From working with Julia Child and being the first star on the Food Network, to kicking off the 10th season of her PBS show, this chef remains a champion for home cooks and. weeknight meals.
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Sara Moulton sitting on a white chair outdoors
Credit: Courtesy of Sara Moulton

One of Food Network's first breakout stars in the late 1990s thanks to the program "Cooking Live," Sara Moulton is a staple of culinary television. Now the host of "Sara's Weeknight Meals" on PBS, she's an accomplished author of cookbooks like Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better. On today's episode of Homemade, Sara joins host Martie Duncan to share stories of working with Julia Child, tips on leftovers and meal prep, and how home cooks have become more creative and inspiring since the advent of food TV. Listen to this episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPlayerFM, and everywhere podcasts are available beginning June 16.

About Sara Moulton

An author, television personality, and co-founder of the New York Women's Culinary Alliance, Sara Moulton graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1977 after earning a degree from the University of Michigan. While working at a restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., Sara landed a role behind the scenes on "Julia Child & More Company" in 1979, where she spent three years. She went on to host Food Network's "Cooking Live" and "Sara's Secrets" as well as "Sara's Weeknight Meals" on PBS. She later worked with Julia during her time as Food Editor on "Good Morning America." Sara also spent more than two decades at Gourmet, helming the magazine's restaurant as its executive chef.

Sara has authored several cookbook titles, including Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners and Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better. She contributed to the Associated Press as the author of its "Kitchen Wise" column and to the Washington Post with the column "Sunday Suppers." She currently appears on Chris Kimball's Milk Street Radio. She lives in her native New York with husband Bill Adler.

Episode Transcript

MARTIE DUNCAN Welcome to Homemade, I'm Martie Duncan. Today, I'm excited to welcome truly one of the pioneers of culinary TV. Back in the mid-to-late 90's, she was one of the Food Network's first breakout stars, taking what she learned from working with Julia Child and bringing it directly into the kitchens of millions of aspiring home cooks with her show, Cooking Live.

Her career spans over 40 years now on our televisions and her current show Sara's Weeknight Meals airs on your local PBS station. Her latest book is called Home Cooking 101 How to Make Everything Taste Better and we're gonna learn how to do just that today, I'm sure. Please join me in welcoming the pioneering and talented Sara Moulton to Homemade!

SARA MOULTON Thanks, Martie. So happy to be here.

MARTIE Well, I'm thrilled to have you. I've been a big fan for a long time. I think the reason is I'm a home cook. I've never been to culinary school. And for people like me whether we make our living in food or not, you've made being a home cook kind of a cool thing. I love your latest cookbook. I think that one is a really good tool for people. Home Cooking 101[1] [2] -- is that your favorite of all your cookbooks that you have?

SARA Well you know what they say, it's like making you pick a child, a favorite child. But I would say that it's really the compilation of my 40 years and everything I've learned along the way, you know, both being a professional chef, but also, doing TV for the home cook and learning from home cooks.

MARTIE That's right. Because you encourage, questions from your readers and your viewers. They write in and you address those questions and answer them on your show.

SARA Yes, we do. And it's what I did -- when I was on the Food Network, my first show, Cooking Live, as you mentioned. That live show, uh, that was six years, twelve hundred shows, every night. And I got really used to talking to people around the country and also got very impressed by home cooks. I was like, "whoa, these people are serious." You know, when you think about it, a chef gets good at cooking from repetition. Well, so does a home cook. You know, a serious home cook makes recipes over and over again and perfects them. That's really no different than a professional chef.

MARTIE Very true. congratulations on season ten of Sara's Weeknight Meals. That's a wonderful show on PBS. And y'all can catch it on YouTube and other places, if you don't have access to a PBS station. But, it's wonderful because I like the part where you travel around the country, you see different parts of the country and then you make these wonderful dishes, is there somewhere you haven't been? It seems like in ten seasons you've been just about everywhere. But is there somewhere you haven't been?

