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Monday, January 5, 2015

"Mise en Place" and Mark Bittman

Not long ago I came across Mark Bittman's recent cover story in Time Magazine, "The Truth About Home Cooking." His goal in the article is to encourage more people to cook at home, since it's healthier and can be cheaper. Bittman claims that cooking shows and instagram streams--and I would add cooking blogs!--have made a fetish of food. We now think that if we cook and eat at home, it must be fancy food that takes hours to prepare. He says we should dial back those expectations for everyday eating--and that it is still possible to end up with delicious (and healthy) food. As part of the article Bittman offers a meals' worth of quick, easy recipes to help you get started, even if you feel like you don't know how to cook.

His new cookbook How to Cook Everything Fast continues this argument, and provides many strategies and recipes for cooking quickly at home. He debunks the myth of "mise en place" in home cooking--the principle of prepping all the ingredients before you start cooking. You know, those nifty bowls of chopped or already measured ingredients that are laid out magically in cooking shows. At a restaurant mise en place makes sense, but at home I find that it just adds time. Bittman says experienced cooks learn to prep as they go naturally, but his new cookbook actually incorporates the prep work into the recipe. (Of course it's always important to read the recipe all the way through, to make sure you don't get started without having an essential ingredient, or that you have to refrigerate overnight, but reading is different than prepping!)

A page from How to Cook Everything Fast, with the prep work in blue.

So much of Bittman's approach really resonates with me, as the main cook for a growing family. Meals that take a long time have their place, but what I always need more of are quick simple meals that taste good. I firmly believe in the importance of home cooking, for health, environmental, and social reasons. Yet I'm also raising 2.5 children right now, work part-time outside the home, and have volunteer obligations, so there's a lot on my metaphorical plate--I don't have time to cook for hours every day.

My lovely husband gave me How to Cook Everything Fast for Christmas, and I've been trying about one recipe a day. They're so approachable it's been easy. (And I am getting absolutely no kickback from highlighting this cookbook, so my motives are honest!) So you will start to see a lot of Bittman recipes from me. I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, but in 2015 I'm looking forward to lots of good, fast cooking. And of course, delicious eating around the family table.


  1. Looks like a great cookbook.

  2. I was just looking at this on Amazon! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it! I need some fast, good recipes! It has been fun trying some of your recipes from here! Keep up the good work!