One of the absolute highlights of the Amazon Books team's trip to New York for Book Expo America was meeting Melissa d'Arabian at the Food Network Kitchens--and noshing on fantastic food from her new book, Ten Dollar Dinners. Based on her Food Network show of the same name, which she's been doing since she won The Next Food Network Star in 2009, her book has an ingenious system she designed to help a home cook make delicious dinners for four people--for under $10. (And yes, that does include dessert.)
A mom of four young daughters (born within three years!), Melissa earned an MBA from Georgetown University, but her passion for streamlining her family's budget is hard-wired from her childhood. Her single mom raised Melissa and her sister while putting herself through college. She recalls a time when the only thing left in the fridge was a jar of pickles, so they stayed up late making candles to sell so they could buy groceries.
Her mom's inventiveness in not just putting food on the table but actually feeding people taught Melissa an invaluable lesson that she passes on to other families every day. This story from Ten Dollar Dinners is especially poignant as we head into the holidays:
"Waste was never a temptation in our house. That said, my mom still wanted to teach me the joy of hosting others, something we rarely had the budget to do. I vividly recall the first time we invited her girlfriends (and their daughters) and my friends (and their moms) over for a ladies' holiday cookie and hot cocoa party at our home in Tucson, Arizona. Even though we had no cushion cash to be throwing a party, we still managed to put together a beautiful celebration on a shoestring budget. We decorated the Christmas tree, ate cookies, drank hot coca, and sang songs around the piano. It was simple and lovely. That single experience taught me how beautiful it is to cook for people. Not to just make food pretty on a plate, but to really make friends and loved ones happy by creating something delicious just for them. My mom passed away when I was twenty years old, and to this day, I still hold our holiday cookie and cocoa memory close to heart--in fact, every December I now host a mother-daughter holiday tea with my four girls and their friends and their mothers."
We asked Melissa about her favorite books, what she treasures, the best place she's eaten recently, and what's she's up to next.
What's your elevator pitch for Ten Dollar Dinners?
It's about so much more than cooking with inexpensive ingredients! It's a full philosophy of spending with purpose and managing our resources wisely while nourishing our bodies.
Which new cookbooks or chef memoirs are you most excited about?
What’s the best place you’ve eaten recently?
I had an incredibly special dinner at Uchi in Houston... truly one of the best dinners I've ever had.
What's been your most memorable author moment?
Opening the envelope that had the very first copy of my cookbook in it. I opened it with my husband, very delicately, as if it were fragile.
What other talent would you most like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?
I'd love to be a genius at organization. (To do that, I think you have to be able to really think in 3-D, and I'm very linear.)
What are you obsessed with now?
Doing splits. I'm almost there!
What's your most treasured possession?
My grandma's confirmation bracelet. She gave it to me as my "something old" at my wedding, and I wear it all the time--unless I'm filming Ten Dollar Dinners. She passed away last month, so it's extra special now.
They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, and Alephonsian Deng.
What's next for you?
After book tour, I'm settling into the new school year with my four daughters--and then get straight back to work on Book # 2!
Thanks for visiting us at Amazon, Melissa! We wish you all the best.
Mari Malcolm, Melissa d'Arabian, and Neal Thompson