Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs, rhymes with "peas on moss") is French for "everything in its place." In culinary usage, the phrase likely made its debut around the turn of the 20th century, when famous chef Auguste Escoffier was developing the brigade system for running a commercial kitchen at London's legendary Savoy Hotel.
While it may have been coined for pros expected to function with militaristic efficiency, the term has broad implications and has come to suggest anything that can bring order and, well, peace to the act of cooking. This includes but is not limited to reading the entire recipe before you start, double checking the pantry, prepping your ingredients, preheating the oven, unloading the dishwasher, clearing the mail off the kitchen counter, getting the kids' roller skates off the floor, and convincing the dog not to nap in front of the oven.
For those who like to wing it, the principle may seem like a blow to spontaneity. But anyone who's ever discovered mid-cake they had one too few eggs or ruined a complex stir-fry because ingredients weren't ready when needed can appreciate the concept. Moreover, many cooks find that adhering to at least the spirit of the principle brings a sense of calm and dignity to the act of cooking, making it more meditation than madness.
Herbs in a dessert? Here's a thyme-enhanced angel food cake that cries out for a scoop of strawberry ice cream on a summer evening. Whip up some homemade ice cream with the reserved egg yolks.
> Thyme Angel Food Cake
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
10 egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons stemmed thyme leaves
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift flour and powdered sugar together.
Beat egg whites with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt; beat until soft peaks form. Beat in lemon juice, then beat in granulated sugar in 2-tablespoon increments, incorporating each before adding the next. Beat in thyme and lemon zest.
Fold flour mixture into egg white mixture with a rubber spatula. Spoon batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
Bake 35 minutes or until cake is lightly browned and springy to the touch, about 35 minutes. Invert pan; cool completely. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Transfer cake to a serving plate. Serves 12.
Recipe by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.
Per serving: 120 calories, no fat, 4g protein, 27g carbohydrates, no fiber, 140mg sodium.
Look for Relish magazine the first Thursday of each month in The Buffalo News.