Catching Up with Cool Cat Cora

The Iron Chef dishes on feeding her kids, working with the Muppets, and the 4 items in her pantry that she couldn't live without.
Cat Cora, celebrity chef

On Iron Chef America, Cat Cora exemplifies staying cool under pressure as she races the clock to whip up complex dishes. Cooking in her home kitchen is a much more laid-back affair, and her dinner table is a place for nutritious and fun meals for her four sons. We caught up with the celeb chef and supermom to get the scoop on family food tips and kitchen safety pointers.

Parents: What kind of foods do your kids like to eat?

Cat Cora: You know, they're really pretty good eaters. They like seafood. My 4-year-old is a shrimp fanatic right now. They'll eat grilled chicken, pork tenderloin, salmon--things like that. We have fun nights, too, where we have an easy, quick dinner. We'll watch a movie together and have pizza, but we eat pretty healthy during the week.

Parents: Do you have any tips for parents whose kids are picky eaters? How did you go about getting your kids to try foods?

Cat Cora: I think the biggest tip I have for parents is to get your kids involved in choosing the meal. Let them help you create the menu for that night. Give them two options of vegetable, two options of protein. I'll say to my kids, "Tonight we're going to have chicken or salmon, what do you guys think?" or "We're going to have broccoli or edamame." I think getting them involved in the meal planning helps them be invested more in what's on the table.

Parents: When you're writing new recipes, do you think about what your family and your kids would like to eat?

Cat Cora: Absolutely, because I think my kids represent a lot of kids. Look, my kids are the same as anybody's. If they could have burritos and pizza every night, they would -- my 7-year-old especially. You have to reel them back in, and they get it, they understand. We don't label food as "bad" or "good," we label it as "chicken," or "salmon." We simply say this is what we are having. Sometimes you have to jazz it up. I put freshly grated Parmesan on broccoli, or I do some fun things with herbs or spices. I also think it's about getting kids to try everything at least once. I always tell parents, don't underestimate your kids. Don't assume they aren't going to like something before they try it. My mom always said we had to try everything once, and I think that helped me to have a good palate. Being in a Greek family, I tried things that a lot of kids were never introduced to. There were things that I liked, and things that I didn't like, but tasting everything once gave me a leg up on flavor and helped me to grow my palate.

Parents: As a busy working mom, do you have any advice for other moms on-the-go?

Cat Cora: Plan ahead a little bit. Again, get your kids involved, and have fun with it. Be adventurous, and don't be afraid to put something together and see what happens. Start your kids off early trying new things. They don't have to be a certain age to try an artichoke; my kids love artichokes. Also, don't assume that your kid is not going to like something. Ask them what they want that night, and give them options. Don't leave it open-ended. If you do, they'll say pizza. Say, "What do you think tonight, are we going to have chicken or are we going to have salmon?" Kids like structure. That is my biggest tip. Teach your kids to be excited about food versus rather than see it as it being just another meal.

Parents: What is it like working with The Muppets on your fun Web series, The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora?

Cat Cora: It's crazy. The funny thing is that you really do get lost in the puppets. You really feel like you are talking to a real person. I actually forget that the puppeteers are down under me. They are so lifelike, not in their look, but in the way that they speak. They come alive and you really do get pulled into that.

Parents: Now that it's springtime, are there any foods that you are looking forward to personally cooking and eating? Cat Cora: Definitely. One of my dishes that I recently did on Good Day New York was my Grilled Chicken with Asparagus Salsa Verde and feta cheese. It's easy, it's quick, and it has all of the flavors that I love. Asparagus is so nice in the spring, and when it's warmer, I love to put everything on the grill. The recipe has feta cheese, red wine vinegar, citrus, and all of these great fresh herbs. It's a really healthy and light dish.

Parents: You've recently partnered with Palmolive to promote the importance of a sanitary home kitchen. What are some ways that moms and dads can ensure that they're giving their kids safe food?

Cat Cora: I clean all of my tools and surfaces as I go, which is a good way to avoid cross contamination. I like to use Ultra-Palmolive, because I know that it is the only dish liquid that is proven to kill 99.9% of salmonella, E.coli, and staph bacteria on dishes. It's really important because those are the unwanted guests that you don't want to have lingering around in your home and in your kitchen. Those are the food-borne bacteria that can make your friends and family sick. Another tip is, when you are thawing frozen meat and seafood, don't leave it out on the counter. Put it on a plate, cover it with wrap, and let it thaw naturally in the refrigerator. When you're marinating meat, which we do a lot of coming up at barbecues, make sure that you are doing it in a deep dish so that you don't have any spills. You want to cover the dish and put it in the refrigerator to marinate, making sure you clean any spills, because, again, those are the things that attract bacteria. This is an important thing to remember with summer coming up. Outdoor meals and barbecues in the warm weather make food safety an extra-important concern.

Parents: You mentioned meat and seafood as two things that people need to be careful about. Are there any other foods that pose a danger of harboring bacteria?

Cat Cora: Well, all foods do. I mean, obviously, you're a little safer with things that have thick skins on them, like citrus, but even then, if you take citrus and cut it on the same board you just had raw meat on, you're in danger of getting food-borne bacteria. So I think that with anything -- chicken, raw meat, vegetables, fruit -- that you're cutting into or using a knife or any tools on, you've got to make sure that your surfaces are really clean.

Parents: You've written an adorable children's book, A Suitcase Surprise for Mommy. Do you think that you would ever consider writing a children's cookbook?

Cat Cora: I have a couple more kids books in the works and I'm working on something that is food-related, and it's a really fun book. So, yeah, definitely!

Parents: Are there any tools in the kitchen that you couldn't live without; that make your life easier?

Cat Cora: I have a Vitamix, and that thing is amazing. We do everything in it. We make soups, smoothies, and things like that. It's a really powerful blender, and it's a great thing to have, especially if you have babies and want to puree foods.

Parents: Are there three items that you always have in your pantry or fridge?

Cat Cora: Fresh herbs, citrus, garlic... and olive oil! Four things.

Parents: What's your favorite indulgence?

Cat Cora: I like ice cream, but I tend to get the light ice cream; it's still good. I like to have a good ice-cream cone every once in a while. It's fun, and it's something little. I like indulging like that. I'm not a super-big dessert eater, but something like that is perfect.

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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