It happens all the time.
When people spot Food Network host and former Keller resident Melissa d’Arabian at the supermarket, they always assess the contents of her shopping cart — usually with long, appraising looks. They’re not even subtle about it, she says.
“Did you get the pork shoulder that’s on sale?” they ask. “Did you pick up the boneless, skinless chicken breast that’s $1.87 a pound?”
As author of a cookbook named after her popular show, Ten Dollar Dinners, d’Arabian is well-known for her thrifty approach to feeding a family.
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“They want to compare what they’re buying to what I’ve got in my cart,” she says. “It’s fun.”
But perhaps there’s another reason. Maybe they’re checking to see if d’Arabian practices what she preaches on TV? If so, they’ll find out that she’s the real deal.
Yes, she’ll have the bargain cuts of pork shoulder and chicken breast in her basket — and is likely to have picked up a few extras for the freezer. D’Arabian says winning the 2009 edition of The Next Food Network Star and her subsequent success with Ten Dollar Dinners hasn’t changed the way she operates.
“I shop the same way today as I always have,” she says. “I cook the same way. My pantry looks exactly the same.”
About the only new wrinkle is that d’Arabian has folded an extra ingredient into her message of budget-conscious cooking: Her second book, Supermarket Healthy (Clarkson Potter, $24.99) — released in December — shares recipes and kitchen ideas for eating well without spending a fortune.
Among the more than 130 recipes in the book are such dishes as almond waffles with raspberry-basil sauce; kale and white bean Caesar salad in a jar; rigatoni with turkey meatballs; and oven-baked crab cakes with tangy yogurt sauce — something to satisfy every type of eater.
“We all want to be health-conscious and feel good about what we’re feeding our families,” d’Arabian says. “But we’re busy and we’re on a budget. We don’t have time to go to a high-end gourmet store or specialty market. We don’t have unlimited bags of money to spend on our food.
“It can be overwhelming. So I wanted to bring in my real-life experiences about shopping at a local grocery store and still feeling good about what you’re eating....It doesn’t have to be tricky. It doesn’t have to require a huge outlay of money. That’s what Supermarket Healthy is all about. Because here’s the thing: Healthy food is only healthy if we eat it.”
It still boggles d’Arabian’s mind that she gets to have this forum. Before she won Season 5 of The Next Food Network Star, her job description was that of a stay-at-home wife and mother. Now Ten Dollar Dinners airs on Food Network at 12:30 p.m. every Monday through Thursday, while her 2012 book based on the show became a New York Times bestseller.
She also hosts a FoodNetwork.com series called The Picky Eaters Project, writes a nationally syndicated column titled The Healthy Plate and is in demand as a public speaker.
Perhaps the key to her success — the reason people value what she has to say — is that she lives the message she delivers. You’re not going to see TMZ calling d’Arabian out as a phony because there’s nothing to expose.
“If you’re going to go into TV as any kind of lifestyle expert, you have to go in with something that’s authentic to you,” she says. “TV is very transparent. If you’re leading two different lives, one that you play out for the public and the other that you live behind closed doors, it will eventually come out....You can’t keep it up. It would be exhausting to try.”
D’Arabian, 46, and Philippe, her husband of more than 10 years, currently live in Coronado, Calif., in San Diego County. They have four daughters — Valentine, Charlotte and twins Margaux and Océane — who routinely serve as Mom’s official taste testers. It has been five years since the d’Arabians moved away, but she says North Texas still has a special place in her heart.
“First of all, I had my twins there in Texas,” she says. “Half of my brood was born at Baylor Grapevine. That’s something you never forget....I’ve been back to Keller a few times. I did a book signing in Southlake a couple of years ago and a speaking engagement for the library when they expanded and did a fundraiser. All of my amazing friends and neighbors from those days were there. It was an emotional homecoming.
Meanwhile, food and cooking have been d’Arabian’s passion since she was 5 years old.
“My mom invited some of my kindergarten girlfriends and their moms to our house for hot cocoa and cookies and decorating the Christmas tree,” she says. “That one party — making cookies for that one little event — really sealed my love for cooking for people.”
Growing up in a household with a single mother who was putting herself through college and medical school, d’Arabian learned to live frugally. And those habits die hard.
Years later, when competing in the final of The Next Food Network Star and given an unlimited budget to come up with a dish that would wow the judges, d’Arabian won the title with a simple potato-bacon torte that cost just pennies per serving, and became living proof that a meal doesn’t have to be fancy to be great.
Is it any surprise that, after hitting the jackpot, she still sticks to the basics?
“The important things in my life have not changed,” d’Arabian says. “My relationship with my husband is exactly the same. My family is still the same family....It helps that no one in my family is impressed by the fact that I am on TV. They are supportive and they love me very much, but my career on TV infiltrates our inner circle very little.
“So who I am at the core is still the same. The inside stuff, the stuff that matters, doesn’t change.”
Recipes reprinted from Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and Know-How for Eating Well Without Spending a Lot by Melissa d’Arabian. Photographs by Tina Rupp.
Greek pork chops with zucchini and feta
Thin-cut, bone-in, lean pork rib chops cook in minutes and offer a hearty, meaty richness that can be extra satisfying. A pantry spice blend of dried oregano, thyme, and paprika seasons the chops, and the browned bits left in the pan later flavor the zucchini as it sautes. Choose chops that don’t have striations of fat in the meat; if they have a large fat cap, simply trim it off before cooking.
