Taste & Tell with Mel

picture via Mel's KItchen Cafe

This is more informational than anything, so you can bypass this post if you're not into the informational stuff about Mel's Kitchen Cafe. 

When I returned home from my mission and we had a family reunion, all my sisters planned the meals around Mel's Kitchen Cafe food blog. They talked about Mel as if she was a 6th sister I didn't know we had.

Now, I know why. I love Mel's Kitchen Cafe food blog. Mostly because the majority of the meals don't call for some outlandish ingredient that just convinces me I should stop cooking all together and go buy more tacos on Taco Tuesday. I've been following her for a few years now and still have a laundry list of recipes I'd like to me. Turns out, Mel was coming to BYU to speak to students. I honestly didn't think anyone else knew about her (I know that sounds bad to say), but turns out, EVERYONE does. There were probably 500 people in attendance to the class. I went like 30 minutes early--thats a big deal-- I don't even show up to Church 30 minutes early.

How to get dinner on the table with your sanity intact: (and just MAYBE enjoy it)

She discussed its important to have meals in four main categories to make it a manageable dinner hour: (aka the witching hour for most moms)
1. Slow Cooker/Pressure Cooker Meals
2. Make-Ahead Freezer Meals
3. 20 or 30 minute Meals
4. No Recipe Meals

She then talked about 15 ways that can either reduce stress in the kitchen and make cooking more enjoyable.

1. Try a new recipe -- its like buying a pair of jeans to spice up your wardrobe.
2. Keep it Simple -- Abandon the idea that your average Thursday night dinner needs to be 4 courses (or even a side dish) and focus on the simple, healthy meal. Save the 7 course meal for when someone makes it for you.
3. Keep it Simple 2.0 -- Find more 1 pot wonders
4. Use fresh Herbs - Especially Basil -- Add this to everything. Even to a jar of spaghetti.
5. Something New for YOU -- Splurge on something that add to your kitchen tools, you don't have to buy out Amazon's kitchen, just something cheap and useful and for you
6. Cook with a Friend or Kids -- Mel talked about how she NEVER gets invited to the Saturday parties where all the moms get together and make freezer meals, so instead, she cooks with her kids. Cooking with kids can be counterintuitive and messier, but they can be great helpers if given a specific task.
7. Clean as you go -- There is no getting around cleaning (I wish there was!), but it helps if you can clean as you go. There are nights where it won't happen, but if the stars align, then wiping up the counter or rinsing dishes in the sink makes a huge difference in the sanity levels.
8. Toss Something Else on the Salad -- toss a no-prep item to take it up a notch: sunflower seeds, craisins, feta cheese, chopped fruit. Its amazing what a yummy salad add-on can do to your overall happiness.
9. Jazz Up Prepared Foods -- ie: add fresh basil to spaghetti sauce, fresh veggies to boxed rice, avocado sour cream to frozen burritos, etc.
10. Multi-tasking Tools -- Go through  your kitchen and ditch the tools/equipment taking up too much space but not doing much, and focus on saving up or getting tools that do double (or triple) duty. Mixing bowls that are microwave safe, blender that can tackle smoothies but also chop nuts, crush cookies, and whip cream, an InstantPot that can replace a slow cooker, rice cooker and a pressure cooker. A few tools changes and you can feel like a rock star in the kitchen.
11. Claim a signature dish -- It doesn't matter what it is (grilled cheese sandwich or homemade pizza) but find something you love and make it yours.
12. Embrace the Freezer -- Fresh is awesome, but frozen fruits and vegetables are lifesavers. Many frozen vegetables can be roasted just like fresh vegetables for a quick side dish -- just add a few more minutes onto roasting time.
13. Cook Once, Eat Twice -- (my favorite philosophy!) This isn't a new concept, but once cooking isn't daunting, start doubling the meal so you can eat half and freeze the other half.
14. Rotisserie Chickens for the Win -- Thousands of recipes call for already cooked, shredded chicken, buy a couple every time you are at the store (Hi Costco!). At home immediately take meat off bone and freeze it.
15. Get Crazy -- If you are really trying to embrace the joy of cooking, combine it with something you already love -- listen to music, or an audiobook, watch Downtown Abbey (Mel prefers to watch Poldark :).

Some things Mel Swears by: 
1. Zeal spoons -- you can't find the exact ones on Amazon (there is a story behind that, ask me if you want!) but you can find them at Harmon's grocery stores. They are silicone but have a metal bar in them so you can stir them in caramels.

2. InstantPot -- She talked about it as if it was her 6th child she loves it so much. She also made it clear that we didn't need to throw our slow cookers away and go and buy this, but when we can afford it and you're ready cooking wise its the best purchase you'll make.

3. Avacado oil -- she uses it instead of vegetable or olive oil the majority of the time.

4. She never uses minced garlic and has a garlic presser that you can put the cloves in (UNPEELED!) and it comes out perfectly.

Some things you might not realize: 
1. Mel talked about how her and her family's life revolve around food. She is testing about 3-4 recipes a day. As fun as it sounds to be a food blogger, its exhausting too (well, duh, I make 3-4 recipes in a week, and she does that in a day!?)

2. Mel laughed that there have been many nights that her kids are lying on the flooring pounding that they are hungry for dinner, but they need to wait because she needs to take pictures of it first for her blog.

3. Her family is very honest about what is blog worthy and what is not. And she has to try out so many recipes a day so she has blog content for us. Someone asked how for tips on how to stay within a reasonable grocery budget each month -- she replied that she wasn't a good person to ask, because she has quite a large grocery bill per month, but the revenue from her blog offsets that so she can buy a large amount of food.

That's about all I can think of, which is saying alot, because I wrote alot.

Mel made Vanilla Bean Caramels for everyone. DIVINE.

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