“…No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” ― Julia Child
Since discovering minimalism, my life has changed significantly. The process of promoting values and removing distractions has forced new intentionality in life. As a result, many of my habits have changed. I spend money differently. I spend time more efficiently. I exercise more. I wake earlier.
Additionally, interestingly enough, I have learned to enjoy cooking. I am not formally trained. I am not a chef. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m the best cook in my own family. But I have recently learned to fully enjoy the process of preparing a meal for my family. I find great joy in it—far more than ever before. And as I look back at this specific life change, I can directly attribute this change to a number of specific steps I have taken. Perhaps you may find them helpful as well.
A Simple Guide to Enjoy Cooking
1. Clear your kitchen counters. A clean, uncluttered kitchen counter is refreshing. It communicates calm and order. It saves time and promotes cleanliness. It encourages opportunity and possibility. And a clear counter provides the necessary space in your kitchen and your mind to begin cooking. Clear your canvas.
2. Cook healthy foods. There is a pleasant satisfaction that comes from preparing healthy food for you and your family. Its importance in the process cannot be overstated. It provides valuable motivation and incentive for cooking your own meals. And the positive benefits of cooking a healthy meal stretch far beyond the dinner table.
3. Use fresh ingredients. Among the changes I made in my life to spur my love of cooking, none may be more significant than the decision to start using fresh ingredients whenever possible. Once I began replacing dried spices with fresh ingredients (onion, garlic, parsley, basil, limes, lemons), the flavor of my meals improved dramatically. And so did my confidence and enjoyment.
4. Own a sharp knife. Learn how to use it. I don’t own expensive cookware—never have. In fact, I still use the pots and pans we received as a wedding gift 14 years ago. But when I began cooking regularly, I bought a nice Santoku knife and have never regretted the purchase. We use it nearly every day for slicing, dicing, and mincing. And once you learn how to use it properly, preparing meals becomes significantly easier and more enjoyable.
5. Start with foods/recipes you enjoy. The first cookbook I ever used was Top Secret Restaurant Recipes. I was already familiar with many of the dishes and knew which ones I liked. I began by preparing meals I looked forward to eating. And I incorporated the same philosophy into cooking all my new dishes at home. I like Mexican food, so I search for Mexican food recipes to follow. Lately, I have been exploring Thai food (another favorite) and trying new recipes. The Internet is full of simple, easy-to-follow recipes. Search for the foods you know you like, find a trusted recipe source, and read the comment section for additional thoughts and ideas.
6. Be confident. You can do this. Step up to the cutting board, the oven, or the stovetop with full confidence in your abilities. An anxious spirit does not enjoy creating. And unfortunately, an anxious spirit rarely succeeds. To enjoy cooking, you’ll need to convince yourself that you are able to do it. Eventually, a delicious meal and corresponding smile from your table guests will do the trick. But even before they do, believe in yourself. Start walking around your kitchen (and grocery store) like you know what you’re doing… and before long, you actually will. You will still make mistakes, but that’s okay. Just remember, the biggest mistake you can make is not believing in yourself.
7. Value presentation. There is an old saying among chefs that goes like this, “We eat with our eyes first.” Research and experience validates their claims. Food that looks good is more likely to taste good. And some studies seem to indicate we even absorb more nutrients from food that is visually appealing. Take some extra time to serve your food in a visually appealing presentation—even if you are eating alone. You’ll always enjoy it more.
8. Appreciate the eating. Be mindful of the cleaning. If you have a family, create the space and culture in your home that values eating together. For many families, this is not possible at every meal, but that does not mean space can’t still be created for some family meals together. You may need to establish some margin or get creative, but the more time spent together around the dinner table, the better. Appreciate the importance of sitting down long enough to enjoy your food. And likewise, learn to appreciate the act of cleaning up afterwards. It does not have to be seen as a chore if approached with the right mindset.
9. Record your favorite recipes. I store a small, black, index card box above the stove in our kitchen. Inside, I keep all the successful recipes I have discovered over the years. It is a simple system that works for me. And it has been an important step in increasing my enjoyment of cooking because the true value of the black box is that I have a wide selection of family-favorite recipes right at my fingertips…
…and if my family finds joy in the meal on the table, I find joy in preparing it.