Keep Calm And Cook


I have a confession to make. As much as I love cooking, it often creates high levels of anxiety and stress within me. I often forego my own personal comfort level to ensure my family enjoys a nutritious and home cooked meal nearly every night. However, carry out pizza is quite regularly a staple at our house as well. Cooking is stressful at times to say the least. It is especially stressful if you do not adequately prepare yourself to make the experience in the kitchen as hassle-free as possible. Here are a few tips to help you keep your cool in the kitchen.

1. Plan Plan Plan
Have a plan for your meals at least 24 hours in advance so you can mentally and physically prepare for what lies ahead. Waiting until an hour or two before dinner time to decide what you are having for dinner is always a recipe for disaster. Cooking will be a stressful experience from start to finish. If you are feeling very ambitious, you can create a 1 or even a 2 week meal plan. Take advantage of Cook'n's shopping list tool. Simply open your recipe or menu, click the shopping list tool and Cook'n will automatically generate a complete and organized shopping list for you to print. It even estimates the cost of groceries for you! It makes meal planning and grocery shopping incredibly fast and simple. At the very least, decide early the morning of what you will be having for dinner that night and make preparations for it during the day. You should know exactly what you are planning to accomplish the minute you step into the kitchen to make dinner. This will relieve the mind of a lot of mental anguish while cooking.

2. Prep Work
I used to work in a restaurant and consistently would work the final shift of the day. This shift included mostly prep work. Prep work included cutting up ingredients we needed for the next day, making sure things were moved from the freezer to the refrigerator if needed, wrapping the silverware, keeping inventory of our stock, throwing out any items that were old or expired, and making sure everything was clean and ready for the next day. I have used this same mentality when it comes to cooking meals at home. I try to accomplish as much prep work as I can the day before.

3. Do the Dishes
Starting a cooking experience with a sink full of dirty dishes is going to make cooking twice as difficult. The dishes will continue to pile on top of each other and in the back of your mind you will worry about the eventual weight of this task. You may also find that a lot of the utensils you need for cooking your meal will be dirty. The process of cooking will constantly be interrupted in order to wash these needed utensils. Start your cooking experience as clean and orderly as possible to make it one smooth uninterrupted process.

4. Outsource
Our lives are not always conducive to long hours of work in the kitchen. We are sometimes too plain busy for such a lifestyle. That is okay. Learn to outsource some steps in the cooking process so that cooking will work for you personally. If you do not have time to chop up a million ingredients, buy the pre-chopped kind or a bag of frozen pre-chopped ingredients. If cooking up meat takes too long, buy precooked meat or a frozen bag of precooked meat. If you don't like cutting your meat into little pieces, buy the precut meat from the butcher. There are a lot of other ways you can outsource steps in the cooking process to make it a lot less time-consuming. It is a bit more money to outsource, but you are likely still saving more money than going out to eat.

5. Make Friends with your Crockpot
I absolutely love my Crockpot. Sometimes it is a little more prep work, but not spending hours in the kitchen doing the actual cooking is priceless. It also makes the hours before dinnertime calm and peaceful so you can actually sit down to dinner refreshed and relaxed. If you need ideas, look in DVO's recipe archive for a bunch of delicious Crockpot meal ideas.

6. Use Tried and True Recipes
No one likes to spend hours cooking a meal only to have to throw it in the trash when everyone (including you) refuses to eat it due to a disastrous recipe. Be sure to do some research on the recipes you decide to try beforehand. If you find a recipe online, read the reviews if there are any. If the first twenty reviews are a dissertation on how incredibly disgusting this meal was, you may want to add this recipe to your "do not make ever" list. Ask people you trust to be good at cooking for some of their favorite recipes and quite often you will not go wrong. If, however, you are feeling adventurous and want to try a completely new, never-been-tried-before recipe, then be sure to have a backup plan on hand if for some reason it does not turn out as you'd hoped.

7. Freeze your Leftovers
Leftovers are my second best friend (second only to the Crockpot). Leftovers mean you did the work one time with twice the results. However, my family and I do not always enjoy eating the same meal two nights in a row. If you find you have enough leftovers to feed your entire family a second time, throw it in the freezer and save it for another time. On those nights where everything seems to be going wrong and you have no time for cooking, pull out your leftovers from the freezer and relax—dinner is already done. Check!

8. Turn on Some Music and Dance
Make your kitchen a fun place to be in. One in which you actually enjoy spending large amounts of time in. If music helps relieve some of your anxiety and stress about cooking then crank up your favorite tunes and dance while you cook. I sometimes like to play music according to the type of food I am cooking. For example, if I am making Mexican food, I'll put on some mariachi band music. If I am making a more formal, fancy dinner, then I'll put on some beautiful piano or classical music to enhance the experience. You can keep the music on while you eat dinner as well. It almost feels as if you are out to eat at your favorite restaurant. Whatever helps you relax and have more fun in the kitchen—do it!

What other ideas do you have? I'd love to hear!

Sources:
  •   Photo Credit: http://www.etsy.com/listing/84135389/keep-calm-and-cook-on-11x14-poster

    Carrie Collette
    Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2013
    Email the author! carrie@dvo.com


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