Rachael Ray's 7 Tips to Great Cooking--and Personal Happiness

Rachael Ray's 7 Tips to Great Cooking--and Personal Happiness

The secret to a 30-minute meal and a happy life

There are two things I can't do in the kitchen: bake or make coffee. You laugh, but it's the truth. So how did I end up with two popular shows on the Food Network? Well, it's like they say, you've got to work with what you've got. With what you've been given. It's true in cooking. It's true in life.

Here are 7 lessons I learned about both along the way.

1. Keep it simple.
Baking, to me, is like conducting a science experiment. All those precise measurements and exact times and temperatures. I don't have the patience for it. I don't even own a set of measuring cups. Not being able to bake doesn't bother me. (Besides, my sister is a fantastic baker, so if I want some apple and cinnamon cake, I know where to go.) But coffee? I break out in a sweat at the mere thought of making a pot. Is it two spoonfuls or one? Table or teaspoon? Per cup or per pot? I can never remember. I make the lousiest coffee in North America!

All that coffee-making trauma has taught me something. What might be a breeze for one person can send someone else into a panic. So I try to stick to the basics when I'm writing a recipe. I want to make sure even an inexperienced cook can pull it off. See a way to save time? I'll put in a tip. Catch myself including too many ingredients? I'll pare down the list. Don't overload your brain. Keep it simple. Focus on the essentials and you'll get results, in and out of the kitchen.

2. Choose happiness.
My grampa Emmanuel always said, "You can laugh or you can cry. Just be sure to choose what you're going to cry about carefully." Grampa didn't cry about much, though he didn't have the easiest life. He grew up in Sicily, one of 14 children. They all worked in a pottery yard. Then one of his brothers was killed on the job. Grampa came to America and became a stonemason. He settled down in Cape Cod.

Grampa's real passions were gardening and cooking. Every Sunday he'd pick fruits and vegetables and cook up a storm for the family. There were too many of us to fit in the house, so he set up a big table outside. Pasta, meat, salad, melon, ice cream. Oh, what a feast! Grampa's dinner table was where I first saw—I guess I should say, tasted—the power of cooking. It can fill you up. With food and with contentment. Think of how you feel after a good dinner. Is there any more peaceful feeling?

That's why I think one great way to happiness is cooking. Say you're worn out from a long day at the office, frazzled from juggling your kids' activities. Sure, it's easy to hit the drive-through or get takeout. But you've got another choice. How about putting on some music and making dinner? Nothing complicated. Just good fresh food. Try that one night. I think you'll be surprised at how satisfying it is.

3. Be real.
My mom, Elsa, is only 4 feet 10. But don't let that fool you. She has a big personality. Everything I know about cooking I learned from her. She's a brilliant businesswoman too. At one point she ran nine restaurants simultaneously. Whenever she talked to employees, she'd stand in front of them on a milk crate. Why? So she could look them straight in the eye, really connect with them.

These days my mom is my business manager, my researcher, my morale officer and so much more. Sure, we fight sometimes. Besides, my family is Italian and Cajun—not exactly the quietest people. I think it's terrific to be open and honest and let things out. If you have the senses God gave you, then you're going to have opinions and, of course, they're not always going to agree with everyone else's.

One day a woman named Vicky was helping me prepare caponata, an Italian eggplant dish, for a cooking class. "You forgot the sugar and vinegar," Vicky pointed out. They're ingredients in most caponata recipes, so I explained, "In my family, we don't add sugar and vinegar to our caponata." She said, "We do in my family. And our caponata is good." "Yeah? Well, ours is great!" I shot back. Back and forth we went. 

We both got so worked up we burst into tears. What are you doing? I asked myself. You're practically coming to blows over a recipe! Shouldn't you be happy that Vicky feels as passionate about food and family as you do? I grabbed Vicky and threw my arms around her. She hugged me right back. We've been best friends ever since. If we'd been stingy with our words or our emotions, we would've missed out on a wonderful friendship.

Be real. Make connections with people. Look them in the eye. Tell them how you feel. Don't be afraid to say what you mean. When you let go of the stuff you hold inside, you'll be amazed at what comes back to you.

4. Savor life.
Okay, no one really likes school cafeteria food. Me, I couldn't stand it. I cried at having to eat it. I was brought up on squid and sardines and anchovies and garlic. All those good Italian things. To me, school food had no taste. So Grampa made me a sack lunch. The smell of it cleared the cafeteria. But I didn't care. I was too busy savoring every bite.

I think we're born with our minds open to everything the world has to offer. Too bad sometimes we learn to close them. One day I was doing a cooking demonstration in a grocery store. A Cajun specialty. That time jambalaya. A woman pushed her shopping cart past me. A little boy was sitting in the seat. "What's she cooking, Mom?" he asked. "Can I have some?" They came back and stopped in front of me. "It smells yummy, Mom." The woman peeked into the pot and crinkled her nose. "No, you don't like that," she told her son, and wheeled him away. She wouldn't even let him have a taste, I thought. And he really wanted to. It made me sad.

About Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray is currently hosting the syndicated talk show Rachael Ray , as well as several programs on the Food Network. To learn more about the small-screen chef, visit  rachaelray.com.

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