Six More Ways to Put a Smile on Your Face

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.

 

Prepare Yourself

Is there anything better than knowing dinner is ready as the workday ends? Cooking meals in advance—then storing or freezing them for later—may improve your mood, according to Amit Sood, M.D., author of The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness. “Given our compressed lifestyles, we are seldom able to cook a hot meal each day,” says Dr. Sood. “Planning the week’s meals and preparing them as a family means you aren’t stressing out about what you will be cooking as the clock turns closer to 5 p.m.”

Get the recipe: Spicy Pork & Butternut Squash Stew

 

Feel Amazed

When was the last time you said something was awesome and meant it literally? Awe—the kind you experience while taking in an incredible natural vista or an artistic masterpiece—is such a strongly positive emotion that it not only makes your soul soar, but may also make your body healthier. In a 2015 study, researchers found a link between feelings of wonder and amazement, and lower levels of harmful, inflammation-inducing molecules. Other emotions, like contentment and pride, also were found to confer benefits, but awe took the top spot. The researchers noted that awe makes you feel connected with others (a happiness- maker in itself). So when an opportunity to experience something that will make you gasp and say “Wow!” arises, take it!

 

Cry Your Eyes Out

Don’t hold back the tears. There really is something to the idea of a good cry. Folks who were shown tear-jerker movies and got all choked up reported better moods an hour and a half post waterworks than they’d experienced before the screenings. The non-criers, on the other hand, reported no mood changes at all after the flicks. The theory is that feeling a little down, even if the feeling isn’t rooted in anything in the real world, leads to feeling better once the emotional event has passed. So queue up a classic heart-wrencher like Terms of Endearment or Forrest Gump, or any movie that tugs at your heartstrings. We promise, the happiness you feel will be worth the box of tissues you go through.

 

Make Small Talk

That old adage about not talking to strangers? Forget it now that you’re an adult. In a University of Chicago study, commuters who shot the breeze with  seat mates they didn’t know reported a more enjoyable ride than those who kept to themselves. More surprising yet: Participants who reported longer conversations, in which they learned more about their fellow commuters, said they had a more pleasant trip than those whose chats were shorter. In another study, researchers in British Columbia sent subjects to Starbucks and asked some of them to chat up the barista who took their order. The conversationalists reported feeling more joyful than the silent sippers. Talk about the gift of gab!

 

Spread the Wealth

Spending even a small amount of your hard- earned cash on someone else, by giving a gift or donating to charity, can make you feel truly rich. “When giving money to others, an individual experiences happiness from the successful performance of her moral duties, a feeling that’s also been described as ‘human flourishing,’” says Lalin Anik, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

 

Learn Something

Feeling blah? It might be time to pick up a new skill you’re excited about. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., says that being completely focused on a creative activity (a state he calls “flow”) elevates satisfaction levels. His theory is that people feel a heightened sense of awareness during these experiences—they are intensely absorbed, feel alert, are in effortless control and can lose track of time and place, all of which leave them feeling energized and excited.

Flex your kitchen muscles with these brand-new how-to cookbooks.

The Magic of Spice Blends: A Guide to the Art, Science, and Lore of Combining Flavors, by Aliza Green, $25

Making Dough: Recipes and Ratios for Perfect Pastries, by Russell van Kraayenburg, $25

Fermentation & Home Brewing, by Jessica Childs and Eric Childs, $25

For all of our happiness tips, click here.


The Pastry School Diaries: Whisky Business

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! 

 

When I began pastry school, I knew I was going to collect an extensive amount of information about the art of baking. From the importance of precisely weighing out each ingredient, to the exact technique of rolling a French baguette, to tips and tricks to perfectly frosting a three-layer cake, my curiosity has peaked every step of the way. What I hadn’t thought about, however, was taking all these skills and applying them practically, in a business.

 

My class’s petit fours. We concentrated very hard on making every cake the same exact size with the same exact design.

 
I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’ll walk out of the pastry program with an advanced understanding of how to run a bakery, but I’m definitely picking up some tidbits on what makes a bakery successful. For example, I never really paid attention to the way I cut a cake or tray of brownies, but when selling such a product, it is important to make sure every piece is exactly the same dimensions. Any piping work should look identical, all sides and surfaces should be completely flat, no crumbs in the frosting(!!!) and always use rubber gloves when handling a cooked product are just a few of the reminders that have become second nature to me.

