None of the following is a NEW idea. It is actually how I used to do things….and for some reason just stopped. One day I realized that I USE to be organized and my house was almost always clean. I had enjoyed cooking. AND I always seemed to have time for OTHER stuff: crafts, reading, HOMESCHOOLING my kids. Why were things so HARD now? With an empty nest???? (though BoyWonder is home from college on holiday break….and boy does the overflowing laundry hamper prove it!) The answer: I had allowed myself to overcomplicate life. Back to basics! Time to enjoy life again….including while doing everyday tasks. Especially when doing everyday tasks!!!!
Here is how to ENJOY getting a meal prepared or at least not hate it so bad!
1) Plan your menu! Cooking on-the-fly is NOT enjoyable. It is stressful. Here is the menu for the meal I cooked on this night: [More planning in step 3]
- Pork Chops with caramelized onions and thyme
- Roasted Broccoli
- Caesar Salad
2) Try to start with an empty dishwasher, if you have one. If you are like me, sans dishwasher, run a sink half full of hot, soapy water. You are going to clean as you go! *I start with 1/2 a sink of water so that I can add more hot water, as needed.
3) Read your recipe(s).
- Make sure you actually have the ingredients that you need!
- Make sure you understand the recipe.
- Estimate how long it will take to prepare the meal, including prep work (more on this later). Add a few minutes to this time. Especially if you are working with a new recipe! Plan the order in which you need to cook so that everything is ready at approximately the same time.
*the night I cooked this meal, I had forgotten that I had used all the shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano the night before…..therefore, I did NOT plan enough time for shredding the cheese AND cleaning the food processor….and dinner was late! Learn from my mistake.
- Read your recipe again!!! Especially if it is a new one or if it has been a while since you used it.
*If you are looking for a good Italian cookbook for beginners, I recommend Lidia’s Family Table.
4) Mise en Place (Put in Place)
- In other words: Get ready to cook! Okay….you are not about to cook yet. There is still some prep work that you need to do!
- You’ve read your recipes and re-read your recipes and it is time to start preparing your meal! Now get out the proper pans for the job.
- Do you need to preheat the oven? If so, turn it on now. It takes a lot longer than you think for most ovens to reach the needed temperature.
- Start prepping your ingredients. Prepare ALL of your ingredients before you even think about turning on a heating element on the stovetop!
*I needed small diced onions for the risotto and thin slices for the pork chops. Plus I chopped some extra for keeping in the fridge for salads. Think ahead. While the cutting board is out, what can you prep for future meals and snacks? and only have to clean ONE mess.
*Work outside the home or have lots of activities that limit your time to prepare/cook a meal each night? Take time early in your week, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, to prepare most of your ingredients for the week. Wash, dice, and slice and store in the fridge. Do not be afraid to buy your veggies already ready already!
- Measure your ingredients and place them near your stove. This photo is still missing a few ingredients. The wine was still on the counter behind me. And raw pork chops? Not a very appealing photo….so I spared you. Just know that everything was within reach before I started heating my pans.
- The Broccoli/Cauliflower ready-to-cook bags were on sale. So no prep on my part other than placing on a baking sheet and drizzling with olive oil. (A little salt and grated Parm.-Regg. were added before serving).
5) Clean. Yes, I know that you want to just cook the food already. Clean anyway. You will thank yourself later!
- These are the dishes that I washed before/as I cooked. Most were from meal prep. A few were from Man’s lunch box. The rest had magically appeared throughout the day. The only things that you should need to wash while you are cooking are the dishes that your prepared ingredients were in. SO…
- As you have a moment while cooking wash one or two things, being careful to not forget your cooking food. Once you are done cooking, the only things that will need cleaning are the pans you used! Talk about enjoying cooking more!
6) NOW it is really time to start cooking following your plan.
For my meal:
- Everything had approximately the same cooking time. First, I put my chicken broth in a pan to heat. Then I started preheating my risotto pan and my pan for the pork chops. (Stainless steel pans need to be preheated BEFORE adding your cooking oil/food to prevent excessive sticking….)
- Once my pans were heated I added oil to my pans. Then into the oven went the broccoli/cauliflower.
- My oil was warm…so chopped onion into the risotto pan and a quick stir. Pork Chops into their pan.
- Then I continued with my plan, including washing dishes as needed.
- Voila! My food was ready. And since I cooked with a plan and thoughtfully, it was a much more joyful experience!!!
*Everyone who wants a salad fixes their own from prepared ingredients. Everyone gets a custom made salad, without additional work for me! I let them know when the food is close to ready, so they can make their salad as I finish cooking.
7) Use serving dishes for easier clean-up.
- I know you are wondering how dirtying up MORE dishes could possibly lead to easier cleanup.
- Because you can let those cooking pans soak while you eat. Which leads to easier cleaning after your meal!
* This particular night, I only used one serving dish: a large round platter for the pork chops. I also used a small glass storage bowl for the caramelized onions since I knew that there would be some left and all I would have to do was pop on the lid and place in the fridge! The risotto was served straight from the pan and the leftovers were also stored in it….The leftovers were served the next day for lunch. Then that pan soaked while I did other household tasks.
Make a plan. Follow your plan. Enjoy life more!!!
Until next time,