Lauren Katz

Ways to Boost Your Happiness Right Now

Each Monday in January, we’re sharing a number of science-backed tips guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Here are more things you can easily do (today, tomorrow, next week or next month!) to find your happy place.

Eat with Your Ears

If your idea of a happy meal involves crunching your way through a bag of chips, science is on your side. Researchers at Oxford University had participants score food for nine sensory qualities and found that those they described as “crispy” and “crunchy” gave them the most pleasure. This effect may be evolutionary, since these textures were a signal to our ancestors that food was fresh enough to eat. So pass the celery—or the salty snacks!

Get the recipe: Wedge Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Crunchy Croutons

 

Make a Getaway Plan

From the fun-is-in-the-anticipation files: A large-scale Dutch study revealed that it’s not necessarily a vacation that promotes happiness; the act of planning a trip and the anticipation you feel leading up to it may contribute to your good mood, as well. In fact, in the study, only the vacationers who had fully kicked backed and relaxed while away reported a lasting happiness boost after they came home. Sounds like a good reason to plan your next vacation at a soothing, stress-reducing spa!

 

Use the Good Stuff

Don’t save Grandma’s silver for special occasions. Using fancy cutlery makes even an unremarkable meal more joyful. According to a study by the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, people who ate dinner with heavier, more formal- looking cutlery enjoyed their meal more than those who used lightweight utensils. The participants also guessed that the food eaten with the higher-end utensils was worth more money and judged it as more “artistic” than did the diners who dug into the same dish using lighter-weight forks and knives.

 

Put on a Happy Face

We’ve all heard that the link between smiling and feeling happy works both ways—feeling good leads naturally to a grin, and conversely, pasting on a smile, even a forced one, can lift a bad mood. But a smile can also keep you calmer under stress, a study from the University of Kansas shows. Subjects held chopsticks in their teeth to create certain facial expressions and were subjected to stressors like multitasking and physical discomfort. When they “smiled”—albeit unintentionally—through the stress, they recovered faster and felt better.

 

Volunteer Your Time

People who lend a helping hand are happier than those who don’t, studies show. Any amount of time you can give to others is worthwhile, says Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. But the volunteering sweet spot to make you feel good is 100 hours a year, according to a European study. That’s only about two hours a week—more than manageable! Visit volunteermatch.org for ideas of ways to help others in communities near you.

 

Catch Some Rays

Everyone wants to get outside on a sunny day to hit the beach or grab a table at a sidewalk café. And there’s a reason you should indulge that urge. Serotonin, a body chemical associated with mood, is affected by exposure to daylight, and high serotonin levels are linked to more positivity, greater mental focus and a sense of calm—quite the trifecta. If you’re a cubicle dweller, tear yourself away from those oh-so-urgent emails and get outside in the sunlight periodically, says one researcher. No one’s suggesting you skip the sunscreen, but you might think about slipping off your shades for a bit, however cool they make you look. Even 10 to 15 minutes of letting your eyes drink in the sunlight could make you healthier and happier.

 

Get more tips for happiness here!

The Pastry School Diaries: Patience is a Virtue

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

To this day, I am continually asked the question, “why pastry—why not culinary?” My go-to response is something along the lines of, “I’ve always wanted to delve deeper into the world of pastry arts. Since there is such a science behind it, I know I would benefit and learn more at pastry school than at culinary school. Besides, I don’t have the patience to learn how to chiffonade basil, dice an onion or poach an egg—I do that all the time at home already!”

 

Want to know what else I don’t have the patience for? Building, frosting and decorating a perfect cake.

 

We’ve transitioned from baking rustic desserts like crumb cake and muffins to more detail-oriented techniques: using a serrated knife to create a perfectly flat and round cake; Frosting in even layers that conceal any cake or crumbs; Piping perfect shells and rosettes around the edges to make a bakery-quality confection. As I’m getting my first taste (figuratively and literally!) of what our final project will be (creating a three-tiered celebration cake), I’m truly beginning to understand that patience is a virtue. Every step must be taken in a slow, methodical manner—you absolutely cannot rush the process. If you slice off too much of your cake, there’s not much you can do to remedy it, and while frosting can be spread and piped over again, there’s no hope in getting those little stray crumbs out (a cake baker’s worst nightmare).

 

So as I’m learning from my mistakes and trying new things, I’m thankful for this opportunity of trial and error. Am I set out to be the next Duff Goldman? Probably not. But I’m looking forward to seeing my skills in the cake department improve.

 

Check back next week for more pastry school fun!

The Pastry School Diaries: A New Year of Baking Adventures

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

 

Want a surefire way to get on dessert duty for all of the winter holidays? Just tell your family you’re enrolled in pastry school!

 

The pressure was on this holiday season, as I was juggling learning new techniques in class with showing off my best baking skills while at home. I got to show off my pie crust capabilities, puff pastry proficiency and cheesecake finesse over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in between learned about chiffon and angel food cakes, tortes, layered ganache cakes, petit fours and more buttercream frosting than a childhood birthday party on steroids. I’ve discovered the differences between baking cakes with full eggs versus only whites, solid fats like butter versus liquid fats like oil, baking powder versus omitting it and even how the addition of cocoa powder yields a very different product than a cake without it. We’ve whipped, folded, poured, sliced, frosted and piped more cakes than I even thought was possible, and we’re only halfway done!

