Preparing and eating meals are common household activities.
A meal can be simple -- a sandwich and a drink, or an elaborate multi course meal with a fancy table setting and special dishware and utensils for each course and special beverages selected to match each food course. One of the first steps is planning the menu -- or in other words, what will you make?
Considerations in the menu and preparation of a meal include
- cost - how much can you afford or do you have budgeted for food (for this specific meal or for general food bills)
- skill of the preparer or cook
- time to prepare -- what time is available and how long with the different parts of the meal take to prepare
- tools or appliances required (if you're having a cookout over an open flame, a fancy souffle is probably not going to be on the menu)
- who's eating?
- is this a special occasion, or do you want to make it special?
- allergies and preferences of the people eating
- if leftovers are likely, can they be stored and reused easily (sometimes leftovers are beneficial when they can be put aside for a future meal)
Sometimes the choice of the meal is based on what supplies and the time that are currently available. Little or no planning is required (or possible). Other times you may be planning a special meal or planning menus for more than one meal in order to create a grocery shopping list.
Once you've decided what's on the menu, make sure you've got the ingredients. Do you need any special cooking equipment? How long does the meal take to prepare and cook? (Some foods also need wait time -- to chill, set, marinade, etc.) Figure out when you'll need to start. If you're planning multiple dishes or courses, can some be prepared in advance? Is there time while a dish that needs to cook for longer is cooking to prepare the other courses? Allow extra time the first time you make a recipe. An optional step is mise en place, a technique of preparing the ingredients for a recipe before cooking. As part of mise en place or if you skip that step, you'll need to chop, marinade, combine and mix the ingredients, cooking or cooling at the appropriate times. Then another optional step is presentation -- layout, decorations or garnish. Now serve and enjoy!
Mise en placeEdit
Mise en place is a French term for "set in place" (alternative translations: everything in place or put in place). Many experienced chefs and cooks use this technique of preparing all the ingredients -- measuring, chopping, etc. -- before they begin to mix and cook. It's also a very good technique for new cooks to use. If you're making multiple dishes, prepare the different sets of ingredients and put the in separate areas or on separate trays.
This technique keeps you from getting halfway through a recipe before you discover that you are missing some ingredients. It also ensures that things are ready to be mixed in at the right time.