Depending on how old you were in the early 2000s, you might know Haylie Duff from Lizzie McGuire, the popular Disney Channel show in which she appeared alongside her sister, Hilary, or you might recognize her as stuck-up Summer Wheatley from Napoleon Dynamite. If you're a Cooking Channel fan, though, you'll more likely know her as the host of The Real Girl's Kitchen, a show inspired by her hit blog and cookbook of the same name.
Recently, Food & Wine chatted with the quadruple threat (not only does she cook and act, she also writes songs and sings) about baby-proof cooking for her 10-month-old daughter, the best tablescapes for spring parties and her trick to a perfect sweet-and-sour margarita.
Food & Wine: For starters, how do you balance cooking with raising a baby?
Haylie Duff: It's funny, I got really lucky, and my daughter [Ryan] loves to be in the kitchen with me. She's a very easy baby, and so, more times than not, I can put her in a little walker or in her high chair and she will play with me in the kitchen while I'm recipe testing or shooting.
F&W: Is she at a stage yet where she can be your taste-tester?
HD: Yes, and I have to tell you, she was not a big fan of meat when she first started eating solids. But when we did a big shoot here at the house for a project from the National Pork Board, they left this little bag of pre-diced ham in my refrigerator. I was looking at it the next morning and I was giving Ryan scrambled eggs and I was like, "Maybe I'm just gonna give her a couple little pieces of this and try meat again." She went so bonkers for it that now it's our normal morning routine. My mother-in-law thinks it's hilarious that Ryan's normal breakfast is scrambled eggs and ham. She's like, "She eats better than me most mornings!"
F&W: Sounds like a pretty great way to start the day. What else is Ryan into?
HD: She definitely loves fruit. I started doing these little grapes for her—I shouldn't even admit to this, it's so embarrasing—but I peel the skin off most of them, because it's my first child. I'm sure if I have more babies I probably won't be able to skin grapes for them. But that's a big favorite around here, because they're really slippery so they're fun to play with, too.
F&W: Wait, how do you individually peel grapes?
HD: Sister, it's not easy, okay? There's no trick. It's basically with your fingers and your fingernails. It's just a spoiled rotten baby trait, is what it is.
F&W: I know you cook with chefs on your show all the time. What's a tip you've learned that's changed your game in the kitchen?
HD: I never went to culinary school, and I always joke that my culinary producer on the show is my crash course in culinary school. One trick that I used just yesterday is peeling little cipollini onions or pearl onions. I feel like I watched my mother peel those growing up and it would just take forever, but they're so delicious in so many dishes, especially during the spring when they're fresh out of the garden. A trick that I learned somewhere along the way is to boil them for 30 seconds to a minute and then cold-bath them and all the skins fall right off.
F&W: You also have some great ideas on your blog for easy, simple home DIYs. What's one entertaining décor idea you're excited about?
HD: One thing I really am leaning towards this year in general is a very neutral, monochromatic holiday table. Over the last few years I feel like I've bought so many things that are holiday-specific, and this year I'm really sticking to neutral things that can have holiday accents, like springy-looking flowers. The fact that you can slip all of these tablescapes into every other holiday is just more realistic for my life. I don't want to have to store a million things, like my mom did growing up when we had our Easter box and our Thanksgiving box and our Christmas box. When you stick with a neutral table and then just bring in little pops of things, it's a simpler, easier approach to everything.
F&W: That's really smart. Your tablescape can be much more flexible that way.
HD: I'm also really getting my dinnerware in tip-top shape. I kind of have a mish-mosh, and I'm really trying to step it up this year with the neutral vibe. And your food really stands out that way, too. It kind of goes back to that old-school way of thinking that all food should be served on white plates. Have you heard that?
F&W: Yes, and I've heard that certain colors suppress your appetite.
HD: Yeah, or that a red dining room will make you hungrier. Oh my gosh, my dining room would be hideous if I painted it red.
F&W: What color is your dining room?
HD: It's like a very soft grey. Everything in my house is very neutral because it's a big open space, so if I just had a random red room in here it would be very shocking.
F&W: Okay, last question. I know you love a good margarita; do you have a favorite twist when you make them at home?
HD: We have a little orange tree at our house in Malibu, and I don't know where it came from. It's like a combination tangerine/orange. It's just the best orange ever. I wish I could figure out what kind of plant it is so that I could buy ten more of them. Maybe they're tangelos? They have that bumpy top on them. A lot of times when I make my margarita I squeeze the juice in. It just adds a little bit of sweetness without adding sugar, but it still keeps it nice and acidic. I mean, I do not shy away from a good margy. No I do not.
Try one of Haylie's go-to recipes, Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Roast with White Wine and Herbs, here.