I love cooking. When one of my family members is sick or gone during their alloted cooking time, I happily step in to replace them. It would be nice if my family thought I was just being a helpful little angel, unfortunately they know better. They know that cooking is my therapy. It is what I do when I can’t seem to get out of the blues, life is complicated, or someone calls the police on me. There is nothing more therapeutic than taking disparate elements and concocting them into something that tastes delicious and puts a smile on the faces of those you love.
However, as much as I love cooking, when I do it a lot, particularly when there is the added pressure of dinner guests to impress, it can start to feel like a burden, even A CHORE. That’s awful! It should never be that way. You and I should never feel burdened by cooking as it is one of the greatest joys in life.
Here are ten steps I designed to turn cooking from chore to fun, from burden to pleasure.
1. Plan Ahead
Probably the most important step is to make sure you have everything you need BEFORE you get started. The number one thing is the inspiration. I use Pinterest and cooking shows to convince me that cooking is indeed an art and a joy. Then of course you’ll have to go buy the groceries, which can be a blast in and of itself if you march into Publix with the right attitude. But that’s a whole nother blog post. Finally, make sure you schedule yourself a healthy chunk of time so that you are not stressed about finishing late. THIS IS THE NO STRESS ZONE LADIES AND GENTLEMAN. Pretend you are turning your house into a spa for the afternoon. Make sure there are no potential distractions or stress makers.
2. Get Dressed
One does not just start cooking in a drab outfit. There is nothing that convinces you that you are indeed having fun more than the right clothes. There are two ways to go about this. I use them both regularly, depending on my mood.
1. Go all out. Put on a fluffy a-line skirt. Heels. Goodness, maybe even some lipstick and a homemade head wrap. Channel that 1950s television housewife. Don’t forget the perfume.
2. Pick the absolute comfiest clothes in your entire closet. Don’t hold anything back.
3. Turn Up The Music
You weren’t thinking about cooking an entire meal without a playlist were you? Please say no. The right music is the easiest way to turn any chore from drab to fab. I love this Paris Cafe playlist. But big band, soft jazz, and classic pop are all acceptable. Basically whatever music puts you into in an indulgent mood.
4. Clean Your Kitchen
My kitchen must sparkle before I even open the fridge. I know, I know, you are going to be getting things dirty. But cooking is an art and I find that starting with a clean kitchen is like starting with a blank canvas. It gets my creative juices flowing (sometimes too much, but we are here to have fun, remember?) Pulling pans out of the oven and then desperately searching for a clean counter to set things on or cutting veggies while avoiding a stain nearby is just plain stressful. We don’t want stressful.
5. Set out All Your Ingredients Before You Start Cooking
We already talked about planning ahead. But even the best planners miss things sometimes. There is nothing more stressful than getting halfway through your cake recipe before realizing that you don’t have a key ingredient. Yes, desperation breeds innovation, but you can only go so far with substitutes. Making a grilled cheese sandwich without cheese or bread usually doesn’t turn out too good (don’t ask me how I know). If you set your stuff out and realize that you are missing something, you can change gears and choose another recipe before it is too late.
6. Make a Snack
There is already food all around you. But if you are preparing a big meal, you could be in that kitchen for a long time. And you’ll probably have worked up quite an appetite from dancing to that French cafe music (it is inevitable. I dare you to try to resist the urge to dance. just kidding, why would I do that? ). Add a glass of wine and some cheese or just a handful of grapes, and your kitchen turns into luxury central.
7. Use Tested Recipes
When you spend a lot of time on a work of art, you will want some level of assurance that it will be appreciated. Nobody wants to spend hours on a dish that is inedible or worse… mediocre. Thank goodness that thanks to the internet such tragedies can easily be avoided. Forget the cookbooks (unless it was written by Gordon Ramsay or Smitten Kitchen). They tend to be fluffed up with mediocre recipes. Rely instead on a crowd-sourced recipe websites. I like cooks.com and allrecipes.com. Look for the five-star recipes. The chances are that if 5,000 people left glowing reviews, your husband, kids, and dinner guests are probably gonna like it too.
Note: Just because a recipe has thousands of repins on Pinterest does not mean that it is foolproof. Some pins go viral because of the enticing cover photo, not the quality of the recipe. Always read the reviews before you start cooking. I’ve tried quite a few highly pinned recipes that just didn’t work.
8. Bring Something Fun To The Kitchen
If I leave the kitchen while I’m cooking, there is a 99.98 percent chance that I will burn something or start a fire. If you are anything like me, you must stay in the kitchen the whole time. However, unless you are competing on Iron Chef, chances are you will have some downtime. All your dishes are either chilling in the fridge or baking in the oven. What do you do with yourself? DON’T run upstairs and try to get stuff done on your computer. DO bring something you love down to the kitchen. Set a timer and jam out on your guitar. Dive into a good book (I’m the master of stirring soup while simultaneously solving Agatha Christie mysteries). Or just keep on dancing away to that music you’ve got blasting.
9. Check The Mail
Hear me out. On the one hand, you really shouldn’t leave the kitchen while cooking. For goodness sakes, that is where the party is happening! On the other hand, there is nothing more satisfying than walking into the room and being overwhelmed with the fine fragrance that you created. If you stay in the kitchen the whole time, you will get used to the smells as they grow and forget to notice them. I have found that stepping out to get the mail is a perfect compromise. It is a task so short that nothing can burn while you are gone, and yet you will still enjoy walking into that wall of fragrance on your return.
Disclaimer: I know the mailbox is close by, but still bring a timer with you. Because you know, on the way down the driveway you might run into a dandelion, or there could be a golden finch singing on your neighbor’s front porch, or you might even spot a rainbow. You could get distracted… it happens.
10. Plate Like A Pro
Once all that food is ready, don’t ring the bell and call the party immediately. So many people miss out on the funnest part of all: PRESENTING YOUR MASTERPIECE. No, I do not mean pulling out your prettiest casserole dish. I mean composing all the elements that you cooked into a coherent masterpiece on a plate. Be creative. Make it beautiful.
Splurge beforehand on some simple white plates (square if you wanna be super fancy). If you are entertaining a crowd, you don’t have to arrange everyone’s plate (that sounds like work). But do create at least one Instagram worthy example plating so your friends can ooh and aah at the gourmet chef you are.
And there you have it. Ten simple steps and you are off to an afternoon of fabulous fun. The best part is that not only do you enjoy yourself, but you get a delicious meal to present to your family and friends out of the deal. You really can’t beat that.