Thanks, Arlene, this is a great question: “I would love to know how to be a ‘neater’ cook and baker. I make such a mess…“
I so understand because I had the same problem!
Until recently, cooking has always been overwhelming, not because I didn’t know how but because no matter what I made, a simple fried egg or something more complicated like coq au vin or cheese cake, I made a mess—and not a little one.
My messes were so extreme that if I was cooking and my husband and kids came into the kitchen, they would roll their eyes in total exasperation. The joke around our house was that no matter what I made I used every pot in the kitchen. They probably wouldn’t have noticed if I was in charge of cleaning the kitchen, but nope, that was their job.
Even for me the chaos I experienced made cooking a chore. Most of the time I loved the food I made but the process of getting to the result just wasn’t fun.
All that changed when I started paying attention to mise en place, all the preparation done before cooking. At first I prepped by taking out all my ingredients so I had them ready to use when I needed them. This helped with the chaos but didn’t solve the mess.
I realized I was only doing part of the process. The whole prep process goes one step further and that is what makes all the difference.
Once you have all the ingredients out, you need to measure, chop, and prepare everything you are going to use. Place them in prep bowls in the order you are going to use them so when you start cooking they’re ready to go.
And then, take a few minutes to put everything else away, clean the dishes and your counters; and now that you have a clean kitchen you are ready to start cooking. That is the best way to avoid having a big mess when you’re done cooking.
I realize it sounds like extra work, but the reality is it is the same steps, just done in a different order. The advantage of prepping this way is, if you cover the ingredients, you can take a break before you actually start cooking. Sit down, have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine and delight in the beginning of your being a neat and organized cook—that’s an accomplishment!
That’s the magic that makes restaurant kitchens work so smoothly. Everything they are going to use is prepared ahead of time and the kitchen is cleaned all before the first order comes in and they start to cook.
Once I discovered that this process didn’t really take any more time, my kitchen was easier to clean and cooking became about the food not the chaos. That made cooking fun. I started to feel like I knew what I was doing.
Try it and see what happens.
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