5 Quick Steps to get Organized in the Kitchen

One of the great paradoxes of our modern age is that people who are very organized in their professional lives, and who can always say yes to another project or meeting, can find absolutely no time to cook a meal at home and feel totally intimidated by the prospect. Applying a few of the same principles that make them successful at work can make them successful in the kitchen. Just as you wouldn’t go into a meeting without having thought out a strategy, you wouldn’t start making a meal without a game-plan.

Why You WANT to Cook

The first step is to think about why you want to cook. Is it to impress friends, to improve your diet (i.e., eat more healthfully), to lose weight or lower your cholesterol, or to save money? Perhaps you want to develop a hobby or you just miss the homemade foods of your childhood. Once you have decided why you want to cook, you can hone in on what you want to cook.

Get Recipes and Check for Tools

If you don’t have a cookbook, look at some of the basic cookbooks or cooking magazine s that feature the type of cooking you really want to do. Read a few recipes; look at the ingredients, see if it looks manageable. If the recipe calls for specialty foods that you can’t find readily or uses utensils you don’t own, put it aside and look for something you might actually do, and enjoy doing. You are looking for a cookbook that will give you the how, in a simple. but not patronizing or silly manner.

Now, check your kitchen tool situation. In reality there are very few things you need to put an exquisite meal on the table: a couple of good knives (one small and one large) a good sauté or frying pan with a lid and several pots of different sizes with lids that fit. Buy the heaviest pots and the best knives you can afford as they will last a lifetime and will make cooking more fun.

Stocking the Pantry

Armed with some recipes, stock the panty with the ingredients you will need to create the meals you dream of making. After reading a few recipes, it will be clear that there are some ingredients that always come up and are in the must have category. The there are items that can be used in any number of recipes and are core ingredients around which to plan a meal. Many of these will be either dry, canned or frozen and therefore are good candidates for the pantry or freezer as you can count on being able to make a meal if you have them on hand. And then there are the items that are specific to a particular meal that you are going to make tonight or tomorrow--the fresh vegetables, fish or meat that you need to purchase within a few days of making the meal.

For your first culinary experience choose a recipe that does not overwhelm you and doesn’t take more time than you want to devote to it. Some of the cooking time will be time that you do actually spend cooking in the kitchen. Soups and breads are good first choices as they they are so satisfying to make, are very tasty and quite forgiving if you need to change an ingredient, answer the phone, or run an errand while you are in the middle. Also consider the amount of time cleaning up after cooking will take and allow for that. After reading the recipe through to get the flow of it, get out the ingredients and plan your attack. If you are making a meal that includes rice, make sure you allow enough time for the rice to cook while you are making the rest of the preparations. Always establish which part of a meal is going to take the longest and take that into consideration in your game plan.

Rule of Thumb: Take baby steps and keep expectations low.

Learn to do a few things that you enjoy well and don’t dwell on the other stuff (unless it''s vegetables - they are probably the best part about cooking at home).

Ann Levy