First…you have a beer

First, you have a beer…. its not just an excuse to drink, its also an important part of preparation and preparation is an important step to achieve “no angst cooking”. Now I’m not

suggesting everyone drink to excess or forget that kitchens are dangerous places and you may not want to be too impaired. I’m saying that proper preparation will make the process much more enjoyable, and after all that’s why we’re doing this. So pause, take a deep breath, do what you need to do 
to relax. No angst, remember? It’s all part of the preparation. Maybe you don’t like beer, so have a wine or a whiskey, or recite your mantra, put on some music, think pure thoughts….whatever it is that will get you relaxed and ready to enjoy this process.

It’s important to read the recipe before you get started, but that doesn’t mean you’re required to take the recipe seriously-it tells you what you need and what you need to do to get where you want to go. Just like a road map gets you where you want to go, it does not mean you can’t take a detour and try the back roads for a scenic adventures. If there are ingredients you don’t like, try adjusting the quantities or some substitutes. Depending on your experience and skill level, a recipe will be a valuable guide, but as you gain confidence and you learn the methodology, you may find you want to change some things. That’s perfectly fine. Many times its difficult to make a recipe come out exactly because there are many factors that influence that-some as simple as altitude and variations in ingredients. The famous french chef, Jacques Pepin, says what we are going for is the “creation of a taste”. Any time we follow a recipe, creating that taste we want requires processes, timing and ingredients to be adjusted to fit the specific circumstances which will differ from the exact moment the original recipe was created. When I develop a recipe, it usually takes a few, sometimes many, iterations until I have created the taste I’m looking for. Then when I cook that dish again, its always comes out slightly different. Talk about angst!, maybe I should have another beer.  So, by starting out reading the recipe and using it as a guide, you will be sure you have all the ingredients you’ll need before you need them. That way, you won’t find out you are out of garlic while you’re sautéeing your onions! Do this in advance and you can add what you need to the grocery list instead of running to the neighbor’s house with your hair on fire. This also gives you a chance to make sure you have all the tools you’ll need…proper pots and pans, graters, blenders and so forth. This really cuts down on the angst!

I learned a long time ago that the most enjoyable cook is one for which I am prepared. So once you have read the recipe, it’s time for that beer. To prepare all your ingredients, get them out, peel, chop, cut, measure, slice and grate what you will need. Everything should go in its own bowl or measuring cup, but its alright to put ingredients that you know will go in together in the same bowl. Combine all your herbs and spices together in a small bowl as long as you add them at the same time. It’s not unusual to add some spices separately, so you’ll want to keep them organized as such. Before you start, take out and arrange all the pots and pans that you will be using so that they are ready when you need them.

Now, depending on how long your cook will take, it may be time for another beer. With everything prepared before hand and within reach, you can assemble your dish in a much more efficient manner, this makes the whole process less stressful and more enjoyable. How do you think Emeril would feel if he went to Bam! something and found out he didn’t have it or had to go frantically searching the pantry just as the roux is starting to burn? Probably stressed…Bam!

I’ve been following this proactive approach for a long time…way before I found out there is a name for it. It’s call “mise en place”, which is a French culinary term that means everything in its place. You know its cool when there is a French culinary term for what you are doing. To its greatest extent, mise en place is  not unlike the quality control practices common in manufacturing a couple of decades ago. Planning and preparing to succeed, it even gets into ways to shop and the practice of cleaning up the food preparation area and how you organize the ingredients to make your cooking even more efficient. It’s fun when you are assembling the dish instead of fumbling through the process. You can concentrate on building a great dish with no angst.

Like everything else, its a process…mostly a learning process. So first things first, and that means that First…you have a beer.

 

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