How-To

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!

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!

Saturday Supermarket Smarts: How to Pick the Perfect Avocado

The best guacamole is made with creamy fleshed Hass avocados at the peak of ripeness.

Here’s how to pick ‘em:

 

 

1. Look for a forest-green fruit. Darker skin means riper flesh.

 

2. Cradle it in the palm of your hand and gently squeeze. Guac-ready fruit will give slightly.

 

3. Flick off the stem. If it pops off easily and what’s underneath is bright green (brown means it’s overripe), you’re good to go!

Once your avocados are ready to be used…

 

Spread ‘em on toast with eggs for the perfect protein-packed breakfast.

 

Blend ‘em up with sweet ingredients for an Avocado Semifreddo.

 

Or, mix ‘em up with all sorts of ingredients for 11 different twists on guacamole!

Related Links

How to Pit an Avocado

How to Make a Guacamole Mix-in Bar

9 Ways to Make Guacamole

Snack Stadium Showdown

When you can’t make it to the stadium for your team’s big game, why not craft up one of your own for at-home-viewing enjoyment? Made entirely out of edible football-favorite foods, these seriously cool snack stadiums are worthy centerpieces for any football party. Seem a bit too complicated for your expertise? Five crafty creators are here to help, sharing tips and ideas to master your very own snack stadium.

 

Photo courtesy of Natalie Mclaury, thesweetslife.com

Sweet Victory

Skip the chips-and-dip and head straight for dessert! Natalie Mclaury of The Sweets Life constructed a sweet tooth-approved stadium made out of a fruit pizza using kiwi, skittles and dyed coconut as the grass, thin wooden dowels as the goal posts and chocolate mousse cups with candy on top to represent the fans. Plus, she surrounded her stadium with dippable treats for her creamy Funfetti cake mix dip! Mclaury used non-edible materials to construct the stadium and used foods as decoration that could easily be removed and eaten. ”People took their time to ooh-and-aah over the stadium, but our friends were lured by the site of their favorite treats and couldn’t resist digging in,” she says.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Chad Nikazy, trifatherhood.com

Pizza Playing Field

Chad and Karen Nizaky of Trifatherhood knew that creating their snack stadium was not a one-man job, so they recruited their kids to help build their stadium. With a plan in mind, Chad, Karen and their three children ventured to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for their snack-worthy project. The “field” of their stadium was a pizza with a large pepperoni football, but since Chad is a seasoned triathlete, they wanted to be sure to include some healthy options in their stadium, as well. Fruits and veggies like strawberries, grapes, carrots and cucumbers filled the stands, and they also included some crowd favorites like Chex Mix, cookies, pigs-in-a-blanket and chocolate croissants ”The hardest part,” Karen says, “was keeping our three children – twin four year-olds and an eight year-old – from eating it during the process!”

 

 

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Kern, crazyforcrust.com

Crust Bowl 

Stepping outside of the baking box, Dorothy Kern of Crazy for Crust constructed her stadium structure entirely out of pizza dough! While many might suspect that this version would be susceptible to crumbling, Kern mastered a secret method to ensure stability: Wrapping the dough around an inverted bundt pan. Kern recommends baking your stadium past the point of wanting to eat it, but slightly before it would burn. This will create a structure that is sturdy enough to stand on its own, hold treats within the stadium and avoid collapsing. Kern filled the stadium with chocolate cake batter dip and green frosting for dirt and grass, and emulated an audience by scattering colorful sprinkles on the wall of the stadium.

 

 

Photo courtesy of the culinary team at Pillsbury

Go Team Pillsbury!

When tasked with the goal of creating a stand-out snack stadium, the masterminds at Pillsbury did not disappoint! It comes as no surprise that the culinary team had a goal of making their snack stadium primarily out of Pillsbury bread products and their own game-day recipes. They achieved this by covering the edges of each section of the stadium with breadsticks and filling them with appetizers and snacks ranging from pepperoni pizza to bacon cheddar pinwheels. The outside of the stadium was stacked with Italian sub sandwiches and the field was made of guacamole and salsa dips, which featured breadstick goalposts and a bread-based “Jumbotron.”

 

 

Photo courtesy of James “JD” DiBella, co-owner of Red Star Bar in Brooklyn

Fly High!

When the Rachael Ray Show announced that they would be holding a contest for the best snack stadium, James Dibella, co-owner of Red Star Bar in Brooklyn, NY, knew he was up for the challenge — and he started with a big idea! Dibella chose to incorporate food items that are most well-known at Red Star Bar. In total, Dibella used 400 sliders, 12 dozen wings of hot, medium, mild and raspberry barbecue variety, 60 mozzarella sticks, 300 nacho flags and five pounds of guacamole and sour cream.

