Do You Suffer From Distracted Cooking? An Organized Kitchen May Be The Cure.
Friday, February 15, 2013 • 5:23pm
Ever feel a little “ADD” in the kitchen? You might have culinary deficit disorder. Cooking at home is a fantastic way to relax, listen to music, and get creative. You decided to tackle a new recipe and just poured yourself a glass of wine. Everything is going well until you answer the phone and forget you have garlic browning. Or pine nuts in the toaster. Or water boiling on the stove. Distracted cooking has practically become a way of life for most of us these days, with our attention pulled in many directions.
I hear that some people do not have an attention deficit in the kitchen and can follow directions with precision. These people are called bakers. If you love baking and never burn food, you can stop reading now. But if you are like me – a creative cook with good intentions who sometimes gets sidelined like a side dish – you may benefit from my epic fails. After years of making the same mistakes, I trained myself to become organized and prepared in the kitchen. Here are my 5 rules to minimize distractions in the kitchen.
Rule #1: Take out utensils, cookware and plug in gadgets first
Go ahead and pre-heat the oven, but don’t light the stove. Trust me - you do not want to be fixing the blender while the butter is smoking. Nor do you want to be plugging it in with goopy fingers. You do not want to be searching for the spatula when the eggs are ready to flip. You never know when you will have the smallest window of time to whisk something in and having your whisk right there will be a lifesaver. Recipes usually suggest the type of utensils and cookware you will need. Getting this stuff ready before you light the stove will make the whole process a lot more relaxed.
Rule #2: Chop and measure all ingredients next
Walk away from the stove – it’s not time to light it quite yet. It’s prep time. You can’t be de-seeding a pepper at the exact moment you should be adding diced veggies to your stir-fry. We’ve all rushed through leveling a cup of flour, only to end up with a poof of powder all over your new black jeans. The French have a term “mise-en-place” (meez on plahs) that translates to “everything in place.” It is a beautiful thing to have your ingredients washed, chopped, measured and ready to fold into your recipe. This is the standard in professional kitchens and any trained chef will follow this process. Why shouldn’t you? When I worked at Classic Thyme Cooking School, one of my jobs was to go down a recipe and line up pre-measured cups on a cafeteria tray to make the cooking demo smooth for the chef instructor. Ideally, we are so prepared in our own kitchens.
Rule #3: When you have the heat on, stay close
Don’t use high unless you plan to stand right next to the stove. If you need to walk away, reduce the heat. I know it sounds so obvious but don’t start emptying the dishwasher while you are carmelizing onions or broiling mushrooms. Most of the time you should use medium heat, unless instructed otherwise by a recipe.
Rule #4: Use a timer
I cannot overstate the importance of using times when you cook. Always use a timer when the heat is on. Always. I use my iphone timer and keep it in my pocket so even if I leave the kitchen I won’t miss it. It has saved me from overcooking fish on the grill, and from burning the cheese on my chicken parm. And everything I make every day. Your attention is probably being diverted to something on your smart phone anyway – you might as well put it to good use by using your clock app.
Rule #5: Reduce distractions
Obviously. OK, I’m not talking about preventing your three year old from having a pee pee accident while you are stirring risotto. However, if you can identify what distracts you it is possible to avoid them altogether. If it’s your kids, try getting dinner ready when they are at school. If your friend tends to babble while your pancakes start to bubble, screen your calls. Clean the working area of clutter to save you from having to wipe splatter off your papers.
There are some distractions we can’t avoid. There is a Joni Mitchell song that has the same jingly bell as my oven timer and it makes me run to the stove even when I’m not even using it. I can’t guarantee your mother-in-law will finally like your chicken Marsala. But an organized kitchen and some simple systems can improve your nerves when she comes for dinner.
Lauren Weiss is a food writer and a professional kitchen organizer. Her A Foodie State column was one of the first at The Alternative Press and she is a two-time winner of their Columnist of the Month award. Prior to moving to Boston’s North Shore last summer, she was Regional Editor at Jersey Bites and editor of Westfield Foodie, a popular local food blog. Lauren was a corporate event planner and public relations executive with Bear Stearns, Impact Productions, JCC of Central NJ and a psych major at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She lives in Marblehead, MA with her husband, two daughters and a floppy Cavechon.