I need some mis en place/tidiness advice
- gridder Feb 5, 2009 06:24 AM
I am possibly the world's messiest cook. I am not tidy by nature, but I am looking for ways to improve my ways in the kitchen. I usually end the making of a meal with a sink full of dishes, the counters cluttered & dirty, cupboards open, and a full, dirty dishwasher. I have heard of mis en place, but wonder if there is an actual method? I hope this isn't a dumb question! But, any info, no matter how rudimentary, would be helpful.
The kitchen is such a disaster that my husband wakes up and cleans it the next am -- leaving stuff out (not the actual food, of course) all night, which makes even me nuts.
Thanks in advance!
I chop or prepare each item and put it in a bowl, plate or container. I find it helps to take out all the ingredients and equipment needed for a recipe before starting the recipe. I'm lucky that I have an eat in kitchen, so I put all the stuff on the table.
A tip my mother taught me- as you use something, get rid of it. Spoons, bowls, utensils get washed at each stage of the recipe. So if I throw in everything in a casserole dish and it needs to be topped with cheese in 10 min, I'll use that time to start clearing out the sink and putting away ingredients. Next to my cutting board I spread out a fruit bag (like the kind you would put apples in at the market) and throw all the scraps on that. Then that gets rolled up and goes straight into the trash.
Another tip- don't take on too much at once. One evening I decided to cook three totally different dinners for the next few nights. All had different ingredients, and there were a ton of pots on the stove, timers to keep watch of, and dishes waiting to go into the oven. If you are going to cook multiple meals at once, try to make them meals that use the same items. Now I make a big batch of sauce and use it in eggplant parm, baked ziti, pizza, and spaghetti with meat sauce.
Rather than putting ingredients into bowls, I tend to place dry ingredients onto plates. That just has to do with the configuration of my dishwasher. Flat plates take up less space, and are easier to load. If there are multiple ingredients that are added simultaneously into a recipe -- say onions, celery & green pepper -- they all go onto one large dinner plate. If it's just a few cloves of garlic, it will go onto a butter dish. And, I try to minimize the number of plates used like this by reusing them for multiple purposes; e.g., the butter dish holding the garlic will also serve as a saucer for the wooden spoon or spatula that is being used during the sauteeing, etc. There is soup recipe that I make in which you simultaneously are broiling some boneless chicken breasts while you get started on the broth; the same plate that held the onions, peppers & garlic -- which are added at the outset for the broth -- is then reused to hold the shredded chicken breasts once they are broiled.
I'm blessed with a large kitchen and am slow at prep, so I do chop up many of my ingredients in advance, and lay them out on the counter or island. But, I don't bother premeasuring simple things. It's just as easy to measure out directly the salt or herbs, as premeasuring them into little bowls, and if you do the former, you do not need to wash the bowls.
I also keep the area around my sink organized with a "dirty" and "clean" side. I do most of my prep on the right side of the sink (that's the side with the disposal and garbage), and that's also where my dirty dishes go. The left side is where the dishdrainer sits (above the dishwasher). To the left of the dishwasher is where I put clean dishes as they are removed from the dishwasher (if dry, otherwise they go in the dishdrainer), and where I line up ingredients that are ready to be returned to the fridge or cabinets. Then, as time permits, I put away the things on the clean side into the cabinets, and fill the dishwasher or handwash the things on the dirty side.
If I'm cooking from a recipe, I read through the recipe, then take out each ingredient in turn and place them on the counter in order. I have 8+ small prep bowls and into these - individually - go each ingredient. In order of use. I do combine spices and such if they're going to be added to the pot/mixing bowl at the same time. I also have a series of graduated bowls to use when there's a mess of onion/carrots/celery, etc. to chop. All these bowls go right next to the stove, again in order of use. As the food is cooking there's always a lag time which I use to put the various bottles and jars back where they belong.
Near the chopping block and sink, where I prep, there are 2 brown bags, lunch size, one of which is used for vegetable scraps for the compost bin and the other for stuff that goes into the trash basket. I close the draws and cabinet doors as I take stuff out.
