– It always starts innocently – what should I cook for dinner for my friends? –
“Hey. Why don’t you come sit down for a second? Do you want a glass of wine? What can I do to help?”
That’s how my friend Michelle used to try to calm me down in the middle of particularly frantic episodes of cooking psychosis.
I’ve got a little secret to share: I used to be a super stress case in the kitchen. I’m type-A to begin with, and when confronted with cooking for guests where I felt like my reputation was on the line, my inner control freak joined forces with my inner perfectionist, and the two of them walked right up to my inner zen yogi and punched her in the face. Then they tattooed “you don’t know how to cook” across her forehead.
The result was me, doing a cross-impersonation of Regan, the little girl from the Exorcist, and the Tasmanian Devil from Loony Tunes.
I so, so wish that were an exaggeration.
It got even worse if things were taking longer than planned. Every minute that ticked past the time I told everyone we would eat felt like a tazer to my adrenal gland. “Oh! My! God! I am so late! The potatoes are done, but the chicken is taking forever! Did my oven die on me? Should I ask the lady next door if I can use hers? People are starting to dig through my cupboards for more snacks! One of the kids already fell asleep! Hey! DROP THAT SAUTÉED BRUSSELS SPROUT!”
< cue panic attack and concerned looks from my guests >
Part of the problem was that I set myself up for failure. When I came up with what to cook for dinner when cooking for friends, I always planned these unreal menus that would take even a team of cooks a few hours to prepare, and since I really pushed the fresh thing, I didn’t want to make anything ahead of time.
Looking back, I have to laugh at myself. What planet was I living on thinking I could roast a rack of lamb, cook three sides, a loaf of bread, and two desserts in a handful of hours? That’s crazy pants. No way.
I forgot the ONE cooking commandment that I try to live by more than any other: Enjoy thy home cooked meal. That includes the preparation.
As I get older, I naturally reprioritize what I allow to send me into a tizzy fit. Some things are unavoidably upsetting and legitimately warrant a strong response from my adrenal gland: family emergencies, natural disasters, catastrophic events, armed assailants jumping out at me in a dark alley.
Cooking dinner for a group of friends is not on this list.
It’s one thing to be focused and hard at work, but it’s entirely different to ruin yourself with stress and worry over dinner. And honey, I say this from firsthand experience. It’s not worth the drama.
It took me a while even after learning to cook, but I managed to wrangle my inner perfectionist and control freak when it comes to cooking. (Still working on it in other areas…) I came up with a few tips that made my life so much easier, whether I’m cooking for friends or just my little household. I thought I’d share them with you.
- Be reasonable about what to cook for dinner, especially when you’re under pressure. The more complicated your plan is, the more stressful it will be to execute. Extravagant dishes are wonderful, but you have to build up to them. Don’t suddenly decide to make Beef Wellington for a party of ten when the most difficult thing you’ve made to date is a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Test a recipe *at least* once before making it for others. There’s nothing worse than discovering in the middle of showtime that you have no idea how to peel tomatoes or butterfly a chicken.
- Let go of control. Enlist help with preparation – friends can chop veggies and wash dishes as you cook. They’re often more than willing to help, just to say thanks for your effort! And cooking together, with everyone as a group, is one of the most satisfying experiences in life.
- Once you know what to make for dinner, pre-preparation is a godsend. Chop vegetables and make important recipe elements the day before. Measure out cumbersome ingredients earlier in the day.
- For the love of all that is holy, make sure you have everything you need before you start cooking. Nothing sends cooking stress careening towards Chernobyl levels than a panicked run to the grocery store while you’ve got something congealing sadly on the stove. (And if you’re having a really crap day, the first store you visit will be out of whatever you need.)
- Make sure everything you need is defrosted ahead of time. Just saying. (And when thinking of ideas for dinner, be sure to peruse your freezer for things that have been hiding out and need to be eaten before the next ice age.)
- Bonus tip: Join the Ninja Cooking Community, where you can get support, ask questions, and make your kitchen life a lot easier by working within a community.
Now it’s your turn.
Have you ever turned into a total stress-case in the kitchen? Or have you watched someone else spiral out of control? What stresses you out the most? Have you found a way to deal with it? Reply and let me know!
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.