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How do you keep yourself on track while executing a recipe?

Yesterday I was making King Arthur Flour's Pumpkin Ginger scone recipe...and forgot salt. Today my girlfriend was making carrot cup cakes for me...and forgot salt. It's not like there's a paucity of salt in this kitchen; but we do find it hard to remember all the steps in a recipe when we're cooking after work and tired. How do you keep yourself on track?

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  1. I keep my recipes in plastic jackets, and most of the time, I have a post-it or two with the order of addition of ingredients. It works for me.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mnosyne

      I just assumed the mise-en-place was normal; the post-its help me keep the order of ingredients straight. Some recipes are so badly written that you need reminders. Yes, I use recipes for baking, and not so much for cooking.

    2. Mis en place! Get all the ingredients out on the counter, and hopefully on one side of the scale, if I'm baking, or perhaps next to the stovetop. Depending on what I'm making, I'll set up little cups with ingredients to be added at the same time, or just put their containers grouped together if I'm not prepping them, i.e. spices, dried herbs. When baking, move the boxes or bags from one side of the scale to the other after they're weighed and put in the bowl. That way, if the phone rings (and it will, I'm on call!) I know what I've done by the way the counter looks. It works pretty well.

      Oh, and the post its are a good suggestion, too. I've used those when I was counting calories and tracking nutrition, because of health concerns. Very useful, especially when you make alterations to a recipe.

      3 Replies
      1. re: amyzan

        + 1 - the best method I've found is mis en place!

          1. re: valerie

            +3. Mis en place, a highly emphasized technique in culinary school; essentially it's organized prep and placement. I tend to utilize this technique more for baking, but often for savory dishes that have a number of ingredients. I assemble all the ingredients/utensils from pantry/frig, then measure or arrange all ingredients according to the recipe line up, into small bowls or on a larger plate, if there are a number of small amounts of ingredients, or just measure them out and put that particular ingredient away immediately after using. Seems like extra work, but it's really not, and I never forget the salt. Success with a recipe trumps extra work.

            Reading through the recipe a few times first is very important also, as is checking your pantry supplies periodically to replenish or refresh; realizing you don't have an ingredient on hand half way through is very annoying and unneccessary.

            Seems like many posters use the mis en place technique; there's a reason for that.

      2. " How do you keep yourself on track?"

        I put everything the recipe calls for out on the counter and as it is used, PUT IT AWAY.

        2 Replies
        1. re: OldDog

          that is exactly what i do! plus the mis en place. makes cooking AND clean up simple!

          1. re: OldDog

            Me, too. If it's still on the counter, I know it hasn't gone in the pot (or bowl or whatever) yet.

          2. As others have pointed out, mise en place helps trememdously. Not trying to "remember" helps as well - I keep the recipe out on the counter and constantly refer to it as I cook. I often reread the directions/steps from the top to make sure I' not forgotten anything and to confirm what's next.

            1. Having your mise en place ready and waiting, in order of use, on a counter or table near your stove before you start cooking is key to food prep organization. Simply stack the empty ingredient holders (small ramikins, bowls, etc.) as they're used. Also, if I'm using a cookbook I have a book stand with a plastic cover nearby which keeps the book open and clean. When I use a recipe that I've printed out it's in a plastic sleeve on the bookstand.

              Mise en place refers to everything, absolutely all measured herbs. spices, chopped/diced/shredded vegetables, measured liquids, cubed/sliced/minced proteins in order. Never forget the salt again.

              1. What I should do and what actually gets done are 2 different things. However, with a new recipe I've learned to READ the thing first -- not skim, read. Pay attention so there are no uh-oh moments--
                "chill for at least 4 hours".
                I don't put ingredients in little cups--I don't want more dishes to wash (no dishwasher). Ingredients get taken out and put away as it is convenient.
                Always read down through the ingredient list when you think you're done!
                And for the OP blkery-- keep some salt with the flour and baking supplies, not just in a different part of the kitchen.

