Learning how to follow a recipe was pretty easy. Learning why recipes work and how to modify one was more complicated. Learning to make cooking a regular part of my lifestyle was way harder. Like completing one race is an achievement, but staying fit is a lifestyle. Like every other worthwhile, meaningful, sustainable change, it took years. This is my current system.
When I was really into the learning process I did a lot of research. Now I do fairly little. Still it’s fun to get inspired. I look for new ingredients I’d like to learn about, or a technique I’d like to work on. These days I just putter around on the internet when I’m procrastinating. These are my go to sources.
Tastespotting – because there are so many ideas in such a simple viewing format.
Saveur – My favorite food magazine. Although I despise their slideshow format I love just scrolling down their blog style “The Daily Fare”
The Splendid Table – Because I grew up listening to Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Epicurious – for reliably tested recipes.
Ruhlman – The most educational and professional blog. His book Ratio my go to resource. Also he has the best drink recipes if I could ever get around to making them.
The Smitten Kitchen and Pioneer Woman are my two most frequented blogs. My runner ups are less frequented but I can’t leave them out of my line up: Poor Girl Eats Well, Thug Kitchen, and Sprinkle Bakes.
I have a running list of things I cook. I also have two three ring binders with my collection of recipes. At first it just felt like such a wonderful accomplishment to add to the list of things I had ever cooked successfully. Now it’s just super handy to be able to browse through these things. They are full of warm wonderful memories, but mostly it becomes the key stone between my first step and the next one. When I’m thinking about what to cook I flip through my binder.
I try to do this once a week. It seems like a lot of work, but it saves me loads of stress later. Doing all planning up front means the rest of the week takes very little thinking. I aim to cook 2-3 large meals that will provide 4-6 leftover containers for Will and I’s lunches or busy nights. I start by looking at my calendar. How busy the work week will be is the determining factor in meal planning. Which days do I have time to cook? How much time do I have? Will it be close to grocery shopping day in which I can use perishable things, or later in the week and need more hearty less fragile vegetables or meats? Then I might consider what’s in season, or the forecast. If we’re headed for a cold spell I know planning a stew would go well.
I also try to do this once a week all at once. I make my list from the recipes I’ll be using, written in the corner so I don’t forget what the plan is. I like to go to a few places. Everett’s on Cedar and 38th is the best butcher and it’s like time traveling to the 1950’s. I hit up Cub Foods because I can’t afford to shop exclusively at the co-op. Then I head to the Seward Co-op. Depending on what else is on the menu I go to Salty Tart for sourdough, Holy Land for lamb and all things Mediterranean, and United Noodle for all things asian. All of these things are with in a 5 mile radius from each other, and that is one of my favorite things about living in the city.
My Mise en Place
For professional cooks mise en place is having everything washed, chopped, measured and ready to go. Most things I cook don’t need that kind of prep. Although my most important prep is all the steps listed above. When it is actually time to cook I get out all of the ingredients and lay them out in roughly the order I’ll be using them. This will entirely depend on the recipe but onions and garlic are usually first in the line up. Then on my second butcher block counter I might have veggies, spices, or canned things. Lastly I have herbs or cheeses for garnishes or last sir ins. It makes cooking go faster and is less stressful when I’m not checking the recipe ten times and searching for the next ingredient.
Leftovers save me. I feel good devoting time to cooking when I get to enjoy the results several more times throughout the week. I *love* having warm hearty leftovers for lunch. It’s so relieving after a long day to come home to a microwave meal I can feel good about. I have two tupperware drawers. One large one for containers to nest, one smaller one for lids. I also keep masking tape and markers on hand for labeling.
Looking at this list, it seems like a lot. I swear it feels like a pretty smooth process now. I hope by sharing, there might be one thing that might make the daily and weekly chore of getting food in your (or others) mouth just a little easier. What things have you done to make cooking easier?