On the whole the kitchen usually stays pretty neat even though I may be cooking a main dish and 2 sides. DH does the heavy cleaning up, thank goodness. The main thing is to relax and try not to get frantic while cooking. It's supposed to be an enjoyable and satisfying endeavor and usually it's actually a whole lot of FUN!
Mis en place is an actual method. You need a number of bowls. I have a stack of light plastic that are not too big and not too small and quick to clean and don't break. Also use waxed paper to place heaps of prepped stuff on the counter waiting to go. Combine with clean as you go.
But method is moot with the willing husband that you have.
Appears cheesecake17 and I work in the same kitchen; well, at least we use nearly identical methods for managing the creative culinary processes therein. I believe the single most effective element is to gather up all ingredients and necessary hardware and pre-measure all ingredients before starting anything. Some have told me that setting out small bits of ingredients ahead of time just creates a nuisance factor with small containers cluttering their counter-top. As I see it, those small containers rinse easily during those "in-between" times that cheesecake17 describes and they find their way back to the cupboard in a flash. I have a couple dozen of those little bowl shaped silicone mis en place containers that see a lot of use.
Here's a good starting point:
I guess others use my mom's method too :)
My favorite little bowls are 99cent items from Ikea. Not technically mis en place bowls, but small enough that I have a dozen, large enough to hold a smallish chopped onion. Great for keeping bits of leftovers in the fridge.
Another thing.. when you read the recipe add up the cooking times. I've seen recipes that don't list the total time at the top, but rather throughout the recipe. You don't want to start sauteeing onions and chopping veg only to read that the soup needs 3 hours to simmer!
I'm with you on this method too. I get stressed if I start cooking something and then I have to run around getting ingredients and measuring. For the most part, I get everything out, measure it all, combine ingredients when I can (like if garlic and onions are to be added at the same time, just put them in a single bowl), and then put some stuff away, leaving just the bowls or measuring cups filled with ingredients on my island workspace. This way, as I'm cooking, I can just dump things in the pot or pan and toss the bowl into the sink or, more likely, dishwasher.
Between these little kids bowls (not just for kids!) from Ikea and these nesting bowls (although I got mine from Crate & Barrel), plus a few other various items, I've got all the mise en place bowls that I need.
I used to have the same problem, and it really handicapped my desire to cook because I hate washing up. The suggestions I have are really all variations on the theme of clean up as you go. Whether it's throwing out the garlic cloves skins and onions ends immediately after chopping, or trying to wash up as much as you can while doing the cooking process, the more you clean up as you go, the better. I find it psychologically easier to clean during the cooking process, when I'm in work mode, than afterwards. I also try to clean up everything but the pot (s) with food in before actually eating the meal because I hate having to go back to work after I've eaten.
My boyfriend is a big proponent of putting all his ingredients out into little bowls, just like in a cooking show! I personally don't do this because I think it increases the washing up left over. I much prefer to try and use what I already have out, so I'll heap ingredients on the chopping board, use one bowl to hold onions and garlic, then carrots, then to crack my eggs into, then to hold my grated cheese (obviously these are just egs. and I wash the one bowl along the way where necessary too).
Well, I haven't yet become the organized cook I dream of becoming, but I've been working on this lately, so, here's what I've figured out so far that works for me:
~Start with an empty dishwasher and uncluttered kitchen.
~Put things away or in the dishwasher as you go.
~I have pitcher out on the counter (full-time) for composting scraps. I probably should adopt some "garbage bowl" method as well, I suppose.
~If you can, photocopy the recipes you're using. If you use MMRuth's method of taping the copies of the recipes to your cupboard door, you can free up some valuable counter space.
~I recently purchased a bunch of silicone muffin cups I use for my mise en place; they rinse out easily. I organize them on cookie sheets in the order in which they are used in the recipe. As someone else suggested, if I'm adding a bunch of dry ingredients or a bunch of wet incredients at the same time, I put them in the same little dish.