                2 Replies
                1. re: blue room

                  I was reading some cookbook author, perhaps Fuchsia Dunlop, and she said to read, not skim, TWICE. She didn't do that and didn't notice that some dish had to rise three times! They ate dinner very, very late that night.

                  At the very least, I gather all the containers of ingredients including liquids and put them on the left and move to the right. When there are a lot of ingredients (at my age, that might be four!) I use a "formal" mise en place. I love all my little bowls. And if a number of ingredients get added all at once I put them all in one bowl (less cleaning up).

                  1. re: c oliver

                    So true...although it would be nice if the fine folks responsible for cookbook layout/design would call out things like that. I got tripped up by a marmalade recipe that goes something like this:

                    Bring the orange peel and water to a strong boil. Add the sugar all at once. Boil hard for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Remove from the heat. Skim off the foam. Cover the pot and allow it to cool overnight.

                    So when I read the recipe a few times, I missed that little bit about allowing it to cool overnight stuck on the tail end of a paragraph narrating some pretty common jelly-making steps.

                    If they just put "Allow to cool overnight" on its own line it would have jumped right out at me!

                2. I do many of the techniques already outlined, with a few detours along the way. My kitchen doesn't have much vertical space at all, and for baking, I don't want to use lots of bowls that need to be washed. [Chinese food? Lots of bowls. Baking, no.]

                  I set up my scale with a bowl tared out, grab all the dry ingredients from the pantry and line them up and then weigh/measure them in the order of the ingredient list directly into the bowl. Then the containers go back to the pantry.

                  Wet ingredients next, paying special attention to the suggested temperature. Same deal. All the wet ingredients on the counter. Usually, I can measure the liquid in a measuring cup and then break the egg or add the oil directly to the measuring cup and do whatever egg whisking is required.

                  Assemble batter as directed. Bake. At the end of the process I should have a spoon, fork, bowl, measuring cup and baking sheet to wash at the end.

                  Sadly, I don't have a plastic cover for my cookbooks and my pages are often splattered. The kid often notes that she can tell exactly which recipes I like by the amount of splatter.

                  1. I think organization (and neatness) is hindered because often people cook 2 or 3 or 4 things at a time. I have a choice to wash the bowls I just used or start on the vegetables. Since Dinner is ultimately more important than Clean Kitchen, I nearly always end up with one big mess instead of several spaced little ones. No dishwasher is a factor here.

                    1. I frequently copy the recipe onto a note card, or sheet of paper, with the ingredients on the left, and then bracket off everything that is added in one stage, and write the instructions on the right side, next to the bracketed items. I use mise en place to organize my 'stations', pushing containers off to the side as I use them.

                      My note card system works very well. It would work even better if I were to remember to *label* the top of the card, and put them into the binder when I'm finished, instead of throwing an un-labeled card into the drawer next to the stove.

                      1. It is all about prep. Lay all the ingredients and needed equipment/utensils out beforehand and you reduce the chances of going wrong.

                        1. Gather all the ingredients and place them in the little mise en place bowls you can obtain most anywhere. Use larger bowls if necessary. But have the ingredients all out at once, and then follow the recipe step by step.

                          If you've made the recipe a dozen or so times, you can get away with winging it.

                          Also, it pays to read through and make sure you understand the recipe before launching out.

                          1. I keep the recipe nearby at all times. I plan and prepare ahead based on the instructions and cross check based on the ingredient list to make sure I'm not missing anything. When multiple ingredients will be used at once, I combine them all into one bowl, cup, or glass. I frequently stir salt into pre-measured liquids, which are waiting by the stove.

                            I don't think a strict mise en place procedure is necessary, but I err on the side of it.

                            1. I cook so fast and don't think but rather go on auto pilot.
                              Being a whirlwind in the kitchen it's so routine that I forget not much.
                              Maybe just fortunate...
                              if it's a recipe that I'm not used to making or familiar with, I get all out on the island with measuring spoons and cups that I'll be needing and that way it's all there.
                              I also keep my netbook on the island open with the recipe right there in my face so almost impossible to miss a step

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: iL Divo

                                You have a great sense of humor.