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
•1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick lean bone-in pork rib chops
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (basil, mint, or oregano is great, too)
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup finely crumbled feta cheese (about 2 ounces)
1. To season and cook the pork chops: Stir together the oregano, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set the pork chops on a cutting board and season both sides of each chop with the spice blend.
2. Heat a large skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Add the canola oil, and once it shimmers, add the chops. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, without moving the chops, until they are nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the chops and cook on the other side until browned and the centers resist light pressure, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. To cook the zucchini: Add the zucchini to the skillet with the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini softens, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the herbs, then transfer the zucchini to a medium bowl. Stir in the tomato, olive oil, and lemon juice, then sprinkle with the feta cheese.
4. Divide the zucchini among four plates and serve with the pork chops.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 244 calories, 16 grams fat, 4 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams protein, 61 milligrams cholesterol, 1,096 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 59 percent of calories from fat.
Cinnamon popovers with cream cheese glaze
Makes 12 popovers
My girls love all things related to a cinnamon roll, from the swirling and soft cinnamon-speckled dough to the sticky-sweet icing that slicks the top. One morning, Charlotte was begging me for cinnamon rolls, but I didn’t have time to make them, so I decided to put the flavors of a cinnamon roll into my trusty quick popover recipe. It couldn’t have been easier. There is just enough cinnamon sweetness to scratch that cinnamon bun itch for both kids and adults.
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup 2 percent milk, warmed, plus 2 tablespoons
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1. Place a 12-cup muffin tin on the middle rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Add the eggs and granulated sugar to a blender jar and mix on medium speed until light yellow. Add the 1 cup warmed milk and blend. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt and blend until smooth.
3. Use a pastry brush to grease the hot muffin tin generously with the melted butter. Add any remaining butter to the batter and pulse to blend. Pour the batter into the warmed muffin tin, filling the muffin cups about three-quarters full. Bake until the popovers are golden, about 20 minutes. (Do NOT open the oven door.) Turn off the oven, keep the oven door closed, and continue to bake the popovers until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the cream cheese with the confectioners’ sugar and the remaining 2 tablespoons milk until smooth. Remove the popovers from the oven. Use the tip of a paring knife to poke a tiny slit at the top of each popover (this will allow steam to escape, and will keep your popovers from getting soggy). Brush the popovers with the glaze and serve warm.
Nutritional analysis per popover: 104 calories, 4 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 45 milligrams cholesterol, 144 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 35 percent of calories from fat.
Roasted fruit and homemade ricotta
Setting out an assortment of sweet options for dessert, like homemade ricotta, fresh fruit, roasted fruit, toasted hazelnuts and honey for drizzling, is visually appealing and allows guests to pick and choose how much (or little) dessert they want.
2 cups 2 percent milk
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out with the tip of a paring knife (reserve the bean for another use or discard)
2 peaches, halved, pitted, and quartered
2 pears, seeded and quartered lengthwise
2 plums, pitted and quartered
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon lightly packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup hazelnuts
Honey of choice
1. To make the ricotta: Set a large fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Line the sieve with a dampened piece of cheesecloth. Pour both of the milks into a medium stainless steel or enameled pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Let the mixture set for 5 minutes (it will separate into curds and whey).
2. Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and drain until the ricotta is nice and thick, 20 to 25 minutes. Pour off and discard the water in the bowl occasionally (for thicker ricotta, drain longer).
3. Turn the ricotta out into a bowl and stir in the vanilla seeds. Use immediately or transfer the ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to five days.
4. To roast the fruit: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the peaches, pears, and plums to a large bowl and toss with the melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Place the fruit on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until slightly soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Roast the hazelnuts on a second rimmed baking sheet until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board to cool, then roughly chop.
5. Serve the ricotta alongside the roasted fruit, chopped hazelnuts and honey for drizzling.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 199 calories, 9 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 69 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 41 percent of calories from fat.
I love taking my kids to the farmers market, where we all compete to find the coolest vegetable or fruit to bring home. The extra few bucks I spend during an hour or two at the market still makes the outing cheaper than going to a movie. Ever since Océane discovered purple and yellow carrots at the market, they have been her favorite vegetable. So, whenever I can, I get the beautiful heirloom rainbow variety, mostly just to see the joy that they bring to my family.
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 large bunch young carrots (about 12 ounces or 8 to 12 slim carrots), preferably multicolored, peeled
2 teaspoons red curry paste
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook until they barely start to get golden, shaking the skillet often, for about 4 minutes.
2. Add the curry paste and shake the pan to roll the carrots in the paste until they are well coated. Pour in the chicken broth, cover the skillet, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam the carrots until a paring knife easily slides into the center of the largest one, 1 to 2 minutes for firm carrots or a few minutes longer if you prefer the carrots softer.
3. Uncover the skillet, add the salt and pepper, and let the sauce bubble down into a glaze, 1 or 2 minutes. Transfer the carrots to a plate.
4. Add the lime juice to the skillet, stirring it into the sauce, then immediately pour it over the carrots. Serve the carrots sprinkled with the basil.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 67 calories, 3 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 40 percent of calories from fat.