Thursday, March 16, 2006

Make Your Mise en Place Work for You

Too, too busy since returning home! One of these days I might catch up!

One of the nicest results of my visits to my sister's family is that her oldest daughter got interested in cooking, and has been emailing me with questions. I've been trying to explain the idea of mise en place to her, which is hard since I can't show her very easily and since I know she doesn't have a lot of the equipment she needs to do it well.

It's started me thinking about how much I push my kids to do something the way I do it instead of letting them figure out the way that works best for them. You'd think I'd know better since I'm the only lefty in my family and my mom tried to get me to do everything her way, but some habits are just hard to break I guess. Here are some of the things I do to make my cooking as easy and fun as possible.

- Since I'm lefthanded I set things up to work from right to left when I'm cutting up vegetables. Everything flows much better for me that way.

- When I'm getting ready to cook, first I get out all the ingredients to make sure I have enough of everything (okay, I almost always do this!).

- Then I start measuring things out. I don't have a lot of small containers, so when I need to add several spices to a dish at once, I measure them all into one container.

- I organize the dishes by my main work space (mixing bowl, sauce pan, or whatever) in the order I'll need to add them to it.

- If the dish requires some time to cook or sit at some point, I do my mise en place up to that point and then while it's cooking I use that time to finish setting everything else up and starting on cleaning. (For me this means fewer mistakes, since everything isn't ready and waiting to be dumped in!)

- I put the containers of ingredients away immediately after measuring out what I need. That makes it very easy to figure out where I left off if when I get interrupted.

- When I'm putting more than one ingredient in one container, I try to place them in separate piles so that I can see what's in the container, which makes it easier to tell where I left off when I get interrupted.

- I also get out, organize, or set up the equipment that I need for an entire recipe before I start cooking.

Don't be afraid to try different things that you see or read about other people doing. It might work better for you, it might not, but you won't know unless you try. If you have a small kitchen you might not have room to do all I do. Be flexible and creative, and you'll find a way that works for you!

Hi Kitchenqueen! I see you've been very busy since you got back, and I love the new look! I'm very impressed with your mis en place - I try to do this, and I know all the best chefs do for sure, but I usually end up getting to excited and ahead of myself and don't have one of the ingredients half way through, forget something (recently, sour cream in a very pricey chocolate cake), or don't do it quite right! Ah, something to aspire to! That's great that your sister's daughter got interested in cooking!
Michelle, it's good to hear from you. I hope you're doing okay. It was hard for me to get into the habit of getting everything set up, but wasting lots of ingredients (especially when expensive ones are involved) made it worth the extra work for me. And the times that I skip preps always seem to be the times that something's missing, so it's a painful reminder!
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