Mood cooking - How to feed your belly and your feelings

Comfort food goes beyond indulgences and junk food, it starts in the kitchen and has the power to transport one to another time or place with great resonance. Cooking provides a focused, present moment that can be a welcome distraction from mental clutter.

For some, like myself, cooking is cathartic. It helps to relax and unwind after a long day or be an outlet for tension. Comfort food is more than the enjoyment of eating, but also the practice of cooking. Delicately frosting a cake, stirring a nostalgic soup, kneading dough, or sizzling meat on the grill. When cooking and emotions are at an all-time high such, as they are now, how can we tie them together therapeutically to feed our bellies and our feelings?

Comfort food goes beyond indulgences and junk food, it starts in the kitchen and has the power to transport one to another time or place with great resonance. Cooking provides a focused, present moment that can be a welcome distraction from mental clutter.

The buttery, jam-filled kolaches passed down from the women in my family transport me to my grandmother’s kitchen, covered in powdered sugar. Hand rolling my mother’s matzo balls feels as much like her hugs than when sitting down to eat them. Food triggers nostalgia every step of the way. 

If it's not a person or time, perhaps it's a place you miss. Cooking is a passport to anywhere you want to go, whether you have been or not. Not being able to travel right now, means cooking more international recipes. Food and cooking fuel imagination and adventure. When you can’t travel for food, make food to travel.

Navigating emotions means self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-soothing. How does your mood affect your appetite or the way you cook? I challenge you to ask the question "what do I feel like cooking?" when you experience different emotions. Physical kitchen acts can feed certain feelings - much like types of creative art mediums. So instead of eating our feelings, let's cook with them.

Here are some ideas and recipes for what I like to cook for different moods and why. 

Mood: Nostalgia

Make: Old family recipes

Apricot Kolaches

Pork Green Chile

Chicken à la King

Go back in time with a favorite family recipe - Grandma’s recipes usually do the trick. It’s easy to be comforted by the process of folding dough around jam or whatever it is you did in the kitchen as a child with loved ones. 

Mood: Sadness

Make: Soup

Matzo Ball Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Creamy Mushroom Soup

There’s something about stirring a big pot of soup that soothes a weary soul. Adding layers of flavor, simmering, blending, tasting as you go, and filling your home with the steamy fragrance of homemade soup is as comforting as finally digging into it. 

Mood: Pride

Make: Grilled or whole roasted meats, fish, or vegetables

Carne Asada

Whole Roasted Cauliflower

Whole Grilled Fish

Certain cooking methods are best for entertaining guests for special celebrations - grilling being one of them. The sizzle of spiced meat on the grill, a beer in one hand and tongs in the other create a moment of pride for taking care of others, but also for being the captain of the ship.

Mood: Anger

Make: Schnitzel, milanesa, and tough cuts of meat

Chicken Schnitzel

Pork Milanese

Pounded Flank Steak with Zucchini Salsa

Who needs a punching bag when you can pound a meat filet paper-thin. While it does require a bit of finesse, putting mallet to meat can be cathartic tension relief.

Mood: Elation

Make: Baked goods

Raspberry Lemon Curd Cupcakes

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Blueberry Zucchini Bread

Nothing says celebration quite like cake, and baking has proven to be one of the best outlets for a myriad of moods. Especially with baking, the act of giving is oftentimes more satisfying than consumption. Spreading love and happiness through sweet treats wins every time.

Mood: Loneliness

Make: Pasta

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce

Cacio e Pepe

Pesto Noodles

Sometimes you have to treat yourself to a big bowl of pasta. It is the perfect single-serving (or more, no judgment) self-indulgence for a night in for one. It is quick and simple to prepare and can be made exactly how and when you like it. Tons of parm on mine, always. 

Mood: Stress

Make: Homemade bread, pasta, or pizza

French Bread Rolls

Handmade Pasta

Pizza

Skip the electric mixer and knead dough by hand for the ultimate stress reliever. Hand mixing flour into water, squishing between fingers, and kneading and punching down dough is extremely satisfying.

Mood: Coziness

Make: Classic combos

Grilled Cheese Sandwich + Tomato Soup

Chili + Cornbread

Turkey Meatloaf + Mashed Potatoes

A cozy night starts in the kitchen with easy, familiar favorites. Make it fancy or make it classic, but make that grilled cheese just right. Perfecting the brown crust and melty center is crucial for this comforting combo.

Mood: Anxiety

Make: Hearty salads

Kale Salad with Berries and Goat Cheese

Big Salad With Grains

Roasted Sweet Potato Arugula Salad

Not only are leafy greens, grains, and berries natural mood boosters, but putting together a low-maintenance, healthy meal is an excellent way to feed yourself well when your mind is racing in a million directions. 

Mood: Restless

Make: Dumplings

Pork Gyoza 

Shrimp Dumplings

Vegetable Potstickers

Need a project but don’t want to commit too much time? Make dumplings! Go the extra mile with homemade dough and different fillings and dipping sauces. Or, start simple with store-bought wrappers and one filling. Experiment with different folding and cooking techniques, and if you make too many (not possible), they freeze beautifully. 

Does cooking help you unwind? We'd love to know what you like to cook to soothe different moods and emotions or if any of these recipes resonate with you. Drop us a line at culinary_expert@mealhero.com.























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