January 19, 2010

Essential Cookbook: Dollars to Donuts

I recently received a review copy of Dollars to Donuts, a new cookbook by Dawn Welch, owner of Route 66’s Rock Cafe and Oklahoma’s Woman of the Year.

D2D cover

Fun fact: Dawn inspired the character of Sally Carrera in the movie Cars! How come no one has made cartoon character out of me yet?! Oh wait, I’m already a looney tune.

I digress. Turns out Dawn’s motto is the same as my own: “Use what you have and only buy what you need.” I plan all my meals a week at a time using this principle! It has consistently saved me time and money.

IMG_9332_SG_FINAL copy

Knowing that this cooking strategy has worked for me time and time again, I was totally jazzed to flip through Dollars to Donuts and find the entire cookbook centered around Dawn’s motto. Not only is each recipe recipe marked with its cost per serving, but it includes icons indicating that it’s kid-friendly, can be made ahead, freezes well, etc. (Check out Dawn’s blog to see what I mean and score a couple recipes while you’re at it!)

Moreover, there is an entire chapter devoted to “The Big Bang Relay”: several core recipes that can be cooked in bulk and then repurposed into yet more recipes to last you through the week, saving money and time yet keeping your meals interesting.

Jeepers, what’s not to like?!

On top of enjoying a couple of her recipes for dinner tonight…


…I was lucky enough to have a little interview with Dawn herself! Without further ado:

What are the most popular dishes at the restaurant? Do they tend to be the same dishes that you cook at home for your family?

The most popular dishes at the Rock are Chicken-Fried Steak & Bacon Gravy,  Spicy Glazed Meatloaf, Indian Fry Bread Tacos, hamburgers and Beignets. These are family favorites as well. Sometimes I create recipes at home before introducing them at the Rock and sometimes, I try something out on the customers first and then ask my family what they think. It really works both ways.

Do you come up with recipes with an idea first, or do you like to improvise?

I find recipes in all sorts of ways: from traveling to new places, from customers, friends, sometimes I dream of recipes and wake up with a new idea! Currently, there are two things I'm constantly thinking about: one is Shepard's Pie, the other is Sopapilla Dessert. I'm trying different ways to prepare them and having a great time improvising and tasting the results. Shepard's Pie is really a leftover that would start as Meatloaf. The Sopapilla Dessert is a super simple recipe made from package crescent rolls but I want to improvise by using Fry Bread dough and filling it with a cream cheese and fruit mixture.

What do you value most in a recipe? (ie. time involved, ingredients, nutrition, kid-appeal, etc.) 

I really value individuality in recipes, the way someone interprets a recipe and makes it unique to them. But it's the tips and secrets in recipes that interest me most. Sometimes I enjoy cooking a meal that takes a long time. Usually I'm rushed in the restaurant, so spending time cooking and having my kids help, gets food on the table and we get to talk about our day. I'm interested in nutrition and recipes my kids will love too. It seems to all go together.

What’s your number one tip for people who don’t think they have the time and/or money to cook from scratch?

If you plan meals ahead of time and stock your pantry with what you need, you'll save time and money, I promise. And you'll know what ingredients went into the meal. No surprises. No driving to a restaurant or ordering in, what's really easy and fun to make at home. Use cookbooks as a guide to get the creative juices flowing. Okay, that's more than one tip...

Which of your recipes taste even more amazing leftover?

Anything from the Big Bang Relay, especially the White Cheese Lasagna and Chicken Enchiladas. There are many sauces in Cover Your Bases that can be turned into several dishes. If you're Vegetarian, the Summer Vegetable Ragout can be served with pasta, rice, bread and it's very healthy.

Any plans to open additional restaurant locations? Oklahoma is a bit of a hike for this New Yorker! 

Ha. No plans for additional restaurants. My passion is food. I love the kitchen and coming up with new recipes for the people in my town and visitors traveling on Route 66. I'm going to be in New York next Thursday to promote the book on The Today Show. I would love to come cook for you personally!

Well, I can’t say no to that!

What I can do is take a stab at it myself first! I pulled out my new Le Creuset casserole dish (Christmas present!) to make Spicy Roasted Cauliflower


…and cooked the Spoon-Tender Green Beans with Bacon (minus the bacon) on the stovetop in the meantime.


