satisfying" but it's also budget friendly. Melissa believes that an inexpensive dish doesn't have to taste like one.
One trick to use when looking for inexpensive meals is to shop the produce department for the best prices. The more plentiful the produce (meaning it's in season) the more inexpensive the produce will be meaning your buying the best flavored produce for less. One great example of this is tomatoes. Tomatoes are my absolute favorite vegetable (fruit) but I only buy them in the summer. Those winter tomatoes are like eating plastic. Bleh. Hey no worries, Melissa's got us covered. But what am I going to do with all those chicken nuggets?
Yield: 4-6 servings
- Vegetable spray
- 2 large russet potatoes, roughly peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Spray 8 muffin tins with vegetable spray. Layer potato slices, cheese, and onions into each muffin cup. Season with salt and pepper and top each gratin with 1 or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, removing the foil halfway through cooking time. Invert gratins onto plate and serve.
** Recipe and photo courtesy of Food Network