Anyone who knows me knows that I love cooking. I spent a period of time actually pursuing being a chef, that is, until I fell head over heels in love with kitchen and bath design. I simply love food. I love the power it has to bring people together. I love how it can make a whole day better. I love how creative it allows us to be. One of the fun things about being stuck at home has been my ability to cook more. Often, during the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day, I found I would grab take-out for dinner or find someone at the office to order lunch with. And while I love restaurants and all they have to offer, I’ll admit I usually do this because a.) it’s easier and b.) it tastes better than the sandwich I hastily threw together in the morning. Then, this season hit and ordering in or going outside felt a little dicey. Suddenly, I found myself attempting to cook every meal of the day.
This did not go over very well.
While an exciting and fun diversion on some days, other days, I simply wanted to be lazy, and the idea of dirtying more dishes made me want to join my daughter running around the house screaming. I started talking with some of my friends and colleagues and pieced together a solution that helps balance cooking as a boredom buster and preparation for days when cooking is a chore. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use the kitchen as a tool for fun and practicality while we are stuck at home.
Backup Meal Prep
My great solution started when I remembered the OHi article on freezer meals. While originally intended for people about to have their homes remodeled, I got excited remembering the part that briefly discussed meal prep. Yes, meal prep, the word that makes many suburban moms giddy with excitement. I’ve attempted it before, but found it too regimental for my taste buds.
But with a little re-framing, my whole outlook has changed. During this season, I’ve decided to use meal prep for the backup days. The days when “mommy just needs to sit down” kinda days. The method: cook a lot of food on one day, freeze it, thaw it, and reheat on a day when I don’t feel like cooking. This is the best of both worlds. Now I’m not stuck eating whatever meal I had prepped for that specific day, but instead, can treat the freezer like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag and pull out a meal perfect for that evening and mood.
The biggest problem now is finding a day when I have the energy to cook multiple meals at once. For people like me, this cannot be planned, but rather has to be a moment of inspiration...otherwise known as the day when my daughter has been busy playing LOL surprise dolls all morning, giving me a glimpse at mental stability. For others, I know it helps to pick one day and to cook a few meals that day no matter what. For either option, it is important to determine the recipes beforehand so you can properly ensure you have the right ingredients.
Once you have your ingredients, start prepping. This is when I wish I had a massive island like this one, or maybe a double island, only because it helps to lay out all the ingredients, a few mixing bowls and utensils. In my kitchen, I have to improvise and make stations: one at the kitchen table, one at the buffet island, and the other by the stove. Inconvenient, to be sure, but for the time being, it works.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes to freeze:
Here are two of my six year old daughter’s favorite recipes to Freeze (not a huge surprise here):
Say goodbye to boredom and hello to fun with these awesome activities for kitchen lovers.
If you’re like me, you might be guilty of buying new cookbooks all the time… and then never cooking any of the recipes found in the pages. This week, challenge yourself to sit down with a pad of sticky notes, and a stack of the cookbooks you were most excited for, and flip through the pages to find recipes you want to try. When you find one, put a sticky note on it.
Here’s where it gets crazy. Cook the recipes you put sticky notes on. You probably won’t get through all of them during the next couple of weeks, however, it might help you form a habit of trying new recipes. Also it will help break up the monotony of the day to day by causing you to have to concentrate and think while cooking.
If you don’t have any cookbooks lying around, here are some of my favorites to try:
- Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (Bonus: there is a Netflix series with the author that is worth the watch)
- Half Baked Harvest Super Simple
- A Boat, A Whale, a Walrus: Menus and Stories
While stuck in doors, some families are trying to avoid going to the grocery stores until they absolutely have to. This means utilizing all the gloriously random ingredients forgotten about in our cupboards and freezers. It also means the table is set perfectly for you and your family to emulate one of the most entertaining cooking competitions on tv: Chopped! In our house, my daughter is too young to actually cook, so instead, I have her pick random ingredients that we have in stock. Sometimes, as you can imagine, she picks the worst things to laugh at mommy. Other times, she realizes she has to eat what I’m making and will go easy on her selections.
For families with older kids, I recommend you each take a portion of the meal such as the appetizer, entree, and dessert. Each person then gives one other person four ingredients they have to use. While some of the stuff prepared may turn out to be inedible, you may also discover that you secretly have a four star chef living under your roof. Admittedly, the chaos would be less and more bearable with soft-close cabinets, and cabinet accessories that help keep pots and pans in the right place. But for the time being, ignore the noise and inconvenience and rifle through your pantries and freezers because your very own cooking competition is about to begin.
Cook with Your Kids
There are two responses when people talk about cooking with children. The first is excitement. It’s a great learning opportunity and a fun way to spend time together. The second, is the secret response, which is dread. It will take ten times as long and be ten times as messy. While both responses are valid, to help the situation choose kid-friendly recipes and only perform this task on a day where you’re in a good mood.
Before you welcome your kids into the kitchen, review the recipe you’re attempting. Ensure you have all the ingredients laid out, but don’t measure them yet. Pull out any utensils or dishware you will need, and be sure to have cleaning supplies handy such as dry towels, wet towels, and a broom. To protect the clothes of you kids, I recommend you invest in some aprons.
In an ideal world, we would be using a kitchen with low maintenance materials, ready to face the messes caused by kids, such as spilled oil, dumped flour, or mushed cheese. For my own home, I dream of quartz countertops, due to their antibacterial properties and ability to withstand the toughest spills. LVT flooring wouldn’t hurt either. However, any kitchen will work, so long as the appliances are fully functioning.
Once you bring your kids into the kitchen, let them measure the ingredients, with your guidance. Then, if there is any stirring involved, let them start the process. Eventually, the adult will probably have to finish stirring to ensure everything is properly mixed. My personal favorite recipes are ones where it's simply putting the ingredients together or decorating a finished process, like cookies with sprinkles. It entertains them without requiring much direction.
Some Great Kid Friendly Recipes are the following:
Plate in Place
Ultimately, if the above challenges aren’t enough fun, take it to the next level, and try to plate your food as if you were presenting it to chef Gordon Ramsey, but instead present it to your family. I do this with my daughter, and let’s just say I think she could teach Ramsey new ways to insult inadequate plating.
If I were a celebrity and had the power to start a hashtag trending on social media, it would be #PlateInPlace. This way, I could see all the incredible concoctions people are whipping up while staying in place. While some might be pretty funny and offer up a good laugh, others might inspire my own creative genius.
At the end of the day, cooking and baking during the Stay In Place order can be a major stress-release and a necessity. For some, it means baking (and eating) a whole cake, for others it means baking a loaf of bread because their grocery store was out. Either way, we hope these ideas strike inspiration and that your family is staying safe and healthy.