How to Take the Stress Out of Cooking
I Love to Cook
But I am surprised at how many people do not share my love for "culinary science."
OK, maybe the problem is that they do view it as a science—something difficult, something challenging, something for only those who are skilled.
I promise you this—you can cook. You don't need a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. You don't need the knife-skills of an Iron Chef. You don't need to know how to create the perfect béchamel sauce.
Successful cooking just takes a bit of preparation and planning.
How to De-Stress Your Cooking
- Before you begin, read the recipe from beginning to end. Five minutes before the cooking is done is not the time to find that you don't understand the final step, are missing a key ingredient, or should have separated the eggs.
- Look at the list of ingredients. Do you have everything you need? Once the egg whites are whipped it's too late to run to the grocery store for sugar.
- Do you understand all of the terms in the recipe? For example, do you understand the difference between "chopped" and "minced"? (Chopped ingredients are larger than minced.) A Google search can help you gain understanding of what cooking terms mean. Many cookbooks also provide definitions and illustrations to explain new concepts.
- Are you having trouble finding a specific ingredient in your area? Again, a Google search might help you find a reasonable substitution. Can't find shiitake mushrooms? You could use white buttons. It won't taste exactly the same, but recipes are guidelines, not the 10 Commandments.
I have a very dear friend who complains about time management. She wonders how I manage to "get so much done." One look at her house (and especially the kitchen) provides a good clue. I've never seen her home when it didn't look as though it had been ransacked by burglars. Every square inch of her countertops is occupied by paperwork, the mail from three days ago, dog meds, the broken food processor, and a mountain of dirty dishes.
Mom used to tell me, "you can't play with anything else until you put away the toys that are already out." That philosophy works in the kitchen, too. Empty the sink, wash and put away the dishes, place all foods back in the pantry where they belong, and if you haven't used that bread machine in five years, the chances are that you won't be using it today, either. Sell it, give it away, or at least stash it on the top shelf where it won't add to the chaos.
Prep Before You Proceed
The French have an expression, mise-en-place, which means get prepared.
- Are some of the ingredients in your recipe sliced, diced, chopped, minced? Do all of your knife work before the actual cooking begins. It's more efficient and ensures that once you begin the cooking process you won't have to delay and risk overcooking a key component.
- Pre-measure your ingredients. Measure your dry ingredients and set them aside. Wet ingredients? Ditto. What about herbs and spices? Measure them out into little dishes. Doing this means that you won't forget to add the "whatever" because it's sitting out there in a little dish waiting to be used.
Clean As You Go
This goes hand-in-hand with decluttering. Don't let your kitchen stack up with dirty dishes. Fill your sink with hot water, put in a bit of dishwashing soap, and wash your pans and utensils as you use them. This will free up space on your countertop and save you a lot of work later. After you have had your wonderful meal, do you really want to tackle a huge stack of pots and pans?
Finally, be kind to yourself. Like any other skill, cooking takes practice. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was not Michelangelo's first painting. Get comfortable with a few basic skills before tackling that spinach souffle.
- Listen to your favorite music as you cook.
- Allow yourself to take baby steps.
- Forgive yourself if you make a mistake.
- And don't stop trying. Cooking can be fun.
© 2013 Linda Lum