It’s 4:36 on a Tuesday evening, you’re up to your elbows in Papier-mâché solar system construction, and it’s just dawned on you that – there is nothing for dinner! We’ve all been there. So has award-winning chef, business owner, cookbook author and mom, Debra Ponzek. Don’t panic, she’s got you covered with her latest drool-inducing offering, The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook: Delicious, Inspiring Meals for Busy Families.

I have a confession to make – I hoard cookbooks. Where some may have shelves lined with literary classics mine house: Fifty Shades of Chicken and Dinner with Mr. Darcy. I may or may not admit to also being the owner of, Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price. I first found Debra when a friend introduced me to a recipe for homemade marshmallows in her cookbook, The Family Kitchen.

“In a perfect world, dinner would always be a well-balanced meal for the whole family to enjoy, but in the real world, it’s complicated.” ~Debra Ponzek The beauty of her latest cookbook is that it doesn’t dumb-down dinner. You’re not going to find any condensed soup concoctions, or “dump” meals of any sort. What you will find are easy, sometimes elegant, and always approachable dishes that even a picky eater will love. Trust me, I know this. Our picky eater regularly requests her Lemon Ricotta pancakes, and Ginger Salmon burgers.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Debra, whom by the way is also first female chef to have received three stars from the New York Times. Her story mirrors that of parents everywhere who find ourselves striving for balance, embracing the imperfections, and on a quest to answer that age-old question… “What’s for dinner?”
Debra Ponzek - (cool) progeny

Food memories are a part of everyone’s story. What is your favorite food memory? 

One of my earliest food memories was cooking my way through my Betty Crocker recipe file! I loved working my way through all the categories of those shiny cards–Family Breakfast brighteners, Budget casseroles, Gifts from your Kitchen! I often made dinner for my family when I was young and I loved the immediate gratification that making those recipes gave me. I really liked planning menus and trying to figure out what I was going to make next!

Were any of your kids picky eaters? What advice would you give a parent with a picky eater?

I do have some picky eaters in my family but try not to overly stress about it at the dinner table. I do try to let my kids help with food prep and shopping to see if that will spark their interest. Often if I can find a food my son may like, say an apple, I try to find other foods similar in taste or  texture, such as jicama. If crispy chicken tenders is always a go to, I have had luck with crispy eggplant, zucchini and even fish. Trying to find foods that are close to what they like, and asking them only to try a very small bite of it helps as well. Piling their plate with an unfamiliar food usually back fires!

Someone is making you dinner, what are you hoping is on the menu? 

I am really so pleased to share a meal with my friends or family that I’ve never disappointed  with someone make for me!
If you love chicken deb ponzek

What is your favorite recipe in the book? 

Its hard to pin point one favorite recipe…. a couple of them are-the southwestern salmon wraps,  pasta with walnut ricotta pesto, pumpkin chili, and the Asian chicken lettuce wraps.

Best thing you’ve ever eaten? 

I’ve eaten so many amazing meals it would be impossible to name the best thing I’ve ever eaten -but a few more than memorable dishes? My mother’s baklava, the squid ink risotto at Alain Ducasse’s in Paris, my husband’s mussel dish, any New England lobster roll, and a Maine blueberry pie.

Who’s up for a trip to Paris to try that risotto?