 

What do you think of snack stadiums? Would you make one of your own? 

 

Rocca Stars in the Kitchen

Guess who’s here to dish on cooking with the nation’s most beloved nannas (and poppas)! Daily Show vet Mo Rocca, whose Cooking Channel series, My Grandmother’s Ravioli, kicks off its second season this month.

By David Farley

 

Q: How did the show get its name?

A: My granmother made pasta from scratch, and her ravioli were big pockets stuffed with ground beef, spinach and garlic with a light tomato sauce. They were delicious – and large and light and delicate. So when Nora Ephron was a guest on my NPR show, Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!—and I was talking about the inspiration for my new cooking show—she pointed out that My Grandmother’s Ravioli was the obvious name. I loved going back to the network people to say not only did I have a great name, but Nora Ephron helped me come up with it.

Q: How do you decide who will be featured?

A: We want people who really care about cooking. They also have to have a good personality, but not in that crazy reality TV way. These are people you actually want to be related to.

Q: The show has you cooking with grandmas from everywhere. Have you found a universal ingredient?

A: Garlic. Everyone uses it. In fact, my own Italian grandmother’s apartment always smelled like garlic.

Q: What’s been the biggest surprise?

A: Almost none of the grandmothers measure ingredients. And grandfathers measure even less! They’re extreme non-measurers!

Q: Beyond recipes, what have you learned?

A: How to cut onions without crying. From a Pakistani grandfather, actually, I learned that you should drink a glass of red wine before cutting them. Though he may just have wanted an excuse to drink wine.

 

 

Explore more of our celebrity interviews here.

Technique Tuesday: How to Make Pizza Dough

When done right, pizza dough is crispy and crunchy and delicious. The secret? A long, slow rise. Follow our step-by-step lead for the best-ever 6-ingredient pizza dough!

Learn how to mix, pour, turn, oil, punch, shape, rest and finally roll out the best-ever pizza dough.

 

More technique tips:

How to Make Homemade Bread

How to Buy Coffee Beans

How to Make Your Own Preserves

 

Technique Tuesday: How to Make Your Own Preserves

Canning and pickling are back in a big way, and it’s easier than you think! If you know how to boil water, you can stock away sweet, juicy, peak-season produce in a few simple steps.

 

 

 

After gathering and sterilizing your utensils, it’s time to parcook the food. This is also the time to season or add flavorings like spices or sweeteners. Learn how to parcook your food, plus what comes next here.

 

 

Explore our full slideshow for the step-by-step canning breakdown. Then, get five more spicy, smoky or even sweet home canning recipes.

 

More technique tips!

Great Grilled Chicken Tips

Cook with Kids

Easy Cocktail Upgrades

Technique Time: Searing Secrets

A perfectly browned sear on everything from steak to stew meat creates a flavorful crust and juicy interior. Just follow these four easy searing commandments.

Cooking Tips: How To Sear Meat, Step

Commandment #1: Thou shalt pat the meat dry.

 

If excess moisture (aside from butter, oil or fat) is present, the meat will steam, not sear.

Cooking Tips: How To Sear Meat, Step 2

Commandment #2: Thou shalt get the pan hot.
Really hot.

 

Intense heat creates the tasty, burnished crust you’re looking for.

Cooking Tips: How To Sear Meat, Step 3

Commandment #3: Thou shalt be patient.

 

Hands off–and we mean it! If the meat isn’t touching the hot pan

(because you keep moving it), it won’t brown properly.

Cooking Tips: How To Sear Meat, Step 4

Commandment #4: Thou shalt take turns.


To achieve a uniform sear, each side of the meat needs equal attention. However, try to keep flipping of the meat to a minimum as it will dry and toughen the meat.

 
(Illustrations by Claudia Pearson)

 

 

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How To Roast Peppers

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How to Roast Peppers

Roasting peppers teases out their sweetness and gives them a smoky edge (And they make Rachael’s Birds in a Nest with Peppers & Sausage oh so good.) Jarred roasted peppers are a good shortcut, but you’ll get a fresher flavor and firmer texture by making your own. It couldn’t be easier: Follow our to-do tutorial below, heat up the broiler and get cooking!

Birds in a Nest with Peppers & Sausage

Get Rach’s Birds in a Nest with Peppers & Sausage recipe!

 

 

1. Place the peppers on a rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan and broil, turning often with tongs, until blistered all over, about 8 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

2. While warm, stick the peppers in a glass or metal bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand until cool enough to handle.

3. Remove the peppers from the bowl and peel off the skin. Cut out the stem and ribs, toss the seeds and you’re done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations by Emma Kelly

That’s it! Now, get roastin’ and share your success stories with us below in our comments!