If you were to ask me what is the singularly most important thing I could share with you to ensure your continued cooking enjoyment and culinary successes, I would answer, “Mis-en-place” , without a doubt!
So then you ask, “What in the world is ‘mis-en-place’ ?”
It is a French term, pronounced “mee-zahhn-plahhs”. Now, I don’t at all pretend to know how to speak French other than this phrase; but I whole-heartedly embrace its meaning. Literally translated, it means, “to set in place”.
No matter what I am about to cook, I always follow the exact same process, never deviating from what experience has demonstrated is foolproof.
I begin by setting out all the ingredients, measuring them out into bowls, etc. As I proceed through this process, I also place them on the counter in the order in which I will be using them, creating groups if that would be additionally helpful.
For example, if I am baking, typically I will measure all the dry ingredients into a smaller bowl. I would then put the shortening and sugar into a larger bowl, with all the remaining wet ingredients in bowls/cups and place them next to the larger bowl, thus creating the ‘wet’ group. Add-ins, such as raisins, or chocolate chips, etc., would become the third group as they would be added at the end.
Once I have completed the ingredient prep, I will get out all the cooking tools—such as, pot or pans, mixer, blender, etc., and set them in place. Lastly, if I am still baking that cake, I would prepare the pan(s) that I will be using to bake the cake—i.e., grease and flour the pan, line it with parchment paper, etc—and set it aside.
Now that everything is ready, the cooking part is easy. I start with the ingredient to the left and begin cooking, using the ingredients from left to right, until I have completed the recipe.
If I am making several dishes that will include a similar ingredient, such as an onion, I will prepare all the onions I intend to utilize for all the dishes at the outset, then separate them as I need them for each dish.
Embracing the concept of mise-en-place also facilitates the clean-up. If there are gaps in between steps, I will clean all utensils and vessels up to that point as well as the counter and stove. At the end, I am merely cleaning up the last bits of dishes, and within several minutes, no one would ever know that I had just prepared an incredible feast were it not for the bounty of yumminess in the serving dish(es).
Note: Check out my 3rd blog, Pina Colada Pineapple Upside Cake for the recipe of the cake pictured above.