What’s for dinner?

Is this not one of life’s great mysteries?

True confessions: I’ve written 4 cookbooks with a 5th on the way (about which, more soon) and I have a personal library of 560 cookbooks. YOU’D THINK I’d know what to cook for dinner, like for the next 2, maybe 3 years?

But I’m sure we can all agree that this is a SERIOUS issue that everyone faces! Restaurant chefs. Experienced moms. It’s THE question I get all the time. What should I make for dinner?

Good news! Out of sheer exasperation and determination, I have developed superb strategies and time-savers to help us all get dinner on the table AND keep our sanity.

Every minute spent on planning time will smooth out your life in the kitchen.

Once you’ve got a menu in mind and your shopping and prep work done, cooking is a relative breeze. You will be SO impressed with how calm you are in the kitchen, and how much you enjoy it. Cooking can be a meditative, nourishing act -- IF you prepare!

You may even fall in love with it.

My top 3 expert tips:

  1. Plan in advance. Pick a cookbook. Or pick two. Or pick a magazine or favorite food blog. Or browse your own recipe box (or mine!). Go ahead -- be tempted.

    Start building a menu and shopping list. Think about the season and the weather, and what your schedule looks like in the coming week. Will you have an hour in the kitchen? Or just 20-minutes, in order to eat at a decent time? If you’re cooking quinoa on Monday, how can you repurpose it on Wednesday? We do Meatless Mondays at our house, and Wednesday is fish night, when my fishmonger’s fresh shipment comes in. One night will definitely be a stir-fry, that speedy kaleidoscope of colorful, seasonal produce and flavors from my spice rack that’s sure to please. Something old and something new… Let these thoughts swirl in your head, and riff from there. Capture it all on a menu and shopping list as you go along.
     
  2. Make a pleasant ritual of planning, when you’re not in a hurry. Sunday is my day. For other people it’s Saturday. Picture your favorite coffee or cup of tea, and some of your favorite tunes playing. What’s the best planning day for you?
     
  3. Shop & prep in advance. Do not skip this step! Do not come home at 6pm and find nothing in the house! Buy what you’ll need for the week, and as soon as you get home from the market, break them down and prep them out so you’re not staring at a whole head of cauliflower at 7pm Thursday night. That’s enough to make anyone pick up the phone for take out!

Check out how easy it is to prep in advance!

This is where you save most of your time and sanity.

Everything you prep in advance is like a deposit in the culinary bank. There’s nothing more stress-relieving than knowing that you’ve got most of the components for a meal all ready to go.

Some potions with your prepped broccoli from my Recipe Box:

Making a meal shouldn’t feel like a competition.

We all know it’s no fun cooking in an exhausted rush. The best cooking invariably results from being relaxed and mindful, stirring and savouring the fragrance of the food as it blooms, and plating the results in a way that pleases the eye.

You get bonus points for:

  • Developing a great pantry & prep stash -- spice blends, roasted nuts and seeds, roasted veggies, greens.
  • Creating a recipe inventory. As you find recipes that really hit the spot, add them to your rotation. What happens as you experiment? You get better!
  • Enlisting others to help. If you have a plan and a list, you can easily invite kids, partners and friends into the kitchen. My husband has great knife skills, too.

There are, of course, times when at the end of the day I feel like, OMG, I don’t know how I’m going to pull together dinner. I’m done! I’m tired. Maybe I’ve been cooking all day or put on a cooking demo. But I open my refrigerator. And I get a smile on my face. Because in front of me are prepped vegetables, sliced chicken, quinoa, and a delicious olive oil and herb drizzle. I’ve got this. And I am feeling like superwoman because I am in control of what I put in my food. That feeling of gratitude plus, yes, well, smugness is pretty awesome. The new fast food :)

To review: The full equation for kitchen nirvana is planning time + shopping time + prep time + cooking time.

COMMENT BELOW AND TELL ME: ARE YOU TRYING SOME OF MY PLAN-AHEAD TRICKS OF THE TRADE? DO YOU HAVE SOME OF YOUR OWN? WHAT ARE YOUR QUESTIONS? (YOU KNOW I LOVE QUESTIONS!)