Chef Monica Nair: Prepping to Cook

Is the thought of what to have for dinner on everyone’s mind? Ah, the age-old question...Not to worry - you are not alone!

I have the pleasure of teaching cooking at an amateur cooking school right here in Vancouver - the city where you can easily order food at the touch of a button on your phone. Well guys, I hate to break it to you, but Vancouver ain’t cheap!

With the cost of food rising, if ordering out is how you roll, good luck saving up for that down payment to a condo! The question I most often get asked is "how can I make it easier to cook at home?" Here is a list of my top 5 answers to that question, because I know what a drag it can be to cook at home, particularly if you don’t get to cook in a well-equipped wolf range kitchen as I do.

1) Find a recipe that inspires you but is not so out of your cooking ability. I know this is an obvious one, but I cannot tell you the amount of people I meet that have tried to conquer the almighty soufflé before even having baked so much as a cookie. If you stay within what you are capable of, you will get the basics and your confidence will grow. I highly recommend the cookbook "Barefoot Contessa" written by the goddess herself: Ina Garten, and also Jamie Oliver, as their recipes will indicate not only the skill level, but the amount of time it will take you to accomplish the dish.

2) Make a proper grocery list. Again, slightly on the obvious side, but how many times have we “forgotten” that one key ingredient on our list? I also recommend a grocery store to shop at that carries most of the ingredients on your list, otherwise you feel defeated before you even begin buying things. If you are looking for a specific cut of meat or fish, I highly recommend prior to planning a menu, to call ahead to the grocery store and ensure that they have the product, so that they can put some aside for you. This will help with the frustration of having to run around like a chicken with its head cut off - pun intended!

3) Cooking supplies. Before you start to cook, pull out all the ingredients and equipment that you will need (i.e. the pans, the tongs, the vinegars, and the oven mitts). This is, in the industry, what we refer to as our "mise en place." When you have everything out, you can do any last-minute runs if you need to. You should also at this point, weigh out all the things that need to be weighed out. For example, if you are cooking a beef bourguignon, weigh out your beef stock, flour, and wine. Remember to save a glass for yourself!

4) Generally at this point, people start trying to multitask a little too much. I get it, you want this ordeal to end, so you want to chop and cook at the same time. I have never seen anyone, professional nor amateur, defeat this task successfully, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Get all your chopping and knife work out of the way. Chop your onions and chop your herbs. You can always set them aside in plastic bowls or containers that you can grab from Ming wholesale or The Gourmet Warehouse. This will also make you feel like a bad ass knife ninja! All jokes aside, it will help you improve your knife skills.

5) You are now ready to cook. You have everything weighed out and ready to go. Make sure you have your recipe handy and you read through it once more. If you need to make a shorthanded cliff note version, that helps too. Remember to cook on a medium heat, so that everything will not get burned. This is what I often see the amateur home cook do all too frequently. Cooking at a medium heat will take a few minutes longer, but you will have better results as you have more control over everything that you are cooking. Also, if you are doing a dish that has multiple things to cook, do them one at a time, so that you are able to put all your focus into what is in front of you.

Once you are in control, grab a glass of wine, play some good music, and enjoy! Cooking should be fun and it will help you save up for that mortgage!