Cooking Amazing Food is Easy Using This One Secret Ingredient – and it’s dirt cheap!

Cooking isn’t hard.  In fact, anyone can make edible food with no knowledge or experience.  But edible food probably isn’t your goal, is it?  You want amazing food!  Visions of dinner guests oozing over each bite, raving about how the dish is restaurant quality.  Or even better, that it reminds them of some bit of long lost nostalgia that has finally been released from subconscious depths.  But enough psychobabble.  How can you make this food?

You must understand how to use the secret ingredient!  It must be used throughout the cooking process, layered in carefully and thoroughly at each step of the process, much like salt.  However, being a zero calorie ingredient without sodium, this item cannot be overused, cannot overpower, and has no health risks.  Seems too good to be true, right?

It isn’t.  The problem is that this ingredient requires careful focus to use.  We’re busy!  Careful focus is not something we’re good at anymore; it’s a skill set that we’ve lost almost universally across all industries as our lifestyle has become more frantic.

That stops now.

You have to take your time to use this ingredient; you have to slowly master seeing the details, the little details, of the dish you’re making.  Don’t worry; you don’t need to be a master chef!  Just one little thing at a time, even if it’s a fast dish like a stir fry.  Let me walk you through the first 3 steps of a stir fry to show you what I mean, then I promise I’ll actually tell you what the secret ingredient is.

Since it goes so quickly, step one of a stir fry is getting everything cut, sliced, diced, and ready to go.  Detail to focus on?  Uniform sizes.  If they aren’t uniform sizes they won’t cook evenly, which will be either a mushy or a crunchy bummer.  Once everything is ready, we’re on to step two:

Heating up the pan with oil.  Detail to watch?  The pan needs to be hot enough that the oil is smoking, not so hot that the oil has a burnt flavor.  If there’s no sizzle when you add your ingredients, you won’t get that nice caramelization and everything will stick.  A bummer.  The last step?

Removing the food when it’s cooked!  Paying attention to when the vegetables are just right to take them out and serve them steaming how and wonderfully crisp yet tender.  The secret ingredient to master this process?

Love.  Calm down, I’ll explain!  I know, I know.  It sounds cheesy.  It sounds corny.  But if you can truly apply this to your cooking, you’ll have amazing dishes every time.  More importantly, you’ll outstanding memories of creating the dishes, which is what cooking is all about anyway.  Just love everything.  Every step of the way, love it like crazy.  How?

When you select your ingredients at the store, look for the best.  Really think about the farmers that worked to grow those vegetables; give their hard work the respect it deserves.  An ear of corn isn’t just a $.25 item, it’s months of work!  If you can remember that, you’ll protect your ingredients, and your dish will shine for it.  While it cooks?

Spread the love!  Watch over the dish, invite the people your with to come stir, flip, chop, whatever.  Get them involved!  More people, more memories, more inside jokes, more you-had-to-be-there moments… those are what cooking is about.  Everyone cooks so confused and thinks it’s about the food.

Don’t get me wrong, the food is important.  Just not most important.  Taking the time to put this care, this love into your food reflects in the finished dish.  Then comes the best part:

Inviting others.

Love of all kinds is infectious.  Now, control yourself a little.  Reel it in.  Just show them how to love the food, the cooking, and the rest will come on its own.  I know that you’re busy, that you barely have time to cook.  But it’s like another other addiction.

At first, you can only carve out time to cook a nice breakfast every Sunday morning.  A couple months go by, you rearrange a few things, and make Sunday night a regular family dinner night.  Then friends start coming.  Then they feel guilty that they always come over, they invite you a different day…

One year later, most of your friends come to your for cooking advice, you see your friends almost nightly, and you have more stories to tell that you have time to tell them.  Not a bad place to be.  Is that unrealistic?  Not at all.  The secret to it all? Just a little love.

 

When did you last cook with your family?

How long ago was it?  Two days?  Four?  Thirty?  Forget the number; it doesn’t really matter.  Was it recent enough?  There’s a chance that it was pretty recent, that just yesterday you and your kids grabbed a recipe that looked interesting and made it happen.  Odds are better that it’s been a while.  I’ll be honest; I didn’t cook with my family as much as I wanted to, until I figured out how.

