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Sara Moulton urges people to get in the kitchen, try something new

Sara Moulton wants people to cook more and, frankly, doesn't buy that they don't have the time. It's more like they don't make the time, she says.

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"That drives me bananas. You can find the time to cook if you want to," she says. "Family dinner should take precedent. It's a matter of priorities."

Moulton, one of the first hosts on the Food Network when it launched in 1993, is nothing if not a cooking teacher and a cheerleader for home cooking. In fact, those qualities are her strong suit, so it's not surprising that her fourth cookbook, Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners (Simon & Schuster, $35) is long on instruction. And ideas.

If you're in a rut and want to try your hand at old-school scratch cooking with trendy but readily available ingredients, this is the cookbook for you. There's even a chapter with five-ingredient recipes (ham steak with hot raisin sauce, and baked shrimp stuffed with Italian sausage), plus another with inventive side dishes to bolster your vegetable intake (edamame mash, and garlicky green beans with shiitakes).

We talked with Moulton by phone from New York recently about the book and what she has been doing since Gourmet magazine folded last fall. She was its executive chef for more than two decades.

So, how is life after Gourmet?

I feel terrible for the whole world that it's gone. It was the core of my world for 25 years. I would never in a million years have left the magazine, but it left me. I don't have a regular job now though I looked for one because I got panicky. Then I found out I do like the freelance and drinking the whole pot of coffee.

What's ahead for you?

I may be working on a website and I am doing a special with Mission Tortillas that will air in July. And I am still the food editor of Good Morning America.

The last time we spoke, you said you hadn't seen Julie & Julia and you wondered how Meryl Streep would do playing your mentor. Have you seen it? What did you think?

I thought Meryl did a great job. Even though Julia hated Julie Powell's blog, she would have loved the movie.

Your Food Network show Sara's Secrets is on the new Cooking Channel. How does it feel to see an old show get new life?

I haven't seen anything on the new channel, but I wish they'd show Cooking Live (her second Food Network program). I loved that show. Though it might be weird since it was a call-in show.

What makes Everyday Family Dinners different from your other books?

The recipes are broader in scope. There are much more ingredients available in supermarkets now than when I did my last book. It's a more international country with larger Asian and Latin populations. There are all these new toys to play with in the supermarket and I want people to learn how to use them.

How long did it take to write the book?

I did my usual . . . 15 months to write. I turned it in in June 2009, and with the free time I had when Gourmet tanked (October 2009) I went back and revisited it even more. I really feel it's my best book.

Where did you get your inspiration for the recipes?

This book is really, really based on my life. I was getting bored because I often make the same things. I am really a hog for praise. I want them to say "wow" every night.

Do you think people are ready to get out of their comfort zone in the kitchen?

I think the recipes do reflect more of the way we eat today. More Asian and Latin. As I go around the country, I find that people's general knowledge about food is great compared to 15 years ago. They at least know food; whether they are cooking is another thing. It's very cool and hip to be into food and to know the latest esoteric ingredients. Very trendy. A lot of young people are discarding what old folks have done and want to follow their own excitement.

How do we get out of our ruts and away from the starch/vegetable/protein at every meal?

Think about one-dish offerings like soups. Or serve appetizers for dinner. Basically, you just have to let go of old ways and try something new.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>Moderate

Breaded Creole Chicken With

Ranch-Dressed Coleslaw

Ranch dressing:

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as tarragon, chives and parsley)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 small garlic clove, minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the chicken:

1 cup buttermilk

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/3 cups dry bread crumbs

2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

For the slaw:

1/2 small cabbage

2 large carrots, peeled

1 small red bell pepper

1 large dill pickle

To make the dressing, whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, herbs and lemon juice. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To prepare the chicken, combine the buttermilk, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken, seal the bag and knead until the chicken is evenly coated with the marinade; set aside at room temperature for 20 minutes while you make the slaw.

To make slaw, trim and shred the cabbage on a grater or in a food processor. Coarsely grate the carrots. Cut the bell pepper into matchsticks; chop the pickle. Toss the cabbage, carrots, bell pepper and pickle together. Add a hefty pinch of kosher salt. Set aside.

To cook chicken, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Combine the bread crumbs and Creole seasoning and spread out the mixture on a pie plate lined with wax paper or parchment; remove the chicken from the buttermilk, letting the excess drip off. Dip the pieces, one at a time, into the bread crumbs to coat well, lifting the wax paper on both sides to move them around; shake off any excess.

Add half the chicken to the skillet and cook, turning once and adding another 1 tablespoon olive oil, for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until golden and just cooked through. Remove to a plate and set aside for 10 minutes before cutting. Repeat with the remaining chicken and olive oil. Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch strips.

Just before serving, stir 1/2 cup ranch dressing into the cabbage mixture; season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the slaw among 4 dinner plates; top with the chicken.

Serves 4.

Source: Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners (Simon & Schuster, 2010)

Sara Moulton urges people to get in the kitchen, try something new 06/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 21, 2010 6:00pm]
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