I hope you enjoy Starting from Scratch, my second book, published each week online, one chapter at a time. Before the book’s final publication, I hope to sprinkle readers’ thoughts, opinions and advice throughout. After all, you each have helpful systems and solutions in the kitchen worth sharing. In addition, for each section, I’m food bloggers and culinary experts – for this excerpt, it’s Alex and Sonja Overhiser, authors of A Couple Cooks.

Alex and Sonja

Some people are better at multi-tasking than others. With all the Facebooking and texting and twittering going on these days, individuals of all shapes, sizes and ages are being challenged to multi-task their way through the day. Given my addiction to variety, I actually prefer many tasks to only one. My husband Rob, on the other hand, will be the first to admit this is a skill he was born without. It’s just how his brain is wired. But remember:

Whether your sous chef is your spouse, a friend, a child or significant other, not everyone can multi-task in the kitchen!

Whenever you and/or someone else is trying to prepare a meal, it helps to remove distractions which might result in overcooking, over-salting and underachieving what could have been a perfectly delightful dish. Here are some hints on how to streamline cooking for better results – and much less stress.

Turn off the TV. Whether it’s Peyton Manning throwing another touchdown pass, Chris Matthews throwing another punch or Keith Olberman throwing a punch line, it’s simply too difficult to tune in TV and focus on the tasks at hand – all at the same time. If the TV wins out, the chicken stir fry will suffer the consequences.

Stay out of the kitchen (and enter only if asked). This is the sin of which I find myself guilty on numerous occasions. I walk in the kitchen to see if I can help, only to find a million things I think Rob is doing wrong. If I see the oven is not pre-heating or a sauce is about to boil over a pan, I can’t help but intervene.

As Sonja suggests: “Sometimes the kitchen is not the best place for constructive criticism of a spouse, especially when trying to execute a recipe! As a couple who cooks together, we recommend making a game plan for who is responsible for each task, and then trying not to “meddle” in the other person’s task unless specifically asked for help!”

Bring order to the cupboard and fridge. Though I often fail miserably in execution, I try to establish some sort of system for organizing the kitchen, its food and appliances. Organizing cabinets, cupboards, refrigerators and freezers helps bring order to the cooking process itself. Not only will order in the kitchen keep the sous chef on task, but it will keep yours truly out of the kitchen, unless asked, of course. (Remember rule #3?)

Take care of the kids. I love to involve my child in the cooking process, at least when he’s in a good mood and not spilling things everywhere. But when Rob tries to entertain our little one and cook at the same time, he gets more stressed out than normal. Though his intentions are good, Luke only diverts his attention from the task at hand, making it seem monumental to accomplish. If I sweep Luke out the kitchen to play a few games, throw the football or get started on homework, a better cooking experience and meal are had by all.

Take the puppy for a run. I love my dogs dearly, but I get very frustrated when I spend more time picking up shoes and other random objects than I do stirring, measuring and chopping. (I’ve lost any hopes of being a good dog trainer). By exercising dogs earlier in the day, they’ll be more apt to sleep through meal-time rather than wreak havoc upon it.

Take advantage of one another’s strengths: Sonja and Alex have learned a valuable lesson well worth sharing: “When collaborating in the kitchen, we encounter problems when I try to do 3 or 4 tasks at one time, but Alex wants to finish one task before he starts the next. It’s important to take advantage of each other’s strengths when working together as a team. We’ve found that sometimes it’s easier for me to orchestrate the overall assembly of a recipe and delegate tasks where Alex can showcase his knife skills (since I’m horribly slow!).

Simplifying things for yourself and others who partake in kitchen duties is one way of making life easier for whomever’s cooking the meal – or helping. Removing distractions can improve the culinary outcomes by that certain someone who can only face one task at a time.

About Alex and Sonja

Alex and Sonja Overhiser are on a journey to eat better and master the art of cooking. They share while they learn via their blog, A Couple Cooks.

Their cooking journey began when they bought a house and needed something to feed dinner guests. They immersed themselves by perusing DVDs from Julia Child to Alton Brown, hundreds of library-loaned cookbooks, and numerous food blogs. In addition, they were inspired by Michael Pollan’s mantra “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants” and Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters.

Cutting out almost all processed and prepackaged food from grocery trips, Alex and Sonja prefer to make most things from scratch. They believe that everyone can cook, and that preparing natural, whole foods can be accessible and fun!

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