I was delighted recently to meet Amy Fothergill, known as The Family Chef.  I had heard about her through a number of moms in San Francisco who had taken her cooking classes, and I was intrigued.  Amy was kind enough to chat with me over delicious home-brewed coffee and gluten-free madeleines in her home, and the more we talked, the more I discovered we had in common.  The love of good, nutritious food.  The struggle to juggle cooking with a busy lifestyle.  Strategies we’d developed over the years to make it possible to cook every day, even with young kids in the picture.  We talked for hours!

In addition to specializing in family-friendly meals, Amy also cooks gluten-free.  Below is an abbreviated Q&A with Amy, along with one of her delicious, healthy gluten-free recipes.

Wona: Why do people call you the Family Chef?

Amy: I suppose it’s because my cooking style is so family orientated. Regardless of the size and age of a family, it can be hard to find time to cook. My philosophy is that cooking should be healthy, easy and always tasty. I’ve merged my culinary background with my current role as mom to create recipes that meet this criteria.

Wona: Your cooking classes are very popular.  What do people like most about your classes?

Amy: The comment I get over and over is that people feel they could go home and cook the dishes they make in class. I often receive emails after classes telling me they recreated a dish and how much their family loved it. Some classes teach you how to make homemade pasta or Asian dumplings, but you never do it again. The one cooking class I took before I become an instructor was how to make tamales. Guess what I have never made at home?

Wona: What types of foods do you enjoy cooking most and why?

Amy: My food definitely has an Italian slant to it since that is where my family is from. There’s nothing like homemade tomato sauce with what I call “mama’s meatballs”. I also am very fond of Asian food so I tend to like anything with ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil (how can you go wrong with that?). I always feel better, mentally and physically, when I eat a meal which includes a vegetable and/or a whole grain and that tastes really delicious.

Wona: What would you do if you had a picky (child) eater?  What do you suggest for parents who struggle with picky eaters?

Amy: There are three parts to this answer: how to try to prevent it, how to manage it if you are in it and what to do long term. When they are young, introduce them to as many tastes, flavors and textures as possible.  Never assume what they will and won’t eat. My son ate yellow curry when he was 2 and my daughter eats spicy food. They both eat sushi and salad; I would have never predicted that! And the best way for your kids to be good eaters is for you to be as well; model good behavior.

What I think is most important is good nutrition. If my kids choose not to eat the food I’ve prepared, they won’t get something more enticing, like a cookie. They have to have healthy food first.  Connecting food with what it does in our bodies can be taught as young as 4 years old. Often children don’t like certain textures or flavors; many adults are the same way. My own children (6 and 4) have had their moments of picky eating. I do think there’s a balance between respecting their tastes and them respecting your time; I decided I didn’t want to be a short order cook and adopted the “this is your meal” rule. Put it on their plate and ask them to try. How you react might determine what they do next.

If you do have a child who is a picky eater, do the best you can.  My advice is to keep introducing different foods, at least 20 times.I’ve noticed this with my own children. My son used to like scrambled eggs, then didn’t and now does. The same thing happened with my daughter with sweet potatoes. Don’t give up. You are doing the best you can!

Wona: Great advice, Amy!  I’m chuckling because you, Deana, and I all have young kids that love sushi!  It’s so true that we shouldn’t assume what kids will like.  I’m curious, what do you and your kids like most about Trader Joe’s?

Amy: I like the variety, quality (especially organic and/or natural) and the prices. I can walk into Trader Joes and create hundreds of meals by looking at the shelves; it’s corny but for me, that’s fun! My kids have always loved the natural peanut butter, reduced sugar preserves, hummus, guacamole and taquitos. I’ve just switched the family over to a gluten-free diet so now the favorites are the brown rice pastas (it’s all in how you cook it), rice pasta mac n’ cheese and red quinoa (I add it to regular rice). We used to love the thin crust pizza, spinach lasagna, broccoli and cheese individual quiche, and mandarin orange chicken. The spinach lasagna was a great example of them eating something I did not expect. Think beyond nuggets, pizza and hot dogs for kids!

Wona: Thank you, Amy, for your wise tips and healthy recipe.  And for those in the Bay Area, I encourage you to check out Amy’s cooking classes.  You can see her full schedule at www.amythefamilychef.com.

Yellow Curry Tofu with Red Quinoa and Jasmine Rice Pilaf

By Amy Fothergill, The Family Chef (photo courtesy of Amy Fothergill)

You’ll think you just had take-out delivered from your favorite Thai restaurant when you taste this dish. Everyone in our family loves this, even the young ones. If tofu isn’t your thing, you can substitute it (see the Variation below). Best of all, try making it with a combination of red quinoa and white (or brown) jasmine rice. It not only looks pretty, it boosts the nutrition of the dish!

1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp Trader Joe’s extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thick circles (or 6 baby carrots, chopped)
8-10 Trader Joe’s Baby Dutch Yellow potatoes
1/2 jar of Trader Joe’s yellow curry sauce
1 can of regular coconut milk*
8 oz firm tofu, cut into cubes

*Note 1: If you like your curry more spicy, use the whole jar and omit the coconut milk. The coconut milk is a good option for children or those who may not like spicy food. Many children seem to like the creaminess and flavor of the coconut milk.

1. Sauté onion in olive oil and cook for 3 minutes. Add carrots and cook until onion softens and is lightly browned.
2. Wash the yellow potatoes and then add to pot. Add 1/2 jar of sauce plus the can of coconut milk.
3. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, or until potato is almost soft. Add tofu, stir, remove cover and cook another 5 minutes.
4. Serve over red quinoa jasmine rice (recipe follows).

Variation: If you want to use chicken breast chunks, cook chicken with onion, remove and add back in for the last 5-10 minutes of cooking. If breast cooks too long, it will become chewy. If you are using chicken thighs, cook that with the vegetables. Cook shrimp the same way you would the chicken breast.  If it simmers for a long time, it will also become very chewy.

Red Quinoa Jasmine Rice Pilaf

1 1/2 cups Trader Joe’s jasmine rice, rinsed with water
4 cups water (use less if you want it stickier)
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s organic red quinoa, rinsed

Place all ingredients in a rice cooker and set to cook. If using a pot, bring to a boil, cover and lower to a simmer.  Cook about 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed.