Sometimes, the only thing standing between us and a home-cooked meal is the thought of entering our kitchen. It can be messy, dirty, dark, and an uninviting area of the house. But you don’t need a $10,000 renovation to turn your kitchen from drab to fab – you just need a little elbow grease. These tips can help you make your kitchen an inviting space to cook and, more importantly, share meals and conversation with your loved ones.
Text by Annika Bastian
Clear Off Your Counters
If your kitchen makes you feel overwhelmed as you enter it, of course you eon’t want to spend time there. It might be time to clean off your countertops Marie Kondo-style. Free up room in cabinets and pantries so that when you enter your cooking space it feels ready for you to use it. Try using organizers for lids, cutting boards, and pots and pans. You can also keep soda cans neatly organized and out of the way. And as an added bonus, organization can help you save money, too! When you can clearly see what you have before you head to the store, you’re less likely to buy products you don’t need.
Houseplants Make It Homey
With your counters empty of intimidating clutter, reclaim the space with things that make you happy. Snake plants are hardy house plants that will uplift the room with their long leaves. Plus, they provide a splash of life and color to any muted space.
Warm Up Your Color Palette, Warm Up Your Palete
Kitchens come in neutral colors ranging from white to grey to beige. While we love the variety, sometimes you need a little color in your life. Try brightly colored sheer curtains over any windows, and coordinate them with bright dish towels and placemats. As an added bonus, bright colors can stimulate your appetite as well as your eyes. Red and yellow, for example, both activate your appetite.
If your kitchen is cursed with bad lighting, it can feel more like a cave than a workspace. Consider upgrading your light bulbs. If you have warm lighting, switch to cool lighting, and vice versa. Floor lamps in corners can help brighten spaces, as will these LED undercabinet lights. They’re battery powered, remote controlled, and your new best friend.
I eat a lot of deviled eggs during the spring — especially around Easter. This all started with a few cracked eggs that just didn’t look right after I dyed them. The colors missed the thin white lines, and my eggs looked like they had stretch marks. Don’t get me wrong: stretch marks are a beautiful part of the human body. But on an Easter egg? It’s just wrong. Thankfully, it’s easy to turn Easter eggs to deviled eggs, which are delicious!
Text by Sarah Vice
Once my friends and I have divvied up the eggs to dye, we set up the dipping cups. We buy generic egg-dying kits with those little tablets that dissolve in vinegar. Sometimes, the water’s a different color than the tablet, once they dissolve.
The most challenging part of making deviled eggs? Removing the shell. Learning how to use cracked Easter eggs is a life-saving lifehack. Their shells are already broken. If I’m honest, when I’m getting the dye ready, sometimes I hope that more eggs will be broken than not. I wouldn’t admit this to my friends, but when we dye eggs together, I’m not super careful when removing them from the pot. Yes, that’s partly because I’m impatient. But it’s also partly because I want some to be cracked.
I don’t even attempt to put the yolk mix back into the boiled whites when I’m done. I never liked that part to begin with, so when I make my own, it’s just the yoke. By Easter Sunday, I’ve usually consumed more eggs than I’ve dyed. It’s all worth it, though. Besides, plastic eggs are better for decoration anyways. They don’t spoil when left out. Real eggs are meant to be cherished and eaten.
When you’re in need of comfort, there’s nothing better than delicious Southern soul food. And sometimes we need comfort from life-altering events like natural disasters. For my town, April 27, 2011 was one of those times.
Text by Sarah Vice
Most Alabamians know by now what happened on that date. A large EF4 tornado ripped through half of Alabama. But what you may not know is how the communities pulled together directly after the storm. A neighborhood beside my high school was flattened, but thankfully no lives were lost there. In the days after the tragedy, I witnessed how people show love through food, and how a meal can heal in the most necessary of ways.
The National Guard had brought in aluminum bags of prepared foods. Residents also donated all the canned goods they could offer. These weren’t exactly the kinds of comfort foods that we look forward to, but no one was complaining.
Volunteer Servers and Chefs
Within a few days, however, the local restaurants that remained unaffected were able to pull together enough volunteer employees to reopen. But they weren’t just reopening for business. They were reopening to provide meals to those who needed them the most.
These restaurant owners were members of this town. They lived with the people affected by the tornado and were set on doing as much as they could to help. The employees and owners worked hard making hamburgers, biscuits, BBQ sandwiches, key lime pies, tacos, and so much more. They piled the food into trucks to drive to a community center. There, they welcomed all to a warm, free meal.
People were visibly in tears. They ate hungrily. For many, it was the first full, hot meal they’d had in almost a week. But the restaurants didn’t stop at serving these delicious dishes. They also opened up fundraisers in unaffected nearby towns in hopes of bringing more supplies to the victims.
