They make it look so easy on the Food Network. The ingredients are pre-chopped in perfectly sized glass bowls. The host laughs, chats and cracks jokes mid-sautée. Things sizzle, mix, broil, bake and simmer to perfection. Nothing spills (spills don’t exist on television) and nothing smokes. But when you try it at home, cooking is not the magical culinary journey you witnessed. Your best spatula is crusted in yesterday’s eggs and the pan you need is blotched with scorched tomato sauce. You were pretty sure you had a red onion, but peer into the pantry and all you see is slightly mushy red pepper. The sour cream is growing something green, and your iPad keeps falling asleep just as you’ve gone wrist deep in raw poultry and need to check the cut size. Oh, and just as you’ve rinsed the risk of salmonella off your hands, the smoke alarm goes off.
It doesn’t have to be like that. Peace comes with prep. Ease comes with tidiness.
Draw inspiration from Peaceful Cuisine, a cooking channel on YouTube created by Japanese cook Royoya Takashima. If you’re already one of Takashima’s 2.5 million subscribers, you’ll know why this channel makes cooking at home a tension-free process, whether you’re making the messy red lentil daal curry or inky black sesame ice cream. His videos are minimalist and straightforward, with no overly chatty host and little-to-no-music, save for the satisfying crunch of lettuce, sizzle of onions, or whirring of a blender.
So how do you translate the zen of Takashima’s videos into the everyday chaos that is your life? The answer is twofold: keep it simple, and keep it clean.
First, put on your favourite playlist or cue up the next episode of This American Life. (Or work in silence if you prefer to hear the crunch, whirr and sizzle.) Next, clear your workspace and counter. Wash your spatulas and pans and other tools you may need.
You may wish to choose a few recipes that have similar ingredients. (Let’s take a rice bowl, burritos and huevos rancheros for example. For all three, you’ll need rice, lean protein, avocados, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes.) Know that in cooking these meals at home, you’ll have healthy dinners and likely easy leftover lunches. You’ll save money and you’ll feel comforted knowing you’re taking the nutritious route.
If you are following a recipe, read the whole thing before you begin. Washing and chopping ingredients beforehand will also help the process go smoothly, and if you happen to have extra time on your hands between steps, you can easily fit in a few impromptu mid-recipe dance moves. As the meal is cooking, go back to step number one: tidy your workspace and wash some tools. Your future amateur-chef will thank you when you’re making burritos the next night.
The biggest thing is to try to go with the flow. If your rice bowl calls for red onion but you only have sweet yellow, that’s totally fine. If the burrito recipe lists fresh hot peppers, but you have crushed flakes, it’s not the end of the world. Part of the art of cooking is learning to tweak the spices here, switch out a veggie there, and maybe completely change the sauce if needed. If you still set off the smoke alarm, it’s all part of the process.
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