~I'm having a lot of fun with silicone cooking utensils, lately. I keep all of my cooking utensils accessible on the counter, but the advantage is that the silicone ones come in different colors. The whisk is peach, the funny spatula thing is green, and so on... It makes it easier to find the right tool in the right moment...
~One thing I need to do a better job of is reading and understanding the recipe before I start so I truly understand the order of things--when the oven needs to be preheated, etc. Also, if certain ingredients need some kind of pre-processing (does the recipe call for roasted bell peppers or toasted spices?). Sometimes I even write a schedule down.
I guess that's what I've learned so far. I'm still learning, so will follow this thread closely.
re: The Dairy Queen
Great responses so far! I am curious about the little bowls that a couple people have said are easy to rinse -- does that mean they don't necessarily need a full wash? I sometimes wonder if part of my problem is I don't handwash enough.
I am particularly grateful for the mom tips! My mom didn't like to cook, so I didn't get many tips from her! They are so basic, yet will help I think.
I don't have a dishwasher.. so everything gets washed by hand. (my hands, as DH eats but doesnt clean) If I'm going to use a small bowl for another ingredient I give it a quick rinse in the sink but otherwise I really wash it well. My mother in law uses tons of little bowls and prep utensils and puts everything in the dishwasher.. I explained that it's easier to wash a few items by hand than clutter up the dishwaher.
A tip that I got from a friend- if a small bowl will contain a paticularly messy item or an item hard to get out, line it with saran wrap or waxed paper. That way you can pull out the liner and throw the ingredient straight into the pot.
I would never BUY bowls for this purpose - just keep some stackable empty deli containers (or yogurt, cream cheese, pudding cups, etc.) in the cupboard.
To avoid a clutter on the counter, where possible layer your ingredients in a large bowl, with a sheet of saran, tin foil, or paper towel in between. The ingredient that goes into the pot last will be on the bottom, and the onion or other longest-cooking ingredient will be the top layer.
Pre-prepping large amounts of vegetables, then refrigerating what you'll need for several days, or freezing in baggies, speeds cooking time. I rather enjoy setting up a tray table in the living room during the evening, and spending an hour or more with a cutting board and mandoline, slicing/chopping while watching TV, when there's no hurry to get the stuff onto the stove. As I learned by accident, since freezing breaks cell walls, things like onion and peppers cook faster right out of the freezer than they do fresh-cut.
I would like to say that I would never BUY bowls for this purpose, but the truth is, I did. I was so fed up after trying to cook 3 dishes from Dunlop for New Years Eve and not having enough little bowls for my mise en place. My process in the past was to first use these little juice glasses I have, then when I ran out, my small ramekins. But, on NYE when I ran out of all of those, and had to scramble for yet a third kind of container, I decided I would buy something specifically to use for the mise en place. So, I bought those silicone muffin cups. The good news is, I've been able to use them for other things, like baking my inside out Swedish meatballs. I don't like having single purpose equipment in my kitchen, but I also like having the right tools for the job.
DH is the primary chef in our house and he is a master at clean as you go..However and this may be another thread but he is so obsessed with it that when the meal is plated and it is time to sit, he will clean the meat cutting board, the pots and pans from which the veggies were served must go into the pantry to soak and the island wiped before he sits down to eat. All condiments used in prep ( like the last minute drizzle of balsamic) go back in the closet Makes me crazy to have a beautiful meal in front of me and watch it get cold...I could just start without him but wasn't taught that way. There is a limit to cleanliness being next to Godliness..don't go overboard
I do that too sometimes. I have an eat in kitchen and sometimes I just can't enjoy the food as much when the dirty pots and scraps are in my line of sight. So I either move my chair so I'm not sitting with the stove and sink in view:) or I start with a salad course and while fam is munching away on salad, I tidy up. I like my salad after my meal so it works out.
Yes, mise en place is a method. The French translation is "put into place". It means getting everything that needs to be chopped, sliced, or measured into that state before you turn on the stove/oven/kitchenaid, and organized so it's conveniently to hand when needed.