SARA And oh, no, there's plenty of states we haven't been. I'll be brutally honest. Oftentimes we go to a state because it's related to one of our sponsors. So, you know, that's how we end up in Louisiana or Arkansas, which was really fun, But no, I'd like to go to all the states because again, back to when I did my live show on the Food Network, I discovered, you know, all the cool sort of regional cuisine.

SARA Every part of the country has their local favorites and their unusual dishes, which nobody anywhere else would make. everybody's weeknight meal is different. You know, there's no one standard. And a lot of us also, of course, are descendants of immigrants. So, you know, it's influenced by, say, you know, in Minnesota would be Scandinavian. Um, in other parts of the country, it might be Polish or Russian. And so it's fun to see how that's seeped into the home cooks' repertoire.

MARTIE I want to reflect on a quote that I read from you, "Behind every chef is a mother, an aunt, a grandmother." and I think that's so true. Don't you? There's some home cook inspiring all these wonderful big time notable chefs. like Marcus Samuelsson, for example, we just did an episode on grandmothers. And I would encourage you to listen to it because it's really charming. But Marcus told a wonderful story about his grandmother. So how was it growing up in your home? Did your mom cook? I know she was a big influence on you with her dinner parties.  

SARA Yes. Well, you know, it's funny you should bring that up. And first of all, Marcus Samuelsson is a sweetie pie. Don't we adore him?

MARTIE So much.

SARA He lights up every room he walks into. But, back to my grandmother. Her name was Ruth Moulton. We named my daughter after her. My daughter's name is Ruthie. And Ruth Moulton actually went to the Garland Cooking School in Boston.

MARTIE Your grandmother?

SARA My grandmother did.


SARA Not to be not to be a professional chef, just to be a better home cook.

SARA And she was one heck of a really good home cook and a great baker. So like many of other people, including, say, Gail Gand who's a pastry chef from Chicago My first cookbook was mud pies and other recipes, you know, which was just fun. But then I got to, to bake with my grandmother. And because I was a little butterball and I loved my sweets and I loved my carbs, that was a lot of fun. And then growing up in New York City when I was in, high school, my mom actually, even before that was a fantastic cook and completely self-taught in the '50s, in the '60s. When other women were feeling liberated to throw a TV dinner into the oven, my mom was cooking from scratch and working with such exotic ingredients at the time as endive and fresh fennel and sauteing shad roe and stuffing mushrooms and doing all these things. And then throwing dinner parties. And after she started traveling to Europe, we had to eat the food of the place she just been. And we had the New York Times cookbook by Craig Claiborne, which was our Bible. And I found out it is a Bible for a lot of other professional chefs, because that's where you could find all these international recipes in one big book. And I became her sous chef. And so that's-yes. Absolutely how I got trained to begin with.  

MARTIE To begin with. But then your mom was so smart. She, she blindly wrote letters to both Julia Child and Craig Claiborne asking, what should my daughter do if she wants to pursue a career in food? And he responded.

SARA Yes, he did. I think my mom's letter to Julia must have gotten lost because Julia answered every single letter. But yeah, Craig wrote back and said I should go to cooking school, if I wanted to become a chef. And my mom really did call my bluff. Yes.

MARTIE And so you went on to the CIA. Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park? You became a professional chef. So how did you make it because your first TV experience was with Julia.


MARTIE How do you make it there? I mean, how does that even happen?

SARA Well, you know, I have - I've had lots of good luck in my life, right place, right time kind of thing. I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1978. And in '78 I was the chef manager of a catering operation in Cambridge. And I hated catering, but it was a stepping stone to a restaurant job and we were peeling a million hard boiled eggs, me and one of my workers. And we started talking about Julia because Julia didn't boil her eggs. She had this whole method, which is much better than boiling eggs to get hard cooked eggs. And this young lady said, "oh, you know, I'm a volunteer on her show". I was like, really? And so I said, "do you think Julia could take another volunteer?" And she said, well, yeah. Let me ask her. And so she came in the next day and said, I told Julia all about you and she wants to hire you.


SARA So I went down to the corner payphone, called up Julia. Julia got right on the phone. She was listed. And the first question she asked me was, "oh, dearie, do you food style?" I never done it professionally in 1978. You don't get the training you do now.

