Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Importance of Mise en Place

It's the weekend before March Break and the kids were super excited to have my best friend and her family come for dinner and a sleep over. Of all the many dinners I've hosted for them over the years it seems that I have never really cooked Chinese food. Sure, I've entertained with Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese hot pot and injected a Chinese dish or soup into the meals, but a true home-cooked dinner complete with soup, stir-fries and vegetables served with rice is one of firsts. I just never thought what I did regularly was worthy of a dinner to host with. It was definitely inspired by my recent love affair for Chinese cuisine, especially Szechuan cooking. I have been experimenting with Szechuan chili peppers and the beloved Szechuan peppercorns for that tongue-numbing hot and spicy taste sensation better known as "ma la". It's effect has grown on me and I've been quite addicted finding excuse to use it in as many dinners as I could in the last few months. Thus spawning regular tried-and-true dishes with this concoction in my kitchen, even my four year olds love, sucking their breath hard through their teeth after each bite and nodding with delight.

I had eight dishes on the menu including soup so there was a lot of preparing and chopping to do. In past meals, I've always been found sweating in the kitchen, stressed with getting dinner together and not spending time with my guests. I've smartened up and now allow as much preparation as possible ahead of time so there's no running around last minute. Everything is in it's place- mise en place the French call it, and its the best method ever in the kitchen and the secret to success. So now instead of a frantic pace and stay-out-of-my-kitchen attitude, I can enjoy a glass of wine and my friend's company alongside while I'm cooking everything up.

Here are some tips to keep organized:

1) Wash, peel, chop and slice everything. Measure all your spices and ingredients as needed;
2) Set separate bowls out for ingredients such as garlic and onion to use as you please;
3) Arrange ingredients for each dish on large separate plates to keep you on track of everything in the recipe;
4) Keep your counter and sink clean; place empty dishes into the sink as you go to give you more counter space for the finished dishes;
5) Have your seasonings and condiment jars opened and ready to use when you need to add a dash or splash;
6) Have your cooking utensils within reach such as extra spoons for scooping sauce or for tasting.

Pork Rib Soup with Pickled Mustard and Tomato
Chicken Lettuce Wraps and serving sauce (diced chicken, shiitake mushrooms and water chestnut)
Green Beans Stir-Fry in Garlic Fermented Bean Curd
Pork Riblets in 5-Spice Rub
Spicy Pork Belly and Green Pepper Stir-Fry
Spicy Cabbage Stir-Fry with Dried Shrimps 
Ketchup Chili Shrimp
Seasoned Beansprouts as a side

The verdict?  Both families loved everything, and I won't hesitate to entertain again with my home-style Chinese cooking.

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