Let's take a moment to talk about mise en place. Mise en place is a fancy-chef way of saying: Prep everything before you begin, and put in all in little bowls. There's a lot of positive things to be said about this method, my personal favorite being that you won't be stressing out as you create a dish or meal, frantically chopping things or discovering you're out of something you thought you had once you've begun. Everything is ready to go, right there in plain sight.
However, I don't always practice this very rigourously, and I'm here to tell you that's okay. Pete Wells of the New York Time's "Cooking with Dexter" column wrote a funny piece about the impracticality of rigid mise en place. And here's an interview with Mark Bittman that touches on the same subject. Both men mention television as a culprit. Many cooking shows show us the pretty picture (things in tiny bowls!) without much discussion about how necessary those tiny bowls are.
The best way to figure out how to proceed, whether to make a mise or prep as you go, is to be comfortable in the kitchen and to read a recipe through before beginning. The first thing happens as you practice, and the second is a point I cannot stress enough. I've gotten to the point where I can pretty much figure out what I need to prep ahead of time, and what I'll have time to do along the way. If you're unsure, look at how ingredients are listed: If they're listed by measuring unit and a cut (minced, chopped, etc.) is given, it's probably a good idea to do that before beginning. That said, read it through to really understand when you'll be using each ingredient.
Last night I made Steak and Veggie Chili. I'm not even going to get started on the whole beans/no beans debate. This has beans. It also has lots of vegetables. And it has some steak. I've grown weary of bland veggie chilis, so I splurged a little on some good red meat. This is a good way to get a meat fix without it taking up a large portion of your meal. And the whole chili is darn tasty.
Steak and Veggie Chili
adapted wildly from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Some of the chopping you'll want to do ahead of time. Some of it you can do while you're waiting, assuming you have decent knife skills. May I suggest: Chop the onion, heat the oil, add the onion, chop the other veg and garlic. Cut up the steak and open the other ingredients while the veggies cook. This should cut down on your dishes and give you time to turn on some music and crack open a beverage.
1 tablespoon onion
1 onion, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped (but see note)
1 medium zucchini, chopped (but see note)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes or cayenne pepper
fresh-ground black pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced (see note)
1 steak, about 2/3 of a pound, trimmed of excess fat and cubed
1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup flavorful liquid, such as beer, stock, or wine (I used coffee, which goes well with the steak and black beans)
Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onions, red pepper, zucchini, chili powder, cumin, and chili flakes or cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened up a bit, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until you notice the smell of cooking garlic, about 30 seconds.
Add the cubed beef and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook until the beef is browned all over, stirring every minute or so, about 6 minutes. Stir in the beans, the tomatoes and any tomato juice in the can, black pepper, and some salt (about 1 teaspoon). Let this all come to the point where it's just starting to form bubbles, or simmering, then cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 45 minutes.
Remove the lid and add the flavorful liquid of your choosing. Simmer for about 1 hour more, tasting after half an hour and adding more salt or other seasonings as you see fit.
Serves 4 / Makes about 5 cups
You can make this chili up to 4 days ahead of time and keep in the fridge. You can also freeze it for up to 1 month. Add additional liquid (even water would be fine) when reheating.