Do you prep in advance or when you're ready to cook?
I've been cooking for a long time (don't ask) and do most of the cooking in our house. However the wife and I like to relax on the porch before dinner and have a couple of cocktails, say from 5:30 TO 6:30. The problem that creates is that if dinner requires a lot of prep work, it can really be late before we eat.
I've always thought it was a bad idea to prep food (chop onions, shallot, herbs, etc.) in advance. But then I got to thinking that that's certainly how restaurants do it. It's not like they're going to chop a fresh shallot for every meal ordered. Of course they do all this prep in advance of cooking anything.
So more and more I have found myself doing all of my prep work before cocktail time. Chopping all the vegies (and wrapping them in plastic or putting them in a small dish covered), measuring out spices onto a plate, measuring and pouring any liquids such as stock or wine. I have even started pre-cooking or par cooking some items and then just either finishing them off or heating up at dinner time. Now when cocktail time is over, I can have dinner on the table in less than 1/2 the time.
Just wondering if everyone else already does this and it just took me 40 years to figure it out.
I prep as early as I can when I'm entertaining not so much when it's just the two of us. I haven't found that slicing and dicing ahead of time detracts from the food. And when we're entertaining, our guests arrive and I start talking and cocktailing and if I hadn't prepped to the nth degree I'd be doomed. I do this SO much that my favorite sentence by noon of the day of the gathering is "Well, dinner's done." And, no, I haven't always done this. And, yes, I had more harried times and lesser meals back then.
I try to prep in advance whenever I can. Sometimes I will even cut or chop things up the night before. I work full time, so this way I can come home and it's a lot quicker to get things on the table.
Sometimes I prep more than others, though. For example, if I am making fajitas for dinner, I will often cut up peppers and onions the night before and stick them in tupperware. Makes things go quicker. Other times I will measure everything out (spices, stocks, etc.) and line them up on my counter ready to go into the mix.
I find that the more I measure/chop ahead of time, the easier it is all around. Of course, I end up with a million different bowls that are dirty, but they all just go into the dishwasher anyway.
I only prep when I have to -- eg. multi-course meals, more elaborate stir-fries, etc. But I find that it takes more time when I prep beforehand. When I usually cook, I end up multi-tasking -- prepping for things while something else cooks or while a pan heats up. Eg -- if I'm making a simple stir-fry of sauteed greens, while the pan heats up, I wash my greens and mince my garlic, etc.
I would definitely prep if you want to have a happy hour before dining. It is no different than prepping for a dinner party. Just cover with saran and put in fridge if you are concerned.