Mise en place, basic vegetable cuts, and not being intimidated by cooking for large groups were the most useful practical lessons I took from working in restaurant kitchens. Baking a cake, roasting a chicken, a stir fry or a pot of Texas red, they all have mise en place.
For example, I made gumbo the other day. I read the ingredient list and got everything out. Onions, celery, and bell pepper I chopped and measured the amounts and put them together on a plate, because they go in together. Then the rest of the celery bunch went into the fridge. Knives rinsed and into dishwasher. Spices are all added to the pot at the same time, they got measured together into a small bowl, then the spice containers went back in the pantry. Measuring spoons got rinsed and onto dishrack. Frozen stock went into a pan on the back of the stove at low heat. Its containers went straight into the dishwasher. Dried shrimp in their own small bowl, then the rest of the package back into the pantry. Boiled eggs in their bowl. Set the ingredients next to the stove in order of use. Get out the wooden spoon and a saucer to rest it on. One last read through the recipe to impress the directions in my mind. Pan onto the stove, turn on heat, start cooking. Add stuff to pan, stir/saute/simmer as needed. When ingredient plate/bowl is empty, into the dishwasher. Pans into the sink.
This is exactly what I try to do when I've got something with a good number of ingredients. Combine all together that go into the pan together - whether they're the mirepoix ingredients or the spices/herbs/salt/pepper combination.
But if it's a quick enough recipe, and I know exactly where the item is that I need (usually something like honey, soy sauce, or a spice/herb) I don't dirty a bowl/container. I just put the ingredient in its container on the counter, and measure that way when I need it.
Rather than using lots of litte bowls that then need to be cleaned you might try the Rachel Ray method of using a very large chopping board and setting up little piles of all the non liquid ingredients. Less to clean in the end. Line up the jars and bottles of all the other ingredients on the counter and then measure as you need.
I also often set a big bowl of soapy water in the sink and put in all the utensils as I'm done with them.
Read your receipe and plan.
Clean up as you go.
re: Stuffed Monkey
If that works for you then by all means. But I'd just be maneuvering around all those piles. I like to prep something then set it aside so I have a clear work space. And when the stove is actually on, I don't like to have to pause and measure something.
But as I say, that's what I do, and it works for me. I am not the only cook, and mine is not the only method.
I've tried the giant cutting board too- but it's cumbersome to wash, and I make a mess in transporting stuff from the board to the pot. Either I scoop up the stuff with my knife and drop it on floor on the way to the pot, or I lift the whole board over the pot and then have to manuever sliding only the upper left pile of garlic into the pot, etc. I prefer little bowls now, or plates, or a chiene soup spoon, or measuring cup, whatever I can get my hands on.
re: Stuffed Monkey
Ah man, I hate big cutting boards: too hard to manhandle into the sink, and won't fit into the dishwasher. I'm more of a small cutting board type, and I use alumnium pie plates (those that come with store-bought pies) for my mise. I have a few small, thin cutting boards I can toss shamelessly into the dishwasher. And the pie plates get washed or rinsed until they are too beat up to use.
Lots of good answers so far which I'll try not to repeat - a few other tips:
although it makes great sense to chop vegetables in the order that you will use them, be careful not to do that with things that will oxidize while they wait to go into the pot.
keep a sink or dishpan full of soapy water and wash a dish each time you need to wash your hands - kills two birds! I wash my hands constantly as I cook and this means I am always keeping up with the dishes.
when you read through your recipe look for slack times where you can do the upcoming prep - for instance if you have a ten minute saute after the first two steps of your recipe you can probably do the prep for the next several steps during the saute. This cuts down on the number of small bowls you need to use/wash and the counter space you use.
remember that if you pre-prep an ingredient early and put it in the fridge it may slow down the overall cooking time because it went in the dish cold.
most important lesson I had to learn - build in extra time! Everything takes longer than you think it will - even opening a can. Far too many times I have over-browned something like onions because it took me longer to do the next bit of prep than I had expected.
