In the six years since Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories from an Unlikely Life on a Farm came out, Molly Yeh had two children, started her own television show and hosts a second, and opened her first restaurant. Her life, suffice it to say, has changed a little from the stunning and aspirational version depicted among the towering cakes and elaborate meals of her first cookbook.
In her second full-length cookbook, Home Is Where the Eggs Are, available Sept. 27, she shows off her current world — still aspirational, but with recipes for simpler, quicker, and more family-friendly meals. Yeh opens the book by describing the unexpected change brought by having children: “A pretty jarring shift in my taste buds, a newfound deeper meaning to mealtime, and a fresh perspective on food in general.”
Yeh spoke to Romper by phone about what dinnertime is like in her busy household with her daughters, Ira (6 months) and Bernie (3 years), and how her love of food and cooking fits with her older daughter’s passion for boxed mac and cheese.
I'm not a fun parent, but I'm a chicken-soup-making parent.
What was the best change in your eating habits since having kids?
By far, the best change is my cold Sunday afternoon ritual of making homemade chicken soup — the Chicken and Stars soup in the book. It was something that I realized I needed to get good at when, all of a sudden, I was a Jewish mother. What kind of Jewish mother doesn't make chicken soup?
Over the past few years, whenever it's cold out on a Sunday, during Bernie's nap, I'll put together my homemade stock. Most of the time, I'll make homemade noodles, and just enjoy that coziness that goes throughout the house when soup is simmering on the stove. To have Bernie wake up to that smell is what I want to give her in life. I'm not a fun parent, but I'm a chicken-soup-making parent.
And the worst?
Feeling like a failure when I screw up box mac and cheese. I told myself I was going to be that mom who didn't do a lot of box mac and cheese, but now I realize how much Bernie loves it. I get it now. I get why box mac and cheese is such a thing. Even though I do have a stovetop mac and cheese in the new book, she prefers the bunny shapes these days. And I have screwed it up; I've tried to get fancy, like, “Oh, I’ll add a splash of pasta water to the sauce.” Then it just turns out to be bad.
Is she picky?
She is picky. I will say though, I was very picky too when I was younger, but Bernie eats some foods that I would have never eaten when I was younger: She loves salmon. She loves avocado, broccoli, green smoothies. She has her staple healthy things that give me peace of mind when there are those days when all she wants is mac and cheese and Ritz crackers.
Do you do anything differently when she turns things down?
Oh, I would love to have the willpower to just see what happens. Our general rule of thumb is that we try to have her taste whatever I'm serving at least once or twice before we pull out the PB&J, but if she tastes it and she really doesn't like it, then we'll get her something healthy, like a banana or a smoothie, oatmeal or peanut butter toast or something. Something that's super easy that Nick or I can make while the other one is still sitting down at the dinner table trying to have a nice meal.
How involved is your family in cooking and cleanup?
Nick doesn't know how to boil water, but he's great at the dishes. It's just clean-cut: I do the cooking. He does the dishes. Straightforward. Bernie does like to help, especially with breakfast. She's great at spreading peanut butter and jelly on toast. She does get involved sometimes, I just have to let my brain relax about the messes and stuff. It's worth it.
What does a typical weeknight dinner look like for your family?
I typically like to have one night where we do salmon, one night where we do a big salad, one night might be a pasta night, one night is definitely going to be a leftovers night, and then we have Friday pizza night. I have those categories in my brain when I'm planning my grocery list and meals for the next week, and then I just slot them in. Some different kinds of salmon that we like are simple with lemon and basil — right now we have so much of it in the garden — or just putting some chili crisp on it and having it over sushi rice with some broccoli, or doing a salsa verde and having it with whatever vegetable looked good at the grocery store. We stick to a lot of categories these days, and then just change it up based on what ingredients we have, what we need to use up, what looks good in the garden, the seasons, things like that.
Is it a written schedule that you figure out, or is it more just a loose thing in your head?
