I love to cook! But there are days when I just can’t bring myself to cook after a long day of work. I’m also not a big fan of cooking a whole bunch of stuff over the weekend, freezing it and eating it over the week. My parents will attest that I will do anything to escape eating leftovers from the previous night :P. So I have no choice but to come up with simple ways to cook meals in under 45 mins with as few ingredients as possible.
I used to complicate my cooking by spending hours pre-planning a weekly menu over the weekend, making elaborate dinners that took hours, following complicated recipes. I realize that most believe “planning ahead” is a key factor in ensuring stress-free cooking. However, I respectfully disagree – you plan ahead for an important meeting, a wedding, an event, an exam, all of which are known to add stress.
But cooking need not be stressful. In my mind, cooking should be therapeutic, meditative and a joyful experience all the way from buying groceries to putting food on a plate. Similarly, a recipe should be simple enough to allow you to enjoy the fruits of nature with your senses and not your mind.
Here are a few steps that I follow to make cooking a pleasurable activity. Hope this list inspires you to find “zen” in your cooking:
- Ditch endless aisles in grocery stores and embrace local farmer’s markets: Large grocery stores have a way of stressing me out with their hundreds of aisles, thousands of varieties and brands to choose from, and precious weekend hours wasted in checkout lines. Try shopping at farmer’s markets – it is much more enjoyable. It’s also a great way to buy “genuinely” fresh produce while supporting local farming. You will see healthy stuff that you never knew existed. And if you don’t know how to cook it, farmers will gladly share a recipe or two with you.
- Set the mood before you begin: When you get home from a long day at work, take 5 to 10 minutes to settle down before throwing on that apron and grabbing the knife as if you were on a kill. Pour yourself a refreshing beverage – wine, iced tea, or just water – and keep hydrated. Get changed and play some music. I’d stay away from turning the television on to reduce distractions. Remember this is supposed to be therapeutic and enjoyable so try to be in the element as much as you can.
- Two large bowls to your rescue: Two large bowls is all you need to eliminate any cleaning required when you’re done. Use one for collecting veggie/meat scraps and fill the other with warm soapy water to soak dirty cooking utensils. I stole this idea from an article on Using a Two-Bowl Method for Easy Kitchen Cleanup published on Lifehacker‘s website. At the end of the video, check out the neat little trick they offer to get rid of stubborn food off pans.
- Grow a herb garden: I started growing basil, coriander and oregano this summer and it’s an amazing feeling to pick your own herbs as and when you need them. Grow as many or as few as you like and include them in your cooking as much as you can. Most herbs have anti-oxidant properties and essential oils. What’s more – a small leaf can add that pizzaz to your creation.
- 6 ingredients that your pantry should have at all times: Olive oil, Onions, Ginger, Garlic, Tomatoes and Lemons. It’s amazing what you can do with just these six ingredients. Stir-fry the first five in the order listed, throw in whatever else you want with some seasoning, and top off with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Garlic (yes, I said garlic) and lemon are my favourites – you’ve got to admit there’s something romantic about these two ingredients.
- 4 spices that your spice rack should have at all times: Pepper mill for freshly ground pepper, red chilli powder (even Cayenne pepper, paprika will do), Cumin Powder, Montreal Steak Spice. The flavours packed in these little grains will perk up anything. Make sure you have some salt and sugar at hand too to enhance these flavours.
- Meet your daily minimums: Make sure you have some greens, some protein and a healthy portion of carbs in every meal. Eat healthy! 🙂
Basically, keep it simple, fresh and enjoyable. Try not to spend more than an hour preparing meals and keep it under 5 (max 7) ingredients so you can have the rest of the evening to yourself. In future posts, I’ll share a few recipes that I default to that are simple yet flavourful. Until then check out a friend’s blog http://piccololimone.com– I’m sure her posts will inspire you to fall in love with food!
It’s the small steps that make a big difference! 🙂