I love to cook. I always have enjoyed the cadence of the kitchen; my knife is the beat on the chopping board to the melodic sizzling of the aromatics in my skillet. The vibrant colors of food that stain my memory become like sheet music over time. Ha! that’s really sweet but for many people, cooking isn’t as romantic; it can sound more like fingers on a chalkboard. I’ll admit it. I am humbled these days by the difficulty of managing a career and family, and living the ideals I try to convey to my clients. We live in a modern world that isn’t always playing a love song in our kitchens, especially on hectic weekdays.
Check out Google or Instagram and you will find myriad amounts of advice on getting food on the table in minutes. Yet, the struggle continues for many people with two jobs and demanding lives. Plus, the temptations abound to order in! Is that the secret to eating better after all?
I recently gave a health talk at Berkeley College on preparing and cooking dinner at home, which led me to write this blog post. Our discussion boiled down to two words: WILL and SKILL.
First, we discussed the value in recognizing the benefits of home cooking or defining your “why.” Eating healthier is about simplicity in ingredients — true unadulterated ingredients that haven’t been processed. Cooking at home allows us to know and control what’s in our food. This is my “why.” Think and define your “why” for cooking dinner more often at home.
David Allen, the author of “Getting things Done”, explains the importance of going deeper in understanding your personal “why.” It helps us clarify our intentions allowing us to make better decisions even on the most difficult of days. This is your motivational factor to cooking more often at home and then you have the WILL to do it.
“Processed foods, may appear brighter and may last longer, but the people who eat them don’t.”
Second, research and practice a few cooking techniques to become skillful in the kitchen. Poaching, braising, stewing and roasting are methods that give you a strong kitchen foundation. Playing with fresh herbs, and seasonings help you build on flavors. Keep it simple at first. When you become skillful, you will have the ability to cook instinctually, without relying on a recipe. Most of all, develop the skill to organize your meals each week.
Sometimes it’s good to take the night off! Yes, order in food from your favorite take out! Better yet, eat left overs once a week! Successful meal planning is also giving yourself the time to actually do the work. Why not make a kombucha cocktail, sit with your calendar and plan out the following week?
It is a good idea to plan meals according to your days events. Do you have to hurry along from your son’s karate class to pick up his sister at the dentist? On these days I design meals that cook up fast with little fuss. Try getting the kids involved by having them look through cookbooks. When they are made team players in meal planning and decision making, it’s much less of a battle to feed them later on. Our cookbooks at home are dog-eared with our favorite recipes. These recipes give me a foundation that I can adjust to work with the ingredients that I have available in my kitchen. I usually rotate about 10 menus every month changing and editing through them every season based on what’s fresh and available.
This is one cooking technique that certainly became a love song for weekday dinners.
Simplicity in Parchment: Pesce en Papillote
Baking fish in its own parchment wrapper is a year round cooking technique; the fish steams in its own juices so that all of the flavor is packed in for a delicious experience that is nutrient dense and a good source of lean protein and healthy fats. Best of all, family members can prepare their own pouches with seasonings and vegetables of choice, making it a family friendly event. Oh, did I mention, clean up is in the bag!
Try this combination of flavors and then feel confident to choose your favorite seasonings.
- 4 – 6 oz each per person favorite fillet fish (fluke, snapper, halibut, wild salmon)
- 1 to 2 Wild Ramp stalks
- 2 slices Blood Orange slices with a squeeze of its juice
- 1 tsp of Fennel seeds
- 4 sprigs of Thyme
- 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive oil
- Sea salt and Ground Pepper
Preheat oven to 450* F. Cut four pieces of parchment paper each about 12 to 15 inches.
Fold sheet in half by the short sides with a crease. Unfold and place your fish fillet on one side of crease. Build your seasonings on top of the fish layer by layer. Don’t over pack the wrapper.
Bring the other side of folded parchment over the fish and start on one end folding the edges of parchment paper together until package is completely sealed. Repeat with the other remaining 3 more packages. Home cook tip: try using parchment sandwich bags.
Place parchment pouches on a baking sheet into your oven until pouch is puffed and golden around its edges. Approximately 10 minutes or more depending on the temperature of your oven. Serve with fish in its pouch on a dinner plate for a dynamic presentation of having your guest open their own servings.
Taste the good health – cheers! MP + HP