SARA So I thought real long and hard and I lied and I said yes, I was really good. So I got the job. Sometimes I tell that story to young people, who I might be mentoring, that sometimes you have to take a leap. You have to, you know...


SARA Do that. Yeah.

MARTIE Yes. Have you done…

SARA To get…

MARTIE Oh, yes. Lots of times. And then figure it out. Yeah.  

SARA Yes.  

MARTIE Yeah, you'll get it. what was the secret to the eggs? They-she didn't boil them? Did she bake them?

SARA No. And by the way, I've now got, yet, a whole new another way to do eggs. But the way Julia did it was she'd put her eggs in cold - oh, she did weird things, too. Like Julia always did. She would prick them with a little pin so that they didn't explode - I don't remember quite what the logic was. But the important part, the real nugget was she put the eggs in cold water, bring them up to a boil, take them off the heat and cover them and give them, say, 14 minutes without the boiling. And then immediately drain them and put them in the ice water. Now, what this did is, if you don't boil them, the whites are much more tender.

And if you get them right into ice water, you cool them down very fast. You don't get that green line between the yolk and the white. So the new way that I do it is to steam them. Uh, I learned this from a couple in Chicago and now I think it's become pretty common knowledge. So I take one of those hippie steamers. I call them hippie steamers.


SARA The ones that sort of fold out. And you put water below. just below the steamer. You put the eggs in cold water, bring the steamer up to a simmer or hard boil, but then turn it down to a simmer and covered, 12 minutes and then right into ice water. Now, one would think that a steamer was too violent and that the whites would be really, really tough. But they are even more tender than Julia's method.


SARA And I find the eggs much easier to peel, whether they're fresh or not fresh. So there you go. Keeps evolving.

MARTIE Yeah, it does. And every year it seems like there's a new way to do it. I've changed mine over the last 10 years. I think I probably changed mine two or three times.


MARTIE And always seem to be better until you get the next one.

SARA I know. I know. And then what were you thinking?


SARA Of doing it that other way? Yeah.

MARTIE So speaking of Julia and your experience with her, is there a favorite story?

SARA Oh, gosh. Well, let me just say a couple of things. First of all, she was one of the funniest people I ever met. Hands down, really sincerely funny because she was so smart and so refreshingly honest. She would just call it for what it was and she would take you off guard. She was hysterical. two things. One is that when she didn't - she wasn't pretentious, even though one would think she was because she made all these fancy dishes. You know, you watch her and she do all this elaborate stuff and then tell you how easy it was. And it wasn't -didn't look remotely easy.

MARTIE Right.  

SARA But at any rate, I love that about her. But she threw dinner parties. We would go over to her house and cook together. And in the middle of the whole thing, she would say, aren't we having so much fun? But if she didn't feel like making a fancy hors d'oeuvre, she always had a stash of Pepperidge Farm goldfish in the cupboard.

And that's what she would serve. And she sincerely loved them. The other thing at dinner parties was at the end when we were all done and everybody was finished with their dessert, she'd have us all retire to the living room and she'd show that Dan Aykroyd Saturday Night Live parody of herself. She loved it.

MARTIE Oh, that's hysterical. I didn't know she'd ever seen it. Oh, I love that. So I want to close my eyes. And I want you to tell me what it's like being a guest at Julia's house for a dinner party. I mean, let's just assume, you know, you weren't helping to, to cook or in the kitchen part of the time you were just there, fly on the wall. What would it be like?

SARA You would arrive and Paul Child would get you some sort of wonderful drink or perhaps a bit of champagne, chilled champagne. And then if we had made hors d'oeuvre that would be passed and everybody would hang out in the kitchen for a while because that was the place. And then the table, we would have set the table beautifully with napkins and flatware and glasses and flowers, and then we'd sit down and have a fantastic conversation, you know? or, in the summer, she had a little teeny-weeny backyard. In recent history, um, my dad, who just passed away two years ago, lived in Cambridge. And I would walk around when I was visiting because I think Cambridge is so pretty. And I made a point of going back to her house and it was so much smaller than I remembered it. it was tall. But in terms of the front lawn and back lawn, I thought they were, you know, tremendous. And they weren't I mean, I didn't exactly snoop around in the back But from where I was, I could see that it was pretty small. But sometimes we go back and have an aperitif in the backyard So that was fun, too. But it was very convivial. I mean, the thing that Julia understood, besides teaching people about how to make French cuisine, is how to enjoy life and culture the way the French did and how to dine.


