Back to Basics: Preparation

I was watching a cooking show the other day and was annoyed. Why you ask? Because they were doing a segment on the basics of cooking and besides making you feel that your kitchen wasn’t complete without every gadget imaginable, their suggestions for menu prep were laughable.

Their suggestion? Pre-measure everything into little glass bowls (like custard cups), set the little bowls out all over your counter, in the order you’ll use them. Then and only then should you start preparing your recipe. Really?

Let’s set aside the fact that most of us don’t work in a kitchen with 92 yards of counter space on which to spread out all the little bowls with neatly measured teaspoons, tablespoons and 1/4 cups of ingredients. How many of us want to quadruple our clean-up time by washing a dozen little bowls? Best case scenario, you fill your entire dishwasher with the dishes from one recipe. Hey, at least you can run it while you prep your next recipe…oh wait, you can’t because you’re out of little bowls.

I hate the fact that instead of making cooking accessible and fun, they made it sound like you needed a chef’s kitchen in order to begin and made the entire process arduous.

I’m all for preparation. Reading through a recipe and setting all the ingredients out on the counter (just not pre-measured) makes sure that you won’t get halfway through your recipe and realize you don’t have cream of tartar or eggs. And if you get in the habit of putting away each ingredient after you’ve used it, there will be two benefits. One, if you’re interrupted by a screaming child or annoying door-to-door salesman, you won’t have to wonder if you added the 2 tsp of baking powder or not. And second, when  you’re done, you’ll find that your counter is pleasantly clean, with space to knead those biscuits or spoon out those cupcakes.

Honestly, having my ingredients out and putting them away as I go has saved many a recipe, because I’m a notorious multi-tasker with sometimes less than successful results. Many a sauce has been saved from extra cayenne or too much salt.

And as far as utensils go, I get along just fine with my shiny new whisk, my bamboo spatula, my silicone spatula, forks, spoons, a variety of knives and a couple of different sized graters.

Hope that helps you feel more confident in the kitchen. Cook on…

5 thoughts on “Back to Basics: Preparation

  1. mise en place, or setting up the little dishes, is a major difference between “chef” and “cook”. (I’m a cook by the way, not a chef. But I know a few of the dance steps.) It has two major advantages for the pro: consistency and timing.

    It allows a precise measure of each ingredient, fixable if there’s too much or too little, every single time. One of the hallmarks of a trained chef is that “this dish” is the same every single time. (True of every master craftsman, by the way. Yes, they CAN do inspiration, but there’s significant skill required for consistency.)

    It also ensures that everything is ready when and as you need it. So for example the sauce doesn’t cook a little too long (and maybe burn) while you’re quickly mincing some garlic.

    For the absolute beginner it is a convenient tool for exactly the reasons the chef uses it. Yes, you and I know what to add to fix a mistake. We know (usually) to check on ingredients before we start. We’ve had practice and know what we must chop and measure in advance and what can wait till the instant of need. We’ve also learned when to toss in a bit more rice or some cayenne to cover the “oops” the mise en place would have prevented.

    Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. It’s annoying to dirty that many dishes, but for complex things or things that require ‘just so’ timing it can save me.

    Penultimate note: at one place I worked the chef used little disposable cups for most things, ranging from the ones you see in some fast food places for condiments to sheets of baking paper. It saves on the dish washing — though doesn’t help a bit in coping with lack of counter space.

    Last note: yeah, lots of the gizmos and gadgets are unnecessary. They’re sometimes good if you’re going to do ‘that’ a lot, but otherwise no need. I say sometimes because I’ve never liked spring form pans and have been fine working with alternate methods.

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    • Funny you should mention spring form pans. I bought one for a cheesecake recipe, it came with both a flat bottom and a bundt bottom. I swear I use it more than any other cake pan now. And I thought for sure it was just a luxury purchase for a dinner party.

      But yeah, I think the more you cook, the more you find one or two gadgets you love and just improvise the rest. My garlic peeler and garlic press went the way of the yard sales and now I just use my large knife to smash and mince. Less clean up.

      BTW, love the muffin paper idea instead of dishes. Well, except for liquid measure. 😉

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