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Getting it all together

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One of my favorite cook books is Youtube. I can find dozens of various ways to make any given recipe, sometimes with valuable tips or insights. So, making just one recipe is pretty easy. My problem is when I try to cook three recipes, to make a whole dinner, I wind up running around like a Chopped competitor and having some ingredients not make the plate, despite my best planning. My question is, how can I learn to make several recipes simultaneously have them finish at the same time.

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  1. Practice!

    And learn to know which foods can happily sit around for a little while. And which can't.

    1. For me it's just something I have been able to perfect (well, sort of) over time. You can say it comes with experience. I could never sit here and write down instructions or even helpful hints. I just "make it happen." I'm sure other more succinct and fastidious CHers will chime in with more useful information though.

      "I wind up running around like a Chopped competitor and having some ingredients not make the plate, despite my best planning."

      Don't worry. This happens to all of us "vets" now and again. The more you cook the better you will become at it.

      1. Never do three new recipes at once. If you're doing chicken a new way, make the salad and sides things you can prep ahead and no how to make. If you're doing a new salad, make the main dish something that doesn't require attention and you've made it before. Trying to do all new is a "recipe" for disaster.

        1. One thing not mentioned so far is to ensure you feel comfortable using the ingredients needed...and having a good mis en place ready to go. Makes life alot easier in the kitchen.

          2 Replies
          1. re: njmarshall55

            Yeah, I've heard that one loud and clear.

            1. re: njmarshall55

              I'm still learning myself but this is advice above has been key for me.... especially the mis en place part. So often I was ending up realizing that I needed a cup of chopped onion or something halfway through the cooking process, and the "Chopped" scenario would commence.

              Also, I read the recipe multiple times to make sure I'm not forgetting anything, before I get started. I pick out my recipes well ahead of time, but I always read them again right before I'm ready to start making the food. I also try to "pair" recipes... so I'm not stuck with two things that need to be in the oven at vastly different temperatures or two different things that both needs lots of attention.

            2. Whenever my husband cooks he comes out with meat. He forgets the other stuff.

              It does just take practice, but until then you could strategize on paper. Some stuff can be cooked and set aside or partially done and then cooked off (while sitting on the stove - waiting for the time to turn on the burner). Also, if you detect something is going to be done too soon, you can remove it from the oven and then reinsert it.

              Meat can certainly sit tented. And should. If someone gives you the hairy eyeball for it, get high handed and say you let your meat rest for optimum juiciness! ~slipslap!

              Start with easy things and then get more complicated. Dark meat chicken. Salmon. All one pot things.

              When I have a dinner party I write out everything I am serving and what needs to be done and preset the table and lay out dishes and silver. It cuts down on the last minute flurry.

              When you are putting the meal together right at the last - shoo the company or family from the room so you can think.

              1. I'm wondering if you are trying to cook three different things all while watching youtube videos? That sounds impossible. You may want to watch a few videos for ideas and techniques, but then you need to go to written recipes. Many tell you how much overall time is required and also within the recipe guidelines are given as to how long each step should take. (Beware that these times can be underestimated for the home stove/oven). So that will give you an idea of how long each recipe can take and you can time it from there. For example if the meat roast for 60 minutes, then during that time you can make side dishes. If the side dishes each take 20 minutes, you can start 20 minutes after you put the meat in. It takes time and with practice you can start doing things almost simultaneously.
                As others have said, mis en place is important in being organized.
                As Sal said also, it helps to write things down. I work backwards from the time I want to serve dinner if I'm having a big party. Otherwise I start to enjoy the guests and time runs away from me!

                2 Replies
                1. re: gourmanda

                  No, I'm not watching and cooking at the same time. I try to be familiar with my recipes, or at least my intention. (I realize I have to cook anything a few times before I really know it).
                  I guess part of my problem is trying to cook three things that all take a relatively short time (15 min. or so), so I have to keep working on everything with only brief breaks to attend to something else.

                  Thanks for your suggestions.