SARA That it's not just about feeding yourself. It's about everything else that goes with that.

MARTIE Sounds like for these kinds of events that she would try to keep it a little bit more simple, probably  So she could have some fun at her own party.  

SARA Right. I mean, one of the things about Julia that was amazing is-because, of course, everybody wanted to talk to her about food 24/7 And I'm sure most of us wanted to impress her with our deep knowledge and how cool we were in the culinary department. But really, she got tired of that. She wanted to talk about movies. She wanted to talk about culture. She wanted to talk about politics. She was a very lively individual.

MARTIE Well, I feel like there must have been a couple of really great tips that she gave you early on in those first weeks that you were there. Can you recall, like something that she taught you that has stuck with you, that you continue to teach now?

SARA Oh, my God, there are so many. I will say one of the biggest ones, and it's the one that I taught Rachael Ray and Rachel would agree, which is that when you do TV, you must smile.

MARTIE True, true, true.

SARA Nobody even needs to explain the reason. But if you think about it when you smile, it's sort of like you're selling your point that much better. You know? It's like, yes, you two should make coq au vin, you know?

MARTIE Yes. And it's easy because I'm smiling.

SARA Yes. And you must believe me. So I would say that's the biggie but there were many others. As a home cook, and this is one I try to share with everybody is, never apologize, never explain. So when you have people over for dinner, don't tell them everything you did wrong. They're so glad that you made dinner and they didn't. So don't ruin it for them By saying, oh, it needed more salt. I should have reduced it. I should have added acid. You know, don't do that.

MARTIE Yes, I have the worst habit of doing that.

SARA We all do. Me too. Even...

MARTIE I am going to take that and put it in my pocket and keep it because I'm going to stop doing that.

SARA We have one of those refrigerators. You can't really put magnets on the front. We have a tiny little square on the side where you can put magnets. My niece had a magnet about this big made, with Julia Child on it saying, "Never apologize, never explain." So it's right there any time I'm making dinner for guests so I can try to control myself.

MARTIE You're listening to Homemade. When we come back, Sara tells me how the challenges for home cooks have changed since her Food Network debut 25 years ago, and how she turns left over pork chops into scrumptious burger patties. We'll be right back after the break.

I'm Martie Duncan, and my guest today is chef, author, and TV personality Sara Moulton.

Sara, you are one of the earliest breakout stars on Food Network. I can't even imagine what that was like. You did thousands of episodes of TV and you really are a teacher. But how has it changed from those early days of Food Network to the questions you get now? How have the challenges for home cooks changed since you began on TV all those years ago[3] [4] [5] ?

SARA It's amazing how much it's changed, so I started April 2nd, 1996 doing Cooking Live. And it really was live. It wasn't live to tape. It wasn't a live audience. It was live-live. people would call in with, you know, all of these questions. But what was fun for me and what made it easy for me to do is they didn't know much. So back then you know, panko breadcrumbs were revolutionary. Chipotles in adobo. Oh my goodness.

MARTIE Never heard of it. Yeah.

SARA Yeah. So there was-we would introduce or, you know, one of those curved fish spatulas, which sort of changed my life, was like, oh wow, this is so cool. So I could look so terribly wise because I worked at Gourmet magazine during the day and because of my team at Food Network, so we would have all this wisdom to share with them. Now? And I experience it most when I'm doing cooking demos, live cooking demos. I can't get away with that stuff. I practically have to stand on my head to get a rise out of anybody because they know everything now.  

MARTIE Yes, the audience knows everything and they see all your mistakes, especially in those live demos. Weren't you going to put the flour in then? Oh, yes.


