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With three million Preppy Kitchen YouTube subscribers and over a million Instagram followers, John Kanell has made it his life’s work to bring home fresh, family-friendly recipes that everyone can enjoy together.
In his new cookbook Preppy Kitchen: Recipes for seasonal dishes and simple pleasuresKanell compiles favorite dishes that he, his 5-year-old twins George and Lachlan, and husband Brian cook together.
The family lives on a farm in Connecticut, so seasonality and fresh ingredients are always on the menu. Kanell cites pizza night as a favorite weekend activity, starting with preparing the dough from scratch, then adding sauce, cheese, and favorite toppings. “For Brian,” says Kanell, “it’s extra pineapple. That’s it. The guys like it plain and I like olives, mushrooms and peppers.”
Snacks are also seasonal at Kanell’s House. In the summer he goes into the garden and picks whatever is done and ripe – like tomatoes and fresh herbs – and combines it with cheese and nuts to snack on while he stands behind the stove. Winter is all about creamy macaroni and cheese and stews with braised, tender root vegetables. He also likes a yogurt parfait between meals, preferably thick Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr, packed with fresh fruit, granola and nuts.
While Kanell’s family cooking fuels his culinary social media fame, it didn’t come out of nowhere. He grew up cooking alongside his Mexican mother. “I always say I’m a chef trained by my mother,” he says. “We didn’t go to restaurants because my mother used to make these beautiful three-course meals. She grew up in a small village in Mexico with fresh ingredients and made everything from scratch.”
Kanell says the most important lesson he learned in the kitchen was to believe in your own abilities and to enjoy experimenting. “You find new things, try them, see what works and learn when it doesn’t,” he says.
This attitude stems not only from his years cooking with his mother, but also from his earlier career as a middle school math and science teacher, which he has pursued for more than 10 years. His experience as a teacher influences his approach to cooking: just looking at one of his recipe videos on YouTube provides insight as he explains the scientific rationale for weighing ingredients accurately and shares what can happen if you don’t follow baking instructions to the letter and offers more in-depth — but accessible — tidbits to impress friends with while they watch the magic work together in your kitchen.
“Math anxiety is like cooking anxiety,” says Kanell. “To be successful at both, you have to be prepared and have the right tools. Cooking involves having the right ingredients and reading the recipe carefully.”
“You can experience success, love what you do and Have fun in the kitchen,” he adds.
Letting kids experiment, discover, and learn is key to keeping them active while cooking and helping in the kitchen, he says. “A lot of parents worry that their kids might not have the fine motor skills to help,” says Kanell. “Start by helping them measure: if they can dump sand into a bucket on the beach, they can dump a scoop of flour into a bowl.”
Kanell also recommends that kids use a spoon to whisk and mix the ingredients together right from the start. “You just pre-measure things for them and they can take the recipe from there,” he says. Kanell suggests trying “stir-together” recipes first — like pancakes and cornbread — that don’t involve machines that little fingers can get caught on.
Why is it important to involve your kids in the kitchen? Kanell says it’s important to show them where their food comes from and make them knowledgeable about what they eat. “They feel like part of the family,” he tells Yahoo Life, “not just taking food, but helping to prepare it. Children love to feel like they have helped.”
In fact, that’s why he and his husband moved to their farm in the first place. “We wanted our children to have a better connection to the land,” he explains. “We wanted them to have their own vegetable garden where they could choose which vegetables to plant, tend and harvest. This is valuable to us and we hope it will be valuable to them too.”
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