How to Stay on Track When Eating is Your Job, and Other Tips from a TV Chef

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Aïda Mollenkamp is a former ballerina, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, editor of the food website and Food Network star (her Q & A cooking show, "Ask Aïda" is in its second season). Now she has teamed up with Yoplait to promote their 100-calorie Delights Parfaits. (We tried them a few weeks ago. Read our review.)

Aïda and I recently chatted on the phone about healthy snacking, motivation and simple suppers. Here are some of the highlights from our interview!

Stepfanie: I'm a big fan of your work on And now I hear you're working with the folks at Yoplait. Tell us a little bit about your work with them.
Aïda: I grew up eating a lot of yogurt and I've always turned to it as an afternoon snack. So when they told me they wanted to launch a product that would take care of the afternoon snacking issue, I said "oh, that's a perfect fit!"

Stepfanie: What are some of your other favorite afternoon snacks, and how do you integrate yogurt into those snacks?
Aïda: Usually if I eat yogurt, I just eat the Yoplait Delights and that's it. But this time of year when there's a bunch of fruit on hand, I'll throw in a bunch of fruit, maybe some honey, depending on the type of yogurt. I really like whole grains, so I always have steel-cut oats around, so I'll add that.

I keep a lot of whole-wheat crackers like ak-mak crackers, on hand, along with hard cheese like parmesan. I pair up a lot of fruit with cheese, nuts and dried fruit. It's just the standard stuff that you know is going to pack a lot of energy for a little amount of food.

And I'm a huge chocolate fan, so every once in awhile, I'll have just a square of really dark chocolate as my afternoon snack.

Stepfanie: It's your job to cook. How do you stay in shape and avoid going overboard?
Aïda: It's all about balance, and that's just the way I've always been raised in relation to food. Eat three meals a day, eat a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack or both if you feel like you need it. I didn't grow up eating a lot of classical junk food. I grew up eating stuff like yogurt and dried fruit. My mother made us believe that Ritz crackers were cookies until we were in second grade, so we've always had that healthy mentality.

I run a lot, I do Pilates, ballet, and being the in the (San Francisco) Bay Area, I get to bike, I get to hike. I bike to work and back every day. I get to work and I know--I've actually tried to calorie count it--most people say they want to eat 400 calories for lunch; I'm probably eating like 600-700 (because of all the recipe testing) depending on the day. I really just have to accommodate it and say "OK, that means I don't get to have a latte today--just black coffee." Or I don't get to have a dessert after dinner. I really have to work around it. Luckily the food we're developing at Chow is relatively healthy unless it's the holidays or something. I can balance it out.

It's all about tasting little bits of everything and being honest with yourself about how much you're eating.

Stepfanie: After a busy day, what is your favorite go-to dinner?
Aïda:My best friend is Japanese and I live with her. I think that she's renewed my love of Japanese food in the last couple of years. What I do a lot of is quick, easy stir-fries or something like saag paneer (Indian-spiced spinach and cheese). I really try to do something that's ethnic that's got a lot of flavor and then take the fat down. For example, with saag paneer, I'll make it with tofu instead of the actual paneer cheese, with low-fat yogurt instead of whole-fat. (Find the recipe here.)

I make a lot of green tea broths with buckwheat soba (noodles) with an assortment of vegetables with tofu or edamame. I try to keep it really interesting, but if it's late at night and I've been traveling, it's probably scrambled eggs.

I like real late-night type food that's going to make me feel comfortable quickly.

Stepfanie: What are your top five kitchen tools?
  1. a big wooden cutting board, preferably bamboo
  2. a really good chef's knife, whatever feels good to you
  3. a "Y" peeler
  4. a cast-iron skillet
  5. a really awesome rubber spatula

Stepfanie: Do you have any secret ingredients that add a lot of flavor without adding fat or calories?
Aïda:I think that when people think of low fat, they think it's going to be not very flavorful.

I’m not a stick of butter girl. I'm more likely to use a couple tablespoons of olive oil, but I use a lot of spices.

I use a lot of ethnic spices. I think people are scared of stuff like five-spice (powder, a Chinese herb blend of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, and either fennel seed or ginger) and curry. But they're already mixed spice combinations, so you don't have to worry about whether this is going to go well together. If you turn to really exotic spice combos--like five-spice, curry, harissa or Ras el hanout (Middle Eastern/North African spice blends), whether you put them in your scrambled egg base or on your roast chicken, they're going to add a ton of flavor.

Have you tried the Yoplait Delights? Are you a fan of Aïda's cooking show? What secret ingredient adds tons of flavor in your kitchen?