MARTIE You're absolutely right. I was gonna put the flour in then.

SARA Right. So I can't, I can't sort of impress them anymore because they are very impressive. And I would say the last year of being locked in has made people even better cooks. People who've never cooked are cooking. But people who sort of did cook have been cooking a lot more and getting better, you know, including in baking. Oh, my God, this whole sourdough business, you know, it's off the charts.

MARTIE Yeah, you couldn't get yeast, could you?


MARTIE I made one of - Jacques Pepin does his videos, you know, and I'm addicted to them. I watch them every day and he's just so adorable and charming.


MARTIE And I know you have your Julia history together, but he did no-knead bread. And I'm like, wow, I want to try that. And it was so good.

SARA Wasn't that exciting?

MARTIE Yeah, it's just so good. But yes, I think everybody, even people who didn't intend to bake are now bakers. But I think people have gotten a bit fatigued. Don't you think? How can we overcome that kitchen fatigue and how can we be reenergized toward our cooking, right now?

SARA You know what? This has happened to me. It doesn't even matter about the pandemic throughout my career, and I'm a professional chef, that I get really bored with my own cooking and what I generally do in a situation like that is I go get a new cookbook with a new cuisine that I'm not that familiar with. And then I get in all the spices and ingredients and I just try to cook my way through it. So that's what I would do.

So the equivalent for me right now is for Christmas I got one of those Instant Pot things. And i was like I really need to know about this. And then I've got a couple of different cookbooks that I've been cooking my way through. Jury's still out, whether I think it's a worthwhile tool. I have to be honest.  I do like making an amazing stew that quickly. Um, but that's what I've been doing to sort of entertain myself, taking on a new tool. You can do a new tool or a new cuisine. And I think that's what everybody needs to do. I will say that throughout this pandemic and also for the prior two years, when my mom had died in 2013 and my dad was great till the end, he died in July of 2019. He even went on a fishing trip the week before he died. He was 94. He kept saying he was 95, but he wasn't.

SARA But any rate, um, after he died, you know, going through that sadness and then, you know, moving into the coronavirus after that. I have to say the highlight of every day was dinner. it's very important, I think, to still make a really nice dinner and sit down and enjoy it and try a new wine. And, you know, that's another thing we've done. I mean, not expensive wines, just a new wine.

MARTIE Any, yes.

SARA From new country. Yeah. And just try to celebrate at the end of every day. It really, really kept us going. I mean, as sad as I was in 2019, there was always dinner.


SARA You know when we were emptying out his house, it was the fall of 2019. So we could still get wonderful takeout food and we just, we celebrated every night. We ate oysters as much as we could because my dad loved oysters.

MARTIE Oh, mine did, too. I host a big oyster cookoff down in Gulf Shores, Alabama every year.  


MARTIE Yes. And…

SARA And good for you.

MARTIE And we have grown and grown and grown. It's ten years. And we had to cancel this past year for the first time. But boy, if you're an oyster lover? You're an oyster lover.      

I know Julia cooked. I was always surprised when she would break out and cook oysters. What's one of your favorite oyster recipes? I mean, you can't go wrong with Rockefeller. Everybody likes that. But have you got an oyster recipe that's your go to?

SARA Well, here's the thing. I like Rockefeller, for sure. I like 'em raw.


SARA Straight up. And my brother, who also lives in New York but has a porch or a patio or whatever, where he grows things, one of the things he grows is aji dulce. Do you know what those are?


SARA They're little chilies. They look like Scotch bonnets. And they have the flavor of a Scotch bonnet, but not the heat.

SARA And they have the flavor of a Scotch bonnet, but not the heat.


SARA So they're, you know how Scotch bonnets and Habaneros, which are vaguely related, are very sort of fruity, almost like a cross between a mango and a chili?


SARA They're very, very fruity. They have wonderful flavor. Well, aji dulce has that sort of wonderful fruity flavor without too much heat. So my brother, who loves oysters, also started putting it into his mignonette.

MARTIE Oh, nice.

