9 things that have made me a calmer, better cook
I...did not grow up in a household where cooking for guests looked or felt chill in ANY way, so I really admire this quality in others and am trying to cultivate it in myself — whether I’m cooking for guests or just for myself. I’m not, like, Mrs. Doubtfire with her titties on fire when I’m cooking, but things like always knowing where the measuring spoon I need is, or not getting flustered or buried in disgusting dirty dishes while I’m cooking actually take work for me.
For the past six months or so, my thought has been, OK, if I’m going to cook, I’m going to really cook — because if I’m investing the time and money in making food, I want the food to actually taste good, and I find that being more focused when I’m cooking helps a lot in that regard. Also, being more focused when cooking also just...feels nice! Multitasking is bad and ineffective, while being present and accomplishing a task in one go is soothing and satisfying. I’ve found that I dread cooking a lot less now that I’m approaching it in this way.
Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful in my mission to be a less stressed cook:
Actually read the entire recipe start to finish before you make it.
This may seem obvious, but I used to just skim recipes before making them for the first time, and there was often a big gap between when I skimmed it (when I first came across it online) and when I actually made it (possibly weeks later). So now I read the recipe all the way through right before I get started to make sure I understand how I’ll actually be putting the ingredients together.
Along with reading the recipe in advance, also pull out everything you’ll need in advance — so measuring cups and spoons, cutting boards, spices that are in the back of your pantry, etc.
This step might seem kind of fussy, but it’s not like pulling everything out as you go saves you time (and in my case, I’ve found it actually takes more time).
Take this a step further and measure/chop all your ingredients in advance.
I recentlyish got into the habit of doing this with new recipes, when I wanted to be extra conscientious and careful so I didn’t mess them up. It makes me feel like a fancy TV chef, and is a reminder that all those cooking shows with their cute little prep bowls are really onto something. Again, doing this can feel kind of fussy, and it might actually add a little more time in the long run, but I think it’s worth it, especially if it keeps me from screwing up a recipe or wasting ingredients because I was rushing and made a mistake.
Use your dishwasher as a holding pen.
If you’re using a lot of bulky dishes (like mixing bowls) and your sink is filling up, but you don’t have time to stop and wash everything, just stick it in the dishwasher — even if it’s not dishwasher safe, or even if you haven’t rinsed it first. Basically, your dishwasher isn’t just a dishwasher — it’s also a fantastic storage spot. (This is especially helpful in a smaller kitchen.) You can always pull things out after the fact to hand wash them or rinse them. I hate when my sink starts to fill up with dirty dishes, and this helps so much in terms of maintaining a cleaner kitchen/an overall feeling of calm.
Use a bowl to collect food scraps/trash while you cook.
My least favorite part of cooking is chopping produce, and I hate being surrounded by the wet scraps as I’m chopping. But I recently watched my friend’s boyfriend cook dinner (this delicious Ina Garten pasta) and put all the scraps (stems, rinds, etc.) in a medium-sized bowl as he did. He’s a very calm/clean cook, so I was immediately very into this concept. I’ve tried in the past to use produce bags for this, and it was never super effective. But a bowl works so much better. (I think the fact that he used a genuinely beautiful white bowl helped too.) I realized later he was likely doing this so they could compost everything, but even if you’re not composting, it’s still SO nice to not have to keep going over to your garbage can every 60 seconds.
Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode so you’re not distracted by texts or other notifications while you’re cooking.
This is particularly helpful if the recipe is on your phone and you can’t avoid looking at your phone when you’re cooking.
Related: if you’re going to make an IG story while you cook, just save the photos/videos to your phone for later instead of posting them in real time.
Here’s an embarrassing story: I once burned the butter for lemon butter pasta because I was posting shit to my IG story while the butter was supposed to be melting (something that doesn’t take very long at all, turns out). I had to throw the butter out, clean the pot, and start over. This was extremely dumb! Since then, I’ve stopped posting cooking stuff in real time, and in general I don’t take a lot of pics/video while I’m cooking unless I know that I have like a solid five minutes before the next step.
I rarely try new recipes on busy weeknights, or when I am getting home on the later side. And if I realize the day of that I’m going to be rushed, I’ll often change my plans and make a recipe I’ve already mastered and save the new recipe for a different night.
And maybe don’t try that many new recipes overall.
I tend to limit myself to one new recipe per week (if that!) because I’ve found that cooking new recipes — even easyish ones! — takes effort. I get very cranky with myself* if I’m putting that energy in several nights a week. But doing it once a week feels challenging in a good way, and has the added benefit of helping me master other recipes. (Which is why I can basically make chickpea pasta in my sleep now.) 👩🏽🍳
*Because I have no one to blame but myself! Literally no one is making me try new recipes!