Category Archives: Skills

Core Skills

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the core skills a young adult needs in order to successfully move into adulthood (and being self-sufficient). In my job, we hear a lot about “soft skills” and how the 21st century workforce really needs them. As I’ve been thinking about my own children, and my own life experiences, here are what I’ll call the “Core Skill Set” for starting a successful life, weather it be going to college, getting a job or going off in a completely different direction:

Honesty: Tell the truth always and be someone who can be counted on, at all times, as being a straight-shooter.

A Strong Work-Ethic: Always show up when you are supposed to (to work or to class), even if you feel crappy. Be committed to being there and keep focused when you are there.

Intellectual Curiosity: Always seek to learn new things. Look to the past. Read. Think about the future. Explore related and tangential skills. Be a lifelong learner.

Creativity: This can also be thought of as problem solving. Load your brain with lots of experience and continuously practice coming up with new ideas – flex your creativity muscle and you’ll make connections and solve problems that matter.

Collaborative Skills: Be awesome to work with – pull your weight, offer encouragement and support, lead when you are supposed to, contribute always. You can do more together than you can ever do alone.

Communication Skills: Learn how to speak effectively in front of people. Learn to be quiet and listen. Write clearly and effectively. You’d be surprised at how many people are super-talented but are horrible communicators. Communicate effortlessly and people will listen.

Can You Be A Billionaire?

Will I become a billionaire if I am determined to be one and put in the necessary work required?


One of the many qualities that separate self-made billionaires from the rest of us is their ability to ask the right questions.

This is not the right question.

(Which is not to say it’s a bad question. It just won’t get that deep part of your mind working to help you — mulling things over when you think you’re thinking about something else — sending up flares of insight.)

You’re determined. So what? You haven’t been racing naked through shark-infested waters yet. Will you be just as determined when you wash up on some deserted island, disoriented and bloody and ragged and beaten and staring into the horizon with no sign of rescue?

We live in a culture that celebrates determination and hard work, but understand: these are the qualities that keep you in the game after most everybody else has left, or until somebody bigger and stronger picks you up and hurls you back out to sea. Determination and hard work are necessary, yes, but they are the minimum requirements. As in: the bare minimum.

A lot of people work extremely hard and through no fault of their own — bad luck, the wrong environment, unfortunate circumstances — struggle to survive.

How can you *leverage* your time and your work?

Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion (not literally). Then develop that potential. Choose one thing and become a master of it. Choose a second thing and become a master of that. When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

The world doesn’t throw a billion dollars at a person because the person wants it or works so hard they feel they deserve it. (The world does not care what you want or deserve.) The world gives you money in exchange for something it perceives to be of equal or greater value: something that transforms an aspect of the culture, reworks a familiar story or introduces a new one, alters the way people think about the category and make use of it in daily life. There is no roadmap, no blueprint for this; a lot of people will give you a lot of advice, and most of it will be bad, and a lot of it will be good and sound but you’ll have to figure out how it doesn’t apply to you because you’re coming from an unexpected angle. And you’ll be doing it alone, until you develop the charisma and credibility to attract the talent you need to come with you.

Have courage. (You will need it.)

And good luck. (You’ll need that too.)

(Source: Justine Musk on Quora)

Killer Scrambled Eggs

Creating killer scrambled eggs is an awesome, flexible and impressive skill. This approach will deliver the best eggs you’ve ever eaten. It’s for 6 eggs – basically 2-3 portions. Adjust accordingly.


  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 T butter
  • 3 T heavy whipping cream
  • 2 T chopped fresh chives
  • 3 finger pinch of salt


Crack your eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Don’t add anything to them like water or milk. Don’t over beat (you don’t want too many air bubbles), but get them good and mixed up. Heat up a good non-stick frying pan and when it’s ready (not too hot – low medium heat is fine), pour in your eggs. Scramble them with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, stirring continuously.

When the eggs are very loose, drop in the butter, the cream, the chives and the salt. Stir to combine and cook a bit longer. You want them a little looser than you’d expect, but not runny. When ready, serve onto plates and enjoy!

