Sunday, November 1, 2009

Basic Skills: The Importance of Mise En Place

Ever watch one of those cooking shows and see their line up of ingredients? That is referred to as mise en place, which translates to "set in place" in French and was developed as part of the French cooking technique. Cooking shows utilize the method because it is a great way to show how a recipe comes together without taking up the entire segment measuring out ingredients.

Beginning and experienced cooks alike practice mise en place and for anyone who cooks or bakes, it is something you should seriously consider employing in your cooking. You never want to get caught in the middle of a recipe and discover that you don't have enough of an ingredient or leave out something crucial. And it's especially handy for recipes that require everything to be added within a set time frame–mise en place helps prevent your recipe from falling flat because you were too slow in separating those eggs!

I find mise en place helpful so that I don't forget something. I remember all too well the one time I skipped it due to an impromptu dinner party. Lo and behold, my cake was dense and flat because I had forgotten the baking powder! The cake was still yummy, but it was a lesson well learned. There was an episode of Ultimate Recipe Showdown on the Food Network in which one of the contestants forgot to add baking powder to her mini bundt cakes. Her recipe fell apart and never came together, which cost her the competition. Had she utilized mise en place, she could have gone home with ten grand in her pocket!

Mise en place is easy to do: all you need to do is go through your recipe and pre-measure all of your ingredients and place them in containers ready to go. You can even line them up in the order of the recipe if you choose. You can purchase little dishes like the kind they use on cooking shows, but I find this unnecessary. There are many household and kitchen items that can be recycled or repurposed for mise en place. An empty styrofoam egg carton can be washed and cut into individual cups for mise en place spice containers. Washed out tin cans (with the metal lid cut out) also work wonders. I also use cereal bowls or empty baby food jars.

Some folks argue that using mise en place just makes for more of a mess. Yes, it means more dishes to wash, but as you get better at it you'll learn that you can combine several ingredients in the same container to be added in together. For example, you can combine the flour, salt and baking soda together in one dish and your liquids together in another for a cake recipe.

No matter how you choose to do it, incorporating mise en place into your cooking routine will guarantee great results, not to mention that it's fun to feel like a TV chef in your own home!

Happy Caking!

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