COOK TO PLEASE–either yourself and/or your guests. To approach cooking as a chore deprives you of the joys of discovery, accomplishment and satisfaction.
DON’T RUSH. Accelerating the cooking process to the point of exhausting the cook is unsettling to the cook as well as the people she/he is cooking for. Relax and enjoy the process. If you have limited time, then plan a limited menu.
MOTIVATION is the most important factor in the successful completion of any dish. If you lack motivation, then make a simple sandwich or eat out. Similarly, if your enthusiasm in the morning for making an elaborate meal in the evening turns to dread around 4 PM, then change plans. Success doesn’t always mean carrying through, but many times stopping midstream and altering course.
PROPER PLANNING. Plan within the limits of your present capabilities and requirements of the occasion. Be moderate in your estimations of what you can accomplish within a given time frame. I can assemble and cook a Thanksgiving dinner in my mind in seconds, but not so in practice.
MAINTAIN ORGANIZED CUPBOARDS AND DRAWERS. Nothing is as frustrating in the culinary experience than to need a utensil with urgency and not be able to locate it. Return utensils to their proper place when finished using them. Keep items that you use often within reach.
BEGIN WITH CLUTTER-FREE, CLEAN COUNTERS AND AN EMPTY SINK. Cluttered counters can be a prime source of frustration for even the most relaxed chefs. So, clear them off and keep them clean. And, never put clean food on a dirty counter or in a sink. An empty sink means there’s room to wash vegetables (in a colander, of course) and to rinse utensils. Never fill your sink with water and then put fresh vegetables in it. Fill a pot with water and wash that way, if submerging them is your preference.
PREREAD RECIPE. Read the entire recipe before you start to cook to familiarize yourself with the procedures, so that there won’t be any surprises at the last-minute.
INVENTORY INGREDIENTS. Many times I was sure that I had chili powder or paprika, when indeed I didn’t. Or, if I did, I didn’t have enough. If there’s any doubt, physically check to be sure. When you’re in the middle of cooking a recipe there’s no time to go to the store.
TURN ON COOKING DEVICES. If cooking pasta, put water on to boil. If steaming, put water in steamer and turn on low till ready to use. If baking, preheat oven.
WASH PRODUCE thoroughly checking for spoilage as you go along. Use only what is fresh and crisp.
PREPARE INGREDIENTS. Prepare as many ingredients as possible before you actually start to cook. Peel and dice vegetables; crush garlic and herbs; open cans, etc. When reading the ingredient sections please note the difference between, for example, 1 cup quartered mushrooms and 1 cup mushrooms, quartered. The first you quarter, and then measure. The second, you measure and then quarter.
COOK-ASSEMBLE. With your kitchen organized, ingredients prepared, and everything under control, cook slowly and deliberately, ever conscious of the flavor, etc. achievements you’re trying to create.
CLEAN-UP. Where feasible, rinse utensils as you go along. Then, when finished cooking and/or serving wash in hot soapy water. Leave kitchen clean for your next session.
ATTITUDE. The outcome or result of each cooking experience can affect your attitude toward future cooking encounters by either encouraging or discouraging you to cook again. If your dish turns out perfectly, you’ll no doubt be excited to cook again. If it doesn’t, you’ll be discouraged; and this is perfectly normal. However, it is important that you not stay discouraged. Even the most capable cooks create disasters from time to time. But they consider them part of the creating and learning process, and if you do the same, you will soon be surmounting them and climbing to greater heights.
FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS. This is something we’ve all been taught since the first day we attended school–to follow directions. So, if a recipe says 1/4 inch, that’s what it means. If it says stir gently, don’t stir hard and fast. Since the first day of school we were also rewarded for finishing first. So, who can blame us for making mistakes given these mixed messages. But, in the privacy of your own kitchen, you are the teacher, and you’re not competing with anyone. So take the time to follow directions precisely. You will be rewarded by a great tasting dish and the satisfaction of accomplishing your goal.