Spotlight On: Cook + Smarts

Jess Dang, owner of Cook + Smarts, knows a thing or two about cooking and food. So when we had a few questions on those exact topics, we turned to her. Read our Q&A below to pick up some helpful hints!


Uforia: What are three super foods you cook with frequently?

Jess Dang, Cook + Smarts: The 3 super foods that I include almost weekly in my grocery trips are kale, broccoli, and salmon

U: What’s an easy meal to make?

CS: On nights when I hit the gym after work, I am starving by the time I get home. On those nights, I head straight to my oven and throw in some fish and chopped up vegetables (both drizzled with olive oil, salt & pepper) at 400 degrees. I then jump in the shower, by the time I get out, dinner is ready. To add some flavor, I usually mix together a simple vinaigrette (chopped shallots, sherry vinegar, mustard, and olive oil are one of my go-to’s) as well, and chow down.

U: What are some common reasons people come to you for?

CS: My clients call me for all sort of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they’ve just been diagnosed with an illness or a food allergy and need to learn how to cook for their new health needs. Our mommy clients are always looking for new ways to feed their kids healthy ingredients. The most common need though is just basic cooking skills, like how to use a knife properly. By giving our clients a solid foundation in the kitchen, they can be more efficient and save time, something that everyone needs!

U: What is one kitchen gadget must-have?

CS: My immersion blender. I use it for making my pureed soups and simple homemade tomato sauce.

U: What do you suggest your clients with children cook?

We try to cook a lot of different vegetables in really flavorful ways. Even if their kids are picky, it’s important to just keep exposing them to lots of different ingredients. They may not try or like them all, but the more they see them, the less “new and scary” they’ll feel. It’s also important to make vegetables taste good, and I will use kid-friendly flavors like soy sauce, brown sugar, and even ketchup to dress them up. For parents that are really struggling with picky eaters, we’ll also work on ways to “hide” healthy ingredients.

U: Do you have any healthy suggestions or alternatives for clients who have a killer sweet tooth?

CS: I truly believe in moderation, so indulging in that sweet tooth every so often is completely encouraged. In between those more indulgent moments, substitute servings of fruit or mix some jam into a small bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese.

U: What do you eat on a normal day?

CS: I am pre-diabetic, so I try to eat a lot of high-fiber foods. I always start out my day with a high-protein breakfast. Sometimes it’s an omelet with vegan sausage and vegetables such as spinach and / or tomatoes folded into it; other mornings it’s left-overs scrambled up with some eggs. For lunch, it’s either left-overs and some fruit or a hearty salad with chicken, fish, or eggs and good fats from nuts or avocado. I keep dinners simple on weekdays, so I can spend more time working (the work of an entrepreneur never ends!) or spending time with my husband. One of my favorite challenges is to look at what I have in my fridge and pantry and see what meal I can throw together. Simple but versatile cooking formulas such as curries, stir-fries, quinoa or farro bowls, pureed soups, and roasts allow me to improv dinner almost every night. My husband is a vegetarian so I use a lot of non-animal proteins such as tofu, seitan, and beans, whole grains, and vegetables to make a nutritious meal for us.

U: What are some of your favorite dishes to serve when you’re entertaining?

CS: My favorite entertaining menu is one that allows me to spend maximum time with my guests and a crowd pleaser for even the pickiest of eaters. I look for make-ahead recipes or low-maintenance recipes that don’t require a lot of attention from me. One of my favorite menus is a simple roasted chicken stuffed with oranges and rosemary. I like to accompany that with a citrus and avocado salad and perhaps make a light pasta dish to go along with it.

U: What are some keys items you suggest we all have in our pantry and freezer?
CS: Every household is different, but this is what I always have in my pantry / freezer:
  • A few types of oil: canola, olive, and toasted sesame are the ones I most frequently use
  • Many types of vinegar: red wine or sherry, balsamic, apple cider. It guarantees that a vinaigrette / marinade is never too far away
  • Frozen fish: fish is incredibly rich in nutrients that our bodies need. To prevent multiple trips to the grocery store for fresh fish, I always keep a few vacuum packed fillets in my freezer. Half an hour in a bowl of room-temperature water, and you’ve brought it back to life!
  • Frozen vegetables: edamame, peas, carrots, corn, spinach. They can be thrown in a quinoa bowl, fried rice, or soup at a moment’s notice
  • Canned food: diced tomatoes, beans, artichokes, olives
  • Assortment of grains: farro, quinoa, brown rice, arborio rice.

U: What are some time-saving tips for busy clients when it comes to cooking?

CS: Look for ways to double up on prep. I like to make a simple homemade tomato sauce with canned diced tomatoes, which I puree with garlic and shallots. It takes just as long to make one batch as it does to make two or three, so I’ll make more and freeze. Most grains are the same way. It takes just as much time to make 1 cup of rice as it does 2.
Also look for ways to do more with left-overs. I tend to make more so I can turn the remainder into a new meal. A roast chicken becomes part of a soup, a chicken salad, or chicken tacos. Sauteed or roasted vegetables from the night before make great omelet fillers for a breakfast-for-dinner option.
U: Do you have a great recipe you can share?
CS: How about my Farro Vegetable Risotto: The recipe and video can be found here!