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Fine Cuisine with Art Infusion

"To cook is to create. And to create well...
is an act of integrity, and faith."


Get your mess in place!



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"Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. 
Dance like nobody's watching. Sing like nobody's listening.
Live like it's Heaven on Earth."

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La Belle Cuisine


Get rid of anything less than excellent in your life,
and your integrity will increase."
~ Brian Koslow


Get your mess in place!
January 2003

Okay. 2003. [And now it's 2012!!!] Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Are you keeping them? What could you do to simplify
your life? To streamline it, perhaps? Did you promise to get your
Visa card paid down to zero? But of course!
And just what does that have to do with food, you may be wondering.

Our purpose here is twofold:
♦ To help you understand how a little discipline and organization can turn
your experience in the kitchen from a tragicomedy to an award-winning performance by employing that most fundamental culinary concept –
"mise en place". Get your mess in place!
♦ And to philosophize just a tad about Life. Get your mess in place. Get
rid of the clutter. Simplify, simplify, simplify… Make a list, check it
twice, and then DO something!

Actually, now that I think of it, I suppose our purpose is actually three-
fold, as we are getting La Belle Cuisine’s mess in place as well. Need to
tell you about that later. No surprises…
 Let us begin, then, with food, this being La Belle Cuisine. "Mise en place". You might want to have a quick look at The Basics, which pretty much
spells out our culinary philosophy.
What we offer you here is simply a continuation of that viewpoint. When
it comes to basics, the "mise en place" concept cannot be emphasized
strongly enough. It is simply good organization.

“The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it…
If you’re convinced that cooking is drudgery, you’re
never going to be good at it, and you might as well
warm up something frozen.”
~ James Beard

We may as well say right up front that if you do not agree with James
Beard, our advice is not going to help you. First and foremost, you have
to give a flip about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and about
the quality of food you put on your table. It is imperative that you CARE.
Attitude may not be everything, but it is the foundation we build upon. If
your attitude is what should be: if you are teachable, positive, enthusiastic,
and committed to excellence in your life, everything else can be learned.
Well, almost everything...
Are you with me at all here? Seriously. Read what Regina Schrambling
has to say about
the path to serenity wending past the stove and what
Daniel Boulud has to say about the preparation of his Oven-Roasted
Vegetable Casserole
. If you don't "get it", then I must admit, painful
though it may be, that I simply don't know how to reach you. Back
to James Beard:
“The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it…"
Amen, Brother James!
It saddens me to say that if the concept of excellence does not matter
to you, then are probably visiting the wrong web site. There are plenty
of sites out there designed to help you get in and out of the kitchen fast,
no matter what the cost in quality. La Belle Cuisine is not one of them.
And no, our aim is certainly not arrogance. God forbid we should foster
any pseudo-intellectual snobbery here. Our goal is excellence. As stated
early on,

"Our goal is to provide a beautiful, relaxing atmosphere,
designed to inspire, entertain and inform you."

In general, I cannot afford to spend all day in the kitchen making veal
for the freezer any more than most of you. But I do know
to make demi-glace. And I definitely know the difference between
demi-glace and a bouillon cube. (Please read The Basics, okay?)
Case in point: Gigi's Hamburger Stroganoff. Even though it does require
the use of a can opener [!!], it became a standby, along with the family
tradition of Gigi's Slumgullion. Both are relatively inexpensive, quick,
easy, delicious, and at least a couple of notches above Hamburger Helper
(or whatever) in every way. And how about Jean Anderson's marvelous
Stroganoff Casserole with Spinach? We are not asking you to
make your
pasta from scratch for these recipes, but if you really, really want to, we
can lead you in that direction as well.

Okay. That is settled. You care. Otherwise you would have long since departed. You have decided what you want to cook, you have shopped
for the ingredients, and you are in the kitchen with the recipe in front of
you. Now what? Could not hurt to put on some good music, something
appropriately inspiring. Maybe you would like a good hot cup of coffee
or tea. Or a glass of your favorite wine, depending. Or Perrier. Coors.
Whatever. The point is to get comfortable and relax with this. As Emeril
is so fond of saying,

“We’re not building a rocket ship here,
we’re cooking – plain and simple.”

Now hear this... Very Important! Read the recipe all the way through.
Read it again. Got that? Make sure you comprehend exactly what you
are about to do. Understand the concept. Get the big picture. Then
relax and be comfortable with it.
Ready? Start gathering all of the equipment and ingredients you will
need. Mise en place. That is all it amounts to: Gather your equipment
and ingredients. Get your mess in place. Simple, no? Let us take for
example the following classic recipe:

Beef Stroganoff
By the Cook’s Illustrated Test Kitchen
Cook’s Illustrated 2002

The Editors of Cook’s Illustrated, 2002,
Boston Common Press

“Beef Stroganoff – the classic marriage of beef, mushrooms, onions, and
sour cream served with egg noodles – may look and taste like a stew, but
it is actually a quick pan sauté joined in holy matrimony with an even
quicker pan sauce. A well-made stroganoff exhibits tender meat, a velvety
sauce, and a surprising amount of flavor given its short cooking time. A
bad beef stroganoff - and there are plenty of them - has an almost desperate
‘anything goes’ feeling; a hodge-podge list of ingredients such as prepared
mustard, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, tomato paste, brown
sugar, brandy and Sherry ultimately leads to divorce.”

