She may be a kid, but Tara O'Donnell's mad culinary skills and keen kitchen instincts could impress even the toughest judges. In fact, they did just that when she won Food Network's Chopped Junior last year. No big deal–she just whipped up a little boar strip steak and avocado ice cream is all. Not that we're not jealous or anything.
But seriously, since the show, Tara has kept very, very busy. Through her business, Tara's Tasty Table, she blogs, caters charity dinners and even cooked for the mayor of her hometown of Frisco, Texas. All that plus she's headed back to school as a ninth grader this year, too. Whew!
So, what's her secret? "Be bold and step out of your comfort zone," Tara likes to say. And that's just one of her awesome tips. Read on for more, including the Chopped Junior winner's favorite easy and kid-friendly recipes:
Tara's Tips for Cooking & More1 of 8
1. Taste everything, and don't be afraid to "go big" with flavors and seasonings.
2. Keep your work station well-organized. It will help you keep control and make the tastiest food possible.
3. Always keep a positive outlook.
4. Remain calm and have fun!
5. Be bold and step out of your comfort zone!
One-Pot Veggie Chili2 of 8
1 can black beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 green bell pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 small cans crushed tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Sour cream, cheese or cilantro for serving, optional
In a large pot, sauté the garlic and onion in a little olive oil over medium heat until soft and tender. Add the mushrooms and bell pepper and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, broth, salt, pepper and spices. Stir to combine and cook on low heat for about 1 hour. Garnish with sour cream and chopped cilantro if desired.
Salmon and Pineapple Stir Fry3 of 8
2 cups cooked rice
2 cups chicken broth
4 fresh salmon filets
1 cup frozen peas
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 of a fresh pineapple, diced
Soy sauce to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and coat a baking tray with non-stick spray. Bake the salmon for about 15 minutes until crispy at the corners and moist inside.
Meanwhile, in a wok or large pan, fry onions, peppers and pineapple in a small amount of oil until golden brown. Slowly pour in chicken broth and continue stirring. Add soy sauce and frozen peas and cook until peas are tender.
To serve, place 1/2 cup of warm rice in a large bowl, and cover with the stir fry mixture. Pour over the warm broth and lay salmon on top.
Sweet Corn Salad4 of 8
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp. mustard
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups pre-cooked canned or fresh corn
1/2 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
In a large bowl, combine dressing ingredients and mix well. Add onion, corn and bell peppers and mix to combine. Top with cilantro.
Butternut Squash Soup5 of 8
2 butternut squash, cleaned and cubed
4 to 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, minced
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine squash and broth in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the squash is tender–about 20 to 30 minutes. Carefully blend or mash the squash and broth mixture until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot, lower the heat and stir in the thyme, nutmeg, cream and salt and pepper. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
Breakfast Egg Muffins6 of 8
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large tomato, chopped
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 tbsp. fresh herbs (thyme, parsley, etc.), finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick spray. Cook mushrooms, onion and garlic in a saucepan coated with a small amount of oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Divide the mushroom mixture among the 12 muffin cups. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl and combine with the chopped tomatoes, grated cheese and herbs. Add a little salt and pepper. Whisk the mixture to make your muffins light and fluffy, then pour the egg mixture evenly on top of the mushroom mixture in the muffin cups. Bake for 10 minutes and enjoy warm or at room temperature.
Strawberry Mint Granita7 of 8
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup warm water
1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Handful of fresh mint
Combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a medium bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Place strawberries, mint and the water mixture into a blender, and blend until smooth and well combined. Pour into a 12-inch baking dish and place in the freezer. After about 30 minutes, use a fork to stir the ice crystals that have formed at the edges into the middle of the dish. Repeat this process every 30 minutes for about 90 minutes. Serve by using a fork and scrape the flakes of frozen granite into a bowl. Garnish with an additional mint sprig if desired.