                  1. re: andabien

                    sounds like you are off to a great start

                    In a 15 minute window you can really hit a time crunch on #2,not just the third.Your 15 minutes cooking is a menage a trois with menu and service.Which is why restaurants have the brigade or line.Now you are the entire line soup to nuts.
                    All mentioning "mise en place" are spot on,even for me,trained and 50 years into it.I still use the old fashioned pencil and paper sometimes for tight,short timing,count down timers with bells and count-up,stop watch timers to track some long and short cooking times.Where to start maybe the one thing that will "hold" warm or is best at a neutral temp etc or choose three recipes or menu that have one or two things easy to work on at once and one less forgiving.

                    With more practice and familiarity it simply sort of arrives.

                2. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MGZ

                    The first time or the twenty fifth?

                  2. oh I can't wait to read these posts.
                    I have the same issue.
                    the meat's done but the potatoes are now cold.
                    ooops, forgot the veggies in the pan, they scalded now gotta do 'em all over again and the saga continues :(

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: iL Divo

                      WRITE IT DOWN an even scruffy list works
                      add cooking time,prep time
                      I think there were spread sheets tossed around on two or three Thanksgiving posts.
                      SPUDS 1 hour or more is the time it takes from raw to table.Yes they can be "cooked" in less time,,,but,,, what else are you doing????include washing,peeling,slicing,dicing etc in your overall schedule/list.Allow an hour.
                      How long it takes potatoes to cook isn't any more important than how long it takes to the table.

                      Maybe use a timer for veg to meat or the other direction
                      If you pulled the veg early?Was it one that would have held?

                    2. As everyone has said, practice is the key. I also make a list of all the things I need to do and prep as much of it as possible in advance. If I'm making a last-minute sauce, I'll chop the shallots, onion, parsley, etc ahead of time and store in separate little containers that morning. If I'm making a salad, I'll wash/peel/chop everything and make the dressing in the AM so all I have to do is mix everything together and serve.

                      Tonight's dinner is ham with a pineapple-mustard sauce, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots with thyme, and Caesar salad. Ham is already in pan, mashed potatoes made, carrots peeled/chopped/mixed with thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper, pineapple mustard sauce made, and romaine for salad washed and chopped. All I have to do later is make sure I get everything in the oven and make Caesar dressing for salad.

                      1. As others have said - mise en place before you start cooking anything. Also, for me, the most important thing is to write it down - make as detailed a to-do list as you need. If you are worried you will forget a last-minute garnish or addition, try putting a post-it note somewhere obvious in your kitchen to help you remember.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: geekmom

                          Good idea. I should put a post-it note on my microwave sometimes, when I completely forget to turn it on. I'll find food in it the next morning.

                          1. re: andabien

                            Haha! I do that. NOW I post a note, write myself a note or set the time for it on the micro. My hubs likes to come along behind me and clear the time which irritates the bejeezus out of me. Does the audience wrest away the conductor's wand? LOL Of course he also likes to rearrange the pantry, spices and the refrigerator while I am cooking. Likes to keep me on my twinkie toes.

                        2. If it's a three-course meal, make one course that day and make the other two courses ahead of time just to be reheated/assembled. For your first course, soups and salads are your friends. Also, set the table the day before, that is a huge time suck.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Dcfoodblog

                            +1 this is where the menu and planning there of is so critical to the end product

                          2. I assume you are talking about a company dinner and not everyday stuff. 1) Plan to serve some things that you can make ahead of time and things that do not take any more last-minute attention than to take them out of the oven, for example lasagna or moussaka and NOT a broiled meat and a souffle'. 2) Everything that you can do ahead, do---set the table, arrange the flowers, etc---don't leave anything for the last hour. This is the time to show your obsessional best. 3) Then make yourself a little plan (using pen and paper)---suppose you are going to serve roast chicken, baked potatoes, frozen peas, and salad at 6 PM. If the chicken takes 2 hours, you write on your plan :"4 PM, chicken in oven. 5 PM, potatoes in oven. 5:30, peas on stove." While the peas are cooking, make the salad. The peas can stand to sit for a while when they're done. In other words, hold in your head the time you will serve and work backward from it

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Querencia

                              Holy cow! I've noticed this discussion going off in that direction (a company dinner), but that's no where near where I am. I could only wish. I'm just thinking about simple meals for 1 or 2.

                              I do appreciate the grandiose comments that have suggested much more expertise on my part than I actually have.