- My main work space while cooking is only about 2 ft by 2 ft and sits between the stove and the fridge. The rest of the kitchen counters are usually cluttered with toaster, dish rack, etc..
- Recipe, if I'm using one, is held with a magnet to the side of the fridge for easy reference.
- Spice cabinet is in front of my face. I may dig out the spices that I need so I don't have to root for them when I'm in the middle of stir frying something, but as soon as I'm done with a spice it goes back into the cabinet.
- A medium bowl at the back of the counter to dump peels & scraps while prepping.
- Depending on the menu, a few 2-4 oz prep bowls to hold ingredients after they're cut.
- Most prep work is done with a single large knife. I frequently wash off the knife & cutting board when moving from one ingredient to the next, especially after cutting meat.
- Get everything prepped & measured first, and put extras back in the fridge/pantry before you start heating the pan.
- Any dish or bowl that I'm done with I'll either rinse and put in the dish rack, or put in the sink for my cleanup crew (i.e. wife & kids) to deal with.
It's easier, i think, to constantly straighten up & clean a little while you're working than to leave it all for last.
A few additional suggestions:
If you want to get into the mise en place habit in a hurry, take up Chinese cooking. It’s practically impossible to prepare an Asian meal without having your mise en place thoroughly under control.
I don’t have any dedicated bowls. I just use what I’ve got. Most often, 6 ounce ramekins, but also Asian dipping sauce and rice dishes.
A plastic-lined wastebasket sits directly beneath my butcher block table. All scraps (carrot ends, garlic and onion peels, scallion scraps) get scraped directly into the garbage (Manhattan apartment here; no composting, no disposals) even before the vegetable itself gets cut up.
I always use two sets of measuring spoons, one for dry ingredients and one for wet. Invariably, an author will tell you to measure out two teaspoons of sugar right after you’ve measured out one teaspoon of olive oil. I used to read the ingredients lists and mentally put them in dry/wet order, but using two sets of spoons is just easier.
As others have said, mis en place really does exist:
I employ it, and it will not only keep your kitchen tidier, it will make you more efficient in the kitchen. I also like the small glass bowls for prep work, keep wet/dry separate, etc. - but read through everyone's suggestions for ideas. Over time, you will begin to consistently use whatever techniques work best for your style of cooking and your kitchen.
Every reply here is good. Two additions I'd make, mostly in the cleaning-up category:
1. A version of something mentioned below: Don't just read the recipe first. LEARN it -- meaning be well aware of the order and how long between each ingredient goes into the pan. No surprises.
2. Start with an empty dishwasher, and put washable items in it the second you're done. Run it as soon as you practically can after cooking or eating. Don't bother rinsing anything but serious chunks off. It's true: The detergent works much better with food to go to work on.
3. If you're using a blender, food processor, sieve or anything else with nooks and crannies that wet food touches, just take the few seconds it takes to wash those items the SECOND you're done with them. It takes no time at all to wash still-wet potatoes from a ricer, but it'll take you ten times as long if you let them dry first.
4. Should go without saying: When you're done with the knife, wash in hot, hot water, dry and block it. It should never stay wet or, even worse, let food dry on it.
I can't work the method of putting little piles together on one board or plate. I end up mixing things that aren't meant to go together. I keep a set of those thin, flexible cutting mats for big piles of chopped stuff, and group things that go into the pot at the same time. For tomatoes or other juicy items, a bowl is a must.
Okay... so it's not earth-friendly, but I use paper cups in various sizes for each chopped or measured ingredient. Then I toss them as I go -- no clean-up necessary. You might argue that it's wasteful, but I'd counter that I'm saving water and electricity by not having to wash that many more bowls and plates.
Like other posters, I have a lot of glass bowls.. getting things ready early is important. so here's some added thoughts.
1) Remember certain ingredients, when prepped, may discolor - you may have to keep apples in acidulated water, for example, to keep them from browning. Avocado, potatoes, etc. all can brown. So you can prep ahead, but make sure you have them idled properly.
