Since I learned how to cook 10 years ago, my tastes have evolved, and my cooking skills and nutritional knowledge have improved. One of the best things that has happened on my culinary journey has been learning flexibility and using ingredients in different ways throughout the week, as well as using what I have on hand. Sometimes I don’t have a solid meal plan for the week, but prepping some ingredients in advance by utilizing the mise en place method will help you shorten prep time during daily meals as well as teach you flexibility.
What is mise en place? It’s a French term that means “putting in place,” which refers to setting up all of your ingredients before you start cooking, in addition to how bigger kitchens prep ingredients in advance to streamline the delivery of dishes ordered.
This week, I didn’t have a lot planned. I have started transferring recipes from my Pinterest page into Plan to Eat. If you haven’t tried this meal planning tool, you must! Read my review of it here. I chose 3 dinner recipes (based on protein that was on sale at Sprouts and what I had in the pantry), 3 mise en place items, and included other things on my list that we needed. I aim for veggies with each meal, so I typically buy 3 types of vegetables on a Sunday (whatever looks good and is priced well) and get more during the week as we run out, unless I get a Chow Locally order, in which case I'm stocked with produce for the week.
I got a craving for veggie burgers, so found a recipe and modified it to substitute what I already had, making sure I had enough product. I had a bag of mixed grains from Trader Joe’s, a can of pinto beans, a can of black beans, and walnuts. If there are one or two things missing, don’t worry about it, or find similar substitutes.
Organic fryer chicken was on sale at Whole Foods, so I bought that, and made a healthy fettuccine alfredo recipe I stumbled upon. I pan fried then baked the entire cut chicken as another couple of meals, taking the 8 or so ounces I needed for the pasta recipe.
Finally, knowing I had several avocados to use up, I thought about an old favorite Roast Turkey Breast and Avocado Cream on a Pile of Greens from the Ultrametabolism Diet. I roast my own turkey breast and double this one. Simple and delicious.
Mise en place items:
Roasted tomatoes - used to top veggie burgers, added to fettuccine, and to the roasted turkey salad. They’re also delicious by themselves.
Roasted portabellos - used as a bun for the veggie burger, and eventually diced and thrown on top of these veggie burger lettuce wraps.
Steel cut oats - I put 2 cups of steel cut oats (from the bulk section) in water to soak overnight. The next morning, I cooked them in 4 cups of water for about 25 minutes.
Usually, steel cut oats take about 45 minutes to cook, but soaking them will cut down on cooking time (as well as break down phytic acid in grains to increase digestibility and absorption of nutrients). We ate these all week long in both sweet and savory dishes. Sweet: sliced strawberries, chopped nuts, greek yogurt, cinnamon. Savory: topped with fried egg and diced scallion.
Batch cooking can overlap with mise en place. Since I cooked 12 veggie burgers, an entire chicken and turkey breast, I can use these ingredients how they were originally intended and then, as the week winds down, use them to make other "on the fly" meals with produce and pantry/freezer items to use up what I have.
Go for protein + veg + starchy veg or carb + healthy fat in every meal.
It’s been a great week and I’ve done well so far in keeping my fears and worries at bay as we wait for our FET results. Mr. B loved some new recipes I cooked and I built my confidence in the kitchen yet again by getting creative with delicious ingredients cooked ahead of time.
The mise en place method spills over into more than just cooking.
It’s a philosophy that directs us to get what’s important into the forefront and focus on that. I’m currently reading (listening to) Essentialism by Greg McKeown and the message of this book parallels the mise en place philosophy: focus on what’s most essential; let go of the rest.
5 reasons to practice mise en place in life and cooking:
Use up ingredients you have (or are craving, or are on sale) and spread them across multiple meals.
Extend the shelf life of ingredients. For example, if you have ground meat that’s about to expire but you don’t want to freeze it, brown the entire package and use in different meals and snacks. Cooked meats will last 3-4 days in the fridge vs. 1-2 days with raw (according to FoodSafety.gov). I have had no problems with using raw meat that has been in the fridge for up to 4 days, but use your spidey sense.
Invest time up front (when you have more time like on a Sunday or your day off) to prepare and save time when you’re hungry and ready to eat.
Get your mind in place, along with your food. Yesterday, without planning ahead, I cooked fettuccine without using the pasta insert. If I had, I could have immediately taken the pasta out of the water when it was ready and then steamed broccoli with the same water that was already hot. Save time and errors made with everything it its place.
Review your day and determine what’s most essential, and focus on that. It’s easier said than done. Like cooking, you get better with practice.