Serves 4

“Sour cream can curdle if added directly to hot liquid [more information on
this phenomenon is included in the cookbook]. To prevent curdling, temper
the sour cream by stirring a little of the hot liquid into it and then adding
the warmed sour cream mixture to the pan. Buttered egg noodles are the
classic accompaniment to this recipe. Add noodles to boiling water at the
same time the onion goes into the pan in step 4, so that the noodles and
stroganoff will be done at about the same time.”

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces white button mushrooms,
wiped clean and halved if small, quartered
if medium, cut into sixths if large
Salt and ground black pepper
3/4 pound beef tenderloin (about 2 filets), cut
into 1/8-inch strips [illustrated in cookbook]
1/2 cup canned low-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup sour cream
8 ounces egg noodles, cooked in
salted water, drained, and tossed
with 2 tablespoons butter

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-
high heat until hot and shimmering, but not smoking, about 2 minutes;
swirl to coat pan. Add mushrooms and cook over high heat without
stirring for 30 seconds; season with salt and pepper and continue to
cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are lightly browned,
about 4 minutes longer. Transfer to medium bowl.
2. Return skillet to high heat, add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil; swirl to
coat pan. Place tenderloin strip in skillet. Using tongs, spread the meat
into single layer, making sure that strips do not touch, and cook with-
out turning until well-browned on first side, 2 minutes. Turn strips and
cook on second side until well-browned, about 1 minute longer. Season
with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to bowl with mushrooms.
3. Add beef broth to skillet, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom with
wooden spoon; simmer until broth is reduced to 1.4 cup, about 3 to 4
minutes. Transfer broth to bowl with mushrooms and beef, scraping
skillet clean with rubber spatula.

4. Return skillet to medium-low heat and add butter; when butter foams,
add onion, tomato paste, and brown sugar. Cook, stirring frequently,
until onion in lightly browned and softened, about 6 minutes; stir in
flour until incorporated. Gradually whisk in chicken broth and wine;
increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, whisking occasionally,
then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 2
minutes. Whisk liquid from mushrooms and beef into sauce and sim-
mer to incorporate. Stir about 1/2 cup of the hot sauce into the sour
cream, then stir mixture back into sauce. Add mushrooms and beef;
heat to warm through, about 1 minute. Adjust seasonings with salt
and pepper and serve over buttered egg noodles.


It is probably best to begin by gathering your equipment. In this case you
will need a heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet (or something similar), a set of measuring spoons, a measuring cup (the kind designed to measure liquid),
a medium bowl, tongs, a wooden spoon, a rubber spatula, a whisk, and a
large pot for cooking the noodles.
Next, assemble the ingredients called for in the recipe, one by one. Good
recipes such as this one will list the ingredients in the order they are needed
in the cooking procedure. Obviously you do not need to go to the extreme
with this, unless you are appearing on the TV Food Network or Good
Morning America. By that I mean that you do not have to have umpteen
tiny little bowls, each holding a teaspoon of this or a tablespoon of that.
But you do need to have the ingredients and the tools assembled before
you begin to cook.
And you need to do your "prep" work: prepare the ingredients to be used,
if that is called for. Clean and cut the mushrooms, mince the onion. Or whatever the case may be. If this prep work strikes you as troublesome,
just visualize, if you will, the ease with which you will now be able to
function in your kitchen! Your creative juices will be free to flow...
Still not convinced? Okay. Nothing like a painful personal  experience
to make a point...
One of the first things I ever cooked for The Major (remember him?)
was a simple batch of cornbread. Perhaps to go with soup, or whatever.
In any case, I have been baking cornbread by my grandmother’s recipe
since I was a child. Could do it in my sleep
with one hand tied behind
my back, right? God only knows how many batches I have under my
belt. And ALL of them successful. You know what's coming...
After the cornbread had been baking about 5 minutes or so, my blood
ran cold. I realized that I had left out the salt. The salt, for cryin' out loud!
MISE EN PLACE, okay? If only I had assembled all of the ingredients in advance, I would not have wound up with egg on my face. Why oh why
did I break my own rule? Who knows. Nervous, perhaps? Scatterbrained?
Stupid? Showing off? Just a tad tiddly? Whatever the excuse, it is not a
good one. No excuse, sir! Mise en place. Period.
 And. It is important to put things away immediately after use. That, too,
will simplify the procedure. It will keep your work space relatively un- cluttered, as well as your mind. For example, the recipe calls for 1/2 cup
dry white wine. After measuring out what you need, put the bottle back
where it belongs. Or pour yourself a glass and then put it in the fridge.
Just don’t leave it in your way on the counter. No clutter. You get the
picture, right? You will feel better, and your food will taste better!

Until next time, cook with soul, and remember:

“Just as in music and theater, a classical food background
helps you find your own freedom.”
~ Michael Lomonaco

~ Michele

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon



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