Celebrity chef Sara Moulton makes family meals her mission

If there’s one thing food television veteran Sara Moulton wants, it’s for you to cook dinner for your family.

It can be sandwiches, an overgrown appetizer or even breakfast fare. She doesn’t care, as long as you start with mostly fresh ingredients and enjoy the results together.

“It’s my mission to help people make it happen,” says Moulton, who was in Kansas City recently to promote her newest cookbook, “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners” (Simon Schuster, $35). “I want them to have family dinner, not just on Saturday or Sunday, but five nights a week.”

Moulton’s family focus is unwavering, despite changes in her career since last visiting Kansas City in 2005. Back then, Moulton was a Food Network pioneer with her “Cooking Live,” “Cooking Live Primetime” and “Sara’s Secrets” shows. That run ended three years ago.

“I was off the Food Network in 2007, and everyone forgot who I was,” Moulton says.

There were fewer speaking engagements after that. Gourmet magazine, where Moulton had been executive chef for 23 years, folded in 2009. And now there’s a recession on.

Her response?

Keep working as hard as ever.

Moulton’s more than 30 years in television include public TV’s “Julia Child More Company” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where she is the longtime food editor.

She has published “Sara Moulton Cooks at Home” (Broadway Books, 2002) and “Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals” (Broadway Books, 2005), the basis for “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” a public television series launched in 2008.

Another PBS show is in the works, and “Sara’s Secrets” is re-airing on the Cooking Channel.

Still, teaching is perhaps her favorite gig.

“I love teaching,” Moulton says. “I think I’m a better teacher than chef.”

She recently taught three classes at the Culinary Center of Kansas City in Overland Park. During the first, Moulton peppered the audience with questions, bantered with participants and brought several up to help prepare recipes from her book.

“I need two people who’ve never made crepes and who are scared to do it,” she said as hands shot up.

Had anyone there attended her previous book tour stop in Kansas City?

No hands.

“Good, then I can tell all the same jokes!”

Did anyone know which two cooking mistakes you can’t fix?

Gluey mashed potatoes, as Moulton discovered while cooking her first full Thanksgiving dinner in the late 1970s, and burned food.

She modeled Onion Goggles that promise to keep your eyes from watering while chopping onions, noting their resemblance to the welding goggles a “Cooking Live” viewer once sent.

“I thought they would be funny to put on, but they really worked,” she says.

The anecdotes, advice and good humor all make Moulton seem more like a good friend teaching you to cook than a flashy celebrity chef, says Bradd Silver of Kansas City.

“She’s just so real,” Silver, who became a fan during Moulton’s Food Network days, said at the class. “She’s never pretentious.”

Moulton is famous for her tips, but she’s also keen on using the right tool for the job. During a Kansas City Star photo shoot at Pryde’s Old Westport, she spotted many of her favorites — a curved fish spatula, a bench scraper, silicone spatulas and Microplane graters.

Other finds, such as a glass terrarium perfect for African violets and an old-fashioned shoo-fly screen for keeping insects off food, brought her love of gardening to mind.

Moulton’s family plants a sizable vegetable garden at their 100-acre farm in northeastern Massachusetts, but she’s limited to a few window boxes when at home in New York.

“I wish I had a grander garden,” she says.

The promise of pie drew Moulton into the basement of Pryde’s. She commiserated with the Upper Crust co-owner Elaine Van Buskirk about the tedium of pitting sour cherries by hand and recalled baking pies with her grandmother, Ruth Moulton, to whom “Everyday Family Dinners” is dedicated.

Does she ever tire of cooking, talking about cooking or answering cooking questions?

Never, Moulton says. Family meals, gardening, creating recipes, writing books, developing and starring in television shows, teaching — it’s all part of cooking, and cooking remains a personal and professional passion.

“This is also my hobby,” Moulton says. “I think about food all the time.”


Sara Moulton knows firsthand how challenging — and boring — making dinner every night can be.

Her antidote is “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners,” with recipes ranging from Caribbean, Peruvian and Korean flavors to traditional New England cooking. There are noodles, sandwiches, stir-fries, whole grains, comfort foods, soups, five-ingredient entrees, side dishes and recipes using leftovers, as well as meat, fish, poultry and vegetarian mains. “I want to give people tools, but also inspire them to cook,” Moulton says of the book. “Not just tips and tricks, but also helping them have fun making tasty recipes.”

One significant change from her previous cookbooks is that Moulton dispensed with mise en place, the classic French practice of prepping all ingredients before you start cooking.

Instead, Moulton says to read the recipe thoroughly, place all ingredients and tools in your work space, and then chop onions while meat browns, make sauces while something else cooks and so on. It saves time, and it’s the way most people cook.