One of the reasons I love cooking is because I find it a therapeutic process. I find the kitchen a great place to relax because there are so many great sounds, sights, smells, and tastes. It’s a great time to tap into your awareness of what’s happening around you–because everything that’s taking place is so gosh darn pleasant.
But I know that not everyone feels this way. Some people think it’s not fun and more like a chore. Some people would rather order Seamless because the reward (eating food that someone else made for you) is higher than laboring in the kitchen to make it yourself.
I’ve been there, too. I don’t really like ordering delivery much (it gets cold or soggy or mixed together by the time it arrives), but there are times when I don’t want to go through the trouble of buying certain ingredients or reading a multi-step recipe. However, whenever I’m in those funks, I recognize that if I just take the first step and start, it would be worth it. Just like writing, starting is the hardest part.
Once I’ve started, it all gets better. The process is enthralling to me. There’s a chance that you will never find it as enrapturing as I do, but just in case, here’s how I approach cooking. You might find it helpful.
Play music. At this time of year, I love playing holiday tunes, like Spotify’s Christmas Peaceful Piano list. In other parts of the year, I have a playlist of calming movie scores (like Pride & Prejudice and Theory of Everything) that help me relax. However, if you find it more relaxing to listen to EDM, hip hop, jazz, etc., by all means, play that instead! Finally, I admit that sometimes I put on a TV show or movie instead, so I won’t judge if you prefer this route. However, it will distract you from what you’re doing–cooking–so keep that in mind.
Gather and prep ingredients before cooking. If you’ve ever watched Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America,” you’ll be familiar with the French term mis en place. It means prepping every ingredient before heating up a pan, so when it comes time to cook, you don’t have to frantically chop a carrot midway through the cooking process while the garlic is burning in the pan. Prepping beforehand will make the cooking process much less stressful.
Consider chopping your own veggies instead of buying pre-chopped ones. Give it a chance, okay? I know, it’s so much easier to dump pre-diced onion into a pan, but the physical act of dicing an onion can be really relaxing. It’s just you, the knife, and the vegetable. Watch YouTube videos to see tutorials on certain knife cuts or how to cut a specific vegetable. Pay attention to the aromas released from veggies when they’re cut into, appreciate the striking colors some of them offer, and focus on creating pieces that are as uniform in size and shape as possible. There is something about slicing through an onion and making a mountain of fresh diced onion that I find really satisfying.
Invest in a good knife or knives. The nicer your knife, the more you will enjoy the process of chopping things. When you use a cheap or dull knife, chopping an onion becomes extremely laborious and frustrating. It will make you feel like you simply can’t do it, when in reality, it’s your knife’s fault. You don’t need to go crazy and buy a $100 chef’s knife, but do some research and find something with good reviews. Even a slight upgrade will improve your time in the kitchen. My knives aren’t great, but they’re a thousand times better than a few years ago when I used a hand-me-down, decades-old knife that my mom passed on to me.
Use fresh herbs whenever you can. Almost like aromatherapy, fresh herbs release such fantastic and unquestionably fresh scents that it’s really difficult to not be relaxed when you use them. Learn how to work with each herb through YouTube tutorials (e.g. julienned basil) and take deep, slow breaths as you cut them. The air will never smell better than at that moment.
Pay attention to the tiny details. This is why I suggested not playing Netflix. The most therapeutic part of cooking is really tapping into your five senses. Listen to the sizzle of garlic in a pan of olive oil and notice the way you can still smell a hint of olive underneath the strong punch of garlic. Notice the swirls of steam that emerge from a simmering pot of rice. Notice the bright green of a fresh herb in a pasta sauce.
Monitor your stove temperatures. Burning something really kills a recipe and adds stress to the cooking process. Make sure your oatmeal is not so hot that the bottom layer is charring or turning into cement. Make sure your pot of quinoa isn’t boiling so hard that the water is gone before the quinoa is cooked, thus turning them into burnt, chewy disasters. Make sure vegetables are sizzling but not scalding on the bottom of the pan. Ruining your food or spoiling the good scents in the room is a fast way to make cooking not so fun. Even if the recipe says to have the pot on medium high, there’s a chance that your stove is hotter than theirs, and if it seems like it’s cooking your food too aggressively, you may want to turn it down a little.
Try to plate your food like a restaurant would. A little extra effort, I know. I’m not talking about fine dining-style, but just a standard medium-price eatery. This post has easy and totally doable tips.
Would you add anything to this list? Do you disagree with any of my tips? 🙂