Like anything else, cooking with loved ones is a skill.  There’s a secret though: no one knows how to do it.  Or at least what the goal is.  What do I mean?  Most people would say that if you are good at this ‘skill’ (cooking with family, or cowif for short), then your food will turn out better.  The secret is…

It doesn’t matter.

Why?

The food isn’t what’s important.  Stay with me here, I’ll explain.  At the end of the day, what do you really remember about cooking with everyone?  The food?  Or the cooking?

Sure, you may kick yourself for adding a little too much salt or letting the garlic go 2 minutes too long, but that’s not what’s going to stick.  I know what memories will really stick, what will really matter.

You’ll remember your daughter laughing so hard milk almost came out her nose, or your husband almost dropping a meatball.  So keep track, this is the first secret: the skill of ‘cowif’ (cooking with family) is in creating memories, not food.  But I promised a different secret, didn’t I?  How I figured out to cook with mine more often.

Before we wander down that very important path, don’t feel left out if you don’t have any family that you live with or any kids to teach how to roll a meatball.  Do you know how I define family?  Anyone that massively impacts my life in a positive way.  I have a lot of family because of this; you probably do too.  Get together and cook up some inside jokes, some memories, some you-had-to-be-there moments.  You’re not too busy! That’s what I thought too.

That’s the state of things isn’t it?  We’re busy.  You’re busy.  You’re overworked!  You might even be a little underpaid even we’re going to be really honest about it.  So why do you do it?  For your family!  Here’s what I figured out: my priorities were a little… skewed.  Are yours?

We don’t mean them to be.  It sneaks up on us, like our car getting old or our shoes getting worn.  It’s just all the sudden happened.  There’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Okay fine, there is.  Just reset your priorities.  Don’t panic, it won’t take long, it won’t throw your life into upheaval, it won’t even be difficult.  Just set aside the time.  Pick one day each week that everyone can commit one or two hours to and rotate who picks the recipe.  Think it’s impossible?

The key is that planning.  You have to set yourself up for success, and as busy as you are the only way to do that is to plan it out.  Here are the steps to do so:

  1.  Figure out who all who want to share in these experiences and memories with you.  Make this list as big as you possibly can!  Firstly, people won’t be able to come each time, this way you can reach out to them other times.  Secondly, this gathering will probably grow over time.  And thirdly, life is short!
  2. Figure out the best day and time for everyone.  This might be the same time each week, the same time each month, or it might need to be tweaked on an ongoing basis.
  3. Decide who is in charge of the recipe.  Different recipes, different cultures, different countries… these are your vacations.  This is how you travel with your family without taking any vacation time from work.  Challenge yourself!  Explore new horizons!  You might not like everything that you try, but the experiences will still be fantastic.
  4. Commit!  This is the easiest place to drop the ball.  Be ruthless, be relentless!  If someone says something came up, make sure it’s something that really is a priority, and not something that’s just a distraction.

Four steps.  Maybe an hour or so of work.  Is it worth it?

Think to the original question: When did you last cook with your family?  How do you want to answer that question a month from now?  Like most things, the words that you use really don’t matter.

‘2 months ago’ with a twinge of regret and a slight sigh

‘I don’t remember’ wondering why we don’t cook more?

‘4 days ago’ with a slight grin, remembering the eggs incident

One last secret.  The answer to the question isn’t really my main focus; it isn’t what I want to help you with.  What I want to help you with is how you feel when you think about that question.  When someone asks you about cooking I want you to laugh before they can finish their sentence, for tears to well up and for you to shake your head thinking about what a mess you and your friends made last time.

Want an example?  Today some of my friends came over and we made a real simple ratatouille in about an hour with some pasta.  In that hour, we discussed non vegetarian onions, watched a 13 month old try 5 different vegetables, and watched that same 13 month old go from bored to begging to be picked up so that he can help stir the pot.  In an hour!

So when are you going to start?  When are your memories, your inside jokes, your never-forget moments going to bubble out of the kitchen?  Take those four steps and a piece of a paper, get moving!  If you feel like spending more time with family and learning a few things about cooking, sign up for more of my cowif secrets.  You are overworked and underpaid after all, at least give yourself this. 😉

Why My Kids Play With Knives

My kids play with knives.  Don’t yours?  Now don’t get me wrong; I don’t recommend that if your kids are young, but mine are 3 years old and 2 years old.  What?  That’s too young?  Nah.  I mentioned they play with toy knives right?  There are a few reasons why.

