Haylie Duff Talks Real Girl's Kitchen And Her Best Cooking Tips - Exclusive Interview

Let's be real for a moment: those elaborate cooking techniques we admire on television or when we venture out to a fine restaurant can make our own puttering about in the kitchen seem pretty basic in comparison. The fact is, though, for those of us balancing work and kids or other family obligations, there just aren't enough hours in the day to flambé. (And even if there were, sometimes the draw of the sofa and some Netflix is too hard to resist!)

But that doesn't mean we can't serve up dishes that will delight everyone at the table. This is the premise behind Haylie Duff's "Real Girl Kitchen" enterprise, which has included a blog, cookbook, and a TV show on the Cooking Channel. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Duff, who was on the show "Lizzie MacGuire" with sister Hilary Duff, and has a starring role in the soon-to-be-released Lifetime Christmas movie, "Blending Christmas", (per Good Housekeeping) explained why she's so passionate about sharing simple recipe shortcuts with other busy parents. She also offered some easy hacks for kid-friendly meals — including one that turned okra into a food her children prefer to French fries.

Why Haylie Duff started "Real Girl's Kitchen"

What inspired you to start "Real Girl's Kitchen"?

I have been acting since I was a little kid, and I think I got to a point where I wasn't getting the jobs that I was wanting and I was feeling just creatively a little stuck and not getting to flex certain muscles that I wanted to. And I really do believe that the universe gives you what it is that you need. And, I made a blog with no intention that it would turn into all the amazing things that it's turned into. I did it out of, honestly, boredom and I thought it would be a good creative outlet for me.

I didn't know how to cook and I was like, "I'll do this and people might think it's funny because I don't know how to cook anything!" And then pretty soon, it shifted into this crazy thing where all of a sudden I was like, "Oh wait, I do know how to cook! I just never did it and I'm pretty good at it."

And I just never in a million years thought that I would be sitting here doing a cooking demo from my house! If you had told me that, I wouldn't have believed you! But, I feel very, very grateful for it. And it certainly has given me this whole other part of my career.

With "Real Girl's Kitchen," it seems like you are very focused on what's accessible for families. Is that true?

You know what? It is, because I think we live so much in this world of this unattainable "momming." I never felt more pressure as a mom than I did in those first few weeks of the pandemic, when every time I opened Instagram, the most elaborate activities were going on, the most elaborate crafts. And I was like, "We are just trying to get through a day over here where there's no meltdowns and everyone's happy!" So, it is something that I feel passionate about talking about and helping moms figure out how to simplify their life, and how to feel like they're accomplishing it all, and feeling empowered in that way.

And my mom was a good example for me with that, too. I feel like my mom always made really great dinners, but they weren't over-the-top dinners, but they always tasted good. And she always had time to work on our homework with us afterward.

But I think I grew up watching her have that good balance of being available, but also getting all the mom stuff done that you needed to do. And so if I can pass on some of those tips to people, then I'm going to try to do it.

Haylie Duff discusses cooking for her family -- including sister Hilary Duff

What first inspired your interest in cooking, before "Real Girl's Kitchen"?

I moved into — [this] feels like forever ago — I moved into my first house, and my mom came over, and I had this great kitchen, and my mom came over and opened a drawer and it was just nothing but delivery menus and take out menus. And she was like, "Haylie Duff, you need to learn how to make some meals here!" And I really, I mean, I could give my mom the credit for it, I think. She was the one that ripped on me a little bit about it and then inspired me to do it.

Do you cook with your family often?

Yeah, we love to cook. Since we moved to Texas, Matt's [Rosenberg, her husband] been getting out on the grill a little bit more, and my dad, we say my dad makes the world's greatest steak. He really does! Everyone's nodding an agreement behind the computer here. But yeah, I mean, I think that is a way that our family comes together. So I think that's really why we love it so much, is it's just the greatest way for us to all focus on each other, and sit down and actually spend time together, and not be on phones and things like that.

Of your recipes, what is Hilary Duff's favorite?

I mean, I want to say ... What is something that I've made that Hilary likes? The bacon-wrapped dates, the black bean chocolate cake. I feel like the black bean chocolate cake has been pretty popular for her.

Why Haylie Duff loves pre-cooked Tyson chicken strips

Why did you partner with Tyson Chicken to do recipe demonstrations with their pre-cooked chicken?

Well, it was a perfect fit for me, honestly, because they sent me the chicken. And for me, the weeknight meals are always hectic. [My kids are] always coming home from school, coming home from afternoon activities, all those things. Everyone's tired and cranky and ready for bed. Then I discovered this chicken and it was like, I could make 10,000 things from one ingredient! And I'm always trying to figure out how I can streamline. I just love that I could make so many things out of one ingredient and anytime I can streamline what goes into our pantry or what goes into our fridge. I'm happy about it because the grocery shopping is always, like, a chore. Having new, fresh things, always in the house is a chore.

So I love that I can always count on protein in the fridge or in the freezer that I can make into a ton of different things that my family will actually eat.

What do you think about pre-cooked chicken? Do you think it tastes as good when it's prepared as a pack of raw chicken breasts that you cooked from scratch?

