Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Be Prepared

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Even the most seasoned cooks get caught off guard sometimes. We think we have a well stocked pantry, and then discover that while we may in fact have the necessary item, its not enough to complete the recipe. We may get distracted and fail to pay attention to the recipe’s ingredient list until after we got started. Whatever the reason, it sucks to be in the middle of a recipe and realize we don’t have the right ingredients. Living in New York City has its benefits. I ran to the market on the corner twice mid-recipe last weekend, drastically overspending on items that I needed right that second. When cooking and baking in the ‘burbs, the drive to the supermarket might be more than you, or the stage of preparation can handle. Here are a few tips to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you:

Read the entire recipe through to make sure you have everything you need before you get started. Actually go to the cupboard or refrigerator and check so you don’t get caught short. ( One of my emergency trips was to pick up more eggs, only to discover that I had another carton in the fridge when I got back!)

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Mis en place is a french phrase used in the culinary world which translates as ” put in place.” This means measuring out the ingredients you need for a recipe ahead of time, so you can just grab and go. Garlic and onions get pre-diced, things get brought to room temperature, such as butter and eggs, and nothing gets forgotten. Make mis en place a part of your cooking and you will marvel at how much time you save.

Set out your tools. Once you are underway, hands covered with _________, (insert gooey, messy food item here:) is not the time to start frantically rumaging through the drawers looking for that random utensil.  Not having the right things you need can make or break an otherwise great dish.

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Preheat the oven before you get started so that it is the correct temperature when you are ready for it. Starting at the proper temperature makes a big difference in the cook time, and final outcome of the dish. Don’t just set the timer and assume that is the proper cook time. My oven is a bit erratic, and I have had things start to burn long before they were supposed to be done, because the oven temperature increased over time. Conversely, things aren’t always done when they are supposed to be. Check food regularly to insure it is cooking properly. For baked goods, such as cookies or muffins, rotate the pan part way through cooking to make sure that things are browning evenly. Insering a toothpick into baked items will let you know if the inside is cooked throroughly. A meat thermometer will let you know when the turkey or roast has reached the proper internal temperature.

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Stay present. I got distracted last week and grabbed baking soda instead of baking powder for my scones. Two big ole tablespoons of it. Needless to say, they were inedible. The “blessing in disguise” moment was forgetting to take them out of the oven, forcing me to take a little bite to make sure they weren’t dried out. Dryness was the least of  my problem.  Re-read the recipe as you go, and focus on the job at hand. If you get sidetracked, go back and check your recipe and ingredients from the beginning to make sure you don’t forget something, or use the wrong item. The time spent double checking yourself is substantially less time than it took me to throw away two dozen nasty tasting scones, run to the market to get more ingredients and remake them. By the way, the second batch was perfect, so all is well that ends well!

Happy Cooking!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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