Bam! Practical kitchen magic

Kitchen tip: Make sure the recipe you are preparing is on cue cards. Things proceed much more smoothly when all you have to do is look up can read, “Add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter.” Of course, you need a responsible cue-card holder. Just last week the clown holding the cue cards had gotten into the cooking sherry and left out a couple of important instructions. I was supposed to saute the garlic and onions first, so we had to start all over from the very beginning. It held up the meal for 20 minutes while the pot washers cleaned the kitchen and the staff chopped more onions and garlic. I used the time to line up another unpaid intern.

“OK, people,” I said, “Let’s try to get this right. This dish says prep time 20 minutes, and it’s taken you 25 minutes just to clean up the mess. Is everyone ready? Then let’s go.”

The pan of ingredients you need to saute should already be on the stove, with a bottle of olive oil filled to the top right next to it. Pan, bottle and oil should be brand spanking new, or at least look like they are. Little glass containers of the exact amount of chopped onions and garlic and other ingredients the recipe calls for should be within reach and labeled with a card in waterproof ink. Sure, it’s tedious to have put things in the pan and stir, but that’s what cooking is all about – hard work.

On your other stovetop, get the meat going. The meat should be trimmed of fat and gristle and marinated for 12 hours, then taken out of the fridge an hour ahead of time, so it will be room temperature when it’s time to braise. Face it, kitchen chores never end; I’m always doing something. You have to stay on top of your staff all the time. I’ll never forget the time someone measured out sea salt that came from the Mediterranean instead of the Black Sea. She’ll never work in this town again. If I hadn’t caught it, it could have wrecked the whole meal.

While the meat is braising, get cracking on the vegetables. You simply dump all the trimmed, blanched and measured veggies that are sitting on the counter in front of you into a steamer full of already-boiling water. What could be easier? Then you make the sauce by pouring in all the pre-measured ingredients into your always-clean blender, and pulse. It only takes seconds. Then you take out the steamed vegetables, arrange them on a serving platter in the shape of a topiary tree and paint the sauce on them with an ermine brush.

Take the braised meat from one pan and put it into another, just to get another pan dirty. Then slide it into a bowl just to get that dirty. Then deglaze the first pan and pour the results into five or six more dishes and pans. Combine the meat and sauce into a baking dish and slide both into your restaurant-sized oven at 350 degrees. Wait one-half second and open the bottom oven and take out the finished meat that someone prepared while you were out having a pedicure.

Place the meal on the table that someone spent three hours designing and voila, a healthy, balanced meal in just 22 minutes. Then shut the kitchen door so the sound of six people cleaning and scrubbing and prepping tomorrow’s meals doesn’t disturb you while you eat.

Every time I hear someone complaining about what a chore it is to cook, I wonder: “What are they talking about? They must be doing it wrong.”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2011, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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