I think you can really botch raw chicken breasts. I think you can really overcook it. I think you can not season it correctly all the time. I think that there's certainly a margin for error with it. And for me, what I was blown away by the most with Tyson Simply Roasted is that it actually tastes like roasted chicken. It is roasted chicken. It's all-natural. There's no antibiotics. It's a really good choice for food for your family. And you're not sacrificing flavor or quality, even though it's a pre-made product. I think that's something that people worry about and that is certainly not the case with it.

What do you like to eat in a day? Do you have favorite go-tos?

I mean, I tend to eat sort of whatever my kids are eating for dinner, sometimes, on the weekday. But if I had it up to me, I would be making healthy salads with grilled chicken or sushi. I love to eat sushi. I love Thai food. I think that's why I love that curry recipe [on Tyson's website] so much is I do love to order Thai food.

But yeah, I think I would probably make fancier meals if it was up to me. I'd probably spend a little more time making them. I do sort of have dreams about the olden days, before I had kids, where I actually could just go into the kitchen and spend hours just cooking something new and exciting! [One thing I eat is] my arugula with the fried egg on top. I make the time to make the fancy stuff when I need to, but it's usually chicken and veggies and things like that.

Haylie Duff's cooking tips for busy parents

What are your best cooking hacks for busy moms like yourself?

I think just prepping, as much prep as you can do, as much organizing you can do. I try to think out what I'm making that week as far meals [go], and then I try to say, "Okay, can this recipe be lunch tomorrow?" Or, "Could this recipe morph into something and turn into dinner tomorrow night? What can I add to it that can make it last a little bit longer and be a second meal?"  And I think that always is a time saver. I think making recipes that are simple, but have a lot of flavor, is a time saver. So I don't want to look at a recipe that has a hundred ingredients or 30 steps. I'm like, [that's] absolutely never happening. So I think just simple, good recipes that your family's going to eat, that's the best time-saving hack there is.

You mentioned that your kids' favorite food is okra. Can you explain why that is, and how you prepare it to be kid-friendly?

Okra is ... a Southern food. A lot of my friends that grew up in Los Angeles were like, "I do not even know what that is. What is okra?" And it has a little bit of a slimy consistency. Sometimes [I think] it's very strange that my kids love it, but they do. It cooks down into almost like stew and it's really simple. You put it in a pot with some garlic, some chopped onion. You can go the fancy route and you can do a can of tomatoes and then add a bunch of seasoning to it. But my weekday go-to is a jar of tomato sauce, like a tomato basil or something like that. Sometimes I'll add some cumin or some chili powder, but that's really it. You put the lid on with the okra in it and it stews down and they'll eat it plain. They'll eat it with rice. Sometimes they'll put lentils in it. It's just a really great, healthy vegetable.

And funny enough, I've served it to friends of theirs that had never eaten it before and they're always kind of like, "Ooh, what is that?" And then they always end up eating the whole bowl. It's the most random kid-friendly food around, but we also fry it. And that's been popular in our house, too, with dipping it in some ketchup.

How Haylie Duff manages her acting career and taking care of her kids

You have a new movie coming out, "Blending Christmas" on Lifetime. Has it been hard to take care of your kids while shooting that?

I really lucked out in the mother-in-law department and they moved to Texas when we moved to Texas. And so Matt holds it down really well when I'm out of town, if I have to go to shoot something. He knows how to cook the meals they like. He knows the bedtime routines. He really can handle it. But when he's busy with work, I've got the best mother-in-law who comes in and just runs the show and I normally don't have to worry about things when she's around. So I think leaning on your tribe of people is the best way to get through those busy times.

What's next for you in your career?

Well, you mentioned my Lifetime movie that's going to be out in December. That was so fun to get to go back to work after being home for months and months, months, and months and months and months! That was just such a great experience, too. One of my girlfriends directed it, so I got to come out of isolation in the pandemic and then actually be at work with one of my best friends every day, so that was such a treat. And then after that, I finished a romantic comedy called "The Baby Pact" and that'll be out, I would think, early next year.

What about with "Real Girl Kitchen"? Any new recipes or cookbooks coming out?

Yes. And I'm always sharing stuff on Instagram and things like that. I was talking to somebody earlier today: I have my second cookbook proposal that's been just sitting in my computer for almost two years now! So I think now that we're moved and settled, that will probably be the next focus for me is getting that pitched out and hopefully start working on that.

Is it similar to your first cookbook?

Yes and no. I think my style of cooking probably has changed a little bit, and I certainly would like to include stories with the recipes in the same way that I did the first book. I feel like it just makes you want to actually sit and read a cookbook versus just look at it! The years right after the book came out, my life was changing so much. I got engaged. I had kids. And I think I was just very like "in it" at the time, and I couldn't really step back from it and have enough ... what is the word I'm looking for? My feelings were constantly changing about what was happening every single day, and so I didn't quite have the perspective to write about it.

And now that I'm a few years past becoming a mom and things like that, I think I'm ready to share certain stories and certain things that happened over the last few years.

Check out Haylie Duff's Thai curry chicken and rice recipe on the Tyson website. For more cooking tips and to keep up with her acting adventures, follow her on Instagram.