The Starter Budget

There are a million ways to set up a budget, from simple to insanely complex. Honestly, only time (and your income and expenses) will guide you to your best personal approach to budgeting. The most important thing, just starting out, is to have some sort of budget, so that you can anticipate expenses and know when you have to save a little more or get to splurge a bit.

For this starter budget, let’s just assume your income is what you get to take home on your paycheck – already, there will be things taken out such as taxes, social security and such. Your goal is to be able to live with the money you take home.

Let’s break your expenses (what you spend your income on) into some simple categories and look at a basic and sensible ratio of expenses:

  • Housing (30%) This is your rent, mortgage payment, utilities, etc. plus any home repairs and improvements you need to do.
  • Food (10%) This covers both groceries and dining out.
  • Transportation (20%) This is your car payment, insurance, gas and any car repairs.
  • Personal Expenses (15%) This is all the extra stuff: clothes, haircuts, going out to the movies, Christmas presents, prescriptions, doctor visits, cell phone, etc.
  • Debt (15%) This is for paying down and loans (other than mortgage or car loan) and any credit card payments.
  • Savings (10%) This is how much you should sock away each paycheck.

Imagine you bring home $1,000/month – using the above figures, you can easily figure out how much rent you can afford and how much car payment you can afford and how much to spend at the grocery store each week.

You can free up some extra funds if you can manage not to take on much debt in the form of other loans and credit cards.

Start putting your savings into a savings account – try to get 3 months of income saved in there. This is what you’ll use if something goes belly up or you need an emergency car repair or new refrigerator. Try to keep it at a 3 month level as much as possible. Once you do that, talk to a financial advisor (or perhaps they have a savings program through work) and put your savings into longer term investments.

If you keep on top of this, you won’t get behind and you’ll have far less stress as you live within your means.

Stir-Fry Sauces

Here is a collection of basic stir fry sauces that can allow you to create a nearly infinite variety of stir fry dishes.

Lemon Stir-Fry Sauce
(nice with chicken and seafood)

  • 2/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 2 -3 T lemon juice (to taste)
  • Optional: red pepper flakes

Soy Sesame Stir-Fry Sauce
(good all-round Asian sauce, suitable for all proteins)

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 4 t rice wine vinegar
  • 4 t toasted sesame oil
  • 2 t hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 t sugar

Basic Stir-Fry Sauce
(good all-round sauce)

  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup rice wine or rice vinegar
  • 3 1/2 T sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 T minced ginger
  • 2 T cornstarch

Sweet and Sour Stir-Fry Sauce
(great with chicken, pork, beef and shrimp)

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 T rice vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 1 T cornstarch

Hot and Sour Stir-Fry Sauce
(good all-round sauce)

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 4 t granulated sugar
  • 1 t chile paste (sambal oleek)

Thai Stir-Fry Sauce
(great with chicken or shrimp)

  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 2 1/2 T fish sauce
  • 3 1/2 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 T soy sauce
  • 1/3 to 1/2 t dried crushed chili
  • 2 1/2 t brown sugar

Peanut Stir-Fry Sauce
(perfect for noodles or chicken)

  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 t granulated sugar (less if not using natural peanut butter)
  • 4 t natural peanut butter
  • 2 T water
  • 2 t Asian chili garlic paste

Combine all ingredients and heat in microwave for 20-30 seconds.

Orange Stir-Fry Sauce
(nice with chicken and pork)

  • 3/4 orange juice
  • 1 T Cornstarch
  • 2 T Hoisin sauce
  • 1 T Oyster sauce
  • 1 T Rice vinegar
  • 2 t brown sugar
  • 1 t Finely grated orange zest

Spicy Szechuan Stir-Fry Sauce
(great all-round spicy stir fry sauce)

  • 3-4 T sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 2 T rice wine or rice vinegar
  • 2 t cornstarch
  • 1 t sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T green onion, minced
  • 1 T fresh minced ginger
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t chili paste (sambal oleek or chili paste sauce with garlic)

Basics of Stir-Frying

Stir frying is a great and simple way to make an amazing meal. You can use a wok or any non-stick flying pan. You need your essential ingredients, a protein (unless you want to make it vegetarian), some vegetables, a sauce (see the stir fry sauce post) and some toppers.

