Veggie Carpaccios to Nectar's fries
- By Tom Weaver
to Nectar's fries
These are busy days for Melissa d’Arabian ’90. In addition to her work hosting Food Network’s “Ten Dollar Dinners” and Cooking Channel’s “Drop 5 lbs with Good Housekeeping,” she’s been on the road promoting her new book, Ten Dollar Dinners, which quickly made the New York Times bestseller list. Melissa, who Vermont Quarterly readers last checked in on when she won season five of “The Next Food Network Star,” took the time to share some college-student specific kitchen advice via an email interview.
Melissa lives with her husband and their four daughters in San Diego.
VQ: From the perspective of a student on a tight budget, what are a few key tips for saving money when shopping for food?
Melissa: Start in the produce aisle and buy what it cheapest there. Unlike most places in life, in the produce aisle, cheap = best quality in the produce aisle, because what’s cheapest is also what is in season. And what’s in season is what tastes the best.
Shift your thinking from “cost per bite” to “cost per nutrient.” Ramen noodles have long been a staple of college dorm cooking, and I’m not denying their late night post-party appeal. But perhaps consider buying a box of whole grain pasta (the kind with flaxseed and legumes added). You’ll pay an extra buck over a box of the cheapest pastas, but you’ll be getting fiber, protein, omega 3’s for what works out to be pennies a serving more.
VQ: Can you help student cooks venture beyond ramen noodles? Give us your pep talk for someone who thinks they might not have the time, skill, or money to make something that is nutritious and actually tastes good?
Melissa: Glad to see some things haven’t changed. I answered that question above before reading this one.
A great dorm tip beyond the hotpot: think raw! Buy a vegetable peeler to keep in your dorm room, and make a gazillion veggie carpaccios. Keep a few zucchinis, carrots, squash and make thin ribbons out of the vegetable. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper and let the acid soften the veggies. Top onto whole wheat crackers, and sprinkle with some parm cheese if you are feeling fancy (and have a little dorm fridge). This little treat will satisfy those late night salty-cheesy-nacho type cravings. Or get Nectar’s fries. Sometimes that’s also just the right thing to do.
VQ: Students in their first apartments don’t generally have state-of-the-art kitchens. What do you see as the essential tools, utensils to have on hand?
Melissa: You must have two good knives: a larger “chef’s knife” that can slice chicken, chop, etc. and one small paring knife that you can use for smaller tasks, like coring an apple.
VQ: What’s one recipe in “Ten Dollar Dinners” that you’d advise even the most novice cook to give a try?
Melissa: My four-step chicken. You can make it with almost anything, and all you need is a frying pan. And, if you find a chicken dish out at a restaurant that you love, you can ask the waiter what the main ingredients are, come home and make your own version using the four-step chicken approach. Fun fact: I made four-step chicken for my husband for our first home-cooked dinner date. So who knows what magic can happen.