This weekend, Atlanta welcomes Chef Sara Moulton as she arrives to judge Aetna’s Healthy Food Fight at Taste of Atlanta and to teach a class at The Cook’s Warehouse in Brookhaven. Sara recently released her third book, Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners. I had the opportunity to talk with her about her newest book, her career and a few of her guilty pleasures.
Q: How did you decide on the theme for your newest book?
A: It’s actually sort of a continuation of my last book, which was Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals. It’s also what I’ve really been focusing on in general — when I did the TV show on the Food Network and in most of my work — it’s family dinner. Even though I am a trained chef, I’ve always had family dinner. I just want everybody to have family dinner. I work full time and then come home and make dinner, just like anybody else. So, I tried to take advantage of all of the things that I’ve learned as a home cook and a mom and a wife to share with everybody else. But in the last book and in this book I realized that we all tend to make the same 5-10 dishes over and over and over again. So, I tried to rethink dinner. I just thought it would be more fun. So, that’s why we have breakfast for dinner, soup for supper, substantial sandwich, stuff like that.
Q: In the introduction to the book, you wrote that you cooked three entrées a night for nine months when you were testing recipes for the book. Can you talk a little about that process?
A: I wouldn’t start from scratch on all three entrées. I had a partner on the book who tested the recipes at my house. Because on my first book, my partner tested them elsewhere and that just didn’t work. I just need it in-house and to be able to taste them. So, she would get it up to the point where I would finish the dishes. If she could finish the whole thing, she would and we tasted together when I got home from work and we would discuss it. But a lot of times, I didn’t want her to finish it because it wouldn’t be in the right stage for tasting. So, I’d have all three going at once. And the reason it was all entrées is because the book is all entrées except for one chapter on side dishes and one chapter on desserts. But it would get quite stressful because every night I would start cooking at 6:00. It’s like this race with these three burners going or even more to just get everything done in time for us to sit down for dinner at 7:30. But [my family was] my tasting panel, so it was a good thing. It’s good to have real people eating it. And me making it in real time for dinner.
Q: At The Cook’s Warehouse Class on Monday, will you be doing recipes from your book? What strategies will you be highlighting from your book in terms of re-imagining dinner?
A: Yes. I am doing a sampling. I am making two dishes that are entrées, to try to get people to think differently. Again, let’s stop making the same 5 or 10 boring dishes.
For dinner, I am making breakfast-for-dinner crepes. They’re stuffed with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and gruyere cheese. And I’m doing that not only to illustrate breakfast for dinner, but I want to get people making crepes again. I think they are a wonderful thing to have in the freezer because you can stuff them with anything. Let’s say you just have a bunch of leftovers. You roll them up in the crepes, pop them in the oven and you’ve got dinner.
The second thing I’m making is a chicken pot pie soup. So, it’s a creamy, hearty chicken soup with lots of vegetables. We don’t actually do a pie topping. I actually make lavash — lavash being flatbread — croutons. So that’s sort of fun. Really, I’m just trying to get people to think differently about dinner. Differently in the sense of doing something more creative because then it’s more interesting for you.
And I believe I’m doing the warm chocolate cheesecake for dessert. I have a dessert chapter and I think everybody likes to have dessert. But the point of that is to get people to eat cheesecake when it’s warm because it’s delicious.
Q: You have done a number things in your career — you’ve worked in restaurants, you’ve worked as an instructor, worked in TV, with magazines. Is there anything left you would like to achieve in your career?
A: I’d like to do more of all of the same. But one thing I haven’t done is radio. I’d love to do radio. I think that would be fun. I think radio is much harder than TV, actually. Because on TV you have props. You’re cooking with something and you look down at your apple or pepper grinder and it prompts you to talk and say something about that. Whereas on the radio, there are no props. I think it would be fun to do radio. Other than that, I’m very happy with what I’ve done. I’d like to do more with my website. I’m working on that. More blogging and more useful stuff on my website.
Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures — foods you can’t live without?
A: Cheese and wine. I like to have wine with dinner. I keep it in moderation. Even though I talk about eating too much, I am a pretty moderate person. I can have a little bit – I used to drive my sister crazy because when we were kids, I loved sugar. Now I seem to not need it so much. But, I could eat one piece of chocolate from the box. And, she’d say, “How do you do that?” I said, “I just savor it.” I’m pretty good at that.
You know if you want to say one really junkie thing, not that I have to have it in my house, but it’s junkie and I like it anyway, is peanut M&M’s. And Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, that’s awfully good, too.
Having had a chance to preview Sara’s newest book, last night I tested a recipe from it. The Spicy Sweet Potato Soup recipe seemed perfect for the season, despite our unseasonably warm weather. The soup had a silky texture and packed lots of spice. The recipe calls for using a half or whole chipotle pepper. I used a whole one. When I make it again, I might dial back the spice a bit, particularly if I plan to serve it to my children.
In the recipe, garlic rye croutons top the soup. The croutons were my favorite part of the recipe. Their crunch provided a nice textural contrast to the smoothness of the soup. I would definitely make the recipe again and would likely play with it a bit, as I am wont to do. I might use bacon or add some additional vegetables such as carrots or bell peppers.
Spicy Sweet Potato Soup with Garlic Rye Croutons
(Abbreviated from Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners) Courtesy of Sara Moulton
Garlic Rye Croutons
For additional explanation and the full recipe, see Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.
You can also still get your ticket to Sara Moulton’s class at The Cook’s Warehouse on Monday, October 25th from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. The class is at the Brookhaven location and costs $85. A copy of Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners is included in the ticket price. Books can be personalized at the event.
– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.