Have a Happier Cooking Experience :)

The menu, I created for my going away party!

It’s already August can you guys believe it? I’m excited to say that I started a new chapter in my life as a chef in training at the Natural Gourmet Institute! Currently I’m on a “vacation” (I use air quotes because the school is undergoing maintenance) and I will be back in action in a couple of weeks. I’ve only spent two weeks in the school, and can honestly say that I already love what I’m learning and can’t wait to go back! I love the lectures and even when I’m sleepy I can’t refrain from being deeply engrossed with all the topics. For example I learned that a spoonful of Umeboshi paste can be eaten to alkalize the body, promote concentration and also help with digestion. Bring on the paste!

I think it’s so awesome this school promotes the healing benefits of whole foods and how to cook for people who suffer from various illnesses. It’s not only going to be beneficial for me and my health, but for the health of those who are around me as well. NGI will give the tools to make a difference in someone’s life by doing what I love and that’s more than I could ever ask for. The only challenges at the moment are A) cutting carrots into matchsticks B) working in a tight space with fifteen other people and C) not being allowed to wear nail polish. Challenges that I can’t do anything about but A) practice B) accept and C) deal with it (it’s a safety hazard!) But like anything else worthwhile, challenges will always come and go, and I am prepared for that.

Before, I go I wanted to share a list of tips that could be useful for your happy kitchen endeavors. They are just some of the random considerations that have been truly beneficial throughout my experiences in cooking. I hope that you could benefit from them as well!

For a happier kitchen experience consider:

  1. Having patience because you’ll need it. Cooking requires tons of patience and you’ll find that out when you first begin your endeavors. Whether you’re cooking for a bunch of people or making something from scratch, you’ll need to sacrifice your time and give it your best effort. The best way I find patience is reminding myself that the end results will be worth it. If the food isn’t what I expected, then I simply try again and again; patiently trying to get it right the next time.  Your kitchen should not be your worst nightmare but instead it should be your best friend and a happy place for you. So please be patient and continue cooking, because practice only makes you better!
  2. Cleaning your kitchen before you start cooking. A dirty kitchen is not only unsanitary but cooking in clutter may cause you frustration, and unnecessary anxiety. By nature I am not the neatest person in the world, just ask anyone who knows me! So I push myself to tidy up the little messes around me before I make an even bigger mess. I do not spend hours cleaning. I simply wash the dishes that are already in the sink, sweep the floor and make an effort to clean as I’m cooking. I promise you, this in the long run this method will save you lots of time and energy; not to mention make your cooking experience far more pleasant!  A clean kitchen really is a happy kitchen.
  3. Gathering all your ingredients beforehand or as the French say Mise en place which is used a ton in the culinary world and it literally means “putting in place.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to bake cookies, and skipped the process of checking my inventory by gathering my ingredients beforehand. A true story: I grab the flour and baking soda, start pouring them into a bowl and then come to the conclusion that I don’t have enough sugar, butter and/or chocolate chips! See what I mean? That could’ve easily been avoided if I would’ve gathered my ingredients beforehand! When following “mise en place” I’m not only being organized, I am checking to see if I have everything I need. This method also saves me time because I have all the ingredients I’m going to use in my sight.
  4. Following a new recipe as it is written. Have you ever come across a recipe with really long and detailed steps and just skimmed through the ingredients list, without really looking at the steps? I have. And almost always regret it! I usually only skim a new recipe if it’s something real simple like a one pot meal, and even then it’s comforting to know where the ingredients go. I challenge you to read the recipe from start to finish before you even begin cooking, and acknowledge where those ingredients go in that recipe. It’s important to remember that cooking & baking are also a science, and there’s a reason behind every step. Allow your cooking experience to be a learning experience and I promise you’ll get optimal results!
  5. Tasting as you cook. Recipes usually say things like “salt to taste” or “a pinch of paprika” but, you’re not going to know if you’re using too little or too much of an ingredient to your taste, if you do not taste it. I think it’s best to use less salt in the beginning and then add more as needed, same with other flavors. It’s especially important to taste when you’re cooking for other people, because by tasting you’re in control of the original delicious of your dish. That’s pretty empowering if you ask me!  Just make sure you’re using a clean spoon when you taste and please do not double dip, thanks.
  6. Testing a recipe beforehand. This rule isn’t always applicable because some recipes have familiar ingredients that almost always taste yummy together. But I feel safe if I test a recipe before serving it to other people. It saves me time, gives me confidence and sometimes it saves me some grief. Tasting and testing go hand in hand, and it’s awesome when your family offers their taste buds for moral support. Sometimes if I don’t hear an “mmm” I’m not a sold on that recipe.  Let your food make an impression! I don’t know about you but, “the girl who can’t cook for beans” is not something I like being remembered by :x! So avoid that by testing a new recipe for yumminess or if I’m in a pinch, I’ll just make something that always pleases.
  7. Finally a bonus tip: always have fun and don’t be afraid to try something new! To me the key to being successful in my kitchen is not letting a little mishap discourage me from cooking, but instead it makes me want to try again until I get it. Let your kitchen to be your happy place and I guarantee you’ll come up with delicious wonders!

PS: check out my new blog Photographed Before Eaten (or Miss Malave’s Treats) for some recipes and food photography.

-Jessica

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