                              2. there is a reason for Mis en place! Even for home cooking. Think about it; in the restaurant there is all sorts of distractions, and home is no different. Course the common American translation for mis en place is 'get yer shit together' :-)
                                And don't forget to taste along the way

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: coakes

                                  After doing a few "cooking classes" at a local housewares emporium, the mise concept is definitely the winner. I picked up a bunch of aluminum bowls (about 8oz) for this purpose (also work as condiment bowls for the table). 10 minutes of prep work pays off in spades when you're cooking/baking from a recipe.

                                  1. re: ferret

                                    I 'get' the mise concept and love it. In my variation you just don't need to wash a bunch of bowls.

                                    1. re: OldDog

                                      I find it much easier to just pre-measure and set aside (for dry ingredients I also use either papaer coffee filtes fo paper cupcake cups). That way I clear the counter of clutter and don't worry about measuring once the cooking's underway. And I don't really need to "was" a bunch of bowls, a quick rinse is sufficient and 8 or so bowls take less than a minute to clean.

                                2. Couldn't agree more on the mis en place. I always have everything out, measured, in small bowls or containers before continuing on.

                                  It's funny, because my younger sister likes to come over to bake things with me, and she always wonders why the process goes so much smoother and faster at my house than when she does it alone at home. Mis en place! I have everything layed out, prepped, and lined up by the time she makes it to my place.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Novelli

                                    I don't do a mis but I do get everything out and set up. For baking that would be all the dry ingredients together, all the wet etc. along with necessary measuring equipment and bowls. As I use something I move it away until everything is on the other counter. Of course, the "perfect" planning didn't stop me from forgetting to put the sugar in a pumpkin bread pudding (I'd never gotten out the sugar at all) though I did remember before it went into the oven.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Actually, a little deep breathing really helps the focus.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Haha I like this answer. The question is kind of asking - "How do I follow directions?"

                                        We've all forgotten the salt now and again, it happens - even to the mise en place die-hards (which btw I think it the right answer to this question - but even then we can sometimes forget something). But the only way to to stop it is to pay attention and follow the directions.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          Haha, mr. gator used to work for the manufacturer. Can't say I ever took them up on their "free scripts" plan.
                                          But seriously, mise en place is what really works for me. Most simple recipes I can do without issue. But if there are a ton of steps and ingredients, I organize myself on a sheet of notebook paper and prepare and line up my ingredients in order of use.
                                          And tasting along the way is key, if it tastes "off", it probably is!

                                        2. Yeah, I know, mise en place, but I'm lazy and hate doing dishes. When I'm baking, I usually remember the number of wet or dry ingredients I have to mix together, and then I count the number I've done so far. I may not remember baking soda, salt, flour, cinnamon, but I can at least remember the number 4 for long enough to put all that stuff in. I also dump everything in a different place in the bowl so I can easily tell what I've already added. And since I started using a scale instead of measuring by volume, I don't have to keep track of how many cups/spoons I've added so far. (When cooking savory foods, I usually do the mise en place because it tends to be more time-sensitive.)

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Pia

                                            I think mise en place is ideal for lazy people - I'm one :) I make one trip to the fridge and one to the pantry.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I agree. Doing the mise en place procedure before starting the recipe saves work, and extra cleanup is minimal. If you are dealing with messy stuff like molasses or honey, you can skip premeasuring and just have the container out; measure once to get it into the mixing bowl.

                                              Having everything in place is vital for doing stir fries. Having the eggs out and prepped if necessary, is also good to have done as you are heating the skillet. And when you are putting together a salad, it is also easier if you have all the stuff you are using out. (I don't pre prep for a salad.) I think assembling your ingredients beforehand helps your thought processes, whether you are winging it or following a recipe.

                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                I also find this critical when cooking while entertaining. I try to keep THAT type of cooking to a minimum once guests arrive but if something requires a last-minute do, then I definitely want everything out, measured and containers put away. And that's the time I want all those little bowls lined up in the order I'm going to use them. I'm far too social and chatty to pull this off successfully otherwise.