Check Please! Host Wants You to Eat In with the #GreatAmericanCookIn

It’s no question that Catherine De Orio loves to eat out. As the host of Check, Please! she and her guest foodies showcase the best restaurants in the Chicago area, yet her new project is encouraging more people to cook at home.

The Great American Cook-In Challenge invites people to commit to cooking in every night for a week in May. The campaign is showcased on, which features recipes and tips from Catherine and other chefs. Catherine wants to show that cooking is easy and fun. “It’s just as fun to cook in as it is to eat out,” she said.

Even with the popularity of cooking shows fewer people are preparing meals at home, and this campaign is designed to get people back in their kitchens, at least a few nights a week. The shows themselves, along with the rise in food blogs, tend to create unrealistic expectations for home chefs. It’s easy to forget that these public personae have prep teams and assistance. “Nobody shows you the mistakes,” she said. “The greatest achievements in the kitchen are usually born from mistakes.”

She also said that biggest obstacle is time. “My nephew is eight and his schedule is just as busy as mine!” 

Cooking at home is about planning. She suggests stocking your pantry with some staples, like olive oil, garlic, onions and canned tomatoes, and starting out simply with easy dishes that aren’t intimidating. 

“In a second you can grab one of those items and cook up a quick, easy meal that’s delicious and you know what’s being put in it.”

“Take some olive oil and saute a little bit of garlic. Make sure it doesn’t brown, because that makes it bitter. If it does brown – no problem, just throw it out and start over. If it’s seasonal you can use fresh tomatoes but I think canned tomatoes are great to use year-round and part of the reason is they’re picked at their optimum freshness so they have that fresh flavor.”

She also suggest using the canned tomatoes that already have flavors in them, like oregano and basil. Throw it on some pasta and some chicken and it’s done.

“Take that same sauce, add some olives to it, add some capers to it, and then all of a sudden you have some nice saltiness, some nice brininess. Add some red chili pepper flakes; you’ve made it a bit spicy. Take that same tomato sauce, and then chill it, and you have a vinaigrette when you add a little bit of vinegar.”

With warmer weather Farmers Market season is approaching, and in some cases is already here, so I asked her for some tips. Unfamiliar produce can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

“The farmers want you to learn about their product and they let you taste things. That’s the most fun about going to a farmers market. I ask questions. If I see something I don’t know I ask about it. I know a lot about food but I don’t know every single heirloom varietal of eggplant. There are 23 of them – how can you know all these things? They are experts, so I always say rely on the expert.

Every time you go try something you don’t know. I would love, actually, during the Great American Cook In challenge that {you} pledge to join us on Twitter and Instagram with our hashtag #GreatAmericanCookIn. Go to the farmers market, try a new or different type of produce that you’ve never tried before and show us what you’re cooking with it. The worst that can happen is you throw it out.”

You can listen to the entire interview below. To learn more about the #GreatAmericanCookIn visit






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