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Easier Cooking With A Little Preparation

Dec 10, 2007
Anyone who has ever cooked can attest to how much can go wrong despite a detailed recipe and the best intentions. That's because recipes don't describe how you should interact with your space and most don't include much instruction on preparation. It can take a fair amount of reading between the lines to determine what can or should be done before the actual cooking begins and how to best use your space to make your dish a success. Try these simple steps to ensure delicious results every time!

Prepare your work area

You don't have to have a state-of-the art gourmet kitchen with a huge island and miles of counter space to make delicious meals for your family. All you need is a working oven, stove, and sink, and about four to six square feet of clear counter space. If the recipe requires prepping meats or vegetables, you may want to set aside a couple of feet next to your sink for your cutting board so that clean up will be easier. Take a moment to remove the homework, bills, little used appliances, Barbie dolls, and car keys from your kitchen countertop...can you tell I'm speaking from personal experience?

Read the recipe COMPLETELY before beginning

Your cooking journey will be full of surprises and our goal is to make them all pleasant! To eliminate the recipe-sinking variety of surprises, take some time to familiarize yourself with your recipe ahead of time. Take it from an experienced cook... many times I've started a recipe only to realize that the cream cheese should have been at room temperature, or that I need to use a food processor and mine has been loaned to my sister... Which brings me to my next point...

Gather your tools

If you're working from a cookbook or some other recipe you'll need to read through the recipe to be sure that you have all the necessary tools handy. Place all of the tools you'll be using on the countertop. Delicate sauces can ruin while you root around in the drawer for the right whisk!

Gather all of your ingredients

Place your meats, vegetables, spices, canned goods, and everything else in one designated area on your countertop. As you review your recipe ahead of cooking, take note of both the ingredients and the state of preparation your recipe prescribes. Any description of preparation listed with the ingredients indicates preparation needed before cooking begins. "Cubed" meats, "chopped" vegetables, "lightly beaten" eggs are all examples. One day, you'll be a famous cook with your own sous chef, but for now, you must prepare!

mise en place

This is a French term that means having all tools ready and ingredients prepped and premeasured in small dishes, ready to add at the prescribed time. This technique, used by chefs to make preparing meals easier, will also help you to become a better cook. Here are a few examples of mis en place:

* Oiling the muffin pan
* Chopping and measuring a cup of onions
* Measuring out spices

You don't need to go out and buy special dishes for mis en place. All you need are a few small bowls or containers--coffee cups, custard cups, even cereal bowls will do. I use several small melamine cups that I bought at a restaurant supply store for less than $1.00 each. You can also purchase a set of small glass or stainless bowls at your local kitchen store. I like Mario Batali's prep bowls because they do double duty--they can be used for mis en place as well as measuring. Five cups that range in size from 1/8 cup to 2 cups are included, and each one has a halfway mark for measuring.

Your recipe

Have it handy and hands-free. If you're using a cookbook it can be challenging to find a place to put the cookbook so that you can read the recipe and not get splatters all over the pages. Use an inexpensive cookbook holder. The Lucite type works well. If you're working from a recipe that you've printed off of the internet, simply tape the recipe to an upper cabinet at eye-level near your work area. You can also try a typing stand from the office supply store, or a clipboard that you can lean against the wall.

Now you're ready to cook!
About the Author
Toni Tanner-Scott, Personal Chef and Cooking Coach, Dinner Made Simple, http://www.dinnermadesimple.com
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