ingredients organized on a plateWhat is professional, fashionable, and French AND makes cooking more fun? Prononcez-vouz mise en place? Mise en place is a French term meaning “to put in place” but for the cook, it means that every ingredient of every recipe is accounted for, measured, sliced, diced, and held within its own container before it ever sees the pot. While mise, as it is known to insiders and now to you, takes a few extra minutes up front, it can prevent culinary meltdown in the long run. A meal of cereal, soymilk, and bananas may survive without mise, but for more complicated recipes, planning and organization are essential to insure success without stress.

Read the recipe first and make sure you have what you need

A surprisingly often ignored first step in cooking is to read the recipe. This may seem obvious. Still, many cooks dive right in whacking ingredients around, only to find themselves without something essential, or realize that a crucial element requires pre-cooking. Meanwhile, their pan has overheated destroying its contents, and the whole effort has to be scrapped.

Once you read and comprehend every step of a recipe, evaluate your ingredients to make sure you have all requirements on hand. Produce should be fresh; don’t attempt to rescue limp celery, mushy potatoes, or brown slimy kale. Check dried herbs and spices, too. They lose or change their flavors over time. If your dried basil is faded or funky, then toss it. When you open your spice bottle, you should be able to smell its aroma. Make a note to replace spices on the edge. This constant attention to detail will help keep your pantry in tip top shape.

Chop everything and line up ingredients

As ingredients are prepared and measured, place them in small bowls or ramekins on a tray or in a designated area on your counter. If you are planning to cook several dishes in succession, look for overlapping ingredients and prep them at the same time. For instance, chop all onions, and clean and chop all fresh herbs for all recipes at once. If less than three spices are called for in one recipe pre-measuring is not absolutely necessary, but at least line up the containers in order of use. For ingredients where no exact measurement is indicated, like a bit of oil for sautéing, pouring straight out of the bottle is permissible.

Cookware and utensils, too, should be lined up and ready for service. Suddenly discovering that a pan is too small can ruin your cooking experience and very possibly your dish as well. Periodically inventory all pots, pans, and bake ware and replace pieces that have rusted or deeply pitted surfaces, or are warped to the point that they no longer rest flatly on your stove top.

Clean as you go

Do your very best to have at least one piece of clear counter space to designate as a permanent work center. One is essential; two, with one dedicated to baking, is a luxury in a small space, but well worth storing a few items to make it happen.

Finally, clean as you go. Clearing scraps away and washing used pots and pans as soon as possible leaves more time to enjoy your meal and, hopefully, the pleasant company.

Make mise en place a way of life. You will be a more successful and much happier cook for the effort.

Article by guest blogger Cyndi Rook