You may know Chef Alex Guarnaschelli from her frequent Food Network television appearances, including as a regular judge on Chopped and as an Iron Chef champion. She is also the chef/owner of two critically acclaimed NYC-based restaurants, Butter and The Darby, and has written two cookbooks, Cook with Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook and Old-School Comfort Food. We’re fans of her comforting, family-friendly recipes, but what we love most about her is her close relationship with her 12-year-old daughter Ava, shared on their Instagram feeds. (Follow Alex here and Ava here.) We spoke to Alex about cooking with her daughter, what she’s been making during quarantine, raising Ava as a single, working mom and her upcoming wedding. Plus, she shares her must-try recipe for Blueberry Cottage Cheese Churro-Flavored Doughnuts (see below).
We love watching Ava’s love for cooking and trying new foods—how did you raise such an adventurous eater?
I honestly don’t think you can make a kid into an adventurous eater. It comes naturally for each child at a different pace and in a different way. With Ava, I am always cooking up seasonal ingredients and she displays a natural curiosity about food. Some “adventurous” ingredients she loved right off the bat: snails in garlic-parsley sauce, duck hearts, oysters. And others, broccoli, brussels sprouts, took more time and exposure to become part of the repertoire. When I was her age, I remember eating nothing but cheeseburgers. I don’t think my mom would have ever guessed I would become a chef…
So there is hope after all for our picky eaters! Do you have any tips/advice for cooking with kids?
Try something that’s easy and makes kids seamlessly part of the cooking process. Soups are great for that reason. Tomato sauce…. I recently made Blueberry Cottage Cheese Churro-Flavored Doughnuts using Hood Cottage Cheese and it’s a simple recipe that you can make with your kids. Give them tasks like rolling the dough, filling the doughnuts with cottage cheese or covering them with the spiced sugar. This is how my mother got me into cooking and how Ava and I bond now. These doughnuts also have more protein than the average doughnut; which is always a plus!
Sounds great! What have you been cooking during quarantine?
Cottage cheese is one of my secret weapons in the kitchen and I use it in a variety of dishes from breakfast to savory snacks and desserts. From enjoying its creamy goodness on its own, to being an unexpected, protein-packed ingredient to a recipe – it’s definitely a staple that I always have in my fridge.
What’s your guilty pleasure food?
I have so many. High on the list is barbecue potato chips. They are crunchy, potato-ey and spiced. They hit all the high notes at the same time. Sometimes I even put them in my baked egg dishes…
Ava has talked about how she loves to cook (obviously – her Instagram is amazing!) but that she wants to go into fashion. Can you share a bit about how you’ve encouraged her to follow her own dreams?
Ava is at an age where her career choices change every couple of weeks. She really seems to love any line of work that requires creativity with your hands. Whether its sewing clothes for the runway, cooking food for dinner or drawing buildings from various neighborhoods in NYC, Ava is an arts and crafty type. I just leave her room to meander and wander and wonder. I want her to love whatever work she pursues.
You have been a busy working mom (as well as a single mom) for many years. What helped you get through any hard times?
I learned how to be a home cook in the last few years. It took some adjusting to not make a gallon of salad dressing as if I were at the restaurant? I slowed down. I thought more about the steps I take to begin and finish a dish. I wrote a book, coming out this October; called “Cook with Me” that chronicles a lot of this work. I also built a connection between cooking and eating. It’s struggle for a chef to find both rewarding. The cooking really got me through some hard times. I love watching Ava some to look at what was bubbling on the stove. Very rewarding. We’ve done a lot of bonding through cooking. It made our home warm. Dinner hopefully makes it a place where Ava always feels safe…
Love that. And a big congrats on your recent engagement! What will be on the menu for the reception?
Two chefs have decided to get married and you think we know what to serve at our own wedding? Haha. That will likely be the topic most hotly debated before arriving at a choice. Ava has a big vote in this too…We want it to be like a big party so it will likely be 50 types of hors d’oeuvres passed around all evening. We will need to finish with some cheeseburgers at a diner…
Blueberry Cottage Cheese Churro-Flavored Doughnuts
I love the spiced sugar on the outside of these and the luscious texture of the blueberry cottage cheese inside the doughnuts themselves. These do not require yeast and they don’t take much time to make! They also have more protein than the average doughnut due to the cottage cheese and the flavor is so tasty. You can also make them in advance, cut into the doughnuts, refrigerate for up to 6 hours and just fry when you want to eat them. Note: These do not hang around well once fried. Fry and eat!
Ingredients for the Dough:
2 cups Hood Cottage Cheese with Blueberry
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour plus extra for rolling
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 quart Canola oil, for frying
Ingredients for the Topping:
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
Yield: 14-16 doughnuts
Preheat oven to 350F.
Make the dough: In a large bowl, mix the cottage cheese with the egg, milk, butter and vanilla. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the cottage cheese mixture. Stir to combine. Do not over mix. Let rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Bake: Turn the dough onto a flat, floured surface and roll to about ¾ inch thick. Using a floured round cookie cutter or a drinking glass 2 ½ inches in diameter, cut the doughnut rounds and arrange in a single layer on a floured baking sheet. You should yield 14-16 rounds. Note: You can gently re-roll scraps to maximize dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
Get ready: Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed pot. Heat the oil to 350F over medium heat. Prepare a baking sheet fitted with a kitchen towel and a slotted spoon.
Fry: Use a slotted spoon to gently drop half of the doughnuts into the oil. Cook on the first side, 4 minutes, until golden brown. Turn them gently on the second side with the slotted spoon and cook another 3-4 minutes. Do not rush this. They may look cooked on the outside but need that full time to cook inside. Remove from the oil and lay them out on the kitchen towel to cool. Bring the oil back up to 350F and repeat with the remaining half of the doughnuts.
Fill the doughnuts: Fill a plastic sandwich bag with the remaining cottage cheese. Cut a hole in one corner of the bag. Use a paring knife to hollow a small hole in the side of each doughnut. Put the end of the plastic bag and inject about 2 teaspoons cottage cheese into each doughnut.
Roll: In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, pumpkin pie spice. Roll the doughnuts in the sugar.