Essential ingredients (for all stir fry)

  • Peanut oil
  • Garlic (chopped)
  • Green onions (chopped)
  • Rice
  • Soy sauce

Proteins that work well

  • Chicken breast (diced or thin sliced)
  • Chicken thighs (diced)
  • Pork (like pork chops, thinly sliced)
  • Lean beef (like sirloin – thinly sliced)
  • Shrimp (deveined and shelled)

Vegetables that work well

  • Onions (diced)
  • Carrots (grated)
  • Broccoli (cut into small pieces)
  • Peppers (green, red, etc. – thinly sliced)
  • Snow peas
  • Jalepeno (diced small)
  • Bok choy (thinly sliced)
  • Ginger (grated)
  • Mushrooms (thickly sliced)
  • Snap peas


  • Cilantro (chopped)
  • Peanuts (chopped)

To make the stir fry, start first with the rice – make it according to the package instructions. While it’s cooking, you can chop the rest of your ingredients and start cooking the actually stir fry when you take the rice off the heat to rest.

In your pan, put in 2T of peanut oil and get very hot. When the oil shimmers, add your chopped garlic and stir for about 10-15 seconds. Then add your protein and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.

When the meat is done, scoop it into a bowl and wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Add another T of oil and add your veggies, stirring continuously. When they have turned bright and are still crispy (3-4 minutes), add your meat back in, plus any sauce you want to use. Stir for 30 seconds and then toss in your green onions. Toss for a few seconds.

Scoop some rice into your bowl or plate and then add the stir fry on top. Top with your chosen toppers and enjoy!

Exercise for Cognitave Health

The key to finding an exercise plan that will promote your cognitive health is to find something that builds your aerobic capacity (more oxygen to your brain!), lowers your fat level and is fun. Some of the best exercise systems: aerobics, swimming, martial arts, dance and rowing.

  • When exercising, practice good breathing—breathe through your nose and don’t hold your breath during exertion—that’s the time to exhale.
  • Do some basic aerobic exercise regularly: walk to work, ride your bike, play a sport, run around and chase your kid—just let yourself get winded, it’s good for you
  • Look into Pilates or some other simple set of exercises that will strengthen your “core”—your lower back and abdominal muscles, since these are the muscle groups we rely on most
  • Stretch to increase your flexibility—stretch your calves, hamstrings, lower back—make stretching part of your daily wrap-up ritual

The Importance of Relaxation

The word “relax” has its origin in the Latin word “relaxare” which means “to loosen”. When we engage in relaxation techniques we are in effect loosening tension, releasing tightly held energy and letting go. Relaxation is a way to level out stress and “rest” our minds and bodies.

  • Give yourself a cue—tell yourself it’s time to wind down, like slipping into sweat pants or a favorite t-shirt when you get home.
  • Sit quietly—sit quietly and calmly for 3-5 minutes.
  • Less clutter—clear your world of needless clutter.
  • Breathing—give yourself some deep breathing; breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and exhale for 7 seconds.
  • Breathe through your nose and breathe deep—if you do it right, you won’t hyperventilate or be gagging for air.
  • Have an end-of-day ritual—have a regular ritual as you prepare for bed, something that you look forward to.

A Killer Resume

A solid, professional resume is often the first form of contact you have with a potential employer. Here’s what I think are the essential elements of a great resume:

  • Keep it to one page
  • Use a professional font and basic layout
  • Begin with your name and all vital contact information
  • Do not have an “Objective” section – it’s obvious what your objective is
  • After your name, list your work experience (under the heading “Experience”), from current back through time. Indicate position, company, location and time there on one line.
  • Under that, explain what you did in a single, matter-of-fact sentence.
  • Under your experience section, list your education (under the heading “Education”) – institution, location, degree and date
  • Finally, add a heading “Skills” and list your skills simply, one right after another, separated by commas (from most important to least), and use parenthesis if you need to list a few relevant sub skills)
  • Remember, no longer than one page!!

