Plucking an unknown ingredient from an international store or chatting up a farmer at the weekly market doesn't intimidate this cook—and it shouldn't scare you either, she says. Jessica's adventurous spirit makes her one of our #FamilyDinnerHero nominees. Meet the rest of our hero nominees, and vote for your favorite.
Credit: Amy Dickerson

Hometown: Los Angeles

COOKING LIGHT: Where do you find kitchen inspiration?

JESSICA DREYER: I read a ton of food blogs and magazines. I’m always curious to see what other people do. I built my repertoire by experimenting with Asian flavors and the basic building blocks of stir-fries and fried rice. When I first saw tamarind called for in a recipe, I had never heard of it, but I knew I would like it because I noticed it was in Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisines—all things I like. So I threw some tamarind paste in my slow cooker with some pork to see what it tasted like. It can be fun to have a dish turn out a little different each time, yet still delicious. If it’s a failure, it’s not the end of the world.

CL: What’s your favorite way to entertain?

JD: I love to set up a “bar” party—like a top-your-own potato or chili party. They’re a good way to feed a crowd, especially when people have dietary restrictions. And they work equally well for nicer parties or groups of obnoxious young men who’ve had too much to drink.

CL: What are your go-to gadgets?

JD: I love my old CrockPot, which is a very 70s orange and brown floral pattern, but it can do anything. I just set and forget.

CL: What do you tell friends who are intimidated in the kitchen?

JD: I see where they might worry they’ll mess up, but if you’re sharing with someone, it doesn’t matter if it’s “fancy” or not—they’re just happy that you’re sharing with them. There’s no wrong answer. Just figure out what you like and don’t like—it’s like dating.

Slow-Cooker Pork Tenderloin with Apricots Recipe

Recipe by Jessica Dreyer

“Cooking is a way to show love for others, and it’s a therapeutic outlet for myself. It helps me reset my priorities. When life isn’t going where I wanted, I can always look forward to my meals,” Jessica says. “This recipe is great over rice or cauliflower ‘rice,’ or with roasted potatoes—it definitely needs a starch that will soak up the tart, sweet broth. The way the apricots fall apart and become jammy is just delicious and goes well with the tender meat.”

  • 2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped

1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until evenly browned. Place pork in a 6-quart slow cooker.

2. Roughly chop apricots; add apricots and remaining ingredients to slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours or until pork is very tender. Remove pork from slow cooker; shred meat with 2 forks. Stir meat back into sauce.

CALORIES 201; FAT 4.1g (sat 1.4g, mono 1.6g, poly 0.7g); PROTEIN 25g; CARB 16g; FIBER 2g; SUGARS 12g (est. added sugars 0g); CHOL 74mg; IRON 2mg; SODIUM 311mg; CALC 25mg