Learning to Cook · Miss Mary

Learning to Cook, Food Prep or “Mise en Place”

IMG_1340Success in the kitchen is an orchestration.  It requires imagination, preparation, a good set of recipes, timing and a tough skin for that one lone, “Guess what’s for dinner friends” dish you’re making tonight.  THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT OF THIS ORCHESTRA IS THE PREPARATION.  It is vital to success.

The French call prepping “Mise En Place”.  (Pronounced: “Meese in plas”) It is a culinary phrase that means “everything in it’s place”, or “set up” for success.   So all those wonderful shows on Food Network, they have Prep Chefs that Mise en Place all over the damn kitchen.  Yep they do.  Even the Today Show.  They have a brigade of food prep specialists who will someday become executive chefs.

For the first-time cook, no preparation can lead to frustration or a ruined meal.  You learn as you go which techniques work for you.  Cooking takes practice.  If you want an inspirational movie to watch regarding cooking you have to watch Julie & Julia.  I laughed all the way through it, then I looked up Boeuf Bourguignon.  Still have not attempted it.  BTW, my mother made it.  It was awesome.

What “Mise en Place” means to us is this:

  • You’ve read the recipe thoroughly and you understand its complexities. If you do not, you need to ask or choose a recipe that fits your level of cooking.  Attempting a Julia Child Boeuf Bourguignon as your first meal is downright insanity.
  • You have all of your ingredients. (vegetables, meats, oils, vinegars, spices, herbs, wine)  Once you’ve read the recipe you need to take inventory of what you have in the kitchen.  Do I have oregano, a vital ingredient for an Italian red gravy. You can’t use Marjorum as your back up, it’ll taste like a red Irish hot mess.
  • You’ve prepared your ingredients, washed and cut them up appropriately.  Let’s say you’re on the start of making a soup that requires carrots, onions, and celery to saute in butter.  If you’ve started your butter and now you’re cutting your veggies, something is going to burn.  Wash, prep your vegetables, measure your spices and place them in prep bowls, open the stock can, and make sure the chicken is cleaned before you start.
  • You have the correct pans to prepare the food.  Let’s go to the soup recipe again.  It requires 8 cups of liquid.  All of the ingredients will NOT fit into a 2 quart pan.  Right pan/pot for the amount you’re making.
  • You have the correct tools for the cooking of the food – ladle, spatula, measuring cups, wooden spoons, spoon rest, and hot pads.  Baking especially requires the correct measure, you have dry measures and you have liquid measures.  They ARE NOT the same.
  • You have preheated your oven if needed.  Waiting for your oven to heat up could take a good 10 to 15 minutes.  Fire up that monster before you start your prep work.

2016 Meal prepSo what can help us get “prepped”?  Over the years I have found that prep bowls are extremely helpful.  They don’t always have to be bowls.  Pyrex makes a pie plate that I use to put all the veggies for a dish into, or meat as it marinates, or stages of dredging when making “Chicken Piccatta”.

I like a prep bowl that have ridges on the side when putting all the spices together.  I prefer ceramic or a heavy glass type such as Targets Camden dip bowl or William Sonomas set of 8 glass prep bowls in two sizes.  When creating marinades or salad dressing I use the Corelle soup bowl 11oz.  IKEA has lots of little bowls also.  You just have to enter into the store at your own risk.  That place is crazy busy.

Organization is your friend in the kitchen.  I encourage you to find a how-to book in cooking or baking.  I’m a lover of cookbooks.  I enjoy Ree Drummond’s books.  I’ve been giving them to my daughter.  They have LOTS of photos in the process of making the food.

Next time I’ll talk about a well stocked pantry.

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