February 2020 Cooking, the Ultimate Labor of Love
By Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center staff
Whether you’re cooking for your partner, family, or friends, preparing a meal for someone you love—or even better, cooking together—is the ultimate labor of love. Few things measure up to the thoughtfulness of a hand-crafted meal that requires time, imagination, planning, generosity, and even self-expression. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, consider the advantages of celebrating special occasions with home cooking—no crowds, no markups, and often less fat, salt and sugar.
Tips for getting kids involved in cooking:
- Highlight the steps that are kid-appropriate so they stay engaged.
- Have them provide menu input ahead of time for more buy-in.
- Have kid-friendly utensils ready.
- Lay a thin damp towel underneath a cutting board so it doesn’t slip.
- Find a surface in your kitchen that is safely accessible for kids so they aren’t standing on chairs or counters.
Tips for making your cooking experience less stressful and more special:
- Set the mood with printed invitations or menus, a favorite soundtrack, or fun decorations.
- Kick things off with appetizers or a festive cocktail.
- Start with a clean kitchen and measured out ingredients to cut down on clutter.
- If you’re preparing multiple recipes, make a production schedule that outlines order of operation so you have a strategy for ensuring dishes are ready at the same time. You can also add in who is in charge of each recipe or step.
- If date night just turned into a dinner party, can any dishes be made ahead? Wash and chop items the day before to simplify day-of cooking.
What meals are suitable for a special night?
So you’ve decided to forgo dinner reservations, but now you’re worried about making a meal “special enough.” Don’t fret, all you need is quality time and tasty ingredients. Here’s a little inspiration!
Chocolate lovers 4-course meal. Chocolate can easily be infused into savory dishes like chocolate chicken mole, white chocolate eggplant caponata (see our recipe of the month!), cacao nib balsamic strawberry spinach salad. Cap off the evening with a decadent chocolate dessert.
Sheet pan dinner. Sheet pan meals are a fast, low-mess way to make a fancy and delicious steak house-quality dinner (with leftovers!). With a sheet pan meal, you can cook your protein and sides all on one pan. A meat thermometer can help you cook the meat to a safe internal temperature. Get creative with any combination of protein, starch, and vegetables. Think rib-eye with caramelized onions, roasted rosemary potatoes and garlicky asparagus. Try lemon caper halibut with roasted parmesan cauliflower and garlic bread.
Family-style pasta. The possibilities are endless. Go for shrimp alla vodka, spaghetti carbonara or bolognese, clam linguine with wine sauce and capers, mushroom ravioli, eggplant parmesan over angel hair, or lobster capellini. Feeling adventurous? Try making pasta from scratch!
Heart-shaped pizza. What you’ll need: A heart-shaped pan, pre-made or homemade pizza dough, sauce of choice (red sauce, white sauce, pesto, bbq sauce, hot sauce), cheese, and toppings. Put toppings in separate bowls so everyone can be involved in making their own pizzas.
Go heart healthy. Celebrate Heart Health month by showing your heart some love. Think beyond steamed broccoli and brown rice with a creative menu full of heart-healthy favorites: pistachio crusted salmon, olive oil-based ribollita (Tuscan bread soup), nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna, braised Brussels sprouts, peanut butter chocolate pie, dark chocolate covered strawberries, or maybe this is your time to cook with wine?
Vacation dreaming. Remember that favorite dish you had on your honeymoon, family trip or road trip? Do some research to see if you can track down a similar recipe and have fun re-creating your vacation at home. If you can’t find a close match for a recipe, consider using + signs in your Internet search between the ingredients you remember (example: pineapple + shrimp + coconut).
The next time you want to show someone you care—whether it’s a holiday, birthday or the end of a long week—offer cooking as the ultimate labor of love.
The KRNC staff serves CSU and the northern Colorado community. Learn more about our team by clicking here.