First of all, they have an appreciation for how dangerous knives can be.  I know it sounds backwards, but I’ll explain it a little bit later.  Secondly, they’ll be more comfortable with knives when they are old enough to start using them.  Thirdly, and most importantly, you need knives to cook good food.  Sorry, there’s just no way around it.  I know there are all kinds of tools to replace knives, but we’ll go into why I’m not a fan of those a little bit down the line.  But…

Before we get too carried away into why your kids should play with knives, do you play with knives?  Do you know how to sharpen or hone it properly?  Or know what honing it means?  Or even how to tell if it’s sharp?  You can’t properly teach what you aren’t comfortable with, so let’s spend a few sentences getting comfortable with our bladed friends, shall we?

First: sharp knives.  Sharp knives are less dangerous than dull knives.  That’s right; I said it.  Dull knives skip off of what you‘re trying to cut, sharp knives just do their job.  But how do you know if your knife is sharp?  Grab a piece of paper and try to slice through it, a very sharp knife can do this easily.  If it can’t, sharpen your knife!  How?  For another time!  Right now: back to giving your kids some knives.  It’s safe, you’ll safe!

Well it’s safe as long as it’s a toy.  The key is treating the toy like a real knife, panicking  when they ‘cut’ themselves, showing how to safely use it, etc.  Want this to be extremely effective?  Let them cut something with your hand over theirs, very slowly.  They only earn this right by showing you that they can treat their own “knife” with respect.  But what can they cut with their toy knives?

Anything!  Use your creativity!  Jellybeans, marshmallows, lettuce… anything that a toy knife can cut.  You don’t think they’ll have fun cutting right next to you?  Think how proud they’ll feel!  And they will gain an appreciation for the fact that knives can cut things, that knives can be dangerous, all without being able to actually cut them selves.  Plus…

They will be more comfortable when they go to hold a real knife.  Why?  The entire point of a toy is to e as similar to the real thing as possible, so if the toy feels like the real thing, and you act like it’s the real thing; there should be almost no change with a real knife.  This means that you don’t have to retrain them on how dangerous they are, how to use them, etc.  Although, to be fair, some of you may be wondering: why do they even need to use a knife?

To cook good food!  You need a knife to cook great food, you must know how to cut thing properly to create fantastic meals and memories.  Yes I know; they have those lovely press dicers that will cut anything to the size you want just my smashing the food through it.  Not the same.  Cooking is love, and great food comes from listening to what the food tells you.  Using a knife to follow the ridges on an onion will always yield a better flavor in the finished dish than smashing perfect squares through a dicer.  I cannot stress this enough: you need a knife to make great food!  Want proof?  Pick any 10 recipes books that you consider excellent.  I will guarantee that the recipes call for things such as ‘diced onions, chopped garlic, etc.’  Can you get these from a jar?  Of course!  Along with the citric or ascorbic acid they come packed with.  Fresh is always better!

I know it’s scary.  I know that the last thing you want is to hurt your child.  I know that you don’t want to see them cut, crying, or bleeding.  No parent does.  So if you aren’t comfortable with anything that you’ve read here, don’t do it.  But any little thing that you can do will help your kids, no matter how small.  Let them cut mashed potatoes with a rubber knife if you have to, just give them a start.

After all, we should all play with knives a little.

How to Live Forever: the Secrets Finally Revealed

The quest for immortality is as old as human mythology.  The fountain of youth, the practice of Alchemy, the quest for enlightenment… for every person searching to live forever, there are 15 stories reminding us why it would be a blessing and a curse.  But would living forever really be that bad?  Is it even possible?  Believe it or not, yes.  How?  There are actually a hefty variety of ways, but you don’t have to use all of them, just stick with what you feel comfortable.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about physically living forever.  Where’s the fun in that?  We’re talking about becoming a spirit; an ethereal being and continues to have an impact on the physical realm.  Calm down, we’re not going all ghost hunter on you.  I’m referring to legacy.  Legacy is why when we smell cookies baking we think of our grandma, or why certain recipes don’t get changed through generations.  Legacy is the effect that people that are no longer with us continue to have, and honestly it is what virtually every person wants to leave better for the next generation.  We all want to change the world!  But we’re going to dial that down just a bit, and talk about a much simpler legacy: cooking.