I jot down loose ideas in my notepad, on my phone. I have my to-do list, and at the bottom of it, I have “Meals for next week” and I'll have very loose ideas, like “salmon with chili crisp,” or “hummus with salad,” or, I don't know, “pasta with red sauce.” Then inevitably, a lot of those always change. Last week, for example, I had gotten salmon and broccoli and was planning to do these sushi rice bowls that we just love, with salmon, broccoli, mayonnaise, and chili crisp.
Then we got to that day, and it was this beautiful, warm sunny day and a neighbor had just given us some great zucchini, and the basil was looking great. I just made a few tweaks and instead of doing the salmon with rice, we did salmon with orzo and zucchini and basil and lemon. So, just with a few tiny little tweaks, it took on a different type of flavor.
Do you have a leftovers strategy or do you just know that on leftovers night you'll go through it all?
Whenever I make pasta or grains or rice, I always make double the amount that we're going to have in one meal, because those work so well with leftovers, of course. Same thing with broccoli. Whenever I roast broccoli, I roast two full pans of it, because I know that those will be good as leftovers. I'm big on labeling, because I will always forget what night of the week we had things. I'm super neurotic about making sure that we have our leftovers within three days.
One thing that I do a lot, especially if I'm making something like grain bowls where there's a lot of components like sauces or pickles or vegetables or grains or whatever, I prep them for that night right within lidded containers. Even though a grain bowl has six different components, they're easy to put away, and then the next day, super easy to pull out and dish up right over again for lunch. I always like to think ahead with leftovers and try to use as few dishes as possible.
How often do you just throw your hands up in the air and order takeout?
I kind of go in phases. When I'm filming, the days are longer. A lot of the times when I make things for episodes, there might not be that many leftovers or they might be heavier meals, things that I don't necessarily want to eat multiple times a day. After a long day like that, even though I had been cooking all day, it's not necessarily things that we have for dinner. That's sometimes when I throw up my hands and do takeout.
We really don't do a lot of takeout, because we don't have that many options super close to us on the farm. If it's a stressful day, or sometimes Nick, my husband, will have his trombone choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights, and I'm with the kids and if their naps haven’t gone well, then I'll just take out a couple of boxes of frozen potstickers and a bagged Asian salad kit and call it dinner. I am all about frozen potstickers. They're so good.
Possibly related: What did you swear that you would never do as a mom in the kitchen, that you now find yourself doing?
It's got to be the boxed mac and cheese. Homemade mac and cheese was one of the first recipes I ever learned to make, I have made it countless times, and I always just assumed that my child is going to have the best mac and cheese on a regular basis. It's going to be homemade, it's going to use fancy cheese, it's going to be the best.
I think I have to draw the line at Hot Pockets. Ask me in 10 years when she's in high school, but no, no Hot Pockets, sorry.
But no, the child prefers the powdery cheese. I'm OK with it now. Just thinking back and realizing how much boxed mac and cheese I ate when I was little, I have to be like, “You know what? This is just part of childhood and I want her to have happy memories of her childhood, eating kid food and just being a kid.”
When you were a kid, what did you eat?
One of my favorite things was my mom's eggs in a basket. For a while, I would have two of them every morning before school. They were buttery and salty and the eggs were always perfectly runny. I loved that. I loved eggs.
My favorite meal of the day was after-school snack time, when I would come home from school just starving and inhale so many snacks, like Hot Pockets, pigs in a blanket from the frozen section, and cheese on toast. After-school snack food was my favorite genre of food, but it was a lot of carbs and cheese and eggs.
Do you still keep that stuff around your house, or are you going to when your kids are old enough to want it?
Ooh, I don't know. I think I have to draw the line at Hot Pockets. Ask me in 10 years when she's in high school, but no, no Hot Pockets, sorry.
Is there a favorite family dinner from when you were a kid that you love to make for your kid?
Gosh, my mind just keeps going to mac and cheese. I feel like my entire physical being is made of mac and cheese. My mom eventually found her way to the Martha Stewart homemade mac and cheese recipe. That became our special “last day of school” recipe or birthday recipe, or “first day home from summer camp” recipe when I was super sad and needed to cheer up. So a pan of a big casserole of mac and cheese signified a good day.