                              The answer I've understood is to acquire more experience. I'm doing that as fast as I can.

                              1. re: andabien

                                I'm about in the same boat as you... and when I first first started cooking I kept picking overly complicated stuff to make cause I thought that was the way to learn. But since May, I've actually had to cook every night after work, with a tight budget and for another person, so I've learned to keep it simple for the most part. I couldn't afford to ruin meals and then just order a pizza. I pick one thing that's somewhat complicated, and keep the others simple. If you're making an involved chicken dish, just serve it with a salad or some steamed/sauteed/roasted veggies, and maybe some roasted potatoes, or even baked potatoes, which is like the easiest thing ever to make. If you have a complicated veggie dish, keep the main and the other side really simple.

                                1. re: juliejulez

                                  Yes, this is good advice for me. I'll try to stick to it.

                                2. re: andabien

                                  I think the biggest piece of advice you have received is don't try to do three things that all have to be done at the last minute. Make a soup ahead, get a salad ready ahead, bake potatoes in the oven and then when everything is ready, throw on the steaks and make a pan sauce.

                              2. Let me add one thing. When I am serving a meal to guests I make a list of EVERY SINGLE THING I am serving right down to the salt and peppe, the rolls and butter, the cream and sugar for the coffee, and I run down the list before I call them in to eat. The reason is that in the rush and panic of receiving guests, arranging the flowers they brought, getting them a drink, getting the meal finished and on the table, (and if you have small kids God knows what may happen at the last minute) it is possible to have slaved for two days on some special dish and then forget, utterly forget, to serve it. Make a list.

                                1. I don't, usually, have to do this for 3 dishes but for Thanksgiving, I make a detailed list of tasks and put them in order. I put a time on them for what time I have to start that task. I put the list on the fridge with a magnet. iT HELPS A LOT. I suggest you try it. By the way, I have seen chefs do it on food network before so it must work.

                                  1. Planning, preparation, and execution.

                                    1. It took me quite a bit of practice to get different dishes to come out together on a schedule.

                                      As others have advised, a big key is to plan the menu and/or cook ahead in order to minimize last-minute prep; that's just as helpful for weeknight meals as for company.

                                      It's also very helpful to repeat dishes you liked before too much time passes. That gives you a better sense of how long each stage of the recipe takes, and where the pauses are that will allow you to work on other components of the meal.

                                      One thing that helped me a lot was to re-write the recipe in a way that makes all the steps explicit, particularly the prep work that's often hidden in the ingredient list. That is, start with 'Assemble all ingredients' and then detail the prep required: 'Chop 1 onion finely. Dice 3 stalks celery. Measure out 1/2 tsp dried thyme and sage. Grate parmesan to make 1/2 cup.' etc. List the pieces of equipment you'll use, too, so you can get them out before you get involved with the food.

                                      The way to be the calmest while cooking is to have all the ingredients prepped and ready, and all the equipment needed at hand, before beginning -- strongly recommended for anything you're making for the first time. It does take slightly longer that way, though.

                                      But the second or third time through, you'll probably spot opportunities to weave tasks among others (grating cheese and chopping veg's while something else simmers or soaks or cools), and you can incorporate them into your personalized instructions.

                                      Keep a cooking notebook. You'll be amazed how helpful notes you write shortly after a cooking session will be the next time you go to make something similar.

                                      1. Tackle one new recipe per meal, not a bunch. If you're worrying wether the chicken is cooked thru, you may forget about the potatoes frying on the stove. My personal rule is to cook 1 or 2 high maintenance items and the rest stuff that can be shoved in the oven and forgotten.

                                        Steaks are fine to rest while you mash up the (fresh) potatoes. Sear the tuna while the rice sits covered. The soup can wait for a minute while you toss the salad.

                                        Another thing that works for me- do your prep work and save it- especially if the meal has to be made right before serving. I'll chop a few onions and store in a Tupperware to be sautéed later. I also take out whatever I'll need to make dinner last minute- spaghetti measured out, salt and pepper on the counter, baking dish and cooking spray. I've been known to fill a pot with water and leave it on the stove so that I can turn it on the minute I get home.

                                        Lastly... If you're first learning to cook... Do not be afraid of takeout for a side dish or two.