2) Read the recipe and understand it - some ingredients when prepped can all be thrown into the same bowl, as they'll get mixed anyway during the cooking. No need to have 4 bowls full of chopped herbs if they all go together in one bowl in step 1 of the recipe.
3) Keep crap off your counters - tchachkis, small electrics seldom used, - you want nice open workspaces with the largest cutting boards you can fit into your sink to clean
4) Be anal about cross contamination - have a protein cutting board, only use it for that, and treat chicken like its bearing the plague - have rubber gloves, wash your hands, and keep other stuff away from the cutting surfaces that you've used..
5) Wash in between - like others have said, take a pause and clean your used dishes, to keep them from piling all up at the end - or draft whomever you are living/cooking with to do some of the cleaning while you prep.
6) Prep also involves pre-heating.. you may have to pre-heat an oven for 30-40 minutes to get a stable temperature. And if you need a lot of boiling water, start it early - no harm in adding another cup or two of water over time as it boils off..
7) Prep also involves getting ingredients to the right temp - is the butter frozen, chilled or melted? If you are grillng a steak, is it on a counter coming to room temperature? Are your eggs at room temperature? If you are whipping cream, are you mixers and bowl in the freezer? If you are making carbonara, are you bowls warming in the oven? Think about it ahead of time..
Whereas I'm not so anal about cross-contamination. However, having said that, I always prep ingredients that are not meat-related FIRST, and then cut up/prep the meat, fish, poultry so it's last on the board. A good scrub with hot soapy water, with a scrubby sponge or a scrub brush and then drying the board, and I'm good to go.
Haven't killed myself or guests yet. Nor has anyone gotten sick.
Hi Linda -
That is how I handle the cross-contamination issue, too. I do not use gloves. The best way to get anything clean is hot, soapy water and a good scrub and rinse. It is the mechanical force of the scrub and subsequent that removes the microscopic biologicals. And, like you, I prep all of my non-meat items first. I have never had any problems through diligence and planning.
Cross-contam is an issue, though, for those who are not aware. I imagine that most people that post on this board, and other similar forums, are interested in food, avid cooks, or even professional chefs. Hopefully this thread will reach those who are not yet aware of such potential problems.
One other point - underneath fingernails is one of the dirtiest places on the human body. When washing hands, make sure you get a good scrub under there, too!
You sound like me! But I do mis en place and it doesn't matter. I plan ahead. I get my "company" meals on the table on time, with the hot things hot and the cold things cold. I don't forget ingredients. I make lists. I can do a quick meal in 30 minutes. I can do an elaborate one in a day. What matters is cleaning up as you go.
This thread is full of great tips! Here's one that works for me - I really think about what I am going to do and create a plan in my head. I think about my entire menu, cooking times, prep times etc and then create a plan as to how I am going to approach my preparations.
By thinking about the plan in advance I am able to hit the kitchen running. This is especially helpful for week night meal prepartion. I also take more than a little pride when I deliver a healthy, tasty meal to the table in say 30-45 minutes of walking in the door.
"Mis en Place", such an elegant phrase for such a mundane aspect of cooking (especially the c'lean-up' aspect)! A real bugaboo for me, since I am inherently messy in the kitchen especially now that I am teaching my three nieces (ages 7 to 12) to cook.
But surprise! I explained to them this week that the French have this very important 'methode' to employ that we must also use, and what do you know?! It has transformed the kitchen! They methodically wash and rinse every spoon and bowl as we go along and place stuff right into the dishwasher. And I'm doing it too. I'm amazed to see these girls respond to 'le mot juste' and I think using the French is so much more elegant than saying "Clean up after yourself, girls!" What a kick.
Thanks for a great thread!
I use a lot of little bowls. I found these awesome bowls at Homesense that are actually also measuring cups. Each is a different size. They were cheap and excellent. Sometimes I use ziploc bags for a few things. I also wash as I go. Some in the dishwasher and some in the sink. I do a lot as far ahead as possible so I can wash as many dishes as possible. Then at the time guests arrive, it is very simple and very clean. After that is when I fall down!