3 Tips for Better Home Cooking
It's February and I'm thrilled about it. There's a flow to winter in Montana after the holidays have passed that is, for me, calmer and quieter. The weight of expectations that so often mark January - those new year, new semester, new you expectations - have lessened. I can begin to actually take the small but real steps needed to achieve whatever intentions or aspirations I may have set at the start of the year, or perhaps left behind in the glitter dust of the holidays. February is about doing quiet work, about the focus and realignment allowed by cold, short days that are slowly but surely lengthening, offering the promise of the coming mild seasons with none of the expectations.
February is a hopeful month, and in it I often find the space to begin realigning my health, my mood, and sometimes my post-holiday bank balance. Cooking healthy meals at home goes a long way towards helping me achieving all three. As with most things, the easier it is to get good results, the more likely I am to do it. Which is why I have a few tips that help streamline my time in the kitchen, making it less stressful and more effective.
1. Prep ALL Your Ingredients First
This is practice taught in professional kitchens that's definitely a worthwhile addition to your home cooking routines:
Focus on just what's in front of you - first the prepping, then the cooking. You'll make fewer mistakes when you aren't trying to juggle multiple tasks.
You'll find out before you start cooking if you don't have something you need, and can either research a substitute or go get it without being in a panic.
This does mean using a few more bowls or plates to hold things until you're ready to use them. If some ingredients go into the dish at the same time, I put them in the same bowl. And if it's not raw meat or onions or something, I might serve out of those same plates/bowls to cut down on dishes.
This pre-prep stage also goes for seasonings, liquids, etc. Measure everything out before you start. I use a few small glass bowls for this purpose, but any little dish or cup will work.
2. Use a Kitchen Scale
This dovetails off of measuring and prepping first. If you're following a recipe that calls for a specific weight of something, don't eyeball it. Getting a kitchen scale has been a small but effective benefit to my cooking - there are some relatively inexpensive models for $15-$20.
When I used to estimate 2 lbs of potatoes, for example, it might have saved me some time at the beginning of cooking, but I would use up that saved time and more trying to fix the dish at the end because it would come out too dry or too sauce-y or burned or what-have-you. By assuming I had the right amount, I wasn't adjusting other ingredients proportionally to what I actually had. More often than not, I'd get frustrated that it didn't come out like I wanted. There aren't many kitchen gadgets I would insist make cooking better, but this is one of them.
3. Decide What You're Going to Make Ahead of Time
This is not specifically a cooking tip, but here's why I think it still counts, especially for weeknight dinners:
You have time to look through your refrigerator/freezer/pantry and decide what to make based on what you already have without the urgency of needing to eat. In our house, we use up a lot more food, waste less, and choose healthier dishes by planning meals around what we already have.
Meal choices aren't influenced by hunger, fatigue, or stress. Those factors often contribute to choosing whatever's fastest, often more processed foods and less-balanced meals.
Indecision can also be a motivation-killer, especially when you're hungry. If the decision has already been made by your past self, there's nothing to stop you from getting going because you already know what to do.
You'll know ahead of time if there's something you need to take out the freezer, get from the store, start marinating, etc.
Planning ahead doesn't have to mean planning more elaborate meals, it just means when you're ready to start cooking, you can jump right in instead of staring into the fridge and ultimately choosing the quickest option, which is often not the healthiest or most satisfying option.
Some people plan out their meals for the whole week. While I can see this certainly being useful for grocery shopping and budgeting, I personally don't always have the foresight or motivation to do this. But deciding what's for dinner while I'm eating breakfast, or perhaps after dinner the night before, makes a big difference when dinner time rolls around again.
I'll be the first one to say that any tips or tricks suggesting to have the answers to better "X" might be helpful, and they might not. That doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. The fact that you're making an effort to cook healthy meals at home is great even if it doesn't always work out, or some nights it just means adding some fresh veggies to instant ramen, or some nights you go out for pizza despite your best laid plans. Healthy eating and home cooking look a little bit different for everyone.
Farm Cart aims to make it easier to get healthy and fresh local foods into your kitchen, and hopes to inspire you with some recipe suggestions, but we can't actually make the meals for you. You have to start where you are, and anything that helps you do that is a good thing. Is there more we could be doing to help you get the most out of your deliveries? We want to know!