Mise en Place [MEEZ ahn plahs]: French for “putting in place.” In the kitchen, it means to organize equipment and ingredients in preparation for cooking.
We’ve all been there. It’s 5:00 (or more like 6:00 some nights), everyone is hungry, tired after a long day and dinner needs to be made. At home with toddlers, it can be the hardest part of my day. Cooking a hurried meal with cranky little ones almost always ensures something goes wrong. An interruption to mediate a toy battle means a forgotten ingredient or not enough time to get the chicken diced before the onions too dark. This is where mise en place comes in.
Since I prefer cooking our dinner right before we eat, I have found that a little prep work earlier in the day or week can totally save my sanity.
How to make mise en place work for you:
1. Menu plan: Having an idea of what you will be making ealier in the week can ensure you have all the ingredients you need, and hopefully you won’t be heading to the grocery store last minute.
2. Read through your menu or recipe early in the day (or, better, the night before): I always hate when I forget to marinate meat or make a sauce early enough to let the flavors blend. When you read the recipe, work backwards. If I want to eat at 5:30, the meal will take 30 minutes to cook and 2 hours to marinate, I need to have my chicken in my marinade by 3:00. That means getting started no later than 2:30 or 2:45.
3. Steal moments throughout the day: I used to prep and cook during nap time, but lately nap times have been varied or even non-existent. Now I start as early as possible. Kids are sleeping in late? Let me slice some onions. Ooh, look. They’re playing so well together right now. Perfect time to make the salad dressing. Anything that makes my hands messy (like pie dough or raw meat) I like to do when kids are sleeping or when someone else is around to minimize interruptions that require so much hand washing. And if I am cutting up a carrot for lunch one day, I might as well cut up the whole bag for the rest of the week. This goes back to number one – check your recipes, your carrots can be sliced, diced or grated at the same time for use in dishes throughout the week.
4. Use an assortment of dishes for your prep: While I love my small prep bowls, I don’t use them exclusively for mise en place. In an effort to reduce the amount of dishes, I try to use the least amount bowls possible. Measured rice goes straight into the rice cooker. The cherry tomatoes are held in the cup used to measure them. Minced garlic gets added to the bowl of chopped onion, since they will go into the pan at the same time. Olive oil goes straight into a waiting pan.
5. Relax: This is always a good one to add to any list. Taking some time to prep in advance has made weeknight dinners so much more pleasurable. Having things measured and chopped allows me to relax and I find I invite my son into the kitchen to help me more often, which is something he loves to do! If you didn’t get it all prepped, no problem. At least you shaved off a few minutes of work at one of the roughest parts of the day.
What is your weeknight dinner strategy?