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Couple Cooking: An alternative date night!
For some of you the whole idea of couple cooking, cooking a meal with your lover, sounds horribly stressful. So let me put it a different way: when was the last time you and your partner made something together? Some of you just giggled, pull yourselves together (OK I sort of smirked too). But seriously, when was the last time you and your lover did something together that made something new or useful? Hell, given most of our lives, when was the last time you did anything together other than lay exhausted in bed staring at your phones? We have weeks these days where we kiss each other goodbye and 7am and aren’t together again until we fall into bed around 10pm.
A Modern Solution to a Modern Problem
That’s lots of meals eaten alone, or at least separately. That’s a lot of hours with our attention totally focused on a whole host of things
that aren’t us. So my spouse and I have gotten pretty serious about not just having dinner together, but cooking dinner together. Eating together is important, but all too often that means eating as fast as possible at some noisy restaurant where conversation isn’t exactly easy. When conversation does happen it’s interrupted by a chirpy server asking if everything is OK. Cooking, however, can’t really be rushed. If you are making lasagna that’s going to take a certain amount of time and you have to stay in pretty much the same room to make it.
It’s also hard to stare at your phone while chopping onions or stirring a rue. And all that chopping and stirring time gives us time for each other. But it hasn’t always been easy. There were some rocky starts and more than a few frustrating moments. We would like to share what we’ve learned with you all, so you too can try this alternative sort of date night, couple cooking.
The goal is to spend time together, and hopefully to have some fun while you do it. It’s a simple thing but you’d be surprised how easily that gets sidetracked. Especially if there is a difference in skill levels, or kitchen comfort, in your relationship. If you nag your wife constantly because she is chopping the onions wrong she’s likely to not want to chop them anymore (but she might want to chop you). Keep the goal in mind always, you are here to enjoy one another.
When the sauce burns (it will) you can yell at one another or you can laugh about it while opening all the windows and turning off that damn fire alarm. If you’ve got kids of an age to help with cooking your goal might be for the whole family to get together and cook. But I’m going to suggest you find a way for the kids to occupy themselves so you can enjoy your time “alone.” (Or as alone as parents ever get.) Do what works for your family, the key is to remember why you are doing this in the first place (to be together) and then roll with what works.
Other bonuses of couple cooking?
- Recipes go faster
- You become better communicators (seriously, teamwork is a big deal)
- Your cooking skills improve
- Neither of you are likely to feel like you always cook and your partner never cooks.
- You might surprise each other and discover new talents.
So you want more time together and you need to eat, you might also want to save money on going out. We’ve got it so drilled into our psyche that cooking is something people with some sort of natural skill do by themselves and yell at anyone who tries to interfere that most couples never even consider cooking together. Start by evaluating where you are. Are you both experienced cooks? Is one of you super comfortable in the kitchen and the other can’t boil water? Or maybe neither of you knows the difference between fry and sauté.
Anyone can learn to cook. Like anything it requires practice, and there is a whole language of new words to learn. But the good news is, you get the eat your practice and even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly it’s likely to still be pretty yummy. These days the resources for learning to cook are so many and so varied that you will find something that works for you.
Start simple. If neither of you has ever cooked anything before I wouldn’t suggest you start with a recipe off one of those super fancy magazine websites that calls has 20 ingredients and 40 different steps. In fact if you are both novice cooks I highly suggest a service like Plated, I’ve reviewed it here. It takes care of a number of the first issues to think about, the planning, the chopping, even part of the prep. And the recipe is laid out in simple to understand steps with photos. Doesn’t get easier. Plated really doesn’t assume you have much experience at all in the kitchen, making it an ideal way to learn how to cook delicious meals and have all the dishes finish at the same time (probably the single hardest cooking skill to master.)
What is more likely is that one of you knows a bit about cooking and the other, doesn’t. When we got married my husband didn’t cook, at
all. He wasn’t even comfortable really being in the kitchen. But I’m a social cook, so we compromised. He would keep me company while I cooked, keeping my wine glass full and talking about whatever as I made us dinner. As was likely to happen though I needed more hands than I had. So one day I asked him to stir a pot of something, just stir. And he was willing to be brave and stir. Soon he was stirring whatever` I needed. Then he was cutting up big pieces of vegetables. He didn’t do it the way I would have, but he did it. I learned to gently give feedback, if they needed to be a different size for example. But I also had to learn to let go of the need to have him do things my way.
