5 Simple Tips for Fun + Easy Cooking

Chef Calley & me (drooling over tender farmers market greens from Santa Monica I smuggled on the plane into Nicaragua)

I have always loved entertaining, feeding people, and making food not only look but taste good.  For a while (okay, a long while) the entire process of getting the food onto the table wasn’t always as carefree as it is today.

But I have to give credit where credit is due.  I don’t want anyone to think that I just magically became a good cook on my own.

I have a secret weapon in simple living in my kitchen:  My sister.

My sister, Calley, is not only beautiful, clever, witty, intelligent, my best friend, but she is an amazingly talented and accomplished chef.

I will travel anywhere to eat her amazing food.  Yes, anywhere.  Right now, she is the Executive Chef at high end restaurant in Nicaragua.  Before that she was living in San Francisco working at Michelin Star restaurants. I travel to wherever she is to get the chance to sit at her table and watch her  work.  Or when she comes to visit me, I work as her sous chef to learn more.  She is also a wonderful leader and teacher.  I am pretty extraordinarily lucky to have her in my life.  Calley has helped me re-create my culinary foundation to make cooking fun and easy.

Here are the top five lessons that she has taught me, that have helped me completely shift my experiences in the kitchen:

#1.  USING SEASONAL & LOCAL INGREDIENTS ARE KEY

We are so spoiled in todays grocery stores because we can buy anything at any time.   But there is a rhyme and reason as to when certain times of year watermelon and tomatoes taste best, and asparagus and brussels sprouts are most tender.  Produce that is in season not only tastes best, but it is also less expensive because there is more of a surplus.

When ingredients are from a local source, that means that they are fresher.  Fresher ingredients means better taste.  The longer that it takes for ingredients to get from the farm to your plate, the less flavor your meal will have.  This is why your local Farmers Market is often a great source for wonderful ingredients — you know that they are in season, and you know that you are local (but I definitely encourage you that you ask your farmer these exact questions…..just to be sure!)

#2.  SIMPLE IS KING

For meal planning, instead of going into my week with seven new recipes that I want to make, I try to limit myself to one a week — why should I put myself in a position to possibly overwhelm myself?   Now I mainly use cookbooks and cooking shows more for ideas and inspiration than anything else.   My favorite “go to” cookbooks are The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison & The Flavor Bible by Karen Page & Andrew Dorenburg.

#3.  ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN “B”

I can’t tell you how many times I was set on making a certain recipe, and something went wrong: I forgot to turn on the rice cooker, the chicken was burned, I put in too much salt.  But how do you recover from these kinds of setbacks. After all, you are superhuman, and you don’t make mistakes and you have a schedule to adhere to! (ha ha!)

Being able to accept that unplanned things will happen when cooking — much like in life, correct?  How I handle it is what it’s all about!  When I find myself at this cross roads, first, I take a deep breath.

Then I take a step bad and see what alternatives I might have on hand to substitute. (i.e. if my dish called for rice, do I have cous cous?  It cooks very fast.  Or what about serving bread on the side)  Then, I think if any of it can be salvaged (i.e. can I cut off the burned part?)  If it cannot be salvaged (i.e. too much salt) I just have to cut my losses.  If food is inedible, I know it, and I make sure that it skips over the plate and goes straight to the compost bin.  I made this vegetable soup once that I was so excited about, but it was like a salt lick when I tried it!  Gross!  I like to keep staple products on hand just for cases such as this.

Often times, my family & guests don’t even know that that there was a change in the menu — and to help “keep things cool” I cut up some carrots & celery for them to nibble on in the meantime.

#4.  KEEP YOUR “MISTAKES” TO YOURSELF

So, maybe you had to go to a “Plan B”. Big deal.  Really, we have all had to do it.  Even my pro-chef sister has to do it.  And not just when she was a newbie chef.

So here is the trick:  Don’t sit at the table and say  before everyone dives in: “Hey, everyone, this sauce was supposed to have basil in it, but the basil fell onto the floor, and just as I went to pick it up to rinse it, the dog ate it.  I am so sorry.”  Seriously, no one would have even known about the basil in the first place, and the food is still scrumptious and nourishing!  By telling everyone about “what you should have done” or “how it should look” you’re saying you are a failure and that your creation isn’t good enough — which is *totally* not true.

#5.  MAKE SURE YOU’RE HAVING FUN

Crank up your favorite tunes.  Laugh at your mistakes.  Get your friends and family to help in the prep and setting the table.  Let go of perfectionism.  Put on an apron that makes you feel amazing (I have the cutest apron — looks & feels like a cocktail dress — that I can’t wait to put on every time I cook!).

Sharing your food with others is a gift and an amazing way to be of service.  And putting love into your food while you are cooking is the secret ingredient!  Is there a better way to love than to have fun?  I think not.

What parts of cooking stress you out?  

Are there any of these tips you’ve tried or want to try?  

Anything else that you do to make cooking fun and easy?

Write your thoughts in the comments section below.  And if you liked this article, please share it with your friends using the social media buttons below.

(note to the reader:  My sister is probably going to kill me when she sees this post, because she is also very humble and doesn’t like to draw attention to herself.  However, if you are interested in learning more about my sister, Calley Prezzano, read her recent guest blogposts for the Nicaragua Dispatch, an independent English-language news publication on Nicaragua.  And , for your continued reading pleasure, here is funny story about my life as a Prezzano kid.)  

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth March 23, 2012 at 10:30 am

I love thinking that the more love I put into the food, the tastier it will be. I try and use your tips to slow down a little and really enjoy the process of cooking hoping that the end result will be even better since it was created with love!

Aimee March 25, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Yes, Elizabeth! LOVE is the *most* important ingredient, indeed! Right on.

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