Return to the Kitchen

Taking Food From Oven

by Carley Knobloch

These days, you can’t turn on a TV (or peer in your wallet) without being reminded of our economic downturn. Gone are the days when a little retail therapy was the preferred fix to life’s problems— the Jimmy Choos that were once a no-fail cure to a bad day are now collecting dust on the boutique shelf. We’re scrutinizing the purchases we used to make without thinking, and the “need to haves” have suddenly become the “we’ll do withouts”.

The absence of all these “things” leaves a void that many of us don’t know how to fill. We’re asking ourselves sobering questions: Who am I without my car? My DVD player? My car with the built-in DVD player!? And what should I do with my hands now that I’m not swiping credit cards or wearing a hole in my trackpad shopping online?

For many of us, refuge awaits in the kitchen. In these economic times it’s life’s simpler (and less expensive) rewards that sustain us. The simple act of creating a home-cooked meal, however, is something foreign to many of us screen-wielding, microwaving, stuff-driven types, but it’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Home cooking requires a little bit of a palate adjustment from the high-octane salt, fat and sugar content of the processed foods we’re used to, but the side effects are too good to ignore. We slow down. We feel better. We connect with the people we love. We connect with ourselves.

If your lack of culinary confidence has kept you from experimenting, these simple tips might be just what you need to kick start your triumphant return (or debut) in the kitchen.

One of my favorite and most rewarding ways to cook almost anything is high-heat roasting. Crank your oven to 400 degrees, toss your favorite vegetable or protein with olive oil, salt & pepper, and bake until cooked through and browned on top. A sweet potato loves high heat, and so does broccoli. Chicken thighs, salmon, even roasted shrimp are a great twist on a typical shrimp cocktail. The greatest part is that you can toss it into the oven and forget about it— no tending to the stovetop.

Another great technique that sounds fancy, but is super-simple? Blanching. All this means is you’re boiling foods (usually vegetables) in hot water for a short amount of time, and then plunging them into cold water to stop the cooking. You can even add the vegetables right to a pot of pasta right before you’re ready to drain it, so you’ve got one less dirty pot to wash. Blanching seals in the color and snap of what you’re cooking, so you don’t end up with limp carrots or green beans turned brown. Then, just toss with a little butter, salt & pepper and you’ll fall in love with vegetables all over again.

Something else to remember is that cooking for your family doesn’t have to mean that everything on the table was hand-crafted by you. The art of assembly can take much of the pressure off the time-crunched cook. If your local italian joint makes great rosti, grab some to serve with a green salad and a rotisserie chicken you pick up from the supermarket. Put together a beautiful brunch by buying warm croissants and muffins from your favorite bakery and serving with easy scrambled eggs and berries. Finding clever ways to assemble meals can inspire you to get in the kitchen more often, knowing you won’t have to make multiple things at once.

Lastly, the best advice I can offer to a reticent cook is to remember why you’re cooking. Just because we’re surrounded by convenience foods doesn’t mean they’re our best choice, and when you remember why you’re slaving over a hot stove, you’ll be more inclined to do it more often. Does a home-cooked meal mean you’re checking-in with your otherwise-reclusive teenager? You’re helping your husband reduce his blood pressure? In this fast-paced world full of excuses (there’s no time! I don’t know how to cook! there’s a Pizza Hut down the street!), assigning a deeper meaning to the task of making dinner will help you stay on course and keep cooking, bringing more than just a casserole to the people you love.

Carley Knobloch is a life coach and productivity expert who helps frazzled families embrace technology and simplify life. Her free email, The Juicebox, provides weekly tips to help you conquer your to-do list and stress less. To get The Juicebox, go to JuiceboxTips.com.

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