SARA So the mignonette is shallots, um, a little bit of sugar…

MARTIE Vinegar.

SARA White vinegar and the chopped up aji dulce. And I just - that is my idea of sheer bliss with oysters and beautiful oysters, of course.  


SARA Um, yeah. Raw.

MARTIE So what's weeknight dinner looking like at your house these days, for example? What are you making tonight?

SARA Oh, it's so interesting you should bring that up, because I have belonged to a women's culinary group, the New York Women's Culinary Alliance. And one of our members, who's from the Caribbean, is also vegan and is doing a program about how vegan cooking was - it was really - it is really important in Caribbean cuisine, and it's a cook-along.

MARTIE Oh, fun.

SARA So, I bought all the ingredients and I've already prepped em before you and I started talking today. And I'm going to do that tonight. But then because I do have a bit of a meat head for a husband, I thought, well, I should probably have some protein on the side for him. We had some leftover pork chops. I love leftovers.

MARTIE I do, too.

SARA So I took these cooked pork chops and I ground them up in the food processor and I added feta and fresh oregano and sauteed onions and garlic and egg to bond and some breadcrumbs, and I'm going to shape them into patties and then put them again in breadcrumbs and saute them. I've done this with lamb chops before.

MARTIE I was about to say that sounds good with lamb, too.

SARA Yeah, it was really good with lamb. So we're having - I'm not telling the ladies in my women's culinary group, ahh. But we're having a nice vegan Caribbean vegetable dish. And then I'm going to make these pork patties or pork burgers. And then we'll have a nice big salad. Yeah.

MARTIE Very nice. Sounds wonderful. What time am I coming over?  

SARA Oh, I don't know. Any time.

MARTIE All right. So what are your two or three best tips for leftovers? That's a good one. Repurposing some already cooked pork chops. That's a great one. Give me two of your best tips for leftovers.

SARA Well, you know, it's sort of like they tell me what to do. They really have their own life. But, you know, they often end up in soups. I love, love, love making soup.

And so it's really - I just throw it all into a soup. Uh, you know, saute some onions, add some garlic. I almost always start that way. Maybe I'll add some tomatoes, but then everything else just goes in and I always make to go with that I always have some artisanal bread in the freezer. Usually, I didn't make it. Occasionally, it's my artisanal bread.  


SARA But I have already sliced bread. So I take it out and I make full garlic bread. I pop it in the toaster and then when it comes out, I rub it with really good olive oil, brush it with olive oil and then rub it with a clove garlic and sprinkle it with a little salt. And so my family is perfectly fine with having a hearty bowl of soup and that toast.

MARTIE I am a big fan of - I mean, even in the summer, a big bowl of soup. It's just comforting and feels good and it's easy, too. You know?

SARA Yes it is. Particularly if you have leftovers.

MARTIE Yeah. I grow butternut squash. So I make that a lot.

SARA Oh, nice.

MARTIE And I never get tired of it. All right. So I put you on the spot. You have met everybody. You know, everybody. If you were to sit down and watch a cooking program, who would you watch? It can be old or new. doesn't have to be on TV now.

SARA Obviously, "Jacques and Julia," I mean, Jacques is another hero of mine. and I've learned so much from him back to the - our hard boiled egg conversation. Every time for years I saw him, he'd show me a new way to mince garlic and I'd still be mincing garlic the last way he showed me, thinking it was the best way. So I guess Jacques because he's - nobody knows as much as he does and nobody's the technician that he is. And of course, Julia, because she was so entertaining. But I'll tell you another person-I really don't watch other people cooking because there's so many other things I want to watch. Mostly I don't watch. Mostly I read. I love, love, love to read. It's my passion. But I used to love watching Ina Garten because I found her so calm.  

MARTIE Soothing. Very soothing.

SARA Yeah, it was, it was like therapy. Even if I never wanted to make the meal, I just loved listening to her.

MARTIE What's the cuisine that you're most intrigued by these days?  

SARA Well, I love Indian and I love Mexican. You know, I, I don't - can't really pick. Actually, I love Middle Eastern also.

