De-stress and up your fun quotient in the kitchen.
Not everyone loves to cook, plain and simple. But we all need to eat and most of you need to prepare meals, or you wouldn’t be reading this. If you have to cook often, all the more reason to make it as much fun as possible. Right?
My first advice comes from my friend, Shari, who would rather be many places other than the kitchen. She turns on the music – something upbeat you could dance to – and pours herself a glass of wine or a cocktail. She creates a fun atmosphere that sends a message to her brain, “Cooking is fun!” Shari says it works to trick herself into a party mood so she enjoys her time in the kitchen. There is a saying I like: “I cook with wine, and occasionally I put some in the food.” LOL. So, that’s one idea, but you definitely don’t have to include alcohol to have fun!
Finding more enjoyment in cooking is really about minimizing stress and frustration, so here are some tips I hope you will find helpful:
TIP #1: Keep it simple – Don’t overwhelm yourself and get stressed out!
- Start with easy recipes that have ingredients that are familiar to you and that don’t have a lot of steps.
- Read through the whole recipe before you start. Remember the test in school that told you to read the whole thing first, then down at the bottom it said to only answer one of the questions? Well…recipes are like that. You don’t want any surprises when you are already in process!
- Envision yourself doing the steps. If it looks do-able, it probably is. If there are words you don’t understand (like sauté or purée), look them up in my glossary.
- Tackle one new recipe at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with an entire meal of new recipes.
- Do as many steps ahead of time as possible, especially if you’re making a whole meal. For example, chop your salad ingredients and put them in a covered bowl in the refrigerator before you begin the main dish. Same with the salad dressing. Most dressings can be refrigerated for days, sometimes weeks, (but don’t dress the salad until you’re ready to eat it). It will be easier if you grate cheese, chop veggies, etc. before you begin to cook. Also, if there are a lot of ingredients (such as spices), measure them out ahead of time so they are ready to add to the dish as you prepare it.
- Look for recipes that you can put in the oven while you are preparing the rest of the meal. Or slow cooker recipes that will be done when you get home from work. Some slow cooker recipes can be assembled the night before and refrigerated. (I know you don’t want to have do this first thing in the morning!)
TIP #2: The Right Tools
There is a reason “The right tool for the job” became a cliché. It will save you lots of frustration, which means you’ll have more fun. You don’t need a lot of fancy gadgets to cook well. Even when camping, you can make amazing meals with a few bare necessities:
- Sharp knives don’t have to be expensive. Use straight edged ones (not serrated) and get an inexpensive knife sharpener. Remember the TV slogan: “It’s a pleasure to use a nice, sharp knife now, isn’t it?” If your knife won’t slice a tomato effortlessly, it needs to be sharpened.
- A heat-resistant silicone spatula is a good friend. You can get under the edge of scrambled eggs without melting it, and it’ll clean the last of the mayonnaise out of the jar. I like to have several.
- A good can opener should open a can easily, whether it’s manual or electric.
- A set of measuring spoons and cups that are easy to read and to use. I like to have two sets of measuring cups and spoons – one for wet, one for dry. That way I don’t have to wash them constantly while I’m cooking. I also like the oval-shaped spoons that fit right into the spice jars, and I prefer the numbers to be stamped into the metal because the painted numbers will disappear in time.
- Small, medium and large pots don’t have to be expensive, but the heavier ones will perform better and the need to have lids. Please, don’t use aluminum – it has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
- If you only have one skillet, let it be at least 12” across.
- A refrigerator thermometer and an oven thermometer will let you know you are keeping your food safely stored and cooking at the proper temperature for the recipe.
- An instant read digital thermometer. Seriously, you need one of these. They are way better than the larger types, which take too long to register.
- An electric hand mixer – there are things that you can’t do without one.
- A good vegetable peeler (Good Grips or Farberware) – the difference between a good one and a poor one is amazing.
- A good wine opener. If you have to fight with it, replace it.
- To see a list of my favorite tools, click here.
