Food & Drink Dinner belle

The Food Network’s Sara Moulton is never too busy to cook the family meal

Thirty-five minutes total prep time? Impossible, I thought as I set out to make John’s Stuffed Chicken Marsala. Surprisingly, the butter-browned, fontina and prosciutto stuffed breasts were on the table in 30 ... with a little help from my husband. What I would normally view as a Sunday dinner because of its complexity was an easy weekday delight.

This quick-fix gourmet is the crux of Sara Moulton’s new cookbook, Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals. Moulton, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in the ’70s, has long been a respected voice in the food world, with stints behind the scenes on Julia Child & More Company and Good Morning America. Now executive chef for Gourmet magazine by day, Food Network personality by night, Moulton’s busy schedule inspired the 200 “quick and easy” dinner recipes in her book. This Sunday, Moulton’s quick-fire talent will be showcased at the San Antonio March of Dimes’ annual culinary gala, Signature Chefs, and a book signing at Central Market. In the midst of a West Coast book signing last week, she squeezed in some time to talk to the Current about Sara’s Secrets.

Regardless of her tight schedule, each evening Moulton gets her family’s dinner on the table by 7 p.m. Pulling off this regimented agenda, she says, means planning ahead, getting the kids to lend a hand, and keeping a well-stocked pantry. By “pantry,” Moulton means the basics: canned and dry goods, perishables, and frozen food. Her quotidian cupboards and fridge must burst at the seams, much like my mother’s kitchen does before Thanksgiving.

Moulton shrugs off complaints that cooking is too time consuming. Yes, she admits, home cooking may seem like “a very old fashioned thing,” but she relates the creativity of cooking to a science experiment or an art project. Plus, as this working mom notes in the introduction to her cookbook, cooking brings the whole family together.

“I love to eat. It makes me

happy. There’s nothing

controversial about food.”

– Sara Moulton

If you don’t have little ones to put to work, Moulton recommends a high-quality food processor such as KitchenAid or Cuisinart. “It really will make your life easier,” she asserts. “Sautéed grated carrots take just three minutes in the pan. With a splash of lemon and a pinch of red-pepper flakes, you’re ready to go.”

Moulton dedicates a chapter — aptly titled “Shop and Serve” — to shortcuts. In it, she suggests taking advantage of supermarket salad bars that provide cut-up vegetables, and eschews the habit of prepping food ahead of time. “My favorite word is ‘meanwhile,’” she laughs at her multi-tasking technique.

Moulton finds comfort in cooking. “I love to eat. It makes me happy,” she says of her philosophy at the stove. Which is why she believes food television has enjoyed a surge since 9/11. When the twin towers fell, the Food Network suspended her show, Cooking Live. After a week of coaxing by viewers begging for distractions, it was back on the air featuring traditional comfort foods. “There’s nothing controversial about food,” Moulton says.

The resurgence of cooking as a hobby excites Moulton. When pressed for advice for the amateur chef, Moulton exclaims, “Just do it! This is not rocket science. Take the plunge and start cooking.”

Signature Chefs 2005
6pm Sun, Nov 20
Westin La Cantera
I-10 and Loop 1604
March of Dimes

Sara Moulton
Book Signing
1pm Sat, Nov 19
Central Market
4821 Broadway

She recommends starting with the “Soup for Supper” chapter. Her recipe for charred tomato, chicken, and tortilla soup is a perfect beginner’s recipe. “You don’t even have to use a knife,” Moulton says.

Perusing Sara’s Secrets is inspiring. Recipes such as crispy pumpkin ravioli made with Asian wonton wrappers and a brie, bacon, and spaghetti frittata pique both appetite and curiosity — and both recipes have prep times of 45 minutes.

With all the low-carb fad diets on the market, Moulton’s internationally inspired comfort food is more than welcome. “I eat all the food groups in three square meals a day,” she tells me of her traditional approach to nutrition, and, by the look of her slight 5-foot frame, the variety in her diet seems to work. In her introduction, Moulton borrows from Julia Child’s philosophy: Eat everything you want — but no seconds. It’s a tough rule to heed when Moulton’s asparagus and goat cheese soufflé is staring you in the face.

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