This quest to have a legacy for my kids is what drives this site.  It’s why I moved their high chair into the kitchen to cook when they were younger, and why I let them sprinkle in the seasonings when they were less than a year old.  But you know what’s great?  I already see the effect that it’s having!  My 3 year old was ‘dicing pineapple’ while I wasn’t even home!  But how you can create this magical existence; how can you live on in the hearts of your loved ones every time they step in the kitchen?

The first way is simultaneously the most and least important: objects.  I know, I know.  That seems shallow compared with the most recent metaphysical ramblings, but hear me out.  Let’s say you have one specific pan that you picked up at a garage sale, but it’s your favorite.  You know everything about it, you cook everything in it, and every time you cook with loved ones (let’s just say your kids for the sake of this example).  Even if that is the cheapest pan in the world, they will think of you when they cook with it every time.  So how can you make this work for you?

Choose what objects will have the connection.  Whether it’s just a basic set like this or a set that will last 10 generations, take the step to get a ‘memories’ cooking set.  Cook only with this set, and start building those memories and establishing that bond.  Obviously we don’t want our whole cooking legacy dependent on pans, so what else can we do?

Create traditions.  They don’t have to be complicated or infrequent; they just have to be regular and dependable.  When I was 3 we had pizza and my grandparents every Friday with all of my aunts, and still remember it.  The crazy part?  We only did it for a year, but I still think of it whenever I have pizza at my Gran’s house.  Get a tradition going!  Don’t have time to cook?  Start a family night, pick a restaurant and get some carryout.  Use that special pan set you got if you have one, really build that strong memory connection.  Do you know what makes traditions the strongest they can be?  Creating them together and making them as unique as possible.  What does that mean?

Instead of just going out somewhere, cook together.  Make the same dish.  Or even better, make up your own dish together!  So why not get started now?  Create a tradition, grab something you can hand down, start creating memories.  Start making your own legacy in your kitchen, and literally enjoy the benefits long after you’re gone.

The Joys of Birthdays

Birthdays are something special.  Let’s be honest, most of us don’t cook for birthdays.  We go out to eat, right?  But these are some of the best chances for memories!  The singing, the candles, the presents… it’s something else.  So how can you put a little cooking into the birthday tradition?

Everyone has a favorite meal, some special dish that they love.  My Gran loves spaghetti with meatballs, my Dad loves surf and turf, my son loves mac and cheese; it goes on and on.  Why not make a tradition of cooking this favorite dish?

Make it a little better each year, try some new things, and just enjoy the celebration!

Hot Cocoa Contest!

The Hot Cocoa Contest is here!

Do you want $25?

So what is it?  The Hot Cocoa Contest is a chance for you to win a $25 Starbucks gift card.  How?  Simple!

There will be a video drawing December 26th for anyone that enters.  To enter, simply post a story, recipe, or picture here or on our Facebook page.  Want to up your chances?

1.  Share this contest on Facebook
2.  Tweet the contest
3.  Like our page on Facebook

So post below, and enjoy!

Hot Chocolate, Cold Chocolate, and Chocolate that doesn’t melt?

Well the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…  With winter coming, you’re going to have to deal with me getting cheesy.  I’m sorry, that’s just how it is.  However, there is good news: we’re going to have some fun with the cheesiness.  On today’s agenda:  a tour of chocolate.

First up; let’s take a nice, leisurely stroll through the magic that is hot chocolate.  I have a confession to make, and I honestly hope you won’t think less of me for it.  I’m actually ok with instant hot chocolate.  I know, I know; I do everything from scratch the traditional way, slaving over a hot stove and whatnot.  Don’t get me wrong; the traditional from scratch stuff is far tastier.  But if you’re short on time and just lounging around with friends or family, go ahead and nuke a cup!  You can also just put the powder in a coffee maker and brew a bunch of instant at a time.  Add some marshmallows, start sipping, and warm up!  But…

If you want to try the from scratch method (you do, don’t lie to yourself), here’s how to do it.  First, figure out how many cups of the delicious beverage you’re going to need.  Now add three, this is going to taste good.  Simply pour milk into a mug, then into a saucepan (obviously do this for as many servings as you’re going to make).  While that heats up, add a few drops vanilla extract, a pinch of nutmeg, and a pinch of cinnamon.  And a dash of cayenne pepper.  Trust me!  If you don’t like spice you can leave it out, but the surprise bit of heat of the tongue feels great.