TIP #3: De-Clutter
You can’t always choose the size of your kitchen, but you CAN maximize your counter space by rearranged a few things. Having a place for everything makes cooking easier, and easier = more fun.
- Removing items that you don’t use frequently.
- Find a place for the recipe you want to use. If it’s on paper, tape it to a cupboard where you can see it easily. If it’s in a book, invest in a book holder that will support it in an upright position.
- If you can do anything about your lighting, it’ll be much easier if you don’t have to squint at the page. I installed an under-the-cabinet light that doesn’t require any electrical wire.
- Fill a pan or sink with hot sudsy water and put the dirty items in it as you go. That gets them out of your way and, bonus: clean-up will be much easier. In our house, “she who cooks does not do dishes”, but I DO try to keep them washed up, or at least rinsed, as I’m cooking.
TIP #4: Choose Reliable Recipes
It is very disheartening to spend time and energy on a recipe only to have it turn out boring or worse.
- Collect recipes from friends who are good cooks.
- Ask for the recipes of the dishes you like at potlucks.
- Find a reliable cookbook (or several)
- Find a reliable cooking website – delishable.net, of course.
TIP #5: Cook on BROIL
The same friend I mentioned earlier broils everything from veggies to pork chops because she wants the whole process to go quickly. She says this usually works well, but I haven’t actually tried this, so I cannot give you recipes YET. But if it can be grilled, it can definitely be cooked under the broiler. Stay tuned, I intend to test this theory.
TIP #6: Choose FUN Recipes
Deciding what recipe would be fun for you is totally subjective. It MUST be something you’d enjoy eating, and if it looks attractive or impressive, that makes it even more fun. Here are links to of some dishes I think are both easy and fun because they are delicious, and are either easy or a fabulous presentation. Enjoy!
APPETIZERS: I think appetizers are the MOST fun food to make, and to eat!
- Caprese – SO easy, elegant and full of slurpy goodness. Supply napkins!
- Ceviche – Impressive and easy
- Cream Cheese Shrimp Appetizer – Unbelievably easy & yummy!
- Eight Layer Fiesta Dip – if you like Mexican, you’ll love this.
- Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers – OMG!
- Bruschetta – serve it on cracker bread or crostini
- Shrimp Cocktail – the BEST
- Bacon Cabbage Potato Bake – tastes like a New England Boiled dinner only SO much easier.
- Buffalo Chicken Wings – Spicy! Serve with Blue Cheese Dressing
- Bulgogi (Korean beef) – Unique and super easy
- Carne Asada – Honest, it’s easy!
- Chicken Marbella – Your guest will love this!
- Chipotle Beef Burgers – A spicy twist to your burger.
- Parmesan Baked Chicken – only 4 ingredients
- Spicy Grilled Shrimp – Spicy shrimp on the grill, or under the broiler
- Salsa Chicken -quick and easy with a Mexican flair.
- Fish Fillets au Gratin – turn ordinary fish into a gourmet meal.
- English Muffin Pizzas – top ’em with anything you like…super easy!
- Nachos – chips piled with anything you like!
SALADS & SIDES:
- Calico Baked Beans – Mostly canned beans, but you make them special
- Garbanzo Bean Sweet Pepper Salad – one of my all-time favorites!
- Ham and Peas Patio Salad – an unusual, but delicious combination.
- Oriental Chicken Cabbage Salad – This could be a main dish.
- Chef Salad – This could be a main dish.
- Skillet Cornbread
- Simple Potato Soup – it doesn’t get easier than this. Dress it up with extra ingredients to your taste.
- Easy Chili Soup – Starting with canned beans makes this quick and easy.
- Easy Hamburger Soup – Just put it all in a pot
- Chocolate Pudding Cake – it turns itself upside down as it’s cooking and is absolutely delicious, especially with vanilla ice cream.
- Easy No Bake Key Lime Pie – Make it in the blender.
- Toffee Nut Bars – only 6 ingredients