Take Stock of Your Mistakes

Nothing is more painful than the realization that you screwed up. Obviously, to avoid turning a mistake into a lingering cancer, you need to own your mistake – fess up and fix what you can, humbly.

That being said, you will learn far more from your mistakes than from your victories. Most mistakes are minor and provide a great ongoing opportunity for real-world learning. But some are real doozies – the kind you can’t pretend they didn’t happen.

A useful tool is to keep for yourself a private list (you don’t need to share this with anyone – it’s for your eyes alone) of your major mistakes. No, you don’t have to rehash every detail, but just list each mistake matter-of-factly and don’t pull any punches. It’s sort of a shopping list of what not to do in the future.

The purpose of this list is not to make you feel bad, but rather to lessen the power of your major mistakes over your own psyche – listing them out honestly tells yourself that you aren’t hiding from anything. And coming back to that list once or twice a year is a great opportunity to review the lessons learned and to also feel good about how far you’ve come.

Core Maker/DIY Skills

1. Calculate power consumption and estimate battery life- Most electrical projects will involve batteries of some sort. Having an idea of how long your project will run on a battery can save you a lot of trouble later- that wireless garden soil moisture monitor is probably not going to run very long on a 9V battery. Maybe solar is a better idea?

2. Spot valuable salvage- Not only knowing where to get it, but knowing it when you see it. Finding it isn’t too hard- curbs, alleys, and the classic dumpster dive. Deciding whether to keep it is the real trick: can it be broken down? Are there useful things inside (gears, motors, electronics, hardware, salvageable wood, springs, etc.)? Is trying to salvage parts of it a wise thing to do (upholstered items left outside are a great way to get bedbugs into your home)?

3. Spot eminently hackable, cheap Chinese crap- The glut of crap from China occasionally brings some real gems with it. recently sold some rotating LED-based “police lights” for $3, which connect to USB and can be turned on and off by pressing a key on the keyboard.

4. Find “prior art”- In the patent world, “prior art” is anything which suggests that the idea you are trying to patent (or have patented) was developed or described by someone else first. The existence of prior art can break a patent. In the Maker world, prior art is a springboard. Someone, somewhere on the internet did (or tried to do) what you are trying to do. They may even be selling bits of the project which may make showstopping technical challenges mere speedbumps.

5. Stitch a simple and serviceable seam- We’re not talking about making your daughter’s prom dress, here- just being able to neatly and durably reclose the seam on the Furby you just hacked into reciting the Vincent Price speech from “Thriller”.

6. Understand the voltage/current ratings on a power supply- If a battery won’t cut it, you should understand at least the rudiments of power supplies: how to get a cheap wall-wart AC adapter, what voltage you can use, and why it’s okay to use a 500mA supply to replace a 250mA supply.

7. Know which glue to use, when- Elmer’s white, spray mount, Uhu glue sticks, JB Weld, cyanoacrylate, and two-part epoxy all have their uses.

8. Know which tape to use, when- Duct, masking, Scotch, foam-two-sided, and (occasionally) electrical tape all have their uses.

9. Deal with recalcitrant fasteners- Sooner or later, you’ll want to remove a screw or bolt that is stripped, broken, or uses a security bit. Owning a wide variety of driver bits is a start, but knowing how to drill out a fastener or cut a notch for a flat-edge screwdriver should be somewhere in your bag of tricks.

10. Use a Dremel- ’nuff said.

11. Find the parts you can’t salvage- Locally or over the internet. You should know where local shops are that sell things like nuts and bolts by the pound, simple electronics (resistors, soldering tools, protoboard, etc.)(RadioShack is a poor choice for this, if it can be helped), fabric, paper, artist’s supplies, wood, hobbyist tools and toys. You should also be familiar with,,,,,, and, just to name a few.

12. Identify electronics in the zone between too-hot and smoking by smell- When you smell the smoke, it’s too late.

13. Strip, splice, and terminate wire- Trickier than it sounds. You should be able to splice wire using a crimp splice, a wire nut, and heat shrink + solder (note: electrical tape is NOT on that list). You should know how to use a wire stripper to strip stranded wire without cutting more than one or two strands. You should be able to attach a wire to your project in such a way that it will still be attached in two weeks, two months, or two years.

