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ADVICE: Why cooking is good for you

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During tough times, baking and cooking can help to give you peace of mind

Experts: ‘Midnight Chicken’ Cookbook author Ella Risbridger (ER) and food writer Charlotte Druckman (CD)       

Q I have found solace in cooking several times in my life. During a hard patch, I baked cookies – all kinds of cookies and gave them away. Some of the cookies I have never made again which were rolled and iced and complicated. But in the complex instructions, I found mental release to focus on something concrete for a few hours versus my ever-present problems. I love making home-made soups, easy and simple recipes. Nothing is more soothing than preparing and eating a bowl of hot soup. In the arena of 20-minute meals and fast cooking, which has its place, the pleasure and enjoyment of cooking for longer periods is nice too. Isn’t that why we love our special holiday foods?

A I completely agree; my book Midnight Chicken is all about this. For me, it’s about the way you’ve got creative freedom with actual clear instructions to achieve something. After my partner died last year I made so many cookies I was literally giving away huge Tupperwares of cookies to anyone who came by. One of the best things anyone did for me was say, “I would have brought anyone else a meal, but I brought you ingredients.” Cooking is the best. It saved my life. I’m so glad you find something similar in it. – ER

Q I feel like I’m constantly reorganising my fridge. If I cook in advance, I need to make space for big pots and pans, then when they’re out I move everything back into that spot so I can see everything better. I’m constantly shifting and in the meantime losing sight of whatever got pushed to the back. Is there a better way?

A I am a huge fan of labelling everything with painter’s tape and a felt-tip pen – that way you know what is in each vessel. I think it’s every home cook’s problem in managing the clutter of the fridge, so you are definitely not alone. The other thing that I found useful is to always be downsizing, meaning move things into smaller vessels as you go through them, to make room in the fridge. While it seems obvious, often that doesn’t happen – maybe because no one wants to wash more dishes. – CD

Q I’m thinking I would prepare some dinners to freeze but I don’t understand the specific mechanics. For example, for lasagne, do you bake then freeze it? Or leave the baking for later? Do you defrost it before cooking? Either way, at what temperature and for how long? Where do I learn to do this?

A This is always going to depend on the dish itself. So, what works for lasagne (baked or not) will be different than something like a soup or stew, for example. You should check the recipe, which often provides you information on what cooking you can do in advance and how to do that. For lasagne, specifically, people disagree on whether to thaw it (baked or not) but the majority favour letting it thaw overnight in the fridge. When it comes to an unbaked lasagne, I recommend adding the top layer of cheese right before you put it in the oven, instead of freezing it with that top layer on it. – CD

Q I’m trying to eat healthier. Instead of lunch meat, I cooked a turkey breast to make sandwiches. I plan on freezing the cooked meat in single portions. Will this work? I plan on defrosting in the fridge overnight and then make a sandwich or add to salad. Any thoughts?

A I do this all the time. Place it in portion per sandwich, depending on what else is going in there. Wrap well and let the turkey defrost overnight in the fridge. – ER.

The Washington Post