The first two lessons for my students involve not so much how to cook, but what to do beforehand. My first advice is to always to take time to read through the entire recipe beforehand. This allows you to gauge the amount of time needed. It also helps avoid the pitfalls of realizing, too late, that perhaps something needs to come to room temperature or marinate overnight. I recall an hours-long session making fresh pastry dough with a good friend and both of us realizing too late that those beauties had to chill several hours before baking! Wait...what??? We were so excited to get going that we forgot to carefully read the entire recipe. Lesson learned.
Along that same vein, is the French culinary term, "mise en place," meaning "put in place" or "everything in its place." This term refers to chopping, dicing, mincing and measuring out all ingredients before any cooking or baking begins. If you get into this habit, you can more easily follow the steps of the recipe. Once the cooking begins, some dishes come together so quickly that there is no time to go back and prep something. For example, minced garlic will burn and turn bitter in a hot pan in a matter of seconds, if the next ingredient isn't added quickly. Not having an ingredient prepped can make all the difference. You will probably find that it will actually save time in the long run. Besides, I find there is something very satisfying in seeing those beautiful ingredients in little piles on my cutting board.
If you often find yourself stressed out or, even worse, disappointed with the results when you cook, next time take a different approach. Try reading through the recipe beforehand and embracing the practice of mise en place. It makes me feel more confident and in control and thus more relaxed. After all, if you have to cook, why not make it less stressful?
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