aida mollenkamp

Have you seen the show Ask Aida on the Food Network? The host Aida Mollenkamp cooks dishes that sound really fancy and gourmet but are actually totally doable for the regular home cook—I think that's why I love her so much! Tune into the new season starting Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. EST; and in the meantime, check out what she has to say about cooking a romantic meal, must-have cookbooks, and feeding a family on a budget...

Aida's show is "interactive"—as she cooks, she answers questions that are submitted by viewers during the show through e-mail, video, and text. That's why I thought it would be fun to have her answer some of our questions—specifically, the questions CafeMoms ask over and over again in the Food & Drink Answers section. Keep reading because you might just see one of your questions! Here's what she had to say:

CM: How can I feed four people with only $20?

The key to feeding people on a budget is to think about the presentation of the starch and protein. I've been cash-strapped for much of my life, so I what I like to make is a curry dish or a stew. That way you don't need a lot of meat because you can mix it with the all ingredients and it's still really satisfying. Stews are great because you can experiment with them—for example, add lentils or peas to chicken—and slowly cook it in a slow cooker if you're going to be at work or busy all day.

What's a simple, romantic meal I could make for my spouse?

I think that people get turned away from fish, but it's actually pretty approachable. You could make something like scallops. To do this you get your pan screaming hot; put oil and scallops in the pan; don't touch them and let them get a nice brown crust (about 1-2 minutes); and then do the other side. This way you take out the guess work of whether the fish is done or not. You can rub them with a good rub or even a little pesto for more flavor...

Also, a lot of people forget about pork tenderloin. That takes just 30 minutes in a hot oven (450F) and I do same thing that I do with scallops: slather it with pesto or a nice rub. It's a great alternative to roast chicken.

Which cookbooks could you not live without?

For me, I love vintage stuff. My mom gave 1972 edition of The Joy of Cooking, and it's annotated with her notes. That's the cookbook my mother learned to cook from. It's cool having a connection with my mom. And the back has so many resources, there's a lot there.

I also really like The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. It's comfort-food but California-style and lighter cookbook.

I'm so sick of chicken. What's a good chicken recipe that might be a little bit different?

In the Sept. 26 episode, I'm going to be making oven-fried Chicken Milanese with lemon zest and parsley crust and pair it with a simple tomato and onion salad. I also do a Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Sandwich with endive, apples, and mustard on a  Dijon roll.

Thanks to Aida for speaking with us! Her recipes sound great, don't they? Are you going to watch Ask Aida this weekend?