The preparation of a number of dishes assembled for a meal requires a skill quite different from that necessary for the making of a single dish. A menu being decided upon, it needs an accurate sense of time, forethought, and promptness, to have a number of dishes ready at the same time, or in proper sequence if several courses are served. Such questions as the following must be answered:
1. What steps in preparation can be taken ahead of time, as washing, paring, cutting, etc. ?
2. What dishes take the longest to cook?
3. Which must be served the moment they are done?
4. Which can be kept hot for some time without injury?
5. Which can be finished and cooled perhaps several hours before ?
6. Do the dishes selected require the same utensils at the same time? (If so, the menus must be changed.)
7. What is the order of serving?
To understand the bearing of these questions you will need to select some menu and make a plan for preparing it. (See exercises at the end of this chapter.)
The fact is obvious that in preparing a meal you cannot finish the dishes one at a time, but that steps individual to each dish must be interwoven with each other, and the cook must have them all "on her mind," and is often doing half a dozen things at once. As a high school girl, preparing a part of her first meal, remarked, "This is as good training as mathematics."
The woman at home will devise many ways of easing and shortening the labor just before the meal is served, avoiding haste and anxiety in this way. With the fireless cooker and other slow-cooking apparatus, the heavy work may sometimes be done far ahead of mealtime. A dessert can be prepared and be cooking as breakfast dishes are washed, and at the time left overs are put away they can be arranged ready for serving, as in the case of poultry or meat to be served cold. While the preparation of the midday meal is in progress, something can sometimes be done for the last meal, too. This, indeed, is a field for generalship, and it is a successful campaign when the meals are all on time and well prepared, and the cook and family cheerful.
Each dish should be perfectly done, neither over nor under cooked. All hot dishes should be hot, and cold dishes cold. Lukewarm food is not agreeable. Bread and cake and some kinds of pastry are the only foods that may have the temperature of the room. Sliced meat and salads should be cold. Chill chocolate eclairs before serving and see how much they are improved ; indeed, experiment with a number of foods that are usually served at room temperature.
A hot closet above a coal or gas range is made for this purpose, and steam heaters sometimes have hot closets. A double boiler is a help, and one utensil may be set into a larger, filled with boiling water. Some dishes can be set back on the stove, or over a simmering gas burner with an asbestos mat underneath. The oven may be used sometimes, with the door set ajar. The food may be kept covered unless it will steam, in which case cover it with a towel. Serve food in hot dishes.
Leave the dish in the ice box until the last possible moment. Sometimes serve with ice (butter in warm weather). If ice is lacking, use other cooling devices. Serve in chilled dishes.