“Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.”
-Alice In Wonderland
Mise en Place
Means “putting everything in its place.” My cooking professor at TCU constantly reminded us to measure, chop, and prepare everything ahead of time to make the cooking process run smoothly. If you are missing an ingredient, it’s better to find out ahead of time. Also, if there is any prep work involved, such as chopping, you can do that before rather than in the middle of cooking something and running the risk of ruining it because you were busy assembling the next ingredient. It helps me stay organized in the kitchen and I will definitely be preaching mise en place from now on!
Cooking on a budget is hard. Cooking for one is also hard. That’s why I like to do “freezer cooking” where I can use what I want now and store the rest for a later date (like on a week that I’m running tight on cash…I get to say, “oh look, I have food in the freezer!”). And sometimes you just gotta make those decisions. New pair of shoes or lots of fresh groceries. Think of the freezer food as your rainy day fund.
Foods: Obviously some foods freeze better than others. I like to make pastas, casseroles, soups, chilis and stews. Another thing to note is that you can store all these foods and keep your fridge stocked with fresh veggies and fruits to give you a balanced meal! I like to cook up a bunch of meat like chicken breasts to save for future recipes that call for diced or shredded chicken. Cooked ground beef or turkey is also great to store for easy taco or burrito dinners. Of course you can freeze all kinds of dough or pie crusts. I love freezing quickbreads and cookie dough, to satisfy my raging sweet tooth :)
Storage: You can also store the pastas and casseroles in cheap foil freezer containers from the grocery store, or gallon zip lock bags for the soups and stews to help save space. For the foil containers, you can save and reuse or toss them for an easy clean up!
Labeling: It’s also a good to label your food container with a sharpie so you know how long it’s been in there and can quickly identify once your freezer is stocked.
The possibilities are endless. For ideas, just search my blog using the word “freezer” – I have the recipes tagged that freeze well!
There are two ways to toast nuts – in the oven or in a skillet. Either method you choose, you must use high heat and short cooking times to gently toast the outside of the nut and bring out its best flavor. Not only are toasted nuts more flavorful and crunchier, they’re less likely to sink in cakes and other batters.
For the oven, make sure you spread nuts in a single layer on a baking pan (one with walls is best). Cook at 400 degrees F for 7 to 10 minutes or until the nuts start to turn golden. Shake the pan halfway through toasting to make sure the nuts cook evenly.
For the stove, place nuts in a single layer on a skillet. Over medium-high heat, stir or shake the nuts continually for 5 to 7 minutes or until they start to turn golden.
- Cook the nuts only until they start to turn golden and parts of them still appear raw; they should smell toasty.
- Just about any edible nut can be toasted, including peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamias and almonds.
- Nuts have high concentrations of natural oil, so it is not necessary to add oil when toasting nuts.
If a recipe says to sift flour, it should be sifted before measuring. The purpose of sifting is to aerate the flour. Sift onto wax paper. To measure flour, use a spoon and a dry measuring cpu. Spoon flour into cup gently. Do not pack or shake measuring cup. Fill to overflowing, and level the flour with a straight edge spatula or knife. Some recipes will say to sift the flour and other ingredients together after measuring. The purpose of this sifting is to evenly distribute all of the dry ingredients. Whole grain flours should not be sifted.
Dry ingredients, such as flour, oats, rice, cornmeal, sugar, pasta and other grains should be measured in a dry measuring cups. Brown sugar should be packed into the measuring cup with measuring. Use a spoon to pack the sugar evenly and level the top with a straight edge. Sets are available in graduated sizes; plastic or metal. Standard sets include 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup measuring cups.
Baking powder, baking soda, dried herbs and spies and other small amounts of dry and liquid ingredients should be stirred to break up any lumps and measured with measuring spoons. Dip the measuring spoon in the dry ingredient and fill to heaping. Level the edge with a straight edge. If measuring a liquid, carefully fill the spoon to the edge.
Liquids must be measuring in a measuring cup, which is see-through glass or plastic. It is best to place the measuring cup on a flat surface. For thin liquids, fill liquid to the desired mark on the cup and read the measurement at eye level. For thick liquids like honey or molasses, you can spray the inside of the cup with cooking spray or rub with butter before pouring the liquid to be measured. Like thin liquids, after filling to desired mark, read at eye level. Use a rubber spatula to scrap all of the thick liquid from the cup.
Parties and Planning
A great tip for planning for a party is to make as much as you can ahead of time. Read your recipes a couple of days in advance to see how long each dish takes so your recipes can all come out at the same time and still be warm when you are ready to serve! Some parts can even be made the day before, or even the week before if you can freeze and store until you are ready to finish baking or cooking. You can also assign different activities to different people.
Here is a sample time-table:
- Make peanut brittle
- Make pecan-pumpkin pie
- Prepare the filling for the stuff mushrooms and store in the fridge over night
- 10:00 am Before guests arrive, set the table, set out wine glasses, etc.
- 12:00 pm Assemble the stuffed mushroom, bake, then serve for guests
- 12:30 pm Mise and place – Prepare the glaze for the ham
- 12:40 pm Mise and place – Prepare the ingredients for the goat cheese potato gratin
- 1:15 Put the ham in the oven to cook
- 1:15 Put the potatoes in the oven to cook
- 1:20 pm Mise and place – Prepare the ingredients for the cheesy grits souffle
- 1:40 pm Put the souffles in the oven to bake
- 2:30 pm Remove the ham from the oven and let rest
- 2:30 pm Remove the potatoes from the oven
- 2:30 Remove the souffles from the oven
- 2:35 Serve