Cultivate a Slow Food State of Mind with These Kitchen Practices

Reader Contribution by Sarah Joplin
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Photo by Sarah Joplin

Cooking is not only a skill set but also a mindset. Slow food is actually a way of life. I used to be a workaholic with a mild eating disorder. Now I’m a cook-aholic comfortable in a country kitchen with a stocked pantry and meal planning a common train of thought. In the arc of that transition, I’ve learned not only how to cook, but how to plan menus, shop effectively, be my own prep cook and integrate cooking (mostly) from scratch into my day-to-day. What follows are some practical tips to cultivate the cooking state of mind. If I can befriend my kitchen and steadily turn out tasty meals, so can you!

Plan Ahead

Carve out some time to think about breakfast, lunch and dinner for the coming days or even week for you and those you feed. And for goodness sake, don’t forget snacks and dessert! Think up what meals you’ll prepare so that you aren’t caught at the last minute without a meal or get overwhelmed in the preparation process.

Planning ahead allows for eating fresh ingredients instead of resorting to packaged or frozen food. Make a shopping list from your menu planning so that you don’t find yourself running out of items you might use up or lacking special ingredients not in your pantry. Before you go shopping, check your staples and replenish where you are running low. It’s a big disappointment to embark on a recipe only to find that you are out of flour or sugar!

Seek Inspiration, Be Creative, and Have Fun

Photo by Sarah Joplin

Having a garden is a great way to get inspired by food. A container or kitchen garden or full-fledged vegetable garden can provide ingredients that prompt specific recipes. Or see what is in season at your local farmer’s market or grocery store.

Photo by Sarah Joplin

Build a cookbook library if you are a bookworm or log onto one of countless cooking or chef websites to peruse recipes.

Let yourself play in the kitchen. With kitchen accessories if you’re a gadget person, with dishes or platters if you enjoy artful presentation, with international foods if you’re adventurous or decorate your kitchen if you are artistic by nature.

Invest in a set of cooking tools and utensils that work well for you including a sharp paring knife, chef’s and/or utility knives, right weight and size of cutting board, glass or ceramic mixing bowls, pots and pans. Try assorted items and outfit yourself with tools that are suited to you and your cooking habits.

Make note of meals that you enjoy if you eat at a friend’s or a restaurant. Don’t hesitate to adapt recipes and add your own twists to suit your personal taste or diet.

Listen to your favorite music while you cook. I have a happy Buddha on the counter to cheer me on!

Photo by Sarah Joplin

Experiment; try new spices and dishes. Learn from any mishaps!

Motivate yourself with what makes cooking appealing to you so you don’t get stuck in a rut of drudgery with this ongoing task.

And as Julia Child said: “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.”

Prep-cooking & Standard Procedures

Being your own prep cook is a trick I’ve learned that helps save time in the long run, gives me a jump start on recipes and improves the taste of my meals as ingredients have a chance to settle a bit before I use them in my recipes.

It seems that I’m always roasting a chicken. Once I’ve taken the meat off the bird and have it on hand for multiple meals, I store and refrigerate the consommé before making bone broth out of the carcass. This is so much better than buying broth and makes full use of the animal.

Often, I’ll cook rice or quinoa ahead to use as a side dish or have available to add to soups, salads, and casseroles.

Another item to cook in advance is spinach. Place a bundle of fresh spinach in a frying pan with no oil or butter over low heat and cover. Wilt/cook it for about 5 minutes or until it is fully cooked, including stalks. Remove from heat, leaving covered and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. The water in the vegetable will steam it and keep it from sticking.

Carmelized onions add richness to dishes and can be made ahead. Rather than labor over the frying pan, I cheat and add a small pat of butter per chopped onion and roast in the oven in a corning ware dish for about an hour at 350 degrees, stirring once or twice to incorporate the browned edges. This secret ingredient is especially delicious when added to potato salad or dips.

Mushrooms that have a short shelf life can be cooked ahead and saved for several days, all the while their flavor deepening (see below for jar method). When sautéed with butter and a splash of Marsala or Sherry, they really sing.

Instead of plastic containers, use glass jars to store food. The rubber rib in canning jars lids will reseal for longer storage if you fill them when contents are hot. Besides, the clear glass makes it easier to see what you have on hand as we’ve all forgotten what leftovers we have and unintentionally let food rot from it being out of sight and out of mind. I prefer wide-mouth mason jars as they are easier to fill. Another advantage is that glass doesn’t leach toxins into your food. Refrigerate as you would plastic containers. This is a “mother-knows-best” suggestion that took me years to finally adopt and discover that she was right again: it works like a charm!

To transfer cooked dishes or items into the jars, I swear by a wide-mouth funnel. Splurge for the stainless steel canning type which will stand up to higher temperatures without leaching and maintain its shape after repeated dishwasher cleaning.

Generate a short list of your specialties that become your signature menu items. Mine include chicken cacciatore (extend by serving over egg noodles), chicken enchiladas (with quinoa instead of rice), chili (extend by serving over spaghetti), butternut squash soup and lasagna. These will give your meal planning a jump-start while getting your cooking juices flowing if not your mouth watering.


Photo by Sarah Joplin

One of the most important ingredients I’ve found for making food taste good is time. Cooking ahead and letting the flavors in food mature, blend and mellow makes most of my dishes exponentially better than pumping extra seasoning into a “rush job” meal. Each week, setting aside a few hours or half-day to prep-cook and then another half to full day to prepare multiple meals ahead allows their flavors to mature and avoids me scrambling to prepare each individual meal. It reduces stress and increases the joy of cooking!

Involve Those You Feed

Institute a night a week when everyone cooks together. Make a pizza or taco night, a stir-fry night. Enlist help with the prep-cooking that day of the week having someone make dough, someone chop, someone sauté. This can become an enjoyable ritual and take pressure off the full-time cook in the household. You can adapt this to dessert, too.

I used to be a bachelorette and pick up take-out at 9 o’clock p.m. on my way home from the office. Now, restaurants with take-out aren’t right around the corner and I feed others as well as myself. Whereas my refrigerator used to look like someone just installed it, I now have two, along with three freezers and a well-stocked pantry. Slow food is not a trend but a way of life now. Even if you work full-time, some of the aforementioned tips can improve your relationship to food and cooking while cultivating a slow food state of mind. Give them a try!

Sarah Joplin is a mid-Missouri farmer at Redbud Farm. Though she enjoys travel, speaks French and is involved in an art business in California, Sarah is equally happy homemaking and getting her hands in the dirt. Read all of her The Yellow Barn blog on GRIT.

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