14. Create fairly neat holes of arbitrary size and shape in sheet metal, plastic, and wood- Nibblers, step-bits, tin-snips, chisels, awls, drill bits, and the appropriate Dremel bit all play crucuial roles here.

15. Use Ohm’s law- V = I*R. Know it, use it, love it.

16. Tie useful knots- Bowline, taut-line hitch, slip, figure-eight, overhand, square, clove hitch, sheet bend. One or another of these knots will get you through most situations.

17. Solder.

18. Program a microcontroller- nothing fancy, just something along the lines of the Arduino. Just enough to make it spin a motor on a trigger or light an LED or sound an alarm.

(source: Make Magazine)

Basic Gravy

This basic gravy is wonderful with a roast chicken or a beef roast. It’s assumed that you have some pan juices from what you just cooked. You can make the gravy when the meat is resting.

In a small sauce pan, add 2 T of butter over medium heat. When butter starts to melt, add 2 T of flour and whisk together for at least 3-5 minutes until smooth and cream (it’s not good if it turns dark brown!). This is your roux and it will thicken the gravy.

Now add about a quarter cup of the pan juices and whisk together for 2-3 minutes. Add some stock or broth and some cream (ratio: 2 parts broth and 1 part cream – add as much as you need to make the quantity you want) and bring to a boil and let bubble for a few minutes.

Reduce heat, taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.

You can also kick things up by adding bourbon, white wine or green peppercorns and such.

Basic Vegetable Soup Recipe

This basic recipe will make a delicious vegetable soup. You can also add a protein or replace the potatoes with another starch, such as noodles or barley.


  • 4 t olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, medium dice
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2  carrots, medium dice
  • 2  garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, medium dice
  • 2 cups additional vegetables of your choice (such as red pepper, cabbage, asparagus, mushrooms, fennel, or peas), medium dice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup white wine or dry vermouth (optional)
  • 1 quart chicken, beef or vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 pound potatoes, medium dice

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the carrots and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the celery and, if using, any hearty vegetables (such as cabbage and fennel) and the bay leaf and thyme. Season again with salt and pepper and cook an additional 5 minutes. If using, add the wine or vermouth (for some acidity) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the alcohol has reduced by about half, about 2 minutes.

Add the broth, potatoes, and any quicker-cooking vegetables (such as asparagus and peas). Let the soup come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, about 15 to 25 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

Basic Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is an ingredient in many meals and soups and it’s easy to make with the caracas of a left-over roast chicken. Here’s how:


  • Leftover bones and skin from a cooked or raw chicken carcass
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Carrot
  • Parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Put the leftover bones and skin from a chicken carcass into a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Add veggies like celery, onion, carrots, parsley. Add salt and pepper, about a teaspoon of salt, 1/4 tsp of pepper.

Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to bring the stock to barely a simmer. Simmer uncovered at least 4 hours, occasionally skimming off the foam that comes to the surface.

Remove the bones and strain the stock. You can strain the stock by using several paper towels in your colander. Place in either gallon freezer bags or tupperware. It will last a week in the fridge or several months if frozen.

Basic Salad Dressing

This is a simple vinaigrette dressing that can be used for salad or dressing cooked vegetables. It can be altered and enhanced with almost infinite variety. Simply mix all the ingredients together and enjoy.

  • 3 parts EVOO
  • 1 part vinegar (red wine or balsamic)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Dollop of dijon mustard

How to Roast a Chicken

Roasting a chicken is a simple and basic skill that can be the heart of a truly great meal. Here’s a simple way to knock out a killer bird.


  • Whole chicken
  • 1/2 lemon, cut in quarters
  • 1/2 small onion, cut in quarters
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme (can use dried)
  • 3 T melted butter
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Take your chicken and rinse it under cold water and remove anything inside it. Pat dry with a few paper towels.

Salt and pepper the inside of the bird and stick the lemon, onion and thyme inside.