Molly Yeh’s Chicken & Stars Soup Recipe
“I load my soup with big slices of vegetables, because vegetables saturated in soup are Bernie’s favorite, and bigger slices are quicker to chop, easier for her to eat with her hands, and less likely to disintegrate into mush if the soup simmers for an extra long time,” Yeh writes in Home Is Where the Eggs Are.
“Like any good Jewish chicken soup, this is heavy on the dill — but the nutmeg and lemon are the sleeper hits, infusing even more depth into an already flawless food. Contrary to some ‘rules,’ I cook my noodles directly in the soup instead of in a separate pot of boiling water, because, well, I honestly like it for all the reasons they tell you not to do it. (The noodles get mushy! The broth gets cloudy!) I love mushy noodles.”
Serves 4 to 6
One 3½-pound (1.6-kilogram) whole chicken
2 medium yellow onions, 1 quartered and 1 chopped
2 medium parsnips, trimmed, 1 cut into large chunks and 1 cut into ¼-inch slices
3 large carrots, trimmed, 1 cut into large chunks and 2 cut into ¼-inch slices
3 large celery stalks, 1 cut into large chunks and 2 cut into ¼-inch slices
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 thyme sprigs
6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, 3 whole and 3 chopped
12 dill sprigs, 6 whole and 6 chopped, plus more for serving
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, plus ground black pepper
Zest and juice of half a lemon
A few passes of freshly grated nutmeg
Egg noodle stars
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
¼ cup (60 grams) water
FOR the soup base, in a large pot, combine the chicken, quartered onion, parsnip chunks, carrot chunks, celery chunks, garlic, thyme, the 3 whole parsley sprigs, the 6 whole dill sprigs, the bay leaves, and the peppercorns. Add cold water to cover and come up just below the top of the pot, about 5 quarts. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer at a low bubble, uncovered, until the chicken is very tender, about 1½ hours (or longer if you have the time — up to 6 hours, topping off with more water if the stock dips below the chicken and veggies), skimming off any scum (there won’t be much) and, if desired, some fat.
WHILE the stock simmers, make the stars: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and nutmeg, add the eggs and water and mix to form a dough. Knead for 5 to 7 minutes, until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to ⅛ inch thick, dusting with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, and cut out stars with a bite-size star-shaped cookie cutter (or other small cookie cutter!). Dust the stars with flour so they don’t stick together and set them aside on a sheet pan. Reroll the scraps and repeat to use up the rest of the dough. (If you don’t have the patience for all these cutouts, you can also just use a knife to cut long skinny noodles.) Set aside until ready to use.
CAREFULLY strain the stock, discarding all of the solids except for the chicken. You should have 3½ to 4½ quarts of stock. Set the chicken aside to cool briefly while you put together the rest of the soup. Return the strained stock to the pot and bring it to a simmer. Add the chopped onion, sliced parsnip, sliced carrots, sliced celery, chopped parsley, chopped dill, noodles, and 1 tablespoon salt and simmer, covered, until the vegetables and noodles are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
MEANWHILE, pull the chicken off the bones and chop it into bite-size pieces. Season the chicken with salt and, when the vegetables and noodles are tender, add it to the soup along with the lemon zest and juice, nutmeg, and ground black pepper. Taste and add more salt if needed. This is important: the amount of salt in a chicken soup can mean the difference between unappetizing chicken tea and the elixir of bubbe love that it should be. So don’t skip this step, and don’t rush it either. Taste your soup. If it doesn’t make you smile reflexively, add more salt, about a ½ teaspoon of it, and give it a few good stirs so it can dissolve. Taste and repeat as needed until it tastes good.
GARNISH with fresh dill and serve.
AS A MUSHY NOODLE FAN, I store the soup all together and look forward to the next day when the soup will taste even better and the noodles will be even softer. I recognize that not everyone loves a mushy noodle, though, so if you’re in this category and you expect to have leftovers, cook the noodles separately in salted boiling water to your desired doneness and store the drained leftover noodles separately as well. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months.
From Home Is Where the Eggs Are by Molly Yeh. Copyright © 2022 by Molly Rebecca Yeh. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.