04/Sat/11 - 09:31 Filed in: Prep Tip | Prep Tools
People are always commenting on my use of glass bowls to measure out my various ingredients. Most of the time it is in the form of a back handed compliment, about how they wish they could stand being that organized or that all of the extra dishes are not worth it. Well I may be crazy, but not with regard to using the bowls. There are some very sound reasons for doing this which I shall attempt to explain in this blog entry.
Making the complex simple: This stuffing used 12 ingredients. 12 ingredients = 12 bowls. When I think I have all of the ingredients gathered & measured out, all 12 bowls should be full. When I think I have added everything to the pan, all 12 bowls should be empty.
When I started getting serious about grilling and then several years later smoking, I found myself in a whole new league of cooking. I was in a bit over my head in the prep department. I was soon involved with making rubs or sauces with 16 or 18 ingredients and it would be very easy to forget something. My solution to that was to start using little glass bowls to measure things out in. Stephen Raichlen always did that, as did many of the other TV Chefs. Now I didn’t fancy myself a TV Chef wannabe, I just wanted to find a way to help bring some organization to my food prep. The fact it made for good pictures was an added bonus. But even the pictures of the prep bowls serve a practical purpose which I shall explain shortly. Originally I started off with a set of 8 medium sized bowls, but I quickly found this wasn’t enough. At first the reason was I would be making two grilled meals on Saturdays and the bowls might all be in the dishwasher from lunch, come suppertime. So I added two more sets of 8 medium bowls and a set of large bowls. At first the primary purpose was to have backup so I could have bowls in the dishwasher and still have enough to do my next meal. Soon I found the recipes I was attempting had far more ingredients - if you’ve ever made Moroccan food, you’ll know what I mean. Then I started baking breads and the bowls serve the same purpose for that. Lastly as I started cooking the sides along with the main dishes, I am finding I often exhaust my supply of bowls.
The bowls help you stay organized even during the most complex of cooks. This particular day I was having a grilled pizza party where I made 3 different types of pizza. I measured out & put the ingredients for each pizza in bowls. The bowls got grouped together on separate 1/4 sheet pans by pizza type. The trays for two of the pizzas are back out of the fridge (left) and are warming back up. The tray for the third pizza is out at the grill where the pizza gets topped this day. By doing this I insure each pizza has the right amount of toppings and the correct toppings .
So how do I use my bowls and why do I like using them so much? Here in no particular order are some of the reasons:
- It is a great way to get and stay organized.
- It helps you get things right on an overnight cook. Measuring out ingredients at 4:00 AM on an all-nighter is a recipe for screw-ups. The bowls help you avoid this. If a rub uses 12 dry spices, I’ll lay out 12 bowls. Then I‘ll go hunt and gather the 12 spices and measure them out into the bowls. If any of the bowls are empty when I think I am done, I know I have missed something. When the 12 bowls are full I am done.
- It helps you stay organized with a complex recipe. I’ve made some recipes with nearly 20 ingredients for a sauce or rub - think Moroccan food. Once again I will lay out the proper amount of bowls and when I have filled them all up I know I am good to go.
- You don’t forget to add ingredients. If you are looking at a bunch of spice jars, you really can’t tell whether you’ve added all the ingredients. It is simple with bowls though. If you have added all 12 ingredients, then all 12 of the bowls should be empty. That is simple.
- Measuring into a bowl avoids mistakes in amounts. Measuring ingredients out directly into your pan or prep bowl is a recipe for disaster. What would happen if you were measuring out a tablespoon of Kosher salt and more than you wanted came pouring out of your box of salt? Well basically you are screwed - you have just over salted your ingredients and that isn’t easily fixed. If you are measuring into a small bowl and you pour out too much, nothing bad has happened. At worst you throw some out and remeasure and often you can return the extra amount back into the spice jar.
- Breaking eggs into a small prep bowl and then pouring them into the pan helps avoid several issues. If you should get some egg shell in the mix when you break the egg, you can easily fish it out of the small bowl. This is a lot harder if you just dumped the eggs straight into a hot pan or a big mixing bowl with lots of other ingredients. Also if the egg is bad you didn’t just dump it in with all the other ingredients, ruining them in the process.
- Breaking eggs into individual small bowls ahead of time allows you to start cooking multiple eggs nearly simultaneously. For example you are making 4 poached eggs. If you are rushing to break 4 eggs and get them into the little egg cups as fast as possible you can have many problems. Breaking the egg is the hardest part and is the one thing you should rush. Besides the shell fragments or bad egg issues mentioned above, you might miss getting the egg in the cup when yo break it. By breaking the 4 eggs into 4 small bowls ahead of time you don’t need to rush. When you are ready to cook you can quickly get the eggs into their respective cups because the hard work of breaking the eggs is already done.
- Simplifying complex cooks - Method One: Divide and Conquer. When I make grilled pizza I often make 2,3 or 4 different pizzas. You often have 4 pizzas with similar but different toppings. Keeping these straight when you are running back and forth to the grill can be difficult. So I pre-measure all of my ingredients ahead of time and put them into bowls which I then place on 1/4 sheet pans. 3 pizzas, 3 trays of toppings. This is particularly handy when you are topping the pizzas out at the grill. Grab a crust and grab a tray of toppings and head out to the grill. You can do this prep well ahead of time and put the tray in the refrigerator. If need be, you can put foil or plastic wrap over the bowls to protect the ingredients. Since my bowls are all the same height, I can stack the trays in the order I plan to use them. You can pull a tray out to warm up just before you want to use it. By pre-measuring and grouping ingredients together on their own trays for each pizza, it insures when things get hectic later I will always have the right toppings for each pizza. While it is still possible I might grab the wrong tray and cook a pizza out of sequence, each of the pizzas will have the right toppings.
