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Food Prep 101: Getting started in the kitchen
January 15, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
By ANITA HANABURGH
Hi, readers. Today, I am starting a series of classes/articles on basic food prep.
For the next 15 weeks, each article will include a different lesson. I will set up a progression of very basic food skills. With all the fancy cooking shows, many basics are never covered or emphasized. We will learn one recipe at a time. Times have changed, and a lot of us don’t have the opportunity to learn from mothers, grandmothers or dads.
Each article will include a “task to try” at the end. I will include a reference so if interested, you can learn more about it.
Pay attention, as Week 16’s column will include a quiz on basic foods. I think this will be fun for even the most experienced cook.
People are just now finding their latent kitchen creativity. Through television shows, Facebook, apps, books and blogs, cooking has taken on a new popularity.
Creative, beautiful dishes have taken over the drudgery of cooking.
But what of the basics? What I see is the glitz without the ground work. Many “new” cooks are preparing food, one “Rachael” recipe at a time. They believe that daily food preparation should include a “Top Chef” gratin. Are the new cooks starting from the top down, having missed the basics?
My granddaughter, Izzy, is in college and is among the cooking show addicts. But when she wanted oatmeal for breakfast, and I had the old-fashioned kind, it was too difficult for her to measure, boil water, and stir occasionally for five minutes. Grandma had to intercede.
By knowing the principles, one understands the “how” in addition to the “what.”?Recipes will have more meaning, and one can create one’s own dishes.
It is important to know the “whys:” Why we only mix a cake for two minutes; why we shouldn’t boil eggs; why the yeast takes time to rise and baking powder doesn’t, why we brown meat.
So our first lesson is getting started: What is the first step in kitchen preparation? Wash hands? Preheat the oven? Measure the ingredients? The first step is to select and read the recipe. Yes, read the recipe — top to bottom.
I’d like a nickel for the number of times my students came to me with “My recipe says I have to refrigerate overnight” (for tonight’s dinner?). Or “I have the onions and chicken cooked and it needs stock — do we have stock?” (Did you make it?) “It says to separate the eggs and whip the egg whites; I already added the eggs.” (Did you read the steps?)
I like to say, “read the recipe and use your head.” It is possible the recipe is not written in understandable terms. Sometimes, the steps don’t make sense.
After reading, food preparation begins with the organization of the items needed to make the dish. The French call this the mise en place. Basically, it means putting everything in place before you start. My students frequently called it the “missed its place,” which may have been more accurate. However, it did help them remember the term.
The mise en place entails the following:
1. Reading of the recipe.
2. Gathering the food needed for the dish. This is to make sure you have everything before you begin. It’s tough to make the recipe if you don’t have the food. 3. The equipment is collected next. Everything should be available and ready for use — all the measuring tools, bowls, spatulas, towels, pans needed. Getting it all out ahead of time avoids added steps and searching for utensils during critical spots in the recipe.
4. Pre-prep necessary items. This would be chopping the onions, cooking the rice, shredding the cheese, peeling the potatoes, washing the lettuce, sifting the flour, preheating the oven, etc. It is important to measure accurately, especially if it is a baked product such as cookie, bread, cake, etc.
5. Assembly is just that — putting each item together as directed. Oh, busboy, having everything out and ready makes this a breeze! This is where we get things cooking, so to speak. Here is the heart of preparation. Focus on each step and follow the order.
Knowing how to start is a good way to facilitate success in a commercial or home kitchen. You have just read lesson one, so practice these thoughts as you prep. (To learn more, check out the video below.)
Task to Try — prepare the mise en place for the following recipe:
Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic. minced
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 pinch salt
Ground pepper to taste
Whisk together all the ingredients. Add pepper to taste. Allow to rest for 1 hour. Makes 1 cup.
Readers may comment or contact Anita Hanaburgh on her blog at www.leaderherald.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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