It starts with an organized work-space. Not necessarily a completely clean kitchen, but a cleared space to make a meal. It helps if there is at least a base for the main dish picked out as well. Once these two things are in place the fun part can start.
There will be a primary flavor that inspires the meal. Maybe sweet, maybe tart. It could be more specific than that even. I’ve had it be lime or garlic for instance. Ideally the flavor will be something easy to incorporate to the main dish. For instance, having sweet as an inspiration for fish is something I haven’t dealt with before. Of course as I write this I think of maple and salmon and I need to focus back at this moment instead.
This inspiration can come from anywhere. Often it’s a matter of thinking about what has worked with the main dish base in the past, what is in the house, and what you have time to pull off. It can also be inspired by the time of year, weather, or just about anything else. The combination of flavor and time will drive the cooking method.
Of course one of the best ways to infuse a flavor in meat is a marinade. This takes time though. Often in the preparation I do the time for a marinade is just not an option. Luckily it’s not required for a good meal with a solid flavor palate. Using some type of sauce while pan coking works well. Also baking will infuse some level of flavor in most food. As a final measure a sauce smothered over cooked food or for dipping will also provide flavor.
Once a base food item, flavor, and cooking method are decided the magic happens. Cutting, pounding, measuring, stirring. One of the most important parts is smelling though. Taste and smell are very closely linked.
Spices to add to the base flavor are a single cupboard away. Oregano and basil for that Italian feel, cinnamon and cloves for that late fall warmth. The combinations are just begging to be used. If you don’t know them use your nose. Try mixing a little in a spoon or measuring cup and smell them. Maybe mix them and give a taste. Try a search on Google for your main flavor.
The hard part here is to remember your side dishes. Get the veggies on in a moment of downtime on the main dish. Baked potatoes needed to be started before anything else. The goal is for everything to be done around the same time.
Try to clean dishes as you go. This is more difficult if you didn’t start with a clean kitchen, and more important.
I’m a little lazy and like to serve either from the cookware or with an eye on storing leftovers. The fewer dishes that get dirty the fewer that need to be cleaned up after.
At the end of prep and cooking it’s dinner time. Relax and enjoy. Hopefully people like what you’ve made. It’s dinner time.