I met Marcia when she graciously invited me to a cooking class at her gorgeous home this spring. Piper was a few months old and it was one of the first events I attended in months. To be honest, I stopped attending events during pregnancy when things were crazy between the remodel and baby prep. But when her email hit my inbox, I knew I wanted to be there! She's such an amazing teacher and focused on recipes we could recreate at home. Her kitchen tips were my personal favorite, it sounds simple but she changed the way I cut an onion! Mark my words..Marcia will be the host of a Food Network show one day. She's definitely a must follow if you love cooking like I do!
WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS KEEP ON HAND THAT IS QUICK TO SERVE?
We always have Rao’s Marinara and good quality dried pasta in our pantry. Lately I’ve switched to lentil, quinoa or brown rice pasta — it has a higher protein content and it’s gluten-free. Pasta and marinara is the ultimate fast food. I also have a freezer filled with veggies for a super last minute stir fry that has saved me many weeknights, and we always have a bag of sushi rice in the pantry (and pre-cooked organic brown rice in the freezer — sold at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and most grocery stores).
PRETEND YOU JUST GOT A CALL FROM YOUR COLLEGE BESTIES AND THEY'RE STOPPING BY IN 2 HOURS... WHAT DO YOU WHIP UP?
If my college besties were stopping by in 2 hours, I’d stick to something simple and satisfying. We ate a LOT of nachos in college, so maybe a good homemade jalapeño mint margarita to kick things off, followed by kale guacamole, tomatillo salsa and chips. It’s all about the company with this group, so I might just make it a night of heavy apps like buffalo chicken wings, roasted shishito peppers and a good Mexican street corn salad. If my college girls (who live in separate parts of the country: San Francisco, Aspen, Chicago and Austin) were all together there’s no way we would even sit down. Maybe a nacho bar would be in order, with all the fixings for make-your-own-nachos (it would be just like old times).
IF YOU HAD DAYS TO PREPARE FOR GUESTS, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
When I have days to prepare for a dinner party, I make lists that start about 3-4 days out. I’ll shop in advance and make prep lists of what can be done each day. It makes for a much more relaxed party where I can sit back and enjoy because all the work has been taken care of ahead of time. For dinner parties (which I absolutely love and which are a dying art form) I like to make slow braised meats that can be in the oven when my guests arrive. They make your whole house smell amazing and keep your hands free to open the door and welcome guests when they arrive. In summer, our entertaining is more casual. I’m not afraid to put guests to work and give them a job. I’ll send a group out the door with cold beers to man the grill or ask a friend to toss the salad or stir a sauce. I'm used to teaching classes of 12 and putting everyone to work, so it’s a natural state of affairs in my kitchen!
IF YOU COULD HAVE A DRINK (COFFEE OR COCKTAIL) WITH ANY PERSON DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?
I would love to have met Julia Child. I have a family friend who was her assistant for years and that sounds like a dream situation. Also M.F.K. Fisher, I remember reading her food writing my senior year in high school and a light bulb went off.
DO YOU HAVE A NEVER FAILS CROWD PLEASING RECIPE?
I have a couple never fail recipes. My weeknight bolognese recipe (meat sauce packed with sautéed and pureed veggies, is always a hit! I also hear from cooking class students and friends who make my salsa verde chicken tacos on a regular rotation. One of the most popular recipes on my blog is my weeknight lasagna, which is made with no-boil lasagna noodles and that Rao’s sauce I mentioned. It’s quick enough for a weeknight and special enough to feed guests.
WHO INSPIRES YOU MOST WHEN IT COMES TO ENTERTAINING?
For entertaining inspiration, I turn to my friend Courtney Paddock. We are partners (along with another friend of ours, Kelley Sullivan Low) in Farm Girls Supper Club. It’s a seasonal pop-up dinner series that celebrates pockets of green space in Houston city limits. It’s all about reinventing the dinner party outside in natural spaces. I love Courtney’s natural tablescapes — she is always one step ahead of me!
Houston-based cooking instructor, recipe developer, and food writer Marcia Smart, is the owner of Smart in the Kitchen. Through Smart In The Kitchen, Marcia blogs about meal planning, easy weeknight recipes and healthy family dinners. In addition, Marcia teaches cooking classes, culinary team-building events and cooking retreats.
Marcia began her career in the editorial department at Parenting magazine. She worked as a Producer for Women.com, a food editor for 7x7 magazine in San Francisco, and as a contributing editor and restaurant critic at Houston magazine. Her freelance articles and recipes have appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Cooking Light, Sunset, Parenting, American Health, Rebecca’s Garden, Robb Report, Houston, Parenting Travel, BabyTalk, BabyCenter.com, and Safeway magazine. Marcia was one of the recipe editors for the Junior League of Houston’s award-winning cookbook PeaceMeals. In addition, she wrote and contributed chapters to two Weldon Owen book projects and was selected multiple years as a contributor for Cooking Light’s Annual Recipes cookbooks.
Marcia is a graduate of the professional culinary program at Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco. If she’s not teaching cooking classes around the country, she can be found hiking or skiing in the mountains of Idaho or cooking dinner for her family in Houston.