Fold the wings under the back of the bird and prepare a pan. Use either a roasting pan or some other oven save pan – if it doesn’t have a grate to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan, crumple up some foil to make two large “C” shapes and set them on the bottom of the pan. Set the chicken in the pan.

Baste the breast of the chicken with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Put in the oven.

After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350. Baste the chicken every 15-20 minutes with some melted butter. Roast until internal temperature hits 165 degrees.

Basic Rub

This basic rub is great for grilled steaks, slow-cooked ribs or roast chicken.

  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 T paprika
  • 1 T granulated garlic
  • 1 T granulated onion
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 2 T kosher salt
  • 1 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 t white pepper

Store in a small tupperware container in your pantry.

Pantry Essentials


  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • White wine vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Basic sugar
  • All-purpose flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Canned beans
  • Canned tuna
  • White rice
  • Honey
  • Chicken broth
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Dried pasta
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Jarred pasta sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Plain crackers—unsalted saltines
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic


  • Ground cinnamon
  • Chile powder
  • Dried oregano
  • Ground cumin
  • Smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • Hot pepper flakes
  • Bay leaves
  • Dried Thyme


  • Dijon mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Mayonaise
  • Bacon
  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Cream
  • Plain Yogurt
  • Lemons
  • Carrots
  • Parmesan cheese


  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Ground Beef
  • Boneless chicken breasts
  • Raw shrimp

Generic Quickbread

The quickbread ratio: 2 parts flour and liquid, 1 part egg and butter.

That will give you a perfect muffin or, baked in a loaf pan, a quickbread. Now, you also need to have a little technique and common sense. A teaspoon of baking powder for every 5 ounces (cup) of flour is needed for leavening, a pinch of salt for flavor, but that’s it.

If you want a lemon-lime cake, add lemon and lime juice and zest; vanilla is always good, or add lemon and poppyseeds, add cranberry and orange, blueberries, bananas. Make a savory quick bread with cumin coriander and ginger to accompany a dal. (Secret: If you season the batter with a little sugar and vanilla and pour it on a griddle, you have perfect pancakes. That savory quickbread suggestion? Pour it over corn or peas, just enough to bind them, spoon the mixture into hot oil for amazing fritters).

(source: Mark Ruhlman)

Generic Casserole Recipe

Here is a simple generic recipe to create a tasty baked casserole from the ingredients you probably have on hand.

  • 1 cup main ingredient (protein)
  • 1 cup second ingredient (vegetable)
  • 1-2 cups starchy ingredient
  • 1 1/2 cups binder
  • 1/4 cup “goodie” (optional)
  • seasoning
  • topping

What do those categories mean, exactly? The main ingredient is the protein, meat or otherwise. The second ingredient is a vegetable or secondary protein, like hard-boiled eggs. The starch, seasoning, and topping should be pretty self-evident, and the “goodie” can be whatever you’d like, while the “binder” is something thick and saucy, like sour cream, pureed foods, or, yes, even canned soup.

Some examples:

  • Main ingredient: tuna, cubed chicken, turkey, ham, seafood, etc.
  • Second ingredient: thinly sliced celery, mushrooms, peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs, etc.
  • Starchy ingredient: thinly sliced potatoes, cooked noodles, cooked rice, etc.
  • Binder: cream sauce, sour cream, can of soup, etc.
  • “Goodie”: pimiento, olives, almonds, water chestnuts, etc.
  • Topping: cheese, bread crumbs, etc.

Once you get your ingredients together, it’s just a few simple steps:

  • Prepare the main ingredient (brown or cook it if needed – season with salt and pepper)
  • Mix together the protein, the vegetable and the binder (and the goodie, if using) in a bowl and season (if you use condensed soup, don’t add water)
  • Prep the starch, if need be (cook the potatoes or pasta, for example)
  • Put together in casserole pan (if you chose pasta, put in first and protein mix on top… if any other starch, do the reverse – protein on bottom)
  • Sprinkle on topping
  • Put, uncovered, into 350 degree oven for at least an hour (until center is bubbling)