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Wednesday, July 26 Living

How to add a dash of fun to cooking

Editor-in-chief of Food Network magazine Maile Carpenter answers our questions on how to put some pizazz into our daily cooking routine.

Q: Cooking can be drudgery for some home cooks. How can we make cooking more fun?

A: I hate to think that cooking is drudgery for anyone, but I know we all have those nights. I think the key is to take some of the grunt work out of the process, and that’s easier to do than ever. Grocery stores sell so many different types of chopped and spiralized veggies (some fancier grocers even have veggie butchers). Plus you can find helpful shortcuts in the freezer section (precooked brown rice) or on the shelf (microwavable pouches of trendy grains like farro and quinoa). I’m not suggesting that you’ll have a blast using frozen brown rice, I just mean that if you can skip a few steps on the front end, you’ll have more time to put some fun twists on weeknight dinners. Next time you serve a green salad, for example, make some Parmesan crisps to go on top. Toss ¾ cup grated Parmesan with ½ tablespoon flour and add 1 teaspoon minced herbs. Make 4-inch rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray and cook at 375 degrees until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Q: How can you turn a mundane dish into a fun presentation?

A: One of the things we’ve learned from tracking newsstand sales during the past nine years is that people really love an edible bowl. At this point, we’ve photographed every imaginable kind of edible vessel: soup in a pumpkin bowl, stuffing in an acorn squash bowl, chili in a corn muffin bowl, snacks in a Chex Mix bowl, ice cream in a chocolate bowl. An edible bowl really is a great way to turn a weeknight dinner into something more fun. The simplest way to do this is to buy large, crusty, sturdy rolls from a bakery and serve soup inside.

Q: In the April issue of Food Network Magazine, there is a recipe for a retro cake with cubes of Jell-O. Now that you have us making Jell-O for the first time in 30 years, what else can we do with it?

A: You mean you haven’t been making Jell-O all this time?! We actually break out gelatin fairly often because it’s so colorful and our creative director loves it because it’s incredibly fun to shoot. (Take note, Instagrammers.) I think our all-time best gelatin creation was a flag “cake”: a loaf of red and white stripes with a blue star in the middle. The instructions are at foodnetwork.com/cookiecuttergelatin.

Q: What do you cook that makes you happy?

A: Well, cooking in general makes me happy, but I’m particularly happy when I’m cooking with my kids. And they only want to make cupcakes.

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