I don’t buy meat anymore, so I substituted 1 tbsp olive oil for the bacon drippings and otherwise followed the recipe. I used Lindsay’s vegan bacon bits as a topping and it was perfect!

I need a stronger word than “perfect” for the cauliflower, though.


It was roasted in a combination of spices and olive oil, then tossed with lemon juice and red pepper flakes post-roasting. I have no words for this! I often profess my love for roasted vegetables, but this particular dish is the kind that might just claim my first-born.

To round out my dinner of two vegetable dishes, I threw together a side dish of leftover scraps from the fridge. I’d like to think Dawn would be proud of me “using what I have”!


The scraps in need of use were brown rice, chickpeas and the last of my Sabra sauteed vegetable spread. I just stirred it all together and nuked it. 90 seconds to a gourmet side dish! Well, perhaps I’m using the word “gourmet” rather loosely, but the olives on top have got my back.


Just between you, me and the interwebs, I’ll let you in on a cooking secret of my own: I made both of these recipes with frozen vegetables! I didn’t even thaw them first. I know that texture is an issue some people have with frozen veggies and therefore they swear by fresh, but I just ain’t one of them. I’ve already told you that the cauliflower blew my mind, and frankly, using these frozen veggies I had on hand not only saved me a few bucks, but I didn’t have to worry about them going bad before I had a chance to use them, nor did I have to do any washing or chopping! If that doesn’t make me an authentic Dollars to Donuts style chef, I don’t know what would.

Clearly, I am but one Disney movie away from becoming an American culinary institution. ;)

A huge thank you Dawn and Jessica Taylor for founding this feast!


Anonymous said...

dawn- what a cool lady! all the food looks scrumptious as well. and my vote is for you to become a disney superstar ;)

Gabriela said...

"Use what you have and buy only what you need." I need to tell myself that more often! I'm notorious for buying wayy too much depending on what I'm craving and then letting it all go to waste.

Din looks yummy...I love the cauliflower!

Anonymous said...

dang great interview! i loved reading this. those veggies look amazing!

Christine said...

Great interview! I'm working on that buying only what I need thing :-P

Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) said...

Awesome interview, Diana! And this statement is my own view too:
“Use what you have and only buy what you need.” I plan all my meals a week at a time using this principle! It has consistently saved me time and money."

Girl. We are 3 people living on my husband's income. I mean life is fine and good, but I am also frugal. Long gone are the days of going to WF's more than 1-2x/month. TJ's and the reg groc store MUST suffice. And I shop economically and buy only what I need. I try rarely to do impulse buys. They look great at the store but later on i am like 4.99 for a jar of curry mango chutney. Cute. But not really practical. Love this sentiment of buying what u need, only.

Cauli = perfection. Need the recipe!

The comment that you love reading blogs were people share their life, more of themselves and that my blog fit in that category...thank you. One of the nicest comments I've read this week. xoxo :)

Gina said...

This restaurant is right up my alley!! I love her idea of "using what you have, and only what you need", I try to do that myself. I don't really ever go to the grocery store specifically for ingredients, unless I am preparing for guests or bringing something to a party. I will go ahead and check out her blog, thanks for the information!

haha, figured the steak and gravy would be most popular ;)

katherine said...

awesome interview, wonderful-looking dishes and yay for frozen veggies! this detox week has me visiting the freezer section more than i ever have before and i feel like i've found the holy grail of flavorful off-season veggies!

Sophie @ yumventures said...

I always try to make recipes that last for days/can be reused in various meals -- what a great cookbook! I will have to see if I can hunt one down! And I definitely share your love for roasted vegetables...carrot fries mmmmmm :)

Fayinagirl (means Free One) said...

What a fun interview! One of our family "dreams" is to do the Route 66 vacation and check out the good eats along the way. ;-)

Love the dinner you made! Looks so yummy!

Erica said...

I love the idea of using what you have and building on it! She seems like a very cool lady and the dish you created looks fantastic!

Gena said...

"If you plan meals ahead of time and stock your pantry with what you need, you'll save time and money, I promise...use cookbooks as a guide to get the creative juices flowing."

Words to live by! I loved this interview and cauliflower looks totally wonderful :)

Bliss Doubt said...

Try chopped smoked almonds on those green beans, instead of the vegbacon bits. Smoked almonds taste bacony.