- Simplifying complex cooks - Method Two: Pre-separate toppings. Trying to pull slices of meats like pepperoni or prosciutto apart when you are in a hurry is not fun or fast. For example I count out and separate the exact amount of pepperoni slices I know I will need. I place them in the bowl not stacked back up in a straight pile, but each slice is offset so it is quick and easy to separate them and place them when I am topping the pizza. This saves you a lot of time and frustration with all kinds of meats like Italian cold cuts and is handy for pizzas, quesadillas, burgers, dogs, paninnis and sandwiches. Any cook where you are grilling something and then want to quickly top it.
- Simplifying complex cooks - Method Three: Reduce guesswork and waste. By having your toppings pre-measured and in bowls you can work quickly and avoid waste. If you have the right amount of sauce, toppings and cheese measured out for you pizza your can gauge the right amount to use on the fly. You know the amount you have in the bowl needs to cover the whole pizza. This as opposed to dumping out a random amount of sauce or cheese that looks about right. You could end up with leftovers that you’ll need to throw out, or worse you need to dash back into the Kitchen to grab more. Once again this is handy for pizzas, quesadillas, burgers, dog, paninnis and sandwiches.
- Simplifying complex cooks - Method Four: Make ahead prep for Multi-Item cooks. The biggest challenge with multi-item cooks is time management. There is a basic law of physics that you can’t be two places at once. If you are out at the grill, you can’t be stirring food at the stove or prepping veggies at the counter. Multi-item cooks, if attempted linearly, will have blocks of time where nothing is going on while an item proofs, or simmers and reduces, or is smoking etc. There will be other blocks of time where too much is going on. The key is to use the less active times to offload work from the busy times, where 3 things would need to be going on at once. If you will be needing to make a sauce later with lots of ingredients, measure them out ahead of time when you have the free time and cover and store them in the fridge for later. Or if they are dry ingredients, you can store them out of the way until you need them. Once again I’ll often use quarter sheet pans to group the ingredients together: all of the mop sauce ingredients, all of the sauce ingredients etc. The only thing I won’t do ahead of time is chop up an herb that is particularly fragile, like basil. But you can measure out everything else when you have free time.
- Simplifying complex cooks - Method Five: Haste makes waste. This is true for all cooks, but even more so for complex or multi-item cooks. By measuring out the ingredients ahead of time, you are far less likely to make mistakes. By doing it ahead of time you don’t have to rush to get it done as you would if the food was already on the stove heating up. You can measure carefully and avoid spills and other mishaps that can happen if you are rushing to stay ahead of food cooking on the stove.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. I’ll bet you were waiting for me to say having the ingredients all measured out and in bowls make for great pictures. Sure it does. Guilty. They look great on this website. I think the fact I use these bowls even when I am not taking pictures of a cook proves it is not all for show. But there is a more practical use for these pictures too. I keep all of the same pictures from this web site on my iPhone too. Several times I have been at the store and found out I couldn’t find the meat or fish I was looking for. Or perhaps the store is having a great sale on something else. I can look up pictures from a different recipe and see what fresh herbs and spices I might need to make that recipe instead. I can look at the bowls and judge how much of a liquid ingredient I’ll need to have on hand. Sometimes I will have folks ask me what is in something and I can look at the bowls to see what spices are involved.
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Making the complex simple: When you are going to be involved with having this much cooking on the grill at once (left), you don’t need one more thing to have to think about. Having all of the ingredients measured out and in bowls (right) saves you time and avoids mistakes caused by too much to do and too little time.
Now that I’ve presented some of the positives about using measuring bowls for all of my prep, let me bring up the negatives I hear. Really there are only two. Extra cleanup and extra prep time. In terms of cleanup my reply is: “Yeah so what.” As far as I am concerned that is why God made dishwashers. Period end of discussion. The upper tray of my dishwasher has a fold down shelf along one side that allows you to stack the bowls in a two tier fashion. That shelf is perfect for holding an extra 5 bowls. Even if I have to do an extra load of dishes to accommodate all the bowls it is worth it. I mean really: How hard is it to load the dishwasher? I would be sympathetic to your complaints if you had to hand wash everything. As for the complaint about the extra time required, I think my list of reasons above show that in some cases you save time. The bowls save you from making mistakes which can cost you more time or even ruin a meal. The bowls can save time by allowing you to measure things out when you are less busy. To me the benefits of using the bowls far outweigh the amount of extra time that sometimes might be involved.
Clean up of all those bowls is the biggest negative people come up with. I say that is what God made dishwashers for. With a fold down shelf on one side of the top rack, You can get quite a few bowls in at once.
So in conclusion: Now you know why I use the measuring bowls for my prep. You may think I am nuts to do it, but I think you are nuts for not doing it. I am happy to agree to disagree. It may just be one of those things you have to try a few times in order to understand some of the more intangible benefits involved. Folks often say they also “don’t cook things as complex as I do”. Well I don’t feel what I make is overly complex and the rich flavors are well worth it. These people who avoid these “complex” dishes also don’t use the measuring bowls for their prep. I’ve found they are a great way to simplify what at first blush may appear complex. Feel free not to use measuring bowls for your prep, but don’t ever look to me for sympathy over a botched cook where the use of “those silly little bowls” could have easily prevented the mishap in question.
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