Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oops...I did it again...

We are going out for dinner tonight.  This was not part of the plan.  Once again, I got a little too big for my culinary britches.  I had a recipe picked out to make for dinner, but hadn't exactly read it before heading into the kitchen to begin cooking.  There it was...

STEP 1:  Mix the first 5 ingredients and marinade overnight.  Oops.  That would be last night that the recipe was referring to...and as of last night I hadn't given a single thought to this meal.  I am notorious for this.  I have a nasty habit of thinking that I can just waltz into the kitchen, heat up a pan, and begin cooking without having fully read a recipe yet.  Without fail, mistakes are made.  Tonight's victim - Chicken Marbella.  Sadly, it's going to have to wait for another night.

The French have a term called mise en place, (pronounced [MEEZE ahn plahs]) which refers to having all of the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine when called for by a recipe.  It literally means "set in place."  If you ask me, it's a good rule to live by, and preparedness translates well to many aspects of life.  I like to think of it as the "Get your sh*t together" rule.  It's likely the MOST important rule to learn and follow when learning to cook.  From time to time, I get it in my head that I've gotten too good for this rule.  Time and time again, I learn that I am sorely mistaken. 

I had never heard of mise en place until I landed my first "fancy" restaurant job.  I began working at Via Matta in Boston in 2002.  As a bartender, a member of the front of house staff, we referred to mise en place as it pertained to a guest's experience.  "Does the guest have the proper mise en place for the next course?"  Meaning; "Do they have everything they could possibly need to enjoy the food they are about to receive?"  It got shortened over time to just "mise" among co-workers, like "Is seat 1 mised?"  I'm sure the French would love this.

We used the term as servers at Via Matta, but so did the kitchen staff, and I have to say, they took it very seriously.  If you didn't have your mise en place ready, your night was going to be a nightmare...and you might not have a job the next day.  Having your mise en place meant you were ready to prepare any dish that came to your station.  You had your food chopped, washed, sliced, marinated, etc.  You were ready to rock 'n' roll.

Translating the idea behind restaurant mise en place to the home kitchen is not difficult, and it's a down right good idea.  You, and I, can save ourselves, time, money, sweat and tears if we just do a little prep work before we begin cooking.  Here are tips to a successful mise:

-Read, and re-read, the recipe.  Sometimes prep work is actually buried in the steps to prepare the meal.  Look out for this and catch it before you start mixing or heating ingredients.  It's common for an ingredient list to say something like: "onion, minced"  but you may also find a step in the directions that catches you by surprise that says, "now mince an onion."  This is problematic if you are then also trying to stir a pot.

-Ask yourself if you actually have all of the equipment and food needed to make the recipe...obtain it if you do not.  Don't forget about things that are implied...if a recipe says to "Stir" or "Flip" you will need a the right utensil to follow the directions.

Pinch Bowls
-Get yourself a set of nesting bowls, and a few extra small bowls for pre-measuring spices.  Sometimes these are called "pinch bowls."  They are invaluable.

-Slice, dice, peel, chop, sear, wash, marinade, measure, preheat and otherwise prep all of your ingredients BEFORE you begin cooking.  Put each ingredient in an individual bowl, or separate place on a cutting board so that it is within reach and ready to be added when called for by the recipe.

Mise check!

Being prepared is the key to turning words on a page into a beautiful and delicious meal.  Even the best chefs in the world prep before cooking.  Don't let yourself get so confident in the kitchen that you believe you can skip important prep work.  It never works!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"How Do You Like Your Burger?"

My father cooked all the time.  He made simple meals, with quality ingredients.  I have to admit that I learned a thing or two from him when I was young, even if I wasn't trying to at the time.  He loved to grill, and to entertain.  On most summer nights you could find anywhere from 5 to 15 people on his back deck enjoying a beverage, anticipating his char-grilled greatness.  When burgers were on the menu, dad took orders.  He asked everyone how they wanted their burger cooked, and what kind of cheese was going on top.  I was asked was part of the show.  When he got to me he would slap his forehead, dramatically roll his eyes, and announce to the crowd "Oh wait, I don't need to ask Jen how she wants her burger cooked because I started it before you all arrived, and I'll let it cook another 10 minutes past when we sit down to eat!"  He often teased me about my preference for well done meat.  He'd wonder out loud why I didn't just save him a couple bucks and eat a charcoal briquette drowned in ketchup if I was going to ask him to ruin a perfectly good burger by drying it out.  Some of my picky childhood food hang-ups really irked my father.  These days, I am disappointed if I get a burger that is cooked even a hint beyond medium rare.  I sure do wish I could sit down and enjoy one with him, so he could see just how sophisticated my palette has become!  He'd be so impressed to see juice running down my chin from a burger, and know that now I wouldn't have it any other way...unless it was meatless of course!  Cue dad rolling over. 

Oh man, I just realized that apparently I have a lot of feelings about burgers.  In spite of my fond memories of being ribbed by my dad for preferring grey meat as a kid (and my appreciation for medium rare goodness as an adult,) I am also a nutritionist.  That tiny detail makes me question whether or not a blog post about burgers is really even a good idea.  The typical American does not have any trouble meeting their burger quota, in fact, ground beef is often on the "only once in a while" food list for most people.   That being said, I'd like to introduce you to my new best friend, the Sweet Potato Black Bean Burger.

I found this recipe on a blog called Sweet Pea's Kitchen, which I love.  I first made them for our Fourth of July BBQ this year.  While most of us enjoyed slow smoked brisket that Matt had carefully tended for the entire day, our friend Dave (a vegetarian) raved about these burgers.  I had no room left to try one that day, and we sent him home with the extras, so I had to make them again to see what all the fuss was about.  Dave was right, they were fantastic!  Matt and I both have a healthy skepticism of meat stand-ins, substitutes, or imposters if you will, that pose as items typically made with meat.  These were an exception for sure.  They were flavorful and filling, had great texture and were really easy to make.  As you can see, I wound up with monstrously huge brioche buns from our local bakery, so next time I might flatten the patties out a bit before cooking so there is a better burger to bun ratio.  

According to the blog where I found these, they contain 7grams of protein 4 grams of fat, and only 210 calories  (before buns and toppings of course.)  Not too shabby for a weeknight meal.  The only change that I made to Sweet Pea's recipe is that I boiled my sweet potatoes instead of microwaving them.  Just a personal preference.  I also loved making these because it left me with about 1 1/2 cups of leftover quinoa already made, which I used for salads and breakfast for the rest of the week!  Bonus!  The recipe made 6 burgers so I threw the 4 extra in the freezer for future use.  Oh, just had a great idea for a "how things freeze" post.  Check back for that one!