The fall equinox has come and gone and, as usual, the cooling days rekindle my interest in cooking. What I need, though, is the ultimate recipe to help me heal my fractured relationship with cooking and embrace Michael Pollan’s idea of cooking as “soul craft,” using my hands and heart to nourish myself and others. I don’t aspire to be a foodie, bragging publicly about the exotic ingredients I use in my lavish meals. But I want to make sure that the unappealing bowl of cereal I had for dinner last night will be my last dinner of this type for the foreseeable future. So here goes:
1. Restrict reading of recipes. Rita Rudner said “I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself, “well that’s not going to happen.” I am often derailed by the hyperbolic descriptions of ingredient and gorgeous pictures of finished meals. If it looks way too hard, pick something simple, not too overwhelming. Don’t be intimidated by the friend’s recipe you asked for in a moment of weakness. Pick no more than 4 possible dinner recipes.
2. Remember that you will never, never have the appropriate ingredients “on hand.” If I wait for inspiration to cook, on that red-letter day there will be one leaky package of celery in the frig, and that’s it. Forget about shopping and cooking on the same day. Shop for the ingredients for those four dinners only. Decide early on whether you want your protein and vegetables to have led a happy life or just an average one. Shop. Unload. Put everything away. Allow 3-5 days recovery time before actually making the meal.
3. It’s best to start assembling the equipment the night before. Prior to cooking, if I have to spend time rummaging through closets and cabinets to find popover pans, sifters, casserole dishes, and measuring spoons, I may give up and wind up fixing that bowl of cereal, after all.
4. The night before the cooking event, put the non-perishable ingredients in one, easy to locate place– maybe a Lazy Susan in the living room. For cakes, get the dry ingredients ready the night before, cover with plastic wrap.
5. The morning of the dinner, do some food prep in the AM. Dice the veggies, wash the lettuce, de-string the beans, defrost the meat and stick it back in the frig in a plastic bag. That way, I can be like the TV chefs and effortlessly dump in the precut, premeasured ingredients.
6. Clear the counter tops before attempting to cook. I don’t have much counter space or an “island” so I need to take all unnecessary stuff, put it in an empty wash basket, and shove it into the garage. Cooking in clutter can guarantee broken dishes and worse.
7. Eat something sweet before starting to cook, especially if the dinner includes dessert. If I am hungry or my sweet tooth is gnawing at me, the whole cooking process can become derailed.
8. Eliminate all distractions, even if the recipe is familiar. This means turning off NPR talk shows on the failing economy. It means not talking on the phone to my cousin about her son’s wedding details. And it means delaying the recital of my husband’s day. With the exception of listening to classical music, any auditory distraction will prevent me from correctly remembering whether I already added the cup of flour or melted 2 tablespoons of butter or 3. I have to stay on task, even if it bores me to death.
9. Use multiple timers to make sure everything is ready at the same time. Invariably, one of the dishes I serve is cold.
10. Put everything together and cook it.
11. Now this is the part I’m supposed to love: sniffing the ingredients, relishing the textures and colors, watching everything transform, though the alchemy of cooking, into edible concoctions.
12. Serve the dinner. Savor it. Try to eat slowly and not gulp it down. Receive praise.
13. Scrape the plates and load the dishwasher (unless husband does it). Try to keep your eyes open.
14. Prep for the next meal.
15. Go to sleep. Dream in technicolor about hiring a cook.