They say in life that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. So it goes in the kitchen. Many people are amazed to find that stepping into the kitchen is actually a relaxing, almost meditative experience. There’s a flow that takes place, an engagement of the mind that leaves us feeling refreshed and connected, as though all our senses were taken on an adventurous sojourn. Food and cooking demand that you be in the present, a place where yesterday’s follies and tomorrow’s peccadillos hold no sway. But to be fully present, it helps to learn a few tricks of the trade as a way of turning your kitchen into an inviting space filled with culinary gifts that feed the soul.
How to get the flow going in the kitchen?
A lot of the art of developing culinary choreography comes down to time management. First, that means committing the time to get the job done. Fortunately, once you get past the learning curve, far less time is involved than you might imagine! You might well find you even have more time on your hands than you would if you were schlepping out to restaurants for meals.
There are four basic elements of time:
- Planning — Just ask TV or film producers, and they’ll tell you that every minute spent on planning in pre-production saves ten minutes when the cameras finally begin to roll. Similarly, you’ll save lot of time in the kitchen if you plan your meals beforehand. So,where to start? Browse through recipes and see what strikes your fancy. What’s in season? What’s on sale?
Take a little bit of time on Saturday or Sunday, whatever your day is, and map out your week. Choose a handful of recipes. Make a list of ingredients. Your list may be lengthy as you begin developing this habit, but it will soon grow shorter and more manageable. (See The Value of a Well-Stocked Pantry below.)
- Shopping — Every once in awhile you’ll do a major shop. But once you start stocking up on essentials, a quick trip to the farm market or store for fresh vegetables and a piece of fish or meat will suffice.
- Prep time — Prep time is where you’ll save the most time and most of your sanity. There’s nothing worse than coming home hungry and looking into the fridge only to see a forest of uncut veggies! The right time to prep vegetables is as soon you get them home. A quick trim, ripping and stripping greens, breaking up cauliflower and broccoli into ready-to-use florets takes up less space in the fridge and means you’ll have most of the components for a meal all ready to go. This will get you to the heart of culinary choreography; the best cooking, almost invariably results from being relaxed rather than rushed.
- Cooking — Actual cooking is the least time consuming of these!
Of course, there’s also clean up time, but that you should delegate to someone else. :) Or, if you’re it for kitchen staff, clean as you go, which you should do anyway.
My dear friend and business partner Jen Yasis, with whom I’ve worked since 2013, is just flat out AWESOME at kitchen choreography. She choreographed the soups in my Clean Soups Course and the meals in my Cancer Fighting Kitchen course so everything is already figured out for you! Meal planning. Shopping lists. Prep. Order of cooking, so everything arrives on time. Bless the amazing Jen!
A couple additional tricks of the trade to make cooking a pleasure:
- A well-stocked pantry. If you have a well-stocked pantry, you probably have many essential ingredients on hand. When you see a list of 12 ingredients, you’ll probably have 8 of them on hand: spices, fresh lemons, olive oil, onions, herbs. That gets rid of recipe reading anxiety! And your shopping list will be a breeze.
Keep in mind that your freezer is part of your pantry. Make a large pot of broth when you have the time and freeze it in quart containers, so you are ready to make soup without a lot of fuss.
- An inviting kitchen. Make your kitchen a place you like to be! With your favorite music, flowers and fresh scents. A place where you enjoy being in the present, focusing on the experience, not your worries of yesterday or tomorrow.
- Develop a system for yourself. What works for you? What are your favorite spices and ingredients? Keep them on hand. Pick up more olive oil BEFORE you get low. Keep a stash of your favorite tomato sauce. Make some delicious dollops, dressings and sauces ahead of time, and turn a plain old dinner into a triumph of flavor.
- Feel free to hack recipes. Simplify. I hack mine! I’ll go back to recipes I developed in 2004 when I wrote my first cookbook. If I call for 1/8th teaspoon of something and you don’t have it -- skip it! Give yourself permission. Go back to trusting that you know how to balance your flavors, with a little pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice. Honestly, it will turn out fine. Or if you don’t have x vegetable but you do have y, it will work! It’s just food. It’s easier than technology. Cooking is low tech! It’s really hard to screw up.
- Relax. Enjoy! Get into the flow, and enjoy tasting and smelling. Customize! Adjust the spices and herbs to suit you. The biggest thing, I think, that people benefit from is really understanding that when you look at a recipe it is just a blueprint. Use what you have, and don’t worry about what you don’t. Be creative! Once you get the dance steps down, you can be very improvisational.
You can improvise on your dance steps in the kitchen and still come out with something delicious to eat. Permission granted to chill!