 

Grenoblois, walnut cake with walnut buttercream and walnut ganache, and Symphonie, hazelnut cake with praline buttercream and chocolate ganache. We measured out 2” x 3” rectangles before slicing into the full cakes. 

 

Sour cherry chocolate crumb cake, attempted to cut into even shapes

 

I’ll be the first to admit it, I have yet to master the art of identical perfection, but I know it will come over time. Practice makes perfect, right?

 

Check back next week for more pastry tips!


Our 6 Ooiest, Gooiest, Cheesiest Recipes

Although we never need a reason to eat more cheese, today we’ll make sure of it— it’s National Cheese Lovers’ Day! And although we’d never turn down a plain old wedge of cheddar or Parmesan, a holiday this special deserves a decadent meal. Here are some of our best and cheesiest recipes you can make any time of the day (or year!).

 

Queso Dip Mac ‘n’ Cheese

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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!


More Tips for Happiness

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.

 

Make Your Meal Happy

Yes, you can eat to your heart’s content! “The largest factor that you control in terms of your happiness is at the end of your fork,” says Drew Ramsey, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of The Happiness Diet and the upcoming book Eat Complete. This feel-good recipe uses seven of his favorite mood-boosting ingredients.

Get the recipe: Pan-Seared Salmon with Miso Watercress Pesto & Lentil-Black Rice Salad
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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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Your Happiest Year Yet!

We live for the moments that put smiles on our faces: the soul-gratifying bite of a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie, the joy of accomplishing a big goal, the warmth of a sunbeam on our skin. Experiences like these produce not only emotional but also physical reactions: They spur the release of chemicals, like serotonin or endorphins, that make us feel happy, even euphoric. Of course not all your days can be filled with unicorns and rainbows, but turning a frown, you know, the other direction is actually pretty easy. Try these bliss-making moves, all backed by science, and check back next week for more—We’re sharing a new set of tips every Monday in January. Your happy place is closer than you think!

 

Eat More Chocolate

The countless reports of dark chocolate’s health benefits have been food for the soul for a lot of us. And here’s one more: The American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research reported that when people who suffered from stress were given small amounts of dark chocolate daily, their levels of the stress hormone cortisol were lower after two weeks. Ain’t life sweet?

Get the recipe: Ruth Reichl’s Hot Fudge to Soothe Your Soul

 

Become a Morning Person

It doesn’t matter what side of the bed you wake up on, it’s when you wake up that matters. Turns out, early birds have a sunnier disposition than night owls, according to research from the University of Toronto, because they’re more in sync with daylight hours (humans are diurnal, as compared with nocturnal). So if you’re not the sort to leap out of bed, adjust your internal clock by moving up your bedtime incrementally, by about 15 minutes every few nights. And shut down electronics two to three hours before you hit the hay. Your internal clock will adjust and, before you know it, you’ll wake up all smiles.

 

Break up with Your DVR

You may think you enjoy your nightly TV fix more if you start watching a show late so you can fast- forward through the ads. But commercial breaks actually enhance your enjoyment. “We are wired to chase and desire,” says Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., author of the upcoming book The Happiness Track. “If you keep delaying, you increase your longing to see the rest of the show.” That season finale just got a lot more riveting!

 

Extend Those Arms

A big ol’ bear hug is a surefire way to get that warm, fuzzy feeling (or give it to someone else), and research shows that an affectionate squeeze also bestows a host
of other positive effects. A hug, just like holding hands or having sex, spurs the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone.” And Swedish researchers have suggested that after an embrace, “thoughts of the hugging may put the individual in a more positive mood.” What’s more, a simple clinch has physiological benefits—for instance, lowered blood pressure and an increase in endorphins, which strengthens the immune system. And who wouldn’t be happy about that?

 

Say Yes to Cheese

If melty grilled cheese sandwiches and nachos dripping with queso have taught us anything, it’s that cheese is serious comfort food. Even science says so! Emerging research has shown that during digestion, the protein casein in cow’s milk (the milk used in cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano and other favorites) may produce casomorphins, which can have a slight opiate-like effect on some cheese-eaters—in other words, the lucky ones.


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