MARTIE All the same for me.  

SARA Yeah.

MARTIE And you're friends with Rick Bayless. I know that. So I imagine you get some inspiration from him.

SARA Oh, talk about another one. He is really fun to watch.

MARTIE He is.  

SARA He is also amazingly calm and just such an A plus teacher. I got to interview him recently because I write a column for the University of Michigan alumnus magazine and he also went to U of M and I thought, wow, he's had one heck of a year as a restaurateur, chef, owner. And so I interviewed him. And boy, what he went through last year is just incredible. And yet he's not angry. He made it through. He's continuing to make it through. His number one focus is his workers and taking care of them.

SARA What a great man. Yeah.

MARTIE Yes. I saw where he was doing online classes and the money was going to help pay for the workers. So you got…

SARA Exactly.

MARTIE A lot of integrity and a strength, he has to have to be able to to pull that off. Yeah, he's one of my favorites, as well.

MARTIE All right. So we talked a little bit about Home Cooking 101, and I think that is a great book for anybody, who wants to learn to cook. But let's take one take away tip from that book for the home cook. What's the the one tip that they should put in their pocket and break out anytime they're cooking?

SARA Don't be afraid of salt. it's very important to use salt and don't wait till the end, because if you add salt at the very end, I feel terrible saying this, except my husband basically has lost his hair. It's like a toupee versus real hair. It just doesn't bond the same way.


SARA You know, it's, it's like salt. You should season as you go and if you season as you go, you will use less salt. But it's very important.

MARTIE So you would say that's probably the biggest mistake that home cooks make, is waiting to the end to try to taste in season instead of seasoning as they go

SARA And they will add more because the food will not have absorbed it along the way.

MARTIE So, for our weeknight meals, what are two things we could do just to make our weeknight meals better?

SARA Well, you know what I always say, because I think it's very stressful for anybody. You know, before-first, I was a professional chef and then when I started working at Gourmet magazine, where I did for 25 years, I was just like anybody else. You know, I'd come home and have to get dinner on the table.  


SARA And I was exhausted after a long day, so I didn't have time to whip up all this fancy stuff. So I realized quickly that one thing that's important is just take one part of the meal. Let's say you care that night the most about the protein.

So focus on that and figure out a sauce or whatever you want to do. And then I've got nothing against frozen vegetables. I got a couple of easy ways to get vegetables on the table quickly, but don't worry about the other elements of the meal. Focus on one part, or perhaps you want to make a beautiful vegetable dish and then just cook a steak or a piece of fish with some olive oil. And squeeze olive oil and lemon on it. But don't try to do three different things really well. Try to do one really well and that will make your life easier.

MARTIE And then stick a salad or something else, easy with it. Yeah.

SARA Right.

MARTIE I think that's a great piece of advice and I think that most people do become a bit overwhelmed trying to make three very difficult things when one will do. One delicious thing is good.

SARA It's fine.

MARTIE Yeah. And then get some help on the other ones or just do something-save those leftovers. Keep the leftovers.



SARA Yes, yes, absolutely. One other thing I would say is that - and this goes against all my professional training, but I realized that when I was cooking and I really was in a rush, found that doing all the prep ahead of time was a waste of time. So, for example, let's say you're making a meat sauce with ground beef. What you can do is slowly be heating up the pan to add the oil while you chop the onion. While you chop the onion. Then you add the onion and soften it while you mince the garlic. Then you add the garlic and soften that. And then you can take the can of tomatoes out and crush them with your hands or in a bowl. But if you did all of that ahead of time, all that prep ahead of time, then you've just wasted 15 extra minutes. So take advantage of cooking time to do the prep. Unless I'm making Chinese food where everything spends 20 seconds in the pan. I don't do all my prep ahead of time ever.

MARTIE Oh, that's interesting...

SARA I just throw all my ingredients on the counter. So they're right there. And then I look at them, I say, OK, what am I going to do first, second, third.

