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Feb 5, 2009 06:24 AM

I need some mis en place/tidiness advice

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!

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  1. 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.

    2 Replies
    1. re: cheesecake17

      Great question and really helpful answer! Thanks!

      1. re: cheesecake17

        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.

      2. 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!

        1. 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.

          1. 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:

            3 Replies
            1. re: todao

              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!

              1. re: cheesecake17

                I've gotten burned so many times by not reading the recipe all the way through and ended up starting dinner at 10pm as a result!

              2. re: todao

                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.



              3. 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).