I added this to the little cooking manual I’m making for my son. He has an engineer mindset, so I figure that explaining the principles behind some stuff is a good idea.
How to cook so you won’t drive yourself crazy in the process
It’s a good idea to combine complex recipes with easy ones. Don’t make every dish in a meal time-consuming, or you’ll just drive yourself nuts.
Mise en Place
This is a French phrase that means “putting everything in its place”. The way to cook so that you don’t drive yourself to distraction involves setting up everything, as well as having a system of putting things away and cleaning as you go. If you’ve ever watched a professional cook, you’ll notice that s/he doesn’t approach cooking by just randomly doing things. S/he knows in what order he needs to cook to make sure that every dish is finished at the same time.
The Mise en Place Process
- Check your recipes for the meal
- Preheat the oven (if necessary)
- Make sure you have the necessary ingredients.
- Lay out any equipment you need to prepare it.
- Lay out the ingredients you need for the meal.
- As you finish with a dish or tool, either put it in the dishwasher, put it away, or wash and put it in the drying rack if it’s a hand-wash tool like a knife or pots.
This is when you decide in what order you’ll prepare dishes. For instance, if you make a stir fry and you can cut very quickly, you might start the rice before you start cutting up the veggies and meat for the meal. Otherwise, you’ll start your prep work, take a break from it when you think you’ll be about 20 minutes away from finishing cooking, and go ahead and make the rice, so that it will be finished at the same time as the rest of the meal. This step is a thinking step.
Obviously this isn’t always necessary. Not every meal uses the oven.
Sometimes you can make substitutions in a dish. Sometimes you can’t. If you can’t, flip through the recipe book to see what we have in the kitchen that you can make. In theory, if we’ve made a menu plan for the week, we’ll have already shopped for all the ingredients for every dish we’re going to make.
Do you need knives, cutting boards or bowls to hold ingredients? Get them out now, and lay them on the counter.
This means everything – spices, meat, vegetables… Anything you need.
This is the “clean as you go” principle. You’ve probably never seen a kitchen scattered with every dish in the house dirty and waiting for you at the end of a meal. It’s nasty and overwhelming and will make you not want to cook. If you get in the habit of putting away and cleaning up behind yourself in the process of cooking, after-dinner cleanup is no real big deal. If you’re going to be cooking a big meal, I invite you to enjoy the wonders of a sink full of hot soapy water to make cleanup even quicker.
Also remember if you don’t clean up after yourself, you will die a horrible death.
Love and kisses,
 And this includes wiping down counters and the stove.