MARTIE Well, I hear from so many people, you know, mise en place is the most important thing. So for a long time I did that. But, you know, like you said, there's just - then you're waiting for something to happen and you're standing there and wasting a bit of time. So I think I'm somewhere in the middle of that. But I'll tell you, I do a lot of cheating nowadays. And like, if I'm going to cut up an onion, I might as well cut up two or three and then put it in a Ziploc bag, and then next time I'm going to cook, I just get the chopped onion out. That way I don't have to…

SARA Good for you. Smart.

MARTIE I don't have to wash the cutting board as many times. Right?

SARA And or cry as many times. Yes.

MARTIE Well, I wear contacts. So I don't cry.

SARA Oh yeah.

MARTIE Yeah.  

SARA I wear onion goggles which confuse me because they don't have lenses in them because now I wear glasses. Yeah.

MARTIE Sara was the number one most popular recipe of yours? Which is your recipe that gets the most hits or the most shares or the one that just has legs for days. Which one is that?

SARA I'd say there's two. One of them is white chicken chili and the other one is braised short ribs of beef.

MARTIE Oh really.

SARA Yeah.

MARTIE And have those two, which one's your favorite?

SARA Probably the white chicken chili.

MARTIE White chicken chili is just good, it's satisfying.  

SARA Yeah.

MARTIE It's comforting, it's, it's just one of those things that you, um, once you've had it, you know, it becomes like a staple for you. Tell me all about it.

SARA You know, it's funny. I don't remember all the things that go in it, but I do remember-so it's, it's chicken, ground chicken. And you do end up adding sour cream in the end. [8.1s] and it's got some spiced heat to it. It's got some chilies in it. But it's mostly about the garnish. I love garnish. You know, my feeling is-and same goes for soup. As a fellow soup lover, you'll appreciate this. I don't want to just eat the same texture of spoon, after spoon, after spoon, after spoon. I like to have maybe a creamy base.

With maybe some chunky bits of something in there. And then I'd love to have garnish with something really crispy, like some kind of chips and or-and some maybe avocado and then some fresh herbs and then maybe a squeeze of lime. So that's part of the reason I really like the white chicken chili. And the thing about the short ribs, my family absolutely adores it, is I am really trying to eat less meat. And so although it's rich and I love the flavor, I do understand that we really have to change our ways and stop eating quite so much meat. And, you know, everything I've told you about that I cook and so far is involved meat, which is awful, but that's not completely true. I do a fair amount of vegetable cooking.

MARTIE Right. Do you put the avocado in your chicken chili? Is that a garnish? Is that…

SARA Just a garnish.


SARA Just a garnish.

MARTIE I think that sounds delicious.

SARA Oh yeah. Radishes. Oh, radishes are another good one.

MARTIE Oh really?

SARA Oh yeah. Because, you know, they've got that heat and crunch.


SARA Double whammy.

MARTIE Love those. And pickled radishes? Even better.

SARA Oh how you pickle your radishes? Tell me.

MARTIE Oh the same old thing that, you know.


MARTIE Just a pickling liquid poured over but yeah. Same old thing. Sugar and vinegar, you know some spices. Sara, I just want to say thank you for helping us be better cooks all these years, for teaching us, for patiently guiding us through the world of food. I want to thank you for all your expertise today that you've shared with us here on Homemade. You are an important tool for all of the home cooks out there. So I want to say goodbye, but thank you so much for being with us here today on Homemade.

SARA Thank you, Martie. Thanks for having me on.

MARTIE Be sure to visit for her social media, recipes, videos, events and the PBS station near you airing her great show, Sara's Weeknight Meals. You can find her most recent cookbook, Home Cooking 101 How to Make Everything Taste Better in-stores or online, and you can hear more stories like Sara's about working with Julia Child on our special Julia episode in our archives.

Next week on Homemade, Dr. BBQ himself Ray Lampe joins me for a little "Barbe-Q and A" now that we're in the heart of grilling season. We're gonna have a special call-in program where Ray tackles

YOUR burning questions on everything from burgers to briquettes.

Can we get the name of the cookbook back in?



hard to cut this smoothly, the words run together

No problem. Let it stand.