Friday, September 21, 2012

Mise En Place

French for "everything in its place".  Or as a colleague of mine says... "todo en su lugar".

"Mise en place" is the pre-preparation activity that goes on before the actual baking, cooking, or assembling.  You know, before you make cookies, you get out the flour, the sugar, the butter, the eggs, the chips, etc?  That way, you're not running around the kitchen, grabbing things willy-nilly from the fridge or pantry as you're trying to bake.

This concept of having everything in its place before beginning any kitchen project has been oft-reinforced at school.  And's starting to seep into my behaviors in my home kitchen.  As it should be, right?

But...that's not all.  I'm also enrolled in a Safety and Sanitation course...and much of that info is now rolling around in my mind as I prepare food.  Gads!

This morning, I was preparing a Pizza Casserole Take and Bake dish for a New Mom friend of mine.  Two months ago, I would have slapped the thing together, with not much thought to any of the above notions.  But, today...well, let me break it down for you.

Pizza Casserole

Mise en place then: Boil water for the noodles. Begin browning hamburger.  Remember the onions.  Begin haphazardly chopping onions to throw in with the cooking meat.  Get out cans of pizza sauce and open.  Get noodles out of pantry.  As totally cooked ground beef sits in skillet on stove (cooling), get out mushrooms, open, drain.  Get cheese from fridge.  Get out pan and spray with Pam.  Mix all items together in large bowl and spread in pan.

Mise en place now: Measure out dry noodles, and set water boiling for the noodles.  Get out and open cans of pizza sauce.  Open and drain mushrooms.  Open and unpackage Canadian bacon slices.  Get out mozzarella cheese from freezer. Small dice onions and put in skillet at same time as ground beef.  Get pan out and spray with Pam.  Empty sauce, mushrooms, spices into large metal bowl.  Drain beef and empty into bowl.  Drain noodles and empty into bowl.  Mix and spread in pan.

Honestly, as you read through my mise en place, you might not see much of a difference.  You'll probably notice that I got everything out and prepared everything (dicing, opening, etc.) before I even began cooking and assembling the dish.  I notice, however, that the process was much less helter-skelter than ever.  Much smoother, quicker, more efficient. And I dig it.

Also, earlier in the week, during a lecture on knife care, my instructor mentioned something about running a sink of hot, soapy water for doing dishes as she made a meal.  She described washing as she went, and having little to no dishes to clean up when she was done.  This also, she claimed, was part of her mise en place...simple, efficient ways to cut out unnecessary minutes in food preparation.  So...I did it too.  Washed dishes as I went.  Pretty liberating stuff, I can tell you!

And then, one point, I'd just stirred the boiling noodles with a wooden spoon, and I placed the utensil in the spoon rest on the stovetop.  But, then, a thought occurred to me, I may have just cross-contaminated that spoon!  The spoon rest is caked with all kinds of who-knows-what cooking residue...probably a veritable breeding ground for pathogens.  So, I discarded my old spoon and got a new one.  Two months ago, I would not have thought twice about that.

Knowledge is power.  GI Joe taught me that, and culinary school makes me implement it!

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