Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cooking Tip - Prepare Ingredients Before You Start

Prep for Success!

I was about to get started with making my seafood gumbo and thought about this important element involved with gumbo makin' that really translate to just about every recipe.

If you are pretty new to venturing into the kitchen, I have to say that even as long as I have been cooking, I am still a big advocate of prepping all of your ingredients ahead of time. You know how when you watch a chef on television they have everything premeasured, chopped and ready to go? Well, that's not just for television folks.

Yes, this might mean that you create more dishes to wash, but it will ensure better end results with your culinary creations because it allows you to transition smoothly from stage to stage of a recipe with no bumps in the road. There is nothing worse than to be in the midst of cooking only to find out that you needed to have something prepped that you didn't realize needed to be, while at the same time you are having to also be stirring constantly on something altogether different! Yikes! So follow these guidelines and you'll make your venture into cooking much more pleasant and successful!

1. Always, always, always read through the
entire recipe before even beginning to think about starting to cook anything. You may even find that you have to read between the lines a bit. Some recipe authors do a great job of explaining things step by step and telling you exactly what you need to do and when. Others, well ... not so much. So read through the recipe from start to finish, even before you start to prep the ingredients.

2. Measure out all of your ingredients in advance. Sometimes you can even combine them - for instance, flour, baking powder and salt are often combined and then whisked to "sift." So you can combine those ahead of time and have it at the ready. I still do this when I bake.

3. Try to keep the prepped ingredients at hand in the order of use. It really just makes it easier because you are not reaching over other things and risking knocking things over and spilling them, and if you use them in order and sort of put them altogether
after you use them, there's less of a chance that you won't be able to remember whether or not you've already put that one ingredient in! Believe me, even seasoned cooks go through that "did I add the [fill-in-the-blank] already???" So it helps if you sort of lay things out where you need them in order of use, then scoot them to the side all together after you have used them.

4. Chop
EVERYTHING in advance and have it all ready to go. Sometimes recipes call for sauteeing things one at a time, so make note of that and be sure to keep those ingredients separated as you chop. Other times you can chop and combine the raw veggies because they will be cooked together. For instance, with my gumbo, first I have to saute the okra, by itself. So when I chop that up before I start, it'll go in its own little bowl. But when I chop the onion, celery and bell pepper, I know it will all saute together at the same time, so it can all go in one bowl as I chop it. The garlic, which can burn and get bitter if overcooked, will be chopped separately and set aside on the cutting board to be added once the all the veggies are cooked and tender.

5. Once you think that you have everything ready to go, before you get started do a quick run-through, reading over the recipe once more and checking your ingredients as you mentally prepare the dish. You will often find that you've missed something crucial!

Believe it or not, as long as I've been cooking, I still follow these basic rules of cooking. It really makes for a much more pleasant cooking experience and in my opinion, successful results!