Just a few short months ago Kelli Kirkland was a lousy cook -- maybe even the worst cook in America. She was a busy student at UCLA and wasn't much interested in cooking. But her grandma always believed she had a great cook inside of her. So Kelli joined Food Network's reality show, Worst Cooks in America. Eight weeks of cooking boot camp and an intense competition later, she became the series champion!
Now Kelli has a 2-year-old son and is bringing her dazzling skills home so she can pass on her family's food traditions to the next generation.
Wouldn't we all love to get our own cooking boot camp with celebrity chefs? But since that's so not happening for most of us (hey, you never know!), Kelli has some super-simple tips for gettin' your chef on at home.
1. Knife skills. This was the most important kitchen skill Kelli learned on the show. "I never realized how important knife skills are! I used to cut up my food all kittywampus and wonder why it tasted so weird." Now she knows it makes a huge difference to cut all your vegetables or meat into same-sized pieces so everything cooks evenly. "Get a Cuisinart or a chopper or whatever you can to help you cut your food right. It really makes a difference." Or check out this short video tutorial on knife skills.
2. Try a new spice or herb once a week. Kelli used to use just one seasoning: Salt. And all her food tasted the same. Boot camp forced her to try new herbs and spices, like coriander. "This will really help you get out of your box. I know it's scary -- I didn't know anything about any seasonings before I started boot camp. But you won't believe the amazing flavors you'll make."
3. Make your kids eat what you eat. Now that dinner is flavorful and evenly cooked (right?), how do you get your kids to eat it? "This is something I learned from Bobby Flay," Kelli says. Bobby's daughter eats everything he eats. He just makes one meal for the family. So there's no separate chicken fingers for the kids. If they're having salmon, everyone has salmon. "I've been doing this with my 2-year-old son, and we have a two-bite rule. He just has to take two bites of whatever we're eating, one for Mommy or Daddy, and one for himself. And he'll do it! I've been surprised at some of the things he likes."
4. Get your kids involved in the meal. This is another great tip for feeding the whole family, including your picky kids. Even if your kids get involved in the smallest way, stirring a pot or helping to pick the menu, it helps them enjoy the meal more. "They feel like they have more of a choice and a say in that meal," Kelli says.
5. Be brave, moms! Her last bit of advice for us: Don't be afraid to make mistakes. "You're going to mess up sometimes, but that's okay. Just keep going back in there and going to bat."
What's your biggest cooking challenge? What are your favorite tips?
Image via Bobby Quillard