 

Needless to say, the world of cakes is bigger than I ever imagined, but I’m very much enjoying learning about it. Here’s just a taste of the confections I’ve created thus far.

 

Cinnamon Chiffon Cake

Lemon sponge cake with vanilla buttercream and raspberry preserves

Chocolate ganache cake with coffee buttercream

Vanilla cake with blueberry mousse and blueberry glaze

Check back next week for more cake intel!

5 Hearty Winter Soups You’d Never Guess Were Good for You

If maintaining a healthy diet is part of your new years resolution, you are not alone. During comfort food season, it can feel like a real challenge to maintain your goals, but these five soup recipes are here to save the day. They’re rich and decadent without ruining your waistline, and they’re all so unique, you could make them all without going into soup overload. Now that’s a resolution worth sticking to!

Thai Chicken Soup

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Our 5 Most Popular Recipes of 2015

This past year has definitely been a delicious one, full of soul-satisfying burgers, amazing 30-minute meals, easy dinners, boozy brunches and sweet treats. But the recipes that stuck out the most are some of our all-time classics. Here are the top 5 recipes our readers loved the most this year on RachaelRayMag.com—did any of your favorites make the list?

 

Cheesy Chicken & Rice Casserole

 
 

Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia

 
 

Slow-Cooker Chicken & Dumplings

 
 

Eggs in Clouds

 
 




Grilled Sweet-and-Sticky Chicken Thighs with Asparagus and Harissa

5 Festive Recipes to Ring in the New Year

New Years Eve is so close we can taste it–literally! We’re planning a stellar menu of finger foods and festive eats that our guests are sure to love. These recipes are easy to make, fun to eat and, most importantly, only require one hand, leaving that other hand wide open for a cocktail or glass of bubbly. We’ll drink to that!

 

Roast Beef Crostini with Arugula Mayo

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Christmas Appetizer Hack: Puff Pastry

Between decorating the tree, crafting the perfect cocktail and making sure the roast doesn’t burn, Christmas entertaining can be stressful. One part that shouldn’t feel like a chore is making a crowd-pleasing appetizer. This introduction to your party should mimic the vibe: welcoming, easy-going and of course, delicious. And when it comes to making an appetizer that meets all three requirements on top of being a cinch to throw together, our secret weapon is store-bought puff pastry. We love it for its versatility, ease to work with and quick cooking time. These five savory (and one sweet!) puff pastry apps will make you want to have a Christmas party every day of the year!

 

Asparagus in a Blanket

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5 Festive Holiday Roasts

Whether you’re gearing up for Christmas dinner or you’re just hosting friends for the holidays, there’s no better way to wow your crowd than by serving a roast. Stick to classic holiday flavors or change it up with spices, glazes and even veggies. No matter which dish suits your fancy, it’s guaranteed to steal the holiday spotlight!

 

Cuban-Style Pork Roast

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The Pastry School Diaries: It’s Not Always a Cake Walk

Editorial Assistant Lauren Katz is enrolled in the part-time Pastry & Baking Arts program at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. Follow her each week as she shares her sweet experiences! 

As our second unit came to an end, I was happy to be leaving breads and doughs behind for something a little lighter: cakes!

 

 

I’m familiar with a wide variety of cakes: red velvet, carrot, angel food, flourless chocolate, pineapple upside down–you get the idea. But I had no idea how many different methods there were to making cakes, and that each method has a never-ending list of ways to tweak, flavor and recreate it into a brand new dessert.

 

 

Of course we’re beginning with the simplest methods and recipes, like the creaming method, where you beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then alternate adding your wet and dry ingredients. We’ve made carrot cake, chocolate cake, crumb cake, muffins and more pound cake than I can even comprehend. But out of all the subjects we’ve covered so far, I’m most excited about what I’ve learned so far about cakes–and can’t wait to learn more!

 

Something I’ll definitely have to get used to, though, is how to tell when a cake is ready to come out of the oven. With breads and pastry dough, more color means more flavor. You can decide when your bread is done based on how dark you want the crust to be. That is not the case with cakes, as some treats shouldn’t be darker than a light bronze.  A few extra minutes in the oven may not seem like a big deal for a loaf of bread, but those same few minutes could dry out and potentially ruin a cake or muffin. It’s a race against the clock, but I’ve enjoyed the attention to detail, not to mention the final product very much!

 

Class is breaking for the holidays (yay!), so check back in 2016 for more sweet updates.

 

Our Best Winter Slow-Cooker Recipes

Winter and slow-cookers go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows, but with so many different comfort food recipes to choose from, picking just one can seem a little overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve rounded up our top winter slow-cooker dishes that’ll make you feel as snug as a bug in a rug. Start these dishes on a snowy morning, and by nightfall you’ll have a cozy meal that not only tastes good, but makes your whole house smell amazing.

 

Low & Slow Chipotle Maple Beef

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