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Prep for Cooking Dinner

  1. Mentally run through your meal (either read the recipe all the way through, or visualize the steps if they’re in your head).
  2. Relax: Pour a glass of wine or a cup of tea, crank up your favorite music, or flip on a TV show in the background. If you need to preheat the oven for the recipe, do it now.
  3. Position a large cutting board next to the stove. If you don’t have the space, set it over the sink.
  4. Place an empty bowl next to your workspace to collect discarded scraps while you work. This is your “garbage bowl” and it’s game changing.
  5. Find all the pots and pans and tools you’ll need; put them in place.
  6. Collect all the ingredients and arrange them in your workspace in the order they’ll be used (consult step 1, if needed).
  7. Chop the vegetables that take the longest to cook and work your way from there.
  8. While things are cooking, straighten up your station and empty your garbage bowl if needed.

 

THE EXPERT

Rachael Ray is a cook, author, and television personality who currently hosts the Emmy-winning syndicated daytime talk show Rachael Ray and Food Network’s 30 Minute Meals. She is also the founder and editorial director of Rachael Ray In Season magazine, and recently published her twenty-sixth cookbook, Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals from a Sweet and Savory Life, which became an instant New York Times bestseller.

 

THE EXPLANATION

You don’t want surprises while you’re cooking, so walking through the meal first helps you identify which ingredients you need, any special equipment required, and what will take the longest to cook (you’ll start your chopping there). It’s also important to be in the proper headspace before you even turn on the stove—otherwise, you won’t have a successful dish and won’t want to cook again anytime soon. If there are multiple dishes in your meal, collect only the ingredients for the one you’re making first so you’re not confusing your- self or crowding your workspace. Get everything close by, including your garbage bowl. Things will go much faster and more smoothly when you’re not doubling your efforts (like going back and forth to the garbage can ten times). You really don’t want to move much at all once you’re cooking! The key to cooking efficiently is to have everything in its place before you start—your mise en place—so you’re not having to search for the cast-iron skillet with raw chicken hands while your onions burn (been there). In order to make cleanup more efficient—and so you’re not completely overwhelmed at the end— tidy up between each dish. (Rachael’s husband does the dishes in their house . . . wouldn’t you if RR was cooking for you?!)

 

BONUS

Before you turn on the heat under a nonstick pan, get out your oil/butter/stock and put some in the pan. If you preheat a nonstick pan without anything in it, you’ll release toxins into the air and onto the pan (it’s fine for cast iron or stainless steel).