Preppy Kitchen, chef John Kanell, on how cooking is like math

Preppy Kitchen, chef John Kanell, on how cooking is like math

John Kanell, the food blogger behind Preppy Kitchen, says his husband, Brian, likes a controversial pizza topping: pineapple.  (Photo: John Kanell; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

John Kanell, the food blogger behind Preppy Kitchen, says his husband, Brian, likes a controversial pizza topping: pineapple. (Photo: John Kanell; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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With three million Preppy Kitchen YouTube subscribers and over one million Instagram followers, John Kanell has made it his life’s mission to bring home fresh, family-friendly recipes for everyone to enjoy.

In her new cookbook, Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for Seasonal Foods and Simple PleasuresKanell compiles the favorite dishes that he, his 5-year-old twins, George and Lachlan, and his husband, Brian, make together.

The family lives on a farm in Connecticut, so seasonality and farm-fresh ingredients are always on the menu. Kanell cites pizza night as a favorite weekend activity, starting with making the dough from scratch, then adding your favorite sauce, cheese and toppings. “For Brian,” says Kanell, “it’s extra pineapple. That’s it. Guys like it plain and I like olives, mushrooms and peppers.”

Snacking is also seasonal at Kanell’s. In the summer, he goes into the garden and picks everything that’s ready and ripe – like tomatoes and fresh herbs – and pairs it with cheese and nuts to eat while he’s behind the stove. In winter, it’s all about creamy macaroni and cheese and stews filled with tender, cooked root vegetables. He also indulges in a yogurt parfait between meals, preferably thick Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr, loaded with fresh fruit, granola and nuts.

While Kanell’s family-style cooking is propelling his culinary fame on social media, it didn’t come out of nowhere. He grew up cooking with his Mexican mother. “I always say I’m a cook taught by my mother,” he says. “I didn’t go to restaurants because my mom always makes these beautiful three-course meals. She grew up in a small village in Mexico with fresh ingredients and everything made from scratch.”

Kanell says the most important lesson for him in the kitchen was to trust his own abilities and enjoy experimenting. “You find new things, try them, see what works and learn if it doesn’t,” he says.

This attitude stems not only from the years he spent cooking with his mother, but also from his previous career teaching middle school math and science, which he did for more than 10 years. His experience as a teacher informs his approach to cooking: a watch of one of his recipe videos on YouTube provides insight into this as he explains the scientific reasons behind weighing ingredients accurately, shares what could happen if you don’t follow . baking directions to the letter and offers other detailed – yet accessible – information that you can impress your friends with as they watch the magic come together in the kitchen.

“Math anxiety is like cooking anxiety,” says Kanell. “To succeed in any of them, you have to be prepared and have the right tools. For cooking, that includes having the right ingredients and reading the recipe carefully.”

“You can experience success, you can love what you do and have a happy time in the kitchen,” he adds.

Allowing children to experiment, discover and learn is key to getting them involved in cooking and helping out in the kitchen, he says. “Many parents worry that their children may not have the fine motor control to help them,” Kanell says. “Start by asking them to measure things: If I can dump sand into a bucket on the beach, I can dump a teaspoon of flour into a bowl.”

Kanell also suggests having kids beat and mix the ingredients together with a spoon early on. “You just pre-measure things for them and they can take the recipe from there,” he says. Kanell suggests trying “mixed” recipes first—like pancakes and cornbread—where there’s no machinery involved for little fingers to get stuck.

Why is it important to involve your children in the kitchen? Kanell says showing them where their food comes from is key and making them knowledgeable about what they eat. “They feel like they’re part of the family unit,” he tells Yahoo Life, “not just accepting the food, but helping to prepare it. Kids like to feel like they’re helping.”

In fact, it’s the reason he and his husband moved to their farm in the first place. “We wanted our children to have a better connection with the land,” he explains. “We wanted them to have their own vegetable plot where they could choose which vegetables to plant, tend and harvest. This is valuable to us and we hope it will become valuable to them as well.”

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