We’ve been married six years and my husband has become a fabulous cook. He’s more adventuresome than I am in many ways. But it didn’t happen overnight. We had a number of fights early on about food and cooking and his discomfort with helping me in the kitchen. It took years for him to become comfortable reading recipes (seriously, they are written in another language and in a seriously strange format), planning meals, or even taking over prep.
I had to be patient, I started cooking with my mother in elementary school. I have over thirty years of experience in the kitchen (and now I feel old). My husband started at zero, as an adult. But patience pays off, his patience with himself and his own learning curve, and mine with him. Six years into marriage I can say he has perfected the beef fajita, better than our favorite restaurant in Austin, Texas. He makes brussell sprouts I will actually eat, a feat no one else has ever managed. He has far more patience than me when it comes to cooking, ironically.
There’s nothing worse than starting a recipe, already hungry and tired from work, and realizing you are missing key ingredients. Ask my husband, who has actually made two grocery store runs in one night because of my scattered brain. Don’t do it. Plan your meals ahead of time, shop, be sure that everything you need is in the house before you start. Read through the recipe ahead of time, know if it calls for a food processor, in case you don’t own one. Know how complicated it is, what steps there are, or if there are any cooking techniques listed that you don’t understand. Planning ahead will let you do your research and try something new with confidence and a better chance at success.
Have a Backup Plan
There’s a lot less pressure if you’ve got a backup plan in case things go wrong. A backup plan can be as simple as a frozen pizza if everything goes utterly upside down. It could be hot dogs in the fridge and chips in the cupboard and the willingness to laugh your way through a kid favorite picnic. Or you might open all the windows and let the house air out while you head to the local pub. No matter what your backup plan, having it will take the pressure off. Even the most experienced of chefs have things go wrong sometimes, we’ve opened a package of meat and discovered it had gone off, badly. Once we got done making gagging noises and running it outside as fast as possible we went out to eat and we didn’t feel at all bad about it.
Work Like a Team
Teams work together to accomplish a goal. The best teams don’t have stars, they have players with various different abilities all utilizing their personal strengths to get the team ahead. Cooking as a team means allowing one another to use your strengths, and supporting each others weaknesses. Watch a good third baseman in baseball and you’ll see him trot up to the mound when the pitcher seems to have lost his mojo. He’ll whisper a few words of encouragement or advice in his ear, pat him on the shoulder and trot back to his base. Support your partner as they learn a new skill, offer a couple words of help or advice and let them get on with doing their part. Help each other out, cover for one another, and pay attention. It’s all stuff that will make the rest of your lives together better too.
Snapping orders at one another isn’t communicating. And remember, nobody reads minds. Plan out who is doing what ahead of time, ask questions, offer help. Don’t assume that you partner know you need him to open the oven door because your hands are full of cookie sheets, say something. Practice offering constructive advice and feedback without being condescending or bossy. Practice listening to advice without taking offense. Learn when to say “I need to figure this out myself.” And when to ask “do you want help?”
Admit when you don’t know something and you’ll both wind up learning a lot, about each other, and about the world of food. “The recipe says temper, what the hell is temper?” And he scratches his head and says “I don’t know, let’s ask Google” (like you do.) (FYI: tempering is when you add small amounts of a hot substance to a cold substance to bring it slowly up to temperature gradually. Like eggs that if added to a hot mixture would scramble before your eyes.)
Finally, laugh. You are going to screw up, you’re going to drop the spaghetti and burn the steak and something is going to make a noise worthy of an 8 year old boy. If your choices are to laugh or the cry you are far better off choosing laughter. Laugh when you find yourself covered in flour, or when you get chocolate all over your faces licking the icing beaters. Laughter will remind you that what you are doing together is play, as much as it is the serious business of getting food in your bellies. Laughter releases tension, reduces stress, and has serious health benefits. Learn to laugh together, not at one another and you’ll find life becoming far more joyful.
Places to Start
Below are a few recipes that my partner and I seriously enjoy making together. They are simple and pretty easy to make and don’t require weird ingredients. You’ll notice that two of them are from the same recipe blogger. Skinny Taste is our #1 cookbook, well over half the recipes that we make on a regular basis come straight from her blog. We’ve yet to find a recipe of hers that wasn’t tasty and most are also simple and easy to make.
Suggested first recipes:
- One Pot Chicken Fajita Pasta – Skinny Taste
- Oven Fried Breaded Pork Chops – Skinny Taste
- Bacon Sang Choi Bau (because everything is better with bacon!) – Stone Soup
- Cheddar Biscuit Caserole – 12 Tomatoes