Weekend Warrior Cooking
Another option: you can take prepping one step further and cook for the week ahead! This is sometimes called “weekend warrior cooking,” and is what I did a while ago with the 19-year old daughter of an artist friend. He was very interested in eating healthier… but couldn’t quite make it happen. Izzy and I prepped and cooked ahead for the week, and what a success for everyone involved! Cooking with a friend can make for the most culinary choreography of all. :)
Here’s how it’s done: an example of kitchen choreography
Want to try it out?
Here’s a Cancer-Fighting Kitchen menu for a week, with the recipes, shopping list, and choreography all mapped out.
Menu for the Week
(See recipes below)
Magic Mineral Broth
Clean Green Soup (aka, Power Green Soup)
Chicken Soup with Ginger Meatballs
Quinoa Kale Salad with Red Grapes
Triple Triple Brittle
Stewed Fruit and Cashew Cream
Stock-Up Menu Shopping List
Before you go shopping, check off items you have in your pantry.
- black peppercorns
- ground black pepper
- allspice berries
- ground allspice
- bay leaves
- ground cinnamon
- ground ginger
- ground nutmeg
- sea salt
- 2 bunches flat leaf parsley
- 1 bunch mint
- 7 carrots
- 4 yellow onions
- 2 leeks
- 1 bunch celery
- 4 red potatoes
- 1 yukon gold pototo
- 3 sweet potatoes
- 1 bunch Swiss chard
- 2 bunches kale
- 1 head garlic
- 3-inch piece of ginger
- 6 lemons
- 1 lime
- 4 large apricots
- 1/3 cup cherries (fresh or frozen)
- 1/2 cup red grapes or raisins
NUTS & SEEDS
- 2 cups raw cashews
- 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds (white or black)
- 1 chicken carcasses or 2 lb wings
- apple cider vinegar or lemon
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lb ground dark meat chicken or turkey
- 1 organic egg
- 1 1/4 cups dry quinoa or 3 cups cooked
- grade A dark maple syrup
- vanilla extract
Kitchen Choreography for the Stock-Up Menu
Follow this plan to make all the recipes in the Stock-Up Menu Plan in one day or prep everything, so you can assemble a recipe when you need it during the week.
- The day before you plan to cook this menu, either make the Magic Mineral Broth or defrost frozen broths for Power Green Soup and Chicken Soup with Ginger Meatballs. Use the same broth for both soups to simplify.
- Use the Shopping List as a guide to pull out all the ingredients you’ll use for this menu plan.
- To the pitcher of your blender, add 2 cups cashews and 2 cups water and set aside to soak for the Cashew Cream.
- Boil the water and salt for the quinoa. Make extra for the meatballs, if needed. Once it's boiling stir in the quinoa, cover and set a timer. Set aside.
- Pre-heat the oven to 300ºF.
- Meanwhile, cut up the fruit for the Stewed Fruit, then add the lemon and start to simmer. Set a timer to add the cherries and set another timer. When done, allow to cool.
- Next, combine the ingredients for the Triple Triple Brittle and get it into the oven. Set a timer.
- Wash and chop the vegetables and herbs for the two soups and Quinoa and Kale Salad. Organize ingredients by recipe
- 2 onions, diced
- 1 leek, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- 1 potato, peeled and diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 5 or 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bunch chard, stemmed and torn
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger root
- 2 bunches dino kale, stemmed and chopped
- 2 lemons zested, then juiced
- Start the Power Green Soup.
- When you have a few minutes while making the soup, blend the Cashew Cream with the remaining ingredients. Store what you'll use in a jar and put in the refrigerator. Store the remaining in the freezer.
- Rinse out the pitcher and pot, then blend the soup. Pour into jars to cool. Rinse the pot.
- Assemble the Ginger Meatballs, then tidy up and wash the counters.
- Then, make the Chicken Soup.
- Finally, assemble the Quinoa Salad.
- Allow everything to cool before storing it in the refrigerator or freezer.
MORE IDEAS FOR THIS MENU
Double the Ginger Meatballs and freeze them for future soups. They can be poached or baked to eat with a side of vegetables and grains as a small meal.
Boil eggs for a quick and portable protein for a small meal.
Wash, prep and store extra greens in a zip-top baggie with a paper towel. These can be quickly sautéed or added to soups.
The best soup stock of all!
A smart, calming soup with whichever cruciferous greens you use.
These are actually mini meatballs, closer to the Latin-American version known as albondiguitas, with the ginger providing a little zing.
It doesn’t take much to get on kale’s good side. This dish shines like an emerald and tastes delish.
This mood-boosting snack is IRRESISTIBLE. Period.
ONCE YOU GET THE BASIC STEPS DOWN—PLAN, SHOP, PREP, COOK—THEN YOU BECOME MASTER OF YOUR OWN KITCHEN! CULINARY CHOREOGRAPHY MAKES COOKING A PLEASURE. :)