Neighbors who still had a home joined in. They baked several meals a day and brought the food to the community center. For weeks to come, their food, kindness, and generosity nourished my small town. It’s in these moments that we grow to appreciate the little things like comfort foods and the bigger things, like our communities, that become our support systems.
In my time at college I’ve gotten comfortable with cooking. But, that’s not the case for everyone — especially my roommates.
Text by Annika Bastian
My first roommate tried to pan fry two frozen chicken breasts. My next roomie set off the fire alarm with a breakfast quesadilla. For those of you who can’t cook, here are some ways to make your roommates think you can. And for those of you who are living with a roommate who can’t cook, here’s some tips to keep you apartment’s safety deposit.
Breakfast For Dinner
I love breakfast for dinner. My roommate can make practice pancakes until she has at least a few light, fluffy beauties. She cooks bacon and sausage in the microwave. And she can even make a mean scrambled egg (on low heat). It’s a comfort food for both of us that’s very beginner-cook friendly. Add a sprig of parsley for garnish and you’ve got a gourmet meal.
Soup and Sandwiches
My roommate gets a text from her mother every time soup goes on sale at Publix. Then she rushes to the store and loads up her cart so we always have a quick dinner option. She heats soup on the stove, but soup can also heat in the microwave. Just make sure it’s in a bowl and not its metal can! We’re also big fans of Market Table soups, made with fresh, local ingredients. Grilled cheese sandwiches are tasty stovetop options, and for fledgling chefs unsure of the stove, ham and cheese sandwiches are equally delicious.
My roommate excels at Crock Pot dinners. One of our favorites is loaded BBQ Baked Potatoes. She combines BBQ sauce and thawed ground turkey in our Crock Pot. Then, she can leave it on low until she needs to bake the potatoes, which she can do in the microwave.
Another go-to recipe for her is meatballs and gravy. She makes an easy base sauce with cream of mushroom soup, milk, and a spoonful of sour cream. After she adds premade frozen meatballs, it can cook until it’s time to serve. Additionally, the possible seasonings on this dish are very forgiving. She gives this dish a shake of garlic, onion, and pepper.
We love using Crock Pot liners to cut down on the mess and make cleaning up easier.
The great Julia Child once said, “The dinner hour is a sacred, happy time when everyone should be together and relaxed.” You might be thinking that it’s easy for a professional chef to find cooking relaxing, especially as you smell something burning and see a pot overflowing. What’s “happy” and “sacred” about that? However, there are ways to avoid dinner disasters to keep the peace between your meal time and your sanity.
Text by Sarah Vice
Serve Simple Dishes
You don’t have to make an extravagant meal to get someone’s attention. Try focusing on a family recipe that you’ve loved since you can remember — or borrow one from this site. If you want to make something simple that looks like it requires more effort, make a pizza from scratch. By “scratch,” I don’t mean you have to let the yeast rise and cure your own mozzarella. Make it from sort-of scratch. Buy a pizza crust, tomato sauce, and your toppings of choice from your local grocer. This helps you avoid frozen pizza, which sometimes contain preservatives. Plus, by not ordering pizza, you save some major pennies. Not a pizza fan? Sounds fake, but okay. Sometimes a simple bowl of spaghetti can go a long way if you’re pairing it with the right garlic bread and salad.
Try taking preemptive measures. Understand how long a meal takes to prepare and cook before you agree on when and what to eat. Uncover your strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen and use them to your advantage. Don’t underestimate your ability to be crafty. Measuring isn’t your natural talent? Send any extra portions home as a parting gift with your guests. You discover you’re exceptional at chopping? Great, you can cook chicken noodle soup with fresh vegetables or make scalloped potatoes. Preparing your meal plan ahead of time is also useful in making sure you have all the ingredients required to cook your dish of choice.
Set the Table
When hosting a party or even having family meals, sitting around a table can help create stronger bonds. Make an effort to set the table before cooking. You can even get your kids — or guests! — to help. It gives you more time to talk about your kids’ days — or to keep cooking if guests arrive early. You also won’t have to stress over not having things in order. Offer to fill their glasses or have a selection of drinks readily available to them.
Practice isn’t honing your chef skills to your liking? There is no shame in ordering take-out, catering, or purchasing a pre-made meal. Take-out can be an option if you’re running late to your own dinner and don’t have time to preheat the oven much less put a meal in. But if you’re looking for a more nutritional option that carries the comfort of a home-cooked meal, check out pre-made dinners. Market Table also offers pre-prepared lunches and catering services to fit all your needs.