Once the milk reaches a simmer, turn the heat down to low and add a half table of sugar per serving, as well as 3 squares of either milk chocolate or dark chocolate depending on your tastes.  Stir slowly and continuously until melted, and serve!  Make sure to protect your more impatient cohorts from themselves; the burned tongue or scalded roof of the mouth will result in an evening of complaints.

Not in the mood for something hot?  Why not a cold chocolate dessert?   Chocolate mousse is one of my favorite things to make for two reason.

  1.  It has a decadent, luxury mouth feel that is hard to match
  2. It is actually not expensive to make
  3. It’s a great recipe for little ones to help with

Fine, that was 3 reasons.  I’m not changing the sentence; I’m out of control.  In fact, you’ll have to wait a day for the mousse recipe…

The Thankful Challenge

This is obviously a day to be thankful, to stop and take a look around at everything we have that we don’t usually appreciate.  Why?

Because it’s hard to do!  We get so caught up in the daily grind, in getting through our never ending to do list, that we lose sight of all of the little things.  So today, we take the time to appreciate those wonderful things.  But I want to take it a step farther, and I want to challenge anyone that reads this to do the same.  What’s the challenge?

Be grateful for the unpleasant things.  Believe it or not, this is not only possible, if it will take a ton of stress, pressure, worry, and unhappiness away from you.  It will empower you!  To take the worst, most frustrating aspects of your life, stare them in the face and say ‘I’m so lucky’… It makes you invincible almost.  Need an example?

My job currently hasn’t paid me in 4 weeks because of a paperwork error.  Am I frustrated?  Of course!  I might even be losing sleep over it, but you know what?  I’m thankful that I have a job, and that I work with people that respect and support me.  I’m thankful that I’m in a paid position (once it gets sorted out).

My wife, my kids, and I are currently living in my dad’s house.  To be perfectly honest (and it is hard for me to admit), it makes me feel like a failure as a father.  I believe it is my job to provide for my wife and kids, and not being able to purchase our own house drives me crazy.  But I’m so grateful that I have my wife, that my kids are healthy, and that I have a dad willing to deal with two toddlers.

So how about it?  Are you up to the challenge?  Dig deep, be honest with yourself!  Post in the comments below, eat up, and enjoy everything you have.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday News!

Random food news for the day!

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/11/20/cory-booker-food-stamps-twitter-challenge/1717039/

This is a pretty interesting idea, but I’ve been poor before so I’m not sure that I need to do it again 🙂

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2012/11/food-an-edible-exhibit-examines-our-many-culinary-cultures/

This exhibit sound extremely fun, hopefully I can make it there before it changes.  I’ll make sure to post some pics/videos if I go!

What do you think of these stories?  Have any other cool food news?  Share it below!

Happy Veteran’s Day!

Hello!

I’m happy to tip my hat and pay respects to all Veterans today!   Going to throw up a few news stories I found, let me know what you think!

This first one is on some teen cooks that are volunteering to prepare food while the cleanup of Hurricane Sandy is going on.  Personally, I think it’s awesome whenever anyone volunteers, but when young people get involved I really get excited!  Check it out:

Teenage culinary students at Gerald R. Claps Career & Technical Center in Levittown on Friday stood next to each other at stainless steel counters busily chopping apples, stirring sauce and kneading dough for meals that would be cooked and served to Sandy evacuees at the Red Cross shelter set up down the hallway….

 

This is such a heart warming story. Young parents making an effort to improve their lives and their children’s lives. They are gaining so much more than just cooking skill and knowledge, they are gaining confidence.

Get the full story here: One young couple stood side by side chopping vegetables for casadias(sic) and fajitas Wednesday as their 9-month-old daughter played at their feet. The teen parents are part of a collaborative program between…

 

It is because of programs like these that students who normally would have dropped out of school and never had any hope of college have found passion and confidence. They have a sense of pride and accomplishment, and rightly so. The skills, knowledge and opportunities these programs provide are priceless. I just wish there were more of them.

Get the full story here: In Garfield High School’s impressively equipped professional kitchen, the students in the culinary-arts program learn how to use a knife and a 12-burner range and how to make pizza dough from scratch. Most importantly, the students at this alternative continuation school in downtown San Diego learn…

Have any comments or fun cooking news?  Post it below!